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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Amazon, the SFWA and authorial corruption

Amazon is entirely correct to limit author reviews on its site:
Scores of authors in Britain and across the Atlantic have recently reported that their reviews have either mysteriously disappeared or were never published. Amazon has now admitted that it has introduced a ban on authors leaving reviews about other people's books in the same genre because they may pose a “conflict of interest” and cannot be impartial about their rivals.

This means that thriller writers are prevented from commenting on works by other authors who write similar books. Critics suggest this system is flawed because many authors are impartial and are experts on novels. 
Now, I can quite reasonably argue that I am one of the most impartial author-reviewers to have written a book review in the last 20 years.  My integrity as a reviewer is literally unquestioned; I was the only active game developer permitted to write computer game reviews in Computer Gaming World, and I was allowed to do so under two different editors because they knew I would never sacrifice my credibility as a reviewer for any reason.  Many readers know that I have quite favorably reviewed books by individuals whose politics I consider loathsome, whose opinions I consider idiotic, and whose characters I consider to be contemptible.  To my eyes, a book stands alone; its provenance is irrelevant.

Unlike the vast majority of book reviewers in the SF/F industry, I simply do not permit my subjective opinions to color my objective reviews.  It's not that I don't have any opinions, I simply refuse to take them into account when reviewing a book, a game, or a movie.

And yet, I not only don't write reviews on Amazon, I fully support Amazon's decision to bar authors from reviewing books and assigning them stars there.  Why?  Because for the last ten years, I have been privy to the corruption that is absolutely rife within the organization of the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Organization, as well as to the ideological corruption of the SF/F industry on the part of the publishers, the reviewers, and even the bloggers.

Read the rest at The Black Gate.

UPDATE: An SFWA insider confirms my observations: "[Vox] is correct when it comes to the inbred logrolling. As SFWA Bulletin editor from 1999-2002 I can attest to this first hand. A small clique and their "in" friends control quite a bit of what goes on in SFWA (at least it did back then and I have no reason to doubt that things have changed)."

UPDATE 2: I would be remiss if I left off this reviewer's hilarious description of the Nebula award-winning Quantum Rose: "Kamoj Quanta Argali is the 18 yr old governor of a planet of former slaves. When a newcomer on the world Havyrl arrives to recover from an ordeal which left him half mad, he spies Kamoj taking a bath in a river and falls for her. Impulsively Havryl offers to marry her which causes strife and conflict throughout the region, as Kamoj's spurned fiancee vows revenge."

Ye cats!  The punchline?  That's from a reader who actually thought the book was all right and gave it three stars!  It  also appears Asaro is from the Isaac Asimov school of nomenclature.

Labels: ,

71 Comments:

Anonymous DrTorch December 27, 2012 7:10 AM  

But, but, what about peer review?

That's so important.

Anonymous Rantor December 27, 2012 8:05 AM  

@ DrTorch, brilliant

@ VD, now I better understand the whole Scalzi campaign.

Incidentally, 32 years ago I was on a youth board that reviewed books for the public library. Back then I read a lot of SF/F and would look for award winners. I generally liked them, but some 20 years ago I gave up on the awards as a way to pick books. Word of mouth or knowledge of the author was more important.

At some point I virtually gave up on the genre, too much sex and wanton violence, not enough interesting plot, character development and most important to me in SF/F world (environment, technology, culture, etc.) development. Of course all the while the industry was marred by the shiny, atheist, socialist dreams of the idiot authors.

Anonymous JartStar December 27, 2012 8:13 AM  

The the Nebula awards could give you the "We'll never sleep with you!" award, you'd get it this year.

I also praise Amazon for the move. There's been several times that an author will write a review of a book in the same genre, then link to their less selling book stating it compliments it. They always give 5 stars and it is just shameless promotion.

Anonymous reubes December 27, 2012 8:17 AM  

You said there are five Laundry Files novels, but I only know of four, what's the fifth? I ask because I'm a fan of the series.

