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.

101 Comments on “Quick Christopher Priest Follow Up”

  1. is the entirety of this post there? ending with “Occam’s Razor shaves writers too:” seems a bit odd. maybe the : is a typo?

  2. I still have no idea who Christopher Priest is, aside the funny fact that his surname is the German word for preacher, so it’s more a case of “Yeah, people act like dicks on the internet”.

    Why did that blow up so hard?

  3. Okay, I now googled the guy and it hasn’t been very enlightening. He seems to have a pretty decent publishing list, but nothing I’ve ever read, his stuff doesn’t appear to be my style. – from an outsiders perspective, the question still stands why are people seeing his outburst as important?

    Or is it just humanities natural interest in drama?

  4. Quoth Scalzi, “Part of it is… not everything action needs a deep-seated psychological basis to exist.”

    Or, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

  5. As one who has judged and is in the process of judging an award in my own genre, I totally agree with dompaul above, and with Mr. Scalzi’s suggestion that if Mr. Priest thinks it’s so fucking easy, let him take a crack at it, and deal with the nasty shit he gets called. Mr. Scalzi, of course, says it much more politely.

  6. I think there was an interesting point in there that some authors seem to dominate the awards, showing up year after year. That appears to be his real beef with Miéville as his criticism of the book itself is pretty limp. I can certainly understand that because in all the awards it sometimes seems like certain authors get nominated because that’s just what you do when they have a new book.

  7. Carina, The Separation (which won the Clarke) and The Prestige are fine pieces of work, and The Inverted World (which I haven’t read) is generally considered a classic.

  8. I remember reading Inverted World when I was working at the county library in high school (mid to late 70’s). It really rocked me at the time but I can’t honestly remember reading much of anything else by him that I enjoyed since then. I know I have, it’s just that nothing comes to mind right now which must mean that I didn’t find it memorable enough to bother. I’m with dompaul in that I found it hard to get through the Priest’s rant, but what the hell, everyone is allowed to think what they want. It’s just that not everyone has to agree with it…

  9. In one of Spider Robinson’s early Calahan novels (I can’t remember which, maybe second or third one and my books are in storage), he talks about the difference between a critic and a reviewer: a critic tells us what is *art* and a reviewer tells us what is *popular* (or fun/readable/watchable – something to that effect). I can’t help but think that that was the ultimate point that Priest was trying to make: that he would like to see scifi books that are critically good, rather than merely readable.

    Otoh, lots of other people are going to be more aware of these books and scifi in general, due to the publicity, and that’s good, right?

    Also, I hope that 30 years from now we aren’t treated to a similar blog posting by Mieville, complaining about who let in all the rabble, circa 2040. ;-)

  10. Oh, man, Christopher Priest! I have some of his books that I bought 20-odd years ago and reread every few years for a while, but I’d forgotten all about him. I think instead of reading his screed, or other people’s comments on his screed, I’ll go find out whether my library has any of his other fiction. Or just reread one of the books I already have. My favorite was “The Perfect Lover,” which I gather is the U.S. title of “A Dream of Wessex.” This other business sounds like a tempest in a teapot from which I don’t need the tea.

  11. Isn’t the reason why Scalzi brought this up at all, because of the sheer art of it? Lots of people of people could have criticized the list and then made some random demand that the jury be dismissed, and may have on various blogs for all I know. None of them are Christopher Priest. Making apparently serious demands that the rules of the contest be changed this year on the grounds that the list isn’t the the taste of Mr. Priest is quite a giant, shiny, red, cherry on the sundae.

    So Scalzi, when you grade hate mail, do you just correct it and return it, or do you assign letter grades? Do you have a grade for Mr. Priest, or is that reserved to people who send it to you?

  12. 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.

    Yes. This.

  13. Mike:

    “Do you have a grade for Mr. Priest, or is that reserved to people who send it to you?”

    This wasn’t sent to me personally, so, no, I didn’t give it a written grade. However, as I noted in the original entry, of the sort of thing this is, this is one of the better examples out there. Blows the logical dismount, but is otherwise fun to read.

  14. As one who enjoyed the heck out of the arcane internecine battles in the Letters pages of scientific journals (in grad school in the 1980s)l I’m enjoying the heck out of this particular kerfuffle (insert sound of popcorn munching here). I don’t have a stake in this argument, but I do have an opinion about the photo chosen to make the picture: that guy’s a wimp. When I read Priest’s original article, that question (“Have we lived and fought in vain?”) just tickled my socks off – it deserves something like, oh I don’t know, Boromir, raging at the sky. Not some dude whose xerox machine just ate his fan toon of Xena.

  15. Is not the Internet mostly ill-advised spouting, punctuated by pictures of cats?

    Why yes, yes it is. Elegantly concise. Thank you!

  16. and if I may, because I saw this point made elsewhere and it rang so true, could we all have a moment of silent reflection on how different a lot of the reaction would be if a woman had posted the same thing?

  17. “I think there was an interesting point in there that some authors seem to dominate the awards, showing up year after year.”

    True in every niche of every craft or hobby; whether day-to-day internal politics, awards, the life and death importance that some attach to a blue ribbon . . . . Old-timers tend to get more respect/credit than they deserve and relative n00bs often get short shrift for their achievements.

    Plenty of exceptions, but I’ve seen it my whole life. Am very happy to be an onlooker, rather than a participant, as much as possible.

  18. I think Crying Dawson works better somehow. How about a Lord Voldemort one?

    KathleeninCA: “and if I may, because I saw this point made elsewhere and it rang so true, could we all have a moment of silent reflection on how different a lot of the reaction would be if a woman had posted the same thing?”

    Yeah, that. Which is related to the main thing that exhausts me about guardian of the tower arguments like Priest’s, whether they are that being genre-y is bad like Priest demands or some other criteria about how fiction must be properly written in monochrome lockstep. How much more great SFF fiction might we have had from women writers in the past if what was “good,” “literary,” “experimental,” “bold” etc. was not defined by so many of the critics, publishers, authors, media and self-appointed guardians as only that which is written by men, that men were the only capable writers of SFFH and that women sneaking into the room through male pseudonyms raised not only ire but aggressive attacks to shove them back in the basement by calling them trash? How many more works by non-white authors, and so forth?

