Monday 21 July 2008

A response to Gabe Chouinard

I was intending to do some writing tonight, but instead I was made aware of this interesting piece by Gabe over at Mysterious Outposts, which questions the validity of some of the points I raised in my recent rant about genre authors that don't read genre books. Given that I don't agree with all of Gabe's points, I thought I better write a response.

Gabe kicks off by saying: 

Interestingly, one of the points repeatedly made in the commentary is that Bilsborough is somehow "insulting" his prospective readership by saying he's disappointed with much of the drek.

This concept of insulting the readership is pure bullshit. That some writers have expressly said they do not read fantasy likewise is nowhere near an insult to the readership.

I absolutely agree, and ought to point out that at no point have I actually leveled this charge at Bilsborough or any other writer that criticises the fantasy genre for the number of lacklustre novels being churned out. There is nothing wrong with such criticism and it is certainly not insulting. 

He [Joe Abercrombieis one of the writers James refers to in his post as an author that does not read fantasy... yet, need I point out that Joe is also one of the widely-lauded new writers of fantasy? Why is it perceived as insulting that Joe doesn't read fantasy, if the end result are novels that many find enjoyable (like myself) and many others find "groundbreaking"?

I did indeed refer to Joe Abercrombie, however I did not explicitly state that he doesn't read fantasy. I was simply regurgitating Steven Erikson's comment, which is his belief, not mine. Again, I never said that such a lack of genre reading was 'insulting' (not sure if Gabe is suggesting that I did, or whether he is just making a more general point here. But I wanted to clear my side of things up). 

We'll ignore the fact that James clearly missed the line in Bilsborough's response that blatantly said: "I've read a fair few fantasy books in my life"

No, I didn't miss this. I just thought Bilsborough's comment here completely lacked sincerity. A fair few? How many is that? Four? Five? He certainly didn't give the impression that he was well-read, and subsequently I still have to assume he's not capable of commenting objectively on the genre. For the record, I've read hundreds of fantasy books and barely consider myself worthy of making comment. 

And indeed, James relies on Steven Erikson to point out that Richard K. Morgan "doesn't read fantasy", which is patently absurd, since in the acknowledgements of The Steel Remains Morgan points to Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner (someone I doubt many current fantasy fans and reviewers have read) and Poul Anderson as influences. Likewise, Bilsborough points out his own acknowledgement to several authors in the interview as well.

Firstly, I'm not saying Morgan doesn't read fantasy: I'm simply showing that Erikson doesn't seem to believe he does. Secondly, just because he's read Moorcock doesn't mean he reads fantasy regularly, or is widely-read. I've read Dan Brown, but that doesn't mean I like thrillers or read them all the time. Thirdly, Bilsborough only refers to two other genre authors in his interview, which is hardly a glowing endorsement of his genre reading. 

The other fallacy lies in the belief that being a good fanboy of fantasy is the only way to write good fantasy. That way lies pure idiocy.

Agreed. This is not at all what I'm suggesting. I simply pointed out that - in my opinion - the two greatest living epic fantasists are both big fantasy fanboys, and I then asked whether this was a coincidence. I never said that being a fanboy was a pre-requisite for being a good fantasy author (though I firmly believe it helps).

Which is not to dismiss his point outright. I think he's wrong, to be honest, in believing these writers are somehow insulting their readership.

For the third time: I did not at any point say that genre writers that don't read genre are insulting their readership. I'm not sure where Gabe has picked up this idea from, because not once do I make this point. The only time I refer to someone being insulted is when I mention Bilsborough's idiotic comments about American readers/writers. 

Perhaps Gabe - and others among you - thought that my main argument was that authors that write but do not read fantasy (and then speak critically of the genre) are being insulting. If so, perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough (it was an off-the-top-of-my-head rant after all, not a carefully considered essay). My main point was simply that I was wondering why so many genre authors don't read genre, and that those - like Bilsborough - who comment on the genre without having much knowledge of it are probably not worth listening to. 


Anonymous said...

Don't worry man, I, at least, understood you. And I found Bilsborough's interview with Pat very insulting.

Anonymous said...

Hi. We are discussing your first post on this subject on the _F & SF_ board here:

Upon reading this post, I think I might have somewhat misunderstood your rant in my posts there, but there is an interesting discussion starting from it if you want to swing by.

Also, Gordon Van Gelder pointed out that you accidentally said that Bernard Cornwell wrote STARKADDER and VARGR MOON, when actually it was Bernard King. Just a heads up!

~E Thomas

Anonymous said...

I was assuming this was just a typo, but upon looking closer, I realize that the fantasy author mistake was made by Bilsborough, not by you. Oops. That certainly doesn't make him sound any more knowledgable in the genre.

