Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Hold That Pyre!

7th December 2010


Musings and rants

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Authors: stop thinking of other writers as your rivals. They're not the enemy.

Reviews Are Useless Without Context
With so many review blogs, quick ways of understanding their authors are more important than ever.

When an author you used to respect expresses a view you disagree with vehemently, do you swear never to read them again and rush out to make a bonfire of all their work? Or do you mumble something to the effect of "it takes all sorts", and carry on enjoying their fiction regardless?

Harry Markov raised this question on Twitter, but I thought it deserved more than 140 characters of consideration.

The Writer

When a writer decides to be outspoken it always has a commercial impact. No matter what the topic, there's always an opportunity to offend someone. The world is full of raving loonies who have the bad taste to ignore the conventions of right-thinking society.

You dunk your biscuits in milky coffee? Never darken my bookshelves again!

Some writers have carved out a career by standing up for a polarising viewpoint. Look at the way Richard Dawkins has made himself a spokesman for atheism, or Germaine Greer for feminism, or Jeremy Clarkson for whinging about stuff.

Writers almost have a duty to be brave, because the alternative is being dull and getting ignored. Sometimes that means alienating readers.

However it's one thing to make a clear case for something in non-fiction, and quite another to mouth off about issues that have no bearing on a work of fiction. I couldn't detect any trace of homophobia in Ender's Game, and if Orson Scott Card had kept mum about his opinions no doubt readers like me wouldn't be debating whether or a boycott of his work is justified.

Yet an author's biases usually bleed into their fiction, however subtly. Northern Lights would have turned out quite differently if Philip Pullman were a radical Christian, for instance.

The Reader

I don't agree with Cory Doctorow's views on copyright. But reading Overclocked gave me a chance to consider his arguments more closely. I still don't agree with his stance, but stories like Printcrime and After the Siege offered some compelling arguments that changed the way I think about intellectual property. If I hadn't read his work I would have missed out on that perspective.

The question is, what kind of readers do we want to be? Do we read to be challenged by new ideas and to have the chance to test them out? Or do we gravitate towards writers who reinforce our existing biases? It's easy to slip into a pattern of safe reading habits, but do you want to be the kind of person who reads to learn, or simply to absorb the same comforting views again and again?

The Teacher

Choosing which books to buy and read is one of the most political decisions you can make as a consumer. These are the books that libraries will restock, that will be highlighted on bestseller lists, and that schools will eventually teach. The stories you choose will be the ones other people will talk about and share. Hollywood studios will make them into movies. These books will stay in print.

In short, this is the culture you will pass on to the next generation.

Although it can sometimes be a challenge to find books to suit you, there's actually no shortage of talented authors writing fascinating stories. There's far more great literature out there than one person can read in a lifetime (except Larry). When you see it in this light it's no great loss to turn your back on any single writer, because it's easy to pluck another from an endless river of voices, most of which will pass you by anyway. That's the 21st century for you.

Some viewpoints are so odious you'll never have anything to learn from them, though. You may have heard and dismissed all the arguments in favour of them already, or perhaps they simply turn your stomach. But culture isn't something handed out from on high by an elite cadre of writers. It's more of a conversation, and as a reader you may have something to teach. There's no lesson you can send an author that's as strong as ceasing to read his or her work.

Read responsibly, folks.

© Ros Jackson