Can I Just Say

Eighteen months and more on, a review I wrote for Strange Horizons is still capable of attracting ire.

(ETA: Oops. I missed this! More ire than I’d thought.)

And it’s not the only one. Two years on from this review, people still occasionally pop up to take (rather odd, by me) issue with it.

(Screencap source, from the blog of the same person who has some ire for the SH review. Post whence the screencap came, since edited.)

Oddly enough, no one’s taken me to task for – or even much seemed to notice – this review, wherein I deployed Grumpy Cat.

Not this Grumpy Cat:

But still, Grumpy Cat. (I haven’t .giffed a book review before.)


No one is outraged when I review an indie title by a little-known Canadian woman, and call it terrible.

But the outrage – shall we call it outrage? In some cases it seems stronger than mere affront – that has attached itself to those other reviews?

It is persistent, and expresses itself often in gendered ways.


That, by-the-by, is an observation, rather than a complaint. For myself, I won’t complain:* I’ve come to find it incredibly entertaining when my reviews – those reviews, since they seem to be the only ones which do – draw fire on grounds of their tone, or on some spurious lack of intellect or perception on my part.

No, seriously, mate. Tell me how I’m wrong on the internet again! Ask me if I know what words mean! Imply that I’m doing something for the attention – or because I’m jealous – or because I’m bored.

C’mon. Is that the best you can do?

(Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution. And I’m not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.)

I’ll be over here in my corner chuckling – and maybe quoting Merleau-Ponty: “In the last resort, the actions of others are, according to this theory, always understood through my own; the ‘one’ or the ‘we’ through the ‘I’.”


We must return to the social with which we are in contact by the mere fact of existing

I don’t want to talk about phenomenology, exactly. I do mean to mention perception. This discrepancy between reactions.


As an aside: it troubles me that one response to women who perceive, and upon perceiving object to, high levels of sexual objectification or sexual violence (explicit or implied), in novels and visual media, is a version of gaslighting.


It is odd, being a person who has opinions in public. Who is mostly having opinions in public because she is being paid to talk write them. But I’ve at times (“Admirals and Amazons: Women In Military Science Fiction” is perhaps the most striking example, although you can make a case for “Epic Fantasy Is Crushingly Conservative?”) gone out of my way to phrase those opinions in ways designed to provoke.

There’s no way to have a conversation if nobody answers, after all.

Every time you open your metaphorical mouth on the internet, you don’t just run the risk of annoying someone. Given sufficient exposure, you’re just about guaranteed that someone will be pissed off. There’s always the risk of lost connections, lost income… if you’re bolshy enough and unwilling to acknowledge their point of view, sometimes, lost friends.

Words are dangerous tools. They turn in your hand. They cut as well as comfort.

The same phrase can strike two different people three different ways.


After two years having opinions, many of them cranky, most of them feminist, I’m a little surprised not to have seen a rape threat yet. (Seen.) I know, or have heard of, too many people who have received them. (Even one would be too many.) And I wonder. What separates me from them? Just my good fortune?

Or is this another case where perceptions of legitimacy and authority, attention and protection, affect responses? I don’t have sufficient data to hypothesise –

But every time I write something in the least bit confronting, I wonder how long good fortune lasts. Because I knew going in that it’s improbable it should last forever.

That’s what makes the ire those reviews attract so entertaining. I judge! I hate! I condescend!

Oh, ire-stirred ones. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

But only, and only to, the text.

At least at first.


I couldn’t write either review better now. They’re solid, honest work. Better-constructed, if I’m being fair, than some of the reviews I’ve written this summer: there’s nothing like thesis deadlines for distraction.

I’ve learned a bit since about comment threads, and engaging, since. I’d like to think I could do that part better now.

I like to think… I couldn’t, of course. I have even less time on my hands.


Can I just say:

Support Strange Horizons’ fund drive.


*Mock, or state objection, perhaps.

