Friday 14 August 2015

The Big Four-Oh, oh, oh, oh

They say life begins at 40 ... sadly that's some way behind me now...  Anyway, Prince of Thorns was 4 years old less that 2 weeks ago, and today the ratings meter over at Goodreads clicked past the 40,000 mark.

When the meter clicked past 30,000 I commemorated the event with a blog post that proved bizarrely controversial. And, thus inspired, I thought I would blog again.

Today's subject is tribalism. Particularly in the fantasy genre.

I suppose this bleeds in from the incredibly partisan politics in the US which in turn have created an ongoing culture war where the only thing both sides hate more than each other is the idea that there might be any legitimate middle ground.

In any event, it wasn't something I was prepared for when I stumbled into a book deal back in 2010. I wrote a fantasy story, swords were swung, blood spilled, a young life laid bare. On the day it hit the shelves I found myself accused of being a misogynist because ... there weren't 'enough' female characters in my short book from a single point of view, of being a rape apologist because the book contained three lines indirectly describing rape, and again of being a misogynist because the main character was (incorrectly) perceived to be one.

If you look at my blog post "That book with all the rape." the degree to which what people say is at odds with the reality of the situation is breathtaking. It was my first glimpse at the tribal nature of the genre. These people hadn't read my book. They hadn't so much as glanced at the first page - they had just heard the war drums and come running to boost the signal.

Much of the debate in the fantasy genre is just that partisan politics rolling on blindly, the culture war taking no prisoners. Read two invested parties getting into it on a forum or comments section and you get the distinct impression that neither is reading what the other writes, just skimming for something to pounce on. If they were having an actual conversation you might imagine them hearing only 'blah blah blah' and waiting for the pause in which to repeat themselves.

In my 30,000 blog post I dared to suggest that circumstances existed where it was legitimate (whatever that means) to have a book that contained very few members of one gender. I cited a novel about a week at sea in a submarine in World War II as an example.

A popular partisan blogger site got hold of this, and still burning with holy zeal over the 'rapefest', put me on their wanted list alongside hate-blogger Requires H@te whose rap sheet included victimising women of colour, death threats, relentless hounding of authors, driving someone to a suicide attempt, and 'many more'. The thing was - that Requires H@te was one of theirs, only recently disgraced when it turned out her targets had secretly included authors who were women of colour, up until then it had been assumed they were all white male authors and that was fine. So in the ... somewhat skewed ... perspective of this blog site I deserved to sit along side Requires H@te on the shelf of shame.

The most interesting thing to me about this was that the condemnatory tweet about me was picked up and retweeted over 100 times. Score 1 for the witch hunt - quite a mob gathered! But, the blog post itself, which until that point had had around 12,000 hits, only gathered slightly less than 100 new hits that day.

The most charitable interpretation is that everyone who retweeted that tweet looked to see what they were up in arms about ... and not one of their many thousands of followers did. But the truth must be that very few of those leaping on the bandwagon in an attempt to shame me actually read the blog post they were howling about. They just took as gospel the distortion presented to them in a 140 character tweet (or possibly on the site itself where I was lucky not to have Osama Bin Laden's mugshot to my right). And that's the culture war right there - it doesn't matter what individuals actually say - get caught in the cross hairs and you're thrown to the mob. The mob don't care, they're just pitching in. The people doing the throwing don't care, they think the lie (perhaps a mere gross exaggeration / distortion) is fine because they have their eyes on winning the war and collateral damage in this engagement is an acceptable price to pay.

The irony is that politically I am far far closer to the people spouting ridiculous nonsense about me than I am to the people with whom they want to line up beside me against the wall.

The fact is though, that there is nothing so good at undermining your own thoughtfully held position than seeing it spouted as dogma by a frothing evangelist. I've had the unpleasant experience of having my own beliefs preached at me by myopic idiots who think I'm their mortal enemy on the basis of someone's tweet.

What can be done? Very little really. People are people. It took millions of us quite a few decades to dig the hole we're standing in, and getting out will take a while too. The good news, however, is that we can still see the sun.

As a footnote: I finished Red Sister last week, the first book in the upcoming and eponymous trilogy. I'm waiting to be censured for having too few male characters and to be told that the convent setting is just a misandrist excuse.

