Science Fiction Authors of Wrath
We here at Two Dudes don’t consider ourselves a big part of SFF fandom. We don’t go to conventions, vote for Hugos, or take an active part in the blogosphere. Neither of us has the bandwidth to keep up with this sort of thing, or the spare money/time to read all the newest books and join the hottest discussions. With the recent Christopher Priest vs. The Clarke Award blowup, our initial inclination was to laugh, then go back to writing snarky posts about whatever currently intrigues us. Jose checked out a few of the articles, snorted with wry amusement, and returned to the book mines where he diligently labors. Pep liked the Internet Puppy meme so much that he caved in and decided to share some morsels of opinion.
I wrote this the first time with a school marmish tone about not saying anything at all if one can’t say something nice, punctuated with a touching episode from my youth. Then I realized that, a) nobody cares, and b) if I’m going to suplex books for overwrought prose, I’d better not write any of my own. Article overhaul ensued. For now, a brief summary of the mayhem is best found here. Established and successful author Christopher Priest is not happy with the Clarke Award shortlist and, for whatever reason, decides to tell the world exactly how he feels. Bagging on award selections is a favorite pastime no matter what the prize, but few do so with such literate, scathing personal attacks on the recipients. Fewer still resort to angry accusations of incompetence on the part of the jury. Rigged? Sure. Conspiracy? Of course. Blindly following the herd? All the time. Self-serving? Without question. Incompetent and deserving of ignominious dismissal? Um, maybe you’ve had enough to drink there, old timer. Let’s get you home.
Because he can, John Scalzi writes a reasonable, calm response (complete with intelligent conversation in the comments!) that manages to make everyone look good and still be funny. I don’t know how he manages to be so beatific all the time. Then there is this post, oddly vulnerable and poetic, by Cathernne Valente. It is full of beautiful passages, especially the description of the Clarke Award as “for the type of person who goes on the Internet to weep about the death of hard science fiction,” but sometimes reads like the pleas of an abuse victim huddled in a corner while Mr. Priest rages about young punks with their low hanging pants and backwards ball caps.
I haven’t read much more than this, but have been amazed at the firestorm Priest kicked up. We should all be thankful, I think, because there is no such thing as bad publicity and boy are people talking about science fiction now. The Clarke Award owes him a nice fruit basket. My own response was triggered by Valente, who suggests in her post that possible reactions to Priest’s rant are “curling up in the fetal position and being depressed for weeks” and “getting motivated by anger and making the next book so amazing that it will impress the grumpy old dude.” I have this completely opposite vision of Greg Bear grunting in non-committal fashion at the screen, then turning over to watch the Mariners lose again, perhaps complaining later to his wife about all the rain.
At any rate, in honor of all the crap flying around science fiction-dom right now, let’s take a quick look at the short-listed books that so enraged Herr Priest and his replacements for them. I’m obviously not qualified to say anything about the ones I haven’t read, but there are four authors that I can address.
1. Hull Zero Three (Greg Bear) – Bear has been around enough and won enough acclaim that I would be surprised if he noticed or cared about this poop storm. Of course, if he’s still in Seattle, nothing would surprise me. The man could be sitting in a dark room, listening to Pearl Jam and sadly watching old Sonics highlights; he could be in a geodesic dome halfway up Mt. Ranier eating nothing but smoked salmon and Pirate’s Booty. As for the book, I am a bit surprised to see it on the list. I liked it well enough, but to me it felt like something he tossed off to pass the time between bigger projects.
2. Embassytown (China Mieville) – I think the consensus is that Priest’s attack on Mieville was the most surprising. Does Mieville deserve a fourth Clarke Award? I don’t know. Was anything better written in 2011? Quite possibly not. To call this book lazy strikes me as a massive misunderstanding of what an accomplishment Embassytown is, even moreso when Priest is decrying the current batch of SF for failing to rise above hard SF cliché and best-seller list porridge. Embassytown is a rare book that deserves, and has received, the attention of stuffy lit types for its examination of language, depiction of societal collapse and transformation, and uncanny ability to push far into contemporary literature’s territory without compromising its science fiction foundation. If this were Mieville’s first nomination, I suspect Priest would have had nothing bad to say about it. I admit to not reading enough of last year’s publications, but if I were to pick one book from 2011 to represent SF to the rest of the world, it would probably be Embassytown.
3. Rule 34 (Charles Stross) – I haven’t read this one, but since Priest’s attack is entirely personal (and hilarious), it seems appropriate to respond in a personal way. I’ve read three Stross books: Glasshouse, Halting State, and Singularity Sky, so I feel qualified to make this judgment. Stross is, I think, exactly the kind of author that the old guard will love to hate, much like William Gibson and his cyberpunky ilk pissed off the establishment back in the 1980s. He is part of the new cultural background of science fiction, long since expanded beyond physics and astronomy. Cyberspace, nanotech, the environment, gamer and otaku culture, globalization, and mobile devices are the new language of SF; style has been usurped by LOLcats and smart aleck bloggers. Priest obviously doesn’t like Stross, but I suspect that the latter is merely a proxy for the former’s disgust with contemporary SF. Oddly enough, Stross and his carpet peeing Internet puppy are the big winners of this craziness.
4. Osama (Lavie Tidhar) – This is one of Priest’s recommendations for a replacement on the shortlist. I haven’t read Osama, but I enjoyed The Bookman and think that anyone who writes something called Jesus and the Eight-fold Path deserves broader recognition. He also does great work on the WorldSF blog.
And there we have it. Things are calmer at the time of this publication, because this is the Internet and nobody has an attention span longer than 36 hours. (72 if breasts are involved.) Fortunately, the Hugo shortlist will be announced soon and we can all enjoy the subsequent paroxysm of disgust.