c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule


I want to be showered in rockets while bathing in perfumed Lovecraft heads while signing our new contracts on the crystalline surface of a nebula.

Because damn.

That would be NEAT.

It would. But the falling rockets would hurt.

He's a man, and old, and British. In UK rhetorical idiom, his comments aren't so bad, really. It's interesting to me that a lot of HOW DAWE HE HUWT MAH FEE-FEES crowd is non-UK.

I haven't really seen the fee-fees crowd. Stross and Scalzi seem to be amused more than anything.

It's a very funny article, down to the point when it descended into personal attacks on individuals. We are a smallish community in British sff, we mostly know each other or are friends-of-friends, and there is some damage done here, alongside the righteous rage and the very entertaining prose. The jury, in particular, are not in a place to defend themselves. I find that rather hard.

As I said in the post I don't agree with all of his comments, and I thought the jury comments were out of line--and I'm amazed that he said this stuff about people who he clearly knows. What awkward conversations he's got ahead of him.

Very eloquent and thoughtful. Well said.

I didn't really like what Priest was saying, but I certainly respected his opinion until he descended into personal attacks. All he has done is made me want to read every single book on this list. Ms. Tepper, if you see this, talking horses = I am so there!

As usual, you are eloquent and extremely thought-provoking in your response. Also, James van der Beek is the cutest.

Shari S. Tepper has been writing SF/F a long time, and I somewhat distrust the OP's two-line dismissal of the book (even though I haven't read it) just because I've never read a Tepper book I thought was terrible.

I should think a jacket with leather elbow patches, rather than all leather.

He's not jealous, but he does cherish, like Brian Aldiss, Barry Malzberg and others, a vision of sf that is not congruent with reality, and every so often complains that iit Still Isn't Right Dammit. Sadly (or happily for those of us who like fun) it never will be.

Sf contains progressive elements, but also deeply small-c conservative ones. It looks forward, but it does it very often by looking backward. And while it may be an ideal field for books that are hard to read, leave you unsatisfied, uncomfortable or actively enraged, and engage on the deepest existential level with the ultimate pointlessness and despair of thingy, it's a fact that those are books for a (possibly sizeable) few, and Star Trek novels and such are books for the (much more sizeable) many, and most sf books published fall toward the latter extreme, because they're written to entertain. I think I'm on safe ground saying that.

Now, in presenting to "the world at large" what we regard as the best of our field, literary merit should play a part...but unless we're actually presenting to the Man Booker Prize committee, so should popularity. Priest doesn't get this, or maybe just wishes it weren't true. I feel for him, but no amount of sympathy is going to make me choose The Inverted World over Ringworld, for instance (and I have read both).

And no amount of semi-righteous indignation is going to make sf into a recondite subsection of intellectual literature. Nothing could ever be that that started with Hugo Gernsback and E E Smith. Sorry.

You know, fun and literary/intellectual merit are not actually incompatible. (Nor are popularity and same.) Just sayin'.

I read his latest work and was bored by it. I personally think going out and insulting an entire list of authors by listing every SINGLE flaw he thinks the books have is....well just plain wrong. Its not a critique, its slander bordering on criminal. There is a huge difference to me between saying your not fond of it and calling an author, an internet puppy who you wait to piss on the carpet. Honestly his arrogance that he has the right to be so horrible to other people has made me put him on my never ever ever to read/support again. I do not support such bullying and I never will.

See, I don't even think he really enumerated flaws in the books for the most part and most particularly not Stross--he didn't really address Rule 34 at all, just made a long analogy that while funny, I really have no idea what it means. I don't think Priest put his best foot forward here, but I do think we need to have people who say unpopular and even wrong things, because it gets the rest of us thinking and talking. As I said a couple of times in the post, I don't agree about the books.

Thanks for posting the link, I found his arguments to be valid, and he did propose some solutions. Firing the board is a bit harsh though.

I will admit, I read Trash and Flash, lowbrow and highbrow books. I will not admit to reading Lit'Tra'Shure, because I find that genre not as interesting as Speculative Fiction. I can be found from time to time in those shelves because people put books there by accident (I swear!)

If its Magic Realism, SF, Fantasy, Paranormal, Steampunk, whatever... its a book, and worth a glance if not a read. Because books should engage the reader, challange the writer and keep the pages being turned.

Winning an award? I will give you a pretty ribbon and a shiny rock, write a good book, and I will buy the next one.

Thank you for the link(s). Christopher Priest's article was delightful! Oddly, I had never come across his name until now. Must read one of his books.

Personally, I'm rooting for you to inherit the superpower.

Of Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three (Gollancz) there is little to say, except that it is capable in its own way, and hard in the way that some people want SF to be hard, and it keeps alive the great tradition of the SF of the 1940s and 1950s where people get in spaceships to go somewhere to do something. In this case, the unlikely story begins as the interstellar spaceship arrives somewhere. The paragraphs are short, to suit the expected attention-span of the reader. The important words are in italics. Have we lived and fought in vain?

Gulp. Half of that paragraph describes my writing -- not the short paragraph part. (evilgrin) I feel so useless now. (SF-writing-style-from-before-I-was-born-grin)

Dr. Phil

It's not the worst crime in the world, but it does assume the reader can't handle anything complex or subtle.

I admit, I like his post--in a carefully distant handling-with-gloves-and-tongs sort of way that I can only do because he's not attacking anyone I know well--mostly because it's inspiring such fun discussions all over the internet. It's full of hilarious quotable sections which are funny for all the wrong reasons, it's introducing me to books I hadn't thought about reading before (why did no one tell me Tepper writes books with talking horses and puns?), and it just seems...entertaining, all around.

