Smugglivus Smugglivus Airing of Grievances

Smugglivus 2011: Airing of Grievances

2011 is over, 2012 has begun, and Smugglivus is nearly complete! Which means that we must also undergo another very important ritual…

The Airing of Grievances

(in which we air out any dirty laundry from 2011. Warning: plenty of swearing, engaged CAPS LOCK OF FURY, and spoilers ahoy, baby!)

In no particular order, these are the things that really pissed us off this year.

1. Genre Trends That Really Annoy Us

We are genre fiction readers, and as such we are familiar with – and often lovers of! – certain genre tropes. However, there are some particular genre tropes that have reared their ugly heads just a little too frequently in 2011 and we HAVE to comment.

First, there’s the trend of the false YA “dystopia” (as Trebek would say, note the quotation marks around dystopia). We love YA dystopias. Really. It’s one of Thea’s favorite subsets of SF. However, we have noticed an alarming 2011 trend of creating YA “dystopias” that are patently ridiculous. These are “dystopias” in which the entire premise or rules governing the society are flimsy – for example, in Delirium the unquantifiable emotion of love is eradicated (because that’s more constructive than outlawing hate or aggression, obviously) or Shatter Me with its maniacal, totalitarian teenage overlord. There are the dystopia/fantasy hybrids, in which worldbuilding is dismissed with some handwaving, because the protagonist doesn’t understand or care for how things are accomplished or otherwise (Inside Out/Outside In & The Unwanteds, we’re looking at you).

Do you know what really irritates us about the rash of YA “dystopias”? The lack of any sort of bite or actual danger facing our inevitably beautiful, (supposedly) intelligent, often uber-powerful protagonists. There’s no real fear that our protagonists’ rebellions against the EEEEVIL OVERLORDS (because of course The Powers That Be are ALWAYS single-mindedly EEEEVIL, no shades of gray) will ever go awry. There’s no fear that their unshakably noble missions for peace and freedom and emotion will ever be thwarted by pragmatism. Did we mention these protagonists are always naturally beautiful (no matter what trauma or hardships they’ve been through, they are almost uniformly gorgeous), and manage not only to save society, but ALSO land the super hot boy/girl of their dreams at the same time? As we’ve complained before, these so-called “dystopias” are nice and pretty and sanitized. They are blissfully formulaic and lacking any character, bite or depth. They don’t prod at or provoke a deeper examination of society; they don’t linger or incite critical thought. While there are a number of strong YA dystopians that actually do provoke thought, are fully-conceived, and use the dystopian framework to challenge views of society, there are a proliferation of weaksauce “dystopias” that relish in riding the trend bandwagon and using some sloppily conceived totalitarian evil government as the backdrop for a tepid teenage romance. We are not impressed.

Along the same vein, there are the YA “science fiction” novels that somehow disregard science altogether. We’re looking at you, Across the Universe. In the words of the Intergalactic Academy in their Smugglivus guest post, “Just because a book is set in space doesn’t mean you need to ignore laws of physics that most teens learn in middle school.” Yes. THAT.

2. Shortcuts

We’ve been working together for the past 4 years but it was not until very recently that we voiced to each other how much we hate certain types of writing shortcuts. The way we see it, such shortcuts are those familiar cliche phrases that tend to be used in order to hastily convey emotions or certain messages. These phrases tend to be used over and over again across genres, by many different authors. On the one hand, these phrases are so widespread and recognisable that it is easy to understand why they are used – they are indeed shortcuts because of that familiarity. On the other hand, they are trite, predictable and so reductive, and it makes for very undistinguishable writing (not to mention annoyed reading).

Our two biggest pet peeve cliched shortcuts are:

He smelled clean, spicy, unmistakably MALE. Unmistakably [insert name of man here, in.]

OH KILL US NOW. Every time we read this ubiquitous sentence, we fear our eyes will get stuck in the back of our heads from the excessive rolling.

And number two:

Adrenaline spiked through her/his veins

REALLY? Is this the best way to express excitement? Is that even really REALISTIC? Who goes “OMG THE ADRENALINE IN MY VEINS” when they are in MORTAL PERIL? What is next? Eyes widening in surprise? Cheeks flushing with embarrassment?! Oh…wait a minute.

3. Downton Abbey – Season 2

(This is a very, very long Ana-rant and it contains ALL THE SPOILERS for season 2. You have been warned).

