The Dragon in Exile


Eagles Over the Kennebec

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In which someone is wrong on the internet

I'm behind on my email -- that's a surprise, I know -- so this is kind of a blanket reply to those asking if I've seen Amazing Stories, and what I'm going to "do" about it.

The answer to Part One is, Yep, saw it, was annoyed, then baffled, now tired.  (For those who haven't seen it, have a blast.  Fair warning:  Comments have been closed.)

The answer to Part Two is...Well, what on earth should I "do" about it?  Lots of other people on the internet are being outraged on behalf of Lee and Miller, and Bujold, and Wolfe.

. . .though not so much for Cherie Priest, so I hereby state that I am outraged on behalf of Cherie Priest, whose cover was kind of used as a stand-in for everything that the author of the piece doesn't like about steampunk.  The off-handedness of it was typical of the whole piece of work, but I'm sorry Cherie was brought into it at all.

And I'm sorry that we were brought into it.  As I said elsewhere, in the author's view, Lee and Miller have been sinning against the science fiction genre for twenty-five years.  It's not like our transgressions are new, even if we have just now come to the author's attention.  He doesn't like our stuff.  Fine.

And, really, I mean that.  Lots of people don't like what Steve and I are doing in the Liaden Universe®; that's life.  I like to think that the people who don't like what we're doing have actually read one or two of the books and have thus based their opinions on solid ground, but, really, who am I kidding?

Here's the thing though:  We all have stupid opinions (no, really, we do); but there are ways to express the stupidest of opinions without starting an internet slap-fight.

I, for instance, hold a stupid opinion with regard to Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles.  I'll even bore you with it.

The Lymond Chronicles, as I'm told by its fans, are incredible works of fiction that stand the test of time, and many, many re-readings.  Indeed, the Liaden books have often been compared, favorably, to the Lymond novels.  It was assumed by many folks who adore the Chronicles that I must have fixated upon them at an early age, as many readers of Liad had done.

Sadly, this was not -- and is not -- true.  Nor did I fixate on the Patrick O'Brien books, another common assumption of my reading tastes based upon what I write.

I suppose I ought to confess right now to being a sorry scamp, with no taste for real literature.  During my formative reading years, I ingested every Perry Mason book Earle Stanley Gardner had ever penned, manymany Agatha Christie  mysteries, the works of Frances and Richard Lockridge, Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories, possibly the entire output of Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Elswyth Thane, and Gwen Bristow (I probably read Jubilee Trail fifteen times, I kid you not.  I adored Florinda, the dancer with the facility for re-inventing herself, and her crazy Russian admirer, and every time I read the book I kept hoping more of their story had somehow snuck in).  I read Zane Grey; I read Rex Stout; I read Dorothy Sayers. . .but I didn't read Dorothy Dunnett.

However, back in the day, a reader was so admiring of the Lymond books, and so insistent that they were "just like Liad," that I thought, Well, why not?

And took myself to the town library.

Now, the town library did not have the Lymond Chronicles on its shelves. But they did have the complete set of another of Dunnett's series, the House of Niccolo.

So, I thought, Why not?

And I took out the first couple novels in the series.

Not to put too fine a point on it, and fully realizing that this is not an opinion held by many -- I hated them.

I mean, the world-building was fascinating and complete and wow -- 1460 Flanders just leapt off the page; I could smell the dye -- and the street  -- Dunnett was that good.

But her characters?  Them, I loathed.  I spent the last half of the first book hoping Claes would die so I could stop reading about him.  Not an auspicious beginning to an eight-book relationship.  The second book. . .I didn't finish the second book; the gorgeous worldbuilding wasn't enough to carry the distasteful characters and the convoluted, self-serving intrigues spun by the hero.

Based on my experience with those two books in the Niccolo series, I predict that I will not like the Lymond Chronicles and I have not sought them out.  I realize that, yes, they are two different series, but I have lost my trust in the author; I do not believe that she will serve me characters that I can relate to, and for me, in terms of reading fiction, that's a deal-breaker.

So, there's my stupid opinion:  I will not enjoy reading the Lymond Chronicles.