The publisher's press release by itself was enough to set my most enthusiastic detractors (one being the author of the rapefest quote) into paroxysms. One wondered if it was a plot to suppress women's writing. Another worried that it was a conspiracy to undermine women writing about women...

This is what happens when you get so far into the tribal mindset that if you see someone who you've labelled 'THEM' running toward a drowning kitten your first thought is that the person is only running because they don't want to miss the show.


  1. I have no other comment than 'well put, sir.'

  2. Red Sister is finished brilliant , I will asume it will be out by next summer and book my holiday in the safe knowledge I will have a good old misogynist book to read, can't go on holiday without one ;) gratz on the 40k

    1. Actually next summer The Wheel of Osheim is coming out, so Red Sister will probably appear in the summer of 2017.

  3. Can't complain at one book a year really can I, you are a machine Mark keep up the good work :)

  4. Well said. My son keeps telling me I need to stop reading the comments on anything controversial because it makes me nuts seeing the way people twist things to fit their own beliefs. Just so you know I"m a 50 something very liberal woman who remembers when the rape of a wife was considered legal. I have read all of your books and have never found anything to complain about. Keep up the great work, look forward to your next book.

  5. Stopped reading at 'women of color' -- couldn't handle the rampant racism/hate-speech.

  6. No one will say anything because misandry is culturally acceptable today, while misogyny is not.

  7. I worry about people claiming only women can write about women, or only [blank] can write about [blank]. It's in credibly concerning and stifling. I feel like everyone should have a voice, but this notion that we can't write about certain subjects unless you meet certain criteria is concerning.

    Paired with the mob mentality and low-information, high-reaction internet jockies, it's kind of a crazy space out there. I remember when authors were the champions against censorship and would defend controversial subject matter, not try to bury it.

  8. I can remember joining our universities Sci Society back in the early to mid 90's. Even at that point the Deep Space Nine fans would barely acknowledge the existence of Babylon 5, as though another sci fi show with a space station was somehow anathema to them, rather than being good for the general genre of Sci Fi. Anything they had to say about the show was enormously derogatory and ultimately a bit pointless but they did it anyway.

    People in "niche" groups always define themselves by what they're "not" as much as they do by what they "are", simply because it's easier to reach a consensus on what they're against than what they actually believe in. Question the exact details of what they support, and you're liable to head into The People's Front of Judea vsJudean People's Front ;-)

  9. I recently posted about a fe reviews I've had on Amazon from "reviewers" who decided they simply couldn't finish the book because there were too many sexist comments. 1) Thanks for buying my book. 2) Exactly one character obsesses about the opposite sex. he is chastised several times for his obsession. 2,5) I mention that characters --male and female--are attractive or plain. I really don't get heavily into details. 3) The characters who were starting all the outrage actually use sorcery to make themselves more attractive, which 4) the reviewer might have noticed had she kept reading. Happily I have been assured by several other writers (ladies no less) that I'm rather tame on the descriptive aspects of the fairer sex. Having said all of that, i do not envy you your position, sir. Also, having read Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, your detractors are guilty of having NOT read them. You keep writing, I'll keep reading. James A. Moore, author of the Seven Forges series.

  10. With a larger percentage of new writers being female, I find many writing lead male characters, as well as female. Is reverse discrimination raising it's ugly head? Probably. Don't worry about the silliness Mark, Just keep writing and trust in the fact that your fans are growing, and that your current readers appreciate the hard work you put into your publications.

  11. So completely off topic......but have any of you heard that new song that goes. Now watch me whip, now watch me na na. Well to be Franke that song is terrible but a part of the song just says watch me a few times in a row. I can't help but think of dr. Taproot up in the club lol. Once again it's vary off topic and quite lame of me but I could not help myself

  12. Wow. WWIII is already underway and it's the Social Justice War soldiered by the Politically Correct Police. They aren't going to shoot or blow us up, but they will cyberbully us into virtual, and unfortunately at times even literal, oblivion, or die trying. The fact that YOU suffer from their battle-hungry, sociopolitical zeal, leaves little to no hope for the rest of us with "problematic" content in our work, for example my blatant depiction of sexual abuse that will never be resolved to SJW satisfaction ... I'm not sorry.