Downton Abbey was my favourite new TV Show of 2010 – a Downstairs/Upstairs period drama which was full of amazing and complex characters and with some incredible acting. The first season was a superb, nearly flawless series, and I was dying for season 2 to start. WOE IS ME. Friends, season 2 was so craptastic, I hardly believed it was even the same show. I don’t even know if I have the right words to express the magnitude of the wtfuckery that was season 2.

For starters, the plotting. One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing on Downton Abbey was Britain during World War I: SO much potential for drama, for heartbreak, for political, emotional and economical unrest. Unfortunately, one of the biggest, most horrendous moments in History was reduced to mere backdrop and never truly integrated to the story. I was so disappointed about how they never really explored the harsh reality of the War in depth (beyond having secondary character William killed and Matthew fake-disabled – more on that later). It just went by too fast and too superficially.

Instead it felt like the entire series was devoted to petty storylines – the whole thing with Bates’ wife was pathetic and then, all of a sudden, there was an epidemic of BLACKMAILING when a lot of characters were involved with or being blackmailed by someone. Seriously. It was like a poorly conceived soap opera – at one point there was even a character that came back from the dead, having survived the sinking of Titanic and who had been suffering from Amnesia in the aftermath of that accident. THEN he had another accident during the War and recovered his memory! Unfortunately for him he also had his face disfigured so no one could recognise him.

This happened throughout ONE episode and then he disappeared altogether!

THEN we have the whole William and Matthew thing. They both went to War and then William DIED sacrificing himself to save Matthew’s life because OMG, of course he would do that, then Matthew comes back in a wheelchair and apparently I am a heartless bitch but I was HOPING he would remain in his wheelchair for life because truly that would have been believable. But nooooooooo, of course not. William, the downstairs guy is REALLY dead but Matthew the Lord, is granted a miraculous, magical cure because…because Hot Heroes Must Walk? Or something like that?

It just seems that the writers of the show PREFER to insist on this beautiful, idealised relationship between upstairs x downstairs. FINE, ok, awesome that this dynamics is portrayed as a complex relationship but come on – this season they basically shut down any discordant voice: anyone from downstairs who dares to believe in more or wants more for their lives end up being evil for no reason (like Thomas) or fired or given a mind-blowing horrible storyline.

This is particularly true about a character called Ethel – she was ambitious, she voiced her opinion about the inequality between Downstairs/Upstairs, she dared to want to have sex with someone outside marriage because well, she likes sex and then what happens? She is punished for all of that by being fired, getting pregnant and then abandoned. She was brought to so low as to almost have to beg for food. Is this within the realm of historical accuracy? Yes, quite possibly. WHY is this one the arc the authors chose to follow though? The problem is how this fits with the overall theme of being awful to the majority of female characters and it exemplifies really well the treatment that female characters got this season. They tried to shove down our throats the “love story” between the PREVIOUSLY AWESOME Lady Sibyl and the chauffeur, and it was grating, and I never once bought into it, don’t think she loves him and WHY CAN’T SHE DO SOMETHING ELSE OTHER THAN GET MARRIED with her life? Matthew gets engaged to a lovely young lady and then she conveniently DIES but not before being a martyr and breaking things off with Matthew because she could only think of his happiness as SHE WAS ON HER DEATH BED.

Finally there is the whole thing with His Lordship having a thing with a maid. The motivation for this is two-fold as we have come to learn. We are expected to feel sorry for His Lordship this season because he can’t go to the War. Should I repeat it? We are expected to feel SORRY for the white, privileged, rich, able-bodied, handsome, happily married, Lord. So, he is sort of depressed, I guess. Then throughout the season, we see his wife Cora snapping at him, being distant because she was involved with the running of a hospital for recovering soldiers. The implication is that he had a reason for going after the maid and the blame lies entirely on his wife because she was doing other unimportant stuff like TAKING CARE OF HER DAUGHTERS or RUNNING A HOSPITAL instead of paying attention to the poor widdle lord. OH PLEASE, my head nearly exploded when in the end, SHE apologises to HIM.

It wasn’t a complete failure and there were things that I liked though: a valet who had PSTD but I so wished he had stayed longer. I LOVED that Daisy never gave in to pressure about having feelings for William. I loved how O’Brien was much more humanized this season. As usual Carson, Bates and Anna and Mr Mosley were adorable. The acting is still top notch of course and I will be back for season 3 because I am still invested enough for that. Plus, Matthew is still really hot.

