Yet More on the Review Uproar

There is yet more on the current review controversy. So here is a whole lot of links on all sides of the issue:

At Book Riot, Kit Steinkellner offers her take on the YA review conflict.

As for that other review uproar, Strange Horizons reviewer Liz Bourke responds here, somewhat baffled by the whole uproar. Some good discussion in the comments.

Foz Meadows has an excellent post on the SFF and YA genres’ obsession with niceness (I’d add romance in as well), how the perceived necessity to present a united front against “the mainstream” is at odds with the growing diversity inside the genre and how most of the recent debates and uproars inside the genre are related to the fact that speculative fiction is changing. Her point is similar to Jonathan McCalmont’s post that I linked to yesterday, but IMO argued much better.

Adrian Faulkner compares bad reviews to bullying and even to homophobia and racism. Uhm, what? I don’t dispute that there are reviews that cross a line regarding meanspiritedness and sheer nastiness. In fact, I wish I could locate the review of one of the Doctor Who Christmas specials, wherein the reviewer stated the episode made him so angry that he wanted to hit writer Russell T. Davies with an iron bar, because that’s a clear example of a review that was totally over the line. The Strange Horizons review of Theft of Swords, however, was not over the line. And bullying, homophobia, racism and antisemitism are a whole different league than a scathing review of a book that most likely is pretty bad.

Shaun Duke defends the right of reviewers to write scathing reviews at World in the Satin Bag.

At OF Blog, Larry Nolen defends the Strange Horizons review and points out that the defenders of Theft of Swords don’t have any real arguments why the review was supposedly not fair. However, somehow he manages to turn a discussion of a bad review of a derivative epic fantasy novel into an attack on romance novels, paranormal romance and so-called “urban fantasies” (the quotes are his), negative reviews of which apparently bring out apologists in droves. And of course, all of those subgenres are dominated by women – strange coincidence that. Though I really wonder where all the urban fantasy and paranormal romance apologists are coming from (can’t have been me, cause I don’t read or comment on his blog), considering that both genres are hardly mentioned or reviewed by SFF outlets. Never mind that the discussion was sparked by a woman writing a negative review of an epic fantasy novel written by a man and explicitly criticizing the badly written female characters, let’s turn it into an attack on genres dominated by women.

Finally I’m firmly convinced that if this were a scathing review of Amanda Hocking’s Switched – i.e. another fantasy novel that was originally self-published and then taken up by a major publisher – written by a male reviewer, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because nobody would consider the review the least bit controversial. Because men reacting negatively to women’s writing is just normal, isn’t it?

And just in case anybody still had any doubts that the gender of the reviewer and author respectively did play a role, this is not the first time that Liz Bourke has been attacked for daring to have opinions on works by male authors and subgenres favoured by men. I already mentioned last year’s Prince of Thorns review and apparently a post by Liz Bourke on women in military SF provoked so much outrage by Tom Kratman, author of what appears to be military SF with a very rightwing bend, that the comments had to be shut down. Jenny Gadget comments on this controversy (which I completely missed, because I don’t read military SF) by quoting How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ.

I really don’t envy Liz Bourke for having been at the center of not one but two massive internet shitstorms in the same week.

Finally, just when you thought the whole controversy couldn’t get any uglier, it does:

One of the commenters at the Strange Horizons thread – not one of the really rude ones as far as I can recall (I’m not reading through 125 comments again) – was Romanian critic Liviu Suciu. He also wrote a response at Fantasy Book Critics, a site he’s affiliated with, and criticizes the perceived bias at Strange Horizons against certain types of speculative fiction. As a counter response, Martin Lewis cries libel and declares that Strange Horizons is not deliberately biased. In the comments, there are snide remarks about Liviu Suciu’s grasp of the English language. Classy.

Really, if there’s one thing I absolutely hate it’s monolingual English speakers attacking international writers/critics for their allegedly poor grasp of English, since it’s not their first language after all. All international writers and critics are hit with the patronizing assumption that we cannot speak or write proper English, since it’s not our first language, at times. It doesn’t matter how many books and stories, how many reviews and essays we have written in English – we’re foreigners and therefore we must have trouble grasping the language. So while criticizing Liviu Suciu’s points is perfectly legitimate, criticizing his language skills is the sort of low blow that the original review was accused of but didn’t actually make.

Never mind that he does have a point. Strange Horizons is biased towards certain types of speculative fiction. So is Black Gate, so is Fantasy Book Critic, so is SciFi Guy, so is Torque Control, so is SFX, so is Fantasy Hotlist, so is Futurismic, so is any other review outlet out there. And moving away from the SFF genre for a moment, All About Romance, Dear Author, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Mrs Giggles all have their tastes and biases as well. Reviewers have tastes and biases and the same goes for review sites. The unbiased, utterly objective review that certainly people seem to be looking for doesn’t exist.

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4 Responses to Yet More on the Review Uproar

  1. Merrian says:

    Hi Cora,

    I have been reading your analysis of the reviews controversies with great interest and appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you are sharing with your readers. I have been dis-spirited by the clear anti-woman bias in the and Strange Horizons brouhahas and the anti-academia bias as well. I am a romance/SFF reader – that is, I love genre story telling. Reading and talking about the books I love is feeling to me like a site of struggle at the moment. Lots of people are seeking control, but over what? At the least, following links to read and try and understand more about what is going means that I am glad to have found your blog.

    Cheers, Merrian

  2. Tom Kratman says:

    Outrage _by_ me? Ummm…no. Outrage I _caused_? Clearly.



  3. Nic says:

    Interesting post.

    FWIW: The comments re. Liviu’s use of English were not snide (or at least, not intended to be), and they certainly weren’t aimed at all non-native English speakers. If I gave offence with my contribution, I apologise; as someone who reads languages other than English but lacks the skills and/or confidence to write in them, I have a very healthy respect for people who can communicate fluently in multiple languages! But I frequently get the feeling that there are certain arguments I wouldn’t be having with Liviu – or would be having differently – if we had a stronger shared language; there were several points in the original thread at SH, for example, where I think he simply misunderstood what was being said (such as the reviewer’s discussion of the book’s political set-up), and reacted against something that just wasn’t there.

    As for your final paragraph: I’ve written for three of the places you mention (SH, SFX, and – as a guest poster last year – Torque Control), I can honestly say that what you say here doesn’t match my experience. Individuals’ blogs likely are “biased towards certain types of speculative fiction”, but the sites and magazines that I’ve reviewed for are all staffed by multiple people of multiple tastes. There is a selection process that goes on at the level of assigning books, whether that be reviews editors offering books to reviewers that they know have some knowledge of the field – and both SH and SFX seek out people with a range of tastes and experience for precisely that reason – or reviewers requesting certain books for review because they’re interested in them. But once it comes to reading the books and writing the reviews, any bias/preference that exists is all my own and nothing to do with the site or magazine. Ditto for all the many other people who also write for said places, and each have their own tastes. Maybe it’s different elsewhere, but I have never come under any pressure to change my mind about a book and toe some sort of party line. I agree that there’s no such thing as a truly objective review (although I don’t think reviews are purely subjective either, but that’s a different debate), but I think it’s a misconception to think of collections of reviewers as having collective tastes, just because they happen to all be published on the same site.

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