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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Denevius
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Book Blurb:
quote:
In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa, genocide plagues one region. When the only surviving member of a slain village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand, and instinctively knows her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelege of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers she possesses a remarkable and unique magic. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront nature, tradition, history, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and eventually to learn why she was given the unusual name she bears: Who Fears Death?

- Who Fears Death

There's a couple of attributes in this writing that works well as a blurb. First, it's mostly self-contained, and and almost works like a story itself. The blurb establishes place and time, as well as a sequence of events with a beginning, middle, and end. Granted, the end is left off in mid-question, but it's still there. We know she finds the secret of her name, but we don't know what the secret is.

The blurb is also rife with specific images that leap off the page: genocide, rape, and flight. A mother trying to protect the daughter conceived from a violent sexual assault. Definitely not a common fiction narrative.

The "remarkable and unique magic" isn't brimming with originality, but the girl's name makes up for it: Onyesonwu. A bold choice that I'm sure more than one reader will grumble about having to deal with. But there it is, a girl whose name translates to Who Fears Death.

It's a risky narrative. A distinctly African novel based on African culture with a female protagonist but no mentioned antagonist. A narrative ultimately about character self-discovery.

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extrinsic
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The blurb reads a little above average for self-published promotion though DAW published the novel. The blurb also reads like the usual young-adult marketing candyfloss: overly nonspecific and overwrought abundance, unnecessarily wordy and grammatically wanting, and flat and static. The net effect is the blurb projects false emotional force.
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Denevius
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As I've said before, Extrinisic, I find it hard to believe you enjoy reading anything anymore. I can't fault you for this, as I'm the same with most novels I read. Except you've said repeatedly over the years that you do still get enjoyment from fiction.

But even when an imprint of Penguin Classics produces a blurb that you find grammatically wanting, flat and static, I can't help but think that something is off in what you say and what you actually feel.

I can only imagine that there were a team of professionals who gave this blurb a go-ahead. Again, I'm disappointed by a lot of what I read, but you have said that you're not. You consider Stephen King a good writer though he's basically a laughingstock in English Academia.

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JSchuler
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My problem with the blurb is that it's academic in its tone. This is the kind of synopsis I would expect in a paper that is using this book as a case study.

Also, I'm predisposed against any description that substitutes "destiny" for whatever the goal/main conflict is, which this does. It's a hint that the writer isn't sure where the book goes, even after he's finished writing it.

The presented narrative is meh as well. "post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa" makes me think of... pre-apocalyptic Saharan Africa. That's the type of place Hollywood goes to when they want to film a post-apocalyptic movie, after all. "Genocide plagues one region." So, things have improved in the world where only one region is plagued by genocide. The apocalypse should have come sooner. And in Africa of all places. The speculative elements in the setting are superfluous--set it in our world in the present day and there's little or nothing to change--which raises doubts about the nature of the magic mentioned in the second.

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extrinsic
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Stephen King is as weak on grammar and style skills as most any writer, only in high-hung fruit rhetorical methods related to antagonism, causation, tension, and content and organization is King's unique mastery of note. He does resort to formulaic structure, though, when he is less than his usual reputable passionate and energetic best.

I don't hold to hidebound academy ideals of the old way is the best way, rather that a narrative speaks for itself, warts and all, inventions and conventions, for its ability to passionately persuade.

I doubt I'd find Who Fears Death entirely without merit, only that I suspect the narrative is unfocused and cluttered with empty content. One overt feature that recommends the work is an exotic portrait of an under-served culture in the global literary opus: a native African perspective.

I had a dark time after undergraduate literature and writing study, mostly from loss of automatic acceptance a published narrative has substantive merit. An adjustment for me that restored my passion for reading was consideration of a narrative's merits in proportion to drawbacks, a principal metric of which is a focused rhetorical situation.

The above blurb signals an unfocused rhetorical situation. Note that a far-future, post-apocalyptic Saharan milieu is a non sequitur: does not follow. How can a wasteland become more of a wasteland? Cannot. Social apocalypse? Sub-Saharan Africa has been socially collapsed since dawn history, partly from natural and abundant communicable diseases and party from foreign influences.

How less specific can "one region" be? Use of "when" as a pronoun sentence expletive. And now a rape motif on top of genocidal conflict, again, both continuing features of past Colonialism and contemporary Sub-Saharan African milieus.

"She manages to escape," wordy and emotionally empty emphasis. Likewise: "instinctively knows her daughter is different." Adverbs' function is emotional commentary expression. "Instinctively" is flat and static.

"An ancient African tongue" Really? A far-future setting would name a language of at least present-day relevance, maybe a dead though known language from the past.

"The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to confront . . ." Static voice use of multiple infinitive verbs, and artless use of profluent energy from "force" and "confront."

I could go on: A general shortfall for me is empty detail and, contrarily, missing detail when warranted. In all, though, for me, a lack of focus on what the narrative is "really" about in terms of an age-appropriate moral human condition. Rape, genocidal war, magic social solutions -- probably of a heavy writer surrogacy proportion -- to satisfy social unrest; no congruent personal complication. I also imagine the narrative entails numerous set speeches; in other words, the novel probably asserts a moral law, is a philosophical novel and is less than ideally persuasive for it. Persuasive social reform narratives discover a moral truth; they don't preach a moral law.

I expect a proportion of pieces from the novel may illustrate artful technique, though also expect the gems are few and far between.

My editor hat seated on my head from the first word of the blurb: "In" A preposition to start a writing with is grammatically weak. That would be my attraction to the novel if I could be enthused to analyze strengths in proportion to shortfalls, for my own benefits, which is what renewed my reading passions. Though the editor hat keeps me engaged with a narrative otherwise, the fiction dream experience I want to read for is spoiled by ethos and logos shortfalls: the reality imitation fails, pathos appeals spoiled, willing suspension of disbelief broken from the get-go and never restored.

