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When Authors Attack

One would think that an author would inure themselves against a bad review when they decide to become a writer. Apparently that is not the case. Looks like I ticked off the author with my recent review of “Riding the White Bull”. The funny thing is…I did not dislike the story.

Before anyone accepts the word of any reviewer, they should understand how they review. My two-and-a-half star rating means that the story was better than mediocre which means that, overall, I liked it, I just wasn’t ecstatic over it. And I also state I am reviewing the reading experience, not necessarily the book/story (and especially not the author).

Still, instead of taking away the good points (“interesting premise” and ” really powerful images”) the author chose to go on a tirade about it. I quote:

The “intelligent design” idiots are on my mind this morning, for one reason or another, but I’m going to do the right thing and resist the urge to waste keystrokes on them. But I have to complain about something. So I’ll complain about the inane review of “Riding the White Bull” (in a story-by-story review of The Year’s Best Science Fiction #22) at SFSignal. I quote:

“…the narrative kept jumping back and forth between multiple points in the story line, usually without warning. The result was to take what could have been a first-rate, hardboiled sf detective story and turn it into a hodgepodge of unorganized passages.”

For my part, as the author, I know that “Riding the White Bull” is a good story (and I do not say this about everything I write). And, for what it’s worth, the story has received heaps of praise and was chosen for Year’s Best. But it still pisses me off when I see people who obviously cannot master anything beyond the simplest narratives being allowed to review books right out in public where anyone can stumble across this crap. There’s nothing the least bit unusual or difficult about the narrative of “Riding the White Bull.” This reviewer is clearly the sort of person Warner Bros. had in mind when it forced Ridley Scott to add that hokey, gawdawful, “explain it so even the morons can understand” voice-over to the original cut of Blade Runner. I most emphatically don’t write for those people. It’s a shame I can’t also arrange it so that they can’t read and comment on what I write. They certainly are not welcomed at the party.

Seems I was mistaken in my beliefs. Apparently quality is inherent in a story and not subject to personal opinion. My bad. Oh, and while I’m at it, I’ll abolish free speech.

Seriously, Ms. Kiernan, do you really want to stifle your readers just because they may not like what you write? (and again, I did like what you wrote.) Until you reach the sales levels of, say, Stephen King, I would think that the more word gets out on your story, the better. Even bad publicity is still publicity. You would do well to trust people to form their own opinions and learn to respect them even if they differ from your own.

Besides, mine is just one opinion. Incidentally…your comment about Blade Runner is amusing to me since I am one of the only two people that I know who actually disliked it. (Oh. I see that can of worms was just reopened today. What a coincidence!)

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

32 Comments on When Authors Attack

  1. I would say that it is time to hang up your reviewing hat. I mean, if you can’t recognize sterling prose that was chosen for a “best of” collection, what good are you.

    Actually, I guess I’ll retire as well. After all, if my opinion differs (as it often does) from the editors of such “best of” collections, I must be doing something wrong.

    Time to raise sheep, or something more productive.

  2. Boy, if you think SF reviewers are arbitrary and nasty, wait to you go try to raise sheep! Those shepherds can be murder when they critique each other!

    In all seriousness, science fiction writers are only human, (except me, monkey boy!) and we have just as much ability to fly at our keyboards without a cool moment of thought as the next fellow.

    Also, even if a writer does write a calm and magisterial in his rebuttal to a real error, not merely a difference of opinion, in a bad review, it looks bad, no matter how the writer phrases it. No one will believe his motives are fair-minded. The book has to speak for itself. (I speak here from embarrassed experience.)

    Having a writer step up and defend his own work is like having your mother come out of the stands and argue with the umpire after you are called out at home during Little League. Even if Mom is as right as Archangel Gabriel, it still looks bad.

  3. (I posted this to the Blade Runner thread, because that’s where I first saw the link to Caitlin’s journal rant.)

    E.M. Forster said (and I tend to agree)….

    “Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has any right to whine. He is not obliged to be an author. He invited the publicity and he must take the publicity that comes along.”

