#BlameOneNotAll

Copying this from Twitter…

Authors Reviewing Authors

Two questions for the readersphere:

  1. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post reviews of books/stories by other authors?
  2. Do you think it’s appropriate for authors to post negative reviews of books/stories by other authors?

Years ago, when I posted about the creepiness of one of the Xanth books, I was told I’d broken an unwritten rule by speaking badly about another author’s work. There was no substantive reason given; it was just against the rules.

Sure, fine, whatever. But I’ve been thinking about the author-as-reviewer thing a bit more lately, wondering about potential ethical pitfalls and such.

I’m pretty comfortable talking about books I’ve enjoyed and recommending them to others. That’s part of the fun of being a reader and a fan. I love posting a review and seeing commenters complain, “Dammit Jim, there goes more of my book-buying budget!”

I’ll usually try to acknowledge flaws or problems I encountered, even in positive reviews. But what about when the review is generally negative?

From a pragmatic perspective, there’s the potential for burning bridges. Will Chuck Wendig refuse to speak to me if I review his Star Wars book and complain that Jar-Jar Binks, Jedi Master made me want to burn my eyes out with a lightsaber? If I give a negative review to an author from one of my publishers, am I going to piss off my editor in the process?

At the same time, does a positive review lose value if the reviewer is unwilling to post a negative review? Do the rules still apply if it’s awards season and you’re discussing nominated works?

And finally, if a reviewer is ethically obligated to disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest, then as an author who could potentially be working with any of these publishers in the future, isn’t every review I post pretty much saturated with conflicts of interest?

I’ve got more thoughts and opinions on this, but I wanted to throw this out for discussion and see what other folks thought.

Hugo Thoughts: Graphic Story

Of the five nominees, the collection from The Zombie Nation was recommended by both the Sad and Rabid (SR) puppies. The rest of the category is puppy-free.

  • Ms. Marvel: The first page includes Kamala Khan smelling bacon and saying, “Delicious, delicious infidel meat” and someone responding, “Chow or chow not. There is no smell.” I was officially intrigued. A few pages later, we discover Kamala writes Avengers fanfic. She’s also struggling with her own identity, torn between cultures and dealing with ignorance and prejudice. She dreams about being powerful and blonde and beautiful like Ms. Marvel…and then she gets her wish. Sort of. And discovers it’s not what she imagined. This is a superhero origin story that plays off of our expectations, because Kamala has grown up in a world of superheroes. She’s an Avengers fangirl. She has to unlearn what she has learned, in order to become, in her words, “a shape-changing mask-wearing sixteen-year-old super ‘moozlim’ from Jersey City.” There’s a lot of humor, and some good depth and complexity to Kamala and her family and friends. There’s also a supervillain, of course, but that’s secondary to the story of Kamala coming of age and learning to navigate and incorporate the different parts of her identity.
  • Rat Queens: Smart-ass D&D-style all-female adventuring team with good artwork, humor, attitude, profanity, and a great cast of secondary characters to go with it. Including an orc cleric who gets bluebirds in his beard when he casts healing spells. I bought this volume last year, and I’ve got the next one on my wish list. The Rat Queens are well-written, complex characters who are utterly unapologetic about who and what they are. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another. I liked this even more when I reread it to refresh my memory for the Hugos. With both Rat Queens and Ms. Marvel, I’m sure there will be people complaining that they’re politically correct, feminist, Message Stories. Are they feminist? Sure. They’re also fun as hell. Beyond that, I’ll let Hannah respond to the haters.
    Hannah, from Rat Queens
  • Saga: I’m afraid this one didn’t work for me. Part of the problem is that this is Volume 3, and I was coming into the middle of a pretty complex and ongoing story about an ongoing, interplanetary war. The blending of science fiction and fantasy elements was fascinating, and there’s a lot of good worldbuilding, as well as some great details. I love Lying Cat, a sphynx/lynx-like creature who can sense lies, to great effect. I don’t think it’s bad, and it’s possible I’d be much more invested if I started from the beginning, but as it is, I’m afraid the story just didn’t draw me in. I’ll probably rank it above No Award, but it won’t be one of my top choices.
  • Sex Criminals: So imagine when you orgasmed, time basically just stopped for a while, and the world went all glowy and psychedelic. This isn’t something you’ll want to read at work. (Well, depending on where you work, I guess.) But it’s an interesting premise and a good story. It also addresses and challenges the rather prudish attitudes folks tend to have toward sex, starting with young Suzie’s efforts to understand what’s happening to her, and all the ways those efforts get shut down. Generally amusing and entertaining, though I didn’t feel like I just had to pick up the next volume. A middle-of-the-ballot pick for me.
  • The Zombie Nation (SR): This one wasn’t included in the Hugo Voters Packet, but the nominated work is a collection from an ongoing webcomic, available here. I clicked through some of the recent comics, then went back and read through some from the beginning. I didn’t find the gags particularly funny. The actual art isn’t bad, but I don’t see this one earning a place above No Award for me.

