When People Who Don’t Get It Attack

This fellow thinks I gave a “lukewarm” review to Glenn Reynold’s An Army of Davids for fear of displeasing his Instapunditness, who might then stop giving my books his all-encompassing love. He also calls me a hack. After I stopped giggling at both these things, I posted a long comment on his site, which I will now repost here.

“Scalzi’s bio screams HACK WRITER…”

Yup, I suck. However, I don’t talk straight out of my ass, which is what you’re doing here. Whatever you think you know about the relationship between Glenn Reynolds and my writing career is based on heaping amounts of ignorance, so it’s not entirely surprising you’re basically entirely wrong. Allow me to explain the many reasons this is so.

As to whether I fear to cross Glenn for fear of losing the creamy goodness of his InstaLove: Not really. His liking my novels has had a significant and direct effect on my sales, sure, because his readers trust him to make good recommendations, and he has a lot of readers. On the other hand, my current book has gotten good to excellent reviews in Entertainment Weekly, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and a number of other places — all reviewed by people who don’t know me, I would add — so I think I would do just fine without him or his personal relationship with his readers. Indeed, my two biggest-selling books to date (Book of the Dumb and Book of the Dumb 2) were scarcely mentioned by him (which is to say one of them got one bland sentence, and the second wasn’t noted by him at all). It’s not at all likely he had any significant influence on those sales.

Likewise, my astronomy book The Rough Guide to the Universe has had the majority of its sales in the UK (which makes sense as the publisher is based in London). It’s gone through several printings and I’m about to update it for a second edition (it was rather well-reviewed by people don’t know me, too). You could make an argument that Instapundit has a vasty readership in the UK, too, but then, he’s never mentioned that book, either.

Did Glenn help sell my books? Absolutely. Am I grateful? You bet; it’s why I put him in the acknowledgments of The Ghost Brigades. He’s been important. My book sales don’t live or die on his whim, and I have rather more concrete evidence of that fact than you do to the contrary.

Now, as a practical matter, I cross Glenn all the time; his end-result politics and mine don’t exactly mesh, and there’s been several times over the course of the time we’ve had blogs where we’ve gone around on various subjects. Here’s one of the earliest: http://instapundit.com/archives/000480.php. If you think I’m scared to speak my mind because I don’t want to lose Glenn’s patronage, you’re an idiot (or, more likely, ignorant, to return to an earlier theme).

The reason I noted “Army of Davids” was because I liked the book — not in a lukewarm way you suggest, either. It’s genuinely interesting. If I hadn’t have liked it, I wouldn’t have mentioned it. The book is selling well enough that Glenn doesn’t need me to push it, and if you think he’s sitting there keeping tabs on who is recommending his book in order to punish or praise them later, well, we’re back to the “idiot/ignorant” thing again.

What you apparently have a hard time wrapping your head around is that personal blogs aren’t newspapers — they’re personal blogs. I haven’t the slightest hesitation in writing up a review on my own site of Glenn’s book or the book of any other people of my acquaintance because it’s a personal site, and it’s pretty transparent to my readers that I know the people I’m writing about. In the particular piece you’re all lathered about, I note in the entry that I am actually in the book. That would be your first tip-off that I am not a disinterested observer.

Would I write a review of An Army of Davids for a newspaper or magazine? Clearly not, because to repeat, I’m in the book, and even if I weren’t there’s been enough of an interaction between the two of us that I couldn’t be disinterested. On the off chance that I did review something for a paper/magazine in which I had some personal interest, even a small one (such as when I recently did a DVD review for Proof, which was written by a college classmate of mine whom I had not seen in 15 years), I’d note it up front. Because that’s the responsible and ethical thing to do. And as it happens I do the same thing on my personal site as well.

Complaining that people are not writing in a disinterested fashion on their personal blogs is like complaining that water is wet; likewise complaining that people champion the efforts of their friends and acquaintances on their personal sites is pretty damn stupid. People write whatever the hell they want on their blogs; most blog readers, I suspect, are smart enough to understand they are reading a personal site and grasp what that entails. The vast majority of my readers do, in any event. The fact you don’t is interesting.

New TGB reviews

Hey! A nice review of The Ghost Brigades in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and it gives a shout-out to the idea that the book is fun to read even for folks who aren’t steeped in SF. This is happy news, because I aim for accessible. The review also gives a thumbs up to Questions for a Soldier.

TGB also got a nice review in Booklist, although the review isn’t up yet on the Amazon page (it’ll get there eventually, I assume). In the meantime, my publicist sense suggests to me this will be the pull-quote from the review: “Scalzi skillfully weaves together action, memorable characterizations and a touch of philosophy in a first-rate military SF outing.” Groovy.

Around the blogosphere, some recent reviews at The Volokh Conspiracy, VodkaPundit, and from Dave Smith, Yendi, Paul Robichaux and Suburban Joe. I’m happy the book seems to be getting around.