  4. While I will agree with Mr. Wright about any statements made by an author to a bad review will be seen as a bad idea, I also think that the statments made in this context were just bad form. I mean John has gone into quite a bit of detail regarding how he does his reviews and what they mean. There is enough evidence of John’s review criteria and demonstrate that he is not some crazy Klausner-esque reviewer. I mean I really wish I could put my criteria into a well laid out post for how I do my reviews.

    Now I will also point out that all this hullabaloo is from a post on the author’s personal blog. Maybe she is having a rough day, or maybe there are outside influences that lead to this particular rant. I just think that her comments should focus more on the problem with the review and not the reviewer…

  5. In regards to the author’s reaction to the review:

    Yeeesh…. As stated above, it’s in bad form. It looks, not only “silly”, but very unprofessional.

    I have to say I firmly agree with what Tim has said. A while back, I skimmed through John’s method of reviewing stories, and it wasn’t really necessary to post that (for me) because, in my opinion, John has carried himself quite professionally. Sure, nit pickers could point out a few things that I’ll call gags (“just sayin…” or anything that shows enthusiasm for things Star Wars or Firefly) but all that is just color. My point is, I trust the opinions on this site because of the manner in which they are expressed. Even when they seem harsh, and even when those opinions differ from my own.

    Recently, I ran out and picked up “When Gravity Fails” because of a review on SF Signal. “Better than Snow Crash” got my attention. I recently posted some brief thoughts on the book, and how my view differed from John’s. You’ll notice neither of us took shots at each other, nor did I get in a huff over the “Better Than Snow Crash” thing, ’cause obviously, John loved “When Gravity…” and was pretty passionate about it. Personally, I think a lot of work goes into reviewing books and maintaining a site like this, so it’s a safe bet that John (and whoever else is responsible here) is pretty passionate about Sci Fi Lit (and I guess, all things sci fi). The refreshing thing is, it’s done with class.

    I love Blade Runner (though I can see what A LOT of people don’t like about it) and I’m not a fan of Battlestar Galactica. That’s just me. But I WILL continue to visit this site. Daily.

    Dan

  6. Kiernan wrote:

    For my part, as the author, I know that “Riding the White Bull” is a good story (and I do not say this about everything I write). And, for what it’s worth, the story has received heaps of praise and was chosen for Year’s Best.

    Apparently, this isn’t worth very much to her. I don’t understand why this is the case – if you believe it to be good and you get praise from others, why not value it? I know it doesn’t have value to her though because of her (obvious) inability to ignore the critque. Apparently that has more value than the praise. I can only conclude this is born out of simple insecurity. There isn’t anything wrong with that – although I suppose wearing your heart on your sleeve might not be the best thing to do on the web.

    But it still pisses me off when I see people who obviously cannot master anything beyond the simplest narratives being allowed to review books right out in public where anyone can stumble across this crap. There’s nothing the least bit unusual or difficult about the narrative of “Riding the White Bull.” This reviewer is clearly the sort of person Warner Bros. had in mind when it forced Ridley Scott to add that hokey, gawdawful, “explain it so even the morons can understand” voice-over to the original cut of Blade Runner.

    Ah, the ad hominem attack – the bastion of the uncreative, boorish, and small minded. It’s a shame really – I would have read her works without any bias up until this point. I don’t always agree with John and wouldn’t have blindly gone along with his assessment perferring to read it myself. Now though…it would be impossible to read anything by Keirnan without remembering these statements. Mr Wright points out that it is difficult to respond to a critic at all without appearing silly. He’s right, but this section here is much worse than that – Keirnan appears mean spirited when there was clearly none of that in John’s post.

    Oh, and lest you be throwing stones Keirnan, are you also an actress? I ask because on your blog you refer to the acting in the film Alien vs Predator as terrible. Are you also a scriptwriter? I ask because in the same review you refer to the script as being one you ‘could have written with my ass.’ Finally, are you also a filmmaker? Again I ask because you also mention the need have left a scene near the end out.

    I point these statements out not to criticize them, but instead to call Keirnan out – it seems unfair in the extreme that she doesn’t want people besides authors (those who can write more than a simple narrative, in her words) commenting on her work, then doesn’t afford the same courtesy to other creative efforts such as the afformentioned film.

    I most emphatically don’t write for those people. It’s a shame I can’t also arrange it so that they can’t read and comment on what I write. They certainly are not welcomed at the party.