9 thoughts on “Can I Just Say

  1. I particularly liked “His father is a chivalrous knight of archaic dimensions.” Cubits, perhaps?

    But, OK, I’ll be outraged over your review of “From Mountains of Ice” if it makes you happy. I quite liked it. But then I don’t know my P-Celtic from my Q-Celtic :)

    Still I can’t quite see the “ire” in the comments on your review of “Prince of Thorns”. There’s some people agreeing with you, some disagreeing politely, some agreeing and saying they’ll read it anyway. A really foolish book editor who one hopes sincerely regrets having entered your review-space — followed by one author, who I can’t decide is more or less foolish (he didn’t say anything quite as stupid, but it’s even more wrong for an author to jump in than for his editor). All in all, a pretty good review and discussion of such. Though, since there’s a moderator note, perhaps the worst stuff has been removed….

    Somebody, in that last, noted that they will read it because they like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch. I do too—but they also have some great female characters! I came to your reviews via Sleeps With Monsters, and you’ve been introducing me to some great stories by female authors and about female characters. Some not so good either: I can’t agree with you about “Spirit Gate”, one of the problems with which was its general lack of women-with-agency. Maybe I should drop by Sleeps With Monsters and trash your review of that….

  2. The Lawrence review was only a little bit of a lightning rod, not nearly as much as the Sullivan. It’s mostly drawn only little bits of ire elsewhere – apart from Fantasy Faction, whose main writer apparently thinks I should have read all three books before having an opinion? (Some of the comments on the original post got weirdly nasty, before they were all disappeared.)

    It mostly baffles me that two years on, some people still care about them. That’s forever in internet years.

    I enjoy a good disagreement! I certainly encourage you to tell the world more about your feelings about Spirit Gate, either here or there – I think what Elliott did in terms of people trapped by circumstance, culture, and conflict to be very apposite, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  3. Never underestimate how long an article with the right position in a Google search can provoke ire. For example, I had no idea what one sees when one googles david brin tiptree until an irritated Brin showed up on my Livejournal. And until I had to lock it recently because of an anonymous spam issue, my post about Leo Frankowski’s death – I would like at this juncture to recommend you avoid his fiction – was still attracting comments from his fans.

  4. Frankowski is the bloke who wrote that series about time-traveling to medieval Poland, right? Bunches of droit de seigneur and Mr. Special Engineer Mary Sue…

    I fear your warning is too late for me. In my defence, I was fourteen, and have since learned better than to read a book just because it’s there.

  5. Aye, that be the one.

    have since learned better than to read a book just because it’s there.

    A useful lesson, right up there with “just because I began this does not mean I need to finish it (unless I am being paid).

  6. “just because I began this does not mean I need to finish it (unless I am being paid).”

    Very few lessons have been more useful in my life.

  7. +1 for RCRuiz’s comment.

    I’ve been trying to get my head round this for a few days now. Not sure I’ve got it right, but anyway. There does seem to be a very male tendency towards tribalism of a specific form, where the things you like in some way define you as a person (which possibly contrasts with a female tendency to define themselves by their social relations – *who* they like? That seems a little too pat to be convincing though). What this means is that a criticism of the liked object is taken as a direct criticism against the person, and responded to accordingly.

    In theory you can get trained out of this, especially at the higher ends of academia, but as someone who’s getting experience with the higher ends of academia you’re no doubt finding that it’s easier said and done.

    I dunno. Part of the western bias towards individualism? We spend years in the education system taking critical feedback, and at ages where it’s very difficult to distinguish between intellectual and personal criticism. Criticism of the act/thing is implicitly taken as criticism of the individual. Add to this the fact that for all that experience taking criticism, few people get much training at giving it, and it the prospects for informed, polite, productive discussions on a mass scale aren’t all that great.

    Sorry, this is probably a completely inappropriate venue for these half-formed thoughts, but you seem like a pretty smart cookie who might have some interesting ideas about this.

    Keep up the good work.

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