Now, since this post is about being able to have opinions without offending the earth, I'd like to ask, seriously -- does the opinion expressed above offend you?  Note that being of a different opinion is not the same as being offended.

If the above opinion did offend you, can you pinpoint what, precisely, caused that reaction?  Was it the choice of words?  Was it the tone of post?  Both?  Or something else?

Thanks for playing along.

I disliked Dunnett, intensely, although I read one or two of the Lymond books, and three or four of the Niccolo series. I greatly preferred Shellabarger (Lord Vanity) or Costain (Below the Salt). I have now taken to reading Regencies, however, which just goes to show how bad my taste is.

Oh, I'd forgotten Shellabarger. Lord Vanity didn't click with me, but I adored Prince of Foxes and The King's Cavalier.

What Regencies are your reading?

I've read several hundred of them, mostly recycled stuff from the 1980s and 1990s. I do like the more recent ones, however. Catherine Coulter started in Regencies, and I enjoy hers, and Mary Balogh, and Lisa Kleypas, and most of the others.

I see nothing offensive about you stating that opinion. I don't think I'd find it offensive if I loved the books in question either. (I haven't read them.) Saying you don't think you'll enjoy reading certain books is expressing your own tastes. If you'd implied that no one should enjoy them and that they really shouldn't exist at all, that would be offensive, particularly if you'd dismissed the books for bring written by or enjoyed by women.

What Cook's article did for me was convince me that I probably wouldn't enjoy anything he writes or recommends because what he wants from books is too different from what I want. Given that he picked on some of my favorite SF authors, I might even rush out to find copies of any books he complains about in the future. I'm pretty sure that wasn't what he was trying to accomplish.

Cook reminds me of the boy in middle school who kindly informed me that I shouldn't read the Andre Norton book I was carrying because it was science fiction and girls don't read science fiction. (In point of fact, the book in question was one of her witch world books and I can't remember which one because I disliked that series so intensely). (For that matter, the boy's remark so offended me that I can no longer remember *his* name either.)

Your opinion does not offend because you clearly stated the reasoning behind it and you used value-neutral language, Cook's opinions offended because he used blatant sexism, dismissive language and unthinking privilege to castigate the books that he very obviously had not read (or if he did read them he patently did not understand them).

At the end of the day, your fans (and the fans of the other authors he tore apart) are too busy shoving money at you to be terribly concerned about what an overprivileged old straight white cis man says, especially when his uninformed opinions are so much at variance from theirs. You have a fan base, he doesn't. Jealousy much?

I actually think it sounds like Cook has read some of the Liaden books (although probably not recently, because implying that the latest installments are the most romance-heavy doesn't fit with the series as I've been reading it).

I don't see anything wrong with Cook's reading preferences, although they don't align with my own. Where he goes wrong is the denigration of elements that he is personally not interested in and the bizarre assertion that including such elements makes a book non-SF.

Your opinion is not offensive. You stated that a book/series/author was not to your taste, and this is perfectly acceptable. Had you categorized Dunnett's works as poor examples and masqueraders in their genre, I would have a very different response.

(I must admit that my first response to the article was to mentally send Elli Quinn and Miri on a social call to Cook.)

a bit off-topic, but I'd like to post the link because I think you might like the voice (and the content, obviously), German SF writer (in English) Cora Buhlert had another nice take-down of the various negative reactions to the Amazing Stories post at her personal blog - I really liked her various linkblogs about SFWA's Bulletin fail this summer:

now on topic: no it doesn't offend me, but if it was about a book I had actually read and loved I might want to try and argue with highlighting stuff in the books which I've deduced you enjoy reading on the basis of following your LJ for a while now.
I'm someone who never claims to objectively review a book anyway, my ratings are always based on the amount of enjoyment I had - so I feel I have no morally righteous leg to stand on.

Looks like Cook's favorite books would be in the Spot Weld Me Another Busbar, Chuck series. Some guys are like that.

One can certainly give opinions that do not set off a flame war. The one on Dunnet is stated as a matter of personal preference instead of as demonic malice on the part of the author. That helps.


