The Wild West Web

A little while ago I came across a book review website/blog that pretty much trashed my 2002 novel, Archform:Beauty in a way that was clear the blogger had neither any understanding of what the book was about nor of a lot of other things.  So I simply posted the following comment on the review, “Interestingly enough, both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly gave it starred reviews.”  Not surprisingly, the blogger replied to the effect that he really didn’t care what they thought and that he was selling it back to the used book store… and by the way, that my own words said that minority voices were important.  I agreed that minority voices needed to be heard, but that didn’t mean that they were either accurate or inaccurate simply by virtue of being minority voices.  Then I was questioned about why I’d made the first comment, as if it were somehow rude to question a review offered with open comments. When the blogger then stated that I‘d never change his mind, I pointed out that my comments weren’t made for that point since it was obvious I would never change his mind. I should have left it at that, but, unfortunately, I didn’t.  I added the phrase that I wrote for people who could think, with the clear implication that he couldn’t. I understand that created a slight furor with some people.

This “discussion” of sorts, however, crystalized, at least in my mind, something that I and a great many others have talked around and about, but which tends to be overlooked.  With the proliferation of niche news, niche blogs, niche products, we are creating, or have created, a society where anyone can express the most inaccurate or misrepresentative or misleading views or selected facts for “their” following,” and because like attracts like, seldom are these facts ever challenged in that niche.  Oh, CNN may dispute Fox News, or CBS and BBC news may present very different views of a story, but there is seldom another side shown on any niche program.  What’s truly frightening to me is that there’s more discussion of the other side on the entertainment shows such as Colbert or Bill Maher, or it’s buried on early Sunday morning news shows.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but they’re few, and getting fewer. This “niche isolation” also contributes to societal polarization because the followers in each niche continually reinforce their beliefs in their interactions with each other, which makes it easier and easier to ignore, minimize, or marginalize any conflicting views.  

In addition, the internet/world wide web has become a “wild west” of information dissemination, where some sources are good, some bad, and all misrepresentative to some degree.  The web has also become more and more powerful in influencing what readers choose to buy or not to buy, and for authors that makes favorable information valuable and unfavorable information worrisome, particularly if that unfavorable information is highly misrepresentative or inaccurate.  What compounds this us that with people compartmentalizing their information intake there’s no telling if they’ll ever encounter other information to balance or expand their knowledge base about an author, particularly if their initial information comes from a source that views the author unfavorably.

Part of the reason why I made the initial comment in the first place is because I’ve always disliked anonymous snipers, particularly when they don’t know what they’re talking about. I think, far too idealistically, that such people should not go unquestioned.  But what I realized well after the fact, was that society has become so polarized that, for the most part, very few people still retain even semi-open minds when their judgments or beliefs are questioned. The problem with my reaction to the “review” is that, in all likelihood, all it did was make people who would never like my books anyway mad at me, while suggesting to those who do like my work that I’m excessively sensitive.

But all writers are.  That’s not the question.  The question is how we should balance such sensitivity when facing adverse material on the web that could affect our sales, reputation, and livelihood… and how we actually do.  It’s easy to suggest we remain above the fray, and that has historically been the best policy, but with the way the times are changing, I have to wonder if such “neutrality” is necessarily wise… and yet, I’ve seen and heard certain authors have spent so much time and money reacting to so many slights, misrepresentations, and inaccuracies that I’ve wondered if that didn’t do more damage than help.

It’s definitely a brave new world (web).

7 thoughts on “The Wild West Web”

  1. Steve says:

    I recently read The One Eyed Man. Before I picked it up I read some Amazon reviews. One rather long review spoke at length about the slow pace of the book. They inferred familiarity with your work. However, after reading the book, and enjoying the thoughtful development characteristic of all of your stories, I knew that they had not read any of your previous works. They did not understand what your strengths as a writer are.

  2. Jim says:

    Yes, I just read it also. I enjoyed it, and didn’t find the pace slow at all. But I guess if a reader is hoping for at least one evisceration per chapter, it might have been disappointing 🙂

  3. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

    Well, Mr Modesitt, you know my thoughts (as you read my post and commented on my blog – The Forged Forest) so I won’t rehash my point.

    But I do, again, agree with you. Irrespective of what happened and who you believe is right or wrong, I think you’ve raised good points here. It’s VERY easy to find communities where you’re in agreement with everything, and rarely are you challenged (as in you end up not approaching anything you would dislike, thus challenging your perceptions and so on). I mean even in the wider form of genre fandom, if you don’t like certain titles or you don’t think certain things, you’re wrong.

    I got told I was wrong because I said Gemmell’s Ironhand’s Daughter was a racist and sexist book, and that I would not read more of his work. Why? Because Gemmell is accepted as one of the greater authors in (British) genre writing. That’s one example of what I mean. Same community (and the author of the book in question), and I was shouted down for disliking one of that year’s major releases, and strongly so (funnily enough, for the same reasons I disliked the Gemmell novel).

  4. Robert The Addled says:

    Similar to Steve above, I’ve found (with several authors now) that the odd ‘slow’ book makes more sense in the context of their other works, even unrelated (in the series sense) works. Thus the re-reads are more enjoyable.

    I’ve also noticed recently that the longer series that I have been reading have taken to ‘recap’ or ‘parallel’ volumes that stretch across multiple volumes of the main arc while filling in background material referenced in the main arc. These books are sometimes ‘slower’ due to the ‘why are you telling me things that were in the other book?’ effect.

  5. Alan says:

    There have been several discussions during various posts of yours about the presentations people give. Picking most any major topic from education, to economics, to gun control. I believe I remarked on the gun control thread on the matter most clearly.

    Both sides of any argument tend to present their ‘facts’ most strongly. Ignoring all other avenues, even when presented with quite factual counter arguments. Evidence is not enough. With both sides shouting so loudly that few can hear anything but the two sides, it is very difficult to maintain neutrality.

    More than that, if you believe one side is correct but don’t stand for the extreme version of that side’s belief, there is a tendency to ‘shout’ your truth. Just so you can be heard.

    Statistics, as any educated person will understand, can be made to reflect nearly anything the person presenting them wishes. Facts, sadly enough, are the same way. By providing just the facts I wish to, in just the right light, I improve my position.

  6. Jamie says:

    The web has truly democratized publishing by making it cheap and easy for anyone to publish anything. Consequently, we are seeing a LOT more niche voices being heard.
    I really don’t think reacting to the extremist and hateful views is the right way to deal with them. At least as long as they remain in the minority. If you respond to them, in a way you are validating them. You are giving the extremist, who is outside of normal discussion, a place at the table with everyone else.
    Everything changes if the extremist view becomes mainstream. Then you have to respond. But as long as it is nothing but a minority view, the best thing to do is ignore it.

    1. Grey says:

      I think Jamie and others above have it right; if I see any author responding to a review, my gut reaction is that the reviewer had enough credibility that the author felt compelled to respond. Others may have the same reaction.

      Selfishly, I would say that if you do respond in such a situation, you are not only wasting your time, but mine as well.

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