Perhaps professionals approved the blurb. Obvious to me the writer composed it, though. If that's DAW's standard, the blurb signals both a rubber-stamp approval custom and a shortfall of marketing and editorial professionalism -- tel est la vie d'escritur. Anymore, the "professionals" have let down the profession in favor of immediate, effortless revenue gratification at the expense of quality. Besides, the audience probably doesn't care they are fed a bland and repetitive diet of predigested pea green soup pap anyway. Soylent Green is people.

[ June 21, 2015, 01:29 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
I expect a proportion of pieces from the novel may illustrate artful technique, though also expect the gems are few and far between.

It won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for best novel, as well as was nominated for a Nebula, so I suspect a lot of people disagree with you.

But to each their own.

quote:
Also, I'm predisposed against any description that substitutes "destiny" for whatever the goal/main conflict is, which this does.
You don't think the goal is stated quite clearly in the blurb? She's trying to discover why her mother gave her the name she did.

quote:
"Genocide plagues one region." So, things have improved in the world where only one region is plagued by genocide.
This is actually an artful use of POV. Think of HUNGER GAMES, and how the central character didn't know what existed outside of her province until the train ride into the center of their country. And then wonder, what of the rest of the earth? What's going on there?

As was in that novel, the central character in 'Who Fears Death' is cut off from the rest of the planet. For her, and the people in her region, all that exists is their region (though this isn't entirely true, but then, you have to actually *read* the book to understand why the line in the blurb is phrased the way it is).

quote:
And in Africa of all places.
I'm not sure what's being implied here. But from the implication of the novel, hundreds, if not a thousand, years have passed from the time as we know it today. A lot can happen in centuries. But then, a lot of history has been lost, and all that's left to them is a bible.

Holy Books aren't generally accurate tomes of the past.

quote:
The speculative elements in the setting are superfluous--set it in our world in the present day and there's little or nothing to change--which raises doubts about the nature of the magic mentioned in the second.
Ah well, this is very Hatrack. This is a blurb, but it's responded to as if the whole novel should have been revealed. The conclusions you and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off.

Again, this blurb is successful to me because it offers something new: a speculative fiction fantasy story derived from Nigerian mythology. Sorry, no elves, dwarves, and dragons here.

It offers a heart wrenching dramatic complication: a mother deciding to keep the child of her brutal rape.

And it gives an overall goal/quest for the narrator: self-discovery. The blurb is specific in space, time, and narrative backdrop, and it's original. What was the last futuristic African fantasy novel based on a non-western morality system that you read?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
The conclusions you and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off.

I don't lightly draw conclusions anymore than I expect any two readers experience any narrative the same way. Part of literary analysis's function is to share interpretations so understanding of a narrative deepens, if warranted. For writers, analysis may emphasize method interpretation as well as effectiveness of method.

Besides numerous literary awards, Okorafor is also an English PhD from Michigan State, a creative writing and literature professor at SUNY Buffalo, and a second-generation U.S. Nigerian Igbo. She is the target epitome of anti-PC WEIRD PC fantastical fiction writers' spite. Part of why she appeals -- she comes from a background of and targets an under-represented audience.

I sampled the novel and others of her works. The writing exhibits the lazy writing habits of self-publishers and lazy composition habits of mediocre academics, clumsily melded. Not only grammar and style shortfalls, content and organization, and discourse arts and skills shortfalls too. I am not impressed.

However, an attempt to appreciate why else besides her identity matrix she appeals resulted in an ah-hah! moment. What do fan fiction, self-publication, mediocre, ephemeral, hobby, and daydream writing have in common? They are appeals of vanity -- for writers and readers. Who Fears Death to me is those appeals of vanity.

From that vanity appeal approach to what has become a well-populated genre of the Digital Age, I now understand a marketplace segment's success, though the writing caliber warrants it not. Vanity publication risk exposure has become so low that it is becoming a noteworthy revenue stream to which publishers are paying attention. What else vanity publication's ascendency says about social culture I'll leave lay. Literary psychoanalyism of the publication marketplace and vanity culture appeals -- potentials of hypocrisy indictments notwithstood -- are as fraught with hazard as lay person mental-medical psychoanalysis. Vanity, though, is a vice of pride. Might vanity writing compensate for feelings of insecurity in a harshly alienating and hostile, increasingly impersonally connected, personally disconnected world? How delightful technology provides a salve for an illness technology causes in the first place.


Themes from literature
"Alienation: Modern culture is defective because it doesn't provide group ties which in primitive cultures makes alienation virtually impossible."

Denevius, you asked from the writing discussion forum several months ago, what makes a story meaningful. I strove for an answer to and for my satisfaction of that question. Meaningful prose discovers a personal moral human condition truth that transcends the personal and reaches an epic, larger-than-life span, which is a broad appeal of shared life and moral struggles. Struggles for popularity -- vanity -- included, though a social progress trap, one vanity genre overlooks, such that a narrative's tangible and intangible actions are artfully related.

Who Fears Death asserts a moral law, does not discover a more appealing and persuasive moral truth, more documentary lecture essay than dramatic prose.

[ June 22, 2015, 11:06 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Denevius, just because they don't agree with your take on things does not mean that "The conclusions [JSchuler] and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off."

Their assessments are as valid as yours are.

Please remember that.

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JSchuler
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quote:
You don't think the goal is stated quite clearly in the blurb? She's trying to discover why her mother gave her the name she did.
That's not what the blurb says. It says that, along the way to fulfilling her destiny, she will learn why she has that name. Learning the origin of her name is not stated to be her goal or the main conflict.

quote:
This is actually an artful use of POV. Think of HUNGER GAMES, and how the central character didn't know what existed outside of her province until the train ride into the center of their country. And then wonder, what of the rest of the earth? What's going on there?
If it was use of POV as you claim, then there would be no reference to "one region," as that implies knowledge of others. If the MC's region is plagued with genocide, and that region is all the MC knows, then as far as the MC is concerned the entire world is that way.

quote:
I'm not sure what's being implied here. But from the implication of the novel, hundreds, if not a thousand, years have passed from the time as we know it today. A lot can happen in centuries.
Exactly. A lot can change in a thousand years. But nothing has. Genocide isn't exactly unknown in Africa today.

