Smugglers Stash

Smugglers’ Stash and News: The Ana-Is-Taking-Over Edition

Muwahaha! Thea is away and I am taking over for the week (ok, sort of).

OK. Right, where to begin?

Brouhahas on the Internets!

It’s been a while since we last saw a good, interesting brouhaha on the internets. Thea’s side of the pond has been quiet for a while but on my side of the pond? A lot of action!

It started with Nial of The Speculative Scotsman, who wrote a post entitled Inferior Fantasy where he questions the overall quality of the Fantasy writing as opposed to say, literary fiction. The post caused quite the shitstorm both on his blog (look at the comments!) and on Twitter. It sparked other great posts in response as well. Like this one from Martin Lewis (editor of Vector Reviews) over at his blog Everything is Nice, entitled Inferiority Complex in which he agrees with Nial and he says:

It just means that perhaps there is a conversation to be had about pushing the genre forward.

Another great follow-up post was one by writer Robert Jackson Bennett at the Orbit’s blog where he writes On Content, Execution and the Future of Genre where he quotes Terry Pratchett and Jeff Vandermeer. It is a very interesting post and well worth a read.

I followed everything with an avid curiosity. I think that Nial might not have worded his post that well and probably could have done with more examples but the gist of it? The POINT of his post? I didn’t see it all as putting Fantasy as a genre down but rather, examining it with a critical eye and asking a question that needs to be asked (and that goes for all genres, really): is the genre the best that it can be? This is an important question regardless of how you answer it.

On my side, I think that one of the best, thoughtful comments on Nial’s blog was that of Mike Johnstone where he says:

Niall’s discussion has a great deal of merit.

“It has merit because there are objective, concrete measures of “quality” for literary art and then for prose narratives in the form of novels. As Niall mentions, these measures are in part “technical,” or matters of craft: grammar, paragraphing; dialogue; plotting; description, exposition; point of view; consistency of characterisation and in the setting; genre conventions/tropes, and so forth. These measures are also in part “artistic” (let’s say): style, voice; metaphor, allegory, simile; rhythm and sound patterns; layered meanings, and so forth. Together, these technical and artistic measures make up a novel’s “comment on humanity,” whether that novel involves sorcerers and dragons, spaceships with FTL capability, or real places and times such as New York City or the antebellum era in the southern US.

Very Cool Things

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is approaching (September 13-17)! The week spotlights and celebrates the work of active book bloggers through guest posts, awards, giveaways, and community activities. Go to their website to learn more about the history of the event (happening since 2008) , about the events that will be taking place and how to be a part of it. Basically it is all about celebrating what it is that we do here. And yes, Awards are a part, a very small part of BBAW, and we are very proud to have been shortlisted for one of them:


And kids, words can not describe how proud and surprised we were when we got an AWESOME mention over that USA Network’s Character Approved Blog, in their VERY COOL article: Book Bloggers: The New Literary Advisers. Go check it out!


Did you know that we now have a Youtube channel? Yes, we do! We created it to host the video interview we did with Fantasy author Brent Weeks and decided to carry on with the idea of having videos with authors, a new feature we have called SMUGGLED! , with the authors talking about their books, and answering questions sent by us. We only just started but we have loads of ideas and your suggestions are most welcome as well.

Meanwhile, go check the interview with Brent Weeks where he talks about his new book The Black Prism, his characters, social media and….book smuggling. And the second video is now up as well: an interview with Kelly Creagh, author of new YA novel Nevermore, where she interacts with a very special guest, talks about her book and Edgar Allan Poe and….book smuggling!

They are both great fun.

This Week On The Book Smugglers:

On Monday, I review How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel by Charles Yu

Then, on Tuesday, author Susan Holloway Scott guest blogs with us talking about her new historical novel: The Countess and the King

On Wednesday, I am back with a Ponderings post on four recent books I could not finish and why. Surprisingly the batch includes the acclaimed The Dervish House by Ian McDonald:

On Thursday I review An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire , book three in one of my favourite UF series and then Thea is back! With her review of The Osiris Ritual by George Mann:

And finally on Friday, following up on my review of An Artificial Night, author Seanan McGuire will be around to answer your questions on an interactive Q&A – plus a giveaway.