Atrocity Archives
Jennifer Morgue
Fuller Memorandum
Apocalypse Codex

Anonymous MendoScot December 27, 2012 8:42 AM  

But, but, what about peer review?

Criss cross, DT, criss cross.

Anonymous VD December 27, 2012 9:02 AM  

Oh, it exists. Rest assured, it exists....

Anonymous Gx1080 December 27, 2012 9:33 AM  

Amazon desires to have more credibility than the average videogame reviewer. Good for them.

I have seen how clique-istic bullshit has destroyed complete fields. I believe that the fate of, let's say, the comics industry (not the only, but the most egregious example), is completely avoidable with steps like these.

OpenID newrebeluniv December 27, 2012 9:36 AM  

Not just book reviews. The internet is full of reviews of all sorts of products and services. Some companies go so far as to create their own web sites to trash their products. The false reviews and self-serving reviews are quickly overwhelming the legitimate customers and consumers.

I suspect the whole point of services like "Reputation Defender" is precisely to write favorable reviews for a fee. Similar to all the authors who write one-liner endorsements to be printed in the jackets of other authors and no-name critics who tell you how this movie is the one you must see this year. It's all just insider hype and not worthy of even reading it.

Anonymous Orion December 27, 2012 9:53 AM  

My selection process (for fiction) has generally proceeded as follows:
known author
referred book
interesting sounding back cover
cover art (yeah, gotten burned a few times going to this level)
positive review by a favored author (Drake, Pournelle, Glen Cook)

If it gets down to the review level... frankly I'm willing to wait until a friend gives a thumbs up. There is just that much carp on the shelves these days. Hell, I am almost tempted to drop one of my favored authors because I noted their Kindle version cost more than the paperback! I got some gift cards for Christmas so I'll have to revisit them again.

Anonymous Orion December 27, 2012 9:55 AM  

Carp, crap, all pretty fishy where fiction has been going with the pc grrrlll power creeping into even the most unlikely author's work these days.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 10:02 AM  

@Vox Day

I simply do not permit my subjective opinions to color my objective reviews. It's not that I don't have any opinions, I simply refuse to take them into account when reviewing a book, a game, or a movie.

I have no reason to doubt your integrity as a reviewer. None.

However, I presume that when you you refer to your "subjective" opinions here you are referring to your ideological (political, social) opinions not coloring your critique of a works of art and craft. I note this because all critical assessments of art and craft (literature, film, architecture, wine, music) is a subjective assessment, not objective.

We cannot say as a matter of fact that the 1997 Antinori Soscana Solaia is a great wine.

We cannot say that objectively and as a matter of fact that that Led Zepplin II is a great recording.

One cannot say as a matter of fact that the works of Anne Rice, Dr. Seuss, Barbara Cartland or Vox Day are bad literature.

We can't say any of this We can render an opinion on these issues, but we can't say they are objectively good or bad.

Anonymous MendoScot December 27, 2012 10:08 AM  

Ignore this comment, I'm trying to find out what settings are causing my comments to disappear.

Anonymous Josh December 27, 2012 10:11 AM  

Twilight is objectively bad. So is Left Behind.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 10:20 AM  

Josh:

I feel your pain. But they are not objectively bad. The correct formation of your thought is: "I believe Twilight is a bad novel and I believe the same about Left Behind".

Anonymous VD December 27, 2012 10:25 AM  

I presume that when you you refer to your "subjective" opinions here you are referring to your ideological (political, social) opinions not coloring your critique of a works of art and craft. I note this because all critical assessments of art and craft (literature, film, architecture, wine, music) is a subjective assessment, not objective.

From that larger perspective, yes. However, it is conventional to describe a review in which one's opinions concerning extrinsic factors do not influence the review as being objective, even though the review is, by definition, intrinsically subjective.

Think of it as being an objective subset within the subjective set.

Anonymous Correctly Formed Thought December 27, 2012 10:35 AM  

Shutup, Tad.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 10:39 AM  

@Vox Day

However, it is conventional to describe a review in which one's opinions concerning extrinsic factors do not influence the review as being objective, even though the review is, by definition, intrinsically subjective.

