Installment 229, in which young Thomasina gets all in a tizzy about serialised novels and receives her comeuppance
All of my anachronistic tendencies are running around in their little highnecked blouses and lace-up boots with sheer delight at the news that Penguin is releasing a novel in serial form. G.W. (Gordon) Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is going to be turned out in ten paperback installments, one each week, prior to publication of the full novel in January.
The serialised format of this project, hearkening back to the days when Dickens’ Great Expectations outsold daily newspapers, is also mirrored in the project’s form and content. The volumes are bound and the covers designed to resemble Victorian serials, while the story itself, according to reviews in the U.S. where the full book has already been released, is a dark blend of science fiction, thriller, fantasy, and gothic mystery.
The serials’ home is a kind of parallel-universe but unnamed Victorian London, in which our three heroes, Miss Temple, a pretty and upright Victorian young woman, Dr. Svenson, a foreign physician enlisted to be chaperone to the Prince, and Cardinal Chang, an adequately Dickensian lower-class crook hired to kill a man, set out to solve their independent mysteries. The answers are somehow bound up in the three villains (titles leant them upfront by Penguin’s website, lest there be any confusion), the Contessa Laquer-Sforza, the Comte d’Okancz, and Francis Xonck. And, also no doubt, in the Glass Books and the Dream Eaters.
Reviews have been mixed: the Washington Post dismissed it as “hundreds of pages of ornament piled on a rickety piece of storytelling,” but the Cleveland Plain Dealer hailed it as “flat-out fun, engaging and funny as any tale of mystery and imagination I can recall,” saying also that “the dialogue is wry, the descriptions clever and the complicated plot advances as smoothly as a patrician’s pocket watch. …At more than 700 pages, this one ends too quickly.” The Kansas City Star weighed in the middle, praising Dahlquist for creating “a literary character in Miss Temple,” and assessing the book as having “a clever conceit with a foundation of literature as fantasy, though it has its excesses and derivations.” All other things aside, I find charges of verbosity in a serial to be rather beside the point: Dickens, for example, is not exactly concise. For which I love him, being a humble heir to prolixity myself (cf. size of current post).
But here the similarities to Victorian serials (if spiced up with a bit of science fiction and fantasy) end. The serials are not available in stores; you can only purchase a subscription online, with a limited edition of 5,000 copies. The entire series sells for Â£25, roughly Â£8 more than the complete edition to be published early next year, and in the U.S., only the full novel is purchasable.
If this is slightly dissapointing, confusion follows. Apparently, Penguin is using the book to “lure readers to their fledgling online site,” (according to Reuters) a goal that many publishers around the globe are trying to acheive in order to eliminate the middleman.coms like Amazon and encourage readers to buy directly from the publishers.
“Publishing is routinely behind in terms of using the Internet,” explained Amelia Fairney, publicity director for Penguin imprint Viking. “We have to start using it the same way the music and film industries have. We’re just moving with the times really.” An admirable goal, certainly, but it seems counter-intuitive to promote a website with a serialised novel. Would the music industry, as indicated by Fairney, promote their website with the release of wax cylinder recordings? Bookhugger that I am, I would never suggest that books are an analogously antiquated medium, but with the information flow tendencies of our society, promoting the serials via the website would make a lot more sense.
And furthermore, the Glass Books website does really seem in the business of promoting the books rather than drawing readers into an online community, as was originally promised. The Reuters article: “Penguin is hoping fans will discuss the book online after reading each installment and delve into the elaborate mythology surrounding the characters in a devoted online space, www.glassbooks.co.uk.” Both elaborate mythology and delving readers appear to be absent. Perhaps the forum for a blogging community has not yet been set up, as the book will not be sent out to its subscribers until next month, but until then, it does beg the question: who is promoting whom?
Embarking on an attempt to solve my own mystery, I discovered that (oddly enough) the U.S. site for the book has a a bit more interactive material—namely, an online game inventively dubbed the Glass Books of the Dream Eaters Online Adventure—but still no forums. And I join a fair amount of other internet readers annoyed that the author on the UK site (GW Dahlquist) is advertised as having “never entertained the idea of being a writer until a chance encounter with film-maker Stanley Kubrick,” while the author on the U.S. site (Gordon Dahlquist) is said to be a playwright and film-maker living in New York. The ever-amusing and ever-informative folks at Booksquare apparently also found somewhere the claim that GW Dahlquist was the “worldâ€™s sole remaining practitioner of mesmerism.” By the time I arrived at the website, as far as I could divine, this mention of mesmerism had joined its disappearing brethren.
Maybe both Mr. Dahlquists did, in fact, meet Mr. Kubrick, or maybe neither of them did, but I would at least expect them to keep the marketing fiction consistent. You wouldn’t let this kind of inconsistency go within a fiction story (not that it hasn’t happened before, cf. The Three Musketeers), so why is it acceptable precisely within the realm which is supposed to be non-fiction? Does parallel-universe GW Dahlquist come part and parcel with parallel-universe Victorian London? The idea occured to me briefly that maybe all of this confusion is a kind of carefully orchestrated meta-mystery to draw in people as completely befuddled as myself, but I hardly think anyone involved has demonstrated that they’re quite that clever.
Visit Jurgen Wolff’s blogpost on Penguin’s marketing campaign; Daphoenus - Girl of Destiny’s telling inclusion of the book in ‘Literary Thingies’ rather than ‘Book Recommendations’; and a favourable review at Suburban Peril.