    Priest wants one of the women writers nominated to win the award slate; I’m not saying he’s making a sexist argument here. I’m pointing out that the labeling of good and bad in these things usually has less to do with actual writing assessments and more to do with an agenda of some kind that is equally intent on trying to shape what isn’t to be allowed as creative expression or assessment of its worth by others as it is with championing “good” works of fiction. (Hal Duncan has written about this and I am largely in agreement with him.) And I find that in Priest’s argument, the logical dismount as Scalzi calls it. He wants the most visible works of SFF in the discussion of SFF — award winners and nominees — to be less genre-ish, according to a rather vague definition of genre that seems to do with whatever Priest suspects will be seen as embarrassing. And if authors don’t conform, he wants them removed and uncooperative judges with them. That’s a grandiose, funny but ultimately kind of chilling statement from a major writer. (Or artist; think of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.) It’s not the statement of a critic, but of a guy who’s playing bouncer, who is trying to close off the cutting edge for writers, not open it up.

    I do think that Priest sounds like he’s willing to get as good as he gives, that he will enjoy Stross’ T-shirt, Mieville’s possible ripostes and Adam Roberts refusing to accept new praise as consolation for prior savagings, But the imaginary war has taken its toll and I don’t really feel like going back to the bad old days of what’s “good.”

  19. Up until very recently, for some reason I thought China Mieville was a woman. I had a quick look and Christopher Priest definitely appears to be male, but although he has very striking blue eyes, he’s not anything like as photogenic as Mr Mieville. If it were my job, I’d choose to illustate the Guardian’s story just as they have. I’m feeling a sudden urge to try one of his books now – anyone got a rec for a first time Mieville reader? /shallow

    (I have a weakness for both multiple ear piercings AND shaved heads. Sue me.)

    Oh yeah, regarding Priest’s rant, I made it a few paragraphs in before rolling my eyes, closing the tab and considering a bowl of ice cream to wash away the bad taste. I’ve never read Mark Billingham’s work because i don’t enjoy crime novels, but I don’t feel the need to be rude about them. I barely got any further than his first mention of The Clarke. Priest, to me, was coming off as an attention seeking troll and I find I rather resent having given him a page hit. I’m not feeling particularly drawn to trying *his* work now…

  20. Hm, if you substitute “Have we lived and fought in vain” with “No I will not read your fucking manuscript” or something damn near like it, I wonder what the reaction would be.

    Maybe Priest was trying for “over the top” but hit a point short enough that people thought he really was crying “have we lived and fought in vain” in perfect seriousness.

    That particular line, have we lived and fought in vain, was what tipped me over to the point of seeing the entire thing as an amazing piece of awesomely funny snark, rather than being intended as serious insult.

    Maybe we could have a show of hands, how many people thought Priest decried “Have we lived and fought in vain” in absolutely seriousness?

  21. I hereby propose the Scalzi Award, to be awarded by some bizarre process involving kittens and caffeine, for the best public response by a speculative fiction writer (writ large) during the calendar year to a hateful (mail, review, commentary, whatever). This is in honor of “Your Hate Mail will be Graded”, of course.

    My first nomination for the Scalzi Award for 2012 is Charlie Stross, for the commemorative T-shirt.

  22. Greg:
    I absolutely thought it was tongue-in-cheek; it was the point where secondhand embarrassment turned into pure delight, IMO. At the same time, you can inform the world that this author here isn’t good enough to stand on a stage with you and the books of these authors over there are unworthy failures, with wit and verve, and still be a jackass. Wit just makes for better macros.

  23. As a counterweight to those who have never even heard of Priest I find I have read all but a couple of his novels, and as he has never been very prolific and especially not in recent years, mostly that was back in the 70s and 80s, and as they often have to do with unreliable narrators and alternate possibilities and VR worlds, I can’t now give a blow-by-blow account of any plots. I (obviously) liked him/them, though, and thought his books worth reading though I can see they wouldn’t necessarily be to the taste of MilSF or BDO or space opera buffs.

    As our host points out, Priest has had a long involvement with genre sf and also a kind of not-genre near-sf. He was one of Granta’s Best of Young British novelists in 1983, along with the likes of Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie; his 2002 alternate WW2 novel The Separation won the Clarke (up against Kil’n People by David Brin, Light by M John Harrison, The Scar by China Miéville [that man again], The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon and The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson); his Inverted World was a Hugo nominee the year Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed won.

    Although his own work is sometimes only tangentially sf I guess he has a pretty good sense of sf history; he’s a former Worldcon GoH (2005), he is mates (and had a mail-order software business) with David Ansible Langford, the famous multiple fan-writer Hugo winner; he is (or was) a vice-president of the HG Wells Society (one of his earlier works, 1976’s The Space Machine, being a Wellsian steampunkish romp); he has written sf obits for the mainstream press like The Guardian & The Financial Times on Joanna Russ, Diana Wynne Jones, JG Ballard, Anne McCaffrey and Sam Youd (aka John Christopher – in this one he appears in a photo with Youd and Brian Aldiss, sitting down and smelling the gravy).

    So he was a biggish cheese in my younger years, and for a second it was mildly odd to me that he is utterly unheard-of by some sf fans. But even mightier names are doomed to be forgotten by some people – last week I saw an episode of Pointless, a UK TV quiz show, in which five out of eight contestants were unable to name a single Robert Redford movie, most of them having never even heard of him! Shocking. (As the link above notes, one contestant made a stab in the dark at The Seven Samurai being a Redford film!)

    It’s also mildly odd to think of Priest as old, but as he will be 70 next year I guess he is getting on a bit, though I still sort of think of him as “young”, mainly in comparison to people like Arthur C Clarke and Brian Aldiss. He’s the same sort of age as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, who also seem less to be old per se than just having been around a long time at a fixed sort of age, and he is younger even than Andy Summers of The Police (though he is a couple of years older than Debbie Harry). Obviously that simply reflects my own age, as we all trundle up through the years in concert, mystified that people born in 1990 are already graduated from university or are famous athletes and rock stars.

  24. As for “Have we lived and fought in vain?”, Charles Stross (in a comment on James Nicoll’s lj More Words, Deeper Hole, thinks Priest was actually quoting a line from the Greg Bear novel he was dissing.

    Priest may also have riffing on a famous line in a Tony Hancock episode: “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?”

  25. Again, I have the feeling people don’t get it.

    As Scalzi noted in the earlier post, bashing-the-awards-committee is practically its own genre at this point. But as no one seems to have grokked, declaring that the awards committee should be boiled in oil/launched into the Sun/eviscerated/defenestrated is *part of that genre* as well. Scalzi and almost all of the commenters excepting one or two (“Greg”, in this thread, is the only one who has gotten it) are complaining that Priest has somehow gone too far, but it’s like complaining that a haiku has 17 syllables. Had Priest not included his “modest” (sic) suggestion of firing the committee and replacing them all with lobotomized chimps who would clearly do a better job, then, by the definition of the genre, he would not have been producing a work in the genre of bashing-the-awards-committee.

    TL;DR: Y’all missed the joke. {hand motion over head} Whoooosh.

  26. Michael:

    “Y’all missed the joke.”