4. The Relationship Between Bloggers and Publishers

Another issue that preoccupied our thoughts in 2011 is the relationship between bloggers and publishers. Back in June we posted a Smugglers’ Ponderings essay examining this phenomenon, in which we examined the assumption that bloggers are somehow indebted to publishers for the “free” ARCs they receive from publishers. There is a strange prevalent notion across the interwebs that somehow bloggers are subservient to publishers: i.e. bloggers should count themselves lucky that they get to attend trade shows like BEA, or interview authors, or get to receive “free” books for feature on their piddling sites. This bizarre power hierarchy became even more evident to us at BookExpo America, Book Blogger Con, and especially recently when many bloggers received the now infamous policy letter from William Morrow (an imprint from Harper Collins) about a new way of distributing ARCs:

Under the new system, you will no longer receive titles piece-meal. Instead, you’ll receive 1-3 emails during the month with all of our upcoming titles available for your review, one month ahead of the on-sale date. You’ll be directed to a Google form where you can request up to three of your choices. Of course, we’ll still happily pay the shipping. Your job is simply to review the book within a month of receiving it and post your thoughts on your blog or site. Ideally, we’d like for reviews to appear online within two weeks to a month after the on-sale date, so you might keep this in mind when selecting books.

When you’ve reviewed a book you’ve chosen and sent us an email with a link to the posted review, you will be eligible for a free giveaway copy. Just let us know in the email that you’d like to host a giveaway. We’ll pay for the shipping to the winner within the US and Canada. Additionally, you’ll no longer receive books that you didn’t order….

If it isn’t already clear, WE LOVE THAT YOU LOVE OUR BOOKS! And to allow us to continue to offer free copies and free shipping to you committed book reviewers, we will be tracking how many reviews we receive from you. If we notice that you request books but aren’t posting your comments or sending us the link, we may suspend your ability to receive review offers from us. We know you’re busy bloggers -– if you don’t think you’ll be able to post a review within a month, please pass on that offer so we can continue to offer you free books in the future!

In all honesty, we were both incredibly pissed off and perversely amused by the letter. Although William Morrow’s attempt to organize the way they send ARCs is an effort we fully support (like many bloggers, we do get many more unsolicited books than we can handle), the condescending tone of the letter and the underlying assumption that bloggers are part of a publisher’s marketing agenda, primarily concerned with book promotion (as opposed to critical reviews) and insinuation that bloggers work for publishers frustrates us immensely. Unsurprisingly, many bloggers (ourselves included) were up in arms, tweeting and blogging about this exceptionally poorly-phrased and short-sighted letter. Our favorite reply perhaps was Mother Reader’s:

Perhaps writers of blogs and authors of books don’t need a lesson on how much words matter. We all have spent time carefully crafting a post, a page, a phrase for exactly the right impact. So when a publisher talks about continuing to offer “free books” instead of review copies, those words matter. If they refer to “free shipping” as a bonus feature, it matters. When they say “your job is simply to review the book,” then I wonder either when I became an employee or how — after referring to the dictionary — this became a duty or assignment. And “simply” is not how I would categorize the reading, reviewing, posting, and perhaps running a giveaway while scheduling in the one-month timeline that they are seeming to require. All of that matters.

Spot on. It also needs to be said that as bloggers, our reviews are written for fellow readers – not for authors, and certainly not for publishers to create their marketing and publicity materials.

With this in mind, what surprised us most of all were some of the reactions we observed on Twitter and across the blogosphere – in which some bloggers threw their support for the content of the publisher letter, decrying other bloggers’ criticisms as stemming from a bloated sense of entitlement. There seems to be a belief amongst bloggers themselves that we owe publishers something for the perks of “free books” and “free shipping” – that we are indeed beholden to publishers because they deign to send us materials to promote their upcoming books.

It is this mentality that is so incredibly frustrating for us as passionate readers, reviewers, and above all, as bloggers. This mindset completely overlooks the essential, fundamental truth of book bloggers. We aren’t publisher employees. As awesome as free books are (with Free Shipping! as the William Morrow letter seems to relish), they aren’t really that amazing of an incentive. We bloggers do what we do because we love reading. We still buy bucketloads of books because we love books, we love reviewing, we love fostering a discussion about books we’ve loved and hated.

