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Posts Tagged ‘industry neepery’

morning linkery

Given the amount of attention I attracted with my recent posts on fanfiction, I suspect that a larger-than-previous number of you would be interested in this article by Cory Doctorow, “In Praise of Fanfic”, posted on the Locus Magazine website.

For those of you not aware, Locus is the industry magazine for sf/f professionals, and Cory Doctorow is a leading light among pixel-stained technopeasant wretches, having released his first novel electronically, under a Creative Commons license. So this isn’t just an article saying “hey, stop spitting on fanfic;” it’s an article by a major proponent of liberalizing copyright, printed in a well-respected industry periodical. Which ought to put a smile on a few faces.

thoughts on the loss of print book reviews

We are entirely moved out (of the old place) and moved (transported to the new place). Now we just need to finish moving in, i.e. unpacking.

As a result, I have some brain with which to think. And I’d like to talk about something that came up on Deep Genre, to whit, the increasing tendency for newspapers and the like to cut out their book review sections.

This seems problematic insofar as it can be read as a barometer of public interest in books — which I’m not convinced it is — but as a phenomenon in its own right, you know what? It doesn’t bother me.

I’m a part of the generation newspapers have failed to attract. I’ve never subscribed to one, though I will read the NYT or some such online when interest strikes. (This is an enormous problem for newspapers as a whole, and one they don’t yet seem to have found a good solution to. Their circulation numbers are dropping steadily as their older readers die off and they fail to replace them with young ones. And they’re cutting their book reviewers partly as an attempt to cut costs and keep their businesses afloat.)

So I’ve never looked to newspapers for book information because I’ve never looked to newspapers for much of anything. One of the few exceptions, when I was growing up, were movie reviews, and therein lies my second reason: I regularly saw the newspaper reviewers pan movies I quite liked, so while I would still read them for entertainment value, their opinions didn’t mean all that much to me. They failed to convince me of their credibility and authority. Why, then, should I care what their book reviewers had to say? I can find book reviews online if I want them.

But, you object, are the two really comparable? Am I really willing to accept the opinion of BookLover612 as just as valid — or moreso — than that of the professional reviewer?

Actually, yes.

If I’m looking for in-depth critique, especially of an academic sort, then I won’t look to BookLover612 or somebody writing for the local newspaper. But if I’m looking for an opinion piece — which, face it, is what most reviews are — then the criterion that matters most to me is, whether the reviewer’s taste is like my own. This is more likely to be true of a person I find online than in the paper, if for no other reason than because I read genre fiction, and mainstream publications often give my books short shrift — condescending reviews when we get reviews in the first place. Honestly, I get most book opinions from friends, not from authority figures of any kind. And if I look to strangers, I’ll look in places where I know they like the books I like. (The danger, of course, is that this becomes insular, that I’ll never be exposed to anything new. But given the range of places from which I get these opinions, and the impossibility of anybody’s taste being identical to my own, I think more that I get exposed to a fluctuating fringe of stuff that’s an easy step or two from what I already like, instead of so far afield that I won’t bother picking it up.)

In the end, what I feel we’re losing here is a level of cultural arbitration: a limited set of authoritative voices telling people what they should and should not like. It’s an uncharitable interpretation of what newspaper book reviews are/were, perhaps, but that’s the major thing I can see newspapers giving us that random blog reviews can’t. And even then, we still have loci of authority, with organized review sites and the like.

So it doesn’t really bother me. But I’m curious to hear what other people think.

for the feminist writers

This is mostly aimed at those reading my journal who participate, professionally or non-professionally, in the sf/f writing community. Over at the SFWA LJ community there’s a post discussing sexism and racism in SFWA, and a little way down into the comments, I’m having a dicussion with a few other people about the problems that exist in the community, if not in SFWA as an organization. It’s the kind of thing where I would very much appreciate input from other writerly-types with a background in feminism, especially because of a thought I just posted there. Having noted that “I’ve been to cons where fellow con-goers discreetly warn young female attendees about which (older male) writers to stay away from,” I said the following to Karina:

If I were more of a confrontational person, I might really like the notion that we stop passing this stuff around sotto voce, and put up a public list somewhere online. The shitstorm that would set off would be unbelievable, but on the other hand, keeping it discreet makes it our (young women’s) problem to deal with, rather than theirs (the old and not-so-old men’s).

I’d never thought of it that way before, but I think it might be true. And it also says a lot about the ways in which women aren’t supposed to be confrontational; I really can’t fathom actually following through on that idea, since I can imagine the damage it would do to my social reputation in the field.

