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Thought Projectors 2

May 10, 2016

I’m still not intending to make this into a regular feature but my level of engagement grows with the hours of sunlight and so I find myself accumulating and thinking about more things than usual.

The great disappointment of last week was the cancellation of my photography class. I started thinking more seriously about photography last year when I realised that taking photos is actually a pretty good justification for getting out of the house, breaking new ground, exploring new places, and generally looking at the world in new ways. I am yet to acquire the urge to share my photos with the general public and I definitely do not want to get sucked into writing about photography as that would turn my New Thing into yet another facet of my Old Thing. This being said, I have begun to notice the way that my personality intersects with the photos I choose to take: Photos of storm-tossed skies, desolate beaches, and ruined houses are pure love while photos of people on the street or models posing for me in a studio are raw terror. People are far more decorative when they’re specks on the horizon.

Anyway, here are some of the things that have been occupying my mind since the last time I posted one of these things…




Here is a very recent piece by Robbie Collin about the history of Hollywood’s relationship with the Method. I have often lamented the emptiness of my toolbox when it comes to writing about individual performances and so it’s nice to read an accessible piece about the various approaches to film acting.

The piece itself is a little disjointed and first appeared on Twitter purporting to be about Hollywood’s loss of interest in the Method. However, read the article and you will discover that it is actually about how the idea of the Method changed between Marlon Brando making his big entrance in Streetcar Named Desire and Jared Leto sending his fellow cast-members dildos through the post as part of the process of creating his take on the Joker. The reason the piece is a bit disjointed is that Collin struggles to connect Method acting with the kind of post-Method character creation techniques used by many of contemporary Hollywood’s best-loved stars.

Collin understands that the Method arrived in Hollywood at a time when directors were crying out for the kind of performances that the Method was designed to produce:  Intense, conflicted images of traumatised masculinity held together by nothing but booze and resentment. However, what he misses is that while the Method was perfectly in synch with how that generation of men (and it’s always men) saw themselves, the same is also true of the techniques deployed by Leto, Depp, and their contemporaries. Today’s man is not so much wounded and intense as narcissistic, insecure, and prone to latching onto whatever piece of consumerist nonsense happens to prop up the public persona he happens to be performing at the moment: Removable tattoos, reverence for 1990s rock stars, edgelord posturing, and hints at a deeper vulnerability? Leto’s Joker is shaping up to be pure fucking Facebook.



Here is quite a recent piece by Ian Penman in which he surveys the career of Patti Smith on his way to reviewing a couple of her recent books. I must admit to adoring the format that Penman uses: An essay-length critical profile that not only considers an artist’s work but also tries to place that work in a context that gives an equal weighting to their successes and failures. This type of writing once provided rock criticism with its intellectual backbone but it has now been replaced with ostensibly sympathetic pieces that take their cues from the prevailing PR winds. When I complain about the way people interview authors, I am usually comparing it to this type of writing.

While the piece is full of savage jewels, the idea that really caught my attention was Smith’s decision to position herself as a cultural outsider. Penman has absolutely zero tolerance for this type of bullshit: He points to Smith’s wealthy friends, her veneration for mainstream performers, and the fact that she appears to have settled down into the career of a well-paid icon whose days of real creativity are long behind her. I must admit, when I went on a bit of a Smith binge a few months ago, I was appalled to find footage of a middle-aged Smith proclaiming herself to be a ‘nigger’ in front of a large and mostly white audience. I have no problem with the privileged identifying with the oppressed, but you’re neither oppressed nor an outsider if hundreds of people are spending £30 to come and watch you perform decades-old material! Penman appears to have been particularly irked by Smith’s decision to adopt Keith Richards as a cultural ancestor but I would argue that it shows considerable self-awareness from an artist relaxing into a lazy iconic status.