~E Thomas

RedEyedGhost said...

I agree with Myshkin. Bilsborough's interview with Pat was appalling. I've never wanted to see an author fail, but after reading that douchebag's arrogance - I will never read one of his books, and I wouldn't mind if nobody else did either.

and it wasn't just his whole "fantasy sucks as a genre - it was the entire tone of the interview. The fact that I have yet to see a review that would classify his book as even mediocre definitely helps me stay away.

Gabe said...

And how did you all feel about Mike Harrison calling worldbuilding the "clomping foot of nerdism", or China Mieville's assertion that Tolkien was the "wen on the arse of fantasy" or pretty much any one of Moorcock's many diatribes?

Todd Newton said...

Blog Wars!!

I did understand your point but I also thought the "tone" of the interview was sort of insulting and that you might have hinted at that. Maybe that's what was picked up on.

It is nearly insulting that genre readers don't read genre - practically all of the books I've read about writing (fantasy, in particular) say that this is an absolute must. Not to question the methods of successful authors but I know that, for me, reading definitely helps fuel the mind and the creativity as well as the style I write with. And I don't just mean reading fantasy - after I read Melville and Stephenson a lot of my writing was more wordy, more descriptive, and sometimes even more honest.

I'm interested to see how my writing will change after having read all that Cook has to say about The Black Company because his style is so different than anything I've read before.

RedEyedGhost said...

Gabe said...

"And how did you all feel about Mike Harrison calling worldbuilding the "clomping foot of nerdism", or China Mieville's assertion that Tolkien was the "wen on the arse of fantasy" or pretty much any one of Moorcock's many diatribes?"

MJH has the worst case of diarrhea of the mouth that I have ever seen. His effusion on worldbuilding wasn't the same as saying "all fantasy fans are nerds". It was more the equivalent of saying "I this one particular aspect of fantasy sucks". MJH is very annoying, but I know he's enjoys a particular type of fantasy. I don't read him for a much different reason than why I won't read Bilsborough -- MJH's books are boring pretension mental masturbation.

Miéville was right about Tolkien - specifically because of the absurd amount of copycats that flooded the bookshelves in the 80s (and still do to an extent) - this really limited the growth of the genre, and he gets way too much credit as the founder of fantasy. I think it's too bad that Miéville recanted his statement.

I haven't seen any of Moorcock's rants other than the Tolkien/Pooh (if I'm thinking of the right thing) one, and it was pretty spot on imo.

Gabe said...

Well, that was technically a rhetorical question, RedEyedGhost, but thanks for answering anyway.

My point being, Bilsborough is far from being the first writer to make grand statements that rub some people the wrong way. To be honest, I agree with a lot of what he said. And I've read a fair few fantasy novels in my lifetime, so I know what I speak of. What I can't fathom is how his statements are in any way offensive? I mean, as a reviewer, I'm bound to make the same sorts of statements. Worse, I'll be making those statements against PARTICULAR writers, calling their work, in effect, crap (for lack of a better hypothetical term). What makes it acceptable for me to have a critical voice, but not for him?

Granted, much of the fallout seems to revolve around the quality of his novel when viewed against his statements. I haven't read him. Likely will *have* to, now. But does that make his claim any less legitimate?

RedEyedGhost said...

Rhetorical or not, the question was written in a way that demanded an answer ;)

I really think that most of the problem with Bilsborough's arrogance.

1. He says almost all genre fiction is bad.
2. He writes a genre book ostensibly because he can do a better job than any other writer of genre fiction.
3. Every review on the net is negative toward his masterpiece.

Had he been aware of the current goings on in the genre, then he may have produced a better book. His ignorance caused him to fail, however this is not always the case. Great authors can write great books regardless of genre.

A derivative work can be phenomenal, but most of the time it takes a world class author to accomplish this. Most of the time you just get some hack channeling what they read as a child.

I hope that this makes sense - I hate leaving comments in this tiny reply box, it makes it difficult to get a feel for my entire post.

Adam Whitehead said...

I think Bilsborough's comments would have been rather better-taken if his first book wasn't utter shit. Seriously, The Wanderer's Tale does seem to have displaced Newcombe's Fifth Sorceress as the 'worst debut fantasy novel ever' gold standard. I've never seen a single positive review of it anywhere.

As for Morgan, his reading of the 'classics' is well-known, but the main problem was that he said he hadn't read any modern fantasy, and then simultaneously said he was going to write a book that was going to upset a few applecarts. The only problem being that when THE STEEL REMAINS arrived, it was very much not doing anything that GRRM, Erikson and particularly Bakker had already done before him. Nevertheless, Morgan didn't get as much criticism because THE STEEL REMAINS is still an excellent novel.