Daily Archives: March 30, 2012

Quick Christopher Priest Follow Up

Yes, I know, two follow-ups in a row! Some days are like that. But I thought if you were interested that you might enjoy some of the other commentary on Christopher Priest’s Clarke Award Cane Shaker, so here are links to comment and discussion from Cat Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, James Nicoll, Charles “Internet Puppy” Stross, Mike Glyer, Cora Buhlert, and the ever-delicious Fandom Wank, from whence (via the good graces of Cleolinda) the picture above was birthed. Actual news coverage of the event is provided by The Guardian and io9. There, that should keep you busy. I’ll note in passing that with both news sites, the stories of Priest banging on the Clarke Award slate was accompanied by pictures of or relating to China Mieville. There’s some irony there.

I’ll also note that on further reflection, regarding Damien G. Walter’s estimation of what motivated Priest to pop off, I’ve gone from neutral to skeptical. Part of that is that Walter’s estimation that “Christopher Priest has spent his entire career being close enough to the top table to smell the gravy, but has never quite been invited to sit down” falls apart on closer examination. Priest is critically lauded in and out of the genre, has won scads of awards (including the Clarke), has been a New York Times bestseller and has seen one of his works adapted into a successful film; as I noted yesterday in the comment thread to my first Priest piece, not only is Christopher Priest at the table, he’s got an entire tureen of gravy to himself. I don’t think bitterness and/or jealous ultimately comes into it. The piece reads to me not as the work of an outsider with his nose smooged up against the glass, but of an insider who wonders who the hell let the rabble in.

Part of it is, to expand a bit on what I noted yesterday, not everything action needs a deep-seated psychological basis to exist. It’s possible that Priest’s piece was years of psychic turmoil erupting in one ill-advised but cathartic squeal, but it’s also possible and I would suggest probably more likely Priest simply looked at the list, went “the fuck?” and then availed himself of a keyboard. It’s not as if that never happens, you know. Is not the Internet mostly ill-advised spouting, punctuated by pictures of cats?

Speaking as a professional critic and commentator on the creative arts, I do understand the critical impulse to delve deeper, since sometimes there is something there, and no matter what its makes us look smart (or at least clever) to outside observers. But speaking as someone who has seen critical exegesis of his work (and its motivations) go hilariously wrong because of earnest overthinking, I can tell you that Occam’s Razor shaves writers, too. The simplest explanations aren’t always the best ones, because humans are in fact tricky monkeys. But simplest explanations are still the best place to start from. If they don’t work, then you can dig down. But they work quite a lot of the time.

The simplest explanation here? Christopher Priest doesn’t like the slate, feels qualified to say so, and isn’t particularly worried about the blowback. Off he goes. Works for me.

The Movie Junkies and Plagiarism: Follow Up

The Movie Junkies site, which featured scads of movie reviews plagiarized from other movie critics, is at least temporarily down; right now if you go there you get the notice you see above, “Maintenance Mode,” apparently being a polite, or at least shorter, version of the more accurate description “Oh CRAP I Have So Much Plagiarized Material Here That I Can’t Get Rid of It All In One Panicked Burst Mode.” Given that the site appeared so rife with plagiarism that it might be more efficient to ask which reviews weren’t cut and pasted from elsewhere, the site might be down for a while. The Movie Junkies’ Twitter feed is also down; so is its Facebook page.

Film writer Eric D. Snider writes about his own interaction with The Movie Junkies’ proprietor Michele Schalin, in which Ms. Schalin attempts to call a wholesale plagiarism of one of his reviews an “error,” rewrites the review so it still contains substantial amounts of plagiarized material, and then when he calls her on it, gets snippy with him and suggests that just because she just happens to use words in sentences almost exactly as he has, it doesn’t mean it’s actually plagiarism. This assertion, may I suggest, works better when one hasn’t already been caught plagiarizing. Elsewhere, Ms. Schalin attempted the Griggs Maneuver, i.e., blaming the problem on “staff”. Oh, well, staff. We all know how that is. Good help is hard to find.

In the real world, Ms. Schalin and The Movie Junkies multiply plagiarizing multiple writers was definitely an error, but, I rather strongly suspect, not in the way Ms. Schalin was trying to suggest. Her use of “error” implied that this plagiarism was all a mistake and misunderstanding, whoops, let’s fix that. It’s evident, however, that the error here was having a Web site whose business model was predicated on taking the work other people did without their permission and passing it off as one’s own. There’s a lot of ground between the first definition of “error” and the second.

Hopefully Ms. Schalin has learned something from this, other than “The Internet is mean when you plagiarize other people’s work.” Well, yes. Yes, it is. But there’s a reason for that, you know. Figure out why that is, Ms. Schalin, and you’ll be better off.