Blog and Antiblog

One of the best cartoons ever:

and one I thought about when I read Robin Hobb’s antiblogging rant.

I did think it ironic that RH wanted to distribute this thing, so she posted in on the internet–essentially, it is a blog post about how bad blog posts are.

On the other hand, as John Scalzi pointed out, she has a kind of point. Writing a blog and writing fiction are categorically different activities that some people may get confused.

On the other other hand, maybe some people are better off venting their spleen in a blog than trying to write fiction. (I don’t mean to sound supercilious: I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I’m in this group.)

On the other other other hand, I’m starting to think that the whole concept of writers having blogs as promotional tools is misguided, or at least should be guided by one’s own temperament. Someone who has a breezy and amusing personality and invests, you know, ten years of breezy and amusing posts in a daily blog, this person may be in a position to use his blog for promotional purposes. That’s not most people, whether they’re good writers or not.

But what’s the harm, anyway? Even if the average blog is a less-than-powerful promotional tool, at least it’s not going to hurt, right? In short, isn’t it time for the other other other other hand to appear?

Not really: this is the point I was setting out to make. For many writers, an internet platform (whether it’s a blog or something else) may well do more harm than good (strictly in a career sense). This occurred to me most recently when reading a post by a fellow-Black Gate writer, whose blog is emphatically worth reading for its wit, effervescence and thoughtfulness, which made me think of two writers I don’t read anymore, largely because of their online presence.

I’ve never restricted my reading to authors who agree with me on every issue. Neither Le Guin nor Heinlein, to cite two genre examples, take the trouble to reaffirm my personal worldview in everything they write, but I can forgive them this serious offense if they don’t waste my time as a reader (as Le Guin never has, and Heinlein never did until I Will Fear No Evil and its increasingly bloated and pointless successors).

But in the case of the two they-shall-be-nameless writers I’m talking about, their online presence frosted me to their offline work because of the intensity of hatred they displayed and their strange lack of intellectual honesty. As an academic, I’m prepared to debate the merits of almost any proposition and, as a perennial snarkmonger, I like a good fight. I don’t like being doused with internet venom and set on fire because I disagree with someone’s position on some foreign policy issue, or their definition of fantasy, or some other matter about which reasonable people could disagree, and even unreasonable people could talk about without screaming if, you know, they had something that might pass in a dim light for human decency.

Even reasonable people can be caught by this trap, because no one is reasonable all the time. Charles Stross, who may be the best of the newer writers of SF, posted a piece last summer that struck me as almost ridiculously narrow-minded. (It’s here, under the title “Pernicious Reporting.” I am not, by the way, a Tibetan monk and I don’t believe in reincarnation. I just think that people–even people I disagree with–have certain rights which, unfortunately, are far from inalienable.)

I fumed about it for a day or so, meditating various responses, until I realized that it was coloring my attitude toward his work. I decided what was more important to me, deleted his blog from my RSS feed, and by parting company with Stross-the-blogger I have maintained undiminished my enthusiasm for Stross-the-author.

They used to say that you should never try to meet your favorite author; it was bound to be a disappointment. Nowadays you hardly have to try; one Google-search and you’re likely to land in the thorniest part of any given author’s crotchet-patch. However this plays out for the reader, it really may not work in the writer’s favor. So maybe Hobb was even righter than she knew with antiblog rant.

In which case, you know, burn this blog before reading.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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23 Responses to Blog and Antiblog

  1. sartorias says:

    Yeah, I did the same thing to the same person for the same reason (though not that post, a similar one).

    Still think he’s a nifty writers–I am just not interested in his view of daily life when it includes careless contempt in the “as we all know” mode for things I hold dear.

    • JE says:

      “Still think he’s a nifty writer–I am just not interested in his view of daily life when it includes careless contempt in the “as we all know” mode for things I hold dear.”

      Yes, indeed. I guess most writers (or would-be writers) aren’t necessarily “people persons” anyway: it’s a different set of skills.

  2. Dangit. My reading list keeps increasing after I read your entries. The only thing of Heinlein’s I’ve read is Starship Troopers, which I liked but thought was already … I don’t know the right word, preachy? Is that what you thought of those other books of his you mentioned?

    And I think I understand what you’re saying … I have noticed a trend where, if I like a writer or an actor, etc., I make it a point not to look up his/her life story in case I don’t like it. It really messes up my enjoyment of his work. I’m still going to read your blog, though.