    No. We get the joke, and if you go back to the original post, you will note that blaming others for not having one’s taste is fully expected in a piece like this. What it appears you may not be getting is that it’s a stupid joke, and no one’s obliged to laugh at it.

    I think there’s a minority view being posed, suggesting this is rib-nudging satirical performance art on Priest’s end. This is confusing form for content, and misses that satire works only if there’s a point, otherwise it’s just farce. The fact that Priest executes a screed in a particular and familiar manner does not suggest he’s doing it simply as an empty rhetorical exercise. Nor does it change the fact that Priest calling the Clarke jury incompetent for no reason other than that he disagrees with the jurists’ taste in books might lead people to conclude he’s a bit of an ass, regardless of whether one expects him to do it or not.

    tl;dr: Don’t be so smug, Michael. You’re not in fact more clever than everyone else here.

  27. Carina: people care because Chris Priest is one of the most respected writers in British science fiction.

    Christopher Priest doesn’t like the slate, feels qualified to say so, and isn’t particularly worried about the blowback.

    Which, of course, would be very Christopher Priest of him. And hardly the first time he’d done so.


  28. Scalzi would appear to be promoting a pretty radically subjectivist view of criticism here, where there are no standards of quality whatsoever but merely standards of taste. Further, this subjectivism is so radical that it would appear to be impossible for a highly respected and skilled member of a community to express an opinion on what is good and expect it to be shared by other members of the community, even when using reasoning accepted explicitly by the rest of that community.

    As far as I can tell, the dirty little secret is that Priest is right — Embassytown is good but lazy, Stross is basically not a very good writer in any sense of the word, and so-on.

  29. Keir:

    “As far as I can tell, the dirty little secret is that Priest is right”

    The load-bearing part of that phrase being “as far as I can tell.”

    You should watch out, Keir. You’re operating under a pretty radically subjectivist view, there.

    Aside from that, you might want to spend some time with the concept of the argument from authority. You should likewise be careful about asserting assumptions not in evidence as fact, because others are not likely to agree with them just because you’ve presented them as such.

    Also, as a highly respected and skilled member of the community, let me just say that when I express an opinion I couldn’t give a shit whether anyone else shares it; I don’t express opinions to have lurkers support me in e-mail. I express opinions because I want to share what I think about something.

    Christopher Priest is of course fully within his rights to share his opinion; other people are fully within their rights to agree with him, or disagree as they may. As respected and skilled as Priest is (or I am, for that matter), neither of us is so skilled or respected that his opinions are unassailable, or correct a priori. Other people of similar skill but differing tastes may in fact have differing opinions.

  30. There’s no argument from authority in my previous comment. There is an argument that skilled practitioners may be better at forming correct opinions, but that doesn’t require that they should be accepted on faith; rather it will be easy for them to show the correctness of their opinions.

    I also fall to see where I assumed facts not in evidence (or rather, I fail to see how that particular legalism makes sense here, given that there is no evidential record involved here at all and I am not not asking a question.)

    You may be within your rights to say x but that doesn’t mean you are correct. I think that if you say that Stross is a good prose stylist you are wrong but there is of course nothing to stop you doing so.

    (I haven’t read most of those books, so I clearly can’t have an informed opinion about the quality of most of them. But that has nothing to do with subjectivism, of course.)

  31. To John Scalzi, and everyone. Greetings from the dark side of the Pond.

    I’m bemused by the reaction to my polemic about the Clarke Award … although of course a polemic intends to arouse a response. It’s impossible to form any reply of my own to what people have said, as there is such a vast range of views that I literally would not know where to begin. But yes, I meant it, and still mean it. The Clarke Award is being incompetently handled this year. I wrote the essay because when the shortlist was first released earlier this week I sensed that most people felt the same way about its bizarre and secondrate inclusions as I did, but were too polite to say so. I’ve nothing to lose or gain, so I said what I thought. I don’t do it very often, and now I intend to fold backwards into my near-septuagenarian dithering.

    I’m 68. Not an age I would choose, but you put up with what you get. My work is broadly unknown in the USA, a vast regret as I love the US and have visited often. But my early stuff came out from major US publishers, got poor reviews and sold invisibly. Gradually I found it harder and harder to find a publisher. E.g., The Glamour, which has been published in some 15 languages and is about to be filmed, sold zilch in US hardback and never went into paperback. I couldn’t find any US publisher at all for The Separation (which again sold around the world, won awards, etc etc), and in the end belatedly went to the small indie press Old Earth. (Nice edition and I was glad of it.) No US publisher has bought my new novel, The Islanders. These days I don’t even have a US agent. Now … my detractors will probably characterize this as a list of complaints, but I’m merely trying to explain why my stuff is usually below the radar in the US.

    I also had a ten-year hiatus, initially brought on by a clodhopping young editor at my UK publisher, who nearly bankrupted me by delaying The Separation by a year, and who produced an almost endless list of bright “ideas” about the novel I had worked on for two and a half years, nearly all of which were irrelevant and embarrassingly revealing of his ignorance. (The one I always remember: “Now you’ve come up with this great character Rudolf Hess. Why don’t we make the novel about HIM, and put all the rest of this stuff in the background?” The rest of that “stuff” was presumably my story.) The novel survived and was published intact, but the experience shattered my self-confidence and I was unable to write anything for some years. I was just recovering from that when the film of The Prestige was made, and that provided an altogether different kind of distraction. HOWEVER, all that is now behind me and my near-septuagenarian self has found a second wind. The Islanders is out, if not in the US; the next one, The Adjacent, is approaching the end of its first draft; I have two more novels planned beyond that. I have also started a new career as a playwright, and I have just sold a play to a major London producer, and the casting takes place later this year.

    And to my detractors: that’s not intended as boastfulness. Just the facts. I’ve survived 43 years as a freelance writer, and you can’t avoid the many ups and downs. You learn neither to crow nor to complain. This is part of the reason I felt (and still feel) I had nothing to lose or gain by speaking my mind about the idiotic Clarke shortlist.

    And yes, “Did we live and fight in vain?” was a rhetorical flourish.

    Unrepentant greetings again from the UK, and farewell for now.

  32. Christopher Priest:

    “Now you’ve come up with this great character Rudolf Hess. Why don’t we make the novel about HIM, and put all the rest of this stuff in the background?”

    How brilliantly absurd! I recall reading somewhere that The Separation was originally shabbily treated by publishers which was quiet shocking since it is an outstanding novel.

  33. Is not the Internet mostly ill-advised spouting, punctuated by pictures of cats?
    More the other way around, I would’ve said.

  34. Christopher Priest:

    Thank you for the post and for dropping by. It’s always good to have more information straight from the source.