The setting the blurb describes exists today, which is why the speculative elements in the first paragraph do nothing for me.

quote:
Ah well, this is very Hatrack. This is a blurb, but it's responded to as if the whole novel should have been revealed. The conclusions you and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off.

Again, this blurb is successful...

I am responding to the blurb as if it is representative of the novel.

Do you see the problem? If extrinsic and I have drawn the wrong conclusions from the back of the blurb, then the blurb is not successful.

From the blurb, if I read this book, I still would not have read a futuristic African fantasy novel.

quote:
It offers a heart wrenching dramatic complication: a mother deciding to keep the child of her brutal rape.
There is no mention of a choice. She is raped. She gives birth. I doubt that Planned Parenthood would have many facilities in the Sahara, especially after the bombs dropped. If choice is important, then the story is ill-served by the blurb.
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extrinsic
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Review of "conflict" and "complication" parameters:

Conflict: persons or forces in diametric opposition; e.g., contending agonists or, for example, life and death motivations, stakes, and outcomes.

Complication: congruent and in opposition wants and problems wanting satisfaction. Want for a peaceful family life is a complication possibly opposed by congruent sexual strife.

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JSchuler
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Denevius, just because they don't agree with your take on things does not mean that "The conclusions [JSchuler] and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off."

I think Denevius's assertion is valid for the purposes of this discussion. Neither extrinsic nor I have much experience with the book. Denevius has. If he says that our views of the book from the blurb are wildly different than the content of the book itself, I take him at his word, and that is good information to have when discussing the blurb's effectiveness.
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Grumpy old guy
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I found the blurb artful in one respect only: it provides the main character's back-story without it intruding into the narrative. As for the rest, I found it completely bland and non-specific. Also, I didn't think Nigeria was within the Sahara region, possibly sub-Saharan, but predominantly northern Africa.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Let's see if or what, actually, motifs of the blurb say the novel is "really" about.

Who Fears Death is the offspring of a rape, the rapist of fair complexion, the mother of dark complexion. Huh? The story of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The magics Who Fears Death uses are vaguely detailed in the blurb, essential though missing content, though the novel sample offers insights, resurrection of the dead is one of its magic motifs. Huh? A Christian messiah belief? What else does Who Fears Death do magically? Water into wine? Loaves and fishes? I expect those or similar.

What then do the rape and Christian belief system motifs emblematically or symbolically represent? The rape of and imposition of WEIRD PC beliefs on Sub-Saharan Africa by foreigners? Loss of unique cultural identity to imposed monoculturalism, in diametric opposition to multiculturalism diversity.

From motif identifications a theme or meaning of a writing or part derives. I believe, from what I've read of and about Who Fears Death, Okorafor under-realized what the story is "really" about: a crisis of lost unique cultural identity; pride, in other words, perhaps of a socially responsible vice benefit for a common good -- cultural diversity. In terms of moral truth discovery, perhaps an outcome could realize the universality of socially responsible morals (vice and virtue). Reviewers note the novel outcome is too pat and inconsequentially wraps up a moral truth struggle, though. An under-realized end. I will not read more of the novel than I have, though I will keep an eye on Okorafor's prose career.

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Grumpy old guy
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Quite possibly the magic is vodun, more commonly referred to as vodoo, vodou, or voodoo. It originated in West Africa and predates European colonial expansion and the slave-trade. It incorporates a single, non-christian, god with a surrounding pantheon of saints, acolytes etc. Also includes animism and respect for ancestors, possibly worship as well. My understanding is limited.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
Part of why she appeals -- she comes from a background of and targets an under-represented audience.

I sampled the novel and others of her works. The writing exhibits the lazy writing habits of self-publishers and lazy composition habits of mediocre academics, clumsily melded. Not only grammar and style shortfalls, content and organization, and discourse arts and skills shortfalls too. I am not impressed.

This is a familiar argument, actually. Her appeal isn't that she's a gifted writer that you don't appreciate; but that she's a mediocre writer elevated to a higher status in literary circles because she comes from, and targets, an under-represented audience.

Honestly, Extrinsic, it's only because I know enough of your critiquing style that I take you at your word that you just don't like her writing. Most of your criticisms no matter the writing sound almost exactly the same.

But be careful of echoing this sentiment that she only got where she is as a writer as a result of some quota system. 'Who Fears Death' was a highly imaginative, well-written novel. If you don't agree, that's fine. But don't perpetuate this belief that she only got to where she is because she's part of the under-represented, or wrote to an audience of the under-represented. That goes from a subjective view of her writing, which is your right to have, to implying that if she was a white writer, she wouldn't have won the World Fantasy award in 2011, and wouldn't have been nominated for a Nebula.

quote:
Denevius, just because they don't agree with your take on things does not mean that "The conclusions [JSchuler] and Extrinsic have drawn about the narrative are wildly off."
Ok, but they are.

quote:
A far-future setting would name a language of at least present-day relevance, maybe a dead though known language from the past.
A dead though known language is named, so Extrinsic is wrong. The question becomes, why does it have to be named in the blurb? The languages they speak in the novel aren't present day languages. You find this out *if* you read the book.

Extrinsic is just wrong here.

quote:
How can a wasteland become more of a wasteland? Cannot
Again, wrong conclusion. Over the centuries, a vast empire was built, the buildings of which pierced the sky. But then they crumpled. So it wasn't always a wasteland, which you discover *if* you read the book (though present day sub-Sahara Africa isn't a wasteland either, unless we have different definitions of that word).

The question once again being, why does this have to be in the blurb?

quote:
. Also, I didn't think Nigeria was within the Sahara region, possibly sub-Saharan, but predominantly northern Africa.
You're right, it was where present day Sudan is.
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Denevius
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quote:
Huh? A Christian messiah belief? What else does Who Fears Death do magically? Water into wine? Loaves and fishes? I expect those or similar.
I suppose, if healing a circumcised clitoris is like turning water into wine, then yes, you're dead on.

Which you aren't.

EDITED TO ADD: which is one of the brilliant aspects of this novel. Extrinsic went to a mythology he understands, and a culture he's from, so he reached for what's known for him. What do Westerners know of female circumcision? How does that feature into our fiction?