It amused me, no end! My work's been compared by several people to DD's, which seems to be a great accolade, though I personally don't see it. I quite enjoyed Book One of the Niccolo series, mainly because it was my 'time' historically. But I just can't get into the Lymond Chronicles at all. Read the first book, and I just don't like Francis Lymond. Women swoon over him, but I dislike him.

I do object to what seems to be a growing effort to 'police' what science fiction is supposed to be. I always loved it because it was such a flexible genre. Even 'Host' and 'The Time Traveller's Wife' could I think be considered as part of the genre, though their publishers would grimace at the suggestion and I like to think of them as ;Sci Fi Lite'. This recent move towards ring-fencing is disturbing, and what strikes me is that we're suffering the inevitable result of over-popularity. The more people get involved, the more likely you are to get folks who are boorish, obnoxious and downright objectionable.

I've loathed a lot of characters myself and couldn't get through the second Niccolo book and beyond and I am very fond of the Lymond series so had to have the "it's okay not to like something talk" with myself and move on.

Sometimes I find that either what the author is doing isn't to my taste, even it I've liked other things by them, or the style doesn't click with me (even on a couple of tries), but I would never say I hate all mysteries because I loathe certain authors or characters and wouldn't condemn others for liking them - just the same with other forms of entertainment and I can enjoy different sorts of things in various genres (see my liking for crazy gothic "Whitechapel" and the cozy "Listener" or "Murdoch Mysteries - to keep things away from the whole SF realm). But I wouldn't consign something to the outer darkness - read or not read - because it didn't fit with what I considered to be appropriate or "real" for the genre,

Edited at 2013-09-07 07:10 pm (UTC)

Wow, the list of authors you did like was much like my own reading!

As for your take on Dunnett, that was so much like mine on Kurtz's Camber that I had to go look him up to check his author. Yes, it's possible to dislike an author's choice in one of zir books, so much as to never want to read any other books by zim.

As a reader who prefers character development and personal interactions in the books I read, I tend to avoid books with ... what I call ... "too much testosterone poisoning". So, I wasn't surprised that I didn't know Paul Cook as an author. I just did a search in the Massachusetts interlibrary loan system and didn't come up with any hits for Paul Cook as an author. I'm forced to ask - what has he written that makes him think he's an expert in the genre of science fiction?

He teaches science fiction at the university level.

And I find his author page here.

I actually own Tintagel. I remembered it as being pretty good. I dusted it off after reading his blog, which had been mentioned at another forum I frequent, and you know, it is *still* pretty good. It was very original and I didn't find it testosterone-poisoned.

That's just an fyi. I didn't agree with what he posted on the blog at all. It sounds way too much like the immature reader who says "I didn't like it, therefore it was bad." I was reading some of the other posts on the blog, and he strikes me as one of those folks who seems to thrive on perpetual conflict--there's a big argument about his assertion that Orson Scott Card stole Ursula LeGuin's ansible.

I'm not sure I'd take any of his classes. One of the things that is so fantastic about science fiction as a genre is that it is only limited by what we can imagine.

How unfortunate that he is able to propagate his sexist agenda, and his narrow genre definitions.

Not to offend teachers everywhere since I've been one myself, but sometimes there is a core of truth to clichés - in this case, perhaps it's a case of "those who can't, teach"?

Re: Cliches are trueisms?


2013-09-08 08:44 pm (UTC)

I had considered that as well, but looking over the blurbs of his books on the website, I suspect it's more likely that he has been laying down the law to students for so long that it's come to be a habit.

IMHO, the oddest thing about his diatribe about what is and is not science fiction is that the descriptions of the "science" in his books sound very iffy to me. Bad science - sort of like, well, like Steven Spielberg's idea of archeology, if you follow me. (I'm thinking of a first season episode of seaQuest in which they used a giant vacuum to "clear away" a site on the ocean floor - luckily for my enjoyment of the show, I started watching from the second season because after that ... *eye-roll*).

Thanks for the post. Apparently I'm missing a debate in which I really have no interest in participating. So this guy doesn't like romance with his rocket ships. Fine. I happen to enjoy clash of cultures as my big thing, regardless of relationship type (see Hellspark for a good example) or setting.

