Tuesday 28 December 2010

The Blogosphere - Just A Bunch Of Monkeys?

*sigh* I should start learning not to get wound up about these things, but, hey, I'm still in my first year blogging and still trying to learn not to take everything to heart. But this made me cross:

The genre blogosphere : tangible proof that dozens of monkeys at dozens of keyboards can't produce meaningful sentences.

This was said on Twitter today, and I fumed about it. That might not even have been directed towards me, but, if not me, then possibly against friends of mine.

Apparently, we're supposed to be dealing with themes and weighty issues in our reviews. Using long and pretentious words that prove how intelligent we are.

We are not supposed to be enthusiastic about a book and just give shallow details as to why we liked the characters or the prose or the way the author used flashbacks. If we do that, we're just monkeys bashing out sentences.

The reason I'm so cross is (apart from the fact that it maybe caught me at the wrong time of the month...) that me and my blogging friends do this for the love of books. We're not trained to critique a text. But we still want to share our appreciation (or dislike!) of a novel with those who have interest.

To the person who wrote that: I say stop reading blogs and start picking up the Guardian book review section. Oh, except, they don't *do* genre, do they?

Grrr, storm in a teacup, I'm sure. I'm equally sure that people leaving comments will either agree with me whole-heartedly or say that, actually, my reviews and those of others could do with some sprucing up. Maybe there should be critique courses offered to anyone who wishes to start a blog?

Honestly, I'd love to hear comments. I'm absolutely certain that this topic has been done to death, and that people are fed up of my blogging/reviewing navel gazing (another phrase thrown in disgust at the blogosphere).

Some days it feels like you can't ever do anything right!


  1. I say stop reading blogs and start picking up the Guardian book review section. Oh, except, they don't *do* genre, do they?

    Well yeah, they do.

  2. And in the actual paper? Which was what I meant?

  3. To be fair, the Graun's on a Saturday does carry SF/F. Eric Brown has a "round-up" every four(?) weeks (other weeks it's crime, etc) and they do cover other SF outside of that ghetto (as I recall, Adam Roberts' review of The Windup Girl had a whole quarter of a page to itself recently).

  4. I'm so glad that the only part of my post being discussed is the fact I picked on the Guardian and was WRONG. Sorry, people, next time will get all my facts straight.

  5. The thing to remember about individual reviewers and individual reviews is that they're all correct, and they're all wrong - at the same time. Reviews are Schrödinger's felines. Until you read the review you don't known whether it is right or wrong; just as importantly, it is only right or wrong so far as you agree with it, personally - it's all subjective. It's the same - to a large degree - with more in-depth criticism.

    If reviews and recommendations are important to you, the thing to do is find one - or a small number of - reviewers whose tastes run parallel with your own, and listen to them, or to look at the reviews of a title *across the broad expanse of reviewers*, rather than just one opinion. The opinions of one person do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the many, and most reviewers' and critics' opinions should hold no more weight than the casual man in the street.

    The very worst critics are those who not only have a very specific view of a subject or book, but who are unwilling to accept that there can *be* a valid, differing opinion. The very best are those that write with a passion (and base of knowledge and/or experience) but who are willing to listen to alternate viewpoints, and who are able to disagree without resorting to insult.

  6. I like discussing themes and shit, although I often pull back, because I don't want to look like I'm disappearing up my own arse. But I find the idea of telling people what they should do on their blogs beyond bizarre and laughably pompus. We don't need courses for bloging. If you're not blogging about something that people enjoy... they won't read it.

    The beauty of blogging is that anyone can start it and they can do whatever they like with it. They can blog because they like to put themselves out there regardless. They can blog because they think that have something to say. They can blog because they want to show that tehre is deeper stuff going on in genre fiction (and there is). They can blog because they love it and want to share their joy. And they can blog for a million other reasons I can't think of. They can keep going when no one's reading. They can gather a massive following. It doesn't matter. Why? Because if you don't like it you don't have to read it.