Kathleen, no offense, but Extrinsic is as wrong as it gets here. He can't help it. He's a westerner, and he's male. This novel is distinctly non-Western, and the protagonist is a female heroine concerned with aspects of a foreign culture.

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Denevius
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quote:
Exactly. A lot can change in a thousand years. But nothing has. Genocide isn't exactly unknown in Africa today.

And in Star Trek, as we discussed, the Enterprise could have been a regular boat here on Earth. All of the uses of present day smartphones, and all everyone in the Star Trek universe used them for were...communication.

Since when did scifi not draw upon present day realities to define its world? Why is it now wrong for an African writer to do the same?

In Dune, they were fighting over resources. Is that so different from today?

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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Kathleen, no offense, but Extrinsic is as wrong as it gets here.

That's simply your opinion, my good sir. I have started reading the 'sample' on Amazon and forced myself beyond the first 13 lines. Her writing is lazy, unimaginative, dreary and cliche--despite her being a banner-bearer for female, non-white, non-christian readers.

I can't speak for the whole story, but nothing in the first three pages would entice me to read on to find the imaginative vista's you say she eventually uncovers.

Yes, I am a WASP, but that doesn't mean I don't know anything about the pseudo-religious practice of female circumcision. I may know far more about it than the author does, in fact. After all, I do live in a multicultural society that is tolerant of 'mixed' relationships, more so than in some other places, and there is a quite large Sudanese population in Melbourne.

Phil.

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Denevius
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quote:
I may know far more about it than the author does, in fact.
A man who thinks he may know more about female circumcision than a woman...

That plays quite well into some of the motifs of the novel, actually.

[ June 23, 2015, 04:57 AM: Message edited by: Denevius ]

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Denevius
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As I think about, I do want to clarify what's wrong with Extrinsic position.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a long lecture on 80s culture masquerading as a novel. It won a lot of major literary awards, and is now going to be made into a movie.

REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi is an awful, awful novel that one a lot of awards, including the Hugo.

I have spoken out quite vocally about my dislike about both novels. But not once did I ever say that these guys won because they're white, which is basically Extrinsic argument about Nnedi Okorafor's popularity. She represents the under-represented, so she got a pass. She's a bad writer and doesn't deserve it, but hey, she's black, so she's praised.

This is a really bad sentiment to express. Don't like the writing, fine, but to say she got where she is *because* she's black (the under-represented) is nonsense.

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Robert Nowall
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I haven't read this one, but I have read, in Denevius's phrase, plenty of "awful, awful novels" that have won awards and sold well. (I am starting to think my reading habits aren't in sympathy with current trends in science fiction...I just hope I can overcome this with my writing...)
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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, I understand the pathology, the psychology, and the pseudo cultural, religious, and familial motivations for the practice of female genital mutilation far better than most people, male or female. The mere fact you refer to such a practice as circumcision demonstrates your complete ignorance in this particular matter. In Australia, just seeking someone to perform this abominable act results in 10 yrs in the slammer, let alone performing it. Being male does not preclude me from understanding female issues on a deeper level than most.

Phil.

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JSchuler
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quote:
And in Star Trek, as we discussed, the Enterprise could have been a regular boat here on Earth. All of the uses of present day smartphones, and all everyone in the Star Trek universe used them for were...communication.
And yet Star Trek came before the modern smartphone, even to the point of inspiring the design of their flip-phone precursors.

And it really couldn't have been a regular boat. You don't see many energy beings or cybernetic plagues on the high seas, and when was the last time a regular boat traveled back in time?

Now, if the burb for your Star Trek novel talked about how the Enterprise was a grounded starship-turned boat, looking for a trade route from Europe to Asia after the world lost all but the most primitive forms of navigation and was just rediscovering how to make portable time pieces, and that was it, yes, I'd say there was no point in having the Enterprise be a former starship.

But that's exactly what this novel does, according to you. Over a thousand years, a great civilization flourishes in the Sahara, only to have some apocalyptic event that casts it back to... present day. The only reason to do this is if you cannot be bothered to do the research to detail the cities, landmarks, culture, and history of the place you want to set your story. It is a cheap and lazy technique that is used to get low-quality literature into a genre where the author believes it will be treated more kindly.

Now, I have read the preview, and there is actual magic in the story that looks central to the plot--I think--so the second paragraph tells the truth and puts it in the SFF genre. But after reading the preview, I still hold that the speculative elements in the first paragraph are window dressing and can be dispensed with entirely without changing much of anything.

quote:
I have spoken out quite vocally about my dislike about both novels. But not once did I ever say that these guys won because they're white, which is basically Extrinsic argument about Nnedi Okorafor's popularity.
It's an understandable attempt to make sense of a nonsense outcome. Affirmative action is a thing. Pretending it or the sentiment behind it doesn't exist is delusion. Heck, we have a call to boycott white male authors going on now simply because white male. Like it or not, the race of an author matters, which makes the industry racist as hell.
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Denevius
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quote:
Being male does not preclude me from understanding female issues on a deeper level than most.
You didn't say you may understand it more than me, or more than most. You said...
quote:
I may know far more about it than the author does, in fact.
That you may understand it more than Nnedi Okorafor, a best-selling Nigerian-American PhD author of 8 books who has won numerous awards, comes from the culture in question, has travelled often to Africa, and has studied extensively on the subject.

Don't like her work all you want, but to diminish her achievements in such a way is juvenile. Now you, who hasn't achieved nearly as much as she as a writer, may know more than her on the subject she writes about?

Really?

quote:
Besides numerous literary awards, Okorafor is also an English PhD from Michigan State, a creative writing and literature professor at SUNY Buffalo, and a second-generation U.S. Nigerian Igbo. She is the target epitome of anti-PC WEIRD PC fantastical fiction writers' spite. Part of why she appeals -- she comes from a background of and targets an under-represented audience.
.

This continues to get to me, actually. Why is it so odd for a Nigerian-American woman writing about the culture of her immediate family and their cultural paradigm?

