In its venerable honor, I have a science fictional-type rant. There isn't much TeeVee to discuss because everybody else hasn't yet seen all of Torchwood: Children Of Earth. If you haven't seen it, it will shock you. If you think Torchwood is silly and forgettable bullshit, fuck you.
I've added the new draft of A Town Called Malice to the Pilots folder for your reading pleasure. Don't read it in the bathroom. Or do. Whichever.
First of all, thanks to io9.com for always giving me material. Recently, they published a piece on science fiction writer Adam Roberts' call of bullshit on the Hugo shortlist. I was fascinated by the way he just fucking tore into the finalists. So fascinated, in fact, that I sought out his website, just to see what he was all about. And boy, did I find out! Go to his website (adamroberts.com, of course!) and watch him squirm with false modesty as he posts glowing reviews of his work. Then watch him take it like a man when critics aren't so thrilled with it. The further you scroll through his posts, the more you'll come across those reviews and his responses. And also his swipes at other novelists. He swipes A LOT. But it's all in the name of making science fiction better, isn't it? After my brief tour, I'm not so sure.
What's somewhat bizarre is that he's touting a book that's coming out at some point. It's called "I Am Scrooge - A Zombie Tale For Christmas." Yes. It's a literary zombie mash-up. Dickens would be SO proud. So would the dude who invented the zombie. I kinda think that if you're going to position yourself as the literary arbiter of quality in science fiction, you MAY not want everyone to know about your zombie Scrooge book.
He's written A LOT of books (good for you, Adam Roberts!). If you look on Amazon for his book "Yellow Blue Tibia" (the book he mentions the most on his page), you will see that its Amazon sales rank is 409,628. Two people have reviewed the book. If you also look up Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" (one of the books he wearily dismisses), that book's Amazon sales rank is 2,962 and 130 people reviewed it. John Scalzi's "Zoe's Tale," which also came in for quite a slapping at the keyboard of Roberts, 23,358 and 58 customer reviews. His ultimate rejection of Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" as "twee and cozy" makes sense, given that Gaiman's book is ranked #108 on Amazon.
Widely publicised shortlists of mediocre art are a bad thing. What do these lists say about SF to the multitude in the world-to the people who don't know any better? It says that SF is old-fashioned, an aesthetically, stylistically and formally small-c conservative thing. It says that SF fans do not like works that are too challenging, or unnerving; that they prefer to stay inside their comfort zone.
BOOKS LIKE MINE, DAMN YOU, MINE!!!!! Read my fucking Zombie Scrooge book! I'm HILARIOUS! And literary!
He has no beef with YA but can't understand why Terry Pratchett's YA novel wasn't nominated instead of that fucking populist Neil Gaiman.
This isn't a fan with a blog. This is a published novelist, vomiting pretentiously all over other published novelists. Does this seem like the best choice he could have made? Especially when the people you're barking about sell more books and get more recognition than you do? Look, even if your point is excellent and you ARE the second coming of brilliance and deep thought, the first thing that's going to enter someone's mind is that you're a jealous cock.
It's dangerous to be that guy. You know him. You've been cornered by him at conventions. He's got that fixed look in his eye and he slags off anything that's popular. Sometimes (and this is when it gets good) to the person he's actually slagging off. Or to that person's agent, or editor, or publisher. Or best friend. Or biggest fan. Adam Roberts is the guy screaming into the wind about how much popular science fiction sucks, and what a great science fiction novel should accomplish. Adam Roberts is trying to be the guy who saves science fiction from apes like those on the Hugo shortlist. He fails to note that the Hugos are not voted on by Adam Roberts and his ilk (whoever THEY may be). And they won't ever be.
Yeah, there's a lot of crap in science fiction. There's even more crap in fantasy (WAAAY more crap, and longer). But the Hugos HAVE been known to nominate and reward tremendously talented writers. Winners include Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, Roberts' own beloved Arthur C. Clarke, Connie fucking WILLIS and Robert Charles Wilson. Not bad for people who don't know any better.
Adam Roberts' point is not just that great science fiction (as dictated by him because he is ADAM ROBERTS) should exist, but that it should be rewarded. Only not, because the people doing the choosing don't know how to recognize greatness (if they did, then Adam Roberts would be more popular). People who read science fiction can't tell that "Little Brother" was "stylistically dull." Of course, I was too busy reveling in Doctorow's world to notice.
