NYT Review Fallout
Posted on December 24, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 23 Comments
There’s been some interesting commentary and discussion following Dave Itzkoff’s NYT Book Review piece on me and my books, so I thought I’d post links to some of them I’ve found, for the edification of Whatever readers. In no particular order:
* Instapundit notes the piece, and has some thoughts on the idea of Starship Troopers being fascist, roping in Spider Robinson to rebut that claim and also making a point about some of the “chickenhawk” rhetoric from earlier in the year. Also commenting on the Heinlein tip are Blue Crab Boulevard and The Colossus of Rhodey.
* Sarah Weinman declares that “Dave Itzkoff makes a good case for reading John Scalzi’s work,” among the other things she notes, and Jenny Rappaport, Toby Buckell and Gwenda Bond congratulate me for showing up in the Times (with Toby and Jenny adding additional thoughts regarding the review itself). Thanks, I wish I could say I did any or the work for that, but I suspect that thanks should go to my ever-fabulous publicist, Dot Lin.
* SF Signal praises me for not attacking Dave Itzkoff when I wrote my response to the review; apparently authors getting bent out of shape with reviews is the new black. Well, here’s the thing. First, of course, the review is generally positive concerning my work, so getting all bent out of shape would just be churlish. As I’ve said before, I’m happy with the review, and pleased Dave Itzkoff took the time to think about the books.
Second, even in the theoretical scenario where I wanted to scoop out a reviewer’s eyes, pour gasoline into his sockets and then light them aflame and chortle as he went howling blindly into the night, it’s just not a good idea. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and in the long run, we all know if what we’ve written or created is good. I remember once I panned an album by The Cult, which led to lead singer Ian Astbury sending me a scathing e-mail. To which I responded, basically, “Dude, what are you doing? In a month people will forget I wrote the review, and you’ll still be Ian Astbury. The next time you have a groupie on top of you because you wrote ‘Love Removal Machine,’ you’ll look back on this and laugh.” To which Mr. Astbury admitted I had a point.
* Sarah Monette uses the moment to discourse on what reviewers don’t get about science fiction, fantasy and horror, which leads both to a lively discussion in her comment thread, and an amusingly rueful followup post.
* Andrew Wheeler is not impressed with Itzkoff’s review in the slightest, and GalleyCat’s Ron Hogan pretty much declares war on Itzkoff in his commentary. Note to self: Don’t invite Itzkoff and Hogan to the same party. Or, perhaps, do, and make sure the walls have been securely tarped.
That’s what I’ve seen. If you’ve seen other commentary about it, feel free to drop it into the comment thread.
What, is Starship Troopers the Atlas Shrugged of warbloggers?
I’ve never read the former (though I did waste two weeks of my life reading the latter, sadly), so I can’t comment, but it sounds like these guys are operating from a really shoddy definition of fascism.
It certainly wasn’t Itzkoff ‘s treatment of you that annoyed me at him. I really think he’s not an apropriate choice for a science fiction reviewer, except for his apropriate nature as a choice for a review section that has uniformly panned F&SF (The NY Times. They usually suck)
I don’t like his style, and I don’t think his substance ahs much substance to it. He does not know the genre, and he does not know the genre’s history. The worst part is, he *acts* like he does. He’s pretentious, and he spends more time in some reviews selling himself then he does the ideas he has about the books he’s reading.
And the reality is, when all is said and done, Itzkoff did you a favor. How many websites did you just list that are talking about you today? and will be tomorrow. And the next…
Life is good. Book sales are good.
> apparently authors getting bent out of shape with reviews is the new black
Dude… Aren’t we supposed to say “African American” or did I miss a memo?
No, I’m not obtuse, I’m playing obtuse.
The guy who, years ago wrote a review in the Chicago Trib of ST:Voyager, praising them for having an African American Vulcan was obtuse.
“Second, even in the theoretical scenario where I wanted to scoop out a reviewer’s eyes, pour gasoline into his sockets and then light them aflame and chortle as he went howling blindly into the night, it’s just not a good idea.”
John–no no no, what you’re supposed to do is Tuckerize the critic in your next novel, portraying him as a child rapist.
Johnm your link to Instapundit is for the wrong post, I think you mean this one. Reading the stuff linked now, but I’ve never really considered Troopers to be fascist, and if a libertarian lefty like me likes it, it can’t be all bad, right?
Thanks, Matt — I updated the link.
Thomas Nixon, Dave Itzkoff definitely did me a favor. And let’s recall he liked two of the three books.
I am no longer the person who hated that review the most. Edward Champion is.
I haven’t explored the rumour fully, but I have heard it opined that Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers expressly to provoke his publisher to drop him, thereby getting him out of a contract he was unhappy with, and freeing him up to write what he really wanted. Has anyone else ever heard that discussed?
While we’re taking about Starship Troopers, and novels that are reminiscent of Starship Troopers, I’d like to mention John Steakley’s Armor. It opens with the traditional powered-armor bug hunt, which immediately proceeds to go horribly wrong. The human high command has completely screwed the pooch, and the armored soldiers are overrun by an infinite number of bugs-with-nukes.
