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08 February 2006 @ 12:28 am
Venom Cock  
If that didn't get your attention, nothing will.

This is more reviewing debate. The backstory: at last year's World Fantasy Convention, a sampler containing an extract from a debut novel called Touched by Venom was given away as a freebie. The extract was roundly mocked for being terrible; the phrase "venom cock" was much cited. Extensive online debate followed.

This week's developments:

A favourable review at Strange Horizons. (Full disclosure: I'm the reviews editor there, so this is entirely my responsibility.)

A comment from Cheryl Morgan.

A negative response by Nick Mamatas.

Some musings in whileaway, a community dedicated to feminist sf.

The discussion on my journal, including Nick Mamatas questioning my editorial judgement.

EDIT: matociquala comments here. And the whole thing's made it to fandom wank.
Current Music: Pyramid Song - Radiohead
Rparvaazrparvaaz on February 8th, 2006 10:18 am (UTC)
This spring, no one's fancy is turning to love. If it isn't the cartoon wars, it is the venom cock wars.
Solsolace_aderyn on February 8th, 2006 01:56 pm (UTC)
It got my attention all right. Oh, man, why did her publishers choose this as a sample!? It reminds me of Johnny Carson on acid... hey-o! Only reason I can think is a pure marketing take; certainly not to illustrate any possibility of actual storytelling talent. Without reading it, I'm not sure if that's a shame or a blessing, but it's certainly a brave move from her publishers; I imagine half who hear of it will laugh it down the street, while the other half may check it out to see what all the fuss is about - or simply to own a literary equivalent of Urotsukidoji... but whether it's read? I'd prefer my work read to bought, personally. Incidentally, this is my first review debate, and I laughed till I cried like a child in a drain. Definitely something for a newbie to dive in the deep end with. Thank you, it's a definite candidate for putting in the final SF module submission. Worst. Excerpt. Ever.
cherylmorgan on February 8th, 2006 08:55 pm (UTC)
Worst ever? Let me dig out a few of the self-published novels that I have had sent to me for review. Heck, even the covering emails for some of them had worse prose than Janine Cross manages.

Which is not to say that the Cross extract is good.

Have you guys ever heard of The Eye of Argon or Atlanta Nights?
Solsolace_aderyn on February 8th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)
"Atlanta Nights" is new to me, but "The Eye of Argon" is synonymous with "utter crap" in my tiny world; but it's not as bad as this. Or the Gor series... *shudder* At least it was taken on by a legitimate publisher, apparently published as a brave attempt at marketing and hopefully to offer something new and interesting to talk about, and "Strange Horizons" had something positive to say about it; so perhaps it would be fair to add "worst excerpt ever in relation to any actual indication of quality". This is much less effective though...

By the way, didn't thank you for last night's talk - gave me some great insights:-)
barbariennebarbarienne on February 9th, 2006 12:07 am (UTC)
We should note that Atlanta Nights was written badly on purpose, a veritable challenge for the authors to outdo each other in imitating the worst slush-pile dreck. It's not an appropriate comparison.
cherylmorgan on February 9th, 2006 11:15 am (UTC)
Details of the Atlanta Nights story can be found here.

But there is a serious point here. It is very easy when reviewing something to use phrases like "worst ever". In practice, however, it is always possible to find something worse. Or indeed to make something worse.

There was a huge fuss last year surrounding a review in The Alien Online that ended up with that site stopping running reviews at all. The start of it all was a review of a book which took the "worst ever" approach, and to which the author took serious exception. Not that the book was particularly good, but it was a lot better than many published books I have read. If you are going to go public with a "worst ever" review you have to be prepared to defend that charge.

The other point is that while specifying exactly what you mean can be a pain in the butt, online it is often very necessary. Fans can be incredibly nit-picky. There's no end of times that I have got into serious trouble because I wrote something that was capable of misinterpretation so people took great delight in assuming the worst and accusing me of things I had never intended to say.

Finally thanks to you folks for a fun evening on Tuesday. I hope you got something out of it.