Tonight I chanced across this smelly little gem:
Baen books specialises in works of “military SF” that, behind their appalling prose styles and laughable retro cover designs, speak to a right-wing readership who can recognise the enemies of America even when they are disguised as cannibal lizard aliens. Baen’s chief editor Toni Weisskopf went so far as to issue a diatribe against any and all sci-fi that did not pander to this conservative agenda.
I won’t feed this particularly empty ego any more than is necessary, suffice to say that the individual who wrote this obviously does not read very many (if any?) actual Baen books by actual Baen authors, nor do I think this person has actually read any such “diatribe” by my editor at Baen. In fact, I can state with certainty that the words “Toni Weisskopf” and “diatribe” do not belong in the same ZIP code. You will seldom find a less offensive, even-tempered, non-confrontational, fair-minded editor and publisher in the field today. And it’s not just an insult to her when shit like this (above) gets written, it’s an insult to all the many talented and varied authors who ply their trade beneath the Baen label. Myself included.
Unfortunately, ignorant snobbery of this sort is nothing new in the genre. You find out very quickly (once you begin publishing) which writers, editors, publishers, and artists enjoy the favor of the “society” people, and which writers, editors, publishers, and artists do not. My from-the-hip observation is that the “society” people want to see SF/F turned into a lightly speculative and fantastical carbon copy of the “prestigious literary” world. Replete with ambiguous covers that don’t really tell you anything about the story, but follow the general pattern of all things deemed “prestigious” and “literary.” If this year’s talked-about lit work features a somewhat fuzzy, off-focus photo of a pair of muddy Converse sneakers sitting on somebody’s front stoop, then by golly SF/F needs to follow suit with similar photos of similarly mundane, slightly off-focus objects which may or may not have anything to do with actual science fiction; as practiced traditionally by the greats.
Speaking of which, did you know Baen is one of the few publishers actively working to keep the works of the greats alive and well in the modern marketplace? I mean, Poul Anderson for heaven’s sake. That’s a name which ought to make even the 20-something spec fic “lit” kids sit up and pay attention. And if his estate’s re-releases of the Dominic Flandry books seem to have more in common with James Bond movie posters than the latest art house tome, perhaps that’s actually a good thing? Young general genre readers (thankfully oblivious to art houses of any sort) might actually read Anderson as a result.
Of course, one must remember that Baen is the “military” SF publisher, for “right wing” readers. Because as you know, Bob, Eric Flint is the world’s biggest right winger. David Drake too. But wait, maybe it’s worth noting something Drake actually said:
Frequently I write about soldiers or veterans: military sf. Because of that I’m accused of writing militaristic sf by those who either don’t know the difference between description and advocacy or who deny there is a difference.
Seems to me Drake — who might raise an eyebrow at being called “right wing” anything — is far better equipped to judge whether or not Baen is the “military SF publisher for right wingers” than someone who seems to have decided that Baen is a cut-rate house, based purely on . . . the absorbed conventional wisdom of like-minded aesthetes? Who sniff at the banally popular, and declare it both shallow and of no consequence. Because, muddy out-of-focus Converse sneakers! Or how about a stark black background with stark, anemic white lettering, no painting or picture whatsoever. Excellent, my good chaps! Because the less actually shown, the better. It’s the thing with “real literature” these days. Spaceships and galaxies on the covers? Aliens and rockets flying to the planets? Lantern-jawed heroes and hot-bodied heroines? P’shaw! One might start thinking the spec fic inside is actually speculative fucking fic. And that’s no good, you know.
We wouldn’t want our readers to actually have fun. That would be the worst thing ever.
Of course, we’ve not even addressed “appalling prose styles”, for all definitions of “appalling prose style” that include actual, straight-forward, engaging, page-turning storytelling. You can always spot an art house poseur by how often he puts down the prosaic accomplishments of people who actually entertain audiences and make money. Because a lot of Baen authors have been known to do that, you know. Entertain. Make money. Someone please catch me, I am suffering a case of the vapors! One wonders if Lois Bujold, she of the many Hugo awards and much literary praise, is aware of the fact that she’s been tried and convicted of “appalling prose style” by an individual who clearly hasn’t read any of her work.
You know, I get it that in an era of explosive social media growth, everybody is scrambling to make waves, draw attention, get page hits, etc. But it really pisses me off when a jackass who should know better, sits down to type something that is not only patently dishonest, but stupidly patently dishonest. Someone please dangle this daft chucklebutt by his ankles, his head submerged in the nearest loo, the water (and other liquids) swirling happily about his ears. Maybe the cool refresher will get his synapses firing a little more efficiently? Yes?