So this thing came up on Twitter last weekend. A few particularly droll twitterers twittered that they'd twittered about it before, so I'll make no claims as to - God forbid - original thought, or even framing the argument in a way it hasn't been presented before. Make no mistake: I'm sure other people have said these very things, and perhaps in this very way!
So as I was saying, this thing came up on Twitter the other day. Except it didn't really come up on Twitter at all; I guess that was just where I thought out loud about it. It came up here, on Mark Charan Newton's blog - as, I might add, thoughtful and interesting things are often wont to. Mark begins with a disclaimer, saying "Neal [Asher] has been a science fiction writer for several years, and the quality of his books are not in dispute here," and that seems to me symptomatic of the thing that bothers me most about the whole discussion: the fear of stepping on a toe, of infringing on another's territory: of the mincing of words in a space that should be all about words, shouldn't it?
Asher is an influential gentleman, after all. The Technician is sandwiched between China Mieville's Kraken and The Passage by Justin Cronin in the aforementioned end-of-year list (published somewhat sickeningly before November's even upon us - though I suppose the advent calendars are out, and there's no sense fighting a losing battle). Those are some stonking good books - full reviews of each here and here - not to speak of bestselling, and for a bit there I was thinking perhaps I'd give Asher's latest a shot before the year's out. I've got a copy and The Technician's success teased full-blown curiosity from my mild intrigue... why not?
Why not indeed. Because it seems Neal Asher's politics - at least in terms of his opinion as regards climate change, which he gives every impression of believing to be left-wing bullshit - bother me. Of course, the politics, ideologies and prejudices of plenty of my friends and even (dare I say particularly) my family members bother me too. I'm not suddenly going to drop a mate or a mother because they think a thing I don't; a lonely life that would be...
It's one thing to have an opinion. It's another to have an opinion, particularly as regards a hot-button issue like global warming, that you can back up. It's still another thing to perpetuate misinformation as if it were the truth because it fits with your perspective and to do so from a position of considerable influence.
Neal Asher can believe I and the others who share my beliefs a gaggle of liberal twits. That's fine. That wouldn't dissuade me from reading The Technician. But to assert that we're such because he's heard a bit of knock-off knowledge in the pub one night and deemed it absolute truth; to then use his status as a bestselling author in this climate of exponentially more intimate interaction between reader and writer to preach a bunch of potentially very harmful claptrap; and to do so without fact-checking his inherently controversial assertions even in the least... that does the trick, you know?
And I'm forthright enough to say so. Well blow me down.
You hear a lot of talk about objectivity, about consummate professionalism in what is - let's face it - an amateur arena, and I'm sorry, but I simply don't buy into it. Objectivity, as I tend to think I've said before, is a lovely idea, but be you a blogger, an author, a paid critic or an awards judge, who you are plays some part in what you read and do and say and think, what you like and dislike. I wouldn't have it any other way, for myself. When I read a person's thoughts and opinions, I'm buying into that person as much as the thing they're thinking and opining about. And I don't believe I'm alone in that. Particularly in this climate, where you can tweet Brandon Sanderson out of nowhere and HE GIVES YOU THE TIME OF DAY, by God.
I said it on Twitter, I'll say it again: I have to wonder, would I have given Tome of the Undergates a chance if it hadn't been for Sam Sykes seeming such an upstanding fellow on Twitter? Well, maybe. Probably, even; it was right up my street. But the fact that he said a few nice things, or funny things, the fact that from what I could see of him - as perceived through the filter of social media - he seemed a clever guy and a right nice bloke at that made me that much more amenable to cracking the covers of his (needless to say very fine) first novel.
Why, then, does it seem so very unacceptable to take into account the more negative stuff that Twitter and its ilk have opened the door to inasmuch as one absorbs the good? Can those authors employing social networking primarily to publicise and promote really have it both ways? Or is it that because we're so near to reaching out and touching these people who'd have been as good as Gods a decade ago, we're afraid to say a thing that might rub a dude whose books we respect the wrong way?
Don't misunderstand me. The Technician might be a brilliant book. I didn't think it was likely to be when my review copy came through the door a couple months ago - but I'm wrong, let's face it, rather a lot. It sure sounded like a lark. At this point, though, having read Neal Asher wax on about his own inconvenient truth - crucially in the face of the facts (such as they are) - makes me that much less likely to give his bestselling novel more than the time of day.
It could still happen.
If I'm honest, though, it probably won't. Not now.
Tell me: does that make me judgmental? Do I need, mayhap, to be reminded that in the end, the books are all that matters? Perhaps they were a decade ago, but can one really sustain such an isolationist perspective in this climate?