Monday 7 March 2011

Opinionated Speculations | A Dance With Dragons and A Storm of Bloggers

What happened late last week was, some guy - I hear he's pretty popular - announced a provisional release date for a book he's failed to hand over for five years running, and the blogosphere went bananas.

Because of course this date is the real date. Even though the last four have probably seemed pretty real, too. I don't know; I wasn't really paying attention then either. Even though the real date is only four months from now, and the manuscript still isn't finished, and even if it were, it's the length of three or four normal novels, and how something like that goes into one end of the publishing machine and comes out the other so speedily without some serious shortcuts being taken is a feat beyond my powers of imagination.

I'm talking about the new Haruki Murakami, of course: IQ84, coming this Autumn from Harvill Secker. And about damn time, too!

Ach, but I wish I were.

Not that I've any reservations at all about the quality of A Song of Ice and Fire, the latest volume of which - A Dance With Dragons (but you all knew that) - is what I'm actually using as a platform from which to rant atop today. Of George R. R. Martin's back-catalogue I've only read Fevre Dream and the first few pages of the very first book in said saga; enough nonetheless to know I'll surely adore A Song of Ice and Fire whenever I can find the time to get properly stuck in.

Anyway. As I was saying, after half a decade of holding pattern, dear Mr Martin announced on his blog, Not A Blog, that A Dance With Dragons would be coming out July 12th, 2011. Thereafter, the blogosphere imploded. And in a way I think bears some discussion, before we all move on to the next Next Big Thing.

Now I keep up with The Wertzone and Pornokitsch and A Dribble of Ink and all my favourite blogs via an RSS reader: used to be it was Feed Reader, but Newz Crawler has been much better behaved when handling the massive backlog of posts I manage to rack up every week. So on the day of the re-announcement aforementioned, I'm scrolling through my unread folder in Newz Crawler, and what do I see but 40-odd reiterations of what might as well have been a form letter?

George R. R. Martin Sets A Date to Dance With Dragons

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS Release Date Announced

Release Date For George R. R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons"!

A Dance With Dragons Coming July 12th, Honest It Is

...and so on.

I'm sure you can all imagine. We look at a lot of the same blogs, I would wager. And I'm perfectly happy with the blogs I do follow. But this sort of thing comes up far too often, and it really rubs me the wrong way.

A few of the guilty parties, I can sympathise with. There's the urge to be "first" with big news; I've done as much myself, on those rare occasions I'm on the ball enough to get in before the last whistle for breaking news sounds. There's the guaranteed bump in traffic that comes with even the sort of tangential mention of GRRM that there's been in this post. And there is of course the desire to inform one's audience.

That lattermost rationale... to a point, I can get behind it. The others, no; not really at all, I'm afraid. But even then, we're none of us - Pat perhaps excluded - io9s or Suduvus or even SF Signals. However many folks we might hope to reach, we can hardly cast a net as far and as wide as the aforementioned sites. And I think it's a reasonable presumption to make, that those of you reading this will also be hitting up io9 every few hours. Certainly more often than you are The Speculative Scotsman.

And I'm just fine with that. I update once or occasionally twice a day. In that timeframe io9 with its paid specialist staff will have put together more than 25 tidbits to entertain or inform you. So by the time I'd heard the news, thought about it long enough to have something to say, and found the time to say it, it would already have been - had I done so - old news. And old news, by its very definition, is hardly even news any more.

So what's the fucking point?

Is my point.

As far as I can see it, The Point is to offer a different - dare I say original - perspective on those announcements and developments one's readers might have an inkling of an interest it. We're not newshounds, however much we might play in a similar sandpit - though of course some bloggers have a better nose for news than others (here's looking at you, your Wertness) - and to simply repeat and repeat and REPEAT a certain few sentences is not. Blogging.

At least not as it I believe should be. Not from where I'm sitting.

Let me be clear here: I'm not calling out every blogger who blogged about the release date of A Dance With Dragons being announced. Far from it. In point of fact several of the blog posts resulting from the release of the release date - and that's all it was, in the end: a veritable Russian doll of teasing - were priceless:

Not every blogger, then. And not just those bloggers, either; if I've missed your erudite rebuttal I'm sorry, Newz Crawler and I are still playing catch-up. But those bloggers who couldn't even care to stop themselves long enough to offer a particular perspective on the news - and FYI, "YAY!!!" is not the sort of opinion I mean here - exactly what have they achieved except to waste your time and mine, not to mention their own?

