The other day I read this article on Gawker about bad reviews, and smarm. It was inspired, to a degree, by a notice in the new books section on Buzzfeed saying they would not publish bad reviews.
I thought it was interesting, but sadly, nothing terribly new. For as long as I can remember, people have been caught in a debate about if its right to be negative or not. Some people believe that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say it. Despite the reference to Bambi that is tossed around – let me assure you that referencing Bambi doesn’t give you any authority in this matter – there is some merit to the thought. If you know the authors involved, you won’t upset them. If you are part of the industry, you won’t burn any bridges. And, sometimes, yes, sometimes, careers can be halted by a particularly bad review, or opinion that forms online (and off) about the work. Nice people get burned in real world ways when that happens. Still, others think otherwise. For some people, reviews ought to kick out, take no prisoners, be both good and bad, and push up the symbol of art, celebrate the superb and challenge weak craft. Some people even enjoy a good take down.
For myself, I have always been part of the latter group. The reason I do is not because I enjoy a good take down – though I do, just as I enjoy well argued praise – but because I recognise that reviews and criticism do not have anything to do with me, either as a person, or an artist. Whenever I see the Bambi line given, I always think that it is in response to a desire not to upset the artist, and the machine that is behind him or her. It is as if the review has stopped being about the work, and has instead become a tool to help advertise – part of the promotional machinery that speaks not to readers, but to this insider group that exists around the book. But a review or criticism is not about communicating with the author or publisher, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is about communicating with the reviewer’s own readers, about beginning a conversation that is born out of the interaction of the individual and the work.
What is often overlooked, I feel, is that a review is an independent piece of work, existing beside the – in this case – fiction that it rose from. It is not the property of the novelist, or the publisher, but rather the property of the novel, and the novel, once it is published, is no longer the property of one individual. It is a communal object, and as a communal object, it will be used in discussions, arguments, essays and whatever – and sometimes, they’re going to be positive, and sometimes they’re going to be bad. Whatever the outcome, the critical work of a novel, I feel, has more in common with film adaptions, cosplay, fan fiction, and whatever else a novel can give birth too, than the novelist and their relationship with the novel.
There’s a whole lot of things in criticism to unpack. You can argue if it is right for a reviewer to cultivate an audience, you can point out the inevitable personal relationships that come from interlinked scenes, and so on and so forth, until you have exhausted each avenue, and found even that some parts contradict others. But for me, I think there is more to be gained by putting aside the Bambi line, which is bad for children, anyway, since it promotes silence over honesty, and just encourage people say what they will say and to say it well.
As I write this I am sitting with a pinched nerve in my back and dosed up with codiene. Yes, I tried to talk my doctor into giving me oxycodone but no luck there. No chance of being a drug-addled writer high on hillbilly heroin AKA Stephen King, and I don't even drink that much any more, so my cred is pretty low. Can I go nuts on chamomile tea, perhaps?
I’ll write up the Alan Moore event soon, but in the meantime, here’s …
A video, courtesy of Bleeding Cool.
Audio, courtesy of Pop Culture Hounding.
And a video of a song Alan Moore sang on the night …
And now Nelson Mandela is gone, too.
I don’t mean to use this blog to catalogue the deaths of deeply loved and admired people, though this does seem to be a year for it. It’s just that a sense of time lies heavy on me at the moment. I feel poised on the edge of something, looking back over my own life and also forward to what might be, so naturally thinking about other peoples’ lives and legacies and endings is all par for the course. It’s entirely banal, in fact, at the age of almost-forty-one, to do such a thing. So please forgive me.
Who else out there among my friends reached adolescence and began to “wake up to the world” in the 1980′s? It was an interesting time, wasn’t it? We hear a great deal, see a great deal portrayed in film and other media about kids coming of age in the sixties and seventies, that post-war generation. They did everything, protested, changed the world. (It’s different now, right? Right?…) They had various revolutions, social and political – Vietnam – men on the moon – peace and love – bean sprouts. Bean sprouts saved the world. They had a seismic shift in demographics buoying them along. Everything seemed possible.
Then, there was us.
I’d be interested to hear what my contemporaries say, whether they feel the same way. I swear to God, the 1980′s were claustrophobic for me. Nothing seemed possible, or even probable. My adolescent brain was beginning to fire neurons in all directions. My brain case felt too small for what was going on inside, the world was big and mean and full of incomprehensible adults with far too many nuclear warheads at their disposal and seemingly zero empathy. I couldn’t stand looking at the injustices, couldn’t stand walking past people sleeping in the street while others ate warm dinners and talked about ‘the economy’ (that Beast of the last days.) Every cell in my body screamed it wasn’t right, there had to be another way.