The piece made me think about what it actually means to be an outsider. Art critics use terms like ‘art brut’ and ‘outsider art’ to refer to work done outside of any existing artistic tradition. While in reality, this could refer to any truly self-seeded artistic creation, in practice it tends to refer to artworks created by either the mentally ill or the uneducated. Smith took the term ‘outsider’ to be synonymous with ‘non-conformist’ or ‘rebel’ but I think both of those labels imply at least a partial dialogue with the cultural mainstream. An outsider is not someone who reacts to the mainstream but someone who is indifferent to or ignorant of it. For most people, this would mean not only choosing to ignore the stuff around them but also committing themselves to a creative life that is solitary in so far as it is devoid of both dialogue and conversation. In practice, an outsider would be almost incomprehensible to an insider and how many people are willing to live with that?



Here is a piece by Joe Brewer about the psychological process involved in internalising a Marxist critique of late-stage capitalism. While this piece contains little that is genuinely ground-breaking, I was impressed by the focus on psychological praxis as I think one of the problems facing the Left is the abstract and inaccessible nature of its critical toolbox. I suspect that anti-capitalist critiques tend to get less airplay than anti-sexist, anti-racist, or anti-colonial critiques because not mistreating people because of their gender, sexuality, race, or nationality is a lot closer to what our culture presents as ‘common sense’ than critiques focusing on abstract concepts like class and capital. Dive into the literature and you’ll discover that concepts like race, gender, and sexuality are just as unreal and abstract as those of traditional leftism but our society trains us to pay more attention to race and gender than it does to the movement of capital.

Brewer attempts to forge a link between the abstract concepts of traditional leftism and the psychological language we use to describe our thoughts and feeling. His critique of society may be grounded in concepts like class and capital but he stresses the reality of how capitalism makes us feel and how it distorts both the way we live our lives and the way we relate to other people. We are sad, angry, isolated, and frustrated because we are living under a set of rules that simply do not work. Capitalism is in crisis because capitalism no longer works and the reality of capitalism not working is that our society now struggles to make us happy.

Brewer also links to a further article in which he touches on a number of ideas that our culture encourages us to embrace despite the fact that they can only result in our making ourselves more miserable. This piece really hit home at a time when people have been talking about the closure of several very visible genre blogs and the possibility that genre culture might no longer be able to support a functioning blogosphere. Some people have framed this problem in terms that Brewer goes out of his way to confront. For example, if blogs are closing because bloggers allowed their hobby to become a form of unpaid internship, why do we assume that the solution to this problem is finding a way to get these people paid? When asking why blogs are being shut down we should be thinking about why people set up those blogs in the first place and what might have since have changed either in them or the culture surrounding them.




Here is a relatively recent piece by Sarah Jaffe about the rise of what she calls ‘marketplace feminism’. Inspired by an Andi Zeisler book entitled We Were Feminists Once, the article’s main argument recalls the analysis of Starbucks coffee developed by Slavoj Žižek. According to Žižek, Starbucks provide two services for the (inflated) price of one: When you buy their coffee, you’re not just satisfying the culturally-determined urge to consume, you’re also alleviating the culturally-determined desire to atone for this act of consumerism because a contribution to the welfare of Guatemalan hill-farmers is included in the price of the coffee.

Jaffe argues that while feminist engagement with popular culture may use the language of political activism, it actually has very little to do with the tradition of political activism that created this language in the first place. Aside from the general point that writing a blog post about popular culture’s relationship with the real world will never do as much to raise awareness as a post about real world and the fact that marketplace feminism seems more interested in getting more women into positions of power than undermining the kinds of patriarchal structures that needlessly place one human over another, the piece also points to bell hooks’ argument that feminism should be about inspiring action rather than forging identities.

