On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons. —
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (via feeling-natures-glow)
[Is it not Towel Day yet?]
Is genre fiction creating a market for lemons? -
In 1970 George Akerlof (Nobel Prize winner in Economics 2001) wrote a scholarly article called “The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism.” In true academic fashion, the a…
The Sky was Falling … The Sky had Always Been Falling
I have to take exception to pieces like this, in large part because they start from a good point but wear blinders and fail to see the more obvious flaws in their arguments and, thus, conclusions.
Yes, I know, damn near every argument made since the beginning of time. But this seems pernicious in the omission.
The world has always been getting worse. It was always once a better place and tomorrow is dimmer, further away from the all-knowing, all-loving source of the life-light. Except it isn’t. In any measurable sense, so many things are better than they used to be. I’ve touched on this before, but in a quick list: lower infant mortality, reduction in deaths from preventable disease, higher literacy, greater access to education, etc.
Now that is not to say that new is better. Far from it. I make no appeal to novelty. Plenty of new things are garbage and will go the way of the Tamagotchi. But an argument that the sky is falling because it always is amounts to crying wolf.
The phrase “Gresham’s Law” had been bouncing around in my head, but I knew that wasn’t quite the right concept. Gresham’s Law is about currency circulation, where everyone knows that two currencies that have the same official value may differ on other value dimensions (e.g., gold coins and base-metal coins that have the same value when used as currency). But the book market seemed to me to be an asymmetric information situation.*
The result of the two processes is the same: the bad product drives the good product out of the market.
This claim, that possibly bad books are or might drive the good from the market is based, in part, on the proliferation of bad reviews on Amazon. Sunita points to the percentage of favorable reviews for a single—though admitted very popular—self-published work, Wool by Hugh Howey compared with several NY published works. Her figures:
Wool (Omnibus): 93.6%
Harry Potter #1: 94.4%
Ender’s Game: 90.1%
Ready Player One: 89.4%
Let’s ignore the implication here that Wool is “bad,” because it’s neither here nor there and she has the right to that view. Not one of these works is objectively good or bad. The only thing they all have in common is a substantial readership.
Now Supita points out that only Harry Potter manages to beat out Wool for favorable reviews. She also points out that HP is in a class of it’s own. Both points are true. She further says that reviews on Amazon are product reviews.
It is on this final point that she fails to follow through. She is perfectly right that these are product reviews, but that is more significant than she makes it. Reviews on Amazon are, and should be, for the the product rather than the art. So were start with two problems. How do we/should we differentiate between work as product and work as art? For some works, the answer seems clear, but across the board I have to say no. Second, when evaluating the significance of reviews of products, how must we differentiate between those products with a physical presence and those that are purely digital?
Neither of these problems has an easy answer and I have no wish to propose one. To be honest, that would likely be a task I’d still be chugging away at come Christmas. What is should say is that, given these large question, we need to be discerning in how we weight reviews. Supita makes a good point that the less motivated readers might burn out on high review works at middle prices that fail to live up. They might be sent off to other media. We, the voracious readers, might not give up but what of the children? Perhaps that is the more important question.
When I want reviews of a product (coffee maker, dog toy, physical book) Amazon can be a great resource. Of course, you have to take everything with a grain on salt. The worry that a review might have been paid or else the review might have an axe to grind is very real and thus even the market leader for a said product is likely to have both fans and detractors. Browse with caution.
When I want reviews of media (books, tv, movies, music), I would rather ask my coffee maker for recommendations that go to the product reviews on Amazon. A quick glance at the classics will show dozens of jilted students taking out their classroom frustration on an easy target. Readers pissed at a previous installment of a series will damn the following volume before publication. There will be some useful reviews in there, good and bad, and good on the readers who publish them. But Amazon is not the place for the reviews.
So where do you go? Well, Amazon purchased one of the best places just a year or so ago: Goodreads. A community of booklovers—e and otherwise—who participate without compensation to cultivate a reader’s paradise. Like with any social media exercise, there are controversies, but it’s an overall positive place.
For more critical reviews, there are a hundred different outlets and between them dozen upon dozens of aggregators. For film, a million review can be found on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. For the written word, reviews are often more difficult to boil down and aggregators are further between but there are untold resources for finding reviews, good and bad.
Are bad books driving out good? That remains to be seen. Have the Big 5 created a pricing market that hurts them in the long run? That seems more likely. Are we in a period of transition for the entire publishing industry? God yes.
What we should be worry about is not a few bad product reviews burning the casual reader. We have a system growing that can revitalize the written word and brings millions back into the avidly literate. That does not happen by accident. We need to cultivate happy readers and teach web and world literacy so that they know the difference between a 3.5 star average based off of bias and one based on middling reviews.
The issue here is not: Is the Sky Falling (Like Always)? but what is my role is making sure that the next generation appreciates that gorgeous sky I already see?
A Federal Judge Just Ruled Texas' Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional | Mother Jones -
Proud of my state today. It’s tentative, but we might just undo that garbage Texas Constitutional Amendment voted into law back in 2005.
I don’t often listen to APM’s Writer’s Almanac. Something about Garrison Keillor's fine voice is soporific and mixed with my lukewarm feelings about a lot of contemporary poetry, it doesn't tend to grab me. Sadly, KUT plays it in the middle of my morning commute.
Today, that wasn’t quite so unfortunate. I was only paying a bit of attention but the piece was about a poet in Princeton’s first mixed gender graduating class and her time spent after graduation studying Buddhism. Eight years she spent studying Buddhism. She did no writing at all during that time.
Jane Hirschfield, the poet, said the following: “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.”
I couldn’t agree more and I would extend that to most fictional writing. Indeed, perhaps it should extend to all writing that attempts to concern itself with capital-T truth.