Enter into all of this, Nelson Mandela. Half a world away in South Africa, but he inspired us. Half a world away, us kids admired that man in prison. We chanted “Free Nelson Mandela”. There were those pins people used to wear on school bags. It was sincere – probably useless, but sincere. For me, there was a particular reason to follow the story. I thought of other people in prison, also incarcerated for spurious reasons. I admired Mandela’s refusal to give in. And when he was finally freed, I wept with joy, along with so many others, all over the world. It seemed that if this one man was freed, perhaps there was hope for the rest.
Time passed. People told me I would react less emotionally when I matured, or else work towards a concrete solution to social problems rather than rebelling in my little corner. At the time I just ground my teeth and put it all down to grown-ups being condescending. I stomped off angrily towards womanhood, wearing my blue Doc Martens and knowing full well I was privileged, not in prison, not sleeping rough. Don’t be angry, said the reasonable little voice in the back of my head. Use your advantages to do something interesting. I grew up, sort of matured. And tried to use the advantages, for what they were worth.
But listen: the anger didn’t go away. The emotions didn’t go away. I am sitting here now, as righteously damned furious as I was a quarter of a century ago, minus the pin. I realise there is no getting rid of this anger, because it is a good anger. It says no. No, I won’t walk past the street sleeper with that sense that he must deserve it. No, I won’t shut up and let the Beast Economy run amok, trampling innocents. I will tell the truth as I see it, in my corner, yes, uselessly if need be. I will be emotional about the whole kit and kaboodle.
Here are some home truths from Mr Mandela to help you on your way.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
Life is so hectic at the moment that I’m barely able to get a blog post out a month. I’d like to blame the kids, but really I’ve spent most of my time playing and discussing and giggling over the worst cricket game ever made. Ashes 2013:
I’ve also recorded a new episode of Writer and The Critic with my lovely co-host Kirstyn McDermott. That should be dropping into people’s RSS Feeds or equivalent in a couple of days. And I have been reading. Quite a few books actually. Here’s what I thought of them.
Books You Should Go Out and Buy Right Now and Read!!!!!
I’m going to say more about this book on a future episode of Writer and The Critic, but in short I loved it. It’s a crime novel set in the 80′s that involves communism, the Occult and a soupcon of Chasidism (it’s the first novel I’ve ever read that references Qlipha. Madonna would be proud!). Dawn is a fucking awesome character. Not because she’s in your face or wields katanas or ‘takes no shit from anyone’. But because she’s angry – justifiably so given her fucked family situation – and it’s her anger and frustration that fuels the narrative. There’s no redemption here and no sweet endings. Instead what we get is a short novel with the impact of a sledgehammer to the face.
Trucksong by Andrew MacRae
Just like the Mamatas this book isn’t about redemption or happy endings. And like the Mamatas there’s an anger that drives the narrative (though nowhere near the intensity of Love Is The Law). I’m generally not a fan of post apocalyptic novels, I think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road says everything that needs to be said about what happens to society after the shit hits the fan. But with Trucksong I make an exception. Partly it’s because of the world building on display. The post cyberpunk vibe of self aware trucks and gigacities and the fusion between body and silicon. This is the only novel you’ll ever read that has trucks shagging each other. But really I loved this book because on a sentence by sentence level the writing is beautiful and the language – the ocker-isms that litter the novel and the neologisms – give the story a genuine sense of place. This is Australian science fiction at its best.
Five Autobiographies and a Fiction by Lucius Shepard.
Lucius Shepard is genuinely one of the best writers in the SF/F/H field. And I don’t mean that he writes really cool stories but that the actual writing has a depth and complexity that you simply don’t find in most genre work. This is a collection of six novella / novelettes. While I didn’t love all of the pieces in the collection, I was never disappointed by the writing. If you haven’t read Shepard before – and you really should – this is as good a starting point as any.
Honorable Mentions But Still Very Much Recommended
Time Travel. Martian kibbutzim. A robot Golda Meir. This short novel is extraordinary – a bizarre mix of Burroughs, Bradbury and PKD. And while the ending for me was a confused and surreal mess (I probably need to reread it), the questions it raises about how the Holocaust changed the Jewish people are thought provoking. In many ways it’s a very personal novel and possibly (though maybe not) you need to be Jewish or Israeli to get the full impact.
