Monty Haul fiction

February 16, 2005

I was starting to catch up on January's reading over on the reading blog - so far I am through Jan 2 - and I had a random bookish thought that belongs over here.

Old-school gamers should be familiar with the phrase Monty Haul. It refers to a style of pencil-and-paper gaming where the game master hands out vast quantities of cool toys, the characters are hugely powerful, and the game consists of, basically, a batch of thugs in chainmail and magical artillery knocking on the front doors of "evil" critters, killing them, and taking even more cool toys.

As a game-master I always had to struggle against my inner Monty Haul - it is fun to give a neat thing to the characters. The trouble is, they keep it and continue to use it.

The same pattern appears in some light fiction, especially the various flavors of wish-fulfillment fiction, hackery, space opera, and, well, light entertainment. Gee, says the author, it would be neat if I could give my character this, or that. Let the poor policeman marry a rich girl with a high libido. Give the starship captain a telepathic connection to her pet cat. And so on.

The problem comes because light fiction, like Hollywood movies, tends to be written until the next one is projected to lose money. While not all authors in this genre are as, well, hackish as Piers Anthony or Bill Butterfield (Anthony writes two novels a year, and never writes a book he has not already sold. The last few volumes in his various pentologies tend to get mailed in. Butterfiel - W.E.B. Griffiths is his best byline - has half a dozen identities, has written over a hundred books with a couple of repetitive scenes and themes, and has been known to have one alias write cover blurbs for his other aliases. Both are nice guys, and I like their stuff, but it is hackery. Back to the topic.) While not all authors in this genre are as, well, hackish as Anthony and Butterfield, still there is a tendency for space opera, technothrillers, mysteries, and the like to be written for the market. If you write for a living, make sure you get paid for what you write.

I was reminded of the Monty Haul fiction problem while reading Elizabeth Moon's Marque and Reprisal - a very good space opera in which the heroine ends the book with a heck of a lot of cool toys. If Moon intends to do more with the character, she will either have to take away some of those toys or revamp the, well, power-level of her universe and its challenges so that things are once again a trouble for her heroine. I suspect she will handle the problem well - she is a very competant wordsmith - but she has given herself a Monty Haul problem.

I stopped reading Butterfield, despite liking the things he wrote as W.E.B. Griffiths, because I got tired of reading the same Monty Haul scenario again and again and again. Still, I am unusual - I read a lot, including a lot of dreck, and I remember and think about what I read.

And so to go read the sociology of religion. The joys of doing a literature review are myriad.

Posted by Red Ted at February 16, 2005 07:53 AM | TrackBack