Bland

I recently had minor surgery (at least assuming that the stuff sent to the pathologist comes back clear, it will stay minor) and am experiencing one of the very rare side effects of the anesthesia used.

This is fairly normal.  I mean that I experience the rare side effects, not the effect itself, which apparently strikes one in several million: I’m suffering from hypogeusia.

Strangely, this doesn’t mean I’m low on geusies (or Jerseys) or that I am doing something with horses (that would be hipo, anyway.)

It means a diminished ability to taste.

This means I can taste sweet (somewhat), salty (a lot) and everything else is much of a muchness, kind of like your ability to taste feels when you have a very severe cold.

So, basically I can eat very salty or vaguely sweet cardboard, or alternately very salty or vaguely sweet glue.

It’s amazing how much this diminishes your interest in eating even when you’re hungry.  At most, if I’m really really hungry, it propels me to taking a bite or two of something, and then eating becomes a horrible chore and I usually give up around bite five.

Now, don’t get two worried, because I could lose half my body weight and only be slightly underweight.  Also, for at least half the people the effect goes away after six months, so it’s possible this is temporary.

Also, during this time, it will make it easier for me to “eat right.”  Sure, I’ll be eating very little, but as well down protein powder in water as strawberries and cream if they’re going to taste the same.  As well have salad as ice cream.

Which brings us to the parallel with reading/writing/editing.

Years ago the tendency of editors to prefer the outre and strange or the preachy and “good for you” to the things that readers prefer.

Having done the job of editor — briefly, for a tiny magazine — I can tell you right now that you very quickly acquire hypogeusia of the reading “palate.”  I only did it for a year and a half, then got catastrophically sick and had to stop, but that was long enough to realize that I was looking more for “something out of the ordinary” than “something amusing.

The difference, of course, is that what seemed ordinary to me after reading fifteen similar submissions was not necessarily ordinary — or boring — for people reading for fun and because they want to.

I never got terminally jaded, but jaded enough to imagine what doing the job year after year and day after day forever would do.

Which explains several crazy things that NYC publishing does/did: for instance deciding that Space Opera, the work-horse of science fiction, the main leader in sales for subgenres was “not selling anymore.”  (Mostly because it was getting exactly zero publisher support in distribution and publicity, which in turn…)  Or the sudden proclamations that cozies “aren’t real mysteries” (later walked back, when the bottom line collapsed, with craft mysteries, which are cozy mysteries with the craft “special knowledge” thrown in (and the early ones bloody stupid, showing editorial contempt for the audience.)) Or later that “no one wants to read historical mysteries.”

While all these were proven “true” in numbers after the pronouncement, numbers in trad pub are so inextricably linked to whether the publisher thinks it will sell that it’s impossible to tell if failure is due to that.  (Success OTOH requires both push and a decent writer, as some publishers are finding more and more as push works less and less.)

In fact, we have some proof that all these “decisions” by oh so very jaded traditional publishing editors were in fact a function of some sort of crazy in their brains, perhaps brought on by too much reading of submissions.  The genres that they whacked at the knees are the ones selling best for indies, with the additions of heroic fantasy, mil sf (which for years got you told to send it to Baen, unless told from a very progressive POV) and traditional (no sex.  Think Heyer) romance.

Now, yeah, some of this was political or at least ideological.  At least the rejection of mil sf was that, as was probably Space Opera (feel good exploration of space?  Un-possible) and likely no-explicit-sex romance, because as my brother used to tell me, romance (by which he meant romantic feelings, not pages and pages of explicit erotica) is “the opium of womanhood” and keeps us supposedly pliable, barefoot and maybe even pregnant.

But most of it was hypogeusia.  As I said, when you can’t taste much, you don’t know what things taste like to other people.  It’s easy to concentrate on things that don’t offend you (for some reasons salty cardboard is much worse, in my mind, that vaguely sweet cardboard, or more likely, vaguely sweet mush, possibly because I’ve always liked vaguely sweet mush.) or on things that you believe are good for you (like health food.)

In the old days, the best we could say was that editors should keep in mind that this happened, and try not to impose their tiredness with normal stuff on the world.  (Particularly in genre where the “vaguely like others in the genre” is a feature, leading to “popcorn books” consumed serially by super readers.)

Now, we have the ability to just buy books.  Even very silly books.  (While sickish and out of sorts, I’ve been consuming Pride and Prejudice variations. (i.e. Fanfic.)  Which means that some of them, yeah, are bad enough they get metaphorically “walled” after three pages, but the ones that are just vaguely sweet and like every other one get read one after the other (thank heavens for KULL))

Meanwhile traditional publishing, blythely disregarding their editors’ hypogeusia, continues to push books that are “health food” and “good for you.”

