Discussion Dept. Vol. 2: Reviewing Yourself and GRRM is Not a Punk


(I should probably change the name for this feature…)

Only two things are “bothering” me this week — at least, only two things I can talk publicly about.  Let’s get right to it:

Complaint #1:  I Give Myself Four Out of Five
It recently came to my attention that a number of authors, small and large, leave reviews on websites like Goodreads of their work.  These aren’t self-published hacks (not that all SPers are hacks, just that a lot of the jackasses who do these kinds of activities happen to be SPers), but traditionally published authors.

Even if the “reviews” involve little more than giving oneself a 4-star rating on Goodreads, it is still unethical and borderline immoral.  Rating your own work, even if you claim that you are “being honest,” skews the numbers and misrepresents your work to potential readers.  Not only is it not
the author’s job to play judgment on their own work, but it dampens the impact of actual reviewers, amateur or professional, who are not connected to the work in question.

How am I, as a reviewer and reader, supposed to take you seriously as an author when you are engaging in low-key forms of distortion, misrepresentation, and deception that less-than-reputable people on Amazon have done in the past?  Writers write the book.  Readers and critics interpret it — either for its “value” as a literary product or for its “messages.”

Complaint #2:  Punk Fantasy?  Ha!
Over at Tor.com, Ryan Britt attempts to associate Lev Grossman and George R. R. Martin with the punk aesthetic.  An amusing quote:

Millhauser doesn’t claim to be rebelling against anything, and it seems Martin isn’t either. Perhaps a real punk wouldn’t call themselves a punk, but the notion of protesting an institutionalized notion of art is likely a result of some amount of stigma or shame associated with the (punk) choice. Someone with a literary background like Grossman is going to be faced with more stigma or shame when he goes genre than someone like George R. R. Martin when he pulls a slightly punk move in Game of Thrones by not having it necessarily be about a big bad guy or quest. Perhaps Martin never faced the stigma, so the “risks” he took seem less punk than Grossman.  

Genre fiction that is, well, very genre-y, isn’t inherently a punk response to literature. Only when the crossovers occur do things begin to feel that way. I always like to say that growing up with no genre biases allowed for me to read nearly everything. A background in science fiction and fantasy narratives can actually allow a reader to jump into any story that may have a historical or social context they be unfamiliar with. In my case, historical fiction is a snap after you’ve read Dune. But I don’t think Frank Herbert was a punk, because he never really had, to my knowledge, switch from a mainstream literary context. Neither did Tolkien.

I am always amused when someone tries to pigeonhole people into some oversimplified version of “punk”ism that historically inaccurate movies, books, comics, and TV shows created when the punk movement collapsed under its own anti-establishment momentum.  In actuality, the punk movement was never as simple as “rebelling” against a community standard because punks never owned rebellion.  People have been finding ways to rebel against standardized culture for centuries, both actively and passively.  What separates the punk movement from most of these rebellious moments is the kind of rebellion they provided.  They weren’t just anti-establishment.  They were anarchists, socialists, anti-militarism, anti-capitalism, anti-socialists, anti-X, anti-Y, and anti-Z.  Punks were neo-Nazis, conservatives, liberals, communists, but also anti all of these things.  They were walking contradictions of pure individuality.  It was a movement that was always doomed.

Today, the punk movement no longer exists.  Not in any significant way.  What punk has become is little more than an establishment of its own.  Rebellion, if we take Britt’s term, became a community brand and the aesthetic of punk — the anti-everything, including an anti of anti-ness.  To say it again:  punk as an actual aesthetic is dead, and the exceptions only prove the rule.

And when you think about how dead punk has become — so dead it has crossed over from undead to deader-than-dead — you really can’t make arguments like the above, where authors are “rebelling” against a fantasy literature standard.  Nothing about GRRM’s writing smells of punkness.  Nothing about Grossman or Millhauser connects to a punk aesthetic either.  Crossing the literary divide or seemingly challenging fantasy conventions doesn’t mean you are enacting a punk attitude.  It means you are navigating a literary “world.”  And genre writers have been navigating that world for the better part of a century (so too have literary writers, in different ways).

All these writers are doing are things that have been done before — things that our short-term collective memory has forgotten.  The difference is that these writers, for one reason or another, have caught on for now.  But doing different things in genre — imaginary different, that is — is no more punk than deciding not to eat five servings of veggies today.  True punk-ness in literature is almost impossible to find or write, in part because non-conformity always becomes a conformist position — you are not a punk unless you become a punk.  This is why William Gibson’s work is only punk in its historical moment; in retrospect, it is little more than the beginning of a trend — an anti-punk-ism that makes its bed with a salable aesthetic.


What about you?  Anything strange or annoying happen in your neck of the woods?  Want to talk about it?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Florida studying science fiction, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and fantasy.

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