She's an author, and she has life experiences which she's drawn upon to write her novels. What else would write about?

Would it make more sense for Nnedi Okorafor to write about white characters in a European setting like GAME OF THRONES. There's something distinctly wrong about Extrinsic's view of this that I see I'm the only one who notices. This woman wrote novels like Orson Scott Card wrote novels, like Geroge R.R. Martin wrote novels, like Anne Rice wrote novels, like J.K. Rowling wrote novels.

The difference is that she's a black author that filled her narrative with black characters. That's it. She did exactly what these other people did, except she drew upon her experiences. Yet somehow, this is (and let's capitalize it, shall we) WEIRD!!!! Whoa, the dark person with the audacity to write about dark people. Should be a no-brainer, but somehow by doing so she's now put in a different classification than every other white writer filling his/her story with mainly white characters.

Okay, the sin you guys seem to think she made is instead of basing her novel on Western themes, such as GoTs or Harry Potter or Twilight, she based it on African themes. Yes, she has genocide in her story because, hey, in Africa that's kind of a big deal.

J.K. Rowling has her wizards going to a private school, a common occurrence in Western countries. And as in Western countries, there is a definite evil and a definite good. TWILIGHT has rich and powerful vampires being typical rich and powerful vampires. GoTs imitates the Middle Ages.

I'm not sure what Nnedi Okorafor did so inappropriately. Why is her writing WEIRD?

quote:
It's an understandable attempt to make sense of a nonsense outcome.
The nonsense outcome being that, objectively speaking, she's a poor writer, and so to make sense of it, you draw the conclusion that her achievements are because she's black?

So can we draw the same conclusion that REDSHIRTS and READY PLAYER ONE achieved what they did because, though the authors are underserving because they're terrible writers, they're white and so entitled in America?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Extrinsic went to a mythology he understands, and a culture he's from, so he reached for what's known for him. What do Westerners know of female circumcision? How does that feature into our fiction?

Kathleen, no offense, but Extrinsic is as wrong as it gets here. He can't help it. He's a westerner, and he's male. This novel is distinctly non-Western, and the protagonist is a female heroine concerned with aspects of a foreign culture.

I may be partly of WEIRD PC extraction; however, I'm about as non-WEIRD PC as westerners come, and certainly western mass-culture readers and writers. My issues aren't with the intents and meanings of the novel, nor the unique glimpses of an exotic culture. I'm disturbed by the caliber of the writing generally, and most specifically by the on-the-fly under-realized unity of expression from the blurb and the sample I read. The content wanders, is unfocused, and misses opportunities for a degree of greatness, if only one more close evaluation pass had been done; that is, what's the novel really about?

From the blurb, from the sample, from responsible critical reviews, I estimate that "really about" is a crisis of identity mixed up with vanity. The African story since neolithic ascendant sub-Saharan African culture collapsed pre-Egyptian empire ascendance. The Sahara region's cultural collapse came about due to a number of environmental climate changes that turned the Sahara region from equatorial semi-arid savanna to dessert wasteland. Disease, pestilence, famine, and war followed. And foreign invaders have imposed their cultures on sub-Saharan Africa since. To wit, European Colonialism and later WEIRD PC's beliefs and values. Sub-Saharan Africa is about as culturally western-aligned as an African region can be, save South Africa, though in crisis from religious and cultural belief and value clashes.

How easy to say an outsider cannot understand a foreign culture. That is the gospel of the insider unable and unwilling to express the insider's shareable experiences. You can't understand. I don't want you to. I have a right to complain about my problems and don't want the long-suffering pity party to end.

Where wrongness arises is not with my interpretations, rather from a lack of ready and willing ability to communicate effectively and persuasively. Okorafor misses the mark.

I couldn't care less about Okorafor's ethnic identity, by the way. Her popularity does depend to a degree on that and she trades on it, though. What matters to me is how persuasively she uses her identity to make her point. She doesn't. Kleos is an appeal of pedigree; that is, a person's ancestral heritage. Ethos is an appeal of credibility. Okorafor may succeed on the former, she fails on the latter from her clumsy use of language skills. Pathos? appeals of emotion. Maybe. Logos? fail. Kairos? appeals of the opportune occasion. Maybe. The audience? Non-WEIRD PC anti-PC, young, vanity concerned readers.

By the way, WEIRD PC is an acronym from non-western culture that stands for Western Educated (or European) Industrialized Rich Democratic Patriarchal Christian, of that developed nations' extraction and belief and value system. The WEIRD PC anti-PC (anti-political correctness) movement afoot in western social politics dehumanizes non-WEIRD PC culture.

[ June 23, 2015, 10:44 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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quote:
Her popularity does depend to a degree on that and she trades on it, though.
GAME OF THRONES could have just as easily been filled with dark skinned people than white people. There is nothing we learn in the narrative that makes it so that the Stark family had to be white.

By writing white characters, was George R.R Martin trading on the fact that it's easier to get a best seller and a T.V. deal when the majority of your characters are white for an America audience?

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extrinsic
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Martin traded on the cultural milieu of the narrative's setting: time, place, and situation. Ostensibly, the narrative could have been about a pre-historic Saharan empire milieu. It is what it is, though, warts and all.

A general principle of persuasion is to make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar. When writing about cultures foreign to an audience, that principle holds strong promise.

An individual's or the characters of a writer's narrative milieu ethnicities doesn't matter. We are all human for our needs, wants, desires, our problems, our moral and identity crises, our warts and virtues. The human experience is global. What does matter about an identity matrix is what we share and how we differ. New Feminism's central convention is portrayals of the unique lives of women. All else is matters of individual decisions of what else a narrative expresses about the shared, unique, and familiar and exotic moral human condition on point, and how, why, who, when, where.

Okorafor has a unique perspective on two or more distinct though parallel cultures and a female approach, not to mention maybe more educated and at least more safe, access to an easier lifestyle, financially secure, and a less hazardous social environment than if she would have been born and lived in Nigeria. Better off? I don't know. She is a second-generation U.S. immigrant, though a natural born U.S. citizen, and all those entail; for example, a foot in two worlds, pulled in two or more directions, and a struggle to reconcile them. Her parents' struggle is to fit into a foreign culture and maintain their native nation heritage's beliefs and values in the face of the foreign culture's sometimes persuasive, sometimes coercive, sometimes imposed by force majure influences.

