Daily Archives: September 20, 2004

Holly Lisle’s Egregious Breach of Online Etiquette

Author Holly Lisle takes exception to my recent declaration that people who want to vote to Bush are either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, and makes a few of the ad hominem swipes at me she accuses me of making at Bush. My favorite ad hominem at the moment: “But the writer of the post cited above appears to believe he is in sole possession of the truth. That any opinions different from his must be wrong.”

See, now, this is the problem when you swoop in and don’t bother to read the site disclaimer, or, for that matter, the entry directly after the one you’re kvetching about, in which I say “Also, as a reminder — just because I personally believe something doesn’t make it so,” and also, “I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong.” When you don’t read, you miss stuff. But since apparently you can’t rely on people to read more than one thing at a time, allow me to reiterate again, for the thousandth time: This site specializes in my opinion. Take it or leave it. Allow me also to suggest that if you’re swooping in, please look around at least a couple of essays before making grand pronouncements about what I think about the world. Seems the polite thing to do. And you’ll look like less of an ignorant ass.

I’m not particularly troubled by Ms. Lisle’s difference of opinion; just as I’m entitled to mine, she’s entitled to hers, and if she wants to believe that a Vietnam-avoiding, medical-skipping mediocre jet pilot who couldn’t be bothered to fulfill his National Guard duty and whose father-vindicating revenge fantasy takes resources away from actually fighting terrorism and has killed 1000 American soldiers to no good effect is somehow more trustworthy than Kerry, who by all official indications served honorably in Vietnam although she vaguely accuses of him causing POWs to be tortured by his actions in Vietnam, that’s her prerogative. I admit I find the ability to be morally outraged at Kerry’s apparently tenuous connection to torture in Vietnam while apparently sanguine to the 1,000 verifiable American military deaths in Iraq that are Bush’s dance card, well, puzzling (not to mention Abu Ghraib, if we’re going to get all aroused about people’s actions being the causative vector for torture). But since Lisle maintains she’s not stupid, ignorant or a contemptible hypocrite, I’m sure she has her reasons.

No, what really gets my cheese is that she writes an online rant about all this, whacks on me — and then leaves no good way for me to respond directly. The entry has no commenting ability, for one thing, but I can’t get too worked up about that, since I didn’t implement comments here on the Whatever until last year. But she also doesn’t leave an e-mail open to the public. Not even a lousy Web site guestbook. She did have one of those at one point, but apparently took it down because she’s busy writing a book. Well, you know. As someone who will have at least two and possibly three books to write between now and next June, Ms. Lisle’s situation ain’t exactly breaking my heart. I’m especially less impressed with the “I’m busy with my books” excuse since she has time to write 1,700 words of self-righteous “more in sorrow than in anger” twaddle with me starring as her incorrectly-designated spank monkey.

Really, if she’s got enough time in her terribly busy schedule to whack on me for that long, she’s got enough time to peruse an e-mail from my self-same person. If nothing else, it would save me the time of writing an entry with just enough snit and bitch to assure that someone will go running off to tell on me to her, and she will come and take a look, per my Law of Internet Invocation. Honestly, this is so inefficient. All I wanted to do was tell her that I don’t think I’m always right and everyone else is wrong, and in fact, I’ve written words to that effect multiple times on the site. Instead, I have to do this. Don’t you see? I’m the victim!

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re crying me roughly the same river of tears I’m crying for Ms. Lisle. And to be honest about it, no one is more surprised at how annoyed I am that I have no simple online avenue of communication with Ms. Lisle than I. Ms. Lisle of course has the perfect right to be left alone electronically — if she doesn’t want to hear from the chattering mass of potential e-mailers and online commentors, she shouldn’t be made to, even when one of those potential e-mailers or commentors is me.

And yet, here I am, irritated as all hell. Guess what: I apparently firmly believe that if you’re going to write something about someone online, and put it up for the world to see, if you don’t offer them some avenue of public or private comment, there’s something basically chickenshit about that. One of the great innovations of writing online is that response is immediate, and (once you chop the occasional moron off at the knees) it’s intelligent, compelling stuff — reading to be encouraged, not feared.

I point with pride to my own commentors, almost all of whom are class acts, and almost none of whom have shown evidence of being either fawning parrots or antagonistic jerks. Even the commentors who don’t actually like me typically leave comments worth reading. I take pride in the fact I trust my readers enough to let them have free run of the place; they repay my trust by making the place a more interesting to be. E-mail is slightly more wild and wolly — people are more inclined to make asses of themselves privately than in a public comment thread — but even then it’s no great hardship to ignore the idiots and engage the interesting. Hiding from that sort of exchange — the innovation that truly differentiates online writing from print — is pretty bogus. Particularly when you go out of your way to criticize someone else.

