George R.R. Martin (grrm) wrote,
George R.R. Martin
grrm

A Response to John C. Wright

The GUARDIAN interviewed me a couple of weeks ago about Puppygate and the Hugo Awards (before the ballot was announced, fwiw), and quoted me in the article that resulted. Here's what they said about what I said (of course, I said a lot more, but only a few bits were quoted):

“The prestige of the Hugos derives from its history. Robert A Heinlein won four times, Ursula K Le Guin won, Harlan Ellison won. That’s a club any aspiring writer wants to be a member of,” George RR Martin says. “When the Hugo ballot came out last year it was not just a right-wing ballot, it was a bad ballot. It was the weakest we’d seen for years.”

Now it appears that John C. Wright has taken umbrage at my opinion. He writes on his journal:

"Evidence enough that Mr. Martin had not read the works on the ballot. I say no more, lest I be accused of self-aggrandizement, for the works he thus criticizes are mine. He did not have so poor an opinion of my work when he bought it for his SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH anthology, however: a fact he conveniently forgot when he began leveling absurd and absurdly false accusations against me."

In the comments section of the same journal entry, someone named "Paul B" says:

"Sir, is it possible that Mr Martin never actually read (at least majority of) submissions for that Dying Earth tribute anthology? I know not how these things tend to work, or if you had any personal exchanges with him during that time (of the sort that included his personal thoughts on your story), but I know of many a case where a name of widely known author on the cover of various anthologies was used to bait potential buyers while said author had little or no involvement with said anthologies (think of those ghost and horror story anthologies of yore, where stories were advertised as “hand picked” by Alfred Hitchcock and the like)."

To which, John C. Wright replies:

" Certainly it is possible. It is possible that he did not do the jobs for which he was paid. That is one of the two possibilities, neither of which redound to his glory. Either he is lying now, when he uses the prestige of his name to belittle my worthy work as unworthy, or he was lying then, by putting his name on a book to lure the unwary reader into purchase, ergo using the prestige of his name to inflate my unworthy work as worthy. Either way, it is a lie."


I am not going to get down into the cesspool with Wright here, though, believe me, the temptation is strong. I will not let his comments go unanswered, however.

So let me just restrict my reply to the facts.

For the elucidation of Paul B, who admits that he does not know how these things work but feels the need to hold forth anyway, I have read every word of every story in all my anthologies, both the ones I co-edit with Gardner Dozois and the ones I edit solo, like WILD CARDS. In the collaborations, Gardner handles the bulk of the paperwork; the contracts, pro rata calculations, paying royalties, etc. But all the creative work is shared equally between us, and no story is purchased unless both of us agree that it is acceptable.

And yes, Gardner and I did purchase and publish a story from John C. Wright for SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH, our Jack Vance tribute anthology. The story is "Guyal the Curator." I thought then, and I think now, that it's a good story. Read it and judge for yourself. If you're a Jack Vance fan, I think you will enjoy it. Wright himself is a huge Vance fan. I don't recall how I knew that, but I did, and that fact was certainly foremost in my mind when I suggested to Gardner that we invite him into the book. He replied enthusiastically, and gave us a good story. If it had not been a good story, we would not have published it. Gardner and I did have to reject one of the other stories we had solicited for SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH, by another writer; we paid him a kill fee. And there were three or four additional stories that required extensive work; we bought them, but only after giving notes and asking for revisions. "Guyal the Curator" required none of that. It was a solid, professional piece of work, a nice Vance tribute, an entertaining read.

All that being said, I do not know why Wright seems to believe that by purchasing and publishing one of his stories seven years ago, I am therefore somehow required to like everything that he writes subsequently, to the extent that I would feel it Hugo worthy.

It should be pointed out that "Guyal the Curator" was not itself nominated for a Hugo (there being no Puppies around in 2009 to push it). None of the stories from SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH were Hugo finalists, truth be told. Do I think some were worthy of that honor? Sure I do. I cannot pretend to be objective, I'm proud of the anthologies I edit and the stories I publish. Do I think that all the stories in SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH (or ROGUES, or OLD MARS, or OLD VENUS, or LOWBALL, or any of my anthologies) are Hugo-worthy? Of course not. In a normal year, the Hugo finalists are supposed to represent the five best stories of the year in that word length. Was "Guyal the Curator" one of the five best short stories (actually, it might have been a novelette, after so long I do not recall the word length) of 2009? No. It was a good story, not a great story. The Hugo Awards demand greatness. It was an entertaining Vance tribute, but it was not a patch on real Vance, on "The Last Castle" or "The Dragon Masters" or "Guyal of Sfere." And truth be told, it was not even one of the five best stories in SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH. A good story, yes, I'll say that again. But there were better in the book. (And how not? We had an amazing lineup of contributors).

Which brings us back to Puppygate, and last year's Hugo ballot.

I read every word in every story in the anthologies I edit, as I've said. I did not read every word in every story on last year's Hugo ballot, no (or on any Hugo ballot, for that matter). I start every story and give them a few pages. If they grab me, I keep reading. If they bore me or offend me, or fail to interest me for whatever reason, I put them aside. Mr. Wright seems convinced that I did not read his stories on last year's ballot. He's half-right: I did not read all of them. But I started all of them (there were five), finished some, set others aside. The same as I do with any story I read; no special treatment.

I did not find any of them Hugo-worthy. Not one of them was as good as "Guyal the Curator," in my opinion. No doubt others liked them better.

It should be pointed out that the comments quoted by the GUARDIAN, to which Mr. Wright takes such umbrage, make no mention whatsoever of him or his work. I merely said that it was a bad ballot, the weakest seen in years. I stand by those comments; your mileage may differ. And yes, with his five finalists, John C. Wright was part of that, but hardly the whole of it. Truth be told, while I did not and do not feel his stories were Hugo-worthy, there was MUCH worse to be found on last year's ballot in other categories. But that horse has been beaten to death, so I see no need to give it any more whacks.

The bottom line here is that liking some of a writer's work does not oblige you to like all of his work. I yield to no one in my admiration for Robert A. Heinlein, but my love for HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL and THE PUPPET MASTERS and "All You Zombies" and "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" does not make me like I WILL FEAR NO EVIL or TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE any better.

In closing, let me suggest to John C. Wright that you do yourself no favors by boasting constantly about the worth and brilliance and "literary" qualities of your own work. You might do better to take a lesson from a writer that we both love: Jack Vance. I had several conversations with Jack when Gardner and I were putting together SONGS OF THE DYING EARTH, and never once did he tell me how amazing and eloquent and literary he was. Quite the opposite. He never called his stories anything but "my junk" when speaking to me, and seemed bemused and flattered that so many other writers had found such inspiration in them. Vance was amazing and eloquent and literary, of course, one of the greatest wordsmiths our genre has ever produced, but he left it to others to sing his praises.
Tags: anthologies, puppygate
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