[ June 23, 2015, 02:05 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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quote:
The nonsense outcome being that, objectively speaking, she's a poor writer, and so to make sense of it, you draw the conclusion that her achievements are because she's black?
First: I drew no such conclusion, as I have made no statement about the quality of her writing.

Second: If someone finds the quality poor, and the author is of a particular race favored by the elite, then in an environment where racial considerations are at the forefront, coming to the conclusion that the author is acclaimed due to race is not unreasonable or irrational.

quote:
So can we draw the same conclusion that REDSHIRTS and READY PLAYER ONE achieved what they did because, though the authors are underserving because they're terrible writers, they're white and so entitled in America?
Some do. Some may also attribute the awards to the views they espouse which advance the racist paradigm (at least with "easiest difficulty setting" Scalzi, I honestly haven't paid attention to Cline to commend), which is related. I personally attribute Redshirts's Hugo to log-rolling in a system that had a small voting population.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi is an awful, awful novel that one a lot of awards, including the Hugo.

Redshirts' standout strength is commentary about expendable characters used to artificially -- artlessly -- develop antagonism and tension and conflict by raising life and death stakes, a social and cultural commentary. Warts and all, the clumsy content, organization, craft, and language skills of the novel parallel the clumsiness of the Redshirt use phenomenon.

Could the meaning and theme of the whole have been more artfully executed? Probably. Go for it. A consideration for making the premise more meaningfully relevant could explore the expendableness-of-life real-life motif seen commonly anymore, well, across human history. Everyone is expendable for a socially irresponsible tyrant, oligarch, monarch, dictator, council's, etc., capricious whim.

Maybe, because "Redshirt" comes from the Star Trek milieu for stock cannon-fodder, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekhov find only red shirts available for wear and replicators offline. They struggle to avoid certain death at the hands of self-promoted security redshirts now in pewter-white shirts. Social commentary and discovered moral truth potentials galore. Of course, though, with appropriate use licensing permitted. Although artful parody is generally immune to copyright infringement claims -- meaningful social commentary parody.

[ June 23, 2015, 02:11 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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JSchuler
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quote:
Redshirts' standout strength is commentary about expendable characters used to artificially -- artlessly -- develop antagonism and tension and conflict by raising life and death stakes, a social and cultural commentary.
Meh. If that commentary was in any way original, it could be a strength. As it is, it's Internet Meme #72: The Novel.
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extrinsic
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Scalzi's sources for inspiration are what they are. He just novelized -- first -- what many thought could be cool to do and didn't beat him to the punch line. He left ample room for improvement, reinvention, and re-imagination. Thanks for that, Scalzi.
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JSchuler
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quote:
He just novelized -- first -- what many thought could be cool to do and didn't beat him to the punch line.
No, they beat him to the punch line long, long ago, and the punch line was all the novel had going for it.

I don't think anyone has made Rick Roll: The Novel, either. But being the first to write it does nothing if the book isn't good on its own.

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extrinsic
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I assume we are in accord about the "punch line" being a buffet of offerings? Not the joke "punchline" circumstance? Thereof I also assume we are in accord about the novel?
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
So can we draw the same conclusion that REDSHIRTS and READY PLAYER ONE achieved what they did because, though the authors are underserving because they're terrible writers, they're white and so entitled in America?

I think you intended undeserving, not "underserving." Although, ironically, they are under-serving narratives in their lack of full realization of the moral truth discovery arguments they make, from their dubious language and content and organization craft skills.

The one standout strength of each is what made them popular, what they express about mass popular culture. The "whiteness" of the writers has next-to-nothing to do with those novels' popularity. A writer is ideally invisible for all intents and purposes from most any narrative, artful exceptions notwithstood.

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Robert Nowall
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Looked for it at two bookstores today, just to see...remembered the title but couldn't remember the writer...
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Denevius
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quote:
Second: If someone finds the quality poor, and the author is of a particular race favored by the elite, then in an environment where racial considerations are at the forefront, coming to the conclusion that the author is acclaimed due to race is not unreasonable or irrational.
But it is asinine because it's saying that you'll only accept the achievements of people of color if *you* (not you in-particular, JSchuler) agree with it. And if you don't agree with it, then the only reason people of color achieved what they did is because of their race.

You can't believe that others may genuinely think that the person is good at what they've been awarded with. A best-selling author? White guilt. Numerous awards? White guilt. 8+ books published? White guilt. Of course it's not that she's a great writer that *you* don't particularly like. It's that she's getting handouts and a pat on the head from the elite just for showing up, trying, and producing mediocre work.

Dislike Nnedi Okorafor's writing all you want, but to diminish her achievements like that is awful.

quote:
Scalzi's sources for inspiration are what they are. He just novelized -- first -- what many thought could be cool to do and didn't beat him to the punch line. He left ample room for improvement, reinvention, and re-imagination. Thanks for that, Scalzi.
Also, notice how Extrinsic has defended the male white writer. Sure, he'll say the writing could be "more artful", but overall, he deserves what he got. Thanks Scalzi!

But not Nnedi Okorafor.

quote:
No, they beat him to the punch line long, long ago, and the punch line was all the novel had going for it.

Your'e right, this was a one-joke book that might have worked as flash fiction and that had a ridiculous ending. All in all this was a poorly written book, and honestly, the fact that his awards were given to him *because* he's a white male writing about mainly white characters make the most amount of sense.

READY PLAYER ONE is, literally, a lecture on the 80s with a splash of fiction thrown it. And this is about to be a movie?

Whereas Nnedi Okorafor takes the struggles of women in a society that's fallen into the sands and, literally, holds their Holy Book as the universal truth to an extent that one group will allow themselves to be butchered because "God" wills it. And from this awful (but painfully relevant to our present) fictional universe comes a girl who suffers one tragedy after another in this world of men who, like Phil, thinks he, as a man, knows more about the female than any woman, no matter what their talents or accomplishments.

