Wotcha all. This will be a long one not only because I’ve got a bunch of links, but also because I feel the need to give my opinion about a bunch of things including Twitter. That’s all the end so you can skip if you wish.
Right-o, lets go.
1. Blog of the week! When I started doing this idea, I knew Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub would get a nod fairly early doors. Jodie clearly puts in a ton of work, has great ideas and knows how to tout a book as seen with this review of The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga. Then there was the series of articles on magic she organised, there’s the ABC of Fantasy Authors which I’ll be taking a stab at, and the list goes on. Thoroughly recommended.
2. Happy book birthdays to Sidewinders by Robert Redick – read a review here: Sidewinders by Robert V.S. Redick Book Two of the Fire Sacraments – Under The Radar SFF Books
And City of Iron and Dust by JP Oakes, which I appear unable to find reviews for – let me know if you wrote one.
And a happy actual birthday to the artist Vii
3. In the non-review section of interested links
4. And in the review section!
5. Opinion Time.
Opinion One. Sometimes in discussions with friends I say “that sounds an awful lot like gatekeeping”. It usually dampens down conversation.
Sometimes I think the conversation would get more interesting if they went “And?”
People hate gatekeeping because they associate it with people insisting you can’t be a true fantasy fan without having tried Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time. That’s a pretty valid stance to look down on. But sooner or later, every identity comes down to “I am X, not Y” and “Y can’t be X”. That doesn’t half cause some fights but everyone has their lines there. Gatekeeping is part of our lives. Instead of trying to deny that, why not discuss the rights and wrongs of it, and how to healthily do it? To acknowledge we can’t put gates around huge things, but to put gates around some of the small things that consist of it. Sometimes gates must be closed, or made smaller, to give the people inside power, something we acknowledge with the idea of cultural appropriation.
When it comes to the gates of fantasy fandom, the territory is incredibly large and attempts to shut out fantastical works to fit some old definition are rightly ridiculed. But the issue isn’t gatekeeping, its stupid gatekeeping. And when we drill down to subgenres, the case for establishing some sort of gateposts grows stronger. To reference the last time I had a gatekeeping conversation – everyone should be able to hold forth on what YA is, but the people most deeply invested should have a collective voice and that probably only comes from having a gate set up, even if its never closed. It’s very hard to differentiate that from a purity culture, but I think not attempting to find that thin line in between will simply lead to voices being drowned out.
Opinion Two. The article linked here about the origin of Cat Person does raise some interesting questions about the ethics of drawing from real life inspiration. I would add legal too, save that I’m out of my depth; I suspect the standard declaimer “this book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” means Nowicki could give Roupenian a few sweaty moments at least if so minded, but I’m not sure of the details so I leave them aside. In any case, the ethics are what intrigues me. Every storyteller steals, studies, absorbs details of the people around them. That’s a given. At what point does it stop becoming standard practice and breach a barrier that should not be breached?
I’ve seen a lot of writers tweeting to the effect that this is completely standard practice and what’s the big deal. That I flat out disagree with. Yes, taking real life details is standard, but taking so much detail that a complete stranger and many of their friends/acquaintances wondered how Roupenian knew all of this about Nowicki, whether Roupenian was in fact Nowicki, is not standard. It is, at least, the standard taken to an abnormal degree. It is quite possibly just straight up abnormal. I have seen people dismiss Nowicki’s idea that the story is about her; I would at the very least suggest that since Nowicki has had that experience and none of the people doing so have, we stop to place ourselves in our shoes before doing so. Even if we conclude that intellectually she’s wrong, it’s hard to escape how powerful that emotion must have been.
I would like to state here that if Roupenian did do something wrong, she probably did so out of naivety, and that it’s really between her and Nowicki and she doesn’t deserve being dragged for it (which I don’t think I’ve seen, but just in case).