As book bloggers, our allegiance is first and foremost to our readers. We are passionate people that have worked long and hard to build our readerships, and because of this, we bloggers occupy a unique position in an increasingly digital world. We are the forums for the customers that don’t know where to go for the next exciting book. We are the destinations people love to visit for recommendations either because they agree with our opinions, or they hate our opinions, or are trying to form their own opinions.

The book business is an industry in which publishers have not traditionally had to deal directly with customers, historically relying on bookstores and traditional review and media outlets as intermediaries for promotion. As those bookstores and traditional media outlets shrink or turn away from books in an increasingly digital age, publishers find themselves in an awkward brave new world. The truth is, publishers don’t have the connections that we bloggers do. We aren’t publisher subordinates – we are the direct-to-consumer channel that publishers desperately want to (and need to) use. We should be treated as partners in a symbiotic relationship and not as lower-echelon minions that owe a publisher something in exchange for a “free” copy of a book.

As we’ve said before, the thing about relationships and partnerships are that they are a two-way street. Publishers and other industry professionals will only truly take us seriously when we take ourselves and our position, as a vital part of the digital publishing ecosystem, seriously.

And that’s it! Our 2011 grievances are aired, and our 2012 slates are clean. Are there any gripes y’all have had for the past year that you want to get off your chest?

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44 Comments

  • Ceilidh
    January 4, 2012 at 8:49 am

    The dystopian YA fad has been so underwhelming. So much of it relies on high concept “What if” set-ups – what if love were a disease? What if everyone died young & polygamy became the norm? What if your entire life was controlled by a mysterious force? etc – that seldom pay off or are barely planned out beyond that initial set-up. It’s tiresome ans boring.

  • Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    January 4, 2012 at 8:57 am

    You definitely have the right attitude when it comes to reviews/publishers. I will say, however, that I think the publishers get their attitude, not because they think of bloggers as employees, but because of the rather LARGE number of requests they get for free books–from people who claim to be reviewers who have never actually reviewed, who may or may not have an actual blog or who do three reviews a year, yet request books out the ying-yang under the claim of “I review books.”

    The long and short of it is that reviews are for readers, however the books are obtained, but there are hundreds of sites/twitters/etc popping up every day claiming to be “reviewers.”

    Reviewing is hard work. Getting reviews is hard work. For a reader–finding a good, consistent review site can be hard work too!

    Book on,
    Maria

  • Jane
    January 4, 2012 at 8:57 am

    A) I don’t read a ton of YA but I have read several contemporary YAs over the holiday. Are they all told in the first person, many first person present tense? And do they all have to include a love triangle and/or cheating? I’m enjoying the books but tiring of the repetition.

    B) What do you guys think about the self publishing space for YA? I heard that in no book market does the retail buyers hold such huge power as in the YA market but that the pace of ebook adoption by the YA readers is approaching that of the adult trade fiction. Love to hear your thoughts about this.

    C) I haven’t ever watched one episode of DA but it seems like the magic of it has worn off.

    D) I agree that we aren’t publishing minions. My response to the WM thing was incredulous laughter. My letter from WM was labeled “priority blogger” but other than the “Dear Priority Blogger”, it contained the same exact language as the other blogger letters.

    I just replied to WM that we would never be able to meet their requirements and I pointed out that bloggers are often hobbyists, doing this for free out of a passion for reading and connecting with the community. For this reason, their guidelines were too restrictive. They were very nice in replying back but who wants to blog under that specter? I’d rather give up ARCs all together and just review what I buy. I seriously doubt the reading audience would mind or even notice.

  • Meredith
    January 4, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I’m so jealous you’ve already seen season two of Downton Abbey! Season Two airs here on Sunday! So stoked!

    -Meredith

  • janicu
    January 4, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Very good reply by Mother Reader about the William Morrow letter. It kills me when people refer to books bloggers get from publishers as “free” because the amount of time spent on blogging and reading is significant. Too often people who AREN’T book bloggers themselves make assumptions that trivialize the work that many bloggers do out of love for reading. I have already had one bad experience last year re: my time being treated as nothing.

    I’m also laughing a bit at those pet peeve cliche sentences. I suppose I haven’t noticed them but now that you point it out.. you’re so right!