They forget that, unlike food, people don’t have to read.  More importantly even the compulsive readers (like me) can re-read and re-savor past-enjoyed books.  And now, of course, people can read new books that just happen to never have seen a gatekeeper’s desk.

Which means for those of us who can still taste the “health food” is getting increasingly pushed to the side of the plate, even while getting bought by the big houses, and publicized and distributed everywhere because “it’s important.”

The publishers are welcome to keep thinking that this health food can be shoved down our throats, but it’s the road to ruin.

Because we say it’s aragula.  And we say to h*ll with it.

 

48 comments

  1. You’re the second hypogeusic friend in a week. Same side effect, similar drugs. Why are my friends having this suddenly?

    After another cup of coffee I could probably make a “matter of taste” pun that didn’t look labored, but the hell with it.

  2. > “…no one wants to read… [xxx]”

    Translation: new acquisitions editor doesn’t know the genre and doesn’t care to learn, stops buying those and starts buying something else.

  3. I am so grateful for indie publishing. I’ve become acquainted with many authors/books I might otherwise have never seen/read. I generally trust author recommendations of other authors. If I like a book, I buy the series, and I will try other books by that author. I own thousands of printed books, and thousands of ebooks, as I read everywhere. I always have my Kindle, and often a bound book as well. Honestly, I’ve rarely looked at the book lists that are so touted.

    1. Same here – the last books that I bought (mostly ebooks, so I can read while at the gym on the recumbent bike) were recommended here, or at the Sunday morning book thread at Ace of Spades HQ; mostly indy, a few obscure books from past decades which the other commenters lauded.

    1. I’m crazy enough it can’t kill me. I can set myself on a schedule and just eat by the clock. Also, I’m okay with “bland, vaguely sweet” which when you consider cottage cheese and yogurt I can eat enough to keep me alive. It will just be weird.

        1. And now you don’t have to worry about pleasing her palate…. Glenfiddich, Old Hebridean Horse Sweat, it’s all good…. 😉

      1. If you really need to, you could drink chicken stock for calories + protein. (I don’t suggest “chicken soup” because a lot of those have noodles or other tasty carbs, and I know that does you harm.) It’s basically what my dad was ingesting in the later stages of his cancer, when the chemo killed his taste buds.

        1. Yay for bone broth! Whether chicken stock or beef stock, it provides plenty of nutrition and salt, and hydration.

  4. Ouch– I get that when I take prednisone. Oh yea and cytoxan leaves a metallic taste to everything. Hope it gets sorted out soon. It takes a lot of pleasure out of food.

  5. Sarah I think I would slightly modify your contention that we have to have food but we don’t have to read. In my case at least I consider reading very nearly as important as food so I very much have to read, but I don’t desperately have to read any particular book, or genre, if it disinterests me. Fortunately the universe of books is spacious enough that this is never a problem. So I very much have to read, not reading is not optional, and I’d bet that the majority of folks who frequent the M.G.C., and of course your personal blog, also view reading as non-optional. And it is the people for whom writing is non-optional who are the people we most admire, a most felicitous state of affairs in my judgement.

    1. We’re a minority. I also have to read, but I can always re-read, and/or read the instructions for machinery we don’t own, in preference to the latest “good for you” book. Been there. Read that.

      1. And if worse comes to worst, why we can WRITE!

        That’s what got me started. All our books had to be returned to the library a WEEK before we went on vacation. I was on word-withdrawal — so I wrote some instead.

      1. He is very devoted to his theory of the crime, I’ll give him that.

        I like the moderator though. She’s all: “No, its not what you said, you are a jackass for saying it, and I get the last word because Moderator. So F- You, thread closed.”

        That’s how you do it. ~:D

    1. aragula is elitist, which is why I used it. That I know no race prefers aragula. That upper class man, Mr. Obama, was shocked by the price of it, and unaware most of us us just eat lettuce. It’s not funny because he’s black. It’s funny because he’s an ass.

      1. Its typical of Big 0 that he would know the price of arugula but not have any money on him to pay for an ice-cream cone. Rich guys never tip the waitress.

      2. ” It’s funny because he’s an ass.”

        Such a FEEBLE word, Mrs Hoyt. You really shouldn’t have a problem coming up with better. I like the phrase “whoreson craven jackal”, but I’ve been reading a little too much 16th century lately.

