Daily Archives: January 13, 2007

High Up There on the List of Truly Unexpected Award Nominations

The Android’s Dream has notched its first award nomination, for Best Science Fiction Novel of 2006 from — wait for it — the Romantic Times BOOKreviews Career Achievement and Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Romantic Times BOOKreviews gave TAD a very nice review last year, so it’s nice to see it’s made the cut for the magazine’s awards. The other nominees in my category:

Carnival, Elizabeth Bear
Crystal Rain, Tobias Buckell
The Dead Letters, Tom Piccirilli
Sun of Suns, Karl Schroeder
Farthing, Jo Walton

You know what, that’s a seriously good lineup of books and nominees. The folks doing the science fiction reviews over at Romantic Times BOOKreviews know their genre pretty damn well. There are also three fantasy novel categories, in which Ellen Kushner, Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik and Jeri Smith-Ready are nominees among others, so that’s most excellent. And look! Marjorie Liu and Julia Spencer-Fleming are nominated too! I like these awards.

The winners among these nominees will apparently be announced in the June 2007 issue of Romantic Times. I have absolutely no idea what my chances are for this award, and I’m really not going to worry about it. I just like being nominated with the folks I’m nominated with. This is fun stuff. And I’m happy to see The Android’s Dream get noticed.

Fans: What Do We Owe Them?

Hal Duncan has some thoughts on the recent Laurell K. Hamilton asstardery, and it turns out he’s not entirely unsympathetic to Hamilton’s reaction to fans who buy her books and then seek her out to say how much they suck (yet still want their book signed):

Now, in the LKH rant, she talks about readers coming up and directly expressing how little they value the books. I’m not going to quote but clearly what’s got right under her skin is a few people waiting in line, book in hand, to say, to all intents and purposes, this book sucks, or even, you suck. We can pussy-foot about the issue, rationalise about potential misperceptions, but it doesn’t really matter. Whether this is actually meant as a compliment but actually turns into an unconscious criticism of a change in direction (“We really like your movies, Mr Allen, especially the early funny ones”), or as a respectful but intentional critique (“you know, I hate to say it, but I think you’ve gone a bit off-track with this one, cause yer early stuff was superb but this just doesn’t work for me at all, and I really wish you’d go back to writing the way you used to”), or as a deliberately hostile and insulting reproach (“you used to be good, but this book is a pile of shit”), it is still expressing a devaluation of the book that’s being signed. That person is coming up and saying, hello, I’d like you to sign this book for me, despite the fact that I actually don’t really rate it at all.

So why the fuck do you want it signed, motherfucker? Why the fuck are you buying it in the first place?

What follows is a typically wide-ranging and engaging Duncanian discourse on the nature of being a fan and whether an author — who is typically after all in the writing business to make money, among whatever other reasons they have to write — is obliged to sit there with his or her mouth shut and just take the money (and crap) from fans, who, in fact, hate what you’re doing and keep buying the work merely because of the fannish compulsion to experience everything in a universe in which they’ve invested so much time and energy. Hal thinks not, and indeed expresses some admiration of Hamilton for being willing to tell these erstwhile fans to take a hike. Hamilton may be mad as a hatful of snakes, but at least she’s not a “true hack” who will simple take this agitated fan’s cash and smile.

I think Hal asks some cogent questions here, a lot of which boil down to what obligation artists have to fans whose fannish aspect ultimately has little to do with whatever the artist might be doing at the moment, and how to deal with those fans who go out of their way to be negative. But I don’t think that any of that actually has anything to do with what Laurell K. Hamilton was doing in that little rant of hers.

Let’s note that Hamilton saying “if you don’t like what I’m writing, stop reading it” is not really the issue; in fact, it’s some amazingly sensible advice. After all, if it pains you to read something (or watch it, or listen to it, or whatever), stop, you foolish person. The book doesn’t mind if you don’t read it; it’s an inanimate object. The author will also probably get over it as well. Since I myself don’t have much of a fannish aspect — I like some things, but not to the point of needing to have everything about it — I don’t have a problem with this. There are writers whose work I will buy unseen because I know I like what they do, but if something I buy from them doesn’t meet my reading standard, the next time a book of theirs comes out, I might graze through it first in the bookstore or library before buying it. Too many bad experiences and I’ll stop seeking them out, and choose to pick them up only if I hear good things about the book from people and reviewers I trust. I’ll likewise do the equivalent for those folk in other media. So, at its core, Hamilton’s exhortation for despairing fans to stop reading the work is a perfectly cromulent suggestion.