So, note to Holly Lisle and anyone else who writes online but doesn’t bother to leave a point of contact: Don’t be such a damned coward. Have the tiny sliver of personal courage it takes to allow people to respond to you online, particularly the folks you choose to beat upon. Be a part of the online medium, instead of merely taking advantage of it.

And Ms. Lisle, if you’re reading: the e-mail address is john@scalzi.com. Or you can leave a message in the comment thread. Try it! You may like it.

Happiness is a Warm Advance

Apropos to the recent entries about book advances — and just in time for October’s onslaught of bills — comes the most recent installment of my advance for Book of the Dumb 2. How do I feel about it? Not bad. I felt that way when the first installment came in, and I’ll feel the same when the third installment come in after the books hits the stores. And then you’ll say: Shut up! But it’s true. That’s just the way I feel.

Prejudices

One of the side effects of writing a book about science fiction film is that I have to revisit (and in some cases, visit for the first time) a lot of pre-Star Wars science fiction film, and I’ve discovered that by and large I have a prejudice against these flicks. The reason is simple: Pre-Star Wars science fiction film are cheesy more often than not. Until Lucas whacked that box office ball right out of the ballpark, science fiction films were basically marginal programmers; you might get a The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers here and there (and in 1968 you got the 1-2 punch of 2001 and Planet of the Apes), but by and large they were the “B”-movie on the double feature program, and for modern eyes, they’re difficult to watch.

Not that they’re not fun, in their way: I spent part of the weekend watching Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers, the DVD release of the 1936 serial, and I enjoyed it — and to my surprise so did Athena, who uttered the memorable quote: “I liked it so much, I didn’t mind it was in black in white.” But, man alive, is it bad: It’s like a community theater production, and it’s hard to tell what’s more wooden, star Buster Crabbe’s delivery or the rocketships themselves. It’s the sort of film where a civilization capable of moving a planet through space fights with swords, one character locks another in a spaceship by kicking away a step stool, and eternal alliances are created by this sort of dialog:

Professor Zarkov: Flash, this is Prince Barin! He hates Emperor Ming, too!
Flash: Well, that’s good enough for me!

And yet, this sort of unripened cheese is indisputably canonical on the science fiction genre, if for no other reason than a young George Lucas had the top of his little head absolutely unscrewed by the tripe, and the first chance he got, he used it as a foundation upon which to build Star Wars, from which the modern age of science fiction film sprang, for better or worse. It’s bad, but it’s important.

This isn’t to say the main run of SF films after Star Wars are necessarily any better than the ones before it: Alien Vs. Predator, say, makes no more sense than Flash Gordon does, and I know which of the two I’d want to watch again, and it ain’t AVP. The difference is that the genre is taken more seriously now by Hollywood, so when you do get crap in the genre, it is at least a highly polished pile of crap; you don’t see the seams as often as you do in science fiction films from the 30s through the 60s. But I believe the best of today’s science fiction is better than the best (or most significant) science fiction films prior to ’77.

Naturally, I try to correct for this prejudice of mine. Particularly on the technical level — practical and special effects — it’s ridiculous to hold films from the 30s or 50s to the standard since the 70s (it’s unfair to hold films from the 70s to standards of today, too, which is why Lucas eternally fiddles with his first Star Wars Trilogy). And to some extent, you have to handicap for writing and acting as well; not as much, and especially not so much with some of the high-end canonical films (some mentioned above), but on a general level, yes, the handicap kicks in.

But it’s also worth noting that science fiction is the only genre where you have to handicap. The best comedies of the 30s or 40s are as good as the best comedies today, or even better, depending on your tastes: I wouldn’t trade The Philadelphia Story for the entire Farrelly Brothers filmography. Dramas don’t suffer; film lovers can skip from On the Waterfront to The Godfather to American Beauty and not skip a beat. Gone With the Wind is still the gold standard for epic melodrama, with Titanic taking a distant silver; Wizard of Oz has only recently been supplanted by the Lord of the Rings series as the best fantasy, and it took Disney 50 years to equal its animation run of Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. And despite the (relatively) recent Oscar successes of Chicago and Unforgiven, the past owns the musical and the western.

Among all film genres, science fiction stands alone as the one whose present is incontestably better than its past, at least at its highest levels. It’s one of the things that makes writing a book about science fiction film interesting — and at the same time a very tricky prospect. I don’t want to undersell early science fiction films; doing that would be inaccurate and wrong. At the same time, however, I want to make sure that people understand that if there’s a golden age of science fiction film, it’s probably now. Take a good look — this is what a golden age of film looks like.