I love bloggers. And there are a lot of bloggers I hold in the sort of esteem no-one writing for io9 gets from me - that sort of reporting is all very BBC News ticker, and though it has its place, I don't know that it's a particularly personable one. That's why I read blogs as well as news aggregators. For personalities. For perspectives. Not for facts. And certainly not for the same fact, forty times over.

Nobody did, but if you ask me, we either we need to shape up, get ourselves some actual opinions to go alongside all the bloody press releases, or learn our place, and steer clear of those sorts of posts. I tend to think the blogosphere would be a better entity either way.


I really do want to know. Should bloggers be blogging about news, do you think? Or would our time be better spent doing something more... productive?


Also: no doubt A Dance With Dragons will be totally effin' sweet, but you guys really need to get some IQ84 love on the go too.


  1. And what about the poor soul who only follows one blog - and that turns out to be the one who skips the news? Not everyone has time to keep up with half a dozen sites unfortunately. The release of A Dance with Dragons is huge news in the fantasy world, so I completely understand why multiple sites want to report on it. Just scroll by the multiple stories in your feed reader!

  2. Blog about whatever the hell you want. Blogs should be about your personal taste, not about what is right or wrong, what will bring in readers, etc. You blog about what interests you. If you're interested in news, then blog about news.

  3. Niall, I agree completely with what you say here, and it's certainly not a one-off situation. There are many bloggers that do have something genuine to say about the release other than "OMFG on 12/7/11 I can haz A Dance with Dragons!!!". But then there are plenty that say just that, with a small variety in the way they say it. It gets old and boring very quickly.

    It's a shame that every blog (and it happens to all of us) feel they have to spread some nugget of information that they know has been read a jazillion times from sources that garner more than a few hundred hits a day, just to get another couple of hundred hits or so.

    But then why are people that do this all the time still blogging? Probably to get free books and plenty of hits, and all without any real content.

    Fuck 'em. Time to thin out my google reader...

  4. By all mean, blog about news. I have; and I'll continue to. But how is copying and pasting a story from another blog blogging? Is what I want to know.

    At best it's a free post.

    At worst it's something more sinister: pimping for hits, or trolling out key search terms for Google and the like to latch onto. Which rampant shark-jumping I feel rather demeans us bloggers.

  5. You know what, till I read this I had no idea the new one has a new date...just goes to show how much attention I was paying to blogosphere last week!

    I agree - blog whatever you like. Blogs should reflect personal taste and such and it's fun to see how wide tastes vary. Only occasionally do I succumb to PR on MFB - and that's usually because I am being a geek and want to share it. I'd much rather blog about books that my team and I have read or events that we were lucky to attend or even pretty books we've seen. Is that fickle?

  6. I'm with S.M.D. I can't prove this, but if any current blogger is like me (and I think they're many), they entered the fantasy blogging game because of A Dance with Dragons or at least with a reason associated with A Song of Ice and Fire. So, when news like this hits, it's going to be exciting...not to mention, it's the news we've been waiting on since we started scouring the internet for news relating to the GRRM.

  7. My blog is about music-streaming service Spotify, for which there are usually a least a dozen or so news stories each day. I use twitter to retweet what I regard as interesting or useful news, but keep my blog for features, articles and editorial. My blog has a twitter widget for the news so I don't see any point in repeating a news story (a few other Spotify blogs do just that which I think is kinda pointless and for the reasons you mention above).

    One guy called me out on it once, saying "you're the top Spotify blog but you didn't mention the XYZ news story" - I pointed him to the tweets, saying: "you wan't news? that's what Twitter's for, not blogs."

    So, basically I agree with your points. I follow a lot of Android blogs and they're notoriously bad for repeating the same story. You just need to put up with it or unsubscribe; at least a decent RSS reader lets you scan the headings and mass "mark as read".

  8. Completely agree with the earlier comments - everyone should blog what they want to blog. But I also really, really like Afront's approach to using different channels.... It is one I suspect the readers appreciate.

    Twitter's a very nice way to share other people's content. Blogs are a very nice way of creating your own.

    That said, I have some sympathy to people that blogged about GRRM's latest due date. I mean, it is a 7 year event. And one that everyone has an opinion on - even if said opinion is "I'm going to ignore it".

