No way this is OK

Posted on October 19th, 2014 @ 23:18
Filed Under In The News | Leave a Comment

By now, everybody, their dog and their neighbours must’ve seen the crapstorm on Twitter, Goodreads and other networks, stemming from this article in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic

I wish it were a hoax, or some PR stunt (in which case it’d be one done in very bad taste). Unfortunately, I suspect it’s not the case.

I’ve already expressed my opinion about it in a couple of tweets/comments, but I guess this is one of the issues I should blog about nonetheless, if only because the cries of “bullying” in the past months (the past couple of years?) have been growing to epic proportions, and a lot of people don’t seem to have the slightest idea anymore about what’s happening and/or what’s true and what’s fabricated.

TL;DR: reviewer posted 1-star review of book on GR. Author claims reviewer & friends harrassed her. Author then processed to track reviewer until uncovering her real ID, and showed up at her house.

I don’t know the original blogger. All I’ve been able to see were her Goodreads reading progress of the novel, not the review itself (deleted?). However, the only other side to the story is the author’s, and considering 1) the tone of the article and 2) the lack of clear proof, it’s also rather fishy. I can only recommend reading the whole article first to get a clear idea; the gloating undertones didn’t strike me as witty and humorous.

But one thing is clear for me: stalking is never OK. I don’t care what reviewers wrote, I don’t care how the author felt, I don’t care whether the reviewer’s friends went on the rampage, or whether the author’s friends did. It doesn’t matter. Simply put: fellow authors, you don’t track readers and show up on their doorstep to confront them. Seriously, who in their sane mind would consider THAT alright?

What kind of message does that send?

  1. Random schmuck does the same thing, s/he likely gets a restraining order against him/herself. Author does it, she gets an article in the online Guardian and a pat on the back.
  2. It’s OK to stalk a reviewer because you didn’t like what s/he wrote about your book.
  3. Reviewers should always post with their real names (cf. the asinine Amazon petition endorsed by Anne Rice); if they don’t, it means there’s something shady going on, they have something to hide (hint: their privacy?), they’re only here for the trolling  & bullying. (Authors, though, are totally allowed to use pen names.)

To which I answer:

  1. Way to go, author who’s clearly in a position of power (access to media platform, publishing house, family connections). Way to prove that when you have fame and money (also when you’re going out with the son of Frank Rich, one of the most connected journalists in New York), stalking becomes OK. But the readers who leave less than 5-stars reviews are, of course, bullies hurt your feelings, so you’re entitled to follow them home. Not.
  2. No, all other authors don’t agree with that. In fact, I’ve seen a bunch who’re clearly disgusted by such behaviour.
  3. You don’t answer reviews. Repeat after me: YOU. DON’T. ANSWER. REVIEWS. Reviews are for readers, NOT for authors. Reviewers aren’t (y)our editors nor beta-readers. They’re not here to “help you improve”. They’re the ones at the end of the road, reading the final product. Not liking it is their right. Deal with it, or find another job.
  4. You don’t make important decisions, nor discuss delicate matters when you’re drunk. (The author admitted it in her article. Granted, I admit when I’m drunk, too… but then I don’t proceed to stalk people either.)
  5. When told not to engage trolls and bullies, DON’T ENGAGE TROLLS AND BULLIES. The first rule in such cases is “don’t feed the trolls”. I learnt that around year 2000 or so, possibly even before that. Surely other people can learn it as well.
  6. Catfishing isn’t creating a pseudonym and posting some elements of your real life under that name. Catfishing is deliberately posing as someone else in order to lure the targetted person into a romantic/sexual relationship. Go check your facts, please.
  7. So, such things happen, and we should post under our real names? Are you kidding me? (The present situation notwithstanding, people should never reveal too much about themselves on the internet anyway. That’s one basic rule of safety. I also learnt that back in 1997 or something.)
  8. Go home, Guardian. You’re clearly drunk. What in Mordor ever possessed your editors to let that piece of garbage make the news? Didn’t anyone notice how wrong the whole thing was?