In any case, going from the article, Roupenian believes she should have removed some of the details about Nowicki’s life, and Nowicki herself seems unsure what to think. I’m not particularly inclined to argue with either; I think kindness alone is reason to blur the inspiration’s identity once it occurs to you (I’m not sure it would have occurred to me at that point either), but I am very unclear as where to start thinking about such things. I guess a good question would be “do you think someone, anyone in the world could accurately point to the source of inspiration?” Of course, I have never particularly stopped to think about the ethics of David Gemmell’s “poisonous attack” on the editor who inspired Karnak One-Eye, or Mick Herron’s depiction of a certain politician in Slow Horses; I guess I just accepted them as “all’s fair in love and war” attacks. What happened here is different in its unintentional nature.
I guess ultimately maybe I’m less intrigued by the ethics than I am the point of respect. I think Roupenian went past that point. I am fairly sure the point lies in allowing the source anonymity. But in this ever more connected world, where exactly does that line lie?
Opinion Three. Last Friday, I posted an article about how criticism on Twitter had helped radically change one person’s life for the worse. I got a thoughtful comment about it from JonBob that I never answered.
Between then and now, there’s been:
An article on whether twitter broke YA (answer – probably yes in part)
An author (Tade Thompson) left Twitter on the grounds it’s now something harming society.
Some other authors have made the case for staying to fight and help the community; others have taken a break, or indicated they will be reducing activity.
An attack out of nowhere on a popular blogging site (The Fantasy Hive) that didn’t snowball due to its blatantly untrue accusation, but did leave an unpleasant taste in its bloggers’ mouths and that of those who saw it.
And just other general business there.
I think a lot of twitter users in the fantasy community are weighing up how much good and bad they get out of the platform. I know I am. I am also weighing up Thompson’s statement, and those of some of the people saying “stay and fix this place”. Dealing with that, I think, starts with judging how much of Twitter’s problems are people problems and how much are idiosyncratic to the platform.
A lot of it is people. People’s tendency to do daft, brutal things on social media is well known by now (although I’m not sure whether this has been measured and compared to our tendency to daft, brutal things in every other possible way, to ascertain whether social media is worse or just different). Abandoning twitter will not remove that tendency, or stop it from occurring on other platforms. One could say abandon social media altogether, but I don’t think that’s a realistic goal for humanity as a whole right now.
Some of it is Twitter. There’s plenty of articles out there on how the platform makes it harder and harder for people to see what they want to see, and instead gives them what they want to see, which is frequently bad news and outrage. Obviously, that’s because it’s popular. But Twitter does not have to enable that. And Twitter does not have to make it difficult to avoid it.
(Speaking of which, Shaun Duke’s article on how to make Twitter more usable for yourself is a godsend)
The question then seems to me, are we better off trying to be better people on Twitter and hoping things change there, or are we better off sending a message that social media platforms that really act against their users will be abandoned, and seek to be better people on a different platform – if there is one that works.
The last part of that is where things get fuzzy. If you like to do your social media’ing mostly by the written word, there isn’t really anywhere else. Not if you want to reach a wide audience. Twitter is directly responsible for one tenth of my views here and probably a ton more from finding an audience there. My top six commenters include five people I met through Twitter. For many of us, it feels like Twitter or nothing. Yeah, I know Instagram is a thing. I don’t really take photos. More than getting Likes and Views, it’s putting me in touch with people who I try and help through tough times because I try and help them. For some people, these relationships have been critical through pandemic and will be critical in the days ahead, particularly for people who maybe don’t fit into their communities of birth that well
I provide this example to point out that
a) That good things do happen on Twitter
b) That what Twitter does well doesn’t have many competitors
Does that outweigh the ability to harm lives over small matters? I am not sure. Would be better off on a ton of small forums, sluggish to move? I am not sure. I feel fairly happy to say Twitter’s particular failings as a platform give me sympathy for the idea it is a social ill, and I wish I could migrate, but the simple truth is I am not smart enough and not informed enough to take in everything it does and compare it to everything else we do.
But, for now, given the good I can see, I am reluctant to move off it as a moral move. There’s no doubt some self-interest speaking. But not all.
Nevertheless, the question is there and will grow louder. Twitter and its communities need to get its shit together.