    • JE says:

      RAH definitely does begin his preachy streak with Starship Troopers, and it only gets worse in some of his 60s books (like Stranger in a Strange Land or Glory Road). But those books also show a lot of inventiveness and tell pretty good stories. From I Will Fear No Evil onward the creativity lapses, the wordage increases, the boredom reaches toxic levels. (Some people would make an exception for Time Enough for Love but I don’t think I’m one of them.)

      Early Heinlein, though, especially in the Campbell years, is worth reading, I think, if you like sf. I’m not saying it’s great literature (as I think some of Le Guin is), but when he was writing at magazine lengths, he really was the archetypal American sf writer.

      I’m glad you’ll keep reading: blogging is a bit like shouting down a barrel, and it’s more fun when someone shouts back occasionally.

      • al_zorra says:

        I only read ST late in life, and what I recall about it has something to do with slavery (me being me, that is what I would recall), and hardly anything else. Then just recently, for the first time I watched Vonderhoeven satire movie of ST and went, “Whoa . . . . I gotta think about this more.” I’ve been trying to get a copy of the book ever since, since I can’t do this responsibly without reading it again.

        Love, C.

        • JE says:

          You may be thinking of Citizen of the Galaxy where the viewpoint character, Thorby, starts out as a slave, and freedom (or its absence) is an issue through the book. ST is about a kid who joins the infantry and finds it is the Best Thing Ever (an interesting attitude for an old Navy man like Heinlein, but apparently not intended to be ironic).

          • al_zorra says:

            You may well be right about that, James, since I read one or the other very late, and had never read either one previously.

            As usual, many thanks!

            Love, C.

      • le_trombone says:

        I’d say that the preachiness is embedded in his work long before Starship Troopers (I had a major disagreement with one individual on that subject on rec.arts.sf.written, in my opinion The Man Who Lectures is a major feature in all of Heinlein’s juveniles). It’s just that in Starship Troopers it has a more formal presence in the instructors who of course lecture as part of their job.

        I presume you’re referring to the August 23rd entry in Stross’s blog. The line that caught my eye was “While one might question the Chinese government’s motives…” Gee, ya think? I believe that this is a prime example of Really Missing The Point. (I recognize what point Stross is trying to make, but it’s a bit like bringing up how much one hates Jordan Almonds while reviewing The Band’s Visit).

        • JE says:

          “I’d say that the preachiness is embedded in his work long before Starship Troopers (I had a major disagreement with one individual on that subject on rec.arts.sf.written, in my opinion The Man Who Lectures is a major feature in all of Heinlein’s juveniles). It’s just that in Starship Troopers it has a more formal presence in the instructors who of course lecture as part of their job.”

          Yes–I have to admit you’re right. Certainly the Survival teacher in Tunnel in the Sky and the Ethics teacher in Starship Troopers bear a close resemblance to each other, for instance.

          I still think something changes with ST, but maybe I’ll have to put some more thought into articulating what it is.

          “I presume you’re referring to the August 23rd entry in Stross’s blog. The line that caught my eye was “While one might question the Chinese government’s motives…” Gee, ya think? I believe that this is a prime example of Really Missing The Point. (I recognize what point Stross is trying to make, but it’s a bit like bringing up how much one hates Jordan Almonds while reviewing The Band’s Visit).”

          Yes–it’s one thing to argue that reincarnation is false; it’s another thing to assert that the rights of people who believe in reincarnation don’t matter.

          “The Band’s Visit” looks like a great movie! I’ll have to check it out.

      • davidcapeguy says:

        I agree about Heinlein’s Campbell years — whenever I occasionally go back and read Heinlein, it’s always his short fiction that grabs me. Same for Hammett; though I strongly like the majority of his novels, his early Black Mask work blows me away every time.

        As for later Heinlein…I was part of a panel at CONvergence last summer, and pretty much the entire room was shocked that we had not one but two people in the room whose favorite Heinlein was Farnham’s Freehold. Curiously, we also had only a handful of fans of Stranger in a Strange Land. It may be that its popularity is mostly media-generated, based on title recognition, rather than people reading and liking it. Virtually nobody in the room under 30 years old, either. In another two decades, Heinlein may be all but forgotten. Frightening, but possible.

        • JE says:

          “As for later Heinlein…I was part of a panel at CONvergence last summer, and pretty much the entire room was shocked that we had not one but two people in the room whose favorite Heinlein was Farnham’s Freehold.”

