Review: Anthem’s Fall

S.L. Dunn’s Anthem’s Fall (Prospect Hill Press) wants to be a high-concept SF novel. What it actually achieves is more like a bad comic book. Without the pictures.

In New York City, scientist Kristen Jordan (brilliant and beautiful, and very young, of course) is growing increasingly worried about an übertechnology she helped create, as the secretive leader of her research team seems to be developing ever more grandiose objectives. In the parallel world of Anthem, warfare and political collapse are destabilizing an empire. The teaser copy promises us that contending super-entities from Anthem will erupt into our world, requiring Kristen to unleash a technology against them that may be more dangerous than the invaders. DUM DUM DUM! And dumb, dumb, dumb.

But I never got that far. By fifty pages in it was clear that this is one of those books that, as Dorothy Parker put it, should not be lightly tossed aside; rather, it should be hurled with great force. I made myself soldier on a bit after that to give the Anthem-centered part of the narrative a fair shake, but it was no improvement on the parts set in New York City – if anything the smell of bad comic-book got stronger.

About the only good thing that can be said of this book is that the author and/or editors could consistently construct grammatically correct sentences. It’s all downhill from there.

The prose is grindingly leaden and pretentious. The characters, as far as I read, are a Mary Sue and her hunky love interest surrounded by cardboard cutouts. I’ve seen more plausible “science” in a Fantastic Four episode. There are thinly-disguised lectures peddling politics with a heavyhandedness that goes well beyond any plot- or character-development function they might turn out to have later (er, so, do I even need to add that it’s dimwitted politics?) Shopworn tropes lurk on every page. The author managed to tick just about every item on how to do SF wrong I can imagine putting on a checklist, and this is before I got through 15% of the book.

Spare yourself the pain unless you are looking for a horrible example of what not to do in your novel – and if you are, for Goddess’s sake pirate this thing rather than giving the author or publisher one red cent (this is not a recommendation I have ever made before). The last thing the world needs is incentives for more crap like this to get published.

15 thoughts on “Review: Anthem’s Fall

  1. >@esr – Idiot question – did you have to waste money from your own pocket to be “rewarded” with this stinker?

    Thankfully, no. I got it through netgalley.com. which see. What I “pay” to get books through there is (a) having an audience reach the publishers think is respectable, and (b) maintaining a minimum 80% ratio of feedback items submitted to books requested.

    I suspect I might find worse if I didn’t rigorously avoid the “Romance” category, especially anything that looks like “paranormal romance”.

  2. You know, this sort of thing points out the biggest service traditional publishers perform for the readers. They *reject* stuff like this, and it never sees the light of day. With the rise of self-publishing, the Internet is not the biggest slush pile in history, and the readers are forced to pan for the odd nugget of gold in the sludge. (Speaking personally, I can’t be bothered.)

    S. L. Dunn is a new author, and Anthem’s Fall is his first novel. Prospect Hill Press is a new publisher which claims it is devoted to eBook, print, and audiobook publishing for the Pacific Northwest. The website is rather sparse, with next to no information. (I was bemused by the Submissions page, which wants a one page query letter, synopsis, and three chapters from the book, but wants them all in-line in the message body. Attachments will not be opened.) I wouldn’t be surprised if PHP was a one man shop.

    Dunn may go on to write decent stuff in the future, and PHP may publish decent stuff, but this is not a promising start.

  3. > > Where are you finding time to do all this reading?

    > I read very fast.

    Plus, as far as I can tell (based upon timestamps of some of these posts and replies), doesn’t sleep very much.

  4. You know, this sort of thing points out the biggest service traditional publishers perform for the readers. They *reject* stuff like this, and it never sees the light of day.

    If only that were true.

  5. @William O. B’Livion: Yes, traditional publishers publish a lot of what you or I might consider crap. But they have a simple measuring stick: they think they can *sell* what they publish. They guess wrong more often than not, but sell enough to cover the losses on the books that tank and stay in business.

    I’m happy to take Eric’s word on the quality of this effort, and no major publisher I can think of would touch it. Of course, they wouldn’t see it to reject it in the first place: most these days only look at submissions from recognized agents, and no recognized agent would take it on.

  6. Having read too many of the stinkers that made it through the “curating” agent/publisher process, and having sold a couple of books and a dozen-odd magazine articles, my take is that most publishers simply don’t care. If they need a book about X or an article of some specific length to fit a hole in the publishing schedule, they simply lift the first one off the inbox and send it out to production.

    Also, the quality of writing is unrelated to the marketing efforts or what prizes are awarded. I’ve read too many highly-rated books that didn’t even make sense, much less provide entertainment or information.