    Also, I’ll go ahead and put this out there right now, which is that folks who choose to respond directly to Mr. Priest’s comments here should keep in mind that I have comment policies, and that I police them with the Mallet of Loving Correction. Christopher Priest left a good and useful comment; see that you do the same.


    “There’s no argument from authority in my previous comment.”

    That you weren’t aware you were positing a form of this argument does not mean it wasn’t there.

    “I also fall to see where I assumed facts not in evidence”

    Look harder.

    “I haven’t read most of those books”

    And yet you wrote “the dirty little secret is that Priest is right.” Which again makes me urge you to go back to study the argument from authority.

  35. I just want to call your attention to the difference between a brilliant and original thinker like Christopher Priest courageously going alone against Big Guys With Books and Powerful Judges… and a gang of snotty bullies writing and reciting “I won’t read your fucking script” that ridicules the little guy.

  36. Rogelio:

    Likewise, I would like to call your attention to the fact that those two things you wish to link have nothing at all to do with each other, and that also your characterization of the second of these things is pretty stupid.

  37. Whether or not you agree with Chris Priest, you’ve got to applaud somebody who actually gets up and says what he thinks. The fact that he says it well is a bonus.

  38. I have no opinion on Priest’s claims about the quality of the list this year (except that Sherri Tepper’s books almost always are great despite elements that should make them less so, such as talking animals), but how annoying is it that a well-respected SF writer such as he isn’t available in the US? That kind of thing irritates the hell out of me.

  39. “I don’t like the slate” is not quite what he said, though. He chose to personally malign the nominees as well as the judges. Had the slate not been to his taste, and had he thought there were more deserving nominees, he could have said so.

    Personally, I didn’t agree with all of the Nebula awards last year, or all of the Hugo awards. I sometimes disagree with the Locus awards. But so what? You won’t see me calling SFWAns giant poopyheads, or calling Gary Wolfe & the other Locus judges incompetent . They’re not. Our tastes just don’t always coincide.

    Nor am I so amazingly egotistical to throw off sentences like “I sensed that most people felt the same way about its bizarre and secondrate inclusions as I did, but were too polite to say so.

    How does one sense that? Is it a disturbance in the force? Is it something you get when you hit 69? Does that somehow grant an insight into what “most people” think? Because I always figured the older I got, the more out of touch I was with what people far younger than me think about. So if a younger author is writing these days, they’re probably writing about things Priest isn’t thinking about much, because a “timeless classic” that only speaks to something everyone gets is going to miss out on things that might speak to current trends. And speaking to current trends is not only interesting, but it’s a vital part of what literature does.

  40. The publishing industry does not what it does not know – unknown unknowns, if you will – and as a writer with 2 novels under my belt (for young adults) the advice that I’ve had from agents and publishers has been less than useful, practically insulting. I’ve worked for years on equality issues but one of the first agents I approached took one look at me – I’m British-Chinese – and said that I should write about Asian characters. I have done so because I am interested in East Asian history and mythology, but it’s not the definition of my interests as a writer. My first book is straight kids fantasy, my next book is a gigantic space opera, and if there’s stuff in there about my Chinese heritage, it’s not because I’m from China.

    I think what Christopher Priest’s original belle lettre and his reply above go to show is that the publishing industry is that, an industry – it knows no better collectively than any industry does what makes a hit, what is quality and what is groundbreaking. I will read the Clarke list with trepidation, but Chris Priest’s comments – and I met the man many moons ago, and he was a gentleman then – ring true with the oeuvres of the authors that I’ve read. I’m an enormous fan of Sherri S Tepper, but understand that she was a hard sell over the last twenty years (although the Marianne trilogy probably bears reconsideration in the current climate of dystopian fantasy with female protagonists). Stross is lite, and I spell it that way because it is what it is, taking the familiar tropes of fantasy and science fiction and serving them up again. I just don’t get Miéville, and I don’t understand why he’s regarded as groundbreaking.

    Where is the quality and originality of The Difference Engine? The cross-genre lunacy of David Mitchell or Samuel Delaney? Or the unexpected thrill of never-before seen characters facing gender-bending and equality-building situations as seen in the Vorkosigan series? Or the heartbreak of leaving Newford or the Shire? (Charles de Lint: another gentleman and his wife is a lovely, perceptive lady.) I’m sure that you, dear reader, will have other opinions on what you consider the creme de la creme of science fiction and fantasy, but these are some of the novels I use as lenses for quality, originality and excitement.

    As for Chris Priest: an awesome writer who takes the familiar – the historical, the fantastic, the marginalised – and makes of them something unfamiliar, strange and beguiling. In my personal canon, he is there with Gaiman, Pratchett and Banks in the ranks of great British fantasists, alongside Mirlees, Aiken and Dahl. More power to your writer’s elbow, Mr Priest!

  41. Whether or not you agree with Chris Priest, you’ve got to applaud somebody who actually gets up and says what he thinks.

    In the interests of not being US-centric I will assume you are from a politer country. Here, at least, I haven’t noticed a shortage of people who stand up and say whatever they groudon well please, regardless of how stupid, obnoxious or ill-informed it is, nor any shortage of people who find obnoxious spouting pleasing (either because they agree with it, or they just enjoy trolling) and will cheer them on. I don’t understand the need to applaud somebody merely because they offered their opinion, particularly as “I’m just saying what everybody else is AFRAID to say!” is definitely in the Top Ten of Bloviator’s Self-Congratulatory Excuses for mouthing off.

    Regarding Mr. Priest’s opinion specifically, I enjoyed The Prestige (the book; haven’t seen the movie) immensely, and I’m surprised to hear that his other books are not widely available here – I know I’ve seen The Separation at a local bookstore. His comments about the bizarre vagaries of the publishing industry match what other authors have said, so I have no reason to doubt him there. Regarding the substance of the opinion itself, I concur with Josh Jasper; there’s quite a difference between criticizing works and criticizing people, as we’re always telling authors who get their shorts in a wad about bad reviews of their books. “Rhetorical flourishes” and lectures to other authors about how they ought to do better certainly attract attention, but they don’t lend credibility to an argument.

  42. Narmitaj: “As for “Have we lived and fought in vain?”, Charles Stross (in a comment on James Nicoll’s lj More Words, Deeper Hole, thinks Priest was actually quoting a line from the Greg Bear novel he was dissing.”

    Holy shit! That would be fucking genius!

  43. He chose to personally malign the nominees as well as the judges

    Well, he maligns the judges, surely, but I don’t see where he maligns the authors directly, so much as their work.

  44. John, I think you may have too quickly passed by an important element of Priest’s gripe.

    I don’t think he’s just saying, “these are not to my tastes.” He does that, of course, and I think he does it well. When he beats on Stross a bit, I see his point. I loved Rule 34 for many of the reason he hated it: relentlessly energetic, funny, rushing from shiny thing to shiny thing. Whatever: de gustibus non disputandum est.