  9. This is VERY well put and exactly the reason why I chose not to blog about it. This news was WAY bigger than stuff we normally report on and was reported on the big sites too. When I saw that my blogroll was almost entirely about this subject I got annoyed too. In fact, I'd wager that only a couple of people needed to chime in. Wert, because he's the most knowledgeable (to me anyways)...and I flat out LOVED Amanda's Rickrolling-style post. Loved that.

    It was ridiculous for everyone to report on something that was going to be HUGE news in the blogosphere, resulting the same story everywhere. I agree with everything you said here sir. Well posted!

    Also, I am made of WANT for that Murakami book man! I didn't even know that was coming out!

  10. What was slightly odd was that on my blogroll exactly other two bloggers had also mentioned it on the day: Graeme and Aidan (and later Amanda's entertaining post). And that was it. I actually thought the blogosphere was self-aware of this point and had chosen not to go into it in detail as so many other sites already had.

    As for myself, for better or worse I'm regarded as something of an ASoIaF newshound, since I've kept track (Cthulu help me) of the ADWD publication situation/history/Groundhog Day for the past four or five years or so, so me not covering it wouldn't make much sense. However, as you say, I did try to delve into the situation a little deeper rather than repost the news with no further comment. And also move onto another subject instead of dwelling on it ad infinitum, which is what forums are better for.

  11. Oh I agree Niall, it's why I usually don't post news or press releases unless I've got something to say about them. But like Seak and S.M.D. Martin was the reason I discovered the book blogging community over a year ago and without him I wouldn't be here today, so I get why people are going all gaga over ADWD :)

  12. I'll freely admit that I was a hypocrite here. Barring a few blogs that actually manage to break the news (Wert, etc), I generally find reposted messages with no commentary obnoxious, to say the least. It's a direction I never wanted to go in myself, and I tried to cut out whatever tendencies I had towards it by ending those darned Up and Coming posts. And yet I did exactly what I'm complaining about for A Dance with Dragons. Really, I've no excuse beyond the fact that for quite a few readers - myself most certainly included - ADWD is such groundbreaking news that the urge to shout it from the rooftops was irresistible, professionalism be damned. More the signal of an approaching era ( cool reading) than a publication date.

    Just to nitpick, not everyone does go to Suvudu or Io9 or what have you. Personally, I get my genre news from blogs, forums, and the occasional newsletter from smaller presses. I probably would enjoy Io9's content, but had the misfortune of the first thing I saw of them being their misrepresentation of Morgan. After mocking that episode on my blog, I felt kind of hypocritical going back and haven't done so.

    And, as you may've guessed, I'm looking out for IQ84 too.

    (From the guy who used to comment as "The Evil Hat" but now uses a grown up name)

  13. Ahh...I agree.

    I saw it first in an email from the Tor newsletter. Then I got to the RSS reader and saw the same announcement reaeated near a dozen times. I knew it was coming - it's big news, and pretty much all of us are fans of the series, so it's big news that we care about. But I had the same reaction about so many people blogging about it (and this happens fairly often).

    So, I chose not to blog about it...barely. I really wanted to blog half tongue-in-cheek about how I didn't care about the release. I mean yes, I'm excited, but years ago (during the wait for AFFC) I said I wouldn't read any more of this series until the whole series was released. And I find that now I don't worry so much about it taking a long time - there are lots of other good books to read while I wait.

    But, the simple truth is that pretty much all of us got into this gig because we are fans and the blog is an extention of that fandom. So, I'll blog about news that excites me. So will Aidan, and Wert and Pat and Graeme and ... And often it overlaps because we all like pretty similar things. To that, while it may be annoying on occaision, I have no problem because we're all a bunch of fans.

    though I agree - insert some thoughts, reactions, opinion, etc. Just don't cut and paste a publicity statement or author announcement. Give me more.

  14. I agree pretty much entirely with Neth. It's not so much that many people posted, but that many people posted without adding anything of their own, really. Which is why I skipped it - it may be massive news for fantasy, but I've not read any of the novels, yet, so I knew I couldn't add anything to the discussion save saying I hadn't read any of Martin's stuff. Which is thoroughly uninteresting when Tor, Aidan, et al, have written about it already.

  15. I have waited a long time for this book to see were the story line would go. It has been worth the wait. this is a good series with many characters that you want to follow to find out more of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and again cannot wait for the next one.