Anti-Pulp Snobbery

I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 and was rather enjoying it right up until he wrote this:

None, however [of the forgotten writers of the time period] could begin to compare with the success of two other American authors whose books sold and sold for decades.  They were Zane Gray and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and they were almost certainly the two most popular authors on the planet in the twentieth century.

They had a good deal in common … and both were by almost any measure pretty terrible writers.  The wonder is not that they are no longer widely read, but that they ever were.

Bryson is kind enough to say ERB is “no hack” but then says idiotically, “He used pulp fiction plots but wrote with a certain panache, as if he didn’t quite understand the genre.”  Somebody doesn’t understand the “genre” but it sure wasn’t ERB.

He goes on to attack ERB for supporting eugenics, being repetitive and “slapdash,” and sometimes descending into “drivel.”  The funny thing is the passage that he uses to illustrate driveliness happens to be from the very first page of Thuvia, Maid of Mars and he states the speaker is a “warrior named Jeddak.”  Ah, so he just flipped open the book and skimmed the first couple paragraphs while clearly having never read any of the Barsoom books at all because he thinks Jeddak is a name.  Clearly Mr. Bryson is an authority we can trust on the merits of pulp fiction.  (I haven’t even read Thuvia and I knew instantly that he hadn’t either.  That kind of a mistake actually makes me doubt Bryson’s accuracy in anything else he’s written in the book.)

It would be one thing if Bryson had read the work he’s trashing instead of simply following along with a snotty, narrow minded ignorance.  If you wonder that anyone ever read such garbage, then the question isn’t when did they wise up and stop but why the hell are stacks of ERB books still on main aisle tables in chain bookstores in towns that aren’t full of huge populations of people obsessed with old, dead, obscure writers?

This wasn’t the only Tarzan book on the table. Nor was it the only bookstore in town with nice, pretty looking editions of Tarzan.

Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs book

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Unreasonable Discourse

Richard Paolinelli has what I think is a very bad characterization of the current spat going on about ComicsGate and of the Sad vs Rabid Puppies divide of the past.  There’s no point in picking it apart but in it he says this:

There will be no discussion, just doubling and tripling down on positions. Vox, no doubt, may see this as a way to cripple Marvel and DC like he did the Hugos. He may even think this is the way to have the indie books take over dominance in the field.

Personally, I think it was a dumb thing to do. And now, instead of trying to change the hearts and minds of those on the fence with reasoned debate, this will just devolve into the same kind of name-calling and virtue signaling we saw the SJW-crowd pull in the Hugos.

There is no such thing as “reasoned debate” on the internet.  Oh, sure, we can have a little bit here and there, by accident or between friends.  You can’t expect anything reasonable from an SJW. You can’t even be sure that someone who appears to be on a similar ideological plain won’t freak out and attack you because you used the wrong idiom.

Part of the reason reasoned isn’t possible is that even people who might marginally agree don’t necessarily have the same perception of the same events.  When I read Paolinelli’s description of the Sad Puppies, my first thought was “is he smoking Mad Genius Club crack?”  Because his version doesn’t fit the version of what I saw happen at all.  Even if he isn’t in the MGC crowd, clearly, wherever he was on the ride offered a very different vantage point from where I was watching.  I could easily see someone reading his post and jumping to the conclusion that he’s being a dishonest cuck. Then again I also see the possibility of Paolinelli reading this post, assuming that I was attacking him, and flipping out as if I’d called his mother a Shanghai whore.  I mean, other people have at less.

Perceptions aside, people are simply not reasonable.  Even if Paolinelli’s version of the events is correct, and VD is a money-grubbing bandwagon-jumper leaving a trail of wrecked movements in his wake, the ComicsGate response to the ComicsGate Comics announcement was hysterical.  It was ridiculous.  But they don’t think they were being ridiculous, they were reasonable and justified.  If you were to go to them and try to explain that VD is not a Nazi and maybe this is all a little silly, you would get screeched at and called a Nazi.