    [sarcasm mode only slightly raised from default]

  7. @ TRX -

    > Also, the quality of writing is unrelated to the marketing efforts or what prizes
    > are awarded. I’ve read too many highly-rated books that didn’t even make
    > sense, much less provide entertainment or information.

    Please see the first comment.

  8. @DMcCunney “You know, this sort of thing points out the biggest service traditional publishers perform for the readers. They *reject* stuff like this, and it never sees the light of day. With the rise of self-publishing, the Internet is not the biggest slush pile in history, and the readers are forced to pan for the odd nugget of gold in the sludge. (Speaking personally, I can’t be bothered.)”

    I’ve been following a blog of an author that’s been making the transition from traditional publishing to indie, so she’s been observing the results of self-publishing on the Internet for several years. She (and her friends) have observed that Indie publishing isn’t nearly as bad as was predicted by publishing houses.

    She suspects that the primary reason why this hasn’t happened is that there are a lot of people who think they are great writers, and they want to win big on their singular masterpiece–so they submit their one novel to everyone, and as it inevitably gets rejected, they bemoan how the world doesn’t appreciate their genius. When Indie came along, they put their one work on the web, and wonder why no one buys it–but they don’t bother to write anything else, because they expect their one work to make them gobs of money, but they otherwise aren’t interested in writing. These people just become noise in the background of Indie, and are relatively easy to avoid.

    Writers who want to write will invariably continue to write, even if their first novel is bad, and over time, they’ll usually get better. It may be somewhat difficult to find a good author, but once you do, you can generally count on getting a stream of good novels from them (even if some of those novels prove to be mediocre, at best…at least they won’t be horrible)…

    It’s probably a little to early to know what type of author produced this work, but I suspect that if it’s the author that’s able to construct grammatically correct sentences, then he’s probably heading in the right direction…

  9. It may be that most would-be writers only have one big story inside them anyway. If so, indie publishing ought to be just the ticket. They get it out, they don’t sell a ton (the one dark cloud), but it might be found and loved by a small group, and any one reader will find a handful of indie stories like this that resonate.

    Which would mean that the next great problem for indie publishing to solve is how to better connect the right reader with the right big stories.

  10. @Alpheus: I don’t think self-publishing and indie publishing are the same thing.

    Self-publishing is what the name implies. You write a book, and carry out the steps needed to publish it, in eBook or print form.

    If you are Indie published, someone *else* takes your book and shepherds it through the process of publication.

    The book Eric reviews is an example of the latter – the publisher is something that calls itself Prospect Hill Press, and claims to be a new outfit specializing in writers from the Pacific Northwest. (It might, in fact, be another hat the author is wearing, but there are plenty of other Indie publishers out there publishing other people’s stuff.)

    The folks I’m aware of who have any success at self-publishing mostly got their start and built an audience being traditionally published. It gave them a huge leg up, as they already had an established market that wanted to read their stuff, and the transition was a matter of telling them “I’m publishing myself now. You can buy my work here…”

    I assume that most folks writing for publication, traditionally or otherwise, want to *sell* what they write and make actual money writing. (I arbitrarily define “make actual money” as “make at least minimum wage per hour for the time you put in”) I tell folks “Write because you *have* to. Write because you can’t imagine *not* writing. *Don’t* write because you expect to make money, because the odds are, you won’t.”

    I also suggest at least trying to get a traditional publishing deal before going the self-published/indie published route. The advantage to a traditional deal is that you get paid. The publisher pays you for the right to issue your book, and you get an advance. Most books don’t earn out, and the advance is probably all you’ll see, but you get it.

    I know a number of published writers, I can think of one offhand who makes her living doing it. (She’s also a freelance editor and book doctor, but writing is the mainstay.) The rest either have day jobs and write on the side, or have spouses whose income helps keep a roof over their head, food on their table, and clothes on their back, and smooths out the peaks and valleys in payment that are inherent in freelance writing.

    Part of the issue is that when you write, you lay your ego on the line. I looked in on on-line writer’s forums in the past where the idea was to get meaningful criticism, and gave it up as a waste of time. Most of the participants didn’t want meaningful criticism – they wanted their ego boosted by being told how great their stuff was, and reacted badly when when they didn’t get it. (Writers I know *do* participate in writer’s groups to get critiques, but the groups mostly meet in person, and the folks involved *sell* what they write.)

    A lot of folks do indeed have only one book in them. And many more have woefully unrealistic expectations about how well they’ll do. Traditionally published or otherwise, success in the market requires an enormous amount of work, and a $DIETY granted titanic helping of *luck.* There are simply too many books chasing too few readers, and always have been. Very good books indeed sink without a trace because the authors just didn’t happen to be lucky.

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