Evil Monkey, Christopher Priest, and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards

Jeff VanderMeer • March 29th, 2012 @ 5:15 pm • Evil Monkey

Evil Monkey:
Did you see that Christopher Priest threw his feces all over the Arthur C. Clarke Award?!?

Jeff:
Yes. Don’t bother me. I’m working.

Evil Monkey:
No, no. You have to respond. You have to blog something.

Jeff:
I’M WORKING, GODDAMN YOU, MONKEY!

Evil Monkey:
I’m not leaving until we talk about this!

Jeff:
I KEEL YOU WITH MY MIND BULLETS!

Evil Monkey:
I SNUFF OUT YOUR MIND BULLETS WITH MAH BUTT MISSILES!

Jeff:
I give up. But what’s to talk about? I don’t completely disagree with Priest on a general level about always striving for better, always analyzing awards processes and our own writing…but there’s little discourse to be had here directly, because he poisoned the waters by dissing his panel-mate Billingham, dismissing Tepper with “it’s about horses, man, and horses ain’t cool in my book” and calling for the judging panel to be disbanded. His Stross comment also seemed too personal. If he had merely stated his opinion of the nominated books, of which I have read only China’s, then it would be different, I think…But also, as someone who has a leg in the mainstream and in genre, it’s hard to muster up much energy one way or the other. Newsflash: Mediocre books make awards ballots all the time. I think the only mistake is to set your watch by them.

Evil Monkey:
And then Damien G. Walter set out a psychological profile of Priest! Priest is just a twisted Gollum gone insane from getting sooooo close to the Ring but never possessing it!

Jeff:
Yes, and then in John Scalzi’s very reasonable post he pointed out we don’t need to look for ulterior reasons. Which I tend to agree with. This idea that a writer can’t have a controversial opinion without it having to some nefarious underlying reason…well, oy. Then I guess all writers everywhere should shut up as suspect. You can be an curmudgeonly a-hole and still give a decent analytical opinion.

Evil Monkey:
Charles Stross is an internet puppy!

Jeff:
A long time ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley called me a wet-behind-the-ears puppy! I didn’t mind!

Evil Monkey:
Internet puppy! I want to be an internet puppy!

Jeff:
You are an internet monkey. It’s almost the same thing.

Evil Monkey:
So, will you now tell me what you really think?

Jeff:
I already said: I’m working!

Evil Monkey:
Not. Leaving. You. Alone.

Jeff:
Oh, all right. Fine. The idea that writers are so unself-aware that they are not already striving to do better is ridiculous. The idea that an awards jury should be disbanded for picking a few un-amazing novels, especially when you’re handicapped by the year you’re judging and what you’re sent…is ridiculous. Here are three more serious scenarios:

—IF YOU ARE A JUDGE AND YOU SET ANOTHER JUDGE ON FIRE YOU SHOULD BE LET GO.

—IF YOU ARE A JUDGE AND YOU SHOOT THE AUTHOR OF A BOOK THAT DOESN’T MAKE THE BALLOT, YOU SHOULD BE REMOVED.

—IF YOU MEET WITH THE OTHER JUDGES AND TAKE OFF ALL YOUR CLOTHES AND PISS ON THE CONFERENCE TABLE, YOU SHOULD BE SACKED (UNLESS THIS WAS ALL AT THE OTHER JUDGES’ REQUEST).

Evil Monkey:
Um. Wow.

Jeff:
But I was heartened to see the responses from Scalzi–and Cat Valente’s. It’s nice to see there’re writers who can take the long view, not feel so invested in genre politics that this isn’t just a poke in the personal eye but the communal eye. To some extent, we should try to love our curmudgeons. They’re an endangered species. In fact, I am heartened by the sense of humor displayed over this in general…

Evil Monkey:
What will happen now?

Jeff:
Everybody will forget next week when I dress up in a pig costume, slather myself in lard, and attach myself to Lavie Tidhar with superglue while screaming “Bacon bits! Bacon bits!”

Evil Monkey:
But is it true, like Damien G. Walter says? That everyone’s part of some social Darwinistic writer-eat-writer vicious eco-system in which there are only two or three winners and the rest are all losers licking their wounds and living in a constant state of frenzied seething envy?

