Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?

That's a question Richard K Morgan asked a while back in a rather heated article about backbiting factionalism in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. If you've been reading my posts for a while you've heard me say lovely things about my fellow spec-fic writers. Things are good. I like these people. They like me, it seems. But that may be a new arrival's rosy-eyed view of things.

If you've visited here in the past you may also know that I respect Mr. Morgan as a writer. I dig what he does. I'm interested in what he has to say, and I'm aware that I'll be thinking about his complaints in this essay often as I navigate my upcoming sci-fi/fantasy events (ReaderCon in July and Denvention in August).

Anyway, here's the post if you're interested. Let me know what you think...

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Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

I couldn't agree more with Mogan's observations and feelings on the subject.

The truth of the matter is that I, a consumer, could care less about the things these "bloggers" (and some authors) seem to be bickering about.

I'm going to buy what interests me. I bought Acacia because I was intrigued by the summery on the flap; I loved it because it was different that the standard Dungeons and Dragons fare. But, in early 2008 with R.A. Salvatore's new Drizzt book came out, I bought it that day, even though people will argue that all his books are the same old thing.

Why? Because as much as I like something different, I like something the same.

Because I know that I like Drizzt books, and while they may not blow me away, the will entertain me; they are, to me, a fun and easy read. Something you can read with joy and not take too seriously.

I love the characters, and I love to read about their adventures, and that's what I pay $24.99 for - people who buy a Drizzt book and expect it to be Acacia, for example, are the same people who buy '86 Honda Civics and expect to supercharge them and become magically cool.

Then they want to cry out for attention and talk about "what rubbish this is" because "it's the same old story". Well, no crap! That's what Salvatore does, and the man's sold a veritable TON of books!

Take Robert Jordon (RIP). He's got, what, sixteen books? I'm not sure; A LOT. Anyway, when Eye of the World came out, it was praised for "turning the fantasy genre upside down", it reinvented the idea of epic fantasy, yadda yadda yadda. And it was a Great Book. But 15,000 pages later, it's not so revolutionary anymore. Now the release of a new Wheel of Time book, like the release of a new Drizzt book, is an event to celebrate something that is the same old thing - because you want to finish the story, because you like to read about Rand al'Thor and his friends and what they're doing in that world.

If WoT had ended in say, four books, everyone one would be talking about how "someone should do that again."

I call bullshit. It all comes back to I'm going to buy what I want to buy. I don't buy things simply because their edgy and different. If Acacia had been written like crap I wouldn't have liked it - I don't care how "different" it was. (and I would have told you about it).

At the end of the day this debate is no different than the PS3 vs XBOX360 debate, or Mac vs PC vs Linux, or Star Trek vs Star Wars; just enjoy whatever you enjoy, nothing else matters. If you crave something different and though provoking, pick up Acacia. If you want something light and fun, pick up a Drizzt novel. What does it matter really? Would you miss out on a good story just because some asshole told you to? If so then I can't help you.

Because I'm here for what I like, not what someone else tells me to like, anything else is just a waste of resources.

My 2 Cents.


12:44 PM  
Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

Of course I mispelled his name. Geez. Sorry, Morgan.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with incubus jax on every point.

It saddens me that there's so much looking-down-noses among writers. Probably there's a lot of personal insecurity at the root of it. Writing seems to be an endeavor uniquely geared toward alternately inflating and puncturing one's ego.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

I'll just agree with both of you.

I read that essay a little while ago, and it just saddens me that someone had to write it. Because SOMEONE had to write it.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Dirk said...

Hey, Maya might be interested in the June issue of National Geographic.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

I'm with you Erica and Paranoyd.

It's actually kind of irritating as well. But when I think about it, it does make sense in a way. I mean, think about the types of people that read mystery. Who are they? What are their interests?

Now who do you think of when you think of SciFi/Fantasy? The stereotypical nerd right? The computer geek.

It's true in a lot of ways. It's not the rule, but it is true, and computer guys, for example, are VERY competitive with each other in this type of way. Have you ever read a forum where a flame war broke out over PS3 and XBox, or maybe AMD vs Intel?

I'm not saying that it's all a bunch of computer guys, I'm just saying the demographic that reads a majority of Sci/Fi-Fantasy, in my mind, are these types of people with these types of attitudes.

Maybe I'm looking at it all wrong, but that's what seems to me anyway.

I have a friend who writes Thrillers, you might have heard of him, his name is Robert Liparulo. He's supposed to be out at the house in July, I'll ask him what he thinks about it, or if he sees the same thing in his Genre. I'm willing to be not.

But still, sad.

12:06 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Folks,

Back from the island. Had a very nice time, by the way...