The issue is not that she provides this sensible advice, it’s that she doesn’t actually mean it, which is why the advice came clothed in such delightfully passive-aggressive raiments. If you don’t like my books, don’t read them, because there are lots of other books that won’t challenge you as much, you dear cowardly priggish lips-moving-while-you-read imbecile of a reader. I’m sure you can find other books suitable to your reading level. Meanwhile, I’ll stay with my growing number of sophisticated readers — you know, the ones who can understand me. I’m paraphrasing here, mind you, but not by much. Hamilton wasn’t saying “if you don’t like my books, don’t buy them,” she was saying “stop buying my books, because you’re not worthy of them,” which is an entirely different thing altogether. I think what Hamilton wants out of this (and which I’m fairly sure she would deny, because that’s what passive-aggressiveness is all about) is for those complaining fans to recoil in horror at the suggestion that their mistress has deemed them unworthy of her paradise, realign their brains to better understand Hamilton’s worldview, and dive back in again, only this time finally getting her genius. It’s that whole daring someone to go and relying on the fact they won’t thing. If the fans Hamilton’s addressing in her entry actually said “okay, I’m gone,” I suspect her head would pop right off.

I’m down with telling people not to read my work if they’re not happy with it; why make yourself miserable? I’m less inclined to suggest to people they should stop reading my work because they suck, which, fundamentally, is what Laurell K. Hamilton was doing. To be fair, some “fans” really are crazy screechy monkeys; something wrong with their wiring, or some imagined slight or some tiny thing you did with one character that one time has set them off and they’ve become some sort of horrid combination of Annie Wilkes and Comic Book Guy. And it’s entirely possible that Hamilton has more of these sort of fans per capita than the rest of us. I doubt all of the fans disappointed in Hamilton’s work at this point fit into that category, however; I suspect most of them are just fans who aren’t quite willing to give up on the series and a writer whose work they’ve admired.

I’ve had people go out of their way to tell me that they didn’t like a particular book, or that they thought one of the books was better than another. My response is generally the same: “I’m sorry you didn’t like that book. Hopefully you’ll like the next one more.” Hal notes this response as possibly being insincere (in a general sense, not relating to me particularly), although I don’t think it necessarily is; every book is different, after all, and I don’t have the expectation that readers will look at any of my books uncritically or will simply and automatically buy the next one. Am I going to go out of my way to change what I’m writing to meet reader and fan expectations? Not really; I’m going to write what I want to write, and to a lesser but not insignificant degree I’m going to write what I think will sell (fortunately for me, so far there appears to be significant overlap between those two categories).

I’m not under the illusion that everything I write is going to be a home run for every reader, since there’s not a single one of my artistic idols who doesn’t have some bit of output I not only don’t enjoy but in fact actively dislike. I mean, Christ. There are entire Heinlein novels I think would have been better left not only unwritten but unthought. There are John Lennon songs — nay, albums — that I believe should have been aborted at the first strum of the guitar. H.L. Mencken, my favorite essayist, had his head up his ass on a remarkable number of topics. And so on. Were they wrong to make the work I dislike? No. Should they have been obliged to take my tastes into consideration (had I been alive when they were writing said works, which often I was not)? Not really, nor are those writers, musicians and artists whose work I admire now. If their work stops pleasing me, I’ll stop buying it. Simple. Which makes me not a fan, I suppose. But even if I were, it wouldn’t change their level of obligation to me.

What I think creators do owe folks is also simple: A good effort. As a reader, you don’t get a guarantee that you’re going to like my work, but you should feel reasonably assured that the work you get is done as well as I can do it. So even if you don’t like it, you can see the craftsmanship. If I’ve done that, I’m generally at peace with individual people’s opinion of the story, whether it’s positive or not, because I’m satisfied that I did what I could to give the story its best chance of being enjoyed.

