The Links of Locke Lamora

We interrupt this Vector blog to bring you a brief post about Strange Horizons. For anyone who hasn’t been following Lamoragate, here’s a recap:

1. A review

2. A response

3. A second response

4. The reviewer’s response to the first response

5. A rant

6. The author comments

7. A response to the rant

8. A meta-response (possibly)

9. Infamy!

10. A response that is longer than all the other responses put together

(UPDATED) 11. Another response by the author of the first response, which is a response to the responses to that response

(FURTHER UPDATED) 12. Now all responses until the end (and none more meta)

I think that’s the lot. Let me know if I’ve missed any.

A couple of comments on the original EmCit thread aside, I’ve been holding off making any kind of a public statement about this, since I’m the guy that accepted and edited the original review. But I figure there are a few points worth noting.

One: there was no intent to cause controversy by publishing the review, and no intent to criticise specific individuals.

Two: Perhaps I have an unusually thick skin, but it simply never occurred to me that anyone would read the statement in this review about lies and bribes as anything other than hyperbole. Because whatever grains of truth there are underlying it, to me it’s clearly an exaggeration to the point of absurdity. I don’t think it’s just blind optimism to believe that these days, most sf reviewers are working to their own version of the protocol of excessive candour; or to think that in general sf criticism, online and off, formal and informal, is as healthy as it’s ever been; nor to be sceptical of the idea that there are widespread assumptions to the contrary that this review is going to reinforce.

Three: For reviewers it can certainly be challenging to do what Clute’s called “swab the decks”; to bring an independent, honest perspective to–or to not be a little suspicious of–a book that has been actively hyped, or even just widely praised. I know the feeling, whether reviewing a high-profile title, or a book edited by a friend. But it’s something that we have to do, as part of earning the reader’s trust, so I think it’s a subject worth talking about.

And four: ironically, I’m currently reading The Lies of Locke Lamora myself, and quite enjoying it.


17 thoughts on “The Links of Locke Lamora

  1. The interesting thing for me is that the offending paragraph isn’t so much about other people as much as it is about me – “Here’s the baggage I’m bringing to my reading of the book.” I certainly *tried* to bring an open mind to the book and fairly judge it on its merits.

    ps. Moondust = ++good

  2. I have to say, I’m very uncomfortable about drawing any more attention to this whole thing. It strikes me as being counterproductive. I would like to see some intelligent and thoughtful discussion about how hype and controversy affect reviewers, but I don’t think this is the context to be able to constructively do that in.

    It seems to me that controversy of this sort affects reviewers in a similar way to marketing hype, so link round-ups like this are part of the problem, and don’t create an appropriate atmosphere for discussing potential solutions. I actually hadn’t even heard of The Lies of Locke Lamora before I read Chance’s review, and now most of what I know about it is the controversy, which of course is going to affect how I approach and read it (if I decide to read it at all).

    I’m still thinking about how what I know of a book and what context I read it in affect my responses to it and trying to explore some of the factors that make my reading experiences positive or negative ones. That’s what I was doing with my latest blog post on Beyond Black. It’s what I was doing in this post about reading a particular short story in two separate contexts. I have some thoughts about how hype/controversy affects my readings of books, but I’m reluctant to post them now, partly because they’re not fully formed yet, but partly because I think they’ll get lost in the drama, and it’s a serious issue that I don’t want to get lost.

  3. link round-ups like this are part of the problem, and don’t create an appropriate atmosphere for discussing potential solutions.

    Point taken–as you know, I originally didn’t feel the need to comment–but I’m not sure how much good ignoring it does, either, because you end up with people reacting to assumptions based on guesses based on speculation. I think it’s unlikely this is going to piss anyone off more than they’re already pissed off; but even if it does, at least this way they won’t have to try to read my mind.

    And for what it’s worth, I think Hal Duncan’s post is a pretty good start on the serious discussion.

  4. Geneva: yeah. One of the reasons I don’t blog about sf books much is because writing reviews takes me so much time. One way to rephrase (I hope inoffensively) what I was trying to say on Monday is that, for me, reviewing requires me to be able to create my own response to the work under consideration, my own language in which to address it. (The great argument in favour of what Clute does as a critic is that you’re always, unarguably, in his linguistic terrain. He refuses the easiness of taking the book on any terms except his own.) The penumbra of…stuff surrounding any book has to be got through in order for you to formulate your own response to it. Sometimes the penumbra gets just too thick (heavy?). I don’t think I’d ever be able to read, eg, Touched by Venom for review because there’s still too much *noise* around it. And one of the nice things about Hal Duncan’s post linked to above is that he acknowledges that the noise can make it difficult for the author as well. One of these days (I promise) I’ll do a Vector column riffing on that George-Steiner-essay-whose-title-I-forget about the intimacy and silence required in good reading. As a field, we’re not very good at silence – sf might be defined, unlike fantasy, as the genre of overexplanation – and the blogospheric scene has intensified that enormously.