I'm not going to go heap digital slime on him because I disagree with his opinion. It's his opinion, and I really don't see any percentage in trying to debate a stranger about his passionate stance. I just will make a note of who/what the attitude is that I find distasteful, and avoid playing in his sandbox in the future.

I have friends recommend books to me, that once I look at them, I have no interest in reading them.

I even read the first chapter... nothing.

Now, I have been known to buy books to support the author, with the intention of never reading the book to begin with. That I will confess, with the caveat that if I ever run out of things to read, they will be there.

I am just now reading the Lymond Chronicles for the nth time where n>=x, x being the number of times I've read most Lee and Miller books. More than the number of times I've read other favorites by Shellabarger and Sabatini (I don't own copies of those…..) However many times the plot elements of the Lymond Chronicles had, have and will be repeated gauze packed in overwrought sensibility,

Dorothy Dunnett's books are not romantically sentimental. Lee and Miller do not avoid romantic notions and have produced delightful, comforting reads. Comfort is not much in evidence in DD's work though the only one of her books I cannot regularly complete is King Hereafter. I'll read 2/3 and reshelve it, but not because I find any fault with the long account of a man going down fighting, but because of the man who was slowly revealed up to that point has so captured my fancy that while I'm willing to accept his violent end, I don't require myself to witness it every time I re-visit him.

I also love to re-visit all those whom Shan or other encounters rescue from unjust trials, in a world where honor matters and soul bonding take place. But that world I only believe in at all while I am reading.

Errr .... No, it doesn't offend me. I haven't ready any of DD's books, but even if I had it wouldn't bother me.
As long as they're not trying to make me read only what they like, I don't care what other people read. Though I will say the ... gentleman concerned .... does seem a bit .... too tightly-wound, I guess. Someone needs to loosen him up a bit, I think

Opinion in general is not offensive - unless someone is attempting to Make it my opinion.
I'll listen and then if I care or am interested will take action to form my own opinion.

I don't get offended by differences of opinion. I really, really don't.

The tone of the "article", the statements made as fact when they're grand theories at best, the way everything just fits all neat-like into the boxes he made--none of it appeals to me.

As a friend of mine pointed out, the Liaden Universe books are space opera. Space opera is an offshoot of sci-fi. There is nothing wrong with romance in sci-fi. There is plenty of sci-fi in the Liaden books.

This guy's got a serious problem. Regardless of everything else, his tone was enough to turn me off.

Your writing rocks. 'Nuff said.

(Also, it should be pointed out that I didn't grow up liking "good" books. And I consumed every book I could get my hands on. Classics annoyed me. And after having read everything I could get my hands on for years and years and years, I can't stop reading the Liaden books--everything else gets on my nerves. I've hardly read anything else for a year and a half.)

Who decides what pigeon hole a book is to be put in anyway? I was under the impression that that was more the publisher's decision than the author's.

After reading the article in question, it seems to me that Mr. Cook is suffering from genre dysphoria. Loudly. And in public. Maybe we need to make him a new genre: "middle-aged cis white male escapist old school science fiction for manly men." We could call it "Mitty-gritty SciFi" ( ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa....)

I have to say I don't care for zombies either but I don't squeal "EW! Zombie cooties! Get it away from me!!!" every time I see one.

Silly me, I thought that the whole point of a book review is to tell people enough about the book so that they can decide whether it's worth gutting a $20 dollar bill to read it. It's called a "book review" because it's about a book, not about name calling or hair splitting. Ye ghods and little fishes, people. This is how you write a book review:

If you go for (check all those that apply) a coming of age story, a lone main character against a hostile universe story, a misunderstood main character as antihero story, a story about cultures colliding and the collateral damage of same, a story in which young main character finds true love in the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong (fill in blank with type of paranormal/supernormal/mythical creature), or (other plot type, please specify) story, then you'll like this book. I liked the way the author did (this) and handled (that), but I had problems/didn't care for the way the author did (this other thing). It's a book I liked/was in raptures over/didn't like/for this they killed a tree?! (check one) and I would/wouldn't (check one) want to read it again.

That tells me what I need to know, folks.

