The Gaiman Conundrum: As an author improves in the course of their career, how does one evaluate their earlier work in relation to their later work?
I’ve named this the Gaiman Conundrum because of my experience with Neil Gaiman. As a wee lass of thirteen, I picked up American Gods and was utterly blown away. Soon after, I picked up Good Omens, a novel that never fails me to make me laugh out loud. (And it’s the same joke every time! I’m easy to please.) And Anansi Boys was even better. But when I picked up Neverwhere, I felt a little empty. It was good, but it didn’t measure up to his later work to such a degree that I felt a little disappointed in it. (I suppose the gushing praise from Tori Amos on the cover didn’t help things.) So, how, as a book blogger and reader, ought I deal with this situation?
It’s certainly not the book’s fault for being written first—every author has a first book. And to be honest, the Gaiman Conundrum doesn’t rear its head all that often. Usually, I find an author develops quite steadily through their oeuvre—while there’s a great difference between their first book and their last book (I’m thinking of Austen here), there’s usually a gentle increase between books. But when I do run across an author who has left their first book in the dust, I’m left with a question.
Would I judge the book differently if I hadn’t read their later work before it? Well, I’ll never know—I’m not going to doom myself to only reading authors by starting at the beginning of their oeuvres. But I do feel obligated to let people know that, say, Neverwhere, in my opinion, doesn’t stand a fighting chance against American Gods, even if the technique is still solid. Perhaps this ought to lead to, when dealing with an author whose entire canon I’ve read, recommended reading orders—but luckily, this problem doesn’t rear up so often that I have to deal with it beyond a simple warning.
I’ve been making my way through The Once and Future King this week; I’m just not getting into it. Perhaps I can only take so many patronizing mid-century British narrators at a time, and Lewis wore me out? (I’m still stuck on the vegetarians, people.) I’ve also been watching films—I went go see The King’s Speech yesterday, which was fantastic. I head back to school this week, bringing my winter holidays to a close. Classes, internship, rehearsal—such is life, and I hope I’m ready for it!
Don’t forget to enter my giveaway of The Hobbit! It’s open until the 28th. Pat at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist is giving away a copy of The Crippled God until an unspecified date. Derek Molata is giving away a personalized set of Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange trilogy until January 20th. Tor/Forge’s Blog is giving away a Halo book and audiobook bundle until February 15th. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!
How do you deal with the Gaiman Conundrum?