The flip side of Scalzi

John Scalzi has a neat post pointing out that negative reviews come with being a writer. No book, even Hugo Award winning ones, is beloved by all. No book works for everyone. Getting a negative review doesn’t prove your work sucks.
The flip side of that, of course, is that getting glowing reviews and awards doesn’t prove a piece of fiction is good. Sometimes the negative is right.
This is notoriously true of the Oscars. Elizabeth Taylor’s lackluster performance in the lackluster Butterfield 8 got a Best Actress Oscar; pretty much everything I’ve ever read on the Oscars credits this to her being seriously ill at the time Hollywood was voting. There are actors who win because OMG, They’ve Never Gotten an Oscar. And voters don’t generally prefer movies that are are too dark, or fail at the box office.
Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks argues convincingly the same is true of the Tony’s. Voters pick shows that are still running over better shows that have closed (because closed shows don’t benefit). The author heard one person on the nominating committee suggest not picking Nathan Lane for The Producers because that would “chap his ass” and the speaker thought it would be hysterically funny. And, of course, it’s a year-by-year competition, not all time: A play that wins in 2009, say, might have won because of mediocre competition, not inherent greatness.
I suspect similar factors work in any award system, including fiction. For example, the early Hugo-winning They’d Rather Be Right, is a mediocre novel, but it still won. I speculate on possible reasons here. That, of course, was a 1950s book, so it may just be a matter of changing taste (as I note at the link). But despite getting lots of good reviews, I think Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore from a couple of years back was dreadful too due to author Robin Sloan fluffing Google (The Most Awesome IT Company In The Universe,Even the Google Cafeteria Is Awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) every few pages.
Or consider Geoff Ryman’s “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy),” a short which won a World Fantasy and a Hugo award. It’s not really crap, but I would say it’s definitely not award-class material. It’s a stock fantasy about Pol Pot’s daughter getting messages from the ghosts of her father’s victims. Stock in that despite the Cambodian setting it could as easily have been a story of Hitler’s daughter, Stalin’s daughter, Pinochet’s daughter, etc. It has nothing new to say about genocide or cruelty or suffering.
Of course, my views may just prove Scalzi’s point: even great stories have their detractors. Needless to say, I think it proves my point, not his.


Filed under Reading, Writing

2 responses to “The flip side of Scalzi

  1. Pingback: Hugo a-go-go | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Won’t Someone Think of the Poor Right-Wing Social Justice Warriors? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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