Jeff:
I don’t think it’s true, at least in the U.S. ecosystem. I mean, you can see it—you can see in the wild staring eye of a person going off on a rant at a convention, as a kind of localized wound, in a way that is instructional. But you don’t see it as much as you might expect. In part, too, because not everyone has the same goals with their writing. And some people don’t care that much about awards, or don’t use them as a barometer of their success in quite the same way as others. Believe it or not.

Evil Monkey:
So you don’t sit around being envious of other writers?

Jeff:
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a twinge every once in awhile, like anyone in any field of endeavor, but in general, no. I am more likely to have angry imaginary arguments while driving in my car with something someone said on the internet. The closest I came to a state of prolonged envy would be before my first major publishing contracts. During that period, when it looked like I wouldn’t reach a wider audience, I couldn’t pick up Locus or look at its people and publishing section….aaaand, that’s about it for anything sustained.

Evil Monkey:
You’re not competitive, then.

Jeff:
I’m very competitive, but eventually you realize what’s within your control and what’s not. And you stop wasting physical or mental energy on what’s beyond your control…as much as you are able. You never get it totally right.

Evil Monkey:
So what’s under your control.

Jeff:
The work.

26 Responses to “Evil Monkey, Christopher Priest, and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards”

  1. Nick Mamatas says:

    Evil Monkey should be sent to a zoo and replaced by a primate of my choice.

  2. Fred Kiesche says:

    “Everybody will forget next week when I dress up in a pig costume, slather myself in lard, and attach myself to Lavie Tidhar with superglue while screaming ‘Bacon bits! Bacon bits!'”

    Pictures or it never happened.

    Good one. Back to typing! We need a new book! ;)

  3. James says:

    Evil M. let you have the last word? He must be slipping.

  4. Jason Sanford says:

    This is why I turn to Jeff for the final view on these inane controversies which continually pop up in our genre. Thanks for this post, and for sending me to bed with the image of Jeff, Lavie Tidhar, lard, and bacon bits in my mind. That’s sure to generate a few nightmares worthy of turning into stories–stories, I might add, which Christopher Priest will never nominate for any award. :-)

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Ha!

  6. SMD says:

    The one thing I take from this, aside from the hilarity of a conversation between a man and his monkey hallucination/imaginary friend, is really a question or two: At what point does critical reflection cross the line into what Damien Walter seemed to imply, or into what many have said Priest fell into (ad hominem, etc.)? And is it possible for us to have discussions about the value of Awards (the selection process and the selections themselves) without devolving into these problematic areas? Because there’s something to be said about the potential for an award to stagnate (I don’t know enough to say that is true of the Clarke), and our need as a community to reflect upon ourselves as a community and on the books we (or others) select to represent us at a given time.

    But I’m sort of rambling. Hopefully the above makes sense. And if not, then dismiss me outright :P. I’ve not read anything on the list (though Priest’s praise of Osama is fair — I would have loved to see that novel in the shortlist).

    *shuts up*

  7. Bryan Russell says:

    I find it mildly amusing that he’s only read 80 pages of the Roberts’ book he hails and praises as worthy (or, at least, worthier). Perhaps he developed some sort of predictive triangulation theorem that foresees the quality of the rising action, climax, and denouement. And, you know, the lack of talking horses.

    Oh, how I want there to be talking horses in the second half of that book.

  8. Claire says:

    These awards are great, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book on the basis that it won an award. But I’ve bought dozens of books based on reviews in Locus or on the recommendation of authors whose work I’ve enjoyed and admire (with Jeff being one of the biggest sources for new writers). I note that I read Chris Priest’s The Prestige way before it became a movie and completely forgot about it (to the extent that having read the book utterly failed to spoil the movie for me). I’m glad he’s writing, as there should always be room for more and different writers and audiences, but I don’t really care about what he writes or, frankly, his opinion about anyone else’s writing.

  9. SF Tidbits for 3/30/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog says:

    [...] Jeff VanderMeer on Evil Monkey, Christopher Priest, and the Arthur C. Clarke Awards. [...]

  10. saimonax says:

    Yeah, Miéville rocks, with or without solecisms.
    Alright ?