    But he’s not just saying, “I didn’t like these.” He’s saying this award should be for advancing the field. In particular, he writes: “We want the best writer to win every year, but we also want to have a showcase to demonstrate that he or she is the best of an exciting bunch, that the overall activity is a progressive, modern literature, with diversity and ambition and ability, and not the pool of generic rehashing that the many outside detractors of science fiction are so quick to assume it is.”

    That’s a much deeper complaint than a matter of taste.

  45. I have no dog in this fight, as I am not a stake holder, but I will say the interest in the discussion, and the laudable way in which Mr. Priest has handled it, makes me smile. I am largely ignorant of Mr. Priest’s work, living in the cultural desert known as the U.S.A., but this is something I can easily rectify, and intend on doing this very afternoon.

  46. I recall being dazzled in 1975 by The Inverted World, Faber and Faber, London, 1974, which was deservedly BSFA winner, 1974,[ Hugo Award nominee, 1975[. In many ways, though, his work is less commercially viable than that of, say, John Luther Novak and Colin Wedgelock.

  47. Thank you Mr. Priest, It was nice to hear your point of view. Personally I thought the trust of Mr. Scalzi’s response had more to do with your tone that with your logic, but thats just me. You impress me as a stand up guy for being willing to drop by here and respond in a reasonable fashion when today it seems like too often everyone’s response is vitriol turned to 11.

    I have no pig in this race so won’t pretend to offer an opinion on the selections but appreciate a good honest difference of opinion met openly and fairly. BTW – if you want an upside, I plan of finding your work and giving it a read.

  48. I’d add only that Mr. Priest’s books are available in the US on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (although the top hit on BN is Deadpool Classics, Vol. 6, which says something interesting about US tastes). There’s a wee smidgeon of difference between being available in the US, and being advertised and widely known in the US.

    As for commercial viability being an index of quality, I think Mark Twain said it best: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.” Without beating this into the ground with the toilet-to-tap metaphor of modern commerce, I’d simply point out that water is too simple to be wine, and wine is water contaminated with a bunch of organic chemicals. You simply can’t judge them by the same quality standards.

  49. Heteromeles, there’s a comic book writer named James Owsley who writes under the pseudonym Christopher Priest. He chose the name without being aware of the UK Christopher Priest, and wasn’t sufficiently discomfited by the discovery of a predecessor to reconsider his decision.

  50. Ah, thanks Steven. I wondered why James Owsley was all over the search results. I was pretty sure that the UK Christopher Priest wasn’t writing for Deadpool comics, but the juxtaposition amused me nonetheless.

  51. Regarding the Christopher Priest / James Owsley issue … the best way to track down CP’s work is either with the list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Priest_%28novelist%29#Personal_life or http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?Christopher_Priest .

    I know for a fact that his last novel published in the US – The Separation – is still available.

    Priest is not “lite” reading – he demands much from the reader, but I think it’s worth it. YMMV.

  52. @300baud: Well, hard to say. As the US Publisher of The Separation I am partial to that one .

    Fugue For A Darkening island may be “too British” for most Americans.
    Space Machine is sort of Wells & Steampunk … before steampunk.
    The Prestige & The Separation both have what could be described as “unreliable narrators”. The film version is a good version of the novel, CP was apparently happy with it.

  53. If it makes you feel any better, Mr. Priest, I’m sitting at my local library right now (St. Louis metro area, Missouri, USA), and they at least have 20 copies of the Prestige, in 3 different formats.

    You were up in arms, obviously. You were also, obviously, making an attempt to treat at least the authors and their works in question fairly. Characterizing the award board members as incompetent is the place where you just lose all credibility.

    From your PoV, I don’t doubt that “incompetent” is a really mild way of putting what you felt about the selections. Given your mini reviews of the works and other reasoning, you can easily say that in your “opinion” the situation begs that someone call BS on the proceedings, and you did. But then you crossed the line.

    Without all the facts, calling someone “incompetent” is slander, and people just don’t put up with that.

    Even if you possess all the facts, and someone turns up incontrovertibly incompetent, you’re probably best off just presenting your facts, your argument, your tone, but leaving that final bit of name calling hang unsaid/untyped. The instant you type “Mr. Soandso is incompetent,” and hit post, you’ve just exposed your ass, regardless of how bulletproof or not your assertion turns out to be. And, this is the internet, and everyone here is to be considered a digital shark, and as we all know, digital sharks don’t smell blood in the water, they parse ass from the bitstream.

    As it is, I haven’t read any of the works in question, actually haven’t read any of those authors at all. Of course now that you’ve had you’re little public catharsis, I’m much more likely to seek out some of these works, just because there was a fuss and the names came into my sensorium as they never would have before. I know I’m not the only one, so it seems to have backfired on you a bit there, eh?

    Anyway, as you’ve made abundantly clear, you’ve gotten old, you’ve still got books to write and plays to develop. THIS is just a distraction now, a waste of time. If I were you, though, I would definitely try to get rights back on my backlist tiles and get them out as electronic editions, starting with the US, so maybe you could belatedly fix that situation. Its like they tell my 4-year-old at preschool.

    Just go take care of Chris right now.

  54. IANAL [I Am Not A Lawyer]. TINLA [This Is Not Legal Advice]. However, I can suggest that it is simply not true, as Todd Lucas says, at least not in the State of California, that: “Without all the facts, calling someone ‘incompetent’ is slander, and people just don’t put up with that.”

    You can Google for definitions of the (different) legal terms:
    * Slander
    * Slander Per Se
    * Libel.

    The main issues in winning a Defamation lawsuit (of which the above 3 are categories), based on my experience (long story), are:

    * The statements must be untrue, or with a “reckless disregard for the truth.”
    * The statements must be taken by someone as Fact, rather than as opinion.
    * One must have sustained actual damages. Not hurt feelings, but something such as: “Here was my offer of employment at x dollars per year. Here is a letter from that employer, retracting the offer, and you can see that they claimed that the malicious statements were the reason.”

    Hence, in my layman’s opinion, Christopher Priest, under California law, seems judgment proof here. He stated opinions. I have seen nothing that suggests any actual damages from his statement. Mind you, the defamation laws are quite different in the UK.