[T]he very heart's-blood of literature is to draw people out of their comfort zone; to challenge and stimulate them, to wake and shake them; to present them with the new, and the unnerving, and the mind-blowing. And if this true of literature, it is doubly or trebly true of science fiction. For what is the point of SF if not to articulate the new, the wondrous, the mindblowing and the strange?...
Dude, you wrote a Scrooge ZOMBIE novel.
Adam Roberts' books apparently don't entertain, because he is totally against entertainment. But I don't want to be lectured by language. Even mediocre populist bullshit like the Hugo shortlist can enlighten. Or, it can also do what ALL books should ALWAYS do -- TELL A GOOD FUCKING STORY.
He praises the Arthur C. Clarke Awards as a shortlist of high merit. The Clarke Awards are for British science fiction, which really does start to illuminate what Roberts' problem is -- see, Adam Roberts juuust happens to be British. And the Clarke awards, which do nominate American writers, tend to focus on the British ones. The Hugos, on the other hand, keep nominating these dirty Americans. Well, except for Neil Gaiman, who Roberts must consider more American than English because he really seems to dislike Gaiman. Or maybe he's just pissed that he can't whinge about how British writers never get any notice because Gaiman's a huge name.
According to Roberts, the Brits who choose the Clarke shortlist are able to see the fresh and new, while the fans who (reject Roberts) choose the Hugo shortlist, are not. Curiously, the Neal Stephenson book appears on both lists. Oops. I also find it weird that he considers Alastair Reynolds a master storyteller and twister of the genre, yet he doesn't see Stephenson this way. For the record, I ADOOOOORE Alastair Reynolds. He is a startlingly brilliant storyteller. Yes, I'm American, and I've read the guy. But if you want to talk about innovation, I think Stephenson's Snow Crash deserves a spot near the top of the list. But then Stephenson is an American. Bleargh. He gives a favorable mention to Clarke shortlist members Paul J. McAuley and Ian R. MacLeod, but not to Sheri S. Tepper. McAuley and MacLeod are both British. Tepper was born in the wilds of Colorado. COLORADO!!! HE slags off British writer Mark Wernham a bit but then says that at least he's trying something new. Methinks he considers Wernham a colleague, and he's a tiny bit jealous that Wernham got the recognition first.
His contention is that if you simply enjoy reading a well written, good story, then that is crap. YOU are crap. But if your brain physically changes while you are reading, then that is art. The problem with this that reading can't be quantified in that way. I mean, I really don't like those Harry Potter books. I don't think they're any good, and I think the stuff JK Rowling stole from is much, much better. Just better written, better characters, better plotted. But the people who love those books are enraptured by them. Something unquantifiable happens to their brains when they heft their Harry Potter tome. I doubt very much that Roberts would insist Harry Potter is life-changing art. It also won a Hugo. Blech.
The whole fucking POINT is to be transported to another place. I mean, isn't that science fiction and fantasy right there? It's about world-building. Making the world and the characters real enough for the reader to dive into. I don't care how many big words you use, or how many obscure philosophical concepts or pages straight from Joyce you cram in there. If you can't tell a STORY, then you are just fucked. More than any other group, people who read science fiction and fantasy are looking to be transported. The people who buy the books decided what had transported them the most. People like Roberts have to be careful here. If all you want is critical acclaim, then self-publish or whatever. Send your adorable little manuscript to some member of the Royal Philosophical Society. But you can't be this guy AND sell your books to lots of people. You just can't. All I can conclude from this is that Adam Roberts doesn't know how to tell a story.
If you're Harlan Ellison, then you can make public critical points. You've earned it, and you've been rewarded by every group imaginable. Some may even have had British people in them. But if you're a guy who's written a bazillion books but hasn't broken through to the Hugo big-time, then you sound like a petulant whiner. Adam Roberts is the Rhoda Penmark of science fiction, without the murderous tendencies. Which just leaves someone bitter and angry and obvious.
Y'know, it IS possible to be popular AND good. The writers on the shortlist for the Hugos have accomplished both feats. Adam Roberts, however, has not. He may be an exquisite writer of bizarrely amusing Philip K. Dick pastiches, but based on how he conducts himself in the online-o-sphere, it wouldn't surprise me if his work is overwritten and far less clever than he thinks it is.