Now, that takes care of the rational people on both sides of the artist-audience division. What to do about the truly irrational fan, i.e., the one who will stand in line for hours to tell you your work is crap? As a practical matter, you treat them as if they are rational, because it makes them easier to deal with (and to get them out of your hair). You don’t win arguments with irrational people, because, after all, they’re not rational. So you just get them off your plate and go on to the next person. You also don’t actually worry about whatever it is they’ve said, because, remember, they’re not rational, and if you start stewing over what irrational people say, well, who’s the irrational one then? Which gets us back to my original point, way back when: Don’t poke the monkeys. It hurts you more than it hurts the monkeys.

And this is what it boils down to, really: Who is going to be the adult in the artist-audience relationship? Ideally, of course, you’re both adults — you as the artist give your best effort, and then the audience treats your work critically but fairly and doesn’t hold it against you that you’re not perfect. But in the case where it turns out that only one of you is going to get to be an adult, as the artist you should damn well try to make sure that the adult in the relationship is you. This is where Hamilton fell down on the job; her pissy little passive-aggressive rant was the sort of foot-stamping you expect from a 8-year-old being told she can’t have a pony, not a 40-something professional with a couple dozen books to her credit. Hamilton is of course perfectly free to do what she wants; I just don’t suggest others do likewise.

Hal is entirely right that an author can quite reasonably say “if you don’t like my work, don’t keep buying it.” I do think that if one actually says it, however, one should actually mean it. I also think one should say it in such a way that one doesn’t also shit all over the people to whom you are giving your advice. Because when you do it says something about you. What it says isn’t actually very pleasant.

“Alien Sex” Artwork; TSD Release Date; TAD at Revolution SF

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I thought I’d show off a nifty illustration for you: This is the cover (by the fabulous Bob Eggleton) of the chapbook of “How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story,” which is a short story I wrote up to be a premium for the folks who shelled out for the hardcover edition of Subterranean magazine I guest-edited (the pdf version of which, remember, you may now download for free here). Outside of this chapbook I don’t have any particular plans to release the story, so if you’re one of the folks who paid up for the deluxe edition of the magazine: Oooooh, collector’s item.

Which also reminds me that Subterranean Press now tells me that the release date for “The Sagan Diary” is tentatively set for 1/31, a date that is dependent to some extent on when the several hundred signature sheets I signed arrive at the printers. Those signature sheets go into the limited leatherbound editions; there’s also the regular hardcover edition as well. Both are also collectibles, as only a limited number of each will be made.

Finally, The Android’s Dream got a nice little write-up at Revolution SF; books editor Peggy Hailey had this to say about it in her article on “What Is Best in Life, 2006″:

If you can put this book down after reading the first paragraph, you’re a better person than me. It’s got action. It’s got adventure. It’s got power politics and strange alien races. It’s got the snappiest dialogue since Nick & Nora Charles set the banter highwater mark. Get it. Read it. Love it. And right soon.

Naturally, I agree entirely. Also on this list are stuff from Chris Roberson, Jeff VanderMeer and Jeff Ford, so you should check out the entire article.

There, that’s enough self-pimpery for the day, I think.

Thanks for Delurking!

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At the end of the delurking day (which was 5am, Eastern time) I had 408 people delurking in the “Delurk for a Dime” thread, and then there were a couple of stragglers which I went ahead and counted. So that would have made my contribution to Reading is Fundamental $41. I went ahead and rounded it up to $50 and donated the amount using RIF’s online form. Don’t let anyone say I dilly-dallied in paying up my obligation.

For those of you who like to keep track of these things, at 411 comments (including my own final one closing the thread), “Delurk for a Dime” is the single entry with the highest number of comments here on Whatever. However, it’s worth noting that it gets the award on a technicality, because I split up the comments on “Being Poor” over two separate entries which together comprise something like 650 comments.

Thanks to everyone who delurked; I’m happy you spent my money, and I hope some of you decide to stay delurked and join the conversation around these parts.