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In Defense of Christopher Priest

Snoopy

This week’s genrefluffle is apparently Christopher Priest’s scathing condemnation of the 2012 Clarke Award shortlist. At first I was planning to stay out of this one, on account of I don’t care. Also, others have already responded, including folks like John Scalzi, Cat Valente, Jeff VanderMeer, and Charlie Stross. Stross is particularly wonderful here, by the way, and I hereby vow to respond to all my future haters in T-shirt form.

Hating on awards is nothing new, nor is mocking those who get a little too carried away with their hating. And Priest’s post went up on the 28th. In Internet time, it’s ancient history. What possible reason could I have to jump in and help beat this particular dead horse?

Well that’s the difference between you and me, my friend. When I look at this, I don’t see a dead horse. I see a delightful horse-shaped pinata full of– Well, it would probably be full of maggots and bloated organs, which is … yeah, that’s just gross. Okay, I didn’t really think this metaphor through.

But I’m gonna jump in anyway, and just to make it a challenge, I’m going to do my best to defend Mister Priest. And I’m doing this despite the fact that I’ve read ALMOST NONE OF THE BOOKS ON THE SHORTLIST!

First and foremost, “Have we lived and fought in vain?” is awesome. I love this rhetorical flourish, and I do think he makes a good point about some science fiction being stuck in the past. I’ve been to conventions obsessed with old dead white men, and I’ve hung out with the fans who don’t seem to recognize that there exist books published after 1960. So he’s got a point here. But even if you disagree, let’s still show some respect for the flourish, people!

Of Charles Stross, Priest writes:

Stross writes like an internet puppy: energetically, egotistically, sometimes amusingly, sometimes affectingly, but always irritatingly, and goes on being energetic and egotistical and amusing for far too long. You wait nervously for the unattractive exhaustion which will lead to a piss-soaked carpet.

Little known fact: When I first met Charlie Stross, he licked my hand, humped my leg, then ran off to chew on my jacket. So I find this characterization utterly appropriate. Unless that leg-humping thing was all part of a sugar-induced hallucination… I remember Cory Doctorow being there too. He was dressed up like Catwoman and screaming, “Copyright stole my girlfriend in 6th grade! I swore I would have my revenge!” Then he swelled up like a blueberry.

Upon further consideration, strike that last paragraph. Let’s move on to the fact that China Mieville has won the award three years running, and could now win it for a fourth time.

I do think there comes a time when, if you keep giving an award to the same person year after year, it starts to lose meaning. Unfortunately, I see no way of remedying this problem, because China Mieville is TOO DAMN SEXY. Imagine those poor judges, trying so hard to select books based on merit, all the while imagining Mieville’s smoldering good looks…

In all seriousness, two of Priest’s complaints appear to boil down to the fact that the works on this year’s shortlist are rooted in the past and/or are simply competent, but not excellent.

In general, I think these are great guidelines for an award. I enjoy “comfort books,” lighter, plot-driven stories with plenty of action and fun and rompiness, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider them award-worthy. When I think of stories that deserve special recognition, I think of stories that bring something new, that go beyond what’s been done before, and do so with excellence.

Now you could argue that “excellence” is all subjective, and that it’s all just a matter of taste. You could do that, but it would be dumb. If you think quality is purely subjective, go read slush for any magazine or publisher, and do not return until you’ve seen the error of your ways.

Also, one book apparently has horse puns. To hell with that crap!

Now like I said, I haven’t read most of these books, but when has lack of information ever stopped someone from talking on the internet? But the fact is, Priest is well-read, and lays out some arguments as for why other books were more worthy of recognition. That alone puts him ahead of a lot of internet rants, and while you might disagree with him, I don’t see a problem with having the argument.

Of course, he goes on to say the awards should be cancelled this year, and that they should FIRE ALL THE JUDGES! He also wants the award renamed The Christopher Priest Award for Books that Don’t Suck.1

Some people might say this is where Priest crosses the line from cranky rant to cartoonish supervillainy, but I disagree. Lots of people complain on the internet; far fewer offer concrete suggestions. You’ve got to give him props for offering an action plan.

My only complaint is that he didn’t go far enough. Priest should have made an excellence-themed costume and kidnapped the Clarke judges, along with the prize money and trophy. (I’m assuming there’s a trophy? I told you, I’m utterly ignorant here.) Then, from the security of his underwater volcano base, he could have broadcast his ultimatum to the SF/F world! SFWA would dispatch the crack team of Seanan McGuire and Mary Robinette Kowal to rescue the judges. Seanan’s trained scuba-diving ninja velociraptors would take out Priest’s laser-wielding team of squid, while Mary incapacitated the human guards using her extreme puppetry skills, all leading to a final confrontation involving a malfunctioning cyborg Stephenie Meyer.

