The OF Blog: Recent comments/reviews that have baffled me

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recent comments/reviews that have baffled me

Ever read or heard someone claim something that seems so outlandish, so preposterous that you find it hard to come back with a retort because you are uncertain if they inhabit the same semantic planet as you do?  Over the past few days, I have experienced three such comments that have left me baffled and nearly at a loss for words.

1.  Arguing against standards for some odd reason.  Westeros, "Tolkien's Nobel Prize Nomination rejected  due to 'poor prose'"  

Some choice comments from a poster there called James Nicholls (a real name, perhaps?):

I find your analogy lacking. Medicine is a science. That's not to say there isn't some contention about what are the best methods of healing a given case, but there are hard facts behind the reasoning. You take an aspirin to cure a headache, and that's more or less proven to work (let's assume the headache isn't the symptom of some larger problem). Medicine is a hard subject. Literary criticism is about as soft as you can get. I don't deny a reader of 500 books is better poised to place any given work within a set context and compare that work to other works, but I do deny that his opinion of the quality of the work is inherently better than the reader of 5 books.
Wait a minute...didn't he just say...?

And then in relation to earlier comments (possibly including one I made) about the development of standards for evaluation by those who are experts in a field:

You seem to have missed the observation that those standards while nice in their own right aren't authoritative. They aren't objectively better than any other standards one wishes to judge something by.

Oh, this is leading to something....I think.  What it is, I'm not confident the poster there even knows.  It may be related on an earlier response of his regarding the comparison of well-known works to the risible Eye of Argon

Given that Tolstoy and The Eye of Argon don't occupy the same genre I'd say there is minimal value is comparing the two. But since you keep coming back to it as an example, let's discuss The Eye of Argon.

I only read the first chapter, but actually I was expecting far worse from this. The three obvious points are that it's verbose (which isn't surprising for a 16 year old writer), it's highly derivative and there are some spelling mistakes. These are all objective observations, but whether or not you think they are bad things is subjective. Some people like flowery writing, some prefer a minimalistic style. All works are derivative to some extent, and whether or not something is offering new ideas may or may not matter to you. As for spelling mistakes, the only reason we have spelling mistakes is that we have standardised English. Most people would consider that a flaw, but that's largely based on what we've been taught. Before the standardisation of English that wouldn't even have been a consideration.

There's a value to dissecting a text, but it's not in deciding what is better or worse. It's in deciding what works for you. 

At this point, I think discussing evaluative tools and how performance/efficacy/art is achieved is beyond hope with someone who refuses to see that arguments of relation (a common fallacy of those who argue for an extreme form of revelatism is that there has to be some sort of independent criteria around which the relations in play can revolve) depend upon a consensus regarding evaluative standards.  I'm close to making this the first person I've ever "ignored" at a forum solely due to asinine arguments.  But these quotes are just the tip of the iceberg of inanity.  Read on and weep at the link above.

2.  Claiming Tolkien is better than any Nobel finalist or winner.  SFF World, "JRR Tolkien's Nobel chances dashed by 'poor prose'"

 Before I quote from this poster whose handle is "saintjon," I want to note that the majority of the comments in both this and the Westeros thread, even the ones I disagree with, are worth considering.  Then after all of that consideration, you get someone who makes a comment so hyperbolic, that it's nigh useless to argue, since it'd just be wasted e-air:

Tolkien needs a Nobel like the Beatles need to be in the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame. The Prize is less without him, not the other way around. Like someone said, he's in really distinguished company on the rejected pile. Dailyrich hit it on the head IMO.

Loerwyn I just really couldn't disagree with you more. Blizzard have spent the last half-decade crowing about WoW having 30 million subscribers but Tolkien added nothing new to society? Sometimes it seems like all you can find around here is people complaining how similar to Tolkien everything is. We are part of society and Tolkien's handprint is all over most of what we're into in indelible ink.

Yes, Tolkien is a popular writer that has had over 100 million of his works in print since 1938.  Not only do I suspect that this "saintjon" character has not read any of the others considered for the 1961 Nobel, I begin to wonder if he was on crack when responding to a prior comment about how the Nobel in Literature is meant to recognize a writer's impact on society.  "We are part of society and Tolkien's handprint is all over most of what we're into in indelible ink" is incredibly myopic and either woefully ignorant or willfully misconstruing just what "social literature" is.  Strange, very strange.

3.  io9 review of a recent epic fantasy release. 