And that’s it from us today!

as always, we remain:

~Your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers

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  • danielle
    September 5, 2010 at 3:34 am

    USA is home to actual television progams! That means your FAMOUS. Remember the little people, now.

  • Sarah Rees Brennan
    September 5, 2010 at 4:32 am

    Thank you for the link to the brouhaha! I have to say, I’m a good bit more ‘eyebrows hit the ceiling!’ about Nial’s post than you level-headed ladies: is the genre the best it can be is a very valid question, but – is any genre the best it can be? I find literary fiction one of the most self-indulgent genres there is. I absolutely think the best fantasy would stack up against the best literary fiction, and beat it too. (I also think a really excellent fantasy novel is harder to write than an excellent literary novel – there’s world-building to do, and more of a plot is demanded by genre conventions, as well as crafting one’s immortal prose.)

    So, I have internet fists of fury over this one…

  • Ana
    September 5, 2010 at 5:18 am

    Sarah – Oh, I do agree with the points that you make – hence why I am a Fantasy reader by choice and holy crap yes, when it’s good it is SO freaking good. But god, I read a lot of crap and I dare say as self indulgent as the worst of literary fiction as well.

    I have to say though that I had more Internet Fists of Fury (tm SRB) over some of the reactions to his post as though he shouldn’t DARE to even ask these questions when I think it is totally relevant.

  • Sarah Rees Brennan
    September 5, 2010 at 5:43 am

    AS self indulgent yes, but MORE self-indulgent? I think it is legitimate to be furious that he flat-out says that the best of fantasy is just not as good as the best of literary. I disagree with him entirely, and since his question is ‘Why is this fact I’ve just declared is true so true?’ I don’t think it is relevant.

    Questions about the genre, and where the genre is going and how it all works, totally relevant! And maybe that’s what he meant, but it’s not what he said, and what he said is HUGELY offensive.

  • Ana
    September 5, 2010 at 6:05 am

    Although I don’t know him personally, I do think that it’s not what he meant – both reading his comments later and his tweets but yeah, I think that he didn’t word the original post that well.

  • Jodie
    September 5, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Oh youch that’s one big brouhaha. Like you I can’t stand people trying to shut down discussions so it’s a shame Niall feels like the discussion didn’t go in the most constructive direction. At the same time fantasy fans have to take a lot of trouble from the outside critical world, like most genre fans, so it takes a lot of patience to step back and be like *breath* on occassions like this.

    I like the comment you quoted from Mike Johnstone’s post about objective ways to measure writing. I agree that most of the technical aspects offered as examples are objective standards that have a right and a wrong way to be used. Although I’m not sure about pov – is he referring to choosing the correct pov for a certain story do you think, or only one kind of pov being correct? And spelling, or grammar might have to be judged in context, say if someone was playing around with language, dialect, or writing certain kind of characters.

    I think the artistic measures he mentions tend to be less concrete standards that everyone can agree on though. When it comes to that hard to pin down quality of voice there are realistic technical measures we can judge a characters voice on, but aren’t readers always going to be allowing a measure of subjectivity into a jdugement about voice? If we allow for concrete artistic standards I worry about who has set them and what kind of biases our culture might give to us all about what is artistically accomplished (the dead white male standards).

    And does the lit fic style of language (quite conciously focused on things like sound patterns, imagery) always work for every story? And why is lit fic the standard often aspired to as ‘best’? Is it because it’s truely saying something remarkable about humanity in the way it expresses itself, or because it ‘feels’ conciously like what we believe artistic is suppoused to feel like? (And I say that as a girl who loves lit fic, but finds some of the more established authors more…I don’t know…complicating to read as time goes on). I think that’s something we could be asking, as well as how might there be a convergence of lit fic and genre, taking the best from both instead of choosing one over the other.

    If this somehow grew into a big discussion about mixing different kinds of writing together and the way we use language (especially sound) to express things I would love it, so I hope something super cool rises to the top of the argument.

  • Ana
    September 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Hey Jodie, thanks for commenting.

    I interpreted Mike’s comment about PoV to yes, choosing the right PoV for a certain story.

    I think a good example I see of this is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks – where the narrative is split between ominiscient and third person removed. In my review, I said that I think it worked for that particular story but it might not a style of narrative that works for everybody?

