Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes #1
To quote an old joke: "There are two kinds of people in the world - those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who donít." Of course, this all falls apart whan you start to deal with several variables, and populations characteristics tend to become continuous distributions.
The characteristic I want to explore here is the variety of subjects and styles that an author uses in their works. At one pole, there are authors who only seem to write one type of story, always set in the same world, with the same characters and possibly even the same plots.† An extreme example would be the Gor novels by John Norman. As far as I can tell, they are all virtually identical.
Much more common is the type of author like Raymond Feist or Anne McCaffrey who concentrate on a particular world with many common themes, but with variety of plot and character present within them. Sometimes such authors may break out and produce something different.
As you move along towards the high variety extreme, you get authors who produce works which have similar themes but which are set on different worlds with different characters. Charles Sheffield comes to mind for this level.† As you get even further along you encounter authors such as Greg Bear who mainly write in one style, but who have broken out into other areas such as fantasy and horror. Dan Simmons is another who shows this kind of diversity.
By this time, I presume that you have cottoned on to this idea and can think of how various authors fit along the scale.† So what does it all prove? I suspect nothing very useful at all. I believe that there is a correlation between diversity of writing and quality, but it is only weak.† In other words you are more likely to find that a highly skilled author among those with a wide range of output, but it is not a sure thing by any means and therefore pretty useless. On the other hand, I did have fun thinking about it and trying to see where authors fit - perhaps you may find it a diverting pastime too.
You should figure the actions of the publishers into your deliberations.† Remember that many authors keep writing in one universe because they sell well and the publisher will not let them branch out. Other authors, usually low talent hacks, are used by publishers to write stories in a particular area when they are fashionable.† For example an author may be asked to write a Cyberpunk novel in the late Ď80s and a Mars novel in the early Ď90s followed by an alternative history - all because that is what happens to be fashionable at the time.† I am sure you can all think of the authors I mean.
You may now ask yourself why I have devoted six paragraphs to a diverting but essentially useless measure of the worth of an author.† It all came about because of two books I have recently read, each of which is a major change of pace for the author concerned.† In one case this is no surprise but for the other it constitutes a departure from a trend.† Make of that what you will.
Jack Womack has written five books all set in a common universe.† These books are set in a New York where society has finally broken down and deals with the lives of some of the people caught up in the chaos and the power brokers who control things.† His latest book Lets Put The Future Behind Us is set in contemporary Russia.† It follows a businessman as he threads his way through the remnants of the old bureaucracy and the new Mafia while keeping his mistress away from his wife and his brother away from financial ruin.† There are some similarities between his previous works as both deal with people coping with the collapse of the way their world worked. A gritty and sometimes funny novel, this work has a real feel about it that you get from writers who know and love their subject. I can certainly recommend this book.
I can also strongly recommend Bradley Dentonís latest effort Lunatics. Denton is an author who lives by diversity.† His previous three novels have had storylines and styles which differ by considerable amounts. He is certainly a candidate to represent the extreme diversity end of the scale I discussed above. The only thing the books seem to have in common is an off the wall approach to plot lines.
Lunatics is a gentle fantasy about a man who loses his wife and falls in love with a moon goddess (Lilith) who visits him on the night of the full moon.† But she can only get to him if he is outside and not wearing any clothes so that she can see him. This farcical element is countered by a group of friends who rally around our moonstruck hero to protect him, but who meantime fall under the influence of the goddess in various ways. While the overall tone of the novel is gentle, there are some powerful emotions on display as the various characters interact towards the inevitable happy ending.† This is a novel where it is very easy to get involved with the characters - the "emotional buy-in" factor is very high. I found it gripping stuff indeed.