This one is kind of a no-brainer to me, although I certainly understand that Richard is pointing at a very real situation. Consider that I came into fantasy after first having published historical novels with a literary flavor to them. Before that I was a straight out literary wannabe, but found that when I combined my approach to writing with the interesting storylines of history I liked the result. When I jumped to fantasy it was very much thinking that I'd take everything I knew about writing thus far and leap at the imaginative potential of an imagined world. Never along the way did any of it seem easier, or less important, or less challenging and engaging. For some time now I've been disappointed with the mainstream literary world for not acknowledging that good writing happens in all genres AND disappointed that so many won't acknowledge that people read for different reasons and that's okay.

The notion that people with an already marginalized "genre" have their own variation of the same blinders is a bit depressing. It's a pretty small pool to begin with. Why piss in it?

Having said that, I stick with my overall personal experience of finding the sci-fi/fantasy community quite welcoming - especially the writers. I was on a panel at ComicCon last year with RA Salvatore. I had a great time talking with him. He was genuine and relaxed and unpretentious, AND he made a point of talking about the good things he'd heard about Acacia. He knew that it was likely a very different take on fantasy than his, but he had no problem welcoming me in and wishing me the best with it. I've read him enough to know that - as Jax points out - his Drizzt books aren't concerned with a lot of the things my work is. But so what? I admire it that he writes tales that so many people enjoy and want to return to again and again. It would never work for me to model my work after his, because my work is an extension of who I am and I can't really alter the DNA of that. This is all as it should be, though. Let's be different. Let's aspire to different things without denigrating those that don't aspire to the same things you do.

It's not that complicated.

Ericka, you wrote:

"Writing seems to be an endeavor uniquely geared toward alternately inflating and puncturing one's ego."

That's very true. I think that's part of why otherwise intelligent people can act like children on a playground when it comes to what others are writing. Disdain is often an expression of insecurity and frustration.

Dirk, Huh? What's in the June issue of National Geographic?

1:00 PM  
Blogger Dirk said...

I recall from a previous post (I think it was about The Golden Compass) that she liked Snow Leopards.

2:56 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Right you are. Thanks for that. Nice of you to remember. I'll pass the info on!


3:20 PM  
Blogger Meghan said...

"Have you ever read a forum where a flame war broke out over PS3 and XBox, or maybe AMD vs Intel?"

I have. I work at IGN, and we get some pretty nasty comments on a regular basis. The kids take this kind of thing VERY seriously, but ironically their comments are beyond immature.

Frankly I'm shocked that adults (most of which I assume have never completed a book in their life, btw) feel the need to judge an entire genre. You know what matters to me in SF/Fantasy? Good writing and a great imagination. Period. And since most "space operas" happen in a far-flung future, who's to say what's realistic and what's not? We're discovering new things every day. Geez. Lighten UP uber-nerds!

8:46 PM  
Blogger Mark Lavallee said...

I couldn't agree more Meghan!!!

I don't claim to have any "connections" in the writing biz, but I do like to email authors about their books if I've read them and let them know what I truly felt about their work (and it's not always glowing).

Am I reviewer? Heck no - I'm a consumer. I'm the guy who shelled out my money for their story, and I think they would want to hear from me and everyone else.

But from talking with guys like David, and Pat Rothfuss, and some others what I've found is that - on the majority - the authors of the genre are genuinely nice people. Barb and JC Hendee will return every email they get. R.A. Salvatore is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meed - a real big Teddy Bear, really.

I think, that the world is a large place, people have different goals. People get emotional, and when emotions flare and passion is in full, harsh words can be exchanged.

Hey David, your initials spell DAD. -my random useless obvious thought for the day.

Glad the island was fun!!!

1:55 AM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Just to clarify - I don't think anyone is saying that scifi authors/consumers are NOT nice people. I think what is going on here is a couple of things.

First, most people in our genre have been bullied during their young lives, and mainly for being geeks. The associate the things they enjoy with being ridiculed - so they go on the defensive immediately when their "stuff" is threatened. It is hard to differentiate, when you are a beaten dog, between the foot that kicks you because it wants to and the one that does so because it carelessly wanders too close, or even trips over you. In other words, many times those who are in the genre are just tired of explaining their view and just lash out.

This is not constrained to geek culture. It was explained to me that when one who is ignorant or has a different viewpoint says to the ones he is differing from "Well, then, explain what you mean ..." about race, or sexual orientation, or gender equality, many times they just assume he does not really want to engage in conversation and is just looking for new ways to confirm his initial opinion. So, instead of taking time on what they assume, due to their experiences, is a lost cause, they just tell them to go away or say they are not responsible for their education. (David, ABW does this all the time, as do her readers, and is one of my issues with her blog. Just an illustration, and an aside.) Do I equate defending geek culture with race issues? No, not at all. But the feelings of being attacked are the same, regardless of the source.