In other words, that the author of the book you may review is a "competitor" or family member or atheist or Christian does influence your subjective assessment of their work.

Good.

Anonymous The other skeptic December 27, 2012 10:45 AM  

Because for the last ten years, I have been privy to the corruption that is absolutely rife within the organization of the SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Organization, as well as to the ideological corruption of the SF/F industry

It seems that DC is but a reflection of the SFWA, or is it the other way around.

Anonymous MendoScot December 27, 2012 10:45 AM  

Ignore this comment, I'm trying to find out what settings are causing my comments to disappear.

Anonymous Feh December 27, 2012 10:45 AM  

Military history also has a lot of mutual handwashing on Amazon (you review my book, I'll review yours).

Also, one can buy reviews:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=0

I've noticed there are reviewers on Amazon who are *extremely* prolific and always give 4 or 5 stars. I don't know for a fact they are paid, but such is my suspicion.

Anonymous But December 27, 2012 10:56 AM  

We can say that objectively and as a matter of fact that Tad is an idiot.

Anonymous Amgdala Dysfx Anon December 27, 2012 10:58 AM  

Yah. Shutup, Tad.

Anonymous VD December 27, 2012 11:00 AM  

In other words, that the author of the book you may review is a "competitor" or family member or atheist or Christian does influence your subjective assessment of their work.

In my case, no. It doesn't influence my subjective assessment of their work in the slightest, as Charles Stross, John Scalzi, and others can attest. It can influence how much I personally like it or not, but I don't let that get in the way of the assessment.

For example, I don't like a lot of pop songs, but I can laud them for the craftmenship with which the musician who wrote them succeeded in his objectives.

Anonymous Orion December 27, 2012 11:04 AM  

@Feh
For military history I have another sorting list. While positive reviews have a chance of getting some play, my reviewer list is extremely restrictive. As in dead people's comments often carry the most weight. True, tends to skew my list to older works, but since I dropped out of academia years ago my trips to the library are rare.

Anonymous Miranda Wright December 27, 2012 11:07 AM  

Remain silent, Tad.

Anonymous VD December 27, 2012 11:08 AM  

I've noticed there are reviewers on Amazon who are *extremely* prolific and always give 4 or 5 stars. I don't know for a fact they are paid, but such is my suspicion.

Yes, you especially see a lot of them from the self-published authors who have a surprising amount of reviews. They all look like this:

Omg....just love this!

I am so happy I found this ebook on amazon. The story is amazing and has me on my toes. I am going to find more ebooks from this author on amazon and will recommend this ebook to all my friends.


They usually say something about how much they are looking forward to the next book, etc.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 11:12 AM  

In my case, no. It doesn't influence my subjective assessment of their work in the slightest, as Charles Stross, John Scalzi, and others can attest. It can influence how much I personally like it or not, but I don't let that get in the way of the assessment.

Good on you!

Professional criticism is an art that seems far less appreciated today than it has been in the past, primarily, I think, because so many more people today fancy themselves legitimate critics and we are all exposed to uninformed critiques of single works and body of works. It's the same with Graphic Design. Give someone Photoshop and they think they are a designer.

But the great literary, film, music (etc.) critics are more than just spewers of opinion. They know the history of the genre of art that the subject of their review falls within. They understand the movement within that genre. They understand the motivating factors, cultural and technical, that resulted in the various movements of a genre. And, the great critics tend also to be very good writers.

New York Review of Books still seeks out great critics. The Paris Review used to, but I haven't read it in a long time. And though I don't always agree with him, it's clear that that the NY Times' film critic, A. O. Scott, has a very firm grasp on the history of film and his reviews reflect this knowledge.

Anonymous Hmmmmmm December 27, 2012 11:16 AM  

When Tad first graced us with his presence, the little weasel said he liked it here because you could say whatever you want. Now, in typical Liberal Fascist manner, he is telling us what we can or can't say.