And if that’s not deserving of an award, I don’t know what is.

In conclusion, I probably shouldn’t write blog posts while overtired.

  1. Not intended to be a factual statement.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 56 comments — Leave a comment )
bkwrrm_tx
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
Dude... you just won the internet again. :-)
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:37 am (UTC)
Woo hoo!

You hear that, people? All you trolls have five minutes to get the hell off my internet!!!
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:17 am (UTC)
Thank you! I try :-)
biomekanic
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
I think Seanan and Mary should bring G.R.R.M. along as a meat shield. Speaking as a big guy, he's a big guy. I've met Seanan and I while I don't know Mary well, I helped her move into the place she's now moving out of. If George is on the same scale that I am, they could hide behind him, and leap out in ambush. Plus, he's got a rockin' beard to hide stuff in.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:23 am (UTC)
That beard gives +5 to AC AND a bonus to all saving throws against squid!
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Apr. 1st, 2012 02:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - biomekanic - Apr. 1st, 2012 02:55 am (UTC) - Expand
serizawa3000
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
Trying to remember when Neil Gaiman called Harold Bloom a twerp...
Isn't China Mieville tall enough to wear the London Eye as an earring? That might have something to do with it...
autopope
Apr. 1st, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Trying to remember when Neil Gaiman called Harold Bloom a twerp...
He's actually not that tall; he just exudes so much raw animal magnetism that everyone mistakes him for a giant. (Did I say he's smart, too?)
starcat_jewel
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
The flourish is indeed awesome, and I wish it had been employed in a better cause. OTOH, as soon as I see an iconization of it that appeals to me*, I am SO grabbing it!


* I've seen several so far, but nothing I liked. One done over a screen shot of Kirk's "KHAAAAAN!" scream would be terrific.
tsubaki_ny
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Apr. 1st, 2012 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - threeoutside - Apr. 1st, 2012 03:30 am (UTC) - Expand
comrade_cat
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:06 am (UTC)
I disagree with Priest about the use of neologisms, but I think his post is hilarious. There have been snarky reviewers for centuries, I'm sure. That's no reason to kill them, although I understand the reviewed ones wanting to.

Shrug.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 01:07 pm (UTC)
The reviewed ones, and the judges, who gave a great deal of time and energy to the process and are not permitted to respond to Priest's attacks.
(no subject) - comrade_cat - Apr. 1st, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
cathshaffer
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
It seems like Priest has been a writer for longer than I've been alive. He also did his homework in reading the books, which I am too lazy to do. He was also clever and memorable. And, lastly, he may actually have a point. I think it's entirely possible he has a point, authorial hurt feelings aside. (Mieville won the award three years in a row? Come ON.)

The internet puppy bit is funny because it's (kinda) true. Stross's writing has an enthusiasm and eagerness to please that could be described as, well, puppylike. Lots of people enjoy that style. Priest apparently does not. I only wish that some day when I go off my nut and decide to write a polemic rant that takes the whole genre down with me, I would like to spawn memes as awesome as "have we lived and fought in vain?" and "internet puppy no can haz noms." Probably I will be ignored, unlinked, and uncommented instead, and will subsequently die alone and be eaten by my cats.
threeoutside
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:31 am (UTC)
Whenever I worry about that out loud, my cats ask me "What's wrong with that?"
(no subject) - autopope - Apr. 1st, 2012 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 1st, 2012 12:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Apr. 1st, 2012 08:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ursulav - Apr. 1st, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 1st, 2012 10:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Apr. 1st, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
spatz
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
This post totally made me picture you with a bucket of popcorn, chowing down and laughing with your mouth full. Er, in a good way!

Seanan’s trained scuba-diving ninja velociraptors would take out Priest’s laser-wielding team of squid, while Mary incapacitated the human guards using her extreme puppetry skills, all leading to a final confrontation involving a malfunctioning cyborg Stephenie Meyer.

