An Unexpected Gift

Here I reprint a fan letter for my work, with some unfan comments about Mr. Sandifer’s recent and unfortunately public attack of verbal gas, and an observation about the duty of due diligence reviewers owe their readers:

Before this post is buried by time, I wanted to share this experience with our host. On my bus ride home I was reading through Castalia’s collection of your Hugo-nominated works, and “Parliament of Beasts and Birds” came up. I had noticed Mr. Sandifer included it among his “Very Lousy Pieces of Science Fiction” that he compared unfavorably to “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” I was pleased that I had the opportunity to finally read your tale, which came to me much vaunted after several months of my lurking here and reading related blogs, and compare it with Mr. Sandifer’s analysis.

I was spellbound. From the opening lines to the conclusion, I was enraptured. The conceit, the rich detail and description, the poetic and Biblical allusions, the characterizations of these animals that fit like gloves, the living vein of the fabulous that underlay and animated the story just embraced me and sucked me in. I felt as I did at the conclusion of your “The Ideal Machine,” except for the entire length of the tale instead of just the grand finale. “Parliament” was, in a word, beautiful. Your story was like the empyrean garments presented to the beasts, except spun with heavenly words rather than heavenly threads. It was a story like a fine glass of wine and a hearty roast beef dinner. You gifted me a most rewarding, uplifting, fulfilling and gorgeous tale and one hell of a magical bus ride home. My sincerest thanks.

With my mind aglow with “Parliament,” I get home and after dinner and coffee I return to Mr. Sandifer’s blog to read his arguments for why it’s lousy and weigh them against the story. True, I thought it marvelous, but surely Mr. Sandifer will deliver on the promise he makes in his section heading that “several very lousy pieces of science fiction” will be “analyzed in depth.” Perhaps his critic’s eye, honed by years of comics and Doctor Who analysis, caught something. I scroll down, eager for his critical analysis of “Parliament,” and…

Four sentences. That’s it. Four sentences that boil down to “I didn’t like it.” No argument, no analysis. Just dismissal.

I am agog. If you assert a work is lousy, you are making an objective statement you must back up with arguments. You must show how the prose and technique were poor, point out how the author failed to deliver on his promises, demonstrate a plethora of plotholes or the egregious failure of the author to think through the logical consequences of his story’s conceit, etc. “I didn’t like it” is not an argument. It’s rhetorical jazz hands, and does nothing to prove “Parliament of Beasts and Birds” is a lousy work. It simply proves Mr. Sandifer doesn’t like it, and we already knew that from his section header. He wasted words and his time restating his opinion. Ironic for a guy who faulted “Parliament” for being tautological. Moreover, he promised in-depth analysis, and instead gave me a brief opinion. He wrote me an intellectual check, and it bounced. As a fellow academic-in-training (classicist, currently an M.A. student in classical archaeology), I’m both betrayed and insulted. We academics slip up, giving sloppy arguments, usually in the heat of passion, which Mr. Sandifer was certainly in (it’s not long before he starts flinging f-bombs like poo). I forgive Mr. Sandifer such a transgression. I’m just worried it’s indicative of a deeper failure to reason. If so he is pissing on the Grove of the Athenian hero Akademos, a grove I reverence for its roll in nurturing and sustaining Western civilization and assisting man in discovering God’s truth, which is why I intend to enter it in spite of the barbarians within hacking down its olive trees and torching its out-buildings. I pray this is not the case with Mr. Sandifer, and my reading of his comics and Doctor Who analysis will soundly demonstrate the truth of the matter.

Thank you, Mr. Wright, for “Parliament of Beasts and Birds.” It is a living tale which one day I shall read to my own children, hoping they in their innocence will be even more enchanted and enthralled than I was. And worry not, I have not stopped to listen to your song without throwing change in your guitar case. Back around Christmastime I used my Amazon gift money to buy several of your works, “Book of Feasts and Seasons” included. Castalia’s free collection of your Hugo-nominated works simply gives me a second copy. If “Parliament” is indicative of the rest of “Book of Feasts and Seasons,” I’ve many more magical bus rides ahead of me. You have richly earned your wage, which if I recall your sentiments correctly, is the most I can do to honor you as an author. I feel it’s the least I can do, but enjoy a meal out with your family on me. You earned it, and a devoted fan.

My comment:

When I decided, roughly at age nine, to be a science fiction writer, I never one imagined I would get fan mail, much less fan mail like this. I am republishing it, first, because I am proud, but second, because I want to share with anyone who is curious about my motives why I do what I do. I do it not to get letters like this, but to be worthy of such letters, whether I get them or not.

As for Mr Sandifer, I did not have the patience to read his whole screed.

When I reached the sentence where he conflated a sentiment I was describing, namely, the nostalgic basis of high fantasy, with a sentiment he alleged I possessed, namely, the alleged medieval yearning for modern nationalistic socialist fascism, I realized I was dealing with a third rate mind, driven into fourth rate performance by the indoctrination of his anti-education. At that point I walked with him no further.

For this buffoon to wave his credentials at someone with an education like mine, a real education, as is appalling and grotesque as a sideshow freak who eats chicken heads waving his certificate of lobotomy, to prove the bad parts of his brain have been successfully excised. One would think it a matter of shame rather than pride.

He cannot even do a hit piece correctly!

A hit piece is supposed to be short, ironic, arch, and make allusions to things without stepping into actionable libel. You do not talk about yourself, but try to be unseen by the reader, as if you are passing along facts, real or invented, and letting him decide. A quote or misquote is necessary, and then the lift of an eyebrow, and the reassurance to the reader that there are even worse things, albeit unprintable. Statements that are literally accurate but with defamatory implications are a must; such innuendo is a dark art, and forms the backbone of properly done character assassination journalism.

What an amateur. What a maroon.

Read the hit piece that Popular Science did on me. That was a pro job, done by a pro thug, a yob who knew how to deliver a dirty punch below the belt without letting the ref spot it.