You know, I've been involved in mountain rescue over the years... and so many disasters happen when bright sparks (like yours monkily) take the wrong trail (because it looks better) and then don't have the common sense - or sometimes the self-confidence, to look at the 75 degree scree-slope with the cliff at the base in the dusk, and the mist swirling in on a freezing gale, to say "Okay, I was a plonker. We're staying RIGHT HERE until morning and then we'll walk back and take the other path. You were right, Fred, Mary and the dog." No, we press on, even as the scree gets steeper and more slippery.
Occasionally it doesn't all end horribly.
Humans (me neither, and I'm only distantly related) are not great at admitting we're wrong. At least not at the time or from close up. I was re-reading SHADOW OF THE LION as homework for the latest book, and I wanted take that Dave Freer outside and give him a good kicking. Because... If I was writing that book now, I'd chop a few bits I wrote (not to mention bits the others wrote) get rid of a few subplots entirely, and write it whole lot better. There are still bits (Benito diving for Kat's grey goods, the scene at the Red Cat, the mess that Marco gets himself into marrying Angelina to pay off an imagined debt of honor etc.) that are pretty well done and memorable. At the time it seemed a good scree slope, with the place we were trying to get to not far off. Now... heh. Well THIS ROUGH MAGIC was better written anyway.
Increasingly, however I have come to suspect that whole of publishing is on a steep, steep scree. It's getting steeper, and darker and wetter ahead. I think the industry is determinedly plunging forward even as it loses parts of the party into the abyss. And, actually, I don't think it's going to get better in that direction. There are a few people (Baen Books to name one) trying other routes but mostly it seems relentlessly the same imagined path.
The big question is, well, which direction SHOULD we be going? Well, in my opinion, toward books that have real appeal to massive numbers of readers. They exit. Harry Potter et al proved it. Just what are the kind of books that would get a lot of people reading? Where did the industry go off track?
My opinion - Based on the surprising success of the re-issue of the James H Schmitz books that there is a huge appetite for good old-fashioned space opera, with clearly defined bad guys and heroes we can identify with. And yes, that does mean alien villains who are not just misunderstood, now that you mention it :-)
So let's have some feedback: what authors style/type of story from the dark ages/golden years do you think would work well now in sf/ fantasy?