Recently, I read a book that could have been awesome. The cover was iffy, as it was done in the wrong style for the genre (pastels, not oils for SciFi), but the blurb was intriguing, and the premise had a ton of promise! A woman inherits a vineyard she didn’t know a family member had, and moved her kids and widowed mom to a completely new colony. They’re settling in… just as an interstellar war breaks out.
Unfortunately, the author didn’t live up to the promise.
She, ah… Well, first, the author treats a farm like it’s a turnkey shop. The main character walks in, and there are no caretakers, no workers, nothing… so she has to hire a local who knows how to work a vineyard to do all the work and teach her. Yes, you heard right: “a” local. Just one. *sinal salute*
Whom she starts flirting with. And then the author rather abruptly and awkwardly retconned the main character about 3 chapters in. And then proceeded to ignore plot structure, character arcs, economics, military strategy, military tactics, viticulture, logistics, ecology, basic human decency and empathy…
The final straw was when, without any mention of automation, the protagonist decided that since she’d let her local help she was boinking get arrested without bothering to try to stop it or fight for him, she’d have to harvest the entire vineyard herself. (He was arrested after the war was over by the winning side for having gone AWOL from the losing side… Yeah, and he went awol before the fighting even started… yeah, no, the author sure didn’t get military justice or the entire history of how you mop up after a war correct either!)
Anyway, she doesn’t even think to ask her family for help. Nope, All By Herself, she harvests the entire crop, and then “processes” and bottles it. All by herself, she then sells the wine to restaurants… within two months of harvest.
Yeah, the author really wrote that.
I kept reading for values of train wreck.
And then out of sheer pique, I sat down and wrote how she should have handled a scene. A single scene, this time actually noting that you have work to do in a vineyard for the entire rest of the year, not just at harvest. (It’s a farm!) Of course, not only was the author disastrously ignorant on the operations of a vineyard, but there’s no way an AWOL soldier would be familiar enough with a farm’s operation that he could run the whole thing alone while the protagonist wangsts in the house. So clearly she’d have to be the skilled labour, hiring him for trainable semi-skilled labour.
And if I’m going to be writing a major character, I’m not going to glorify or justify something as stupid as AWOL. No, if he’s getting hired as labour and he’s active duty, then… may be he’s LRRP trying to insert into somewhere for observation? After all, vineyards like being on slopes, so the cold air drains away and prevents danger of frost. So, what’s in the valley below he’s trying to observe while pruning?
…and hey, hello there character, I didn’t ask you to show up. I was just writing something throwaway out of a fit of pique. And why are you giving me a patient, longsuffering, and utterly intractable look and saying “Well, somebody’s got to take care of that girl”?
Ten thousand words later… I now have 12 sites bookmarked on viticulture and am elbows-deep into pdf manuals on dosage and frequency of pesticides / herbicides / fungicides, and comparative advantages and disadvantages of competing trellis systems. You know you’re getting into the viticulture equivalent of the 9mm vs. .45 debate when you read “the industry has settled on bud burst as the proper term, as opposed to bud break.”
I know that the history of SF&F is essentially a conversation, where the books authors write are responding to what came before. I’ve even been delving into Jack Vance and Edgar Rice Burroughs and C L Moore in order to… to scroll back up the conversational thread, essentially.
But I never thought I’d start a story out of pique.
Have you ever done this?