I have not been impressed with io9 reviewer Charlie Jane Anders' columns the few times I've been linked to them (I do not make a habit of reading io9).  I remember laughing at her absurd claims two years ago about how The New Yorker had "no SF writers" on their "20 Under 40" list in 2010.  With that still in my memory, I found it very difficult to take her recent review of John R. Fultz's Seven Princes very seriously.  I am not going to quote the entire review (if I did, I would be tempted to riff on nearly every single claim she makes there), so I'll settle for a few phrases that make me chortle, mostly because everything she claimed was a good thing about the book seems to reveal that it is a crappy book (I have not read the book, nor do I desire to do so, therefore I am not discussing the merits of the book prima faciae):

"  pleasure to read an unabashed over-the-top fantasy epic"...."totally batshit stuff happens every few page"...." definitely not a new masterpiece of the fantasy genre, or a challenger to George R.R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie"..." breakneck pacing and nonstop insanity. Every few pages, foxes are turning into naked ladies or giants are going off to talk to the mermaid queen, or a long-lost race of blue giants is randomly discovered, or evil dark spirits are destroying entire kingdoms. It's epic with a capital EPIC."..."The King of Yaskatha has him put to death, but then he comes back again, and once again demands the throne. This goes on for a bit, until it turns into a zombie rampage that kills the King and almost everybody else. The surviving prince of Yaskatha, D'Zan, flees and vows to regain his throne. Meanwhile, the sexy sorceress Ianthe plots to take over most of the rest of the world, with Ellathym's help."..."She's constantly turning into a white panther and laying waste to cities, while her grandson has quasi-incestuous thoughts about her. (Edited to add: And the evil prince contacts his grandma by smoking magical crack, and then drinking human blood.) The twisted grandma-grandson relationship is probably the best part of the book."

Gah, I can't stand quoting anymore!  This work sounds like it's one of the shittiest fictions ever written since the above-mentioned Eye of Argon based on this reviewer's odd (maybe "breakneck pace with totally batshit stuff happening" every few sentences?) review.  If the book is anything like this review, it'd be an incomprehensible pile of donkey turds that have been stacked into a 1:18 ratio shit replica of the Washington Monument.  How someone could write those things and claim that the book is good is beyond me.

Like I said, these are the recent comments and reviews that have baffled me.  Perhaps they make more sense to you?


Michal said...

"It's epic with a capital EPIC."

Euuuughhhhh. I would have been embarrassed to write a sentence like that when I was 12, let alone now. Though it's the wanton abuse of the poor apostrophe in the names that, er, unimpress me the most about Seven Princes.

Eric M. Edwards said...

The reviewer does a fine job I suspect, of describing the book - at least on one level. It certainly makes it sound like nothing I'd wish to read.

But what bothers me, is that the review itself is just so poorly written, I'll in truth never know. I say this with a keen respect for how difficult it is to write a review. I've tried my hand at it, and I'm a long way from being able to do justice to the form.

However, what I found was beyond disappointing. When a reviewer resorts to giving such a lengthy exposition of the plot, characters, and dialogue, all without saying anything meaningful about them or the novel itself - I have to throw my hands up in despair. It's an info dump rather than a review let alone a critique.

Again, this could be due to the book being such a mishmash of poorly structured ideas, that the best which the reviewer could say was it was zany, not like X, Y, and Z and reel off some examples of how 'bat-shit' the book's set pieces were.

I suppose I'm looking for pearls in a slag heap - but I'm frustrated that I have to come to that conclusion, because a better reviewer would have exposed I suspect, a truer view of the book - interesting or terrible. And any riches here are for me at least, kept well obscured by the lack of substance in the review itself.

Certainly when compared to the standards of other online sites such as Strange Horizons, this review is poorly executed - very.

Ultimately, both the reader and the writer are shortchanged by this. I would hope for better from io9 in the future.

Larry said...

It is a very poor review for several reasons (most of which you cover). It doesn't do a good job "placing" the novel in context, unless saying "batshit stuff happens" is someone's idea of contextual placement. There is no firm idea of what this novel is, other than a vague mishmash of concepts that when stated in such close proximity to one another, makes some wonder if the novel is a structural mess.

But what puzzles me the most is that it praises this book; the way the adjectives are used, one could be pardoned for thinking the reviewer was describing a very poor novel. She does not elaborate or explore any of it; she settles for hyperbolic comments that read more like an attempt to provide bad blurb copy than to say anything about the novel itself.

It is almost the Eye of Argon of epic fantasy reviews.

Hélène said...

"It is almost the Eye of Argon of epic fantasy reviews."

That sums it up pretty well. I read it and it reminds me of bad homework from my students :(

Foxessa said...

The reviewer persuaded this reader that never will she even think of reading this book.

It's puzzling that so many just love reading books yet these same book lovers clearly fear and loathe language.

Love, C.

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