Friday, 20 June 2014

Hubris and Fuckery

'You're being very undude right now.'
It’s tough being the new kid at school. All the other kids know where the classes are, which kids to avoid, which teachers you absolutely do not cross, and which ones are push overs. And there is the thorny issue that new kids get duffed up, either as a sort of hazing by local fuckwits, or as a calculated establishment of pecking order by sly, cruel, mischievous little shits that make everyone’s life miserable.

It’s one thing to beat a kid up on his (or her) first day at school, it’s quite another to carve your name into their forehead with a straight-edge razor. It's the worst sort of grandstanding, designed to cultivate an infamous reputation. It is ugly and unnecessary. 

These thoughts occurred to me today after reading a review of a debut author, a tiny subset of people I identify with strongly. 

A tangent. To quote my Great Aunt Daph, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.’ Aunt Daph was a kind, even-handed woman and it's safe to say she never reviewed books. I doubt she read a single genre novel in her life, but I’m willing to bet any number of playground black eyes she could have delivered a more reasonable and constructive review than the review of Barricade at Arcfinity by Christopher Priest.

I expect more from the elder statesmen of genre. That I expect them not to be bullies is a bare minimum. Just because you’re smug and articulate doesn’t make it any less predatory. That you leave the playground with the blood of others staining your shirt is not a badge of honour. It hubris and fuckery.

‘Would I have benefited more from a thoroughgoing kicking from my elders and betters? We’ll never know,’ writes Christopher Priest.

I’d argue yes, it might have taught you not to do the same some years later.


  1. I tried reading the actual review but it was so pompous I had to quit.

  2. Wait, you mean to say that your great aunt isn't a professional author or critic? Who nevet read genre? In that case hard indeed to imagine her saying anything about this particular book.

  3. More to the point: this just isn't bullying. This word you keep using doesn't mean what you think it means if you are using it here. I also feel there is something strange going on. If this exact review came from someone else, let's say if they still exist, a reviewer who wasn't themselves an author of fiction, I can almost guarantee that the response would be different. It would just be "oh, a negative review." None of this hyperbole about schoolyard bullying. Because that's what critics do, they review and not always favourably, new books. I really think that if the reviewer wasn't another genre author the response would have been different or even gone unremarked. Priest has ever right to change his hat and to approach the book in question like any non author might. In fact, he's being more responsible in doing so then if he gave it a pass. Because most people are readers not fellow authors. Finally, a review and the controversy it had kicked off even if I can't see any reason for Priest's review to be the least bit controversial, will do more positive good than harm: lots of press and sales for what might be a pretty mediocre novel and plenty of discussion about some of the problems still unfortunately common in genre. That isn't bullying but doing everyone involved a favour.

  4. Bonus points for the Princess Bride quote, but that's all, Eric.

    My problem is not that Priest is an author, but that he knowingly writes a savage takedown of a book, addressing the very review to the author himself. This is in no way an objective piece by a reader with high standards, but someone who seeks attention through an unashamed deconstruction of the text. It's about tone, and the piece has the tone of someone giving someone else a pasting and knowing they'll be no defence and no retaliation. That's bullying.

  5. It has the tone of a critical review. If you read that as bullying then a) you need to get out of genre more and b) you need to have a good hard think about what bullying actually is.

  6. I think it's safe to say we're have to agree to disagree on this issue, Damien. It doesn't have the tone of critical review at all. It has the tone of a stunt, and pretty cruel one at that.

    I particularly enjoyed your blog where you mention agreeing with Priest despite not reading the book. A high standard of journalism there, to be sure.

  7. It's clear you didn't enjoy it. Or read it all that closely. I never claim to agree with Priest about Barricade. My post is about wider problems in genre, which Priest's review highlights. Why don't you clarify why you think this is an issue that effects the "standard of journalism"?

  8. In that case I apologise. I misread that paragraph to mean you hadn't read the book and yet still agreed with Priest's takedown of it. As for the wider problems of genre, of course there are problems, all borne from the wider problems of society. I dare say we agree on many things, not least female characters and their representation in fiction.

    I stand by comment that the tone of the review and the way it was addressed directly to the the author were out of line. I'm not alone in this and I don’t hold with the idea my post was ‘under the belt’.

    I've noted there are a few people who agree with you too. I don't see why delivering a balanced review in a neutral voice is so difficult, but as I’ve said before, Priest’s review feels like a stunt, to set the cat among the genre pigeons. Clearly, its a divisive issue, just as the text itself is, and the wider discussions about genre as a whole.

    And now I feel we’ve come full circle. Priest criticises Barricade, I criticise Priest’s review, you criticise my blog post. Are you bored yet? Because I’ve feeling we may be the only people in the pub brawling, long after everyone else stopped watching and went home to bed.

  9. I don't drink. There's a danger in calling out a a negative review - you end with no negative reviews. We already have a culture of overwhelmingly positive reviewing. So Priest does the right thing by stating his honest thoughts in his review, and you respond with claims of bullying. Repeated by a more influential writer, it's clear where that would take us. The problems of genre aren't excusable as the problems of society. Although they have some of the same causes - a large amount of status seeking and a big dose of nepotism. Which is what's at the heart of the mindlessly positive reviews we end up with. No one wants to rock the boat in case they get chucked out of it. But it's notable that to make any dents in the problems you agree exist, boat rocking is needed. And lots of it. You want to take Priest to task for his tone? You want critics to be polite, respectful and neutral while pointing out the complete lack of those qualities in what they critique? Dream on. Better to have a culture of honesty and openness and a few hurt feelings, then the stifling atmosphere you seem to advocate with these claims of "bullying".

    I'm interested by your back handed attempt to call on popular support for your position here - you're "not alone" while "a few people" agree with a culture of honest criticism. Happy to open up the discussion and see.

  10. I’m fairly certain you’ve already opened up the discussion on your own blog, where, it should be noted, I didn’t feel the need to comment. I’m happy for you to take a different opinion, and you set down the reasons concisely. The fact remains, I don’t agree. It was you who turned up here spoiling for a fight (something you’re famous for).

    I’ve never said I’m against criticism. I certainly don’t expect authors to receive mindless respect, that should be earned. Politeness however is a basic staple. And when I say neutral I mean not directly addressed to the author, rather than a lack of clear and critical rigour.

    I’ve said my piece, I said it last Friday. It’s now Tuesday. You may not have anything better to do but I have books to write. You may not drink but I’m throwing you out of the aforementioned pub all the same. It’s closing time.