A few days ago I came across a review of Mark Lawrence’s second Broken Empire novel, King of Thorns (link), which is up for nomination for the David Gemmell Legend Awards in the Legend category. The Legend Award is given to the Best Novel of the previous year. On Twitter and Facebook, I talked about how that review justified all my reasons and fears for not reading further into this series after my experiences with the first novel, Prince of Thorns (review).
My tweets eventually spawned off a discussion about negative reviews, which led into the review that forms the basis and reason for this entire post. In January last year, reviewer Liz Bourke wrote about Michael J. Sullivan’s first Riyria Revelations novel, Theft of Swords (link). This review was brought to my attention by a friend on Twitter who had taken exception to the way that Liz Bourke took potshots at the author and his editors at Orbit Books.
Going through the review and the comments thread, some things become apparent to me as to the intent of the review, the tone it is written in, and what, ultimately, were the reactions. However, what really ended up happening was that it all sparked off some self-examination about negative reviews. And that’s what this post is all about.
So welcome to another Publishing and Marketing blogpost.
So right now on Twitter and Facebook, there is an intense debate brewing regarding (as of when I started writing this last night), essentially, the right of authors to step into blogger-space to offer commentary on reviews, whether they are stepping in to correct mistakes in a review, or making narratives clearer by offering their intentions with the choices they made, or whatever else. It all started with a highly condescending blogpost on the Strange Horizons website, by blogger Renay. And that in itself is an extension of a review of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series on the Book Smugglers blog. The comments sections on both posts are very illuminating.
Now, before I get into the meat of my argument about the behaviour displayed by the people concerned, I’ll say this outright: this kind of behaviour pisses me off. This is why I sometimes hate being a reviewer because it is people like Renay and Ana at Book Smugglers who outright give reviewers a bad name, whether they realise it or not.
Hence, why this article is titled Writers Welcome and Reviewing Etiquette. So, here’s another Publishing and Marketing post. As always comments are most welcome, whether you are an author or a reviewer or just a reader.
In the wake of the international success of Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie, Pacific Rim, there has been a lot of chatter about the characterisation in the movie. Specifically, people have been talking about the characterisation of Mako Mori, the only female character of note in the movie. Many people have condemned her as a weak, ineffectual protagonist, while others have hailed her as a great example of strong representation of female characters in movies.
I myself fall in the latter camp because I loved the character and I was able to look beyond what false trap that the character generates and consider her within the context of her culture and her own dialogue. You can read my thoughts on Mako in my review of the movie here.
One of the fallouts of Pacific Rim has been that a Tumblr user came up with the “Mako Mori Test” to evaluate female characters in movies. You can read more about it here. The test is a response to the fact that Pacific Rim fails the much more popular and long-established “Bechdel Test” but, for that user, was indeed a good representation of a female character, as I’ve already said. Clearly, the older test has some limits and the newer proposed test seeks to address those deficiencies.
So the question becomes, how do the two tests fit in with each other? Are they in conflict or can they be used together? That’s what this editorial is about.
Friend and reviewer Ria, over at her blog Bibliotropic, posted a while back about subjectivity and objectivity in reviews. Her post was borne out of her experience reading a novel that, while in and of itself was a good piece of fiction, did not measure so well when put in context of the genre it was written in. In short, she was writing about subjectivity and objectivity in reviews as an experience, rather than a review style or mindset.
And it got me thinking about my own experiences. I had never really considered this before, you see. I approach each novel, each comic, as an object on its own, without the context of the wider genre or industry first and foremost. That evaluation is something I do subconsciously, without thought, and it is automatic. In my reviews, I rarely if ever mention whether the piece of fiction being reviewed compares to the industry/genre at large. I merely note if it is as good as other books/comics I’ve read, and even then, I use a very sample of such works, only the ones that I consider to be absolute best.
And therein is the contradiction of it.
A few days ago I was talking with fellow TFF reviewer about how DC could, and should, revamp its “Young Justice” comics. To clarify, I realise that there was an animated show of the same name and that there were accompanying digital comics as well. However, I use that term as a catch-all to describe all the second generation superheroes in the DC universe for the purposes of this discussion. This includes heroes like Superboy, Supergirl, Batgirl, Red Hood, Nightwing, Teen Titans and so on.
We did some preliminary discussions around the idea and it gave me the idea for this post, since our discussion was held on a forum where the comics discussions are extremely limited. And I wanted to explore the idea in greater depth and provide a much more visible platform for it as well.
Being withing the publishing-related blogosphere, etiquette is becoming ever more important day by day. Week on week there is some instance where etiquette breaks down and some kind of meltdown happens. Last year was especially notorious in that regard with several controversies stemming from reviews over at Goodreads where authors and their posse attacked reviewers for negative comments or even vice versa where reviewers (Goodreads reviewers to be specific) engaged in deliberate author baiting.