And he's got so much prestige and privilege and success in his career already that it doesn't even have that unsettling feeling a lot of really entertaining mockable rants do, where after a while I start to feel sorry for the dogpiling effect on someone who Said A Bad Thing. It's just glorious fun and hilarious reaction all around, which we wouldn't get from someone saying reasonable, well-argued things about literature in a polite way.

I don't ever want to be nominated for this award. Too much hay being made.

That essay mostly struck me as very sad. It seems very much like many similar essays I've seen by older SF&F authors, where what they mostly seem to be dismayed about is how little most modern SF&F looks like the books they admired when they were in their teens or 20s (which can produce many different essays of dismay, depending upon exactly what sort of books the author admired in their youth).

This seems to me to be related to the way in which some (and perhaps most) elderly authors start writing books that most closely resemble the style of writing they wrote when they were much younger, as if all the intervening years of both experience and external change vanished.

Priest was rightly critical of Greg Bear's dull and turgid lost-ship novel, but he was considerably less critical of that (IMHO barely readable) novel, than of Stross's wonderful Rule 34, and Mieville's excellent Embassytown, and I think that's because Bear's novel was of a sort far more familiar to him. It closely resembles many equally mediocre (and a few actually good) novels of 40 or 50 years ago.

Priest also inexplicably praises Rogers' novel, which while I haven't read, every review I've seen makes it looks like many similar novels (like Herbert's utterly vile The White Plague), where the post-apocalyptic genre brings out large amounts of the author's buried misogyny (or not so buried in the case of Frank Herbert). Sadly, that sort of book would also be of a type that Priest would be exceedingly familiar with, and in the 1960s and early 70s, post-apocalyptic novels of that sort were quite in with the more literary SF crowd.

Embassytown was one of the best written explorations of colonialism that I've ever read and was in every way an excellent modern novel, just as Rule 34 was equally modern and while merely very good rather than excellent (IMHO at least), was even less similar to anything Priest would have read in his youth, and thus his mild dismay at one and utter dismissal of the other.


Speaking of leather jackets... didn't Neil Gaiman call Harold Bloom a twerp some years ago?

Haven't we all at some point or another?

*thinks to herself: I’m gonna write something so good even that Priest jerk will bow low before my might.*

Goodness, Priest's getting precious there. "Many of the submissions were fantasy of the least ambitious type" - no, really, it gets much worse than anything on the submission list. "Speculative fiction is for the present, on the cutting edge, looking forward, not back." Well, as an ideal to aim for, that's a pretty damn good one. As a description of the field as it stands, that's so pants it might as well have come from Marks & Spencer.

It's nice that he's provided a list of his favourite four novels by middle-aged(ish) white men that didn't make the shortlist, though!

And yes... High Art. Sometimes hard to remember that there's no conflict between "you can do better than this - there really are higher stars to shoot for" and "some people are formal-high types, and some prefer beetle juice".

I really can't see why anyone even cares. Isn't it all but proverbial that awards are worthless? I have read so many awful, lurching, embarrassing novels with the Hugo or Nebula proudly touted on the cover. Awards don't go to good books with any kind of reliability, just as Grammys never go to worthy music and Oscars delineate some aging ideal of a good movie. I'm sure awards fuel some fatuous writers to keep writing their crap, but that hardly seems a goal worth striving for. Awards do not determine how a book speaks to us, or who loves it or how it is remembered. An award does not make a book better than it is. A pointless exercise in the mutual masturbation of egos. I've come to regard an award of any kind as akin to a warning on the level of "A Syfy original movie".

For some of us, awards can have a real effect on our ability to sell books and feed our families in the absence of blockbuster sales.

Slightly tweaked version:

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All I could think about was how the children's lit community would react if somebody threw this kind of tantrum. I mean, not to suck up, but The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was my favorite possibly-Newbery-eligible* book from last year, and I didn't call the wahmbulance when it didn't turn up a winner. The more time I spend in my field, the more aware I am of how seriously the committee members take their jobs. If I occasionally disagree with their choices, I at least do them the courtesy of not calling them incompetent and calling for their ouster.

Also, like, I know those people. I'm assuming he knows the people in his community too. Seconding what you said up there about awkward conversations.

*I'm on the "crowdfunded ebook doesn't count as previously published" side of that fence.

And hey, I would have loved to win the Newbery, obviously. But as I've gotten into the children's community I've noticed that in general they're a lot nicer and more polite to each other than the adult community is. The worst I've gotten is some weird passive aggressive comments about my book being difficult from some librarians--I've weathered threats, profanity, and accusations of personal perversion from the fans in the adult world.


The Clarke list has always, to my mind, been for the type of person who goes on the Internet to weep about the death of hard science fiction

What is it about the award that gives you this impression?

Perhaps it's a wrong impression, I grant that. As I look over the winners I'm not sure where I got the idea--though it's for science fiction a lot of fantasy seems to win. Maybe I'm just crazy.

Priest comes off as rather bitter to me, but that's just how I'm reading him. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, though I think screaming for the heads of the panel who put the list together is a bit much. Regardless of his level of talent (and I must say, my own personal opinion of his work doesn't skew toward genius but everyone has different standards) after reading this, if I were any of the authors and/or professionals mentioned in his diatribe I don't think I'd exactly be willing to remain on friendly terms with him. About the only point I do agree on is that Embassytown should have gotten a pass. It's a decent novel, but certainly not one of Mieville's best and there were many other stronger books that could have occupied that slot.

Interesting post, thanks

It’s to piss people off so that somewhere somebody–probably not the people he lit into–thinks to herself: I’m gonna write something so good even that Priest jerk will bow low before my might.

- Fantastic! I love the optimistic-snark nature of this post. Also:

I envy the free license of the great and glorious elders to simply not give a shit and say whatever because fuck you, that’s why.

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