Coming Around to My Way of Thinking

An interesting datum from a new and largely disastrous new poll for President Bush:

President Bush’s declining image also is reflected in the single-word descriptions people use to describe their impression of the president. Three years ago, positive one-word descriptions of Bush far outnumbered negative ones. Over the past two years, the positive-negative balance has been roughly equal. But the one-word characterizations have turned decidedly negative since last July.

Currently, 48% use a negative word to describe Bush compared with just 28% who use a positive term, and 10% who use neutral language.

The changing impressions of the president can best be viewed by tracking over time how often words come up in these top-of-the-mind associations. Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was “honest,” but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as “integrity” are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as “excellent” or “great” ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is “incompetent,”and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: “idiot” and “liar.” All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago.

I just want you all to remember that I was calling him incompetent before calling him incompetent was cool.

Thoughts on An Army of Davids

I‘m reading Glenn Reynolds’ An Army of Davids, and I’m not in the least bit surprised to say I find not much of it surprising; this book includes much of the tech- and markets-related thinking that Glenn’s been working on at Instapundit and in his various online columns, boils it down into an easy-to-carry package, and makes it presentable to the folks who haven’t quite twigged to the whole blog thing. This is why I mention I don’t find it surprising that I don’t find it surprising: it’s not really for me, because Glenn’s been on my daily reading list for years, and I’m already hip to his thing. But it could be relevatory for my father-in-law, who (to put it mildly) has no interest in being online but who is interested in keeping up with what’s possible in the near future. In other words, this is a book for people who aren’t already in the choir, but who are outside the chapel and wondering what it is the choir is singing.

I’m also finding it an interesting companion piece to another recent book on innovations that will make a dramatic impact on the way we live in the near future: Joel Garreau’s Radical Evolution. Garreau’s book is focused primarily on biotechnological advances, while Glenn’s focuses on what I suppose is best described as “socioeconomic tech”; both give some serious thought to what their respective tech will mean to how we live and interact with each other (there is some overlap in these two tech streams, and both books nod in the direction of each others’ tech). Combine the two books together in your head and you get some idea that the next 25 years or so could be very interesting times indeed — not in the incomprehensible “singularity” we-can’t-even-imagine-the-future sense, but simply in the sense that what is “normal” is going to change very rapidly, even by current standards.

I find the explorations in Glenn’s book a little more, shall we say, rooted and plausible than Garreau’s, but I suspect that I can more easily wrap my head around Glenn’s concepts because to a large degree I already live them (indeed, I’m quoted in Army on page 14); Garreau’s book involves tech and experiences that do not involve me, or at least do not involve me yet. I doubt Garreau’s superhuman scenario will get here in the timeframe he expects, but it’s on its way. The present Glenn details is of course here, even if, to paraphrase William Gibson, it’s not yet evenly-distributed. While I find Glenn’s book more focused on and consonant to present experience, I think both books are on the right track.

(Now, one major difference between Glenn’s book and the Garraeu book, which I’ll note but not explore now, is that Glenn’s is explicitly focused on a “bottoms-up” future in which the socioeconomic shift is toward the individual, while Garreau’s future is implicitly top-down, in that much of the biotech described in his book is funded, developed and necessarily controlled by governments and large corporations. If both tech are developing in tandem (and they are), this could lead to some very interesting repercussions, in the classic “may you live in interesting times” Chinese curse sort of way.)

Moving on to another subject now, one thing I find very interesting in An Army of Davids is the extent to which Glenn is namechecking prominent bloggers in the course of the book. One way of looking at this is that it’s Glenn playing to the blogger audience, but I don’t think that’s the right way of looking at it. As I noted earlier, if you’ve been keeping up with Glenn via Instapundit and his other online presences, his blogcentrism is unsurprising; namechecking Jeff Jarvis or Virginia Postrel or Josh Marshall won’t do much. On the other hand, for the people who aren’t familiar with the blog world (which is still most of America, remember), these are folks who are presented as authorities.

In effect, Glenn is using old media (his book) to bootstrap credibility for these folks who are largely currently notable through their new media associations. There’s a limit to this observation — Jarvis, Postrel and some other bloggers Glenn notes are also active and credible in “old” media, so it’s not an entirely pure bootstrap, as it were. But even this works to the credibility of the blog world to those unfamiliar with it; clearly it’s not all about cranks posting photos of their cats.

In all I’ve been enjoying An Army of Davids. As I noted it’s not surprising to me as a long-time reader of Glenn’s stuff, but I do find it quite interesting and fun to read, and also refreshingly optimistic, which is a tone that is sometimes diluted over at Instapundit due to whatever damn fool thing is roiling the blogosphere on any particular day. Glenn’s not some pollyanna futurist here, but he’s also clearly not threatened by the changes he sees happening now or in the near future, and he’s written what I think is a fine primer on these changes for people who are still wondering what it’s all about it. I’ll be giving this book to my father-in-law the next time I see him; I think he’s going to like it. If you’re not a regular Instapundit reader (all of whom, I suspect, have already bought the book by now), give it a whirl as well.