Call me an online oddity: I ran out of steam, years ago, on doing the whole harsh-criticism thing in my review work. For a couple of reasons, summarized as “enthused librarian who points elsewhere for sad talk.”
I get enthusiastic about stuff… What can I say, it’s just my curse. When I encounter something I don’t care for, my reaction is more disappointment than anger (more about that in a minute). I’m also a librarian by training, and a library by its nature is a collection of enthusiasms whose parts may perhaps be distasteful to the librarian but whose whole will be rather vigourously defended. Go libraries And thirdly, if you’re looking for criticism, you can probably find it somewhere in the wonderful online world known as the internet. After sorting through lots of harsh vitriol of course, but them’s the breaks.
As you might guess, this can make it a little difficult for me to realize that one of my idols might have feet of clay, either that a flaw existed all the way along, or that over time the flaws got worse. I’m fine to nod my head happily and enjoy the work in question. Then something happens, generally a kick to the face of some kind, and I finally figure out what’s happening.
The prime example is Lost, and, to mix my metaphors, the kick to the face for Lost was the stinker of a finale. I enthused about the first four seasons, loved the time travel in the fifth season, and, having ignored the danger signs along the way, had to confront the mess for the concluding season. It’s quite possible that I would have gone around saying, “Yup, Lost, that’s a good show,” for a long time, if that finale hadn’t been such a savage blow.
As it turns out, A Game of Thrones is another example. Last month I got excited about the big George R.R. Martin series, having re-read the first book and watched the first season of the HBO adaptation. I was puzzled by some notes from my first read-through, indicating that I hadn’t liked the subsequent books in the series. That’s bizarre, I said to myself, since I quite liked book 1.
Now I’ve actually re-read books 2 and 3, and I have to say, I’m back in the exact same spot: almost completely lacking in willpower to trudge my way through books 4 and 5. I just finished reading A Storm of Swords, and I look at the next book, A Feast for Crows, and the fact that the new book, A Dance with Dragons, is finally published, and I should be excited. But I’m not. I’m burned out. Why might that be?
I gotta say, it’s back to the female characters. My own reaction: Martin keeps them around, threatens them with a lot of sexualized violence, and then gives them nothing interesting to do. Horrifying, then offensive, then, unfortunately, boring and disappointing, especially in the repetitiousness. I defer to Tiger Beatdown for a more angry version of this (Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng-Raype: What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin”), and I would have to agree with large portions of this analysis. Worse, there’s a lot of weird meta-cultural stuff happening here, gendered in ways that are unhelpful in the lesser forms and actively harmful in the greater (again deferring to Tiger Beatdown: CHRONICLES OF MANSPLAINING: Professor Feminism and the Deleted Comments of Doom). I’m not particularly qualified to comment, but I would put myself in the same tired and sad camp as Susan Marie Groppi.
I think I still might read the later George R.R. Martin books. But the magic thing, the reason why I read, that sense of enthusiasm, will be gone, and that’s too bad. Necessary, but too bad. In my defence, I do actually come around after a kick to the face! Usually that takes the shape of gradually losing interest in a series or author.
This brings me rather directly to Bakker vs Requires Hate. (The Tiger Beatdown explanation of mansplaining above is a good one to have handy for this next section). I had been reading R. Scott Bakker’s blog for a long time, and here on the Gutter I’ve reviewed Bakker’s Neuropath and The Thousandfold Thought. On his blog, Bakker likes to stick it to his audience (at one point even wondering if his publisher was going to crack down on what he was writing). I’ve given Bakker a fair shake in the past, but his blog really wears you down, and I haven’t summoned up any energy to read his recent books.
Then in a post about a month ago, he linked to a blog called Requires Only That You Hate (a Warhammer reference of all things), and specifically R. Scott Bakker: Prince of Misogyny. I have to say, I’m with Requires Hate on this one. See mansplaining, as above. And because I found a lot of verbiage to express why I had already lost interest in his books, which is valuable to me as someone who has a real struggle to articulate this.
So in the interest of providing a (possibly unnecessary) corrective to some of my earlier posts, here are a few of the Requires Only That You Hate articles that match up with what I’ve covered on the Gutter.
One final note: as a librarian, where do I stand on this? In my piece a few months ago about TV, The Hierarchy of Contempt, Reality TV Edition, I wrestled with this exact issue: letting people enjoy their own preferred entertainment, in the context of really despising that so-called entertainment and wanting to call people out on it. I’m not sure I have a satisfactory conclusion, so I’m curious where others are on this issue.