I sat in the morning sunlight and ran a thumb over the edges of the small paperback’s pages. On the fly leaf, a personal message made me smile, because I know the person who created this book. How magical a book is–an entire world encapsulated between the covers, the product of a complex neural network and something even less tangible. These thoughts, naturally, led me into a consideration of how we value the creative work of writers in the current milieu, and the tension between our cultural love of “Free” and the ascription of value.
One Must Earn the Price of Bread
Don’t get me wrong, I love free things, especially books. I’m in a place where I have to carefully choose between the many books I would like to purchase and make every penny count, because unfortunately, I am also a starving writer. But my story isn’t important at the moment. I would like to examine how we have created a culture where “free” things are expected, while at the same time we attach value to objects and projects via monetary terms.
Are we giving full value to writers who offer some of their work for free if we don’t also offer payment of some type or purchase other work they produce? Is that really fair or even proper? Would you take kindly to doing your job for free? There must be some sort of compensation, because a marketplace involves a give and take, not simply an endless act of taking. This is why I like kindle editions of books that also exist in paperback format. While I truly love a tangible book, I also enjoy being able to offer support with my limited means. I can afford the reduced price for an electronic version, even if I can’t quite commit to the price of the paperback.
Another way that is infinitely appreciated is the writing of reviews for the books that are free. I can’t always write a timely review, especially since my to-be-read stack of free books now numbers close to a hundred volumes. But I try. I never write a review for a work that I don’t enjoy, simply because I rarely finish books I find wanting. Also, I don’t want to harm the author of a work that may just not be my cup of tea. I refuse to give false praise, because that is, in my opinion, more harmful to the author than one less review.
What started as a simple connection on Twitter has become a friendship of sorts. I’m sure he felt he’d bitten off more than he could chew at first, since I have a reputation for being a chatterbox, but he’s adapted. If he hadn’t rolled with it, I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to read his work. Not because it’s not interesting or well-written, but because I don’t tend to pick up new fantasy work as a habit. It’s simply not what I seek, although I have my favorite classics.
I love the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Madeleine L’Engle, and Ursula K. LeGuin, but I rarely venture farther than the worlds created by these established masters of the craft. It was only by pure chance that I read Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which I have yet to finish because I don’t like Sanderson’s style in the books he completed after Jordan’s death. So, why did I pick up Hedge King in Winter and Merchant’s Tale?
First, I did so because I came to know Michael personally, and I wanted to support his efforts. But as I read Hedge King, I became increasingly invested in the story for its own sake. The world Mike created is incredibly detailed, and it is drawn from the complex cultural histories of Europe–Ireland, the Roman Empire, and even farther afield. I’m a historian and anthropologist, and I found that logical, realistic sociopolitical foundation as irresistible as catnip.
The next point in favor of his work is that the characters are realistic. They mess up, agonize, celebrate, plot, and eat and drink in a sensible way. While there is a major element of mystery and magic twining through the fantasy cosmos he created, the characters speak to me. I became frustrated with the doltish actions of the protagonist on more than one occasion. But to give him his due, he was in over his head in more than one way.
If the story had not been well-written, what I would have seen was not the infuriatingly thick behavior of one character or the subtle and canny political machinations of another, but the writing itself. The same can be said for the second book in the series, Merchant’s Tale. While I liked this one less than Hedge King, it was just as well written. My dislike is due to the fact that I actually found the main character an odious person, and was constantly wishing him a bad end. But that, like the different scope of the story itself, is valuable, as well.
I’d like you to go and view Michael’s Amazon page. Read the reviews and, if you’re intrigued, pick up a copy of Hedge King for under a dollar. I don’t often recommend reading, even when I do post reviews–which I have for both books in the series. If I didn’t actually believe that these stories would please the mind and entertain the imagination, I wouldn’t do so now. But I do, and I have.