This is interesting to me: A newgroup thread on the Coke-thowing spat between authors Jo Walton and David Brin. The short introduction to this is that Walton and Brin apparently crossed swords during a panel at this year’s Boskone science fiction convention, and then later at a party sponsored by Tor Books (my publisher, as well as the publisher of both Walton and Brin) Walton was sufficiently annoyed with and/or by Brin to douse him with a Coke she had in her hand. Walton blogged the event on her site shortly after it happened; some weeks later Brin found the blog entry and the comments that followed and responded, re-igniting the controversy afresh, and of course since then much of SF fandom and not a few authors have chimed in with their opinions of Walton, Brin and the entire spat. It’s a heck of a pile-up.

I have no horse in this particular race; I don’t know either Brin or Walton personally and so I have no opinion as to whether Brin deserved his cola shower, or if Walton was justified in administering the same. In a general sense, I try to live my life so that I neither throw nor am the recipient of thrown fizzy, carbonated beverages, and indeed, I encourage each of you to live your life in the same peaceable, non-sticky manner. But it is interesting to me in the sense that I am now a science fiction author (or will be soon enough) and will be entering the community of both of other SF authors and those who read SF; these little squabbles are now within my little sewing circle, as it were, and it’s fascinating to see how the dynamics of the interaction work here.

What is especially interesting is not so much the interaction between Walton and Brin (My only comment about the two of them is that each is the gardener of their own crop of karma, and so long as they are tending in a manner that makes them happy, more power to them) but the interaction of the peanut gallery of SF readers and their opinions of one or both of the authors. From what I observe, (popular) science fiction authors inhabit an uncomfortable intersection of reality and celebrity — notable enough that they’re up for grabs about speculation about themselves and their lives, but not such high-grade celebrities that they’ve developed the psychic callouses that allow those poor people to get on with their lives without collapsing into a heap under the weight of what everyone in the world has to say about them.

In short, they seem prime candidates for being really cheesed off by random burblings from the people who know them from their books and what other people have said about them based on third-hand reports from friends who went to conventions. And of course, what they read on newsgroups and comment threads. Combine that with the fact that SF readers can be, well, not nice, and the fact that writers tend not be the most magnificently socialized of people in the best of circumstances, and it’s no wonder SF writers can be a little twitchy.

Not to blame the readers, mind you (please buy my book when it comes out). If two authors hadn’t gotten into it in public, all the comment threads simply wouldn’t have happened. It’s just interesting to watch it all in play.

7 Comments on “Spat”

  1. What is amazing is the number of people (“peanut gallery”) who actually believe that they are *entitled* to speak their opinion in a forum (like this). A simple comment can so easily get misunderstood and quickly spiral into a full-fledge flame war. I have seen it more times than I can count. Despite many attempts to prevent flame wars, they take on a life of their own. It seems that some people *want* a flame-war. They must need attention.

    I’ve seen flame-wars where the combatants change sides mid-fight. :) One thread bumbled along with about 2 posts a day, but something was said, and it erupted into 250 posts a day for three days. It had to be locked to stop the posting. I know of a topic entitled “Breasts and the men who love them” – it started poorly and went down from there. It currently spans 130 pages, nearly 2600 replies.

    I find it “interesting” as I watch these things. Sometimes it is like a car-crash in slow motion (the only reason people watch Nascar, after all). You can see that someone has “trolled”, and that a *lot* of hate-comments will soon follow (like the above dig at Nascar). :) And like water in a river, it just flows from there. I’ve been amused by some of the comments, and been bewildered by others. I have read posts and thought; “What language was that?” I am certain that some people press “reply” in the wrong window.

    I don’t know how much “sanitizing” you do John, but if there is any, I appreciate it. As you can tell, I have enjoyed posting comments to your ramblings.

  2. Yeah, that’s what I meant. I don’t see very many “flames” or “trollings”, so either those posts weren’t made, or you’ve wiped them out. Either way, the result is good – especially considering you are writing about some rather “hot” topics.

  3. I prefer to think it’s a testament to the intelligence, wit and tolerance of those who choose to post here at You are all class acts, every one.

  4. Comments on the internet also seem to magnify their author’s assholiness. It’s probably distantly related to road rage. There’s just something about sitting in a comfortable chair controlling an expensive piece of machinery that makes you click your own internal hot-shit-o-meter up a few notches. Then someone takes it upon themselves to reply to you and the effect is magnified. I have a friend who sends email that will grate on your spine, but in reality she’s very pleasant to be around.

    (I don’t know how much sense this makes but a discussion between “John Scalzi” and “Jon” attached to a story written by “john” just cried out for some nomenclature diversification.)

  5. Hmmm. . . think I met Brin at one time–no, wait, that was Greg Benford, neither of whom of course I’d confuse with Harlan Ellison. . .

    Stories like this highlight why I abandoned SF fandom and its attendant geekhood long ago (though I still consider authors like Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, William Gibson and Greg Bear indispensable and am always on the prowl for their new stuff): it’s a small, insular community where everyone knows each other and their business far too well, with gatherings like conventions being more about the egos and agendas of the participants than the intellectual perspectives that make the genre unique.

    Better–for me, anyway–to focus on good books, and the (unfortunately rare) worthy media effort, and leave behind all the baggage that goes with it.

  6. The accounts of the spat were pretty funny. (Well, Brin’s were kind of whiny.)

    Anyway, I saw him give a talk at CHI (a human-computer interaction conference — I don’t know why they chose him for the opening plenary since he has nothing to do with HCI and neither did his talk) a year ago, and it was the _same_ hierarchical society bad/progress good thing. The description of the sci-fi con he was at said “he didn’t let his ignorance get in the way of his dogmatism” and I’d say the same was true at CHI. I thought there were some interesting ideas in the speech, even if it wasn’t well researched. A lot of people were a lot less charitable. He also seems a bit of a one-trick pony, spouting the same thesis every chance he gets. I read his Salon article… it was very similar to his CHI speech, and from what it sounds like, very similar to his sci-fi con statements. Y’know how someone can have a good point, but if they repeat if over and over again they become more annoying and less credible in spite of the validity of their point? That’s his problem.

    Like his books, though.

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