You might say, “it’s not OK either for reviewers to attack an author through his/her work, to be nasty towards the author just because”. And I totally agree with that! Cyber-bullying is real, even though I think the whole term’s been used more and more in the book-blogging world to cry wolf at any negative review, instead of labelling real bullying. However, this is a point fit for another discussion, not this one, for a very simple reason: it diverts the attention from the real problem, which is the stalking. Discussing the reviewer’s behaviour at this point would be akin to, say, asking a rape victim “don’t you think that you wearing a miniskirt attracted unwanted attention, and so, in a way, you were asking for it?” This is a case of victim-blaming, and it has to stop. The reviewer, in this case, doesn’t have to prove she didn’t attack the author. The author’s making the claims, so she has to prove them. That’s why you have to take screenshots, people. (That’s why I’ve added ‘shots of the Guardian article at the bottom of my post, by the way.) Demanding that the blogger comes up and sue the author is basically implying “if you don’t do it, it means you’re guilty of [trolling, whatever] and the author was right in stalking you”, which in itself is wrong. For what it’s worth, maybe the blogger is now scared. People don’t waltz into the limelight when they’re scared.

At the end of the day, all it takes is one more step on the slippery slope to turn “anxiety at a 1-star, trolling reviewer justifies stalking” into “anxiety at a 1-star reviewer justifies stalking”. What causes “grief” to an author is always highly subjective. I was once told that I wrote “digusting things that no normal human being would ever imagine”; I’m pretty sure that comment would have crushed someone else, while it just made me raise an eyebrow before I switched to another activity. What would the next step be? “If a review makes me feel bad, I’m justified in stalking the reviewer?” What if just any negative review makes me feel bad? Does it justify going on the warpath?

Maybe the reviewer behaved like shite. I don’t know, since the author didn’t provide clear proof (tweets, screenshots, etc.). The Goodreads reading progress on that specific book didn’t strike me as an attack against the author, just as comments about why the reviewer felt infuriated by what she was reading. Still, it doesn’t justify said author tracking information about the reader, calling at work, driving to her home, confronting her. (And finding Blythe’s behaviour strange: well, of course it must’ve been strange. If suddenly someone walked up to me, calling me by my real name to confront me about something I wrote online under a pseudonym, maybe I’d panic and start to deny in a frantic, suspicious way, because I’d realised someone tracked me and found my house, not because I’m a troll. When people feel threatened, there’s no way to say how they’ll react. They don’t always react in a logical, smart way.)

This whole thing is just so stupid, and I still can’t understand why the Guardian ever gave a platform to something like that. (Or, rather, I can, and it’s a shame.)

Screenshots of the article:

Review: The Schwarzschild Radius

Posted on October 19th, 2014 @ 17:00
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The Schwarzschild RadiusThe Schwarzschild Radius by Gustavo Florentin

My rating:

Summary:

Rachel, an 18-year-old Columbia University student, descends into the netherworld of runaways and predators to find her sister, Olivia, who has suddenly disappeared.

After getting a job in a strip joint where Olivia worked, then doing private shows in the homes of rich clients, Rachel discovers that Olivia has been abducted by a killer who auctions the deaths of young girls in an eBay of agony.

When she finds Olivia, Rachel becomes the killer’s next target.

Review:

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 stars, veering towards a 4.

Very graphic in parts, and not shying away from dealing with the darkest recesses of the human soul. This might turn off some people, so if depictions of child pornography rings, sex slaves and peep-show practices are something a reader doesn’t want to read about, then better not pick up this novel. Personally, I found it fascinating in a trainwreck way: you can’t help but watch, even though it’s disgusting, and it makes you think about all those people, about depravity, about how low a human being can fall.