Throwback Thursday: Goblin Edition

“Throwback Thursday” has become a thing in certain circles, so I figured I’d try a TBT blog post. This is from May 19, 2005. Both of these excerpts are from Goblin Hero.

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Two excerpts today. Double your pleasure, double your fun, or something like that…

Excerpt the First:

Slash pushed him roughly to the other side of the tunnel. “See that patch?”

Jig stared. The ground was dusty rock, the same as the rest of the tunnels.

“We spread a mix of blood, rock serpent venom, and diluted honey there. The venom keeps the blood from clotting, and the honey makes it stick to whoever steps in it.” Slash licked his lips. “The tunnel-cats love the stuff. If you step inside the lair wearing that scent, they’ll be on you before you can draw your sword.”

Before Jig could say anything, Slash was yanking his arm again. “Watch out for those spikes.” Jig had to squint to see the tiny metal shards resting on the ground.

“They’re so small.”

“And they’re coated in lizard-fish toxin,” Slash said.

Oh. Jig looked at the hobgoblins with new respect. If he tried to set up such traps to protect the goblin lair, the only thing he’d accomplish was to kill off half of the goblins.

Happy Bonus Excerpt:

When the hobgoblins materialized beside him, Jig jumped so hard he knocked Smudge to the ground. “Where did they come from?” he asked as he retrieved his fallen spider.

“Author’s tweaking the storyline again,” Grell muttered. She glared at the sky. “Try writing an outline, ya damn hack!”

Zokutou Word Meter (No Longer Exists)
48,150 / 95,000
(50.0%)

The Flash Discussion Post

Last night was the season finale of The Flash. I’ve enjoyed this show a lot, in part for its sense of fun, its wholehearted embrace of comic book tropes, the relationship between Barry and Joe, and of course, Tom Cavanagh.

At the same time, the writing has sometimes been a bit clunky, and the overall track record with female characters is rather poor. (With that said, things improved greatly for Iris’ character in the last few episodes.)

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Flash Helmet

More

Hugo Thoughts: Short Stories

Next on the Hugo ballot, I thought I’d look at the short fiction nominees. Four of the five stories are available online, and the fifth is included in the just-released Hugo Voters Packet.

There are no nominees who weren’t part of the puppy slates/bloc voting. As before, I’ve noted where each nominee was part of the Sad Puppies (S), Rabid Puppies (R), or both slates (SR).