    Of course, this is the worst part of her post. We’ve moved past insecurity and the personal attacks and moved on to some sort of desire for a draconian state where freedom of expression doesn’t exist and instead – only those critics the author likes is allowed to comment on her work. Wow, I can’t tell if this is the height of narcissism or something darker. Does Keirnan really long for the world of Orwell’s 1984?

    In summary – nothing you write (or draw or paint, etc.) will be universally acclaimed. Get a thicker skin – it will serve you well. And don’t attack the critic – it makes you look small and petty. And if you feel the need to defend your work, at least do so with facts and real arguments and avoid the personal attack at all cost.

    And finally – we should all be reminded of that great New Yorker cartoon with the dogs sitting at a PC stating that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” How would Kiernan feel to learn that John was a 10-year old boy? Would she retract her statements if she knew that John was confined to a wheelchair, unable to do much more than read a book and surf the web without help from his nurse? Whether these statements are true are not aren’t relevant – they could easily be. Be careful before you reach conclusions about people based on their internet posts.

    For my part, I know somewhat of who Kiernan is because I made a point of reading her biography before posting.

  7. I would hope that if she read this site (more than the paragraph in which ehr story is mentioned) she would now feel a tad embarrassed. Considering the amount of books you guys review how on earth can she say “when I see people who obviously cannot master anything beyond the simplest narratives being allowed to review books”?

    Still, made me laugh a lot.:)

  8. Should anyone be allowed to review books?

    SFSignal have had a rather entertaining run in with an author who’s story they have reviewed. The author in question, on her blog, says… “But it still pisses me off when I see people who obviously cannot master anything beyond…

  9. I’m partial to the “she just had a bad day” theory. Regardless, you have to feel good that someone’s reading your reviews! Don’t lose any sleep over it–you’re doing a great job.

  10. John, I just wanna tell ya how it’s so cool that you got some published author to whine about your review on their own personal blog! If that’s not validation, I don’t know what is.

    I think I’ll agree with Chris and Tim that, perhaps, she was having a really bad day. Maybe, it stemmed from the inability to find her black eyeliner pencil that went with that new midnight ebony lipstick; or maybe her nail polish just wasn’t black enough that day.

    OMG, John, you should lock your dog up, I wouldn’t want to read the headline, “Blog reviewer’s canine was ritually disemboweled by irate author”

  11. Ah, the irony. I hope this is intentional.

    “Ah, the ad Hominem attack – the bastion of the uncreative, boorish, and small minded.”

    This reminds me of my favorite bit of intentional self-parody from a rhetorician:

    “Argument from authority is the strongest form of argument, as many eminent people will attest.”

  12. Ms. Kiernan’s statements struck me as being elitist, “I’m an author and you’re not so you don’t know what you’re talking about.” That sort of thing. And I don’t care how bad a day you’re having, much like customer service, you don’t take it out on others.

  13. Ms. Kiernan said:

    “For my part, as the author, I know that “Riding the White Bull” is a good story (and I do not say this about everything I write). And, for what it’s worth, the story has received heaps of praise and was chosen for Year’s Best.”

    So now we look at SFSignals ratings explanation:

    5 Stars – Couldn’t be better! Worth reading again. Highly recommended

    4 Stars – Excellent book; some minor flaws/annoyances

    3 Stars – A Good book; an enjoyable way to pass the time.

    2 Stars – A mediocre book; not missing anything by passing it up.

    1 Stars – Horrible book; super-boring and/or made little sense.

    0 Stars – I could not finish this book.

    In her own words she says that “”Riding the White Bull” is a good story” so she is really complaining that she deserves only one more star using the SFSignal ratings explanation?!?!? Why bother even typing a response. The reviewer (John) came within one star of her own expectations?!?!

    I agree with the others, she must have been having a bad day.

  14. “There is enough evidence of John’s review criteria and demonstrate that he is not some crazy Klausner-esque reviewer.”

    Now, if **that** were true (that he is a Klausner-esque reviewer) he would have (a) read the story before it was published; (b) read it in a micro-second; (c) given it an enthusiastic (cookie cutter) pile ‘o praise with no meat in it at all.

