Friday, January 13, 2012

On Some Recent Reviews (by Liviu Suciu)

There is no secret that my top two books of 2011 were "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami and "Parallel Stories" by Peter Nadas and that both are books I expect I will be reading for a long time.

Even so, I greatly enjoyed this scathing review of Parallel Stories written by Tibor Fisher in The Guardian. While I have no idea why the review was written since when relatively well known authors like Tibor Fischer discuss other even better known authors like Peter Nadas, there may be a lot of history behind, there is a kernel of truth in it and the book may easily turn readers off.

Another notable point of the review is the placing of the novel in context and suggesting a few "substitutes" the reviewer finds much better, suggestions which are quite useful in themselves.

As for "1Q84" I also saw a lot of criticism that amused me as a large part was directed toward its "genre" elements. There were even some very funny Amazon reviews from people who thought they were getting a sff novel and found explicit scenes in the novel; horror of horrors, explicit writing in genre, oh no that should be banned immediately!

But that at least is somewhat funny; however when you read a review that starts with a paragraph like the one I will quote below and that clearly indicates a hostile agenda - in this case to successful indie authors - and when said review is published in a venue like Strange Horizons that supposedly has review editors, that needs calling attention to.

In many ways I was saddened to see this crude genre bashing as I thought the venue has improved markedly from a few years ago when genre bashing was regular as I noticed in a few comments there, as comparing the two reviews of the same author, same series, books 1 and 2, linked above will show.

Anyway read the opening of this recent review of Theft of Swords and wonder at the envy that it projects and the agenda it at least honestly admits of following:

"Michael J. Sullivan is that rare beast, a man who self-published six books to moderate financial success, and parlayed that success into a deal with a major publisher. Theft of Swords collects the previously self-published The Crown Conspiracy (2007) and Avempartha (2009) in one volume. As of this writing, I want to hunt down every single soul associated with the decision to give this series the imprimatur of a major publishing house and rub their noses in it like a bad puppy. Sloppiness in amateurs is understandable. When professionals are involved, there should be consequences. I have words for these people. Bad words. But I'll restrain myself, and restrict my vocabulary to standards acceptable in polite company. The book's own words ought to be enough to condemn it."

Note that while I greatly enjoyed the first few books in the series and loved The Emerald Storm and Wintertide, I was disappointed to a large extent by Percepliquis and talked about why recently, but I still find The Ryria Revelations a very entertaining and well executed traditional fantasy series that started light and improved markedly with every volume, except for the too cute wrap-up imho...

Anyway as I put it in the comments to this hit piece masquerading as review, the success of indie authors is the future so just deal with it!

Edit Later 1/16/12: As this issue has degenerated and our purpose here at FBC is to discuss interesting books and pursue our love of reading, I will close the comments here and refrain from mentioning this issue again as it is not useful. For anyone interested in pursuing this further, feel free to use the email linked on the site.

I also want to make clear that while I question the judgement and the way of expressing it in the above linked reviews and a few others alluded in the comments, I do not know personally the reviewers involved, have no reason to question their motives beyond what their public words say and I deeply apologize if my comments have been construed as personal attacks. I also do not condone attacks based on race, ethnicity or gender.

Talking about books is a very subjective matter and I am quite happy that it still can give rise to such passion, but let's keep things in perspective. And to close on a personal note, I want to note that I have been involved in the online sff scene since the rec.arts.sf.written of the early-mid 90's when the excitement at finally having a place I can share my interests with people from everywhere, gave quick rise to disillusionment due precisely to everything boiling down to attacks, mud flinging and all, so I may be over sensitive at such and too quick to react when I see the kind of review that reads to me very vitriolic.

The sff online community is a great thing and I think we are all better for it, but it is also an easy thing to shatter and I again apologize for contributing to ill will feelings.

Edit 1/16/22: As Mr. Martin Lewis had this blog post "On Being Libeled by Liviu Suciu", I posted there the following comment which I will re-post here:

"For what is worth I apologize explicitly for attributing any personal bias to you and as an organization to Strange Horizon. I stand by my claim that your review mentioned and the one of Theft of Swords are both misguided and use language I find objectionable, but that is my personal opinion.

As for claims about Strange Horizons, while in the heat of the argument sometimes strong words are exchanged, my argument that this harsh language of the two reviews mentioned is used only selectively still has not been addressed. It may simply be a coincidence as I do not have the time and interest to follow all reviews, so I sure could have missed a few similar ones and as you and the editors have assured me that this so, I am happy as mentioned to recognize it and retract my claims as I do now.

I will post this as a second update on FBC and I hope that this will put the issue to rest. I am flattered by your words: “rather he is considered a respected reviewer by a large chunk of the fantasy blogosphere”, while for the rest I leave the words said to stand by themselves.

I do not want to escalate this but I also want to note that using terms like “libel” is a major escalation and can be construed as a threat and I think that we do not want to go there as it’s not worth it."

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