Moderates go about insisting that if we could all just be reasonable we could fix it all, we could show people that they are wrong, and then they’ll stop being wrong.  But in their very insistence on reasonableness, they are being unreasonable.  If facts and recent history are all pointing towards the conclusion that attempts at being reasonable lead only to failure then it doesn’t make much sense to keep insisting on doing something that doesn’t work and then getting mad when someone else doesn’t keep doing something that doesn’t work.

Edit: Oddly enough the post is now gone and I was dumb and forgot to archive it.

Who needs a swimming pool when you have a car full of water?

It rained a lot yesterday.

Now I noticed a couple car floor mats on the porch rail yesterday but didn’t think anything of it until as we were leaving for Mass this morning and the Wizard said, “Whose car are those out of?”

Isambard said, “Nixon’s.”

I had a “wait, what?” moment before it occurred to me what he was talking about.  “You mean the old car?”  My laziness in disposing of my old car has been a great advantage given the amount of car trouble that’s going around the past couple months.  Isambard’s been driving it pretty regularly.

“I took them out to dry off because I spilled half a gallon of water in it the other day.”  His eyes widened suddenly in horror.  “Oh, no, I forgot and left the window down.”

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m not likely to get any money for that hunk of junk, I’d kill him because… It rained a lot yesterday.

 

Authors and Interactions

Word of mouth sells books. And what better mouth to sell them than the author himself?

Over the many years I’ve spent on the internet, I’ve seen a lot of author blogs and interacted with a few. The vast majority of the time I’ve been sorry I did.

Author blogs fall into two general categories: ones where they talk incessantly about writing advice and ones where they talk about everything else, frequently politics or the like. The former we can ignore because the reader is uninterested; the audience is other authors or wannabes.

The more general content type of blog often gives you a lot of information about the type of person the author is. Some of them are really good at going in political directions. They’ll attract an audience of like minded readers. Nothing wrong with this at all. No matter what someone writes their opinions are going to tick someone off so there’s really no point in hiding what they think. And there have been a number of authors whose blogs I perused enough to see that they weren’t worth the time. World view is going to affect your writing and sometimes your world view is so obnoxious I’m not likely to enjoy fiction steeped in it.

One thing’s for sure, however. Direct, personal interaction with an author has a much great effect on your ability to enjoy their work more than some random thing they wrote on in a blog post. Authors might like to proclaim that they’ll never treat a reader badly but they never bother to ask who is a reader or not* before they ban hammer or cuss at an obnoxious commenter or before they overreact to some perceived slight or criticism.

(*To be fair, if they were to ask, there’s no proving the “reader” is telling the truth or not and “I’m not going to buy your books/read your stuff/watch your videos anymore wah!” is a common concern troll tactic.)

Years ago there was an author whose works I rather liked. I made the mistake of disagreeing with him on a subject that nothing to do with books. It did not end well. After that, I’ve tried to avoid communicating with authors in any way shape or form especially not if I like their books.

The problem is if you’re on any social media or have a blog and hang out on the fringes of certain types of groups, in may be very hard to avoid interacting with authors. Either they have an interesting blog and the temptation to comment gets too strong or–heaven forbid–they read your blog. Never mind the fact that the self censorship necessary to avoid ever commenting or mentioning something an author said is stupid.

With any ol’ random person you strike up an acquaintance with you run the risk that they might turn out to be a terrible jerk or will go psycho on you at some further date. That’s humanity for you. Authors being asses, however, adds another dimension. Unlike most normal people, the author expects/hopes that you will spend both money and time on him. As my free time has dwindled precipitously over the past couple years and alternative entertainment sources grown exponentially, an author behaving like a retard becomes all the more reason to kick him off the to-be-read/bought list. I could be reading the novel of a guy who publicly cussed me out on his blog or I could be playing Deus Ex, watching Korean TV, reading The Shadow, listening to OTR… I mean, I’ve got a couple hundred years worth of entertainment for free off the internet not even counting new stuff. So even the guy who doesn’t attack me personally but is simply acting idiotic has a lot of competition. Everybody’s got a finite amount of free time and an enormous choice of things to fill it with.

In a way, authors behaving badly or spouting politics is a boon for readers trying to filter out what they don’t want to waste their time on. Author blogs do double duty because you can both see their stupid behavior and get a taste of writing style.