    And if anyone's not finding in depth literary criticism of genre work they're simply not looking hard enough. Which suggests to me pomp and bluster rather than depth of feeling. Methinks someone put that out there to get a reaction. If they didn't... well it's seems like the old 'genre-lovers are shallow' thing in a new guise, and I haven't much time for it.

  7. Ah it's tricky. These things are intended to be provocative and are not helpful.
    If someone came to me and said 'your reviews would be more valuable to me if you did X and Y' that I might go away and consider before saying, 'yeah but I do this for fun not money so i'll do it how I damn well please'. Calling us monkeys is just designed to upset and make him feel witty.

    Mark it 'Here be Trolls' and don't let it knock you off course. After all, the fundamental point of what we do is that we are genre fans sharing a passion, not paid reviewers establishing our byline.

    And most national papers give so little space to reviews generally, let alone genre, that you can get the same spread of views and titles no where other than the blogosphere.

  8. I'm sorry to see such a humourous comment got under your skin. I'm by no means as sure it was directed at you personally or in the way you describe.

    Speaking only for myself, I found it funny. *And* took it with both a moderate nod of "Yeah, brother, go tell it to the mountain" and a hearty pinch of salt.

    Considering that this comment comes from the delightfully curmudgeonly and highly outspoken critic in residence at Ruthless Culture, Jonathan McCalmont, what else would you expect?

    I also know and have faith in Jonathan, firstly that he's a dedicated fan of the genre and secondly is someone who works tirelessly to give his all in the form of intelligent and extremely exacting criticism (you can find him at the Zone SF and Strange Horizons as well). He is rather good at it in fact, and so feel I can cut him some slack when forced to carp in such a limited forum as 140 measly characters.

    I very much doubt it's meant as a personal attack, though he's not one for pulling his punches.

    After all, have you read this? I recommend it both as a fine piece of criticism (though non-genre in this example) and a form of art in and of itself.

    Anyway, chin up and best wishes,


  9. The genre blogosphere : tangible proof that dozens of monkeys at dozens of keyboards can't produce meaningful sentences.

    Yeah, just like the Parliament: tangible proof that dozens of monkeys in a large room with lots of money and power can't produce meaningful decisions.

  10. *offers Magemanda a banana*

    So does that mean we're the genre literature of literary criticism? If so, I kinda like where I am ;)

  11. The blogosphere is the blogosphere - a bunch of fans writing about what they want to write about and putting it up for free.

    Books are books - a medium of entertainment and education that can support everything from Joyce to Jordan (Robert or Katie, take your pick).

    Neither 'should be' anything other than they are. Trying to insist this is the case is like tilting at windmills: amusing to watch, difficult to take seriously. There are blogs engaging in lengthy discussions of ponderous themes and there are blogs that do nothing but put up a post on new cover art once every three months. Them and everything inbetween have their place.

    I'd say to chill out and enjoy what you are doing and enjoy the blogs that interest you and ignore the ones that don't.

  12. I'm a wholehearted supporter of blogging the way you want to, and enjoying it, and there's a readership for all styles - even for a few I've seen who just post a cover, a link to the amazon page, and half a paragraph of gush.

    I enjoy the way I review, but it's an odd halfway house, and I know I'd enjoy it more if I could think & write half so well as McCalmont. Of course, I'd probably also enjoy it more if I could just shut up & gush... monkeys have a lot of fun too!

  13. You know, I'll never review the way Larry or Paul do. And you know what? I'm fine with that. I'd far rather be able to write like you, Niall, Liz, Ana and Thea do. In between work and family, I blog for fun and to share my love of reading. If every review had to be an essay such as I wrote at university then it wouldn't be fun, it'd be extra work.

    Yes, that comment riled me when I saw you retweet it and it just confirmed my opinion that even some people in the blogosphere can be awfully snobbish. But you know what? I don't have to blog to their standards, I can blog to mine and that is good enough. If they don't like the way I review, they can just not read my blog. Simple as that.