The link between these two paragraphs is my growing frustration with people using the language of social justice as an excuse to write about nothing but reactionary corporate-owned media. If the principles of social justice are that important to you, then why not seek out media that embodies those principles rather than writing about how Game of Thrones or Agents of SHIELD transgress them? If you care about the plight of women then why not seek out the work of feminist filmmakers rather than complaining about the lack of a Black Widow film? If you care about cultural diversity then why not seek out work from other cultures rather than using your expensive education to engage with stuff that speaks only to the white, the straight, and the American? The answer to these questions is that people are producing feminist critiques of popular culture as a means of atoning for the fact that they spend vast amounts of time consuming media whose reactionary ideological content serves only to perpetuate the problematic ideologies they claim to reject.

Capitalism does not so much distort as poison the creative process: When we aren’t treating our blogs like horrible unpaid jobs, we’re using them as a means of justifying our consumerist binges. Why are we here? What are we doing? What culture are we looking to create? All of these are relevant questions when considering the future of a creative endeavour.



Here is a somewhat older piece by Nina Allan about the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The piece covers a lot of ground but its structure encourages us to pay particular attention to the questions that Allan asks of the Clarke Award, the British Science Fiction Association, and their role in helping to guide the evolution of British genre culture. Martin Petto has taken the bait and begun a series of posts looking at the structure of the Clarke Award, the short-lists it produces, and its usefulness as a barometer charting the health of British genre publishing. While I am looking forward to the rest of Martin’s series and am glad to see people discussing his proposals in the comments, I think focussing on such minutiae as the exact format of the Clarke Award and the dates on which it makes its short-lists public only serves to distract from the real substance of Allan’s article.

Allan’s piece questions the behaviour of British genre institutions on the assumption that these institutions should be in the business of helping to create a culture where people feel able to discuss their feelings about books with complete honesty and without fear of retribution. The real problem here is not that the Clarke Award has failed to incorporate Eastercon into their annual timetable or that the BSFA neglected an online discussion hub that took years to build up, it’s that British genre institutions are not interested in helping to foster the kind of “critical hinterland” that both I and Allan would like to see. Read this piece about the future of the Clarke Award written by the award administrator and you’ll find that while the management are happy to run conferences and engage in market-research, they have zero interest in helping to establish any kind of literary culture. If you want to know the future of the Clarke Award look no further than the Kitschies as they seem to provide publishing professionals with everything they could possibly want from an award: Winners announced two weeks after the publication of the shortlists in order to maximise free PR and a drinks party serving the second or third least expensive wine on the list. Tentacle headgear is optional, no riffraff.

British genre institutions could not give a single solitary shit about our lack of critical hinterland and I suspect that most fans share in their complete indifference. The publishing industry has changed and genre culture has changed with it: Once upon a time, the space between authors and readers was large enough to support robust critical discussion of the books that publishers were trying to sell. However, since publishing companies were bought out by multinational corporations demanding greater returns on their investments, genre publishers have started putting more pressure on authors and encouraging them to act as their own publicists. Authors have responded to this pressure by using social media to develop a more intimate relationship with their readers meaning that a space once devoted to critical discourse has now become a space devoted to a combination of direct marketing and self-promotion. Any attempt to address these structural changes in genre culture is immediately shut down in the name of inclusivity and any attempt by fans to defend their own spaces is treated as a grotesque imposition on humble professionals merely trying to do their jobs.

While many of these skirmishes have lead to bullying, denunciation, and shunning, most people daring to air their opinions in public are met only with a deafening silence. With fandom atomised and people retreating onto Facebook and other places allowing tighter control over the sharing of information, I suspect genre culture has lost the capacity as well as the desire to bring critical pieces to a wider audience. The fear of public evisceration remains but the real danger to critical discourse is the now-daily assertion that it neither exists nor matters. This attitude has been put on display in a series of podcasts featuring the reviews editor of Locus and his pet professor. What began as an amusingly bare-knuckle dismissal of the professor’s (admittedly rather chaotic-sounding) curation of a line of critical monographs about the history of science fiction soon broadened into repeated assertions that critical writing about science fiction has no audience and does not matter. You might very well ask why a man who sees no point in genre criticism continues to serve as reviews editor for Locus magazine and you might also ask why a professional critic specialising in science fiction should prove so utterly inept at offering a defence of his vocation but the absurdity of the situation resolves itself out quite neatly when both men agree that it might be interesting to turn a line of critical monographs into a series of books in which popular genre authors discuss the writers who inspired them.

