And This Is Why I Don’t Buy Science Fiction Anymore …

So, again, there’s a new controversy — which by the time you read this will probably have settled — in science fiction that is drawing commentary from both P.Z. Myers and Vox Day. Here’s my understanding of what’s going on:

John Scalzi has a new book out, called “The Collapsing Empire”. Vox Day and Scalzi have had a minor feud going on for a while, over things like site hits and the like. Some claim that Day sees this as being more of a feud/rivalry than Scalzi does, but it’s not like Scalzi ignores Day either. At any rate, at some point in time Day and his publishing company “Castalia House” decided to publish a “parody” of “The Collapsing Empire” called “The Corroding Empire” authored by “Johan Kalsi”, with a nearly identical cover. Since Scalzi’s book, obviously, wasn’t out when they started it, the parody is not a page-by-page parody of the work itself, but seems to be a parody in the sense of taking what they knew about the underlying plot and the Scalzi’s explicit attempt to make a Foundation-style story. Then, right around the release date of Scalzi’s work, Amazon pulled “The Corroding Empire”. In response, Day redid the title and the cover to be different in an attempt to get it reinstated. Much bureaucracy ensued, but eventually Amazon has reinstated the book in its original form.

But, of course, the controversy doesn’t end there. The people on Day’s side insist that this was an invalid banning of the book done by the behest of a specific SJW at Amazon. This impression is buttressed by the fact that every time a manager at Amazon reinstated it the book went off again until things finally settled down, suggesting some kind of difference in opinion, at least, between management and some employees. On the other side, the idea is that Day did this deliberately to try to generate sales for his book by having people confuse his book for Scalzi’s and buying that one instead, with the main evidence being the similarities and the fact that Day said that he wanted his book to outsell Scalzi’s, thus leading to the argument that Day had a similar Foundation-inspired book on tap and used this as a way to artificially increase its sales.

Now, I wouldn’t put it past Day to try to do that, but in this case I’m inclined to believe Day here. In the lead-up to this, much was made over how bad Scalzi’s book was from the look ahead previews and about how bad the pre-order sales were, following on from comments that Tor was going to doom themselves by giving Scalzi such a huge advance when he wasn’t that great a writer. So the story they tell of cobbling something together quickly that could give Scalzi a run for his money is one that would appeal to them. Also, I can’t imagine that even with the similarities enough people would be fooled to really raise Day’s rank and lower Scalzi’s. That being said, I would actually have understood if Amazon had merely say “Hey, these are too similar, people are getting confused, please change it”, even as I’m not convinced that as many people who say in the reviews that they were confused really were.

What’s really interesting, though, is how this impacts reviews and views of the works themselves. There are believed to be a number of false “1 star” reviews of both books, where people who have not read either book are commenting on them saying how bad they are. This, then, skews the review scores which, well, makes them useless. But even more interesting is that if you read the comments on the book from people on either side — there’s more comments from the pro-Scalzi side on this post from file770 — they come down on the side that they politically favour. Those on Scalzi’s side love his book and hate the one Day is promoting. Those on Day’s side hate Scalzi’s book and love the one Day is promoting. So, how is someone who really doesn’t give a damn about all of this political crap supposed to filter through this?

As it turns out, I’ve glanced at the previews from both sides. After reading the prologue for Scalzi’s, I was tempted to get all three preview chapters and tear them apart because, well, the prologue was just plain bad, and what I’ve read of the next chapter was not any better (it involves someone holding a conversation with someone else while having sex). For Day’s, my impression was … meh. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t stand out much either. So I’m not inclined to think that those on Scalzi’s side are assessing the works fairly — and I disagree over how bad the big example on file770 is. They seem to be definitely letting their political views influence their assessment of the works. But while at least for now the pro-Day side seem to be, at least, saying that about a work where it’s debatable how good or bad it is, I can’t trust them to keep doing that — especially since their reactions here and during the Hugo Awards discussions certainly don’t match mine — just because in this case — and in the case of some of the Hugo Award pieces — they happened to be right. If the purportedly “SJW” side of the debate are as bad at judging the quality of works as I have reason to think they are, pointing out that those works are bad isn’t exactly a sign of fairness or deep insight.

I’d get these two works and analyze them myself except that a) at least for now, Day’s version isn’t available in paperback and b) I’m to lazy busy to do that, and really don’t care enough about it to put that much effort and pain in again. But I really wish these political wars would get out of the way so that we can trust works and reviews again.

Ah, well. I just bought new copies of all of the X-Wing series, so at least I still have that … and they can’t take that away from me.

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