  55. Wondering if Mr. Priest was unusually outraged by this, or if this was simply the usual level of his discourse, I had a quick skim of his journal, which made it clear that he is fond of levelling sweeping criticisms in extravagant terms, before descending to minutia which leave him looking petty. For example, a few entries before, he dismissed the Man Booker prize winner (http://www.christopher-priest.co.uk/journal/925/a-liquid-investment/) as an “unoriginal, unimaginative and facile novel”, grandly dismissing the legitimacy of the panel, before picking on the fact that the sponsor had misspelt something in their company description. As the laws of irony require, he of course made a grammatical error shortly afterwards (as, inevitably, now will I).
    To me, this nitpicking is all of a piece with his complaints about Meiville’s words, Bear using italics, or Tepper’s puns – any legitimacy his position may have is punctured by allowing his ire to unload upon items that are more personal bugbears than legitimate targets.

  56. “sensed that most people felt the same way about its bizarre and secondrate inclusions as I did, but were too polite to say so.”

    This is where you lost me, Mr. Priest. Judging by your books, I’d say you are a smart fellow, but to make that kind of an assumption is, frankly, stupidly presumptuous. Nobody likes being spoken for this way. We have the internet now, and “too polite to say so” is becoming a rare position. ‘I think everyone agrees with me, so I’ll blog about it’ is a bubble the internet loves, LOVES, to burst. You didn’t just say “I disagree with this list”, you threw quite a volley of insults. You didn’t just insult individual books, but questioned the writers talent. Talent is subjective, of course, but you did get personal. I mean, go to your blog and look at all that–Do you know what a Flame War is? Because this is what a first strike looks like.

    As far as the shortlist goes, I agree with some of their choices, and disagree with others. That’s the way of awards, and I agree with io9.com in that the list covering such a wide range within the genre is nothing but a good thing. If China wins all the awards…well, that sucks for everyone else, but I won’t say he didn’t earn them. But Stross in particular, however you feel about his writing, always has an interesting reaction to the science-fiction-present we live in. SF is as much about making sense of the present as it is looking towards the future, and Stross’s writing–where the entertainment is shoved in your face to accept or not–is very much in tune with how we process information now as opposed to just 5-10 years ago. Stross knows how to be the voice of a generation. Not everyone’s voice of course, and definitely not THE voice. It’s certainly not the voice of your generation, and I don’t say that as a dig on your age, but just as a fact. If you don’t get it, that’s okay, because you are not his audience (again, not a dig on your age, he’s just obviously not your kind of writer). Just please recognize that his audience is out there, and no matter what you are “sensing”, no, we don’t all agree with you.

  57. @Jonathan … I am obviously not talking about raising a lawsuit over defamation. I’m talking about a classic example of how poorly we can treat each other when we have an emotional flare up … good old uncalled for and unfounded insults, now with more public shame thanks to our friend, the internet. I’m all for free speech, though, and I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me there were any legal ramifications for Mr. Priest’s post. Unless, of course it becomes the basis for an “aggravation” plea later on …

  58. That you weren’t aware you were positing a form of this argument does not mean it wasn’t there.

    No, the fact that there isn’t one there means there isn’t one there. There is no argument of the form x says y, x is an authority, therefore y. (I mean, there might be! I am but the author, and we all know how fallible they are. But really, there isn’t.)

    I wrote `as far as I can tell [that is, on the subject where I have direct knowledge] the dirty little secret is that Priest is right’. There’s no argument from authority there at all, and I am completely puzzled as to why you think there is one, unless it is the radically subjectivist (indeed, solipsist) claim that reference to anyone’s views of books is an argument from authority.

    Likewise, I really am totally puzzled by your assertion that I assumed facts not in evidence. It’s an impossibility to disprove — or even in fact begin to research — given that there is no evidential record we can use to determine whether or not a claim has been lead. It might be more productive, given the lack of said record — and the fact that we are not proceeding, as lawyers do, by way of forensic examination of witnesses — to avoid using misleading legalisms and actually state what things I am assuming that you feel are not true.

    Stross just can’t write very well. He wins awards for primarily political reasons. He’s a nice guy who writes non-offensive stories that hit the fannish consciousness in just the right way. Which isn’t a crime! But it is certainly problematic for an award dedicated to rewarding good work.

  59. Because I have read some of them, and I restricted my belief to those that I have read.

  60. Dislikes Stross for some reason? Likes a wordy dogpile? Mainly now looks like hates having been called on the carpet by John and is resorting to the word count stratagem for winning an online argument.

    Who’s got popcorn?

  61. Because I have read some of them, and I restricted my belief to those that I have read.

    Something you didn’t specify in your original post, so that’s a nice bit of goalpost shifting, there, as you move through the thread.

    And, in any case, your counter argument to an accusation of subjectivism is to argue that, in your subjective opinion, Priest is correct? That’s some infallible logic, that is.

  62. Kier:

    “Because I have read some of them, and I restricted my belief to those that I have read.”

    Which is why you added “and so-on,” correct?

    Keir, looks like a) you don’t know how to present an argument, b) you don’t know how to keep track of the arguments you’ve made, c) you don’t know when to stop digging.

    I’m not going to tell you to leave the thread, but I am going to stop responding to you, because I don’t think you should be encouraged further in the direction you’re going, and in any event I don’t find the direction you’re going to be interesting enough to continue talking to you about it.

  63. Er, I signalled it in my original comment with what Scalzi correctly identified as the load bearing part of that sentence: `as far as I can tell’. As far as I can tell, i.e as far as I have personal knowledge of, Priest is correct. I then reiterated in my second comment. There’s no goalpost shifting there.

    No, my argument is not to say that in my subjective opinion is correct. It is to say that as far as I personally have knowledge of the matter, he is objectively correct. Obviously I can not comment on books I haven’t read.

    (Erm, Todd, no offence, but really? It hardly seems the polite way to talk to someone who is trying to actually discuss the substantive points here. I don’t particularly want to win an argument; I want to draw out and discuss certain issues that I find quite interesting.)

  64. [Deleted because Keir is obviously not cluing in that he’s done speaking to me in this thread — JS]

  65. *munches popcorn, waits for the MLC to swing at the second flounce as at the first*

  66. Oh, and Keir … polite? Really? I think its polite, and I realize things are relative, to pull back from discussions where some folk are investing themselves a bit to much and watch from the sidelines. We folk on the sidelines have a right to comment amongst ourselves.

    Seriously, though, was I directly addressing you? No, and I’m sure you can guess why. Please refer to the 4th word of this post.

  67. Although I certainly sympathize with Mr. Priest’s writer’s block, since something similar happened to me after my marriage broke up, I don’t really see the connection between that and his opinions of the Clarke awards. A simple “I stand by what I wrote” would have been sufficient.

  68. Doc, I only saw the second one, but going by that you didn’t miss much. It was pretty generic.

  69. Er, I signalled it in my original comment with what Scalzi correctly identified as the load bearing part of that sentence: `as far as I can tell’. As far as I can tell, i.e as far as I have personal knowledge of, Priest is correct. I then reiterated in my second comment. There’s no goalpost shifting there.

