Friday, February 14, 2014

Someone Disagrees With Me on the Internet

OK, I think a lot of people disagree with me, but that’s not really the point. Renay over at Lady Business doesn’t like my review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. She disagrees with me (in fact a lot of people disagree with my opinion on that book), but that’s not really the point. She takes the biggest issue with how I end the review.
My ultimate takeway is simply this. Seeing this book get so many accolades, so much attention, only emphasizes just how stagnant SFF is as a genre. With relatively few exceptions, the genre that’s best suited to explore what’s possible, what should and should not be, what our own expectations say about us and everything in between doesn’t do any of that in regard to many fundamental aspects of our society. 
And I can’t decide if that depresses me or pisses me off.
Renay really disagrees with the idea of SFF as a stagnant genre and expands this to disagreement with the very commonly espoused idea that SFF is dead. Perhaps it’s mostly due a poor word choice on my part, but that’s not really the point I’m making here. The point I make stems from a rather simple observation – compare Ancillary Justice with pretty much any book that Ursual K. Le Guin wrote 40-50 years ago, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say The Left Hand of Darkness (my review if you're interested to compare my thoughts of each). How much progress is evident from that simple comparison? EDIT: For a more in depth comparison of these two books check out this post on
It seems to me that there is relatively little progress evident in that specific direct comparison given all the actual social change that’s occurred in the nearly 50-year time period covered. Or to put it another way, after 50 years the same issues keep coming up over and over again. Sure, it’s great to point out that the baseline (or perhaps goalposts?) shift every time these issues come up. But at least from my point of view, I can’t help but feel a bit saddened by apparent lack of progress evident in the SFF genre over that time period (admittedly, from a single comparison).
To go back to that excerpt from my review, I do consider Ancillary Justice to be an exception to the ‘stagnation’ I reference. And that’s why it depresses me, because after 50 years (or more) of this repeating cycle, a book like Ancillary Justice is still an exception, something outside of the mainstream of the SFF genre, something different. And it shouldn’t be. Not by a long shot. That’s what really pisses me off.
And as award season ramps up, Ancillary Justice is proving to be a shortlist favorite – and has already won its first with the Kitchies. Now, I personally would not have nominated it (I don’t really nominate for any awards so it hardly matters), but I am pleased to see it on the lists. To me it shows that a growing and increasingly vocal part of fandom craves books that push boundaries and expectations, just as the best of the genre always has. So, while not my choice, I am happy to see it gaining attention over the same old, same old that often populates award shortlists.
Oh, and by the way, I still thought Ancillary Justice was boring and an overall mediocre book. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about.
*A note that I hesitate to even mention, but another unfortunate part in all this is some of the discussions I’ve seen on Twitter about my review – apparently writing the review I did has regulated me to being just another male critic who doesn’t get it. I find that reaction terribly hypocritical, but it’s also one I don’t plan on engaging any further than this note.


Paul Weimer said...

>> I still thought Ancillary Justice was boring and an overall mediocre book. <<

And that's okay. Not every book works for every reader. Not Hugo award winning books. Not "Canonical classics". NOTHING.

Andrea J said...

I agreed 100% with your review. I found the plot boring as hell, and had I not committed to reviewing AJ I would have given up 50 pages in. the prose style was so boring, that's what pissed me off the most.

the gender thing didn't work at all for me either. I found it gimmicky, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

the final line of my review was pretty damning too. Leads me to believe that female SF/F critics only go after men who didn't like this book (wait, isn't that ummm, sexist??), or I'm completely under the radar.

Neth said...

and now on Twitter come the charges of being disingenuous and worse. I'm derailing the discussion. Crying victim. Etc.

Now's when I wish I could turn a computer screen into a mirror.

But instead it's just time to sign off because anything productive in all this seems to be going out the window.

RobB said...

>> Not every book works for every reader. Not Hugo award winning books. Not "Canonical classics". NOTHING<<

If only it were that easy, Paul.

Victoria Van Vlear said...

I haven't read Ancillary Justice, but I appreciate your engagement with the disagreement. It's civil instead of angry, which would discredit your thoughts.

Carl V. Anderson said...

"apparently writing the review I did has regulated me to being just another male critic who doesn’t get it."

It is that sad stance, or ones similar, that have kept me from writing similar posts to yours (not about Ancillary Justice, which I've not read).

The popular opinion of anything that goes against the cultural grain is that anyone in disagreement is part of the "old guard", or is reacting out of "fear, because SFF is changing".

So first what a person writes is taken out of context and imbued with meaning that was never intended, then the person is lambasted, then relegated to insignificant because this person is just another X that doesn't get it.

So frustrating. And yet I don't feel like I can add anything to the conversation, at least not without being dismissed for being a whiny white anglo-saxon male.

Nathan (@reviewbarn) said...

This book is so controversial for reasons I would have never figured out. It isn't because of the content, which isn't on its own, but rather the interpretation by various reviewers.

There are the majority of reviews, which are either negative or positive but focus on the title at hand. But a few have crept in with a snotty air to them that seem to focus more on the public perception, and it is making for some nasty conversations.

One side is saying those who don't like this book ,just don't get it.' On the other side are the people who didn't like it and then try to dictate why those who did, did (ie - you only liked it because you got fooled by the 'gimmick.')

I saw plenty of both on twitter yesterday and wanted to bang my head against the desk.

Patrick said...

You shouldn't pay too much attention about the crap people say against you on Twitter. . .

That's what I do, anyway! ;-)

Eric Rhoads said...

I haven't read Ancillary Justice but Neth's take reminds me of my experience with Egalia's Daughters. The story was unfortunately far less interesting than the message.

I wouldn't worry about Twitter. Attempting to engage on such a restricted platform with a understandably/rightfully defensive group rarely works out well. That is a major reason for why I dis-engaged from Twitter.

Neth said...

Actually, in this case, cooler heads have prevailed. And all seems to be well now.

Peter said...

I have a tendency to be harsher on books that receive almost unanimous acclaim, particularly if key elements are problematic. Ancillary Justice suffers from what is expected in a first novel. The pacing is off, information is too sparse at the beginning, then over-explained when it becomes obvious. But for me, the problems were secondary to what I felt was an innovative novel. Leckie dealt with more than gender. She dealt with language assumptions and I wish it did this more rather than not at all.

But the criticism of this topic is a stagnate field. I sort of share in that sentiment, but would certainly not choose this novel as a precurser to the discussion. Maybe my expectations are just unrealistic.

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