And this Parthian shot across the bow: If an author doesn’t write the kind of books you like, that does not make them anything other than an author who doesn’t write the kind of books you like. The appropriate, adult response to such is not to buy/read their books.

That an academic who has taught at the university level for over two decades--which I understand is his case--would have very decided views on what qualifies for inclusion in his focus area. And he is certainly both entitled to an opinion and to make it known.
Are the Liaden universe stories science fiction, space opera, space romance, something else, or a combination? No idea, but I would vote for number five, as they seem to combine one through three. In any case, I enjoy many of the novels and short stories.
As far as DD, I enjoyed the Lymond chronicles--he kind of reminded me of a historical fiction Elric--but could no get past the first two Niccolo books.

I don't post here much because I Always forget my password, but ...
What to do about this ridiculous article? OMG :) Ignore it. It is dumb.
I have been reading science fiction since 1956. Yes. All the old "greats" , all the new "romance", blah, blah. I've sold SF for years. This person only likes the most boring, trudgy, impersonal gadgetry ridden blah. Forget it.

Lymond Chronicles- I have read them repeatedly, still enjoy them. Forced myself through the Niccolo series and never picked it up again.
Just saying. Whatever happened Dunnett seemed to have , I don't know, simply lost track of a sympathetic character. So I don't judge your dislike, totally yours to have- but Lymond is not Niccolo, and her grasp and description of history is /was exquisite. Might warrant a 50 page dip into the actual Lymond Chronicles if you ever have sufficient breathing room to warrant it:)

Continue on with your brilliance please. I don't always agree with the books you like, but I love your books.

I would agree that if one loved the world building of Niccolo but hated the character giving Lymond a try is worth while since he is *much* more likeable. I would also put my 2c in for trying DD's Johnson Johnson mysteries, where the main characters are usually delightful (in my NSHO 8-> )

However, I am not offended at the idea that one might not choose to follow this advice. 8-> There are lots of books out there and one only has so much reading time. Where Cook was offensive was in his insistance that the books he didn't like were not SF because he didn't like them.

So much a matter of taste. I love reading L&M. But I love Niccolo - it perhaps helps that my beloved younger brother is so like - and the portrayal of that particular type of genius, and following step by step as it's possessor must learn to subjugate it to integrated demands of his personally forged family and nation lest he lay waste to all he can value. I love the re-created historical people of the LC and most of his fictional associates, but Lymond I've met & can do without.
But there a many popular books I've either thrown across the room after a page, a chapter or a glaringly ill used adjective, or regretted completing, so I can't take exception to anyone who doesn't share my likes.

Let's look at the contemporaries of the authors he says are real SF writers. I wonder what the good doctor thinks of EE "Doc" Smith's writing? I think anyone would be hard pressed to claim he wasn't a science fiction writer, although it's definitely space opera. Ditto for Andre Norton - while much of her work could be considered high fantasy, she also wrote what I believe should be considered hard SF.
My problem with modern hard core SF writers is that I've mostly found them to be 1) poor writers, and/or 2) boring. If I wanted to read bad written Air War College papers, acquisition briefings and 20-year strategic plans, I wouldn't have retired from the USAF - I'd get paid to read instead of paying.
I also believe that this opinion piece is probably Amazing Stories equivalent of the VMA's Miley Cyrus debacle - any publicity is good publicity, right? In the SF community, I believe this approach will backfire, because we're a little more intelligent than the average bear. If this is the kind of poor scholarship and attention gathering AS is proud of publishing, then I'm not going to waste my time reading it.

I couldn't get through the Niccolo books, either. I have a pathological hatred of liars and Claus lies and so does everyone. Haven't been able to get through a bunch of books due to that. You might, however, find Lymond more interesting, at least I have. But Dunnett's characters don't wear their hearts out like Liaden heroes do (Pat Rinn's mother to the contrary), which makes me work much harder to read them.

You might like Dunnett's mysteries, though. I'd recommend Dolly & the Doctor Bird (later retitled Operation Nassau) (aka Match for a Murderer) (1971) if you can find it. Same dense images and writing, but much friendlier stories and characters and much more humor. I need humor.

Critics will be critics. Some of the time we agree with them and sometimes not.
And ....the old standby. I know what I like.


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