    No, my argument is not to say that in my subjective opinion is correct. It is to say that as far as I personally have knowledge of the matter, he is objectively correct. Obviously I can not comment on books I haven’t read.

    The entertaining thing is (in addition to you refusing the acknowledge the “and so on” with it’s implication that you *did* have familiarity with all the books) you’re now asserting two opposite things: “as far as I can tell” i.e. in my opinion in the first paragraph and then and “objectively correct” in the second. You might notice that those contradict each other.

    What you’re really asserting is that your opinion is objectively correct and that since you agree with Priest, he must be too.

    Well, no.

  70. Xopher,

    But, flounces are like my favoritest thing! *le sigh*

    On point, is anyone else getting a “cool story, bro” vibe from Mr. Priest’s comment? I mean, yes, publishing is a tough gig. But is anyone but Damien Walter really making the argument that the problem with Priest’s rant was one of “Who the hell are you?”

    I get that he thinks the Clarke field is weak this year. Fine.

    When he goes diverts into “These are awful books by awful writers who are awful people,” my response becomes, “Dude, “Professional Courtesy” isn’t just the name of my next band.”

    But, “all the judges are incompetent, and should be firedad if I had my way tarred and feathered and the award canceled and reconvened with new judges who had better share my view on this years books and oh, fiiiiine, I’ll voluntarily disqualify myself from winning this award which I’ve already won and no, you can’t have this one back”?? Come on, now, you’re just being silly.

  71. But, but, everyone else was too afraid to call the authors Internet puppies and the death of SF writing while itching to do so — because no one ever criticizes these award committees or nominated works — and since Priest is under no such restraints, he stepped up to the plate. You gotta love it.

    Seriously, I like Priest’s work, he seems like a grand middle aged man (68 is the new 48,) but my objections remain the same: his criticisms of the slate in comparison to the titles he was suggesting instead were contradictory on criteria, his main argument was that the SF field could only advance if writers don’t write about anything he thinks is too SF because he feels it is juvenile and embarrassing, which is an agenda critique not a writing critique, and does not promote experimentation or advancement, and the insistence on Church of England English for all writers stylistically gets a bit ludicrous. And the sideswipe at Arthur C. Clarke I thought was unnecessary. But he did give us all entertainment to talk about and Charlie Stross now has a cool new nickname that has gone viral.

  72. Scalzi: “I think there’s a minority view being posed,”

    But if what we are talking about is entirely subjective, then this is argument ad populum. If the entire world loves “Mars Attacks” and I alone thought it was complete and utter rubbish, then my view being the “minority view” does NOT make my view wrong, nor does it make the majority view right in any absolute sense.

    “suggesting this is rib-nudging satirical performance art on Priest’s end.”

    I had previously mentioned the “No I will not read your fucking manuscript”. I don’t know if I would call either one “rib-nudging satirical performance art”. The “Have we lived and fought in vain” did seem to be a clue that Priest was not being entirely literal in his comments and critiques.

    “This is confusing form for content, and misses that satire works only if there’s a point, otherwise it’s just farce.”

    This is where I always get confused in these sorts of discussions. Isn’t this just your opinion about Priest’s original rant? But you’re describing it as if we can measure “farcedness” in some objective way.

    And the part where I get mixed up is this: I get that you’re expressing your opinion about Priest’s post, but I don’t require you to say “In my opinion” at every sentence. You took your subjective opinion (it’s just farce) about the work and presented it as objective fact. And I don’t have a problem with that. Because I don’t expect people to say “I think” or “In my opinion” every sentence just to be totally accurate. It sort of comes as an implied operation. And even if the speaker didn’t imply it, I certainly can get that what they are saying is their *opinion* whether they go out of their way to attach “just my opinion”.

    So, it seems that people are angry with Priest because he didn’t say “Just my opinion” at every step, that he made subjective observations and didn’t couch them as subjective, therefore people jump up and say “Ah HA! You presented subjective opinion as if it were objective fact! That’s WRONG!”

    At which point, they’re rendering subjective opinions about Priest’s work, and presenting them as objective fact (that’s wrong! it’s just a farce).

    At which point, the absurdity of the rule that every subjective opinion must be prefixed with “In my personal subjective opinion” becomes clear, because even the “enforcers” of that rule aren’t doing it.

    “Priest calling the Clarke jury incompetent for no reason other than that he disagrees with the jurists’ taste in books might lead people to conclude he’s a bit of an ass”

    OK. And this is a different issue. Because it no longer matters if someone says “In my opinion, you’re incompetent” or just “you’re incompetent”, people might not like to hear that.

    But that is exactly why I brought up the “No, I will not read you’re fucking manuscript” rant. Because it not only presents subjective opinion as objective fact, some of those subjective opinions are in fact insults:

    From http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2009/09/i_will_not_read.php

    “Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick.”

    Josh Olsen then spends much of the rest of his rant going on and on about how dickish it is to ask someone to read your manuscript.

    And whether anyone confuses Josh’s form for content, or whether this is satire, and whether it has a sufficiently acceptable point, and whether it is just farce, is all subjective opinion.

    Josh isn’t “right” in any objective way because he’s just stating his opinion. And how many people agree with him or disagree with him is irrelevant to it still being a subjective opinion. And whether he says “in my opinion” ever sentence or not doesn’t really matter because we all know he’s expressing his opinion (even if he were trying to pass it off as objective fact, we still know its just his opinion).

    The thing with Josh’s rant, the thing that got it attention and made it go viral, is that it lead some people to conclude he was a bit of an ass for calling people dicks, and other people to read it and say “my God! This is BRILLIANT!”.

    There certainly seems to be some similarities between the two. And it seems that the people who thought Olsen was “brilliant” just happened to have the same subjective opinion as Olsen and thought that a certain group of people were dicks.

    My guess is that people who think the comparison of Priest’s rant to Olsen’s rant is unfair probably agree with Olsen but disagree with Priest. The content and form and satire and farce is all irrelevant. My guess is that the biggest thing that matters is simply whether the person agrees with the opinion expressed or not. If the person agrees with Olsen, then his insults are transformed into satire and Olsen isn’t being an ass by calling people dicks. If the person disagrees with Olsen’s opinion, then the insults are insults, and Olsen is being a dick.

    My guess is that if you were to take a poll of people and ask them (1) if they (a) disagree or (b) agree with Priest’s assessment of the books and jury and (2) if he was being an (a) old man shaking his cane or (b) insightful satirical commentary, that you would find quite a bit of correlation in the respondents.