If you’ve got a dog in this fight, please, come on over and offer your views. The SFWA community is open to all and sundry.

SFWA lunacy

I liked this icon (courtesy of deedop — it’s available to take, right?) slightly better than timprov‘s “Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretch,” though the phrase in that one’s good, too.

Where, you ask, did these phrases come from?

From this little rant. Will Shetterly posted it, but the thoughts aren’t his, so don’t flame on him. And oh, skip the first half to two-thirds of it. The actual content starts around the “In another way, too” paragraph.

So read that. And then reflect that the fellow writing it is the current vice-president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

He’s an SF writer, and he hates the Internet.

And that, in a nutshell, is why younger writers see SFWA as an irrelevant waste of their time and money. Also why we younger writers need to join en masse and drag the thing kicking and screaming into the next century.

(No, I haven’t joined yet. But I’m going to, and soon. And boy howdy is it going to be interesting if Scalzi gets elected president.)

Grant Morrison on Batman

It’s a little odd, reading these things when I’m not actually a follower of most comic books, let alone Batman and the rest of the superhero crowd, but Grant Morrison has some fascinating things to say about his current work on that title. Even when I don’t know half of what he’s talking about, it’s very intriguing, seeing how he approaches the task of integrating his ideas into the existing material while doing something new. Anyway, I figured the comics fans among my readers who hadn’t already come across this article . . . okay, are probably few in number, but for them, I wanted to provide the link.

lengthy thoughts on fanfic

If you aren’t aware of the Great Cassandra Claire Fandom Implosion, I won’t inflict my own summary on you. This post will be sufficiently prefaced by saying that the million and one analyses and responses to that situation have sparked me to lay out my own thoughts on fanfiction. This will take a while, so you might want to get a snack first.

Point #1: Fanfic is illegal. Got that? This is the opinion of several people whose legal knowledge I trust, though I’m interested in learning about it for myself, and hope to sit in on a class this semester that will cover those kinds of topics. But you’re borrowing someone’s intellectual property when you write fanfic, and even if you don’t make money from doing so, it’s still against the law. This point is often missed by people who can’t be bothered to pay attention.

Point #2: Having said that, any number of writers (both in print and media) are okay with you writing fanfic. It may be illegal, but it isn’t worth anybody’s time and money to sue you; a cease & desist letter tends to suffice when someone gets upset. And frankly, fanfic is a way for readers/viewers to engage more deeply with a story, and can even serve as a kind of grass-roots publicity, so just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. This point is often missed by people who feel persecuted when you tell them how the law works.

Point #3: The only thing that differentiates what we call fanfic from works such as Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is intellectual property law. Stop and think about it for a moment: they are the same thing. They just fall on one side or the other of the legal divide. In both cases, one writer is taking someone else’s story and doing something with it. Maybe the story’s a fairy tale and doesn’t have a specific author; maybe it was written four hundred years ago and the author’s long dead. Doesn’t matter. You’re still engaging in the same activity. The difference is your legal right to do it. Nothing prevents a work of fanfic from being as clever and witty as R&GAD, but the world tends to pass moral judgment on the former, and not on the latter. This point is often missed by those who want to claim that all fanfic is trash, but Stoppard’s okay.

Point #4: Moving into the realm of opinion, I feel that it’s good manners to respect the creator’s wishes with regards to their intellectual property. If they don’t mind fanfic, go for it. If they do mind, then be polite and stay away. If they don’t mind fanfic but they object to certain kinds (frex, their underage characters having sex), then write about other things. Is there any force that can stop you from writing whatever you want? The same forces that can stop you from writing fanfic at all, which is to say that it probably won’t happen (see point #2). But just because the author is willing to let you climb the fence and swim in her backyard pool doesn’t mean you should pee in it.

Point #5: There is also a difference between fanfiction and plagiarism. The categories are fuzzy ones, of course, existing on a continuum. The small amount of fanfiction I ever wrote was generally of the sort where it took place in a world created by someone else, but involved my own original characters, perhaps with cameos by canon characters. I tended to be more interested in the possibilities of the setting than anything else. Other people write mostly about canon characters, perhaps with a Mary Sue or less irritating original addition. Maybe they cross one fandom with another, producing a Buffy/Highlander crossfic about the two groups of Watchers being the same. Maybe they allude to other fics. Maybe they even quote things. You hit the “plagiarism” line when you’re Cassandra Claire, lifting not just characters, not just quotes, but extensive lines and scenes from other sources and not attributing them (then basking in the praise of people who say your ideas are so original and you write so well). I haven’t followed that whole debate in full (I’m not sure any human being can, and I’ve not really tried, though I’m anthropologically fascinated by it), but what I have read included enough side-by-side textual analysis to persuade me that she did indeed rip off Pamela Dean and other writers far above and beyond what gets winked at in the illegal activity called fanfiction.