  • Catherine
    January 4, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I have many of the same feelings about series 2 of Downton.
    It seemed like Julian Fellowes was trying to out-drama WWI and just went to weird soap opera lengths to achieve that. Also he will insist on a “beautiful, idealised relationship between upstairs x downstairs” because that is what Julian Fellowes does.
    However I am also looking forward to next series. I’m hoping there will be some roaring 20s stuff, like the Charleston and flamboyant hats. I’m also hoping some sort of Bright Young Thing character (a distant cousin) will turn up to shake things up, and Maggie Smith’s character will continue to snark at everything.

  • Ana
    January 4, 2012 at 9:07 am

    @ Jane – let me just quickly reply to a couple of your points

    A) yes loads of ContempYA are in first person although I rarely see present tense. I also tend to avoid like the plague books with love triangles so this has not been my experience and I read loads of ContempYA.

    C) awww the first season is SO good, SO good. It is well worth watching on its own. I don’t even mind the second one not being that good. And I LOVED the Christmas Special as well. Don’t give up!

  • Pam
    January 4, 2012 at 9:09 am

    YES a resounding YES to all of this especially Downton and Bloggers.

  • Elizabeth
    January 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

    The airing of cliche grievances:

    1. Spinning on one’s heel never happens in real life (and the mental image is stupid).
    2. I have never “heard my heartbeat in my ears” unless I was on an inversion table.
    3. Eyes do not “flicker” over to things, they flit. Candle flames flicker.
    4 And while we are talking about eyes, they do not smolder.
    5. Skin of color should not be described using food or beverages.

  • Timothy
    January 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

    I love your rants, Book Smugglers!

  • Sarah Rees Brennan
    January 4, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I have many thoughts. 😉

    Isn’t the teenager the kid of the overlord in Shatter Me? I am not much for dystopians, but I was pretty sure Warner was not the king of all…

    You are right about Downton Abbey! Matthew remains a fox. But oh why did Lavinia have to die like that, and why on earth was Sybil and Branson’s story told the way it was? Oh the way he spoke to her, hectoring her to love him, was horrible! I did finally come to love Mary/Matthew, ‘you are my stick’ but I was overall hugely disappointed, and that relationship could definitely have been handled better too. And yet I too am probably in for season 3. Stupid Dreamy Cousin Matthew’s face. More lines for the dowager countess, some awesomeness for the ladies, and a boyfriend for Thomas!

    I do think free books are amazing–I get them too, for writery blurbing purposes, and I love them! And advance books are expensive to make, and are made and sent in hopes it’ll do something for the book. I try to remember that and read the books in timely fashion: but of course I don’t blurb all the books I get, and it would be wrong and dishonest of me if I did. And of course reviewers don’t owe anybody reviews, positive or negative.

    But from the other end, it does seem like throwing hope and cash away sometimes when I see someone being like ‘Oh, I got an advance copy of Demon’s Lexicon more than three years ago, I’ll read it someday maybe, it isn’t really a BIG book…’ and I can imagine publishers thinking so too. I guess the only way is for everyone to engage with each other in good faith, and try to work out the kinks in the new and developing system together: I do believe that honest reviews are invaluable, and of course bloggers aren’t anyone’s subordinates.

  • Ashleigh
    January 4, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Absolutely YES on the YA dystopian trend (I’m not a dystopian fan in the first place, but the recent crop of YA dystopians have been especially bad for me) and the blogger/publisher relationship. If I were to do my own Airing of Grievances, I would add the relationship between authors themselves and bloggers/reviewers. The behavior I’ve seen from some authors in the last week alone makes my toes curl.

  • Kendra
    January 4, 2012 at 9:43 am

    1. IT’S SOO TRUE. I selfishly wish you guys had read Wither, just to see the awesome “wtfuckery” response. Seriously, I will sent you my copy.

  • Thea
    January 4, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

    @Jane (re: point B) I think the digital self publishing market is a huge space for growth opportunity in YA. Amanda Hocking’s success is testament to that! From what I’ve seen/heard, the YA e-adoption/ebook sales rate is a microcosm of the adult market – I think we can expect to see the same pattern in the YA market…

  • LeAnn
    January 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

    I watched season 2 of Downton Abbey back to back, watching all episodes in two days, and I agree with some of your complaints, and they were even more prevalent when I watched them back to back like this. It was sort of like the war is happening but our petty behavior is more important. They really could’ve done more with the war.