Anonymous We Can Say December 27, 2012 11:17 AM  

Shutup, Tad.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 27, 2012 11:19 AM  

OT, but since a while ago the topic around here was amazing sports kicks, I thought y'all might enjoy taking a look at THIS... woo hoo!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/video/2012/dec/24/norwegian-kicker-nfl-tricks-viral-video

(h/t AoSHQ)


Anonymous Susan December 27, 2012 11:21 AM  

When someone asks me my opinion of something be it food, tv or anything else, I ALWAYS preface my review with a statement to the effect that it is MY OWN PERSONAL like/dislike, and that their mileage may vary. Then I just stick to the basic facts. Less likely to cause trouble that way.

I learned a lot of my product reviewing technique from reading certain of the more controversial postings from VD here. Especially that time when he took on internment during WWII along with rounding up the illegals and moving them back south of the border. Those two posts should be required reading for anyone who wants to learn how to make their case about something controversial.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 11:22 AM  

@hmmmm

When Tad first graced us with his presence, the little weasel said he liked it here because you could say whatever you want. Now, in typical Liberal Fascist manner, he is telling us what we can or can't say.

If you want to make the case that an individual's critical assessment of a piece of literature can be an objective measure of the writing's value, then knock yourself out. I've never seen this case successfully made for the simple reason that there exists no objective source of what good or bad art must be.

Anonymous VD December 27, 2012 11:29 AM  

But the great literary, film, music (etc.) critics are more than just spewers of opinion. They know the history of the genre of art that the subject of their review falls within. They understand the movement within that genre. They understand the motivating factors, cultural and technical, that resulted in the various movements of a genre. And, the great critics tend also to be very good writers.

Where did you put the real Tad? This is absolutely true. The more accurately informed one is, the more substantive one's opinion is likely to be, so long as one ruthlessly keeps one's personal preferences and ideologies out of the assessment. I have a near encyclopedic knowledge of games from about 1965 through 2000, which gives me a real advantage in criticizing and designing them.

We actually run into this a lot when discussing designs with those who lack such knowledge. Whereas we can simply say "core mechanic from Game X with a bonus system based on Game Y and a Game Z levelling system", the less experienced designers have no idea what we're talking about and have to start from scratch to reinvent the wheel.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 27, 2012 11:38 AM  

"We can render an opinion on these issues, but we can't say they are objectively good or bad."

For the most part this is true, with a single exception that I am aware of. You see, when _I_ deem that a work of art is good or bad or whatever, then the statement is objectively true, universal, and the judgement is final.

I don't know how it happens to be that way. The universe is just funny sometimes, right?

In fact, maybe I'll start a website called "One Word Reviews," where all the judgements will be in one word, usually but not restricted to "Good" or "Bad". Ask me about anything, I'll tell you in one word, and be infallible about it, too. How's that for a deal?


Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 11:41 AM  

@scoobious

For the most part this is true, with a single exception that I am aware of. You see, when _I_ deem that a work of art is good or bad or whatever, then the statement is objectively true, universal, and the judgement is final.

Clear it is objectively true that Scoobious deemed Film X as "good". However, that's not a critical assessment of anything. It's just an objective observation of the color of an individual's statement.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 11:49 AM  

@Vox Day

Where did you put the real Tad?

Off drinking large amounts of pastis.

I remember long ago reading a review of the film "Elizabeth". I know the story of the English Queen. But I'm more interested in the artistic rendering of the story. The reviewer begins to explain how the film is in large part a reflection of the impact that "The Godfather" has had on screenwriting and filmmaking. They then go on to explain why this particular homage to Coppola and Puzo is the kind of derivative work that gives derivative works a good name, while noting other examples that give it a bad name.

This is the most basic kind of really good critical analysis of art. But it goes back to your assessment that "The more accurately informed one is, the more substantive one's opinion is likely to be."

Really good criticism should include a large dollop of history.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 27, 2012 11:50 AM  

@Tad

It's a good thing you're not an objective authority on jokes.

Anonymous scoobius dubious December 27, 2012 11:53 AM  

"Really good criticism should include a large dollop of history."

Hey, now what do you mean by "really 'good' criticism" anyway? What's with this 'good' word? And what's with all this prescriptive "should" business?