Clearly, the people who might comprise Allan’s critical hinterland do not exist. If they did exist, they would not matter. If they did matter, they would need to make room for the professionals.

Looking back over the history of genre criticism, it occurs to me that genre culture has never been entirely comfortable with the idea of non-professionals expressing themselves in genre circles. British genre culture has perhaps proved more welcoming to non-professional critics than American fandom but the idea that people who weren’t either professional authors or academics might be able to make a lasting contribution to genre discourse has always had more to do with the countercultural values of Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds than the actions of genre institutions on either side of the Atlantic.

It’s not just that New Worlds encouraged its critics to express themselves in a manner that was as honest as it was stylish; it was that New Worlds introduced the field to the idea of the non-professional critic in the form of John Clute. Even if you didn’t agree with John Clute or write anything like him, his mere existence stood as proof that genre culture welcomed critics. However, as the collapse of critical discourse surrounding genre awards and the field’s willingness to silence critical voices suggest, the Clute Window has now been nailed well and truly shut.

When we talk about letting in critics and fostering critical hinterlands, we are not actually talking about the mere production of critical reviews as robust criticism is still happening in dozens of places across the internet. What has been lost is the idea that these critical pieces might be allowed to drive the conversation or allow critics to become respected figures in their own right. These days, you can be as brutally honest as you want as long as you do so quietly and in complete obscurity.

Could a restructured Clarke Award or a relaunched Torque Control change all of this? To be honest, I don’t think so. Tom Hunter’s piece for the Guardian assumes that genre culture will continue to evolve in accordance with a set of principles but the principles he sees guiding genre culture and driving fannish engagement are those of geek culture and not the avant-garde literary culture that people have tried to construct around venues like New Worlds and Interzone. Geek culture does not want people rocking the boat and asking awkward questions, it wants people who can help you to atone for your consumerist impulses and validate purchasing decisions that have already been made. Look at venues like and io9 and you will encounter the assumption that fans are nothing more than an exploitable resource, content to buy what they are told to buy and think what they are told to think. I cannot imagine a culture less likely to nurture genuine critical discourse.

  1. Mark Pontin permalink
    May 10, 2016 10:39 pm

    Jonathan —

    You rightly raise the question of ‘why a man who sees no point in genre criticism continues to serve as reviews editor for Locus magazine.’ But it’s a little more absurd than that even. Locus appears currently to be actively opposed to genre criticism to some greater or lesser extent, based on the Lois Tilton incident.

    You may be familiar with the incident. If not, Tilton wasn’t the most highbrow or unforgiving of critics, but she did commit to the almost unimaginably thankless, demanding task of intelligently reviewing _every_ piece of short fiction committed in every SF&F prozine, and she would call out the most extreme crap. She walked from the gig at the year’s start for the reasons she announced below (pulled from File770 if you need to see more and I suppose I should add that I don’t personally know the woman) —

    Lois Tilton Leaves Locus Online
    Posted on January 10, 2016

    Lois Tilton will no longer be reviewing for Locus Online she told readers of SFF.Net Webnews today.

    I wish to announce that, after 205 columns, I’ve resigned as reviewer of short fiction for Locus Online. Without consulting or informing me, they had begun deleting material they considered negative from my reviews. To me, this is censorship and completely unacceptable. If a publication includes stories of no merit or interest, this is something a review should mention.

    I had also begun to have misgivings about participating in the selection of the Locus Recommended Reading List, because of the possibility of conflict of interest ….


  2. May 11, 2016 6:52 am

    Hi Mark :-)

    I was aware of that, I think that what happened to Tilton is a perfect demonstration of genre culture’s attitudes to criticism at this particular moment.