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    SMD: You have a very good point. It’s why I dither back and forth on this. I think awards must be re-examined, the administrators must review procedures and processes and have internal evaluations, and always be striving for ways to make the process more durable, fair, transparent, etc.

    Saimonax: I don’t think China wants unexamined praise from anyone.

  12. SMD says:

    Jeff: Exactly. We should actively interrogate our own gaps in “knowledge.” Or at least resolve to do so when called out for not doing so. It’s how we grow :P

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Oh–and thanks for the kind words about the ICFA report–next time, just come on up and say hi!!! Doesn’t matter what I’m doing.

  14. SMD says:

    I will. Next time I see you at an event, I will suck up my anti-social nervousness and completely embarrass myself by saying something like “OMG, I luv your bookses!” or something. Probably not.

    But next time :)

  15. saimonax says:

    Yes Jeff, it’s not what i say ; just a pun about this… weird argument that “alright” is too much used. “Oh, i think calmar is overused !”, you see ?
    Anyway, here in France we consider Miéville like our brother (i’m not joking !) because of the accent

  16. More Christopher Priest versus the Clarke Award | Cora Buhlert says:

    [...] Jeff Vandermeer and his alter-ego Evil Monkey think it’s all a bit of a tempest in a teacup. [...]

  17. df lewis says:

    The Priest diatribe is possibly a reference to the Earth-Cry music by Peter Sculthorpe (Scunthorpe, Hull) and his other music of Islands and Islanders?

  18. Christopher Priest critique littéraire | ReS Futurae – le carnet says:

    [...] part de certains de ses collègues écrivains, parmi lesquels John Scalzi, Catherynne Valente, et Jeff VanderMeer, qui renvoie à leurs posts. Scalzi ramène les critiques de Priest à une affaire de goûts, [...]

  19. Tero Kuittinen says:

    The thing is – Priest is qualified to pass judgement and he makes valid points. Most professional writers don’t have the guts to go on record, but it’s widely known Tepper has been going downhill for two decades. Priest did not scoff at horses – he scoffed at talking horses and “neigh”-related puns. So Jeff is misrepresenting Priest’s criticism here.

    Also – it is becoming clear that Stross is indeed a juvenile writer and he is not maturing. At all. “The Colder War” from years ago was chilling and exhilarating. The latest work of Stross reads like something written by a talented 22-year old.

    What depresses me is how eagerly people like Scalzi and Van der Meer try to discount and dismiss the points Priest is making. Is it so important to remain popular in the SF circles? Is it so hard to admit in public that Tepper and Stross have been regressing – something that is obvious to even cursory readers?

  20. jeff vandermeer says:

    Do an ounce of research and you’ll find I’m highly critical of awards in general and have written several reviews critical of works by well-known authors in genre. What’s depressing to me is that you could read this post as anything other than an absurdist take on the situation.

    And do I have to reiterate what is already stated above? The core of Priest’s argument was interesting. He totally fucked up in slamming Billingham and he was unfair to Tepper by not subjecting her to the same level of vitriolic analysis. I thought those two things undermined his post.

    And if you think I haven’t quite firmly made my opinion known on any number of topics, and have the scars to provide it, you just simply don’t know what you’re talking about.

    But seriously? I have to say all this under the auspices of a post with Evil Monkey? Go express yourself somewhere else.

  21. jeff vandermeer says:

    Also, how can I be endorsing or not endorsing Priest’s assessment itself? As I’ve said above I have only read one of the books in question. Am I going to blindly accept the evaluation of a writer whose works have always left me cold? No.

  22. Zarandeando a Christopher Priest | C says:

    [...] que quedan fuera de la fase final. John Scalzi sugiere que sea jurado en la próxima edición. Jeff VanderMeer… Quien más se ha extendido con las razones que le han podido llevar a escribir este texto [...]

  23. chat odalari says:

    http://www.bedavafilmler.net

  24. The Christopher Priest Controversy: Contention as Social Creation in Fantastika - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog says:

    [...] many respondents found Priest’s line of reasoning self-serving or elitist. A few, such as Jeff VanderMeer and Catherynne Valente, used Priest’s diatribe to reflect on matters related to the field. It [...]

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