    I haven’t read the books nor do I know anyone on the jury, so I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with Priest’s assessments. But the criticisms of the post that he doesn’t say “in my opinion” seem to miss the mark by a mile. And it seems to come down to whether he is being an asshole or not is similar to whether a person thinks Olsen was being an asshole or not: if you agree with him, he isn’t an asshole. If you disagree with him, he is an asshole.

    So, then what happens, is if someone DISAGREES with Priest, they say that Priest should put “in my opinion” on every sentence and remove any direct criticism of individuals. They want Priest to water down his criticism. But really, if the issue is a disagreement in subjective opinion, it doesn’t matter WHAT Priest says or HOW he says it, if Priest CRITICIZES something that someone else LIKES, that someone else is going to think Priest is a bit of an ass.

    The only difference is how much attention they give it. It was pointed out a bunch of times that if Olsen had written some polite, not-name-calling post imploring people to pretty please not ask him to read their manuscript, it wouldn’t have gotten any attention. And nothing changes unless it gets attention.

    Am I missing something?

  73. Am I missing something?

    The part where you can make your points in 800 fewer words? Yes.

  74. Greg:

    “But if what we are talking about is entirely subjective, then this is argument ad populum.”

    No, merely noting that it’s a minority view. That it’s a minority view is neither here nor there to its validity, although I personally believe it’s not likely to be correct.

  75. Scalzi: “I personally believe it [ the minority view suggesting this is rib-nudging satirical performance art on Priest’s end ] is not likely to be correct.”

    Well, here’s the thing, if one end says it was all a big joke, the other end of the spectrum is that Priest was entirely and completely literal in everything he said. That extremist view would be perfectly represented by the image at the top of this thread, showing a standin for Priest decrying “Have we lived and fought in vain” as if Priest was saying those words in complete and total emo breakdown seriousness.

    I don’t think that view is likely to be correct, either.

    Nor do I think it would be a fair representation of how he said or meant those words.

    Now, if folks want to bust Priest’s ass for calling the judges “incompetent”, fine. He called them exactly that, and it seems pretty clear he was being straight in the use of those words. If people want to bust his ass for his criticisms of the books, go for it.

    But there seems to be a flavor of some (not all) of the criticism against Priest that thinks that since Priest said something they disagree with (calling the jury incompetent or his criticisms of the books), that they can misrepresent what he said (have we lived and fought in vain as if he meant it in emotional breakdown seriousness).

    This, all the while these very same critics are trying to portray their case as if they are being fair and logical and reasonable and Priest is being illogical for mistaking his subjective opinion for objective fact.

  76. Greg @ 12:41pm:

    The “Have we lived and fought in vain” did seem to be a clue that Priest was not being entirely literal in his comments and critiques.

    But not as clear a clue as Mr. Priest showing up in this thread to tell us that, yes, he was being literal with his comments and critiques, “rhetorical flourish[es]” notwithstanding.

    Meanwhile, I think you’re looking for logical consistency that doesn’t need to exist. There’s no reason why the same person (who you’ve left unnamed here) wouldn’t or couldn’t find Josh Olsen’s piece spot-on brilliant and Priest’s bafflingly dumb. Because no one is making that comparison besides you. If someone had, you could call them on a lack of internal consistency (see Kat Goodwin’s comments on the Priest piece). But by removing the two objects from the same temporal and contextual framework, then all bets are off. You see this a lot in the comments sections of film review sites: “How could you have hated/liked movie X when you liked/hated movie Y?” Answer: “Because I didn’t watch them simultaneously. No other explanation is necessary or possible.”

    There are other things that make this an invalid comparison. Most glaringly, Olsen was writing about an anonymous, hypothetical, stereotypical subject. Olsen’s would-be screenwriter could have been anyone, which means zie was no one. Priest was writing very specifically about very specific people. Olsen was taking potshots at a paper target, which is ultimately harmless. Priest is leveling pointedly harsh criticism at colleagues. I think this strikes people as unprofessional and mean.

    Don’t fixate on that phrase “in my opinion”. There are other subtle uses of language that convey tones of opinion versus authority. Everyone understands that this was all Priest’s opinion, but his use of language suggested authority not granted him.

  77. Doc: “Olsen was taking potshots at a paper target, which is ultimately harmless. Priest is leveling pointedly harsh criticism at colleagues. I think this strikes people as unprofessional and mean.”

    This might be the most insightful thing on this thread. The thing that Priest did that has people up in arms is he was critical to the point that some people thought he was too critical.

    The picture at the top of this thread should be replaced with a picture of Simon Cowell saying “Have we lived and fought in vain”. That’s the one thing that would at least be an honest representation of what people are upset about that matches something Priest actually did.

    He was critical. The subjective question is whether he was *too* critical.

    Priest wasn’t verging on emotional breakdown like the picture at the top of the thread attempts to portray. It misses the intent of that line by such a wide mark that its like it isn’t even about the same article. Priest wasn’t a clueless old man waving his cane at the young kids: he is clearly familiar with the works nominated and his criticisms of the works appear informed by the works. Priest wasn’t confusing his subjective experience and opinion with objective fact: he seems to hold a firm grasp throughout the article that he is expressing his opinion, he just doesn’t feel the need to water it down and fluff it up with “in my opinion” at the beginning of every sentence.

    There are numerous complaints about Priest’s article that either misrepresent the article to strawman it or mock it, or misunderstand the article and are complaining about something that isn’t in the article.

    The one complaint that at least maps to something Priest actually said and actually intended was that Priest was critical of his colleagues. And then the subjective question becomes was he too critical and entered into the territory that would be “unprofessional and mean”. That would be a question I would liked to have seen fleshed out and put to the test. But it seems like many complaints were so much about things that weren’t even in the original article. It definitely came up, but it feels like it never went beyond the initial assertion of “too harsh”.

    If a non-writing critic wrote a review of the books nominated and said exactly the same thing Priest did about those book (and we remove the “have we lived and fought in vain” line just to avoid the silliness like the picture at the top of the thread), would that non-writing critic get as much flack?

    Is the problem that what Priest said was “too harsh” or is the problem that he directed it towards “colleagues”? If the problem is simply “too harsh”, then the response would be to call Priest a bully. If the problem is he directed it towards colleagues then the reaction would be sourced by feelings of betrayal and more likely driven by a desire to cast the betrayer out any way possible.

    Looking at it that way, the spectrum of reactions seems to point more towards reacting to betrayal from within than to a bully. If people thought Priest was being a bully, they wouldn’t have images like the one at the top of the thread portraying him as weak and crying and about to break down.

    That explains some things…

  78. Whatever you feel about Christopher Priest’s “rant” about the Arthur C. Clarke Awards – he is still one of SF’s best novelists and I can usually only get his works from UK sources. That is a travesty that should be fixed forthwith!. Reading “he Islanders” right now and it is beautiful.

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