Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Islands in an Archipelago

If you consider yourself a "fan" of science and fantasy fiction, or are a professional in the SFF publishing industry, then by you have probably read--or at least heard of--the recent hubbub surrounding Renay's essay in Strange Horizons. The gist of the essay, if I understand it correctly, is the notion that the barriers separating fans from authors are crumbling, that this is a direct result of the commodification of fan writing (my word, not Renay's), and that more is lost than gained from this development. For the record, it's an interesting and thought-provoking article. I do not understand why tit would make you angry, upset or--god forbid--entice you to send an angry email full of sexual violence triggers, as someone apparently has done.

That said, let me say, straight out, that I do not agree with Renay. I read it as a "back to Eden" argument based on (what I consider to be) the faulty premise that this commodification is something new, that it is necessarily "bad" and that, even if it were, that there is some state of antediluvian paradise to return to. I don't see a fundamental problem with author/blogger interactions, and welcome them on this site.

That said, let me also say, straight out, that I completely agree with Renay. Like Justin Langdon, I read it not as a call for authors to stay out of critical online discussions of their work, but to strongly consider, before engaging, whether the type of engagement they are considering is in anyone's best interests--including their own. If authors want to respond, they can do so on their own blogs or elsewhere--at their own peril, of course.

"Wait, hold on--didn't you just say you DIDN'T AGREE?! How can both of those things be true?"

I did, indeed. If you're confused, let me explain: I've just spent the last two months in Indonesia, which as you might should know is not only the fourth largest country in the world, but a massive archipelago of islands that share a lot of culture, but are also all distinct in numerous ways. Because interactions across islands were limited by geography until fairly recently, languages, foods, customary laws, marriage rituals and even conceptions of time vary considerably more than you typically find in countries where regions form a contiguous landmass.

So I thought of Indonesia and it struck me: every blog is an island in the archipelago of criticism. We share a lot--and in the age of the internets, we share increasingly more. But we all have our own customs and "cultures." This is fine. This is good, even. Diversity is healthy. We can embrace this and be better for it.

With regards this site, let me be upfront (and this time I'm serious) and say that I, and we, welcome author interaction. Here, on twitter, elsewhere. I'll take the small percentage of negative interactions as the price for the much larger percentage of interesting interactions. That's me, that's us, that's our culture and this is our island. Tourists welcome.

With regards other sites and other ways of doing things, let me also be upfront (serious again) and say that this does not bother me in the slightest. I get why bloggers would want their islands to be "safe spaces" for fans to discuss work critically without imperious authorial intervention, and why bloggers would respond harshly to this kind of thing. I understand why Ana from The Book Smugglers was irked by Ben Aaronovitch's entry into discussion of her review of his books. That blog has a specific culture, and he blundered into it like old colonial wearing a pith hat riding a rickshaw.

"Wait, hold on--ARRRG, you're doing it again! You're not taking a clear position!!"

That's right, I'm not. Because I don't live on that island; I just visit. Looking at that interaction, sure, I would have done things differently. If I were Ben, I would have reframed that comment as "this is what I intended," rather than "this is the correct interpretation." If I were Ana, I probably would have said the same thing but in less strident tone. But hey--you know what? That's not my island! I don't have--or want--the right to impose my cultural assumptions on anyone else. I can, however, decide whether I want to visit that island again...and you know what? I do.

I like the fact that there are other reviewers out there doing things differently. Aidan Moher, Liz Bourke, Ian Sales, Jonathan McCalmont, Justin Langdon, Ria from Bibliotropic, Stefan Raets and all the rest--I don't go to these people to read the same old shit I'm slingin'. I visit their islands because their unique perspectives and approaches help me think more critically about the genre. Trust me, it's more fun that way.

I guess that leaves me to wonder: does this make me a fan blogger or an industry blogger? I don't know...I'm just trying to keep these beaches clean and make sure there's something worth visiting for.

...like grilled seafood.

Great, now I'm hungry...