Sheer elegance in its simplicity ;)
professor
Apr. 1st, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)
I am in favor of Seanan McGuire having a crack team of scuba-diving ninja velociraptors at her disposal. Two thumbs up, would read again.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 12:42 pm (UTC)
You say this as if it's a hypothetical thing...
aberwyn
Apr. 1st, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
I remember when John Shirley accused Orson Scott Card of rigging the Nebula vote because Card had won three times in a row. Some things just keep on coming around.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 12:58 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it's possible to rig the Darwin Awards...
(no subject) - serialbabbler - Apr. 1st, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 1st, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Apr. 1st, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
reedrover
Apr. 1st, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
Thank you for the laugh!
shanrina
Apr. 1st, 2012 06:41 am (UTC)
...So this actually wasn't an April Fool's joke that went live a little ahead of schedule?
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 12:43 pm (UTC)
Nope. I considered delaying my post until today, but decided not to bother. Priest's post, however, was meant to be entirely serious.
la_marquise_de_
Apr. 1st, 2012 10:51 am (UTC)
It's a very funny diatribe which makes some interesting poins about sf. I like about 96% of it.
The rules of the Clarke Aawrd ensure that the jurors are not allowed to speak out in public about their views on books, about their deliberations, about the award, about what others say about it and them. That's where the problem lies, as he has assumed they can't possibly have thought about this stuff, that they can't possibly have intelligence and insight and knowledge.
I know most of them. They're smart, thoughtful people. They're well-read too. They are not unfit, they are not unprofessional. And that's what most of those who've read about all this don't know, because the jury's voice is silent and most of the people who have commented on the fss don't know the jurors either.
SO yes to debate and argument. But no to personal attacks based on the assumption that others can't possibly have thinking minds.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 01:06 pm (UTC)
I hadn't been aware of the rule that the judges not speak publicly about the award or their deliberations ... or to respond to things like Priest's rant. Which casts a new and even uglier light on it, since at that point you've basically got a big name bullying and insulting people who can't fight back. Nice.
(no subject) - aberwyn - Apr. 1st, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Apr. 2nd, 2012 10:11 am (UTC) - Expand
markbernstein
Apr. 1st, 2012 02:11 pm (UTC)
Maybe this is just me, but . . .

When I first read "Have we lived and fought in vain?", which came at the end of a paragraph snarking at Greg Bear for writing in the tradition of 40s and 50s SF, I took it as a reference to Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live In Vain", a story that was a big stylistic leap when it was published in 1950.

Also, ninja velociraptors are way too cool to need scuba gear. They just train to hold their breath a really, really long time.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
I confess, I haven't been willing to get up close and personal with Seanan's velociraptors in order to fully research their abilities.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, Jim, this is Barb Hendee. I never know what's going on in the Internet world of "scrapping" until I read your blog here. Sometimes, this blog has made me consider reinstating my account just so I can comment under my own name.

Wow, this little dust up was a doozy. I don't know anything about awards. I don't know how many times I've made poor David Levine explain the difference between a Nebula and a Hugo to me. JC and I do our nail biting over sales figures, not awards.

But this little spat was interesting.
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC)
The Hugo is the one that makes a good Christmas tree topper, right?
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 1st, 2012 04:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kellymccullough - Apr. 1st, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Joseph Hoopman - Apr. 2nd, 2012 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comrade_cat - Apr. 2nd, 2012 12:34 am (UTC) - Expand
sartorias
Apr. 1st, 2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
. . . but . . . but . . . but what happens if the puppet pee on the carpet? Then all bets are off!
jimhines
Apr. 1st, 2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
Nothing stains like puppet pee, and no matter how many times you steam clean, you *never* get rid of the smell.
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Apr. 2nd, 2012 01:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Apr. 2nd, 2012 02:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Apr. 2nd, 2012 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
writerjenn
Apr. 2nd, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)
First I must say I have no comment on this particular internet kerfuffle, since I 1) know nothing about it and 2) generally try to avoid internet kerfuffles.

But I feel a more general obligation to let you know I am tempted to steal this line the next time there is an internet kerfuffle that I wish to avoid: "At first I was planning to stay out of this one, on account of I don’t care."
seldearslj
Apr. 2nd, 2012 07:46 am (UTC)
Priest should have made an excellence-themed costume and kidnapped the Clarke judges, along with the prize money and trophy. (I’m assuming there’s a trophy? I told you, I’m utterly ignorant here.) Then, from the security of his underwater volcano base, he could have broadcast his ultimatum to the SF/F world! SFWA would dispatch the crack team of Seanan McGuire and Mary Robinette Kowal to rescue the judges. Seanan’s trained scuba-diving ninja velociraptors would take out Priest’s laser-wielding team of squid, while Mary incapacitated the human guards using her extreme puppetry skills, all leading to a final confrontation involving a malfunctioning cyborg Stephenie Meyer.

This needs to be made into a movie. STAT.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 2nd, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
If that's any indication, ALL your blog posts should be written while overtired. ;)
snapes_angel
Apr. 3rd, 2012 11:46 am (UTC)
Underwater volcano base not required. Case in point, Mojo Jojo. ;3
( 56 comments — Leave a comment )

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