Rachel struck me as a resourceful young woman with guts, and overall smart enough to discover a lot on her own quickly enough to avoid falling down as well—because things seemed to move fast, and I have no doubt that once caught in such a spiral, every day spent in it would’ve made it harder and harder for her to go back, as well as to keep the peep show sessions and private parties to a “manageable” level. She was determined to find her sister at all costs; also, she cared about Achara, which was very humane. The one qualm I have with her is that the mistake that made everything speed up was, frankly, a pretty basic one, and I’m still wondering if she shouldn’t have been able to avoid it, considering how savvy she was overall. But I’m not sure either (even though, when the first tell-tale sign occurred, I immediately thought “something’s wrong here”), and I wouldn’t consider that as “too stupid to live” syndrome in any case.

The main female characters in general did what they could with what they had. It may not have been much, but when they had an opportunity to do something (try to escape, help each other, try to hurt the culprit…), they seized it. That it worked or not didn’t matter: they still tried, even though their trials were a very dire ones and they could’ve given up a long time ago. Each of them turned out strong in her own way, fighting until the end.

The plot itself moved at a fast enough pace, with a lot of suspense. Some events that appeared as strange actually made a lot of sense a couple of chapters later, and I liked how the author managed to “trap” me here the same way he did the characters. It was an interesting process to go through.

On the downside, I found the narrative a bit disjointed at times, as if it was trying to get faster to the next part, with the seams somewhat forgotten along the way. The writing style felt the same in a few places. Nothing terribly annoying, but still enough that I noticed it. I also wished it dealt more with Olivia’s actions: what exactly happened to make her go from volunteering to the underworld? (Obviously she was in for the money for a reason I won’t spoil, obviously she didn’t choose to be picked by the Webmaster, and was no doubt abducted, but while we’re given clear reasons about Rachel’s behaviour leading her exactly in the same situation—she was investigating and looking for her sister, after all—Olivia’s were more muddled. As if there was another, hiden reason that was never revealed. It may be a false impression on my part, only considering all the trouble Rachel went through, I definitely would’ve wanted to learn more.)

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Review: Rebellion

Posted on October 17th, 2014 @ 21:40
Filed Under Books, History | Leave a Comment

Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious RevolutionRebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd

My rating

Summary:

Peter Ackroyd has been praised as one of the greatest living chroniclers of Britain and its people. In Rebellion, he continues his dazzling account of the history of England, beginning the progress south of the Scottish king, James VI, who on the death of Elizabeth I became the first Stuart king of England, and ending with the deposition and flight into exile of his grandson, James II.

The Stuart monarchy brought together the two nations of England and Scotland into one realm, albeit a realm still marked by political divisions that echo to this day. More importantly, perhaps, the Stuart era was marked by the cruel depredations of civil war, and the killing of a king. Shrewd and opinionated, James I was eloquent on matters as diverse as theology, witchcraft, and the abuses of tobacco, but his attitude to the English parliament sowed the seeds of the division that would split the country during the reign of his hapless heir, Charles I. Ackroyd offers a brilliant, warts-and-all portrayal of Charles’s nemesis, Oliver Cromwell, Parliament’s great military leader and England’s only dictator, who began his career as a political liberator but ended it as much of a despot as “that man of blood,” the king he executed.

England’s turbulent seventeenth century is vividly laid out before us, but so too is the cultural and social life of the period, notable for its extraordinarily rich literature, including Shakespeare’s late masterpieces, Jacobean tragedy, the poetry of John Donne and Milton and Thomas Hobbes’s great philosophical treatise, Leviathan. In addition to its account of England’s royalty, Rebellion also gives us a very real sense of the lives of ordinary English men and women, lived out against a backdrop of constant disruption and uncertainty.

Review:

(I got an ARC of this book courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I like to say that you can’t really go wrong with Peter Ackroyd, and it seems to be once again the case. Even though what I read of him years ago feels pretty far by now, I still stand by this opinion. The man has a knack to present historical elements in such a way that one just can’t help but come back to his books no matter what—at least, I can’t. I stopped counting how many times I put my tablet in Sleep mode, thinking “I should do something else/read all the other books that I should have reviewed long before this one”, yet kept opening the file again after half an hour or so.

Of course, I’ll also confess to a complete lack of impartiality when a book deals with the Civil Wars, since it’s one of my favourite periods of British history (the other one being the Victorian era, but let’s not go there for now).