    And some of the plot was poorly executed, especially with the driver and Lady Sybil. Could she have gone out to the garage to talk to him more than she did? And this took place over years, so all these years she’s just going out to the garage to see him again and again? And he’s always working on the car? I suppose it does need oil changes, but honestly, give us a little bit more.

    And, yeah, the miraculous “I can walk!” thing was a bit much, too. Everything was just too convenient, at least for the rich people of Downton Abbey.

    I still love the show, though, and I’ll definitely be back for more, but this season wasn’t as good as the first.

  • kara-karina
    January 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Love your rants!!! The publisher rant. That condescending email sounds horrible I agree, it was poorly executed. however, when I get a book and i am being asked to try and post a review within 2 months gap (one month before and one month after the publication) I do try to do that, especially if I really liked the book. Unsolicited books is another matter, but something that you yourself requested… I think it’s only fair to do that. However this year Entangled Publishing really pissed me off.If you think this email was condescending, you haven’t read theirs – apparently your blog and goodreads is not enough, you have to post the reviews on other sites, have to have minimum 500-700 followers, there was a requirement to have 500 friends on Goodreads, for god’s sake! Who wants that? The whole feeling of it all was that they are not charity and they want to choose the most publicity of it all. I can understand that, but their books are digital, request was through Netgalley, and the usual rejection letter wouldn’t have made me feel offended at all. What they replied… was a clusterf*ck.I decided there and then, I’m not requesting anything from them anymore.
    Also, I think I’ll pass on Downton Abbey after your rant ;)))

  • Tina
    January 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing those thoughts on the relationship aspect of bloggers and publishers. I’ve kept really quiet about it, because so many bloggers support the mentality. This year has been more difficult with pubs then when I started blogging in 09. I had a publisher contact me over the summer after I reviewed an ARC and was asked if I would kindly change some of my phrasing so it wouldn’t sound harsh, due to it being a complimentary book….WHAT!!!? I didn’t think things like that really happened…:/

  • Linda
    January 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I’m totally guilty of #2. (Hangs head in shame; vows to change.)

  • Mary-The Sweet Bookshelf
    January 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

    WOW WOW WOW!!!! You have said it all! I totally agree with the dystopian trend. In my mothers words, “There is not enough good science fiction in the world.” These dystopian worlds lack a lot of details in their worlds. Leaving me with a lot of questions and a lot to be desired.

    You have hit the nail on the head with the blogger/publisher relationship. I don’t think it has been said better. We need to take ourselves seriously and realize the impact we are having on consumers. We work hard for the love of reading! That demands respect. ‘Nuff said.

    GREAT post! LOVE IT!

  • Melanie
    January 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

    One of the reasons I loved Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien was that the protagonist wasn’t beautiful. She was scarred.

  • KB/KT Grant
    January 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

    *plugs eyes over Downtown Abbey spoilers*

    Matthew is very easy on the eyes

    The more publishers see how powerful bloggers have become, the more they will want to use them to promote their product. They probably think a $8 paperback or a $20 hardcover is payment and a blogger should adhere to the publisher’s rules or not get the books. I’d rather not be indebted that way.

    Makes me wonder who the review blogs will evolve in the next few years or so.

  • Mia
    January 4, 2012 at 11:58 am

    What I find frustrating about a lot of the new YA dystopians is that there is no basis in reality. When I read 1984 I can see how our society would get to that point. That’s pretty much a recurring theme in all of the classic dystopians and some of the better written ones in this new wave.

    The best part of a dystopian is that it extrapolates on real fears and failings. Burning books happens, “Big Brother” watching us happens (hopefully not quite to the extent of 1984), Our over-dependency on oil and what it’s doing to the environment and the economy is a real fear (Ship Breaker). These are scary things based in reality. Everyone deciding that love is a disease is not something I can ever see being an actual possibility.

  • Lori Strongin
    January 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Best. Rant. EVER.

    I don’t think I was following many book blogs yet when that William Morrow letter fiasco happened, but I’m with you guys–publishers would have been out of business long ago without the product-to-consumer channel book bloggers provide. Honestly, I get 90% of my reading materials from book blog recommendations, NOT from publisher-driven avenues, such as Publishers Weekly or the New York Times best sellers list. Perhaps one of the reasons the publishing industry is in such dire straights is because they’ve forgotten what book bloggers seem to have always known–passion HAS to come before profit.