Now go look up 'recursion' in the dictionary. [HINT: that is also the setup to an old joke.]

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Anonymous Josh December 27, 2012 12:02 PM  

So we've found another topic (the first being whiskey cocktails) where tad speaks intelligently.

Truly a chrismakwanzakkuah miracle!

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 12:08 PM  

Wild Turkey 101, bitches.

Anonymous DrTorch December 27, 2012 12:19 PM  

BGSU football is not "good." But it was good enough. Military Bowl, 3pm today. I'm there.

Anonymous I Am Irony, Man December 27, 2012 12:41 PM  

Will all those "people" telling Tad to shut up, please shut up?

You've now become more annoying than him.

Anonymous No December 27, 2012 12:50 PM  

@ I Am Irony, Man

Shut up!

Anonymous CrisisEraDynamo December 27, 2012 12:53 PM  

@ I am Irony, Man

Seconded. Everyone jumping on Tad like that is annoying.

Anonymous WaterBoy December 27, 2012 12:54 PM  

Tad: "And, the great critics tend also to be very good writers."

Roger Ebert, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens

Oh, waitaminute. You said great critics.

Nevermind.

Anonymous Anonymous December 27, 2012 1:06 PM  

Seconded. Everyone jumping on Tad like that is annoying.

Thirds. And he appears to be rightly ignoring you, so you are just showing your asses.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 1:09 PM  

@stg58

Wild Turkey 101, bitches.

Yep!!

And don't forget the Hudson

Anonymous Shutup, Tad December 27, 2012 1:11 PM  

You've sold your birthrights for a mess of Taddage.

Anonymous Tad's Sock Puppet #234 December 27, 2012 1:15 PM  

Leave Tad Alone, you big meanies!

http://memegenerator.net/instance/32535418

Anonymous Luscinia Hâfez December 27, 2012 1:23 PM  

I have a near encyclopedic knowledge of games from about 1965 through 2000, which gives me a real advantage in criticizing and designing them.

I'm not sure that gives you an advantage in designing games. Unless you designed a game that wasn't Rebel Moon or The War In Heaven.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 1:39 PM  

I never thought I would have anything in common with a raging cockfiend, but there you go, Tad. I will raise a glass to you tonight and hope you dodge the HIV bullet one more time...

Anonymous JartStar December 27, 2012 1:58 PM  

I have a near encyclopedic knowledge of games from about 1965 through 2000, which gives me a real advantage in criticizing and designing them.

What happened in 2001?

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 2:02 PM  

Vox went on a Space Odyssey.

Anonymous Azimus December 27, 2012 2:05 PM  

VD:
I was the only active game developer permitted to write computer game reviews in Computer Gaming World...


What years? What games? That was the ONLY computer game magazine I didn't think was a worthless "gaming-advertisement-as-review" rag, and genuinely enjoyed the reviews.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 2:12 PM  

@STG58

I never thought I would have anything in common with a raging cockfiend, but there you go, Tad. I will raise a glass to you tonight and hope you dodge the HIV bullet one more time.

And now I'm inspired to run down and add a new bottle of Wild Turkey to the bar, crack it, sip it and raise a glass to you with the hope that you will dodge the herpes bullet.

Question...do you tend mostly to simply sip the stuff or mix? I tend to mix it into the Manhattan or Old Fashioned, but sometimes like it straight with the tiniest cube of ice.

Anonymous JartStar December 27, 2012 2:18 PM  

Question...do you tend mostly to simply sip the stuff or mix?

Crushed ice. That's all you need.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 2:40 PM  

Tad,

Don't worry about me and herpes. My wife is the only recipient of my eponymous member. The only thing I have to worry about is a tall, curvy redhead. You might need to worry about herpes, though.

As for the Wild Turkey, ice and a glass. Slowly sipped as I watch my progeny try to clean their orange plastic cowboy six shooters with my chamber brush and Hoppe's Number 9. I didn't name them after Jefferson, Jackson, Fenimore Cooper and a certain hard bitten West Texas cowboy for nothing.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 2:52 PM  

@Jart

Question...do you tend mostly to simply sip the stuff or mix?