What you won’t find here, obviously, is a very detailed account of every little event of the 17th century: there’s just not enough room for that, and I’m well aware of it. Rebellion is the third volume of “The History of England”, and as such, it deals with the period as a whole. (If I wanted to know how exactly the battle of Naseby went, I… Actually, I would open another book I own, detailing precisely that, down to the bullets found years later on the battlefield.)

What you’ll get here, however, is a solid account that can be read even if you’re not a History major. In a compelling style, the author manages to convey causes and consequences with definite clarity, and even some humour. Because, let’s be honest, this is a gem:

“At the end of the discussion Cromwell, in one of those fits of boisterousness or hysteria that punctuated his career, threw a cushion at one of the protagonists, Edmund Ludlow, before running downstairs; Ludlow pursued him, and in turn pummelled him with a cushion.”

Also:

“Cromwell now always carried a gun. In a riding accident, later in the year, the pistol fired in his pocket and the wound kept him in bed for three weeks.”

It gets to show that the historical figures we take for granted in terms of seriousness aren’t always so. But then, there’s no way now to forget about those assassination plots, right, since they pushed Cromwell to carry that gun?

The narrative (it reads like a narrative, not like something arid, for sure) is interspersed with such little anecdotes, as well as chapters about literature (Hobbes’ Leviathan, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress…), science (Isaac Newton…), and other daily life happenings, reflecting how people lived in the period.

In short, heartily recommended by yours truly.

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Review: Upgraded

Posted on October 15th, 2014 @ 20:16
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UpgradedUpgraded by Neil Clarke

My rating:

Summary:

An anthology of original cyborg stories edited by a cyborg. Stronger. Better. Faster. We will rebuild you.

Review:

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

As usual with anthologies, always a tricky read to rate. Some of the stories I really enjoyed, others I found average, others yet were too far from my own tastes to hit home. Nothing unexpected here. All in all, there was only one story I really skipped/skimmed over, and a few that I struggled with at first, but ended up reading all the same, thinking “in the end it was somewhat worth it.”

Perhaps the theme of “cybernetics” is making things a little hard in that regard: either it works or it doesn’t, you won’t really find many other different themes to check for if it ends up not being your cup of tea. But that’s kind of a given, considering the anthology’s title and blurb.

A lot of the stories also toy with concepts questioning whether cybernetic enhancement would be a good or a bad thing: hopes crumbling, cyberntics leading to madness or violence, and so on. Those definitely open a path for deeper reflection here.

Stories I really liked:

* Seventh Sight: Part of my enjoyment probably stemmed of a personal fascination with tetrachromats, colours, and whatever is related to how we perceive the latter.

* Always the Harvest: This short story opens the anthology, and provides an interesting view on what defines “humans”, and on how a non-human conscience may interpret the image we project of ourselves.

* Wizard, Cabalist, Ascendant: A bit hard to grasp at first, but definitely interesting if one’s looking for reflections about transhumanism.

* The Regular: A more “typical” story, on the model of detective shows, which probably makes it easier to grasp.

A word of warning: a few stories made use of a second person point of view, which unfortunately is a serious break-it for me (frankly, apart of Choose Your Own Adventure books, it never works—and even in such cases, it has always tended to grate on my nerves). It doesn’t mean they’re rubbish, just that I can’t stand that point of view. Too bad, because Musée de l’Âme Seule has really touching moments (granted, it’s not 100% second person POV; but it felt like it too much to make me forget the constant “you”…).

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Review: Soulless

Posted on October 13th, 2014 @ 12:19
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SoullessSoulless by Amber Garr

My rating:

Summary:

When it comes to death and love…only one is guaranteed.

Four decades ago Nora died. A tragic event for someone so young; however, four decades ago Nora was also given a second chance to walk among the living.

A Death Warden with a mysterious past, her job is to escort the newly expired towards the light, battling with the Soul Hunters who want the freshly dead to help with their own evil purposes buried in the dark.

When Nora’s charges suddenly become targets, she realizes that the hunters are after far more than just souls. A shift in power between good and evil threatens to change everything, risking the lives of the only family Nora has ever known.