          Wow. That is shocking. Well, each to their own…

          “In another two decades, Heinlein may be all but forgotten. Frightening, but possible.

          Could be. I have a sense that he still sells fairly well. (But I haven’t really looked into it, so maybe I’m in space on that one.) For the biggest sf fans I know among the younger set (my son and his best friend; now 18 and 19, respectively) sf means… Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Niven, and some of the newer guys (Stross and Scalzi yes, Doctorow not so much, iconic geek figure though he is).

          [edited for format & clarity]

  3. jordan179 says:

    Charlie Stross is also sympathetic to Hamas.

  4. burger_eater says:

    … blog is emphatically worth reading for its wit, effervescence and thoughtfulness…

    I was secretly, smugly sure you were talking about me until I got to that last word there.

    ::sigh::

    I like reading blogs of authors and getting so annoyed with them that I stop reading their books. Or become so enchanted with someone I’ve never heard of that I’ve started buying their stuff. And sometimes not liking it.

    I like knowing who’s getting my $$ and who isn’t.

    • JE says:

      Well, I do feel that way about your blog, but I was thinking about an entry in ‘s LJ.

      [edited to add: I didn’t credit him in the main entry because I didn’t want to send any nastygrams in his direction. But I figure any nastygraphers won’t have read this far.]

      “I like knowing who’s getting my $$ and who isn’t.”

      On balance, I guess I like this too. It definitely is to the reader’s advantage. I’m just unsure whether that it adds up to the writer’s advantage, too. All part of life’s rich pageant, I guess.

  5. al_zorra says:

    I tend to like to read blogs by intelligent people / writers who aren’t from the U.S. They provide valuable corrections to our universal, unexamined assumption that we’re the center of the universe, which assumption appears increasingly no longer true. As a writer, especially a writer who is deeply involved in history, this is fascinating information, to be living through a period when one’s nation is falling. Not that it is pleasant at all. Of course not. But then, pretending there’s no trouble in River City is worse.

    Our amigo CS, isn’t always right in what he says, either. And he doesn’t know the U.S., past and present, her myriad of cultures and institutions, quite as authoratatively as he thinks he does. For one thing, he’s hampered as the citizen of a very small place, geographically, in catching the conceptualization of space of people who visualize their nation as large as this one is.

    But none of us are always right about everything.

    Which is extraordinarily annoying for me, at least. Dang!

    As for Robin / Megan’s latest rant, as I also posted on CS’s blog, I like and I admire her as a person and as a writer, and have for a very long time. And I don’t believe she’s in the least a luddite, judging by her long-time presence online, and her responsible and patient long-time presence with young and aspiring writers. Many other writers have imitated her approach themselves with young and aspiring writers.

    Oh well.

    Love, C.

    • JE says:

      Sure–someone who throws off ideas the way CS does is worth reading for that reason alone. And these are indeed “interesting times” in the old proverbial-curse sense. On the other hand, fiction creates a zone where the reader’s mind is freer to play with the ideas (as opposed to a conversation about the real world where one tends to accept/reject a given proposition) and I do find CS more takeable as fiction-writer than blog-writer. De gustibus…

      I’ve been toying with the idea of writing one of these “Is America Rome?” books, partly because the ones I’ve seen get the vital issues precisely wrong. On the other hand, I may just write another Morlock novella instead. Imaginary monsters are more comforting than real ones, I guess.

      • al_zorra says:

        The Real World is not comforting, that is certain. Unless, of course, you are wealthy enough to be supported by government handouts when you get into trouble.

        Love, C.

        • JE says:

          Yes, it was funny to watch the expressions change in DC recently. Millions of people facing foreclosure: too bad, but that’s the way the market crumbles. Some banks feel the pinch: all of a sudden it’s handout time.

  6. Anonymous says:

    But in the case of the two they-shall-be-nameless writers

    Oo, guessing games! We likes guessing games!

    Hmm… One down, one to go. 🙂

    –Jeff Stehman

    • JE says:

      “Hmm… One down, one to go. 🙂

      And I thought I was being so cunning!

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, that name’s on pretty much everyone’s list, so it’s not much of a secret. A second name to come screaming to the fore immediately after the first, but I dismissed that one, figuring I couldn’t be two for two.

        –Jeff “keep blogging, tough guy, you’ll make the list” Stehman

        • JE says:

          Personally, I’m striving toward that day when even I won’t be able to read my own blog. Then I might finally get some work done!

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