    Going back to your comment: is there one “lit fic style of language” though? I don’t think so….

    “it ‘feels’ conciously like what we believe artistic is suppoused to feel like?” That is actually a pretty good question and I wonder if we (and by we, I actually mean, I) are looking for mainstream acceptance of genre fiction? I read several comments from people saying that they are not bothered with it, that it doesn’t matter, but I have to say, that to me it does matter. I hate that my friends who all read only literary fiction look down at me and are constantly asking me if I read “real” books. And I don’t think it is only about “wrong” perceptions. And that frustrates me and hence why this is a very personal discussion for me and perhaps wy Nial’s post spoke to me…

    But I would love if, as you say we could start talking about how might there be a convergence of lit fic and genre instead of choosing one over another – that would be cool.

  • Gerd D.
    September 5, 2010 at 10:55 am

    // Put what the consensus has deemed a β€œwell-written” fantasy beside an acclaimed non-genre work, //

    I dislike that they use the old let’s compare Apples to Pears approach to make their point.
    You could put any old “well-written” book regardless of it’s genre, against a acclaimed book and it will invariably fall short. So that’s a rather useless argument there.

    However, the discussion that fantasy is declining in quality is a long standing one (Darrel Schweitzer wrote a essay called “Six-Lane Highways to Elfland” about the sell-out mentality taking over Fantasy, in a ’88 issue of TSR’s “Amazing Stories”), and yes it’s certainly true that the sudden increase in popularity this genre garnered, led to a situation where you have to wade through more mediocre to badly written/plotted books to find the pearls, than before was the case.
    Doesn’t mean that there aren’t some real pearls to be found still.

    If the so acclaimed non-fiction genre should suddenly be hit by the same rise in general popularity as genre fiction was, it would have to fight the exactly same problems.

    Sure, fantasy could be of a higher quality standard, but some people are content with getting with as Schweizer puts it in his essay:
    “…fed the same storyline over and over again, just in changing clothes…”
    That expresses it a bit harsh, and personally I neither like the elitist reader nature shining through Schweizer’s essay or the above quoted post, but it encircles the truth. All some genre readers (regardless of what genre) are looking for is escapism, not every book has to set out to try and change world.

  • MaryK
    September 5, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    From The Speculative Scotsman:

    Put what the consensus has deemed a “well-written” fantasy beside an acclaimed non-genre work, and I’d bet good money that the latter is of a significantly higher quality than the former. I mean technically… artistically… narratively – every which way, ultimately.

    Yeah, whatever. First of all “consensus” and “acclaimed” just means some group of people decided something. It doesn’t even have to be a majority; Oprah picks a book and it becomes acclaimed. There are plenty of “acclaimed” and “consensus” books that I have zero interest in. Even assuming they deserve their acclaim and consensus, does their quality matter if I have no interest in them?

    I have real trouble with the use of “quality” when it comes to fiction. Yes, there are some technical aspects to fiction that contribute to “quality,” but again assuming all objective factors are “correct,” the determination of “quality” is going to come down to subjective factors. Do I like the book? Do you like the book?

    It is completely possible for readers to dislike a technical, artistic, narrative gem. The best technically written book in the world can be the most boring book in the world, and the book that breaks all the rules can be the most riveting.

    On a lighter note and tangent, Romance generally gets the same kind of criticism that Fantasy does and sometimes more. This reminds me of a couple of blog posts by Courtney Milan. Check out her new book Trial by Barbed Wire and her rant about happy endings.

  • Michelle
    September 6, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Congratulations on being recognized around the interwebs! You have a great blog and are much deserving of the attention. πŸ™‚

  • Susan Holloway Scott
    September 6, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Big ol’ congrats on the brou-ha-ha-ing. You guys are getting really famous. I’ll have to start saying I knew you when (like in May in NYC.)

  • Christine
    September 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Congrats on the mention on the USA Network Character blog!!! And so freakin’ cool that you got a YouTube channel! 8)

  • KMont
    September 7, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Eeeeeeee! An Artificial Niiiiiiiiiiiight!

    That is all. πŸ˜€

    Oh, and mucho congrats on yalls recent successes. πŸ˜‰

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