Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

More 26Lies

Some people will claim that last week brought controversy.

Personally, I thought it was a little blown out of proportion. Responses ranged from Robin Pen's 'The Ballad of Ben and Russ', in which generated such things as myself being likened to Aleister Crowely; it's funny, but on the other hand... And there were posts from people such as Shane Cummings who wrote:

There are good reviews, there are bad reviews, and there are reviews somewhere in the middle. Reviews vary, and in my opinion, most of the Australian SF reviews could be more polished and insightful, but that's not really the point. Published writers create work for the public domain, for better or worse. Your readers will praise or criticise, and as I've discovered from reading negative reviews of work I've loved or when selecting awards shortlists and disagreeing quite wildly with fellow judges, people's opinions just can't be fathomed, at times. It's what makes life interesting.

But here's the thing, and writers take note: if you allow your personal neuroses to spill out into a hissy fit/flame war against a reviewer, then editors will not want to work with you and reviewers will no longer wish to review your work. Editors and reviewers have long memories. Writers might think, "fuck 'em, it's just one editor/market" but it's more than that. Editors talk, editors remember. Editors have friends and colleagues and they all talk.

He also finished by saying, "opportunities drying up for some of the more vocal/head-fucked authors going around. Give 'em enough rope...." In response to my post, Grant Watson said, "The critic/reviewer has a job. They are going to read your work, and write whether or not they liked it. You don't interfere with their job. You don't usually complain if they like your work, so why the fuck would you complain if they don't? That isn't cool. That doesn't come across like the intelligent author debating their work with some hack critic. It makes you look like a sad, petulant child who can't take criticism." On my blog, he also added:

You have an alarming tendency to try and make everything about you, as if you're some kind of bad boy of Australian science fiction, when in fact you're arguing yourself into irrelevance. If you want to be a professional writer, start behaving in a professional manner. If you don't feel Russell is reviewing in a professional manner, then leave him to work that out or simply to have his readers abandon him in droves - just like a lot of potential readers may be abandoning you by the way you sometimes act here. Look at the way you treated Jonathan Strahan in your webcomic, for fuck's sake.

That bad boy thing has been thrown at me for ages.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, who ran the risk of being tarred as someone like me, responded to it all and said,

It's all in the execution. Some authors are able to respond to criticism in an interesting, thoughtful way that offers respect to the reviewers and adds an extra layer of dialogue. [info]margolanagan is one who regularly publishes snippets of all her reviews, good or bad, and analyses them in an entertaining manner. Her snarky, self-deprecating meta-commentary is one of my favourite things about her blog, and I love that when she does poke fun at reviews, there's a 50-50 chance it may be a positive or a negative one. Considering the amount of noise that tends to surround Margo's work these days, it's rather nice to have her there, poking holes in the pomp on a regular basis. I'm sure some of you out there can think of other examples of authors who do much the same thing. I'm normally bored to tears by blog entries that are nothing but reprints of positive reviews and blurbs - Margo does something a bit different with it, and I really respect that.

Of course, after that, Alisa Krasonstein said that she found Margo Lanagan's poking fun might be entertaining, but "[doesn't] always find it appropriate and she (Lanagan) often looks like she thinks she is smarter than everyone else in a condescending way." Which just proves that you can't please anyone. Of course, there was more round, but you can't go on linking this shit for everyone, and lets face it, the fact that it seems to have blown out of proportion--and that I can simply link more words written in response than to begin with--kind've shows how touchy people can get.

But you know what?

I win.

Because out of all this nothing, all the good and bad opinions, out of all the people who wish me ill, wish me well--those people aren't connected to the local scene, I might add--all those who agree and disagree, out of all this... Mondyboy actually went and read the book:

What with the recent controversy regarding this review of twenty-six lies/one truth, I thought I'd actually read the book and review it. That's the thing about controversy, it creates publicity and sometimes gets people off their arses and reading so they can make up their own minds.

There's something a bit detached abou 26 lies. I thought it would be angrier. I'm not sure entirely why. Maybe because I imagine Ben to be an angry man, gnashing his teeth at what he considers to be an unfair world. But that image of Ben is more my weird fantasy and has no basis in the real world. It's certainly not evident on his blog. I mean, he's obviously a bloke who likes to state an opinion. But even his rantings have a sort of detached style. As if he believes it doesn't matter in the slightest what he thinks or writes - no one is going to take him seriously anyway.

And that's a little bit how I felt reading 26 lies. I'd call it apathetic writing. Except that's sounds pejorative and that's not what I'm aiming for. There's something detached about the book. A little bit cynical as well - but that's not the main ingredient. If I had to put a finger on it I'd say world weary. As if Ben, a man who has been nowhere, done nothing and met anybody, has become completely desensitized to his existence.

What I'm trying to say is that the book lacks intensity. That doesn't mean it isn't good. The writing is very good indeed. The little snippets about authors who have lied - pretending to be someone who they're not - are genuinely interesting. I even learnt what Factotum meant. But, whether the extracts of his life are true or not, I was hoping to engage with Ben, or at least the person represented in the book. Even his relationship with his girlfriend in Brisbane (the one bit that's probably false, but who knows) lacks punch. I didn't really care. The arguments - presented as lines of speech - are just that, arguments. There's some good stuff in there. But nothing I could hang my emotional hat on.

That said, some of the passages are simply superb and quite funny. Ben's writing shines when he talks about the things he genuinely loves, such as his adoration for Octavia Butler. I also really enjoyed the segments on Bukowski... and now I have a yearning to pick up some Bukowski for myself. In fact, the bright little snippets re-assure the reader that Ben isn't entirely dead on the inside. His still yearns for the things he loves. They just may not be the same things that you love.

Ben's also quite happy to throw around his opinion. And that's cool. I don't agree with him on a number of issues. Especially the bit about Nationalism. But even when I didn't agree with him I couldn't help but nod my head after reading Ben's thought on a particular issue. Also his section on Censorship and how stupid it is, is spot on. I liked his bit on sanctity as well.

Overall 26 lies is the sort of ambitious, clever book that's always worth reading even if it doesn't entirely succeed. While I didn't engage with Ben the character in the book, I never felt bored reading about his life. Not that the book ever dwells on one subject long enough to ever be boring. And the thing is, after finishing the book I felt I'd learnt a number of new things and felt inspired enough to check out the work of a number of writers who I'd never bothered with before. So on that level the book was a success.

So, yes, I do recommend 26 lies. The writing is strong, if a bit detached. And the subject matter is interesting, if a bit matter of fact. But it's obviously the work of a very talented author.

Have yourself a shiny day, all.

Tags: review, twentysixlies/onetruth
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