This, according to Extrinsic, isn't "notable or artful".

quote:
A general principle of persuasion is to make the familiar exotic and the exotic familiar.
She loses her father, who she loves. Is this unfamiliar? Her mother sacrifices and endures to keep her alive and happy. Is this unfamiliar? Her friends are moody and argue amongst each other. Is this unfamiliar? Her mate is jealous that she's more gifted than him. Is this unfamiliar? Her blood father is a deeply religious man. Is this unfamiliar?

What's so unfamiliar about this narrative that makes you so uncomfortable?

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extrinsic
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Nothing but the mediocre and lazy writing from a creative writing and literature professor makes me uncomfortable. Though you would make my observations about ethnic motifs and what they emblemize or symbolize out to be unconscionable bias and raise irrelevant issues just so you can squabble and promote your biases as superior to others' and mine?

I am a perennial outsider. I belong nowhere. I suffer the biases and social trespasses of everyone regardless of identity matrix. I am less biased than I once was because I experience those trespasses and biases firsthand. Anyone receives my automatic trust and respect until betrayal of my trust and respect. Usually sooner or later for most anyone because humans are complicated by biases and confirmation biases.

Hence, I am not nor will I suffer to be labeled a racist nor accede to anyone else labeling anyone or being called a racist, nor any thinly veiled allusive accusation of racism. The term is fraught with hypocrisy and used by anyone who would appropriate race as grounds for ethnic dehumanization. Humans are one race, many ethnicities, many complexions, none superior to another in any regard except what individuals and groups impose by socially irresponsible acts.

Again, Okorafor's ethnicity I couldn't care less about. How she expresses her identity is hers to choose, only how she expresses herself through fiction weakly and lazily matters to me. To me. I speak for no one else. Craft shortfalls -- such that I won't signal my approval of her writing caliber by acceding to purchase her work -- make me uncomfortable. Not until or if suitable improvements appeal to me.

[ June 23, 2015, 09:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
quote:
Scalzi's sources for inspiration are what they are. He just novelized -- first -- what many thought could be cool to do and didn't beat him to the punch line. He left ample room for improvement, reinvention, and re-imagination. Thanks for that, Scalzi.
Also, notice how Extrinsic has defended the male white writer. Sure, he'll say the writing could be "more artful", but overall, he deserves what he got. Thanks Scalzi!
Defend Scalzi? Certainly not! Irony. A touch of satire and a touch of sarcasm mashed up with a verbal irony to express that a weak joke turned into a novel is about all Scalzi accomplished with Redshirts. I don't care for joke stories where readers are the butt of the joke. The writing -- well, that's Scalzi and many other writers who first debut and then plateau and stall on the writer skill growth climb then wonder where the audience went. They aged and matured, duh-huh.
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JSchuler
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quote:
But it is asinine because it's saying that you'll only accept the achievements of people of color if *you* (not you in-particular, JSchuler) agree with it.
It's not asinine. It's logical. That's the problem with an industry being focused on race: it is impossible to tell if a person received their position based on merit or skin color. This is especially true in fields where output is subjective; you can get away with giving an award to a writer who produces a substandard book, because there's no objective metric for what substandard is. You can't get away with giving an award to an engineer who produces a substandard bridge, because it will collapse and kill people.

quote:
Dislike Nnedi Okorafor's writing all you want, but to diminish her achievements like that is awful.
Don't tell *me* that (not me in particular [Smile] ). Tell that to the people who want publishers to refuse to publish works from white authors. They're the ones diminishing the works by focusing on the identity of the author, not the quality of the work itself.

Anyway, we are far afield. I respectfully give you the last word on this subject if you wish it.

Regarding the book, itself, not the blurb, I can only say, from the preview available on Amazon, none of it struck me as particularly culturally foreign. And I'm a white American male. I was rather disappointed considering the fantasy book I'm currently writing. I gots out my Appropriate'n club and Colonialifize'n bag and was look'n to do some cultural raiding on behalf of the Great White Patriarchy, but I left empty.

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Denevius
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quote:
That's the problem with an industry being focused on race: it is impossible to tell if a person received their position based on merit or skin color. This is especially true in fields where output is subjective; you can get away with giving an award to a writer who produces a substandard book, because there's no objective metric for what substandard is.
Because Nnedi Okorafor has accomplished much more than many published writers in her career, putting her in a rare category of authors, I can't help but wonder: What exactly does she have to achieve before one can simply say that she's a gifted writer?

And if her list of accomplishments haven't at the least earned her this right of being considered gifted, then why does any of the numerous white writers get that right? If, as you say, the publishing industry is racist, then you must accept that no white writer is getting by on his/her merits either.

You can't just raise this doubt because of a successful black writer.

quote:
Tell that to the people who want publishers to refuse to publish works from white authors.
Yes, because one thing the American publishing industry has a lack of is white books by white authors featuring mainly white characters. All those mediocre colored writers taking away opportunities from all those above-average white male writers.

quote:
A touch of satire and a touch of sarcasm mashed up with a verbal irony to express that a weak joke turned into a novel is about all Scalzi accomplished with Redshirts.
So Scalzi got 'Redshirts' published, and won a Hugo despite the fact that he wrote a mediocre (awful) book? We can conclude that he got his awards not on merits, but because he's a white male in a racist industry that occasionally throws mediocre colored writers a bone (and gets thoroughly lashed for doing so)? As I would guess less than 10% of Hugo and Nebula award winners are non-white male.
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extrinsic
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Redshirts popularity is from its satire and sarcasm that poke fun at Hollywood's take on fantastical fiction media. Period. Hugos are popularity awards -- not critical awards.

Identity matrix biases notwithstood, identity is far too complex a solitary basis upon which to appreciate art of any form, though identity expression is at core a pursuit of all art and life.

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JSchuler
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quote:
What exactly does she have to achieve before one can simply say that she's a gifted writer?
Write a good book.
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Denevius
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quote:
Write a good book.
I realize that you probably think she's taken away a publishing opportunity from you. She's published 8 books, you've published how many? She's won numerous writing awards, you've won how many writing awards?