It was with similar ideas in mind that I stopped writing entirely at the same age as Hirschfield. I decided on a coin toss at age 18 that I really wanted to be a writer. I don’t recall entirely what that meant to me at the time, but it was hopelessly romantic and nausea-inducing. I wrote sporadically and in the mode of a true artiste through my undergrad. That is to say, I wrote when the mood struck and thus very little indeed.
The result was that after four years, I had little practice and almost no experience of the world. And so I put down my pen.
For four years, I wrote wordy, meaningless blog posts and literary criticism, but nothing really creative. That ended almost a year ago. On Spring Break (I work for a Uni and still get the week off), I took up the figurative pen and started writing regularly. Since then, I’ve written somewhere around 200K words between two novels (well, one and a half so far), a few short stories, and numerous blog posts. Among the many, many things I’ve learned in the interim, I found that the inverse of Ms. Hirschfield’s comment is just as true. To write, one must live but to live, a writer must write.
It is between these antithetical platitudes that the writer finally becomes human. It is in the grey places in between that the real work of empathy takes place.
Now that isn’t to say that non-writers are less human, only that they find their humanity through some vehicle incomprehensible to me. I also don’t intend to say that I am some fully formed human from a year spent writing.
But I’m getting there.
(via Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal) Mmm, MM! That’s some good ennui.
(EDIT: Not sure about the quality; click-through for better version)
Presented without comment.
-Jody, BL Show-
The following brief and quite intriguing survey was originally posted to io9’s Observation Deck. The writer asked that the post be shared around so by way of doing just that, I thought I might post my answers here as well.
1) At the end of Inception is it important to you to know if the top falls or not? Do you try to figure this out using the clues you are given or do you think the ambiguity of the spinning top is what the filmmaker wants you reflect on?
At the end of Inception, I felt that Nolan made the perfect choice of giving us the impression that the top could go either way. The consistent turn lends to one train of thought and the possible wobble another. What I think is important is following each of those threads through to their results and ramifications. Is it real or not? Doesn’t matter. What does it means in either case?
2) During the director’s cut of Blade Runner, Deckard has a strange dream about a unicorn. Is it necessary for this unicorn to have some concrete explanation or is it OK if the scene exists as something lyrical, impressionistic, or vaguely symbolic?
This scene has always felt like Scott’s attempt to invoke the empathetic importance of animals in the adapted novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Between these snippets and the “Tears in the Rain” soliloquy, it seems like Scott is trying to bring that underrated substance of the novel (IMO) over into the adaptation. Even if that is the intent, I think the inclusion of the unicorn is pretty laughable. The status symbol and symbolic meaning behind the animals make the novel for me and reframing Dick’s ethical and symbolic choices in the novel always left the film lacking for me.
None of that quite addresses the question though. I feel making the unicorn scene more obvious or literal would serve two antithetical purposes. First, it would make concrete the attempt I mentioned above. Second, it would undermine the image and the symbol behind it and make the film weaker than I already believe it is.
3) In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, Jack Torrance is locked in a pantry. He encounters the ghost of Delbert Grady on the other side of the door. Grady says he will let Jack out. The door opens.
By relying only on Kubrick’s film, is it absolutely clear to you that Grady or some supernatural force let Jack out of the pantry? Was Jack merely hallucinating and somehow got out by himself? Is it OK not to know whether either of these is true?
In Kubrick’s adaptation, King believes that his focus on the weight of alcoholism in the novel was dismissed for a Kubrickian maniac. Towards that end, and assuming that was purposeful or is at least evidence of Kubrick’s influence on the story, I think most people who view the film are going to take it one way or the other. Unlike the case with Inception, I don’t really think this question in the film deserves a devil’s advocate. If you’re watching the film intent on the supernatural, there are bread crumbs to follow. Likewise, if you see in it the deranged and an unreliable POV, there’s evidence for that as well. We don’t need to know which is true.
4) Do you prefer viewing The Cabin in the Woods as a regular fictional world or are you more comfortable with it as a type of meta-fiction which only exists as a commentary on the horror genre itself? Is it OK if it is both?
It has honestly never occurred to me that one might watch The Cabin in the Woods as a pure fictional world. From the very premise, it has always seemed a meta-fictional world operating inside the tropes and expectations of horror films to subvert and create an amusing and at times terrifying commentary on the subgenre.
But for that matter, I feel the same of the Scream films which are probably more transparently trying to function as regular horror and satire. The bias here may be that I don’t like horror films on the whole. I appreciate the tropes and clichés and I even enjoy some of the older ones, but most of the time they just upset me. It’s certainly possible for TCITW or the Scream series to function in both ways, but for me they never will. It would actively take away from what I love about those movies.
5) In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, do you personally need an explanation for HAL 9000’s homicidal behavior or do you like it better if left as one of the many mysteries of the movie?
In this instance, and only in this instance, I kind of wanted more of a straight explanation, and yet I’m marginally ok with the fact that Kubrick doesn’t give one. This is based for me much more on the novel, however, and in the adaptation I feel once again that Kubrick’s interpretation deserves examination on its own merit.
Clarke’s novel is one commonly identified as hard sf that I actually like on that definition. I tend not to care about how “hard” sf is and when works are touted on that designation first and foremost, I steer away from them. Right now, Andy Weir’s The Martian is being talked about everywhere but it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth time that I heard about the book—this time in a science related interview with the author—that I finally took a shine to it and a lot of the reason is that the first several kept harping on how good the science is without saying much else.
So, with a bit of a digression, I have to say that while I wanted the film to explain it, in the Kubrick frame it makes perfectly good sense why it wouldn’t be and why, despite my wishes, I have to be ok with that.