This ain’t no witch hunt

We’re still talking about the whole fake reviews scandal it appears. For now, Barry Eisler weighs in on the sockpuppeting and paid reviews scandal once more and though his tone is a lot more measured than that of the Joe Konrath post I linked to yesterday, the gist is the same: “Of course, I would never do it, but fake reviews are common and no one trusts Amazon customer reviews anyway. And the moral outrage about the fake reviews and sockpuppets is getting out of hand.”

While Joe Konrath invokes the American “kill it dead” argument of free speech, Eisler even goes one step further and compares those who speak out against sockpuppeting and fake reviews to the Spanish Inquisition, the accusers and judges at the Salem witch trials, the McCarthyist Communist hunters of the House Committee for Unamerican Activities and some mafia killers from The Godfather (WTF?), though not to lynch mobs, because that would be politically incorrect. So if you speak out against sockpuppeting, you’re now both a Communist (Konrath and many other defenders of free speech and the free market and free sockpuppeting) or a McCarthyist Communist hunter? The mind boggles. For wouldn’t that be the kind of paradox that makes the universe implode or something?

Like Konrath’s “If you’re against sockpuppets and fake reviews, you’re against free speech” post, Barry Eisler’s comparison are classic discussion killer arguments – the sort of thing you really can’t argue against. At this rate, someone will probably call those who are against sockpuppeting racist and antisemitic tomorrow.

Besides, I don’t see this witchhunt they’re all talking about. The closest this affair has come to an actual witchhunt was when Stephen Leather was booed by the audience at the crime writing festival in Harrogate and that was less because of his sockpuppeting practices (though he revealed them in the course of that discussion) but because he was a very strident proponent of self-publishing at an event that was strongly geared towards traditional publishing. Besides, Leather allegedly was rude according to the other participants, though it’s hard to know for sure if one wasn’t there.

Still, as witchhunts go, this isn’t much of one. After all, Stephen Leather was able to leave Harrogate unscathed, nobody threatened to publicly hang or burn him in one of the town’s lovely parks nor did they try to drown him in the town’s famous sulphur springs. All that happened was that he was booed by an audience that did not want to hear what he had to say.

You want witchhunts? Though I read and write in multiple genres, I still consider myself an SFF fan first and foremost. And believe me, the online SFF community can be one hell of an ugly place. There’s always some kind of uproar going on – the current one, which I did not follow closely, is about women getting harrassed at conventions. Sometimes, the outpour of anger is justified (e.g. the current harassment discussion or many of the racism or homophobia discussions), sometimes the cause is IMO trivial. And sometimes, something that should cause a widespread uproar, doesn’t. For example, I lately read an interview with a well regarded SFF author that infuriated me so much that the author in question quickly went on my “never buy him/her” list above such public genre bête noirs as Orson Scott Card. And yet I seem to be the only person in the world who is outraged by what that author said, since the rest of the genre community is not getting out the torches and the pitchforks.

But even when the initial causes are completely understandable, discussions and accusations often go completely over the top. Letters and quotes years and decades old are dug up as proof, there are public blacklists of authors and magazines that no right thinking person should ever read again, there are rape and death threats, there are nasty letters written to employers, there are outings and harrassments, there are people driven to the brink of suicide. There are a lot of people in the SFF community who simply don’t address certain subjects anymore at all, because the reactions to a perceived or actual misstep can be so nasty. That’s also the reason why I’m fairly vague in all the above and do not link to any actual incidents. Because frankly, I don’t need that sort of grief.

You want witchhunts? Then SFF is your genre. By comparison, the reaction to the genuine misdemeanours by John Locke, Stephen Leather, R.J. Ellory, Orlando Figes and others is harmless. At least nobody has threatened to throw acid in anybody’s face yet*.

Steve Mosby, who was actually at that discussion with Stephen Leather at the Harrogate festival and who is also one of the people behind the No Sockpuppets website/open letter that so enraged Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, responds to the various allegations in his blog.

Finally, things could always be worse. For example, at The Future of Self-Publishing, Thad McIlroy responds to the paid and sockpuppet reviews scandal by exposing a fake publisher of low-quality non-fiction books complete with fake authors and fake reviews. Found via Scott Nicholson.

*The book in question is genuinely bad, another by the same author is even worse, but nothing justifies throwing acid into other people’s faces.

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6 Responses to This ain’t no witch hunt

  1. Pingback: A Trio of Scandals and some Links | Cora Buhlert

  2. Pingback: [links] Link salad wanders through Sunday morning |

  3. (here from Jay Lake)

    Many, many people in the SF&F field are aware of Scott Card’s noisome positions, and they have frequently been discussed on the Internet. The last firestorm on this topic was about his reframing of Hamlet, which had been published some time earlier and then surfaced in public attention. Here’s just one post from a noted SF&F reader and personality; many, many more can be found by Googling.

    You are not alone in that position at all; public acknowledgment of it just waxes and wanes with new news, as with anything else.

    • Cora says:

      I guess I was a bit unclear in my post. What I meant was that I read an interview with a fairly well known author that infuriated me on a level that’s normally only reserved for the likes of Orson Scott Card – and yet it didn’t seem to bother anybody else.

      I’ve been aware of Orson Scott Card’s noisome positions for a while now. But thanks for the links to the post by Karynthia. I did take note of the Hamlet controversy, but I missed her post and it’s a good one.

  4. Would you post a link to that interview? I want to see if it gets my goat, too. Then I can start a REAL uproar. (LOL) I don’t think I will–just want to see if we share the same hot buttons.

    I think people have lost their moral/ethical compasses. I am old, and back then we were taught, “Never lie and never fake things for your own benefit, because YOU will know and it makes you a lesser person.” Now people go by, “Whatever you can get away with is OK, and as long as you won or bested the others, so what?” Perhaps people are following the actions of their favorite TV/book/film characters. I don’t KNOW where they are going wrong. Still, I think it’s OK to point out where something’s marginally ethical. That’s not witch hunting.

    Not EVERYONE has lost their way. But the few who have seem to think it’s no big deal. That’s what concerns me–society at large isn’t saying, “do right.” If good men do nothing. . . .

    • Cora says:

      It was an interview with an author of zombie fiction wherein the author said that it was acceptable to just shoot people with infectious and incurable diseases – and the interview wasn’t about zombies anymore by that point. I’d have to read it again to check whether I misunderstood the author or whether the answer was tongue in cheek, but I sure as hell didn’t find it funny. But the author always seemed like an okay person otherwise, so I’d rather not out them without checking back first.

      Otherwise, I agree. I was also shocked at the cavalier reaction to the whole sockpuppet and paid reviews uproar. Conflating malicious sockpuppet reviews with legitimate one star reviews is bad enough, but then accusing those who speak out against such practices as witchhunters and McCarthyists really takes some balls.

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