Review: Right to Know

There are many kinds of bad SF out there. One of the subtler kinds is written with enough competence that it might be good if the author had any original ideas, but reads like a tired paste-up of familiar genre tropes and plot twists that an experienced reader can see coming a light-year off.

Edward Willett’s Right To Know (Diamond Book Distributors) is such a novel. Oppressive society on a decaying generation starship! Plucky, desperate resistance! Planetfall where humans with FTL drives got there ahead of them! Earth has mysteriously vanished! Fanatical planetside cultists mistake our hero for their messiah! Head of the Resistance is the Captain’s daughter! (That last one would only be an actual spoiler if you’re thick as neutronium, because it’s telegraphed with about the subtlety of a brick upside the head.)

Worse, the book doesn’t work very well even on its own terms. To name only one of the obvious problems, the whole plot turns on the ship’s oppressive officers somehow learning their target planet is inhabited without having twigged that the planetsiders are human. Um, hello, radio emissions? And we’re supposed to believe that the Mayflower II carries planet-buster missiles but doesn’t mount a decent telescope or survey probes?

A lame tissue of cliches like this usually has one of two origins. It may be cynical hackwork by someone who knows the genre very well, is getting paid by the yard, and doesn’t care to work any harder than minimally necessary. Or it can be evidence of naivete by someone who means well but barely knows the SF genre at all and has mistaken surface features for essence. The difference is significant because the naive auteur may improve, but the cynical hack is unlikely to; such laziness becomes a habit difficult to break, especially when it pays.

I’m going to go with the “cynical hackwork” theory on this one, given that the publisher reports the author to have uttered over fifty books. I’m posting this review mainly as a warning: given that this is what volume 51+ looks like, neither the past nor the future works of Edward Willett seem likely to be worth a pitcher of warm spit. Avoid.

10 thoughts on “Review: Right to Know

  1. I just looked Edward Willett up on amazon.com, and he has a fascinating range beyond SF. It may be that in some other genre he goes beyond “cynical hackwork,” or not. I have not actually read anything of his, and you have not put him high on my list.

  2. You can write a lot of books and still be a naive auteur. All that’s required is an inability to actually learn anything.

    Willetts seems to be largely self-published/small press published. (I think I saw a DAW release among the credits on his website.) Especially if you go the self-published route , learning can be problematic, because the feedback that might teach you is lacking. (Effective learning usually comes in the form of getting rejected as unpublishable by an editor who states why.)

    I see a lot of the problems of ignorance on the LinkedIn SF discussion areas. Lots of wannabe SF writers, who are enthusiastic and obviously love the genre, but simply haven’t read enough of it to know the tropes or have any idea of what has been done to death previously. (And too many have no grasp of the science underlying their stories. Get that wrong, and the story fails, whatever other virtues it may possess.)

    Willetts may have *written* over 50 books. The question is how much he has actually *sold*.

    What I’m curious about is why you bothered to read it in the first place. I have so much stuff on my to-read stack that I tell people the nice thing about eBooks is that you don’t have to call the paramedics if it topples over on me. I’m very fussy about what I add to the stack in consequence.

  3. >What I’m curious about is why you bothered to read it in the first place.

    It came up as a new title on netgalley.com and looked like it might not suck.

  4. Willetts may have *written* over 50 books. The question is how much he has actually *sold*.

    Writing 50 books and not having sold very many would likely have driven many people to stop writing because well before you get to 50 unsold books it should be glaringly obvious that you suck. Just sayin’.

  5. He could always sell it to Hollywood. Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness both made ass-tons of money; this seems to be about their level.

  6. looks like a movie for J.J. Abrams I mean it remind me “Super 8″ a collection of cliches

  7. I read a lot of the self-published SF writers, since throwing $1 at them on Amazon is often amusing.

    Huge Howey got me into this, since he typically keeps a few of his early novels on Amazon with a price of $0.00. He’s a good example of ‘early stuff is naivete crap’, but he improves considerably later on.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised by quite a few of the writers I’ve sampled this way. Rod Kierkegaard Jr had some his stuff priced at $0.99 for a while, and of the 3 I bought, one really entertained me (Department of Magic).

  8. @esr: “It came up as a new title on netgalley.com and looked like it might not suck.”

    Fair enough. Alas, I’m at the point where I tell people if I could learn to read a different book with each eye I *might* reduce my backlog, so “looked like it might not suck” wouldn’t be sufficient. I also know enough folks who write the stuff that “Which of my friends has a new book out?” is the usual answer to “What fresh books should I add to the queue?”

  9. I read science fiction, I don’t study it.

    I can do a lot of belief suspension, and have a lot of tolerance for less than stellar writing (I’m willing to have new ideas thrown at me that I have to think about, but I’m also *more* than willing to treat a book as “fluffy movie that plays in my brain”). What I HATE, and what completely breaks the universe for me is when an author doesn’t deal with the obvious (aka planet busting atomics, but no probes etc.).

    We can forgive the little holes. The obvious ones need to be filled or papered over so we can’t see them.

    I could go on, but I don’t think I need to.

  10. @William O B’Livion. “What I HATE, and what completely breaks the universe for me is when an author doesn’t deal with the obvious (aka planet busting atomics, but no probes etc.).”

    When encountering such discrepancies, it’s a good idea to check when the book was published. I remember a comment about a series called “The Tripods” where the author was criticized for having aliens that didn’t use infrared–the problem being that, when the books were originally written, infrared was an unknown. (Not that this is an excuse for this particular book….)

    This applies to more than just technology, but to social mores as well….

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