    In all honesty, I think taking a nap before seeing this post and commenting, has taken the sting out of the indignation I felt when I first saw the retweet. So this comment is milder than it would have been two and a half hours ago :)

  14. Sorry, people, next time will get all my facts straight.

    I don't think there is any need to be passive-aggressive; yes, you probably should get your facts straight.

    And this isn't some tangent to your post, it gets to the very heart of the matter. You think someone has slighted the blogosphere so your response is to try and slight the litosphere. It is a completely false dichotomy, ridiculously tribal and it is something we should all have got beyond by now.

  15. Themes and weighty issues in literature are overrated.

  16. Meh,

    Adam covered everything I'd have to say. I dunno who wrote that on twitter, but s/he'd be better off using their time setting an example than bellyaching about the blogosphere.

    Different strokes for different folks, right?

  17. I expect intelligent, insightful analysis and an interesting point of view from whatever the hell I read. Or exquisitely funny. If I don't get that, I go elsewhere. So, you know, call that pretentious, but if somebody can't write or can't express themselves coherently, I'm not going to be reading their blog for very long.


  18. I love how the attitude seems to be, "If you can't do it professionally, don't do it at all." Ignoring, of course, anyone who started off doing it as a hobby who went and turned it into a way to make a living and who ends up respected and liked. And also ignoring how it is actually possibly to do something for the love of it, for fun, for a thousand and one reasons that don't necessarily have to involve getting a freaking university degree just to say why you like or dislike a book. Geez, people need to stop taking themselves, and so many others, so seriously!

  19. Jeff,

    I think the argument is that while, yes, the blogosphere has its share of illiterate buffoons (as will happen in *any* medium if there are no gatekeepers), it also has its share of insightful analysis, interesting points of view and exquisite humour. Blanket statements against the entirety of the genre blogosphere (of which your blog and Omnivoracious are a part), like the one that prompted this post, are, simply, wrong.

  20. Reading this again, it seems Jeff and I were making the same point! Maybe I'm proving the original twitterer's point!


  21. Dude, it's McCalmont. As Eric said, he's curmudgeonly.

    I like the guy, though. He strives for excellence in reviewing. It's worthwhile, even when we don't always do it as well as we could / should on a given review.

    I also don't think McCalmont necessarily agrees with the full range of what that statement means.

  22. We're book reviewers, not literary analysists. There are places where people can say stuff like "the fastidiousness of the author's sentence structure and subject matter is reflective of the increasing flux of a post-industrialist London", but that place isn't on a genre blog. Passion is what make our reviews what they are, and making them more 'literary' will just detract from that.
    A monkey with a pipe and a smoking jacket is still a monkey; whoever posted that Tweet needs to settle down and learn to enjoy what they read rather than want to be bombarded with a thesaurus :p

  23. I missed this whole debacle but quite honestly i don't understand why people read/comment/slag ANY blog, review or otherwise. If you don't like it, don't read it and let other people get on with their own blogging. I know there are some people who read blogs they hate 'just because' and quite frankly that kind of attitude baffles me.

    don't let people like that get to you - they need to relax and learn not to let things they can't influence go.

  24. Sorry, people, next time will get all my facts straight.

    Yeah, getting your facts straight helps. But my point was more that you are just reflexively doing the opposite of McCalmont; he is having a pop at the blogosphere so you are having a pop at the litosphere. It is a false dichotomy and incredibly tribal and hopefully we can all move beyond it.

  25. Amanda is having a pop at the outermost layer of the Earth, including the mantle? Where?

  26. I didn't say anything blanket-wise about the blogosphere. I stated what draws me to a blog.

    MacCalmont has a ways to go before he becomes someone I read regularly.


  27. I retweeted that because it made me laugh. It helps that I knew it was Jonathan that tweeted it.

    If you take to heart what people say on the internet you're going to be pretty miserable. (Never read comments on YouTube.) Don't take it personally. You don't know the context or the tone of voice it was tweeted with, so assume best :-)