Abdicating…

Jeff VanderMeer • September 24th, 2007 @ 1:34 pm • Evil Monkey

Evil Monkey:
What up dawg?

Jeff:
What up…mawn-key?

Evil Monkey:
Been takin’ it easy in prep for the run at the presidency.

Jeff:
Haven’t seen you for ages.

Evil Monkey:
Been workin’ on my make-up and my recursive Moebius-strip campaign slogans. Like, “A vote for Evil Monkey is a vote for Monkeys of Evil.” Or, “Monkey Do, Monkey Doo Doo.”

Jeff:
What does that even mean?

Evil Monkey:
I dunno. Thought I’d just throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.

Jeff:
Nice

Evil Monkey:
By the way, you were awfully harsh on Electric Church at SF Weekly last week.

Jeff:
Is that what it was? I thought it was just honest, forthright reviewing. Nothing personal.

Evil Monkey:
Yeah, maybe. But you made it sound like people shouldn’t read the book.

Jeff:
I just presented the evidence. Look at the evidence.

Evil Monkey:
I saw a lot more reasonable reviews online, like this one at the SF Diplomat. It was very diplomatic.

Jeff:
That one was all over the place. I couldn’t figure it out.

Evil Monkey:
What’s to figure out? He wanted to throw his feces and eat them too.

Jeff:
How do explain this part:

So why did I keep reading this book if it’s so terrible? Well, the truth is that this book really does have its moments…Somers spends as little time world-building as the plot demands. The descriptions of Manhattan as this blasted wasteland full of criminals who appear, commit crimes, and then disappear when the cops turn up is actually only strengthened by Somers’ refusal to spend any time and effort on describing the place. The effect is that the place is empty… not because Somers doesn’t give us enough information about the place but because there’s nothing there. The same is true of the society that fills Somers’ world.

Evil Monkey:
The reviewer likes being blind. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re blind, you can actually see more.

Jeff:
Or this:

Despite having serious flaws, The Electric Church is far from being a bad book. Yes it is a piece of fun and escapist reading but it also has a number of quite interesting ideas that it brings to the party and which make it difficult to tar the book with the “populist thriller” brush. Somers also does well with what plot he has; there’s never a dull moment in The Electric Church and Somers never puts a foot wrong when it comes to pacing. It is also genuinely difficult to not warm to the book’s gleefully cynical and vulgar tone which, combined with the well executed and paced plot, make The Electric Church a swift and surprisingly rewarding read.

Evil Monkey:
You have to understand. The plot is bad but the plot is good. The pacing is good, except when it’s not. The vulgar tone has a warming effect. The book rewards reading with some kind of prize at the end. Fun is not fun. Escapist means you’re like that Chabon superhero.

Jeff:
What about this review

Evil Monkey:
What about it? Seemed perfectly obvious to me.

Jeff:
Did you read this part?

If I wanted to I could nitpick about “The Electric Church’s” less than original backdrop, the lack of worldbuilding & other info-dumping (not counting the excellent Appendix included at the end of the book or the awesome Electric Church website found HERE), the somewhat weak characterization of anyone not named Avery Cates, or how the prose doesn’t have that panache common in a Quentin Tarantino or Charlie Huston tale, but that would just be mean of me ;) The fact is, Jeff Somers’ “The Electric Church” is not the best cyberpunk/futuristic noir novel I’ve ever read, but it’s still a lot of damn fun and highly recommended to anyone who’s a fan of the genre…

Evil Monkey:
Look, dude, you have to understand. If something is fun, if it has high entertainment value, it’s just gotta be flawed in some other way. If you want to be entertaining, you have to be lacking in sound fundamentals.

Jeff:
I’m not following you.

Evil Monkey:
Entertainment isn’t good writing. Got it? Good writing gets in the way of entertainment value.

Jeff:
Is this part of your campaign sloganeering?

Evil Monkey:
No, it’s me trying to school your sorry ass in the way of the world.

Jeff:
I’ve got the street sense of a lemur.

Evil Monkey:
Worse. You’ve got the street sense of a penguin in the desert. You don’t even carry a shiv, do you?

Jeff:
No, do you?

Evil Monkey:
I’ll bet Somers does.

Jeff:
Hey, after those reviews, I wanna shout out, “Go buy Somers’ novel” rather than relying on the opinions of a bunch of miscreants, ne’er-do-wells, and apparent brain tumor victims. Seriously. Buy the damn novel and ignore the reviewers, one way or the other. Break free from received ideas! Go strike a blow for suffering novelists everywhere!