    I’m glad, though, that Niall has posted these links so that posterity has them in one place. And I have to say, any title with a quasi-pun like that gets my vote :)

  5. I can be as fascinated by the whole meta-discussion of books and fans and fandom as I can be by books themselves, so while I’m not enjoying reading all the hoohah, exactly, I’m interested to see the ways in which something which seemed so unremarkable to the writer and editor can be seen differently by so many other people. A link round-up like this might be more suited to something like, say, Metafandom instead, if you want to keep the blog more book-focused. Or Niall needs to set himself up a Strange Horizons editorial blog :)

    Besides, in the blog-world everything moves fast – there’s already some interesting discussions going on, and I think some drama like this can spark off some interesting thoughts, much like in the Tiptree/fanfic discussions or the recent drama in the Harry Potter fandom communities.

  6. I too took the opening graf as hyperbole. The only place I tripped and reread, trying to tease out meaning, was in the apparently contradictory statements: 1, that three-quarters of the book were lost, but 2: the ending was okay; maybe my inability to comprehend at first was Summer Boiled Brain Syndrome, but it seemed to me that what was meant was, the last three quarters were read because of reviewer’s duty to read the entire book before commenting–and subsequently she discovered that the ending worked okay. But she wouldn’t have read that far if she hadn’t been tapped to write the review.

    I did not know about the viral thing, so that level of meaning escaped me.

    What does interest me is not further thumping on a single reviewer, but discussion on what a review is supposed to do, as opposed to criticism, and just where the “line” not to be crossed lies when everyone in the genre seems to have at least met someone else, or sold to someone who also writes (many writers now wearing editor hats as well as writer hats), or attended a party at someone’s house. The genre-writing world is pretty small, and the current lightning and thunder reminds me very much of the writing world in Britain in the 1890s when everyone knew everyone else at least from parties, and they constantly engaged in dueling magazines, many of which ran for five issues and then vanished. But the letters and review sections were a-boil with either fulsome praise or scabrous sarcasm.

    Last observation: it’s becomes an especially vexed question when writer A reviews writer B’s book and a horde of people call it logrolling because they know A and B are tight. Iit doesn’t seem to occurr that A & B might have become tight buddies through having read one another’s work, loved it, and discovered similar tastes. Should A, who genuinely loves B’s book irregardless of personal feelings review the book, or not?

  7. Graham: I am uncomfortable with the way you put that. It almost sounds like you’re arguing for ivory towers, and I hate to break it to you, but we are not beautiful and unique snowflakes. We do not get to pronounce from a position of authority. We’re in the same conversation as everyone else, and whatever authority we have, we have to earn–with pretty much every review.

    I’m pretty sure you’d agree with all that, but I’m not sure about the next bit. Obviously, I agree that it can be hard to break through the Stuff, but I strongly disagree that that means the Stuff is bad. As far as I’m concered, book talk is axiomatically good; you don’t get the signal without the noise, and, bluntly, part of what we’ve signed up to do is to deal with the noise. In summary: suck it up. :p

    Sherwood: I am inclined to think that the Line will certainly vary from person to person, and probably vary for each person over time and with the book under consideration. Not terribly helpful, I know … but as a for instance, though I can’t think of any writers I would refuse to review, I can think of a few I’d be wary about reviewing, purely because it would be a test of whether I’d pull my punches or not. Of course, I should probably do what I advised Graham, when the time comes, just suck it up and face the test. :)

  8. 1: …it simply never occurred to me that anyone would read the statement in this review about lies and bribes as anything other than hyperbole.

    2: I too took the opening graf as hyperbole.

    It’s either the author’s actual sentiment or it’s a false claim. Hyperbole is an exaggeration — “Far more often I want to know how the reviewer was bribed to tell me such lies” doesn’t qualify. It can’t be parsed in such a way that any exaggeration is key to its meaning. It hinges on two words “bribed” and “lies,” both claims whose impact relies on whether they are true or not, not their scale.

    It can be read as sarcasm or it can be read as the actual opinion of the reviewer, but it’s not hyperbole. If it had been simply hyperbole, then perhaps it wouldn’t have elicited the response it did.

  9. Edwin: I agree entirely the comment is sarcastic, but it also does read to me as hyperbolic. In context, “Bribed to tell me such lies” is a sufficiently absurd statement–for exactly the reasons that commentators have pointed out!–that I automatically dismissed the literal reading, and took it as a euphemistic exaggeration of “convinced this book was any good”, or similar. The point is how disjunction between what she’d read about the book and what she’d read of the book made the reviewer feel.

  10. Hyperboles can be absurd, but absurdities aren’t all hyperbole.

    “Bribed to tell me such lies” doesn’t exaggerate a claim — it is the claim. (It’s also not a euphemism — the shitstorm that had trolled in its wake should be evidence enough of that.)

