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It Can't Happen Here


Commentary by Rick Kleffel


Copyright © 2002


The American publishing business seems to be a perpetual state of paralysis. Yes, I know one must remember -- it's a business, not an art gallery. But publishers seem so scared of anything outside their ken, they're actually hurting their business. There are currently a plethora of great books out -- not that you can find them in the US. Or if you do, it's six months after they've come out in the UK.* Like most art-based commerce, book publishers refuse to understand that the public wants something original. When something original comes out and is a big hit, do publishers look for something different? No, they pull out all stops to get something as close to what is selling as possible, never apparently understanding that what the public went for in the first place was the DIFFERENCE not the SIMILARITY. There must be acres of walls with head-dents in them in New York.

(*Yeah, yeah, that's what they invented the Internet for, so we could all pay shipping to have the good new books sent here. Both I and my credit card balance are fully over that.)

If nothing else, you can sometimes get a glimpse of the publishing future by browsing the UK booksellers' sites. Here's a brief list of things you won't see at SuperDuperMegaBook Café and calendar store (all calendars 50% off), at least not anytime soon. With exceptions of course, because there are always exceptions.

Let's start with that exception, 'The Eyre Affair' by Jasper Fforde. It's just come available in the US, in a slightly damaged fashion -- of course. First and foremost, I'd like to recommend that you buy this book. If you're reading a column about book reviews, or if you're just reading, this is a book that will delight and thrill you. It's just wonderful. But enough of that, as I'll cover it in the review. First off, this was available in the UK some six months ago. Secondly, they've left out about 15 pages from the UK edition. Now, admittedly, this isn't 15 pages of plot, but it is 15 pages of a great preview for the next book in the series, and several wonderful advertisements from Goliath Corp. And finally, they've changed the cover to make it seem more "literary". Compare them and see:

'The Eyre Affair' from the UK -- cheesy elegance rules!

'The Eyre Affair' from the US -- faux elegance for the literarily inclined?

Be warned: this is a fantastic book, a book you must buy. It's funny and groundbreaking in the way that 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' was. Not only that, there's an upgrade available from Fforde's web site, one of the best I've ever seen to support a novel. It's definitely worth visiting. With the sad loss of Douglas Adams, at least we have Jasper Fforde to console us.

Next up is Phil Rickman. I've just posted a review of his latest novel, 'The Cure of Souls'. The short version is, it's a wonderful supernaturally tinged novel of crime and punishment. The sad point is that there's no guarantee that it will ever show up on this side of the Atlantic, unless you have it shipped over here. Believe me it's worth it. But in the meantime, word is that Rickman's complex tales are "too British". This is patently ridiculous. For those who think that PD James or Ruth Rendell are "too British" maybe. For those who think that Sherlock Holmes is "too British", maybe. But for those of who love those authors, and who think the idea of novels of that depth and complexity with a bit of a supernatural overlay sounds quite wonderful, well -- we're glad that at least we can order it online. But the problem is that Rickman, can, should and could be a big seller. You may be able to find the first in his series of Merrily Watkins Spiritual Procedurals, 'The Wine of Angels' from any number of online vendors. Do yourself a favor. At least if you order 'The Wine of Angels' online, you know that you'll be able to get the rest from the UK.

And what would any list of books not yet available in the US be without the latest Peter F. Hamilton novel, 'Fallen Dragon'? Sure, it should be available here in March, if we're lucky. Alas, the US version features a severely munged cover when compared to the UK version.

Jim Burns does fine by the UK cover for Peter F. Hamilton's 'Fallen Dragon'.

Not sure who did this cover, it looks like someone took a nice Burns painting and abbreviated it to death.

But forget about the cover, it's the contents that matter. 'Fallen Dragon' is a magnificent novel of interplanetary warfare, played out against a backdrop of failing interstellar travel. And what a movie it would make! It will certainly play like one in your brain. But you might have to move fast to find it at your local bookstore. I only saw a couple of copies of his previous novel in hardcover at my very local and very hip Bookshop Santa Cruz. If this is the kind of promotion and distribution that these authors are getting, it's no wonder they don't sell as well as they could.

Publishers, look at it this way: How can we buy it if you won't even try to sell it to us? These books are mainstream, funny, exciting, accessible and just different enough to be really something special. And that's what we want -- we want this year's newest and best creations, not a copy of last years sensations.




Rick Kleffel