It’s been an interesting day in the world of genre fiction. For those of you who aren’t plugged in to that particular social media and niche news corner of the internet, basically Christopher Priest (a much-respected and very talented SF writer) has attacked a number of his colleagues and a literature award of some esteem over the quality of nominees.
You might say that this shows just how little actually happens in the world of SF, but really this was something to behold (it even made the Guardian). Some of his criticism is downright personal, and honestly left me dumbstruck. Take the treatment that poor Charles Stross’ novel gets:
“It is indefensible that a novel like Charles Stross’s Rule 34 (Orbit) should be given apparent credibility by an appearance in the Clarke shortlist. Stross writes like an internet puppy: energetically, egotistically, sometimes amusingly, sometimes affectingly, but always irritatingly, and goes on being energetic and egotistical and amusing for far too long.“
Which I would say is below the belt. Thankfully, Mr Stross has one heck of sense of humour, and responded with this piece of Twitter-brilliance:
I want “Stross writes like an internet puppy — Christopher Priest” on my next book cover!
— Charles Stross (@cstross) March 28, 2012
But on a serious note, there is a problem with Priest’s web-ranting. It’s not that he’s particularly nasty or insulting, it’s that he goes on to call for extreme solutions. Specifically, he says:
“The present panel of judges should be fired, or forced to resign, immediately… These people have proved themselves incompetent as judges, and should not be allowed to have any more say about or influence on the Arthur C. Clarke Award.“
He wants them sacked. Because he doesn’t like the books they picked. Now, I haven’t read any of the nominees (though I have read one of Priest’s suggested alternatives- Lavie Tidhar’s “Osama”). If I had, it may be that I agreed with Priest’s opinion of them (though I wouldn’t express it like that- I am not devoid of tact). The problem is not hisopinion, it’s the fact that he seems to think that his opinion is scripture. That people should be removed from their post because people disagreed with him. I said I was tactful, but frankly that is nothing short of ego-maniacal.
Last year there was another controversy in the genre world, over another literature award. It was, of course, the British Fantasy Awards. This was a slightly more “serious” kerfuffle- serious in that it wasn’t one person losing the plot, but rather a defect in the rules and process. If you want a summary of what went on, you can find it here, but in brief there was a potential conflict of interest with judges.
As a result, author Sam Stone faced frankly embarrassing levels of criticism and sadly felt she had no choice but to return her award. But it did lead to a complete overhaul of the awards’ rules and process, leaving the BFS as a better organisation (in my opinion).
That is not the same as the present issue. That was a genuine problem of perceived conflict of interest, which necessitated a structural rule change (if not the personal animosity that regretfully seemed to come along with it). What Christopher Priest is trying to do, it seems, is enforce his opinion as law.
And, in my opinion at least, that is where it stops being funny.