  • On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli (SR): The strong magnetic field of the planet Ymilas preserves human and Ymilan souls. The infodumping of the first three scenes felt like it needed some serious rewriting. The dialogue was also rather stiff. Our protagonist takes the first human colonist’s ghost on a pilgrimage to help him move on in the afterlife. There’s reference to the polar magnetic field looking like the eye of God, a temple built like Stonehenge “with the dimensional ratio of 1: 4: 9–the Golden Mean.” Heavy-handed (and in that last quote, factually incorrect), but a nice sense of closure at the end as our protagonist settles into his new role of guiding human souls on their final journey. Also, Antonelli introduces the idea of a Faraday Segway, which is a potentially fun idea.
  • The Parliament of Beasts and Birds” by John C. Wright (R): A tale of talking animals, Christian myth, and the end of Man, all presented in a rather stilted formal style. (The Lion greets his fellow animals with a “Twilight of Man, forsooth?”) There’s nothing in the way of action, and the plot is basically the animals trying to figure out what happened to Man’s last city, and what they should do and become now. There are a few nice lines, but it feels like Wright was trying way too hard on this, and ended up with a pale imitation of C. S. Lewis.
  • “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond (S): A samurai has to find a way to kill a kaiju the size of a mountain. I liked the core idea here, the lone warrior who’s less than a mite on a giant, slowly scaling the monster’s body and searching for a way to stop said monster from destroying his homeland. But it didn’t have the depth I look for in an award-worthy story. Nor did I get a real sense of the character or world. Our samurai could have been any samurai, with special swords, references to honor and duty and hara-kiri, and a contraction-averse voice to denote formality.
  • Totaled” by Kary English (SR): This was one of the most original ideas/stories on the ballot, about a researcher named Maggie, whose brain is preserved following the death of her body. We follow her “awakening” and realization that she’s in her own lab, and her efforts to communicate her awareness to her partner Randy, and to help complete their work on the bionet. Maggie’s brain is slowly giving out, and we get a kind of Flowers for Algernon decline over the course of the story. It’s better than most of what’s on the ballot this year, but I’ll have to read it again to decide whether I think it’s Hugo-worthy.
  • Turncoat” by Steve Rzasa (R): The first two sentences give a good sense of what you’re in for with this one.I am a knight riding to war. My suit of armor is a single Mark III frigate, a body of polysteel three hundred meters long with a skin of ceramic armor plating one point six meters thick.” I ended up skimming much of this story about posthuman warships moving to wipe out humanity, and Taren X 45 Delta’s choice to turn against his(?) kind to protect the humans: “Our superiority is certain. However, we are the side killing those who have surrendered and laid down their arms. Are we zealots purified by the righteousness of our cause? Or are we ungrateful children, jealous to the point of patricide?” The ending picked up a bit, but the whole thing feels overwritten, and there’s not much new here. The Message is blunt and unoriginal.

No Award will be scoring pretty high in this category. That doesn’t mean I think all of the stories are bad. (Though I don’t think they’re all good, either.) But it’s one thing for a story to be competent or interesting or fun. It’s another thing for that story to be award-worthy, for me to consider it one of the best things published in the past year. Four of these stories don’t clear that bar for me, and the fifth I’ll have to think about a little more.

“Do You Wanna Take The Hugos?”

To the tune of “Do you want to build a snowman?”

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Brad
Larry?
Do you wanna take the Hugos?
Come on let’s change the game.
I’m tired of those liberals
Like criminals
Who steal our rightful fame!
This used to be our genre
But now it’s not.
They make all the puppies cry.
Do you wanna take the Hugos?
(And also puff up both our egos…)

Larry
Release the puppies!

Brad
Do you wanna take the Hugos?
And fuel our social justice hate?
I think this backlash is long overdue.
We should start talking to
Vox Day and Gamergate.
(It’s about ethics!)
We’ll rally our bloc voters
To support our slate
The day of the pups is nigh…

Brad
Larry?
Please, I’m feeling picked on.
The CHORFs are challenging our Facts.
It’s like they don’t know we’re the victims here,
Trapped by our fear of leftist mob attacks.
They’ll toss us in their gulag,
And vote No Award.
Look at my puppy tears!
Do you wanna take the Hugos?

Publication Day: Invisible 2

Invisible 2Invisible 2 is out today!

In addition to 19 personal and powerful essays about representation in science fiction and fantasy, this also includes an introduction by award-winning author Aliette de Bodard, as well as a list of all the suggested books and stories from the comments and conversations online. Plus cover art by Mark Ferrari.

Among other things, the authors talk about the portrayal of asexuality, the intersection of different aspects of identity, the treatment of Native Americans in fiction, myths and assumptions about military life, Princess Leia as an assault survivor, the power of fiction to open your eyes to other experiences, as well as representation of disability, religion, race, and so much more.

Just like last year, Invisible 2 is available as an e-book for $2.99, and all proceeds will go to Con or Bust.

(It should eventually show up on iBooks as well, but I’m still waiting for that to happen through Smashwords.)

Reviewers are welcome to contact me for a review copy.

My thanks to everyone who contributed to this project. Compared to last year, there were far more interested authors, and we ended up with significantly more content as well, which is wonderful! I once again learned a great deal, and I’ve found myself thinking about various essays both as I’m writing, and as I’m reading other stories and books.