The other reason people get so territorial with their stuff relates to the first one. People have a hard time differentiating between what a person enjoys and who a person is. And the lines are blurred for the specific person as well. Like the Star Wars vs Star Trek fight - I like both, but neither one defines me. But people allow those things to define them, so they get upset when they perceive an attack on one of their foundations.

A good equivalent to this concept would be religion. Many people, like myself, have a specific faith in something - but that is just a part of themselves. But far too many people subsume themselves into a religion until they are incapable of seeing where their personal philosophies end and the church's forced reeducation begins, to the extent that they believe anyone who does not think the way they do is trying to tear their foundations out from under them and therefore is an enemy to be squashed and destroyed - all in their deities name, of course.

Again, I am not likening geek culture to a religion, even if some treat it as such. I am merely making an equivalency that may make all of this easier to understand.

It is disingenuous to accuse people of being judgmental ... I'll let you soak in the irony of that one. Really, if you consider where these attitudes are coming from, you can take some steps to make sure the "other" in the discussion does not feel threatened and like you are trying to kick their feet out from under them - even as you can remember that they may not realize how they sound and that they are not really trying to do the same to you.

David, you mentioned that I have a "zen" way of looking at "taking offense" when we met at WisCon - these comments may apply to that view as well. Yes, I have looked into Buddhism, as well as Tau and some small amount of Te. I can be a boisterous, obnoxious person, but under all of that is a specific drive to understand others and a belief that this is the only way the world improves - if I improve myself and how I interact with others.

3:04 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


My seven year old son just had that D.A.D. revelation recently as well...


The geek culture component of this is interesting to consider. Again, I'm sort of coming into that culture from someplace on the fringes of it. The things that Richard points out seem familiar to me from the literary/academic world as well, so I guess I think of them as realities that cross the board. But, true enough, there may be a more specific nature to the sf/fantasy variation.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

David - I think in the literature area it comes from somewhere else. The attitudes may seem the same, but the contextual differences matter.

For instance - someone who fears cats because they were attacked by them and almost lost an eye has a fair amount of reasoning behind his fear. He may overcome that with reason, and with the help of people who understand he is not lashing out because he is a bad person, he just had a bad experience.

Conversely, someone who fears cats for no real reason except "They just know there is something to fear." has little to no reasoning behind his fear, and is not likely to be reasoned through it anytime soon.

But they both fear cats.

In the literary world, from what I can gather, the attitudes Morgan talks about are probably not to be laid at the feet of multiple beatings by the jock squad or a TV show ridiculing the reader - it is more likely to just be a feeling of superiority based around the word "Literature."

Again, same outcome, different reasons. One is protective, the other is snobbish. And one is far more likely to be "curable" than the other.

12:52 AM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

I'll just add "IMHO" to the above, thank you very much.

12:53 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I'd buy the basic premise of the distinction you're making. I had to think about the cat metaphor for a bit, but I'll pet it.

The only part I'm skeptical of is the cut and dry way you define the difference between the two.

"One is protective, the other is snobbish."

That's too simple. (And I'm speaking in generalities, here, as well...) I know that the academics are all too often snobbish, but I also know they're as nervous and self-doubting as anyone else. In their case, though, one of the standard ways of dealing with insecurities is to condescend. That can be a defense mechanism, one they often have to employ against a popular culture that doesn't grant them the importance they feel is their due.

On the other hand, I don't think that the geek culture contingent can have a complete pass because of bad experiences in their collective past. Individual's behavior may be "protective", but on occasion it can be "snobbish" too.

This may need to be handled on a case by case basis, instead of the kind of unwieldy manner we're doing with "groups" of people.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

I can see what you mean. There is certainly a lot of cross-over of attitudes. I was speaking in generalities, of course, and then we are defining the parameters of the generalities allowed.

I would say that on the whole, no specific person is exactly the way I described them. I would say that a case by case basis would be preferable in examining these attitudes. But I would also say that, given the people I've seen in the "general" scifi crowd and the "general" literary crowd; if you were to ask someone about their background you would probably see much more of one or the other than you might think.

Ahh, good discussion. I hope you all had fun on the island (as your post seems to intimate you did.) I'm enjoying Acacia - it is a very different read from the other stuff I've been reading lately. If books like Crystal Rain are the freeway of novels, Acacia is more like the Scenic Route. It's beautiful, but I have to remind myself it is the journey not the destination that is important. (Slightly difficult due to mild ADD, but I'm working though it.) Anyway, I'll let you know when I finish it. It's definitely engaging, and I look forward to my next chances to read a few chapters. (I have to read in the car in parking lots while the little girl is sleeping in her car seat behind me.)

3:52 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey, I'm a sucker for the scenic route...

8:50 PM  

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