In his house in R’lyeh, Great Cthulhu lies dreaming…of her.
So it’s happened. A few days ago, Serra Elinsen released Awoken upon the world, a paranormal romance wherein the love interest is none other than Great Cthulhu itself. It seems Cthulhu, in response to a prophecy that a teenage girl will prevent the coming of Azathoth, materializes in a high school as the mysterious and handsome Riley Bay, and captures the heart of our heroine, Andromeda Slate.
Okay, for those of you not in on the joke, Awoken, well, is one. An elaborate one, but nevertheless a joke. “Serra Elinsen” is a pseudonym for a group of authors who put together this project as a parody of Twilight-esque YA paranormal romances. I’ve been following them since the whole thing started. I haven’t read the book yet. Somehow, not long after the release date, they’ve already managed to create a backlash.
While the expected complaints from hardcore Lovecraft fans are out there, the major backlash has come from different directions. First, reviewers calling Awoken a scam, a “fake book”, a blatant attempt to troll and cash in on actual fans of YA paranormal romance. This was the interesting part for me, since I do have a Goodreads account and I knew that self-publishing something like this would was akin to dropping a bomb on the place. I admit I was looking forward to the pretty lights.
However, the scam accusations are strange and a tad unexpected. Yes, it’s a joke. On the other hand, the authors plotted the book, outlined it, and did indeed write it. The pieces were assembled, standardized, rewritten, and then edited. The last part is important, since many self-published titles are…not. The leaders of the project sent out query letters to actual agents and managed to drum up some interest despite YA Paranormal Romance’s passing as a Thing, but decided the publishing process would take too long and required them to change the finished book too much. They commissioned cover art. They paid everyone involved. In other words, a lot of work went into it. It is exactly what the back cover (and, by extension, the descriptions on Amazon and Goodreads) promises, judging from the various excerpts available online: a standard YA paranormal romance set in the Lovecraft mythos. If you don’t know the back-story and aren’t aware of the joke, you still get exactly what you’ve paid for. It doesn’t dissolve into an essay about how horrible current YA trends are in romanticizing abusive relationships etc. It’s a novel. It has a high school romance. It has Cthulhu. Nobody who bought this should feel ripped off. Disappointed, maybe. And I think most of the folks who have bought it were probably in on the joke.
So, next issue, and the one I did expect: why has this resulted in a miniature nuclear explosion on Goodreads of folks marking it “do not read”, “won’t touch in a million years” et alia? Simple answer: YA authors have been notorious for trying to stifle bad reviews, breaking the one major Rule of the Internet for authors: Thou shalt not comment on a bad review. And the corollary: thou shalt not send thy fans after thy critics. Reviewers in the genre feel hard-done by, especially after the “Stop the Goodreads bullies” debacle where a cadre of mostly YA authors decided to try to harry and bully certain bloggers and reviewers into silence. Some of the reviewers have therefore appointed themselves defenders of integrity and justice in a crusade to expose authors behaving badly, rather than the usual response of pointing and laughing.
Part of the plan for Awoken was for author persona Serra Elinsen to act like Becca Fitzpatrick and respond to bad reviews. I think whoever’s in charge of the account thought those bad reviews, some quite comic in there acerbity, were by fans trying to stir up some laughs. Well, “Serra” also hit some genuine reviews as well. And…pretty lights ensued. I feel a bit bad since I find this part uproariously funny and it shouldn’t be, especially because others in on the joke, in their zeal for the project, have gone from light trolling into behaviour that reviewers could interpret as harassment.
The thing is…it’s not that far from the way certain authors act. I’ve seen some authors react a great deal worse. One example: the “Christian Song of Ice & Fire” from a writer recently expelled from the SFWA. He who blogs about one-star Amazon and Goodreads reviews. He accuses them of serving his arch-nemesis John Scalzi and of not reading the book, and then directs his fans to dog pile bad reviews and does everything to take those reviews down. The imbroglio over Awoken isn’t nearly at that level of nastiness. The flame-wars are the result of over-enthusiasm and genuine confusion. If anything, it’s exposing a great deal about the insular reviewing culture of Goodreads and certain YA book blogs that I’ve noticed but, until now, ignored due to Lack of Care. Even if I am just chortling in amusement at the whole thing, Awoken might actually be…doing some good?
I do plan to read Awoken eventually. Kyle Kallgren’s dramatic reading convinced me that it’s a genuinely funny novel despite (perhaps even because of) its odd origins.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the fireworks.