    I used to read Tilton as, like me, she was more interested in SF than Fantasy and had little interest in YA. In fact, I think Tilton was really good at pointing out quite how many prozines now publish YA without really acknowledging that they do so. People may not share that sensibility — it’s quite unfashionable at the moment — but she was honest about the sensibility she chose and judged works consistently and transparently. You knew where you stood after reading a Tilton review and that’s why she was the only Locus reviewer I bothered to read.

    Another of her tics was that she had zero time for identity politics and thought that the genre shoukd make no concessions to quality in the name of diversity or letting people get their feet in the door. As a result she tended to be really harsh on a lot of new writers and was suspicious of those ‘X destroy Y’ magazines. Again, an unpopular view but one that was held openly and transparently.

    When Tilton walked, authors grave-danced on social media and a number of reviewers joined in because they disagreed with Tilton and wanted to make sure they were recognised as ‘one of the good ones’.

    I really valued Tilton’s columns without always agreeing with them and I think Locus treated her very very poorly. I also think that the authors who grave-danced and the fans who joined in are the type of people who have made it impossible to be an honest critic in genre culture.


  3. May 11, 2016 10:32 am

    You know, something that might inject joules into the tail of this hot take is what looks like a resurgence of sf-as-futurism: diegetic prototyping, design fiction, infrastructure fiction (Gretchen, stop trying to make infrastructure fiction happen)?

    I don’t mean to be dismissive of this sort of thing, or imply that it hasn’t learnt lessons from the bathos of previous iterations of science fictional prophetic asshattery. I think some of it might have legs / at least tentacles.

    But it does sometimes feel a bit like, “Our work doesn’t need to be tested by literary criticism, because it will be tested by computer scientists, engineers, marketing professionals. We don’t need to appeal to a wider audience, because our stories will inform the development of products that will be bought by a wider audience. We don’t need to appeal to a wider audience, because our stories will eventually be cited in academic monographs analyzing the systemic disempowerment and genocide of wider audiences.”


  4. May 11, 2016 11:19 am

    Hi Jo :-)

    Funnily enough, I did spend a certain amount of time tryimg to wrap my head around the design fiction scene as it struck me that many of the people who might once have become SF writers are by-passing genre publishing and hooking up directly with this alt-SF culture that takes its hues and structures from academia and corporate PR in much the same way as SF once took its cues from pop science writing and now increasingly takes its cues from the world of YA.

    I have tried to wrap my head around the design fiction scene but I struggle as a lot of the publishing and duscussion seems to take place behind firewalls and at conferences.

    But yes… Bridges need to be built and fires lit :-)


  5. May 12, 2016 6:13 am

    One day last year I was at a launch party for a book that included one of my rare short stories, so I was feeling pretty good about things. During the evening I found myself talking to a couple of senior people from the publishers and one of the other contributors that I didn’t know. The publisher asked the usual and what do you do questions. Other contributor replied that she was a book blogger, sparking a high degree of interest. I reply that I write book reviews. Where do you write? Oh Interzone, Vector, LA Review of Books, etc. Publisher glazes over, turns back to discussing book blogs with other contributor. I am left feeling pretty redundant in the whole scheme of things.
    As a critic I am not looking for people to agree with me. I am probably looking for people to respect my arguments, and maybe argue back, but I can stand being out on a limb, I can stand it if not everyone thinks I’m right.
    As a book blogger I am looking for “Likes”. They are the currency of the social media trade, and in today’s climate “Likes” are far more important than arguments.
    That was the point of my description of the current Clarke shortlist, that it is designed to get more likes than debates.


