Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Opinionated Speculations: On The Polity of Politics

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?

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Mark's post is a systematic rebuttal of a blog post written by Neal Asher - author of (among many other novels) The Technician, one of Amazon UK's top ten bestselling SF&F books throughout 2010. Asher, as Mark asserted, "wishes to discredit Global Warming." And you know, it really seems he does. His argument is here, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to Mark for caring to demonstrate its inadequacies; I for one applaud the fellow.

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?


  1. I don't know, to be honest, Niall.

    I do, however, sometimes base my purchases on an author rather than their popularity. Jim C. Hines, in my opinion, does a lot to raise awareness of a good number of issues (The big three for him seem to be Autism, Rape and Diabetes). On the flipside, we have authors like Orson Scott Card and Terry Goodkind who perhaps forget their position and spout a load of BS. I do have some Goodkind, but I got them before I learnt of him.

    I won't buy an Orson Scott Card book because I find his views are reprehensible. I won't buy a Goodkind book because I think he's an arse.

    Look at Elizabeth Moon - Earlier this year she made a comment/post about the Islamic community centre they're planning in NYC, and the result was she was removed as a guest of honor at a Feminist sci-fi show (Now there's a scary thought), and I think a number of readers have lost "faith" in her.

    At the end of the day, though, authors are only people and they will have their own views. I believe there's a difference between what should be said and what shouldn't be said, and a good number get that mix wrong. But even if they do say something wrong, a majority of their readers will likely not know because they don't follow what that author says, so whether they spew BS or rainbows, most people won't care.

  2. "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."

    Hear, hear! I would change "large" instead of "some" and would agree 100%.

  3. I had a totally brilliant comment and then lost everything, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

    I do the same thing. I'm not all that political, although I've certainly got my own views. I'm not an arguer so I don't tend to voice my opinions all that much as I think effort expended arguing about something that is purely opinion could be better spent elsewhere, not to mention that any set of facts in the world can be skewed to support multiple sides of any argument.

    I do really dislike anyone with a gajillion fans and a microphone or keyboard thinking that gives them the right to lecture anyone about anything, or that their opinion has any more value than mine, just because they're famous. I don't care if it's just something as innocuous as blue being better than green, that's not why I'm a fan of the actor/writer/singer.

    It is a fine line to toe, especially for people who use a certain medium to promote what they do. I do feel that if you've got, say, a blog to promote yourself and your product, it should be kept separate from any opinion-type thing, because really one has nothing to do with the other.

    I do understand that they have opinions, and I do understand the need to make opinions known, but is it really fair to fans to be pushing an agenda some might find unacceptable when the reason for the fans to be looking up or listening to the person anyway is something else altogether?

    Or is it better for fans to know the type of person they're supporting?

    I only know that I tend to not pay attention to, especially, political views of other people or I'd drive myself crazy.

    Of course that's just my opinion.

  4. Interesting thoughts, many of which I'd been having after reading Mark's post myself (and before, if truth be told, Asher's been doing this for quite some time now).

    I get conflicted about this because I had no great desire to read Ashers's stuff even before I was aware of his ... odd ... politics. I find it too easy to sneer at him, and (this is the bit I dislike myself for thinking) treat it like gravy for my decision not to read Asher's books. I don't give him the same courtesy that I do, say, H.P.Lovecraft, Yukio Mishima or Knut Hamson (not read him, but intend to at some point).

    Or to give a better example, I persist in reading Cory Doctorow's novels, despite me consistently finding them to be not so well written and full of irritating proselytising. And this all because I think he seems to be a good guy.

    So, we, aye. My point. Yes, I sympathise, sir!

    Oh, and @madhoss, I like your approach and wish that I had your level of self-control. Kudos! As a general point, most admirable. However, on the particular (climate change) for me, what is most annoying with Asher and his ilk is that they (and I wonder what they make of relativism in other spheres?) are forcing people to seek balance where there is none to be had. With our current understanding of the science, Climate Change is a fact. You may have differing opinions on how to deal with it - and, I suppose - extent of consequences, but the debate is massively distorted by too many ill-informed and misleading commentators, such as Neal Asher.

    *end rambly-baws*

    Cheers, Richard

  5. There are consequences for unfavorable opinions. There even worse consequences for unfavorable opinions based on lies, misinformation, etc. And there are even worse than worse consequences for using one's influence to manipulate people with lies and misinformation.

    At least, that's how I see it. In my case, I will stop buying books by people who I vehemently disagree with (new books, that is; I don't send royalties or review books by such people). That's just what you have to deal with. I'm not willing to support homophobia with my money or my voice. If you want to be a homophobe, that's nice and you can do it, but I don't have to support you and your lifestyle anymore than you have to support my pro-gay one.

    That's me. I think some folks are a little more open about things, but I do draw the line on certain kinds of ideological positions. It's the same rational I am using for leaving my cell service carrier. They're donating to organizations that go against everything I stand for, and using the money I give them to do it. I'm not having any of that...

  6. Neal Asher is full of sh*t.

    At least where climate science is concerned.

    He backs up his rant on the subject, railing against the leftish conspiracy with outdated, over turned, climate change denial conkers and an appeal to the crazy Lord Monckton of all blokes - and then mutters in his own cup saying he can't be arsed beyond that.

    Fine. Who cares in the end; you could lead Neal Asher apparently to a trough of knowledge on the subject and he'd refuse a drink on the grounds that liberal pinko commies had spiked the water supply somewhere upstream.

    Yet, this won't stop me from buying his book if I had any interest in it. Luckily for me, I don't.

    But I'd not choose to share a pint with the raving looney or his pal Monckton even if Neal or the viscount were buying.

    And *that* I think is what is so confusing about authors who are arseholes online coupled with social media. With blogs and tweets and emailed interviews up the hockey stick, it feels like we're all sitting at the same beery table. So we get weirded out when one of them starts raving about rounding up Muslims to put into camps, crows that climate change is a vast global conspiracy by greens and lefties, pukes on our shoes, or tries to make a leering pass at our sister/wife/husband/self.

    It's an illusion. Don't be fooled. We're not really hanging out even if we're trading quips and comments online. We don't have to like one another, or even agree, to respect what we do with our words. Write a book, type an essay, review a novel - stand by your points and we should measure contribution by this yardstick alone. Oh, it helps to be polite and personable but it shouldn't be so surprising that many of us may well fall short in the personality (or even sanity) portion of the examination.

    I can live with that.


  7. Personally, I wouldn't buy a book from someone whose views I found reprehensible, in the same way I don't buy products from companies whose practices I don't agree with. But I don't go out of my way to "check up" on authors before I buy their books. I'd been reading Orson Scott Card quite happily for many years before I found out he was a homophobic prick.

    I guess the social networking etc. is going to make it more likely that we learn things we're not happy about.

    Reading books is personal thing, and rightly or wrongly readers often feel a sort of connection with an author after having spent so much time and invested emotional energy in their world - to the extent that it can almost feel like a betrayal or sorts, or at least embarrassing, to learn that the person who produced the object in your hands (and, once read, in your mind) has ethical or political views in opposition to your own.

    But I don't think that books have special status that removes them from the normal sphere of things, or that people who have talent in writing are in some way exempt from normal public scrutiny. Not that we should dig through their private lives, but if they are happy to espouse views on a public forum then they are opening themselves to public scrutiny. There will be consequences when authors break the fourth (fifth?) wall.

    To be honest, I'm tending to stay away from the blogs etc of authors I like as I find it distracts from my experience of reading their book - it somehow impedes my suspension of disbelief. But that's another discussion I guess.