  6. That happened in history with certain major awards. It reached the point in grad school that when a professor announced, “Oh yes, and [next week’s book] won the Bancroft,” the entire seminar groaned in unison. First time we’d agreed on anything that semester. The professor looked hurt and demanded, “What’s wrong?” The Voice from The End Of The Table said, “The last four Bancroft books were boring!” Dull, tedious, small-print, deadly boring history, over 300 pages each. Why? Because the committee was looking for “groundbreaking research” and had read so many things that they settled on something novel-to-them, not something people actually wanted to buy and read. There were a few exceptions, but to this day, when I see certain historical awards on the book’s listing, I shudder and brace for the inevitable. I’m rarely disappointed.

    1. Before Larry kicked over the rotting log of the Hugos and exposed all the festering log-rolling corruption beneath, that’s what I’d assumed had happened to that award, too.

      *sigh*

      On the bright and shiny, I love your occasional review of history books. I’m still hesitating on diving into the environmental history of the Yellow River (mainly trying to find time!) – although I loved the way you worked it into the Daughter of the Pearl, and suspect that the fiction is going to make the science a lot more understandable in context!

  7. May have mentioned this before, but the Hallmark company has two cable TV channels, and there’s talk about adding a third. One is formula romance, often with a cute twist. The other is pure cozy mysteries, usually with a female or couple lead, and often based on several authors’ series of cozy novels. And I understand that Hallmark is so desperate for more content that they are starting their own publishing company to mine for source material.
    And yes I am in fact a grumpy old man who likes well told TV stories, even the mushy ones.

    1. They have a couple different for-pay Hallmark Channel subscription apps, so that you can watch even more of the same movies, every day.different

      It is like Lifetime movies, but more cheerful.

  8. I ran into a discussion of this same issue with regards to movie critics. See how many critics constantly dismiss movies as “yet another superhero film,” when the public keeps showing with their dollars that what they really want is yet another superhero film. It’s hard to blame the critics, who’s job is literally to go see movies, for dismissing the popular genres as “same old” and loving anything different. But it also means a serious disconnect between the critics and those that they’re supposedly reviewing for.

    Similarly, it’s hard to blame the editor who has read through 80 bad Tolkien pastiches for screaming, “I never want to see a fantasy in a world that looks vaguely like Medieval Europe again!” But at the same time, the public loves fantasies from vaguely Medieval European worlds, and they’re waiting for their fix. Not sure what the solution is (other than indie’s solution of skip the editor and market straight to the reader). Perhaps limit each editor to six months of the slush pile every five years or something like that.

        1. I have never forgiven the Usual Suspects for cudgeling Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books with the sin, SIN I tell you, of being set in a North America-analog without any Native Americans. Raaaaacism.Totally.

          1. ?

            It was obvious to anyone not looking for an excuse to wound that the Lakewalkers ARE the Native American analog in the “Sharing Knife’ setting.

            How did these people get so cruel? Do they practice?

          2. One of my books got cudgeled because it has a disabled protag who is healed by magic. The reviewer felt that was “cheating” and that I should have shown how the disabled character coped with her disability unhealed and then forged a satisfying life in spite of her physical limitations. Thing is, that was not the story I wanted to tell. I was interested in the emotional limitations my protag struggled with, how she broke free of them (which she did), and how her actions changed her community for the better.

        2. Yup. It’s best to regard them like a rainstorm that catches you in the middle of an open field.

          You’re getting wet. Don’t frantically try to escape.

      1. Same here.

        Frankly, can you imagine their reaction if you set something in say, a medieval fantasy version of South America?

        Actually, in retrospect, they failed to recognize any non-Medieval Europe setting, and assumed it was such anyway – Larry Correia, iirc, explicitly based Son of The Black Sword off of Indian (dot, not feather) cultural settings, and well…

  9. No fun, having next to no tastebuds working. Hope you get better soon.

    Funny thing is that the stuff that’s being pushed nowadays would not have been rated as health food two generations ago. It would actually have been rated as very unsound indeed.

  10. I went through this a while back with Hero’s Journey stories. Please, not another one! Even the good ones put me off. I think I’m over it. The Maxwell Saga almost didn’t get read; I re-read it and loved it. If nothing else, Star Force has been good for that. Our intrepid young hero journeyed 2000 years – and 35 books – ago.

    Oh, if you liked The Maxwell Saga, you will probably like Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper – another series name that desperately needs the volume number at the front. Trader’s Share is the first one.

    1. Sorry, just double-checked: Quarter Share is Book 1 of Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper (as opposed to Trader’s Tales from the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper Book 1).

  11. Had hypogeusia when I had Dengue fever a few years back. Never thought Vegamite could be flavorless, but it was.

Comments are closed.