It’s described as a novel, but it’s more a novella. It’s my first taste of Daniel Woodrell and I’ll be coming back for more. It’s based on a true story of a dance hall in the Ozarks that burned down in the late 20s killing 42 people. The little snippets describing the goings on of some of the people who died in the fire are heart breaking. The language and lyricism of the novella might be off putting for some (I’d read a sample) but it hit the spot for me.
Maybe you need to be Irish to appreciate all the jokes, but I still found plenty to laugh at. I’d describe this as Ireland’s answer to Forrest Gump but that would be a massive insult to what’s a smart, satirical novel that even foreshadows the Global Financial Crisis. I’m still tossing up on the funniest bit of the novel – the bit where our main character is mistaken for Stephen Hawking or when he has sex on a camel. I’ll definitely be buying the sequel.
I didn’t hate it and at times I enjoyed it. But I’m not sure I totally appreciate what Harrison is doing here. Maybe after reading Empty Space the penny will drop.
I normally enjoy Fowler’s work but this simply didn’t do it for me. For a thriller it’s far too long and there are too many side steps and tangents. Just as I thought the book was picking up pace, the novel would stop dead to describe a part of London or reflect on the main character’s shopping habits. Unlike Joanne Harris’, who in the foreword questions why this book never found a market (given how AWESOME is it), I think I know the answer. It lacks focus and never seems to be entirely clear on what it wants to be. Because it’s Fowler it’s readable and at times enjoyable. But only read it if your a die hard fan of his work.
Mirrored from The Hysterical Hamster.
( Spoilers for NBC's Sound of Music Live with Carrie Underwood and tonight's episode of Scandal.Collapse )
Once, years ago, I had a website under the web address of my name. German students came to it after their HSC to tell me that Black Sheep, my first novel, had appeared in one of their final exams. It was about the most interesting thing that ever happened to that website, beside being hacked and turned into a porn site, briefly, and then left to the cyber wasteland as I neglected it due to my inability to redesign it. Shortly after, I let it lapse, and let the domain name lapse, and now, I imagine, it sells something vaguely Japanese and pornographic to elderly men. Which is my way of saying, ‘That was the old site, and this is the new site, free of all the friendly pornography the Japanese create.’
For most of my online life, I have kept a blog at livejournal, and that has served as my low fi webspace. It started as place for me to talk about my doctorate, then became a self promotion tool, then became somewhat of a way to keep track of this long, twisted road of being an author. Years ago, an anonymous person purchased me a permanent account, and for better or worse through livejournals decline, I have kept it there. I made over three thousand entries. I know this because when Nikilyn Nevins made this site (I still have no web design skills) she transferred over all the entries to here. I began it on February 22nd, 2002, and a decade and a bit of entries are now here, vaguely shiny, with comments, more or less. It may be a bit twitchy, here and there.
Assuming everything is working properly, this will feed into the old blog, which I intend to keep. It will also feed into twitter and into facebook, and possibly wherever else it should, eventually.
I am using the url I am because, a long time ago, I made a psychogeography zine about Sydney under the same title, and gave it out for free, anonymously. It was a shocking amount of work – Naomi Hatchman designed it and made it look pretty and Daniel Cassar helped take disposable photos and went in for printing costs with me – and we managed an amazing two issues of it. But in a way, it was a place where I finally began to understand what sort of artist I was, to understand how I functioned and how I did not. The relationship I was in at that time ended poorly, as they all inevitably did back then, but the zine and what it was always remained important to me. You’ll never find one now, and perhaps rightly so, but I feel particular to the name and the title, and I am pleased it exists, again.
At any rate, welcome to the new site. Hopefully you dig it. The images that scroll across the top are Nik’s, and the words are mine, and everything else is somewhere inbetween.
Yesterday was an unexpectedly exciting day for me, not always in a good sense (a school shooting at a nearby high school which added several police cars to my little trike ride home from Target), so exciting that I pretty much missed for several hours that Nanoism had accepted and published a little untitled twitter story of mine, which you can read here. It won't take long, I promise.
And then there was Arrow, which offered another game changing episode last night, and suddenly made my life look completely dull by comparison. Clearly I need to start wearing a green hood.
( Suddenly, superpowers rang out! And lo, there were many spoilers, though not about the romance stuff – I feel I covered that already.Collapse )