There have been plenty of tributes to Steve Jobs today, but I particularly like this article by Juan Cole about the multicultural background of Steve Jobs. Lots of stuff I didn’t know, but then I never extensively followed his life.
Filipino blogger and writer Charles Tan has a great essay about how publishing and bookselling favours the West, particularly the US/UK, and how access to books, whether print or digital, is a lot more difficult in many non-western countries. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the challenges facing international writers and readers.
This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. Cue the backlash from critics, particularly in the US and UK, that they have never heard of Tranströmer, that this means he is an unworthy winner and that the price should have gone to Philip Roth/Bob Dylan/insert other favoured Anglo-American writer here. Indeed, we already have evidence of a backlash from none other than Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Germany’s foremost literary critic, who declared that he has never heard of Tranströmer. Unsurprisingly, Marcel Reich-Ranicki favours Philip Roth.
What always gets me how many international critics seem to view “I have never heard of this writer” as evidence of “He or she is an unworthy winner”. Now I had never heard of Tomas Tranströmer either, until I read his name mentioned as a favourite for this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature a few days ago. However, when I have not heard of a Nobel Prize winning author, I generally view that as a failure of my education regarding writers from this or that country not as proof that the winner is unworthy. Indeed, I would never consider a winner unworthy, unless I have actually read his or her books. Not that some of the criticisms aren’t valid, e.g. the Nobel Prize for Literature really is too eurocentric and particularly ignores African and Asian writers. But these critics would scream (and have screamed) just as loudly, if an African or Asian writer won, because what they really want is Philip Roth or Bob Dylan.
Finally, those people who want Philip Roth or Bob Dylan to win should maybe shut up instead of screaming every single year that the current winner is unworthy. Honestly, if I were a member of the Swedish Academy, I wouldn’t award the prize to Philip Roth either, simply because the annual screeching is so annoying.
But a potential controversy about the Nobel Prize for Literature is nothing compared the the current controversy about the British Fantasy Awards.
A few days ago, I made a slightly snarky remark that the British Fantasy Awards should maybe be renamed the British horror awards, considering that almost all winners have been from the horror genre.
Now, however, it seems that the British Fantasy Awards should be renamed the British controversy awards, because the awards have been at the center of a controversy kicked off by Stephen Jones who has issues with the fact that several awards went to the small press Telos, whose publisher David Howe also happens to be the coordinator of the awards. What is more, horror writer Sam Stone who won the awards for best novel and best short story happens to be the life partner of David Howe, which is another potential conflict of interest. Now Sam Stone has announced that she is giving the award back. Cheryl Morgan weighs in here and here. Meanwhile, Damien G. Walter calls for an unified speculative fiction award in the UK, because “amateur writers and publishers” are apparently ruining the exiting awards. Though I wonder why a publisher like Telos who has been around for seven or eight years at least would still qualify as amateur in his eyes. I don’t want to imagine what happens when a self-published book ever wins any genre award. The Guardian has a round-up of the whole controversy.
Now I don’t know any of the people involved, though Sam Stone’s reaction strikes me as far classier than Stephen Jones’. I have heard of Telos, mainly in connection with publishing media tie-ins. As far as I know, it’s a well-respected small press. However, considering that the SFF community isn’t all that big, potential conflicts of interest inevitably occur, when people sit on the committee for an award that they themselves, their friends or lovers are up for. This isn’t the first time this has happened (I seem to recall that there was some controversy about Cheryl Morgan winning a Hugo award as best fan writer, while sitting on the Worldcon committee) and it won’t be the last. As for small presses being allegedly overrepresented, if you look e.g. at the shortlists for the World Fantasy Award or the Nebula or Hugo awards, small publishers like Subterranean or Night Shade Books are frequently overrepresented compared to their size. Doesn’t mean that they are not deserving nominees. And frankly, I wonder whether the reaction would have been similar if the overrepresented small press was not a publisher associated with media tie-ins.
In short, a lot of people seem to have an axe to grind here and the backlash against certain winners does not necessarily say anything about the quality of the books, never mind that taste is subjective anyway. Finally, I can’t help but wonder whether the backlash against Sam Stone in particular, whose novel is not even published by Telos, is not more due to the fact that she is a woman – the first to win the award for best novel since Tanith Lee’s win 30 years ago – and a woman who writes about vampires besides. After all, the dismissive attitudes of the SFF community towards urban fantasy and paranormal romance – subgenres dominated by women, many of whom write about vampires – is well known.