The protagonist, Felix, survives this waking nightmare. Unfortunately, it’s an endless waking nightmare, and the bugs will never stop coming. Felix is doomed, apparently, to always put on his suit one more time and drop into another bug-filled hell. Felix hates being a soldier, loathes every minute he spends fighting the bugs, but he’s also impossibly good at it, so his nightmare continues without end.
The real genius of Armor is in Felix’s attitude. He’s absolutely convinced that he will die, horribly and uselessly. But despite his infinite despair, he’s too stubborn to die yet.
The whole novel is really just a psychological sketch, but a sharp and effective one. Recommended, for fans of that sort of thing.
Heh. I’ve been Itzkoffed too, but I was keeping my trap shut (general principle: never argue with critics) and hoping it was just an anomaly. Let me just say that I’d endorse just about everything that’s been said about his lack of insight, compared to a critic native to the field like, say, John Clute.
I’ve heard of Armor before. I think in my edition of Ender’s Game, in the introduction, a soldier in the Middle East who wrote to Orson Scott Card had those two books as the two books that really resonated with him and with his life–sort of a personal mythology.
“John–no no no, what you’re supposed to do is Tuckerize the critic in your next novel, portraying him as a child rapist.”
Tuckerize? Don’t you mean Crichtonize?
“I haven’t explored the rumour fully, but I have heard it opined that Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers expressly to provoke his publisher to drop him, thereby getting him out of a contract he was unhappy with, and freeing him up to write what he really wanted. Has anyone else ever heard that discussed?”
I think that you are confusing “Starship Troopers” with another book. Heinlein had a contract to do one novel a year for juveniles, with an escape clause if one of his books was rejected. I do not recall title of the juvenile that was rejected and let Heinlein out of the contract – which he definitely desired – but it was NOT “Starship Troopers”.
In a later interview (in the early 70s, I think), Heinlein said that he wrote “Starship Troopers” because he was very upset at a vocal “better Red than dead” movement in the US not long after the first Sputnik, when the Soviets were making threatening statements and loud noises – described at the time as “rattling their missiles”. Heinlein said that he put aside the book he was working on at the time (“The Heretic”, later published as “Stranger in a Strange Land”), to write “Starship Troopers” as a reply to these people.
He said that this novel was intended as his soapbox to talk about patriotism, and the obligation of a citizen to be willing to make some sort of sacrifice if he or she expects to obtain all of the benefits of his or her society. Some people interpret the novel as advocating a specific form of government, but in that interview – as I recall it – Heinlein said that the focus was on the general subject of societal obligations and patriotism, not an intent to advocate a specific form of government.
FWIW, I question anyone’s comparisons of “Starship Troopers” and either “Old Man’s War” or “The Ghost Brigades”. Other than superficial similarities, IMO this is comparing apples and oranges. I’ve reread all of Heinlein work periodically since grammar school in the late 1940s, and I like Scalzi’s novels very much, but OMW and TGB are NOT just “Starship Troopers” in new clothes – IMO.
BTW, IMO Itzkoff either has not read “Starship Troopers”, or completely misunderstood it. Either scenaro speaks poorly of his qualifications to do book reviews.
With best wishes,
– Tom –
Clute is a country unto himself. With the inclusion of whatever the hell foreign language he speaks.
He’s even more of a legend among reviewers and criticts. Bringing him up in that sort of company is like mentioning Ramanujan in a crowd of mathematicians. Clearly brilliant, but half the time no one knows what the hell he’s talking about. Also, insane funny when you *can* understand his jokes.
Here’s one of his reviews.
Clute is too smart for the typical NT Times Book Review readership.
No, I am not confusing Starship Troopers with another book, but given what you have said, I suspect the person I heard it from was a little shy on the details himself. Thanks for the reply.
Bad review, good review, at least they’re reviewing your books. I think the worst reviews are when the reviewer passes on reading your books.
And has anybody arguing with a reviewer ever received a changed review?
In my mind this would be like heckeling a comedian, 9 out of 10 times the guy with the microphone wins.
Love? You panned Love?
John, I think we need an explanation here. Perhaps you were panning Sonic Temple and just used Love Removal Machine as an example of an earlier, greater album? The sort of song and album that would get “a groupie on top of you.”
I didn’t say I panned Love. I panned Beyond Good And Evil, actually.
He said that this novel was intended as his soapbox to talk about patriotism, and the obligation of a citizen to be willing to make some sort of sacrifice if he or she expects to obtain all of the benefits of his or her society.
So, people don’t have intrinsic rights, they must earn them from service to the State? Virulent anti-communism in the guise of an alien “Other” with whom no negotiation is possible, only extermination? Our racial destiny to obtain unlimited lebensraum? How in the world could anyone get fascism out of that?
Of course, Heinlein’s actual belief systems are hard to pigeonhole. And “fascist” gets flung around awfully easily. Why, over at DeLong’s riff on this post, someone applied it to Gordon R. Dickson, too. Apparently, military-centered SF is fascist by definition to some people. So watch out, Mr. Scalzi.