  6. May 12, 2016 1:37 pm

    I agree with what Paul has said, for sure this is a factor. (Publishing remains commercial, after all.) But I think there is also the added dimension of fear, particularly of not being “politically correct,” which prevents people from being more critical. (I am not talking about extremists, rather the group of normal, concerned bloggers/reviewers which I believe still comprise a significant portion, if not a majority, of the sphere.) Rather than go out on a limb and be slagged for a viewpoint that doesn’t chime perfectly with every facet of the -ism under discussion, they leave their opinion light, mild, untouchable. Commenters are left with “Yeah, I want to read that” or “Sounds great,” few openings for further discussion. I love Ian and Kirstyn, but I sometimes cringe hearing them tip-toe around topics that would have been discussed with more frankness just a few years ago, that same fear present in the undertones of their dialogue. For them and others, “Who am I potentially offending?” is a question popping up more and more often…

    Another issue is that of training/talent/experience in the field of reviewing and criticism. Most reviewers and bloggers are producing content from a sofa, not the office. It requires zero education to open a blog compared to the years of study in a university program or self-study learning how to properly structure and deliver an informed opinion. In other words, even the glowing, happy words of positive reviews often lack proper substance or depth. It’s impression based or reactionary, not rooted in a deeper understanding of the art of literature or literary critique. Not to say this approach is right or wrong (there goes that fear), rather that as of 2016 few and far between are the reviewers and critics with the education and skill necessary to actually pull off a negative opinion worth notice.


  7. May 12, 2016 4:02 pm

    Hi Paul :-)

    The retweets, hearts, bells, likes etc that form the currency of social media is a really poor replacement for a proper literary culture. I don’t find much joy in that type of thing either.

    Funnily enough, someone was complaining about the Locus awards and they ranted and ranted and concluded that they didn’t want people to write about the problem, they just wanted their stuff retweeted and for people to nominate them for awards. That’s definitely not what I signed up for when I started writing about stuff on the internet!


  8. May 12, 2016 4:24 pm

    Hi Jesse :-)

    I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the language of social justice is a cudgel that can be wielded by the enlightened and the reactionary with equal ferocity.

    The language is just a language… what matters is the politics behind the language. In genre circles, what passes for political discourse is really nothing more than the same-old-same-old of authors trying to sell books and fans getting annoyed when their faves get dissed.

    Ian and Kirstyn are intelligent people and good interpreters of the field but I did disagree with their suggestion that preferring to read novels was somehow problematic because brown people have less free time that white people. The first half of that analysis is obvious silliness as consumerism is consumerism. The second half is just a bit clueless as free time is a function of social class and genre culture is almost entirely made up of middle-class people. My point being that I disagree… their hearts were in the right place but bollocks :-)

    Careful with the talk of proper training as I don’t have a humanities background. Last time I studied literature was GCSE! You don’t need to be an expert to be a critic, you just need to be able to express yourself clearly and honestly.


  9. PhilRM permalink
    May 12, 2016 8:23 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    I was also disgusted at the way Locus treated Lois Tilton – she was the only reviewer there that I read, for the same reasons as you. Furthermore, if she hadn’t posted about it no one would know why her reviews were no longer appearing in Locus. The only thing I would disagree with in your comment is that I don’t think the attitude of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is something that is particular to genre culture at this moment; I think it’s regrettably much more widespread than that. We no longer have criticism, we have “reviews” – which are only supposed to consist of (non-spoilery) plot summaries and words of praise. One could make the argument (although I’m not sure it’s true, which is why *I’m* not making it) that this trend is more noticeable in genre simply because most of genre criticism has been found in venues outside of the more traditional institutions of literary culture. I first encountered John Clute in the old SciFI Weekly, which was an interesting online magazine until it was snapped up by the SyFy Channel and promptly turned into nothing but promotional puff pieces; I think Clute was ditched after two columns.

    In the midst of writing a comment to Nina Allan on her Clarke Award piece (the gist of which was that, in a year that saw Matthew de Abaitua’s “If Then” and Tom McCarthy’s “Satin Island”, this was a very disappointing shortlist) I discovered that McCarthy’s book wasn’t even submitted for consideration. I’m not sure who that speaks worse of: the award or the publisher.