But yes, she's black, and a mediocre writer. You're white, and a much better writer. It's her fault, or the publisher's fault, for taking away from you what should be yours and welfaring it out to Nnedi Okorafor instead. Shame on her and the industry from taking away from you what's rightfully yours, right?

I get it. Thanks for the clarification.

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JSchuler
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Wow.
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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
in this world of men who, like Phil, thinks he, as a man, knows more about the female than any woman, no matter what their talents or accomplishments.

You, Sir, have absolutely no idea of what I have seen, experienced, endured, and empathised with. I have seen the victims of terror, outrage, inhumanity, and the smug satisfaction smeared across the faces of men at what they have done. And I have gleefully wiped those self-same smiles away--permanently.

When was the last time Nnedi Okorafor held a woman in her arms who was dying from the mutilations inflicted upon her simply because she belonged to a different tribe?

Phil.

[ June 24, 2015, 01:56 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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MattLeo
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I am reminded of the words of the Anglican prelate Thomas Cranmer: "What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies." I believe that too much criticism simply rationalizes the critic's emotional reaction to a story, tries too hard to make that reaction the one genuine emotional response anyone can have to that story. And I suppose the logical end point of that process is to conclude that people who disagree with us do so because of base motives (politics) or personal deficiencies (vanity).

Personally, I don't care much for critiques that sound like a brief for the prosecution or the defense. "I hated such and such a story and it had absolutely no redeeming qualities," or "I loved this other story and it had no faults whatsoever." Either way I find such critiques unconvincing, and when they begin imputing and impugning motives they're downright suspect.

And if it's a *writer* complaining that some other writer got an unfair break, well that approaches the unseemly. Probably every successful writer got an unfair break or two along the way; Dr. Seuss was on his way home to burn his manuscript of "To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street" when he ran into an old college chum who happened to work for Vanguard Press. How was that fair? But then who knows how many thousands of other failed writers drew the "college chum works at a publishing house" card but didn't have the talent to exploit that? One thing we can be sure of is that if there are slots set aside for female writers of African descent, there's a lot more candidates than there are slots.

Now as to the specific blurb, I have to confess that it left me somewhat cold, although perhaps I'm not the target of this particular book. That's OK, the literary world doesn't revolve around my interests. The job of the blurb is to identify the book to people who will enjoy reading it, neither more nor less. If someone thinks they can rewrite the blurb to really appeal to me, I'd be interested to see what that looks like.

Reading a couple dozen pages of the sample, they seemed congruent with what the blurb promises. If anything they seem to deliver on the promise to a fault. They offer up no particular surprises, and that's a serious fault as far as I'm concerned. But even so, comparing it to self-published novels is a gross exaggeration, unless somebody's been reading a much better class of self-pubbed novel than I've had access to.

I think that my only real problem with this opening is this: it's first person, obviously told in retrospect, probably many years later. So the narrator must have some kind of agenda for addressing us, right? And she'll probably presume we have some kind of agenda for wanting hearing her story.

I expect to get a whiff of the narrator's agenda in a first person opening. Maybe he's setting the record straight, trying to impress you, or trying to make you feel sorry for him. Or maybe he just likes telling a story. The thing about this opening is that the narrator does an acceptable job of describing her sixteen year-old self, but doesn't reveal much about her current self. To me that makes her feel either unnaturally detached from her younger self or overly cagey.

In the absence of the guiding spirit of the narrator, it feels like the author is leading us around. Which of course is always true, but you're not supposed to notice. That really worked against me identifying with the protagonist.

[ June 24, 2015, 03:05 AM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Denevius
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Who was the last notable white male writer who has published half a dozen books and has won or been nominated for serious literary awards that left you "logically" concluding that he achieved his writing success because he's white despite being a mediocre, bad, lazy writer?
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Denevius
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And Matt, I appreciate the fact you responded to the actual blurb, and then the pages you *actually* read of the novel.
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Robert Nowall
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Appropros of the recent comments about mediocre writers published because they're black...I can't necessarily say I've seen any of that, and I've seen some pretty high-quality work from writers I found out (later) were black.

But I recently read a Robert Silverberg column in Asimov's that talks (in passing) of Damon Knight as a mid-sixties book editor. Mentions that he published two books by a writer who was black, as some kind of civil rights statement---but the books weren't very good and didn't sell well.

Silverberg didn't name the book or writer---and I regret that I couldn't track either down. I'd like to know if I'd (a) heard of them, (b) seen them, (c) read them, and, most important, (d) liked or disliked them.

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Denevius
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quote:
But I recently read a Robert Silverberg column in Asimov's that talks (in passing) of Damon Knight as a mid-sixties book editor. Mentions that he published two books by a writer who was black, as some kind of civil rights statement---but the books weren't very good and didn't sell well.

Maybe this happened, maybe it didn't. Anyone with information on this feel free to share.

But is it your belief that mediocre or awful white writers haven't been published because they were white? Is it only people of color that get an unfair handup in publishing, past or present (since this incident supposedly happened in the 60s)?

quote:
When was the last time Nnedi Okorafor held a woman in her arms who was dying from the mutilations inflicted upon her simply because she belonged to a different tribe?
Okay, Phil, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. What is it like to be a preteen girl on the cusp of puberty who undergoes female circumcision? What is sex like for a woman who has undergone this procedure? On an emotional level, a mental level, and a physical level?

Hey, you may be right. Maybe you do have more knowledge of what it's like to be a female than an actual female. You've got an audience. Knock it out of the park better than Nnedi Okorafor did. Give us a narrative from a preteen girl's perspective before, during, and after the experience.

Prove me wrong.

EDITED TO ADD: Nnedi Okorafor took a couple of chapters to explain how this experience affected her character, from the heroine deciding to engage in the custom in the distant tribe, to the actual procedure, to how intimacy with her life mate was

You, of course, don't have to short-shirt it like that. Nnedi Okorafor doesn't really know what she's talking about, after all, and she is a lazy writer.

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