  15. This thread has certainly gotten out of control. It was bad form and silly of Kiernan to criticize this review, but really do people really need to resort to making fun of her looks?

    And having read Kiernan’s journal for a long time, I should point out that she does this regularly and often states that she really shouldn’t. She knows it’s bad form, but her journal is where she airs her gripes with the writing life, and this is one of them. Her problem with the critique isn’t that it’s a bad review. She dislikes people misunderstanding her stories or saying that her techniques don’t work. She often complains about reviews that say her characters are “unlikeable” or that her stories don’t tie up neatly. A review like this one, good but critical, is far more likely to raise her hackles than a straight “I didn’t like the story” would.

    Kiernan is a great author and it’s too bad something like this will turn people off from her work.

  16. “she does this regularly and often states that she really shouldn’t.”

    That may be the case but doesn’t that seem a little childish? “I’m gonna do THIS, but part of me knows I shouldn’t, so I’ll add on this DISCLAIMER saying I know I shouldn’t, cause that’ll make it okay.”

    That’s like me saying:

    “Every black make up/goth girl-alterna type I’ve ever known has been a drama queen and way too emotional when disagreed with and has had confidence issues. I KNOW I shouldn’t say that, but I couldn’t help but notice. Oh please don’t judge me for judging others.”

    Grow up.

    And Vampires aren’t real.

  17. “This thread has certainly gotten out of control.”

    Actually, this has been pretty mild compared to some of the threads. Have you taken a look at the New York Yankees posting?

    “It was bad form and silly of Kiernan to criticize this review…”

    Sure was. Haven’t seen her spouting any mea culpas, though.

    “And having read Kiernan’s journal for a long time, I should point out that she does this regularly and often states that she really shouldn’t.”

    So what you’re saying is that she knows she is doing something wrong but she enjoys doing it because it is part of the image.

    “She knows it’s bad form, but her journal is where she airs her gripes with the writing life, and this is one of them.”

    Hmmm…so she is allowed to speak and employ freedom of speech, but we cannot?

    “Her problem with the critique isn’t that it’s a bad review. She dislikes people misunderstanding her stories or saying that her techniques don’t work. She often complains about reviews that say her characters are “unlikeable” or that her stories don’t tie up neatly.”

    Perhaps the problem isn’t with the readers or the reviewers. Maybe the problem is that the writer needs to change her methods.

    “A review like this one, good but critical, is far more likely to raise her hackles than a straight “I didn’t like the story” would.”

    Good gravy. I hate to have seen what would have resulted if it had been a really positive review!

    “Kiernan is a great author and it’s too bad something like this will turn people off from her work.”

    Great author? Maybe in her own mind.

  18. “Great author? Maybe in her own mind.”

    That’s exactly the response I was afraid her attacks would lead people to believe. She really is good. Ah well.

    As for stating that she often says she shouldn’t do it, I wasn’t saying that absolves her from anything. That doesn’t make it any better. And I’m not saying this thread shouldn’t continue. I just thought attacks on her looks were unfair.

    “Hmmm…so she is allowed to speak and employ freedom of speech, but we cannot?”

    She never actually restricted anyone’s free speech. In fact, she says that this is what she can’t do. I think everybody has been speaking pretty freely on both sides.

    Look, I’m not trying to defend what Kiernan is doing, attacking the review. She should leave it well enough alone. And I think John handles it well:

    “Even bad publicity is still publicity. You[Kiernan] would do well to trust people to form their own opinions and learn to respect them even if they differ from your own.”

    Absolutely right. And Kiernan should not attack people’s intelligence for not getting aspects of her writing.

    But I don’t think that creates a need for people to attack her looks. How does that come into play with anything? Attack her intelligence, her writing, her thin skin, that all seems fair game. Looks really aren’t a factor in enjoying or hating her work.

    If anyone is still willing to give her work a shot after this, read her short story “Onion.” It’s one of my favorite fantasy/horror short stories of all time. Her novels are pretty great as well.

  19. John, you should definitely read it — but please be mindful of the review you write. Make it Klausnerian lest you incur Ms. Kiernan’s wrath again!

