As a reader, it’s somewhat difficult to determine what to root for when you’ve marked an author as your “favorite.” Obviously you want as much content as possible from that person1, right now please, because it’s sooo good. Then again, if they’re rushing their latest work just to get it out because the topic’s hot in the marketplace, because there’s a deadline to meet, etc., there’s always the danger it will be missing the vital spark that enraptured  you in the first place.

That lengthy preamble is by way of talking about Scott Meyer and his most recent work, The Authorities. Meyer is a webcomic creator (webcomicist?) and a writer — I don’t know in which order he prefers, nor the “proper” order in terms of financial success or time spent. The webcomic, Basic Instructions, predated the novels’ publication, and it’s how I discovered his work at any rate.

When he announced the self-publication of the first book, Off To Be the Wizard, I bought because I generally liked the comic and the barrier to entry wasn’t too high ($4 or $5 for the ebook). It became one of my favorite books owing to the ingenious concept, tight writing and wealth of absolutely hilarious jokes.2 In due time, the book’s popularity/quality was noticed by Amazon, who picked him under their 47North publishing imprint, specifically aimed at the science fiction market. At the same time, he announced the writing of the second book, Spell or High Water, which I preordered immediately so I could read it as soon as possible.

[book]

It wound up being … disappointing. It’s a bit of a cliché, the sophomore slump for novelists, but the stereotypical shoes fit. I wouldn’t say it was bad, but the plotting seemed plodding, the dialogue a bit wooden and the humor didn’t come anywhere near the lofty heights of Wizard. 

And maybe that’s okay! After all, it’s kind of an unfair standard for any book to live up to, isn’t it? “Well, it’s fine, but it’s not as good as my favorite book.” By definition, literally no other books are — otherwise they’d be your favorite, yeah? And certainly, given the similarities of the book (it being a direct sequel and all), it’s not at all surprising it came short.[Footnote]Though, after thinking about it, there are vanishingly few authors who wrote more than one book I consider a “favorite” — on my Goodreads account, 5 stars is a favorite

But at the same time, while I might have been hoping for as good as the first, it didn’t match the base quality I had expected from Meyer given his other work. Again, not abjectly terrible, but I found myself surprised at how little I liked it.

Thus, when the third in the series came out (An Unwelcome Quest), I found myself trepidatious. It wound up being better than I expected, though (again unsurprisingly) not as good as the first.

Then came the one out of left field — Master of Formalities, a pure sci-fi novel completely separate from what he’s calling the “Magic 2.0” series. It was released in July 2015 — for those of you counting, that’s March 29, 2013 (Wizard); June 17, 2014 (Spell); February 10, 2015 (Quest); and July 28, 2015 (Formalities). I try to keep an open mind when sitting down with anything new — the blurb for Formalities made it sound so uninteresting I almost skipped it entirely. Luckily I didn’t, because it wound up being enjoyable, even if the first half of the novel mostly just felt like work.

Then, out of basically nowhere (at least to me), came The Authorities, on October 1, 2015. It’s self-published,3 which I mention only because it meant there was no direct publisher pressure to hit a deadline. It was okay, for a procedural mystery. I don’t know. Neither Formalities nor Authorities had the same oomph, the same “holy crap this is cool and well-done and I need to share it with everyone I know.” They’re … fine?

In my head, it’s a question of timing. Off To Be The Wizard, as his first novel, had the benefit of germinating in his mind for essentially the entirety of his life up to that point. There was no fear of reusing jokes, or being too similar, or not enough time to do as many rewrites as necessary. Once you get to that second novel, the worries might start to creep in. Your best jokes and gags probably saw pretty heavy play in the first book (because why hold back?) and, though you’re still thinking of new ones, they haven’t had the same opportunity to grow and mature. And since he has (had?) the deal with 47North, maybe that changes the process for writing/editing. Writing for genre is often allowed (though certainly not true in all cases) to be looser, of lower quality, less literary-minded. All this is to say the circumstances of the author and even the work is markedly different from the original, so perhaps it should surprise no one that the work itself changes as well.

Of course, all this could be errant speculation. It’s definitely no more than just me musing on the reason for my perceived differences in the works.4

The author’s name still holds sway. There are several authors whose books I buy automatically when they come out with new ones, based on past pleasure. There are some authors I avoid like they’re contagious, in some cases because I’m afraid their ideas are. Heck, it’s the only reason I give Stephen King novels a try anymore, and lord knows I’ve more than a few scorch marks after getting burned by those. It’s a little bit like Kickstarter in that way — you take on faith that the creator will deliver something you want, based solely on what they say it is and their track record.

This is not a final verdict on Meyers one way or the other. He’s not doomed to the wire racks of used bookstores nor guaranteed a place among the scifi stars. It is merely a progress report, a snapshot of how things seem to be going and a few guesses as to why that might be. A this point, I still consider him an author I like and will probably spring for whatever. I’ll just do so with a bit more reluctance, and a little more wariness.


  1. With some exceptions, thanks so very much for proving THAT point, Twitter

  2. Think Arrested Development in terms of joke density

  3. Rocket Hat Industries is a play off a character in his webcomic. I suspect he self-published because it’s not sci-fi enough for a sci-fi imprint.

  4. In this respect, it’s a bit like diagnosing the cat: I know what he’s doing, and I can come up with educated guesses as to why, but they’re really just guesses.