  10. May 13, 2016 7:22 am

    Hi Phil :-)

    You are absolutely right that this isn’t a genre culture problem so much as a capitalism problem. If you think genre blogging is in bad shape, you should take a look at romance blogging as those bloggers really are being exploited. A while back, bloggers tried to strike in reaction to a reviewer being stalked by an author and some authors compared the withdrawal of unpaid labour to an act of terrorism. Gamergate went after the wrong targets but gaming has a massive problem with reviewing and just this week someone was denounced for giving a highly-anticipated game 6 out of 10.

    I remember SciFi Weekly too and the rapid disappearance of Clute’s column.

    Thing is… You have to pay to submit your work to the Clarke Award and while genre imprints are happy to spend their marketing budget on the award, mainstream publishers aren’t and so you wind up with the admin begging mainstream publishers for their books and very notable gaps, like the one Nina Mentioned.


  11. May 13, 2016 9:22 am

    Jonathan, I had hoped to have included yourself and others like you who take the idea of reviewing seriously enough to invest the time to develop and produce content with substance in the “…self-study learning…” portion of my comment. For sure, a degree in comparative literature is not the only path to professionalism in reviewing. There are some people who just ‘get it,’ or who can figure it out themselves. :)


  12. May 13, 2016 3:08 pm

    I really valued Tilton’s columns without always agreeing with them and I think Locus treated her very very poorly.

    In what respect? From her resignation statement (and follow up) and the statement in response from Locus it is clear that Mark Kelly, the editor of Locus Online, used to just publish her columns verbatim. Quite reasonably, Locus decided to bring the online reviews under the editorship of Jonathan Strahan as well as the print reviews. You can complain about Strahan’s editorial style but all that has happened to Tilton is that she was treated exactly the same as all Locus’s other reviewers. Because of this, she resigned. Fair enough if she didn’t want to work Strahan but that is hardly poor treatment to her.

    I also think that the authors who grave-danced and the fans who joined in are the type of people who have made it impossible to be an honest critic in genre culture.

    Tilton burnt a lot of bridges with a lot of different people. The fact her resignation statement was half deeply disingenuous and half outright untrue didn’t help. (Mark quotes her statement above – “Without consulting or informing me, they had begun deleting material they considered negative from my reviews.” – but this was actually false. All that happened was she received editorial comments.)

    So yeah, have a conversation about Locus’s reviews policy (or indeed the NYRSF where the same issues apply) but there is no reason to drag Tilton throwing her toys out of the pram into it. She isn’t a martyr to honest genre criticism.


  13. May 13, 2016 6:38 pm

    Martin, I disagree… How can authors and fans grave-dancing be part of the problem while editorial policy that explicitly seeks to suppress honest commentary is somehow irrelevant?

    Locus allowed honest commentary from Tilton, then they didn’t. That made things worse.


  14. May 13, 2016 6:41 pm

    Jesse, I’m glad you consider me professional in my approach… I see myself as just another under-socialised arsehole with a blog :-)


  15. May 14, 2016 6:01 am

    How can authors and fans grave-dancing be part of the problem while editorial policy that explicitly seeks to suppress honest commentary is somehow irrelevant?

    The response to her resignation is irrelevant. It just shows that she was widely disliked. The important part (and the whole point of my comment) is that it is ridiculous to spin her resignation as suppressing honest commentary. Locus Online applied no editorial standards to Tilton then the website was brought under the editorial standards of the magazine. No one knows the private editorial correspondence between Tilton and Strahan but we do know she publicly lied about it and I do not believe for a moment that Strahan attempted to force her to be dishonest.

    The wider issue is that Allan is talking about a disappearing critical hinterland. Strahan has been reviews editor since 2002 and that style of editorial approach has been with the US magazines for much longer. The Tilton incident is unrelated to any wider shift in attitude to genre criticism.