Devastated and angry, she’s forced to face the man she once loved – a man who chose darkness over her – in order to find the answers she needs to stop the horror from escalating. Yet, while a lost relationship still haunts her broken heart, a new Warden with secrets of his own will enter the mix and quickly alter everything Nora believed to be true.

Death is unavoidable…but sometimes, so is love.

Review:

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

Interesting premise and world (Death Wardens vs. Soul Hunters), but characters that turned out too difficult to stand, at least for me.

The story reads fast, and getting into it was quite easy. We’re quickly introduced to what being a Warden entails, and to what Soul Hunters do. Granted, their names kind of make it obvious; still, it’s good to see such things explained through active scenes, and not just in passing. Even though this could have become an info-dump, it didn’t (or if it did, not in a way that felt like I was having tons of information dumped on me).

However, I had the constant, nagging feeling that something was off. I suspected that the “something” was the characters. Some two thirds in, it just didn’t work anymore at all.

Nora is almost sixty: she died at eighteen, then spent fourty years as a Warden. Despite her long experience, though, she behaves like a teenager in more than one way, from moping about her mysterious death (understandable if it’s just happened, less interesting if it was ages ago) to letting her “hormones” lead the ball (she’s dead, by the way, so why would she still have hormones anyway?). That’s a specific pet peeve of mine, but I think it’s a justified one: when using characters that are older than they look, they must also act older, otherwise we might as well be shown a regular 18-year-old heroine.

While it seems that she’s going to be a leading character, the one with experience, compared to the younger one she has to teach, she actually becomes rather passive. Sure, she trains to fight. Sure, she’s given a charge of her own. Then she turns into the girl who has to be protected. You’d think that fourty years later, she wouldn’t need that so much. I wanted to see her actually teaching things to Jason; I got Jason jumping in front of her to save her.

Jason: nice character at first sight, a soldier who actually enlisted because he wanted to become a medic and thought he’d learn useful things in that regard in the army. Yet also a cliché (cowboy, ranch, manly man of manliness).

Then came the testosterone and jealousy contests. Apart from a couple of Elders, the few other female characters are, of course, girls who intend on seducing Jason:

A pretty, young girl with bright red hair and matching lips jumped forward. Her eagerness irritated me even though it shouldn’t. She stepped into the circle, eyeing Jason like a piece of chocolate cake with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Biting her bottom lip seductively, I rolled my eyes.

Ensue staring, dark glares, fighting in as revealing clothing as possible to grab the guy’s attention, and bodies getting too close to each other during training. Slut shaming wasn’t 100% in the open, but it definitely kept swimming under the surface. (Also dangling participles here and there, as you can see from the quote.)

This is one of those instances in which the romance clearly ruined the game for me. I’m not fond of love triangles in general, but that’s because they’re usually cliché, and tend to take over the actual plot. While the stakes could have been alluring here, after a while, it was very difficult for me to go past the typical “bad guy in black vs. manly soldier ex-cowboy”—complete with jealous, passive-aggressive domineering attitude:

He paused, something else balancing on the tip of his tongue. “Did you say Sani and Theron saved you?”
I shivered with the memory, and Jason held me tighter. His heavy arm felt like an iron clamp, gluing me to his side forever.

Guys, there’s a bigger problem looming on the horizon, and actually the horizon is getting very, very close because the book’s ending soon. Can we focus?

Add a bit of ain’t-telling-you-nothing (as in, some characters definitely know a lot more, yet refuse to spit the information out until, obviously, it’s much too late for that). I just don’t like that, since it creates an artificial delay in readers getting said information, while we all know we won’t get it anyway due to the character-rendered-unable-to-speak trope. (I swear, I can feel that one coming from miles away.)

In short: a good idea for a story, with themes that usually grab my interest (death, reapers), yet characters that grated on my nerves too much for me to enjoy it, and probably also a plot dealt with too quickly (there would have been more room for it without the girls competing over the guy, for sure). 1.5 stars.

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