Crushed ice. That's all you need.


I find crushed ice melts too fast, diluting the creamy goodness of a fine whiskey. On small, solid cube works best for me.

Anonymous JartStar December 27, 2012 3:10 PM  

On small, solid cube works best for me.

The crushed is out of my front panel on my fridge, so I guess it would actually qualify for small cubes rather than true "Sonic style" crushed ice. I agree that it is the best way to have it.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 3:14 PM  

My refrigerator makes the longer pieces of ice that taper on each end like two cross sections of an wing tcuk together at the thick ends. Works great. I only need two or three pieces.

I also enjoy Wild Turkey while watching my fire pit do its thing in my back yard.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 3:23 PM  

My refrigerator makes the longer pieces of ice that taper on each end like two cross sections of an wing tcuk together at the thick ends. Works great. I only need two or three pieces.

I also enjoy Wild Turkey while watching my fire pit do its thing in my back yard.

Blogger IM2L844 December 27, 2012 3:27 PM  

I Am Irony, Man: Will all those "people" telling Tad to shut up, please shut up? You've now become more annoying than him.

CrisisEraDynamo: Seconded. Everyone jumping on Tad like that is annoying.

Anonymous: Thirds. And he appears to be rightly ignoring you, so you are just showing your asses.


Oh, hell no! In a contest of who is most annoying, the perpetually antagonistic contrarian wins everytime.

Anonymous Tad December 27, 2012 3:52 PM  

@stg58

My refrigerator makes the longer pieces of ice that taper on each end like two cross sections of an wing tcuk together at the thick ends. Works great. I only need two or three pieces.

I also enjoy Wild Turkey while watching my fire pit do its thing in my back yard.


That works.

For me, it's two things: Headphones, Charlie Parker and sips....And, a glass at dusk on the deck over the woods.

Anonymous MendoScot December 27, 2012 4:18 PM  

Wild Turkey 101, bitches.

The last time I was back in the Ignited States of Neon (h/t Steve Turner), it was almost impossible to find in bars - if they had Crazy Bird, it was the execrable 80.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 4:25 PM  

101 is all over the place now. They even came out with American Honey: 80 proof mixed with honey.

Oh. Sweet. Jesus.

Anonymous MendoScot December 27, 2012 4:40 PM  

101 was ubiquitous when I lived in the US in the early 90's.

Some of the worst hangovers I remember were from using mead as a chaser for whisky.

And needing ice in your whisky is like needing to lube your wife - you might want to consider that you don't know what you're doing.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother December 27, 2012 6:13 PM  

To each their own. I also like to do shots of Jaegermeister..something most people turn up their noses at.

Blogger Bogey December 27, 2012 6:30 PM  

I could be mistaken but it does seem like the clique mentality has only worsened under the current SFWA president, John Scalzi. So the Hugo could be the most honest representation of the pulse of science fiction. Hugo Gernsback disliked by many writers (according to Barry Malzberg) but loved by the fans (according to the popularity of Amazing Stories), appropriate.

Anonymous kh123 December 27, 2012 11:21 PM  

Which goes quite a ways to explain some of the 4-5 star reviews.

Did a litmus test of my own on Amazon, on something a slight step above wereseal fiction so as to keep my dinner down - hence, the gryphon fetish genre.

Sure enough, within the first 2 or 3 reviews, at least one fantasy/high adventure authors' name popped up, giving the aforementioned 4/5 reacharound.

Another from a second book by same author: Good sequel, but as is typical..." And yet, 5 stars. Am coming to the conclusion that a good deal of positive reviews in SF/F are done by friends or coworkers.

...Yup, just confirmed another one on the same review: Since the author lists where they've worked previously on their Amazon profile, was able to cross reference another 5-star reviewer on both of her books. Previous coworker.

Blogger mmaier2112 December 28, 2012 11:50 PM  

Ice and Bourbon do not belong in the same sentence.

Jager has its place, in small doses.

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