This all ended up being very negative but what actually got me thinking about it was the fact that I went and bought a couple ebooks last week which I wouldn’t have bought otherwise if it hadn’t been for the fact that I’ve talked to the author a couple times and he’s cool.  In fact, aside from the one recent obvious and ugly example, all the authors (this is a very small number) I’ve talked to on social media in the past year or so have been cool.  Maybe later some of them will turn out of the jerks.  Maybe not.  It’s a double edge sword for both authors and readers.  Authors are bound to lose readers but also find new ones, and readers will lose authors they might have otherwise read but find replacements.

Sturgeon’s Law

I have a friend who likes to say “oh, Sturgeon’s law” any time someone says anything about entertainment nowadays being crap.  He subscribes very firmly to the idea that time has winnowed out the entertainment of the past leaving us with only the best.

When I asked him for a good American TV show from the past ten years, he said, “Fringe.”

I said, “That’s a really flawed show.”

“Are you asking for good or are you asking for perfect?”

Valid point.  However, the more I think about it the more I’m convinced that there needs to be another criterion than “I liked this thing.”  And that would be: “I would recommend this thing to someone else.”  You’re never going to be able to recommend a show (or any entertainment) to everyone.  But the older the entertainment is the wider the possible audience.

Fringe is a show that I enjoyed a lot… except when I didn’t.  The characters are great; the plot is a confused mess.  I could not recommend it to, for instance, my parents or to Verity.  I would (and have) recommend Kolchak: the Night Stalker to essentially everybody.

While time may have helped the cream rise to the top of the vat of entertainment, it’s also hidden a great deal.  Which is why you see in certain circles people oohing and ahhing over books and movies from the Thirties as if it never occurred to them that stuff like that existed.  There’s plenty of obscure or little known works which are decent and fun.  And there’s far more of those that I would unhesitatingly recommend to most people than there is from entertainment starting from the 1980s onward.

Maybe Sturgeon’s Law is right and there really is 10% good stuff out there right now and I’m just too lazy to wade through the 90% of crap to find it and the stuff from ages past that I’ve watched just happens to mostly come from that 10% without much effort on my part to find it… but I kinda doubt it.

Amazon Forever

The Candid saga is interesting in its own right but Candid’s CEO Bindu Reddy’s current position stood out to me.

General Manager Deep Learning and AI at Amazon Web Services.  I’m sure we’ve got nothing to worry about here.  After all, I’ve been assured that Amazon isn’t converged and it’s only some mid-level SJWs that ever cause trouble.

Now before any self centered twit brained authors get their panties in a twist and start freaking out because “ZOMG Nixon thinks authors should pull their work from Amazon!!!!1” why don’t you put your projection to good use and consider that maybe my concerns about Amazon are entirely selfish in nature.

You see, once upon a time in the dark days before e-commerce took off, if you wanted to buy something you would have to engage in a horrific ritual known as shopping.  You would leave your house and go to a thing called a mall (I’ve been told these don’t really exist anymore) where you would go from store to store getting the different types of items each individual store specialized in.  In the process, you’d be surrounded by other people and have to interact with creatures called cashiers.

If Amazon goes the get woke go broke route or if they start kicking people off their site for being “Nazis” then I’m toast.  Not only will I be forced to leave the house and make eye contact with other human beings but there won’t be any point in leaving the house because I won’t be able to find what I want to buy anyway.  I don’t enjoy this prospect at all.

Deathless Batman

A Batman-Shadow comic appears to be getting some well deserved flack.

Razorfist twitter

Haven’t read it, not going to, so can’t really comment on it directly but some of the discussion around it made something occur to me.  Batman: the Animated Series is, pretty much, perfect Batman. Batman’s no kill ideology works in the context of the show because it’s a kids show. “No kill” makes even more sense in a kids show because the villains are not mass murdering psychopaths the way they might be portrayed in an adult medium.   The worse the villains are, the less rational Batman’s insistence that they must live.  So either they have to cause less mayhem and death or Gotham needs to have a working prison system.  Otherwise cap ’em.