Point #6: If you’re writing fanfiction to improve your craft, it will help you — up to a point. You can refine your prose, dialogue, pacing, etc. as much in a fanfic story as anywhere else (provided, of course, that your dialogue isn’t stolen wholesale). But it won’t do much to help you develop characters, settings, and other large-scale elements of the craft. Its inherent intertextuality may get in the way of you learning to write a story that stands on its own. If your eventual goal is a writing career, there’s nothing wrong with fanfic in principle, but there will come a time when you’ll be better served devoting that time and energy to original work. And fanfic publication probably won’t help you sell your own work, with two exceptions: one being work-for-hire media properties (where it may indeed net you a contract, if that’s what you really want to do), and the other being (again) Cassandra Claire, who has landed a novel deal, apparently at least in part on the strength of her fanfic writing. (This, as you might guess, is a source of much of the brouhaha, and I fully expect to see the blogosphere descend on her first book like a pack of rabid weasels, waiting to catch her if she’s plagiarized again.)

Point #7: How do I feel about this relative to my own position? As I said, I used to write a little fanfic, but not much; mostly I wanted to chase my own ideas. I haven’t written any in years, though my mind will occasionally play with it for amusement. If Doppelganger fanfic or something based on a later book of mine starts appearing on the web, I will be flattered by the attention, and I’ll probably let it go unless somebody tries to make money off it. I will not, however, read it, partially because I could subsequently stir up trouble if I later wrote something that resembled said fic, and partially because it would weird me out, watching someone else write about my characters. (No offense to y’all, but you’d probably get them wrong, relative to what’s in my head. It’s the nature of the beast. We don’t see them the same way.)

Point #8: Hmmmm . . . I think I’ve hit everything I wanted to say for the moment, though I may return to this at a later date. Fanfic is a huge and complicated subject, with many byways I don’t find particularly intelligent or attractive, but I issue no blanket condemnations against it. Just the occasional specific one, against specific acts of idiocy.

The Pretension Stick

Earlier today, Anima Mecanique quoted an excerpt from a review with Terry Goodkind that was truly mind-boggling. Copying her added emphasis:

Q: “What do you think distinguishes your books from all of the other fantasy books out there, and why should readers choose to read your series?”

TG: “There are several things. First of all, I don’t write fantasy. I write stories that have important human themes. They have elements of romance, history, adventure, mystery and philosophy. Most fantasy is one-dimensional. It’s either about magic or a world-building. I don’t do either.

And in most fantasy magic is a mystical element. In my books fantasy is a metaphysical reality that behaves according to its own laws of identity.

Because most fantasy is about world-building and magic, a lot of it is plotless and has no story. My primary interest is in telling stories that are fun to read and make people think. That puts my books in a genre all their own.

Wow. Just . . . wow.

I made a decision a while back to post recommendations for books on my website, instead of reviews. Partly it’s because I’d rather spend my time pushing people toward good books, instead of ranting about the bad ones, but politeness was another factor: if I might end up on a panel with someone at a con, I’d rather not be thinking, oh god, I hated your book and told the world about it. (And, for the record, I didn’t hate Wizard’s First Rule. I’m not saying that just to cover my ass; if I’d hated it, I wouldn’t have finished it. That doesn’t mean I particularly liked it — I didn’t go on and read the rest of the series — but it’s not on the list of Books Not Worth The Trees. Takes a lot to get on that list.)

But man . . . that quote makes me want to throw things. I hate hate hate every time I hear the equivalent of, “this isn’t fantasy, because it’s Good.” It bothered me when they said something along those lines about the LotR films, and it bothers me now. To throw around statements about “important human themes” and “metaphysical realities” as if nobody else in fantasy has ever thought about it that way, thus making you a Genre All Your Own — do you really have to step on all your shelf-mates to make yourself look good? Are we really that afflicted with plotless, story-less fantasy? Fantasy that conforms to standard plot outlines, perhaps, but that isn’t the same thing, and a certain saying about glass houses comes to mind besides.