    You have to pay to submit your work to the Clarke Award and while genre imprints are happy to spend their marketing budget on the award, mainstream publishers aren’t and so you wind up with the admin begging mainstream publishers for their books and very notable gaps, like the one Nina Mentioned.

    I think it very unlikely the cost of submission (£50 for a single book last time I checked) played any meaningful part in Vintage’s decision not to submit Satin Island. After all, 113 books from 41 publishers were submitted, including:

    The Heart Goes Last — Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury)
    Acts of the Assassins — Richard Beard (Harvill Secker)
    The Well — Catherine Chanter (Canongate Books)
    The Honours — Tim Clare (Canongate Books)
    Slade House — David Mitchell (Sceptre)
    The Chimes — Anna Smaill (Sceptre)
    The Shore — Sarah Taylor (William Heinemann)

    And, of course, Arcadia  by Iain Pears (Faber & Faber) which was shortlisted. I can’t say why McCarthy wasn’t submitted this year but I can say that he has been submitted in previous years. When he was submitted, he wasn’t shortlist and I think it is vanishingly unlikely that had he been submitted this year, he would have been. There will always been books that could have been submitted but aren’t but I’m not sure it is particularly big issue when weighed against the treatment of the books that are submitted.


  16. Gabriel permalink
    June 27, 2016 10:31 pm


    I find Zizek very hit-or-miss, but that’s a great clip. And yes, it often seems to me that the only right many people are interested in fighting about, and for, these days is the right to be targeted by shitty media product.

    But the latter point seems to indicate we’ve gone well past the Starbucks singularity. It’s no longer acceptable to point out that some things are, indeed, extruded media product. One cannot say that The Force Awakens is anti-art, weaponized nostalgia meant only to deprive as many people of their spending money as possible and expect to be treated as anything but a serial crank whose only goal is to spoil everyone’s good time. If people are indeed guilty about crass consumerism anymore, they hide it better, deeper. The real truth to the Age of the Nerd is that it’s message – ostensibly, be proud, be yourself – is really: you can consume what you like and not be guilty, no matter what it is you consume. The critic is antithetical to this. The critic implies by his effort and his existence that some things are better in some ways than others. The critic implies one should think and not simply gorge.

    At least where genre media are concerned, we’ve gone past the need for werguild baked into the price of the text. It’s all good, man. It’s all good.


  17. July 3, 2016 4:37 pm

    Hiya :-)

    Sorry for the slow response, I’ve been pointedly ignoring the blog for a while.

    I think you’re nearly there…

    One concept I came across recently that I’ve found very useful is Lacan’s concept of the Big Other. I don’t usually pay much attention to people like Lacan as their writing is so impenetrable that they trip my charlatan alarm but Lacan argues that we are defined by a kind of radical alterity that encapsulates the grand symbolic order of the world. This Big Other provides both the language we use to define our identities and the things we choose to define ourselves against. The Big Other is the symbolic order of the world and so it is the medium in which our identities grow.

    Your analysis wisely points to the sacred status of the individual and our desire to preserve both our agency and our sense of self. Lacan is an interesting thinker as he recognises that we cannot define ourselves in a vacuum… we need some symbolic order to give our decisions meaning. In other words, despite the rebellious and iconoclastic rhetoric surrounding it, individualism can manifest as a profoundly conservative worldview as a commitment to individualism requires not just a commitment to protecting the self but also a commitment to protecting the symbolic order that produced that sense of self to begin with.

    The critic is a dangerous figure as critics are in the business of questioning and undermining the symbolic order. People want to be able to define themselves through consumption and a good leftist critic undermines that desire not only by pointing out the ugly politics of many mass-market properties, they also question the wisdom of relying on mass-market properties to define you in the first place.

    A good critic makes it harder to express oneself using the tools provided by the corporate Big Other and so good critics challenge not only the symbolic order of ruling elites, they also challenge the identities of people who try to make use of those orders.


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