31 December 2012

Last of 2012's Link Sausages

  • Amazon recently "banned" authors from reviewing books in their own "genres". Naturally, there's a backlash. What the problem really points out, more than anything else, is the idiocy of "genre" as a measure of anything. First, consider the "occasional" writer; does this policy mean that Harlan Ellison would be forever banned from writing a review of a mystery, simply because he wrote a handful (not to mention his early street-life-in-New-York works)? What about pseudonymous works? Etc., etc., etc.

    Second, and more disturbingly, who gets to define those categories? If one uses Margaret Atwood's definitions, it's not science fiction without space-borne talking squid and/or rocketships... meaning that neither 1984 nor The Left Hand of Darkness is science fiction. If we go by imprint, that means that The Sparrow and Children of God don't qualify as science fiction... and Dr Russell has been writing exclusively in other "genres" since the mid-1990s anyway.

    No, this is about "marketing integrity and reliability." Leaving aside for the moment that the very concept of integrity or reliability in marketing is an oxymoron of the class "honest politician" and "civil war," the obvious target of the policy is sockpuppetry and circle-jerk reviewing. The problem is not suppression of the objective (which is easily managed through use of pseudonyms, particularly if an author writes under a pseudonym), but that the policy is the equivalent of banning the sale of permanent felt-tip markers because there's a graffiti problem in some public restrooms. I've come to expect precisely that kind of overreaction and mistargetted "solution" from "numbers-driven" marketing gurus.

  • Then there's the recent fall in "rom-com" box office results. Yes, there's a strong relationship to the preceding item: The dominance of post hoc marketing strategies over content... and the corollary consequences when those post hoc marketing strategies begin to determine content. Dammit, where are those talking space squid? We can't sell a science-fiction novel without space squid! (Substitute "meet cute" for "space squid" and you'll see what I mean.)
  • All of which leads into some truly late-breaking musings on why statistical analysis of book buying might stifle future authors. Leaving aside the complete misunderstanding of what authors are (no author is a professional — there are no licensing requirements, no regulation, no minimum standards of competence, no minimum educational standards, and entry to the field is not judged solely by current licensed practitioners in the field), and leaving aside the undisclosed conflict of interest (ownership of the G&M by the most-evil and least-author-friendly niche-monopolist publishing empire in the Western Hemisphere... that has more than once demanded substantive changes in scholarly works to blunt criticism), the article itself is so internally inconsistent that I don't know where to begin. Nonetheless, because it's in the G&M, it's going to be given serious consideration. Then again, any author who has been forced to adopt a pseudonym over the last half-century because he/she had previously written too many books whose sales did not meet expectations already knows this!

    The hidden assumption in the article — and it's a truly dangerous one — is the primacy of financial capital and initial positions in determining the proper course of business. That is, those who already have "excess capital" are entitled — as a matter of natural right — to rents on the use of that capital... even when the purpose of that use of capital is as a mechanism for a greater, noneconomic good ("to promote the advance of the useful arts and sciences..."). It is roughly the physics equivalent of ignoring all other forces and trying to explain the entire universe as a consequence of gravitational attraction! One can do so only by ignoring a helluva lot, explaining away a helluva lot, and presuming that the position as it exists at any time t is not only "just" and "correct," but the actual initial position of the universe.

  • After a couple of paragraphs, a friend dumps on one of the reasons that I won't be seeing Les Miz (and I've already seen it on stage and read the novel). Sadly, it reminds me a great deal of an amusing "argument" I had with the elder remora when he was reading that book by Flaubert for a history class: We couldn't agree on whether its title should be Madame Bovine (since the female characters tended to be as passive, stupid, and unaware of things as a cow, once one got outside their momentary obsessions) or Madame Ovary (because regardless of what was — or was not — on the page, it was being interpreted as a feminist/protofeminist text with immense political ramifications). One might argue that this is strongly related to the "rom-com" problem noted above... and one would be right. To remain obstinately francophone (is there any other kind of francophone?) for a bit, Voltaire wrote an interesting little parable about how a traveller prevents a vengeful angel from destroying a "wicked" city by creating a beautiful statue from both gems and precious metals and baser materials, thereby demonstrating that it's the whole and not the individual elements of a work of art (or a people or society) that matter. That required actual attention to the materials and skill, though; and there were still those gems and precious metals as part of the materials...