Evil Monkey:
No revolutionaries on the ticket, man. They’ve got no money.

10 Responses to “Abdicating…”

  1. Rick Klaw says:

    It’s ok to write a negative review.. geeze… you don’t have to explain why you are an insensitive clod.. ;)

  2. brendan connell says:

    Well, you have to be honest. And a negative review is better than no review at all. One comment of yours that interested me in the review though, was that the character was not deep. I have a sort of affinity for writing where the characters are one dimensional myself (like a monochrome painting). This is not to say that all books with such characters are good, but I am not sure it is an automatic negative either.

  3. Jonathan M says:

    I’m not sure why you struggled with my review.

    On paper, the Electric Church is hackneyed, formulaic poo as you suggested in your review. I agree with this sentiment on one level but I think that :

    A) despite not setting out to break much new ground on the cyberpunk genre, Somers’ stylistic quirks mean that there was something interesting there. What you saw as a lack of description and a lack of any real world, I saw as an implied nothingness partly because there really is nothing there and partly because the characters can’t see any further than the ends of their noses.

    B) while Somers’ decisions to use old tricks and formulas as the spine of his book isn’t worthy of praise, there’s something to be said for someone who can deploy cliches effectively and in a manner that is fun to read rather than dull or transparently derivative. I think Somers pulls it off justabout.

    The Electric Church isn’t great literature but it has a few ideas and a few nice flourishes. I wouldn’t rush to read the sequel but I don’t regret the time I spent reading the thing.

    I’m not trying to have my poo and eat it, I merely have nuanced feelings about the book.

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Rick: I’m not apologizing for my review. I’m suggesting that a lot of the reviews out there about the book are confused. If a reviewer likes the book, they should just say that, and add their reservations, not negate their own opinion over the course of the review.

    Brendan: It’s not an automatic negative. But it is if that one character has to carry the book. The way you write I could see an accretion of detail taking the place of some of the work depth of character does in more conventional fiction.

    Jonathan: I don’t think your nuanced feelings were expressed with much clarity in your review. You may have intended as nuanced but it came out as wishy-washy and reticent to take a position. But re A)–that’s just a cop out.

    I don’t feel very strongly about any of this, but Evil Monkey and I did feel a need to point a couple of things out.

    JV

    Jeff

  5. brendan connell says:

    Yes. well it’s true that even if the characters aren’t deep, there should be something there to take the place of psychology.

  6. John Gillespie says:

    Hmmm, review and reviewers.
    It’s really interesting how different people’s perceptions of the same thing can vary so widely.
    So why should one interpretation from the multitude (the reviewer’s) be singled out and given weight(the review) and distributed to the masses?
    Why should this opinion be regarded as being, somehow, more ‘right’, or ‘credible’, or ‘accurate’?
    Is it because the reviewer has read / written lots of books?
    That they can articulate their opinion in a beautiful way
    That they have acquired a fine reputation?

    With your last comments in the above you seem to have created your own Moebius-strip.
    i.e. As one who reviews, the review is important enough to write and distribute, yet it also has no inherent relevance or importance to the reader.

    All reviews really amount to is cash for opinions, or the desire for the reviewer to glorify their own opinion.
    In my opinion.

    Like you say, Jeff, buy the damn novel and ignore the reviewers.

  7. Robert says:

    Hi Jeff. I was directed to this article recently. Very interesting ;) Not sure if it was a good or bad thing that my review was also singled out, but I can see where you’re coming from.

    When I review a book I like to say what it is I like or dislike about a novel, but sometimes I also point out issues that I think other readers might have with the book, even if it isn’t much of a problem for me. I know some people don’t like it when I do that, but what can I say…

    Regarding “The Electric Church”, I thought I was pretty straight-forward with my thoughts. For me, it was a fun read, if not wholly original or the best-written novel out there, and I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to readers who like cyberpunk/futuristic noir, and I’ll definitely check out the sequel. But it’s definitely no “Altered Carbon”, which is one of my favorite books out there period :)

    Anyways, I enjoyed the article Jeff. Thanks and much love & respect…

  8. John Gillespie says:

    in fact, write the damn novel and ignore the reviewers

  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I almost debated deleting this post, except that would look like some kind of coercion took place, which it hasn’t. But I don’t feel I fully or clearly communicated what I was trying to communicate. So rather than responding to the new comments, I’m going to keep silent. If it isn’t clear already, I’ll just muddy it more.

    JV

  10. MattD says:

    Yes, but who is “Catz” (in the SF Weekly review)?

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