    Making the distinction is important because something being exaggerated implies that it is based on truth: if I say, “this suitcase weighs a ton,” then clearly I’m engaging in hyperbole, but at the same time people will take for granted that the suitcase is indeed heavy. You can read the statement nonliterally and still the case is made.

    The controversy was not whether she exaggerated; it was over whether she was being honest. The “nonliteral” reading of “Bribed to tell me such lies” is that no one was bribed, nor did they lie, it’s not “the book was no good.”

    The defense that she takes up on her own site is of the claim itself. Your post says that you didn’t take the claim seriously. But by calling it “hyperbole” and “euphemistic” you’re granting its underlying truth.

  11. As has been pointed out repeatedly, and ignored nearly as often, the “hyperbole” claim would have a bit more to it if Chance didn’t respond by writing up a long blog post where she cherry-picked from a number of articles about shelf-talkers and blurbs and viral marketing plans in order to claim that yes indeed, bribery and deceit ARE par for the course after all.

    You can’t have it both ways: either it was hyperbole and sarcasm, or it’s a true claim.

  12. Edwin:

    But by calling it “hyperbole” and “euphemistic” you’re granting its underlying truth.

    No, I’m recognising that it is an exaggeration of a common reaction based in a real and important issue–the issue of how our response to a books is mediated by the context we bring to it, and how that is affected by hype and promotion. As has been discussed at some length above, and in Hal Duncan’s post, and elsewhere. Some people, like me, read it that way; some people didn’t. Clearly that’s an issue to bear in mind in the future, but equally clearly no writing is ever going to be unambiguous. (It’s interesting to me that there’s quite a noticeable US/UK split; I’m wondering whether it’s partly an idiomatic thing I hadn’t picked up on before.)

  13. Niall: Sorry for late reply, just back from 24 hours away from computer *twitch*.

    Yep, I agree with your first para in its entirety – very eloquently put. As for your second, I think the Stuff is necessary, indeed essential, for books to get out into the world. (As someone who’s earned their day-job living as a publisher the last decade or more, and who finds himself signing print orders for ever-increasing runs of ARCs, I would *really* not like to be without any of the tools of marketing.) But to go back to what I was saying about silence, about one book in five I get asked to review I have to pass on: either because of the excess of Stuff, or because I personally can’t get my head round it or whatever. I would rather, in those circumstances, not write anything than write something poorly engaged. (God bless understanding editors.) I’m speaking about all this from a very first-person perspective: I would rather *I* be silent about something than add unhelpful noise; all I’m saying (I think) is that I don’t regard all book-talk *by me* as axiomatically good.

    The Steiner essay (which I’ll do you a copy of some time so you can read it and burn it in fury) is very much more ivory-tower, and indeed elitist about all this. I disagree with it hugely in lots of ways (eg, he has a rant about how impermanent and therefore Against The Culture Of Books paperbacks are), but I’m strongly attached to the idea of the privacy of the encounter between reader and book. I don’t wish to denigrate collective experience of such things – I’m a big fan of them, otherwise I wouldn’t go to conventions. But, you know, one is allowed to feel ambivalent about things, right?

  14. Nick,

    “You can’t have it both ways: either it was hyperbole and sarcasm, or it’s a true claim.”

    That’s a rather facile perspective. All humour is rooted in truth, after all. How can you make a hyperbolic statement about something with no grounding in reality? If there’s nothing to exaggerate, then surely you’re going to struggle to use any kind of hyperbole?

  15. All humour is rooted in truth, after all.

    Not really.

    If there’s nothing to exaggerate, then surely you’re going to struggle to use any kind of hyperbole?

    Yes, that’s rather the point I’m trying to make. The fact that Morrison responded with an (intellectually dishonest) attempt to show that she wasn’t joking or being sarcastic (“There are, of course, the literally bought and paid for reviews which are merely advertising masquerading as reviews”) rather puts the lie to the hyperbole claim.

    Pretending that my specific statement (“it” being Morrison’s particular comment) is somehow an abstract, universal claim (things are either hyperbole or plain unvarnished truth, and these two categories are mutually exclusive) doesn’t refute my point at all. It just shows that I was absolutely right to point out how much time and energy and rhetoric people will waste to defend poorly written and poorly edited reviews, rather than spending a fraction of the time, energy, and rhetoric to develop a professional standard.

  16. This is really a great amount of stuff to read.

    I am fascinated by it all, and the real problem is that there is thruth in all aspects and arguemnts on the matter.

    But instead of arguing…

    SFX have a special section in the magazine for odd things, Toys, figures, atrocious shite they would recieve. They wouldnt be reveiwed or rated, because they were usually tieing in with an advert somewhere else in the magazine. Just nice pictures, official blurb and prices etc.

    and no objective comment.

    So when money really matters, lest said is best.


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