    P.S.: Actually, I’m rooting for another 2.5 star (or lower *nudge nudge*) review. This has been a most amusing day…

  20. If he doesn’t like the story, by all means he should write a review slamming it. I’m coming off like a Kiernan apologist here. I don’t mean to be and I’m sure she doesn’t want me to be speaking for her anyway. I agree with John, she shouldn’t be attacking a reviewer. There’s just no point to it. And John should write whatever he thinks about a story. In fact, I don’t think the review deserved the attack it got. The only reason I intruded on this was that I thought attacks on Kiernan’s looks were below the belt and beside the point. Am I wrong on that? Would you attack Harlan Ellison’s looks if it was his attack? Maybe you would. I don’t know.

  21. Is it anymore “below the belt” than her attack on John’s intelligence?

  22. Brian,

    I will say that I thought Pete’s original comment was pretty funny, and that is just how Pete is. Its not meant to be a dig on him, but he is what he is – much like Ms. Kiernan is the way she is. I won’t apologize for him any more than you should feel obligated to apologize for her. I also don’t agree that making fun of the way some body looks is appropriate behavior. It falls under the area of discussion that Scott mentioned earlier as an ad Hominem attack. I am glad that you came to visit us and hope that this altercation drives you to read more from our site in the future, and I also suggest that if you have any input to Ms. Kiernan forward her to read more from our site than the short sentence blurb review for her story. She might see that we are pretty intelligent, witty and good folks, but lets face it John is our whipping boy and we don’t take kindly to others laying smack down on him.

    Fred,

    Yes you are right, he is not Klausner-esque in is reviews, and I made a mistake in comparing him to that entity (I have a hard time believing there is an actual person named Harriet Klausner at this point). I do believe that John is probably our best reviewer and most voracious reader.

    Finally, before this post goes on to take the title of most active post ever – lets remember that we are each allowed our little space in the world, and that while we may not always agree – we should always agree that we disagree. And this should be done remembering that we have feelings and sometimes words can cause more pain than hitting somebody. Boy I felt all melancholy there for a minute – this is a bad thing for a curmudgeon in training…

  23. ‘Ad Hominem’….

    Isn’t that the song they play during the Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper commercial with the lady out on a date with a boring guy?

  24. And no that’s wrong – what does our lovely contestant win Vanna??

  25. Ya know, I think we have the basis for the next hig reality TV show. “When Authors Attack!” Throw in some time-travelling Yankee-hating (baseball team that is) Nazi zombies and we’d have a franchise!

  26. Peter — It may be no more “below the belt,” but it certainly is beside the point.

    Tim — Thanks for the kind reply. I have absolutely no ins with Kiernan, I’ve never even commented on her site. I hope I haven’t come across too stridently here. I actually have read this site on and off over the last few months, but this is the first time I’ve really looked over the comments. I’ll try to join in a little more in the future.

  27. Let me just say that this is a good thread, but certainly not the best that SFF has produced. The board kept jumping back and forth between multiple posters, usually without warning. The result was to take what could have been a first-rate thread and turn it into a hodgepodge of unorganized comments…

  28. Wouldn’t that make it…i don’t know….a blog??? just thinking out loud here (Grin)

    two cents worth, GO JOHN! Keep writing what you think is accurate, I’m sure your author friend will do the same. I liked the review and I frequently look over the reviews on the site to read (whenever I find that sort of time again!) something full of SF goodness. And I definately want to find the time to read some of Fred’s work.

    Right..back to coding…whee!

    truncate dbo.cvptrst

    …… :-@

  29. Any publicity is good publicity. Because of this thread, my curiousity is piqued. I think I will look up Kiernan’s work now and give it a try.

  30. I was interested enough to check our her Bibliography – she’s written a few critically acclaimed gothic horror-style novels (she prefers not to be typecast into a particular genre, which I can understand.) Looks like her works might be worth reading, but I’ll never know it.

  31. Maybe they’re “critically acclaimed” because noone dared to criticize her. And we all know that critics are wrong most of the time anyway.

    What is it that they say? Those who can, do; those can’t, critique; and those who whine on their blogs, get poked-fun of endlessly…

  32. … the story has received heaps of praise and was chosen for Year’s Best.

    This sad tale reminds me of the Bruno Kirby bit in Good Morning Vietnam, where he brags that he has two jokes being considered for publication in Reader’s Digest.

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