It was so bad for a while, in my opinion, that it was as if Goodreads was just going to implode and gain a certain notoriety to such an extent that authors would just give up on the site altogether. Fortunately, that never happened.
In recent times, it has all been replaced by a beast of another kind: reviewers baiting each other or authors engaging in some really despicable bigoted thinking that is absolutely vile (no, I’m not referring to a certain “master” SF author here). The latest example of the reviewer baiting happened a few days ago over at Fantasy Faction. And the culprit happened to be none other than “Overlord” Marc Aplin, who runs the site and is its chief editor.
Being able to make a choice is what our societies and cultures are about in this day and age. It is a basic right, to have the choice between two (or more) options. To be miserly or generous. To watch a movie or not watch a movie. To buy a novel instead of going out to a restaurant. To eat a burger instead of a pizza. To wake up early on the weekend or sleep in till late. To have a grand affair wedding or something simple and personal. To have a job we like or one we hate. And so on.
Choice is what we are about. Without choice, there really is nothing.
We go through life making choice after choice.
Choice is what often gets us into trouble, small, medium or large. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own choices and every now and then there a comes a time when we have to qualify and defend that choice. We make particular choices for particular reasons and being able to defend that choice, whether justified or not, is part of our life.
Orson Scott Card, a world-renowned author with several bestselling books to his name, made a choice long-ago that he was going to promote and support anti-gay speech and anti-gay activism.
He made his choice.
I’m making mine: to not watch the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game when it comes out, despite the fact that the film stars one of my favourite actors (Harrison Ford), and that I really liked the trailer.
About a week or so ago, I posted a list of some of my favourite female authors in SFF, past and present (that is, some of the women on the list are now sadly deceased). For the follow-up, I wanted to focus on some of my favorite female characters in SFF, irrespective of genre. Until March last year, I didn’t really have such a list in my mind. Even though I had read a few books by then that had female protagonists or supporting characters, I’d never really considered if any of them were my “favourites”. But that changed around quickly when I read Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar, and all of a sudden, I realised that there were so many female characters I’d read of over the years that I would put on a list of favourites.
It was a really interesting revelation, and it led to me paying much more attention to such characters in the books I was reading, or had read, or would read. One thing that I noticed while compiling this list was that for the most part my favourite female characters fall into the role of the “warrior”, which is another subconscious thing I never really paid attention to.
Really weird how these things work out.
Once again, as caveat for this list, this is by no means comprehensive, just a small selection of a much wider range. And in this list, I’m not limiting myself to just novels and the like, I’m extending it to comics and movies as well, given that I am much more familiar with these media in terms of the content, rather than with the creators. Feel free to check out my reviews (books and comics) of the various novels I’ve read in the last two years for a bigger interest list.
Author Rachel Aaron recently expressed a dissatisfaction with writers within the various SFF genres who commit to their work through lazy world-building, mainly, whenever they talk about all these long and glorious empires, whether terrestrial (fantasy) or interstellar (science fiction) which have held out for thousands of years, even tens of thousands in some cases. In fact, she has a very interesting blog post about it that has generated a fair amount of discussion.
Largely, I do agree with her position, and that of some of the commenters, but as I mentioned there, I do have an issue with a couple specifics that are mentioned, and the points that are raised.
About a month ago, I posted my first Publishing & Marketing column on the blog, titled “Publisher Communication“. In it, I talked at length about the marketing approaches of various SFF publishers in the English-speaking markets. The post got a fair amount of attention in social media and over email, and I’m really pleased with how things turned out.
I initially intended for the second installment of this semi-regular column to get into more of the above topic, but then I decided against it, since something else happened around roughly the same time. It was announced in various places that Night Shade Books was a hair’s breadth away from declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy and that they were considering an asset (author contacts to be specific) sell-off to meet their debts and make sure that their authors, editors, cover artists, etc all got paid their respective dues. This is where Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing were stepping in as the potential buyers. But, things weren’t as promising as they seemed at first. The terms being offered by Skyhorse/Start meant that while everybody would be paid, they would not be paid anywhere near the full amount, especially not the authors.
Smarter and more publishing-savvy people than me have already talked at length about the details, so I’m not going to touch on any of that. There was even enough backlash from a LOT of people involved, the fan community and the SFF community that is, that Skyhorse/Start eventually were willing to offer better terms, although there were still some big concerns. Just do a google search and you’ll get a plethora of links and discussions about it.
The purpose of this column is to talk about my experiences with Night Shade’s publications, and why I think its rather tragic that they are going under and what it means for the SFF community as a whole.