Pretension gets up my nose like nobody’s business, and I say that in the full awareness that I went to Harvard and would probably count as pretentious myself in a lot of people’s eyes. Look at it this way: if it’s enough to bug me, it must be bad. And Anima Mecanique’s post reminded me of a gem from the recent Readercon panel writeups:

The New Weird renunciates hackneyed fantasy by taking its cliches and inverting, subverting, and converting them in order to return to the truly fantastic. It is secular and political, reacting against “religiose moralism and consolatory mythicism,” and hence feels real and messy. And it trusts the reader and the genre in two important ways: it avoids post-modern self-reference, and it avoids didacticism, instead letting meaning emerge naturally from metaphor.

Combination hookah and coffee maker! Also makes julienne fries!

I liked Readercon a lot, but the panel description that comes from was almost enough to make me swear off the New Weird forever. I mean, man, we’re all so very lucky to have them around to save our beloved genre from itself, because otherwise we’d be just doomed, DOOMED I TELL YOU! (I found myself wondering what the writers who consider themselves New Weird made of that. I would have been embarrassed.)

Seriously, what’s with people being so ashamed of their own genre? I’m a fantasy writer and I’m proud of it. My writing draws on a variety of sources, all of which I’m more than happy to acknowledge; I don’t need to pretend I’ve invented a wheel unlike all wheels that have come before. Yes, fantasy has its cliches, but a) find me a form of artistic expression that doesn’t, and b) cliches are not inherently evil. Inept use of them may be, but inept use of anything, up to and including the poor abused English language herself, is not to be applauded, and you can achieve just as bad (or sometimes worse) of an effect by doing a poor job of iconoclasm as you can by flubbing your formulas. (I mean, at least the formulas have been proven to work.)

I won’t pretend the fantasy genre as a whole doesn’t have traits I consider problems, nor that I don’t make my own attempts to push at its boundaries or do something I think will be fresh and new. But if I ever start talking about my own work in a way that makes it sound like the Salvation of All Fantasy, then please, for the good of everyone involved, pull the Pretension Stick out of my ass and hit me with it until I stop.

gender kerfuffle

“Kerfuffle” is such a great word.

I’ve said before that my usual mode of feminism is to wander blithely about doing whatever it is I feel like doing, happily oblivious to factors that are supposed to be oppressing me into not doing said thing. I won’t claim it’s the best mode in the world, but it works for me.

So apparently one of the things I’ve been oblivious to is a perception that F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, for those not eyeball-deep in the field’s jargon) is unfriendly to women writers and/or readers. As in, they publish substantially more men than women (a verifiable statistical fact), and perhaps publish fiction of a more “masculine” type (an evaluation that’s being vigorously debated in many places). This all came to my attention through a pair of posts by Charlie Finlay.

The chain goes thusly: Fewer women send stories to F&SF than men. Fewer women are published in F&SF than men. (Side tangent on the chain: this may mean fewer women read F&SF than men.) This creates a perception that F&SF is not friendly to women. Therefore, fewer women send stories to F&SF than men.

Watch it go round and round.

Charlie’s suggestion to fix this is to schedule a day (August 18th) for a hundred women to send stories to F&SF. I haven’t waded through the morass of responses to his suggestion, but I did make a comment I decided I wanted to elaborate here, namely, that I have no particular interest in participating. Why? Because I send to F&SF all the time anyway. I have no fewer than thirty-four rejection half-sheets from them (some from JJA, some from GVG), and I’m expecting my thirty-fifth any day now. Some women may have given up on subbing there due to a perception that they aren’t welcome, but I’m not one of them. I could send in a story that day, but I don’t really see that it would constitute much of a message.

I’d be more interested if the campaign was to get a hundred women who have given up on sending stories there, or who never tried at all, to send something in. Reportedly both John and Gordon have said they would like to publish more women, but they don’t get enough subs from them. Provided they’re telling the truth (and I’m happy to grant them the benefit of that doubt), then we don’t need to be sending a message to F&SF. We need to be sending a message to the women who are avoiding it. (And, perhaps, F&SF needs to send out a message of its own — but that isn’t in my control.) Bombarding F&SF, not with women as a blanket category, but with voices they haven’t been hearing, strikes me as a more meaningful response to the situation.

One way or another, once “Selection” comes home, I’ll be polishing something up and adding to their slush pile once again. If I’ve felt unwelcome there (i.e. those thirty-four rejections), I’ve attributed it to my lack of writing skill, not my gender.