    Smiles!
    Lori

  • Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    January 4, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    FWIW, I enjoyed HOllowlands by Amanda Hocking — There’s a plot hole or two and a couple of what I call logic fails, but nothing so egregious as to keep me from enjoying the book. I enjoyed the plot quite a bit and the characters were done well (Dystopian YA). Nancy Fulda writes some good short novellas in that genre, especially Backlash. Good read.

  • JL
    January 4, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I don’t mind the idea of high-concept dystopians, as long as their is more to the world building than a single concept. I would think that, as a writer, half the fun would be in creating new worlds and playing the ‘what if’ game. Who stops after one ‘what if’? Bear in mind I haven’t read the examples you mention, but just banning love? Why wouldn’t all emotion be banned? The same concept has already been used in a much more comprehensive and better way by Nalini Singh.

    My own pet peeve is describing characters as looking like a famous person. Such a bloody cop-out. I find this especially lazy and egregious when authors are describing minority characters. I think it was Barbara Ashford’s Spellcast that described a male character as a cross between Beyonce and Kanye West and someone else. I can’t remember the third because I threw the book away. Also, I think I’d like to see the end of describing skin colours as food items. That’s not quite as offensive, but still, I’m sick of it.

  • Meghan
    January 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    I agree with ALL of your ranting. Regarding dystopias, I just read Wither and I was excited to start, then really disappointed. The world just didn’t make sense. I agree with the commenter above who says that a good dystopia creates a world we can actually see our own turning into – not one that makes no sense and exists so the author can write a book.

    And on Downton Abbey, YES! I can’t tell you how many people heard me complain about it this season. It just turned into a melodramatic soap opera, and it had so much potential to be such a clever show. I guess it still does, but that season has soured it a bit for me. Christmas special helped, though – I think more happened in those 90 minutes than in the six or seven episodes beforehand!

  • Jodie
    January 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    All the Dickens season is on now and every time someone mentions David Copperfield I can’t help but think of Lavinia. She IS Dora the conveniently dead former love. Have we learned nothing in all this time? Oh Lavinia and you and Mary were getting on so famously.

    And did you see how they couldn’t resist making servant who puts ideas in peoples heads, evil affair lady even in the fab Christmas special? Sigh, remember the first series, where it was ok to have dreams outside of service (although even those were reasonable dreams that avoided ascending too high in the social strata) and be a nice person?

  • Ana
    January 4, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    And did you see how they couldn’t resist making servant who puts ideas in peoples heads, evil affair lady even in the fab Christmas special?

    YES, that one was the lowest point of the Christmas special for me. I thought that lady had made VERY REASONABLE remarks about Daisy’s position and was totally right. But no, Daisy has to stay put, only maybe in a little bit better position than before. And the whole thing with her father-in-law, as much as I was tear-eyed in that scene, didn’t you think that it only served to reinforce the idea that Daisy did the RIGHT thing by marrying William? Because after all, it turned out really well? 🙁

  • Lusty Reader
    January 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    love the airing of grievances more than any other part of smugglivus 🙂 and also, to add to your rant on “he smelled…unmistakenly…” im SO TIRED of seeing sandalwood, both in historicals and even some contemps! come on, even in historicals there has to be SOME other kind of soap!!!

  • Christina
    January 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Oh my gosh, yes to EVERYTHING about Downton Abbey. Matthew’s “miraclous” recovery. Lord G’s ridiculous affair. The ex-wife shenanigans. And O’Brien, my fave, was hardly even a bitch this season! If I could insert the gif of Martin Freeman shaking his head in disbelief here, I would. So disappointing.

    And another big YES to the comment about much of these dystopias being high-concept flops. It seems to me like a lot of these books are being snatched up and hyped because when you’re discussing them as pitches or movie deals they sound great, but they’re horribly underwhelming when it comes to the reader’s experience. It’s almost like they’re forgetting Hunger Games/Harry Potter will be/were mega hits because they’re great BOOKS first, and only came around to be multi-media sensations because of that.

  • Emily
    January 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Regarding Rant #4: YES. I am totally with you!

  • Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    January 4, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Regarding sandalwood–anything but patchoui! I *hate* that smell…maybe it would be okay to just say the guy smelled like soap or shaving cream…mint with a hint of sage…chocolate? Okay, okay. Maybe not chocolate!

  • MarieC
    January 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    SO TIRED of seeing sandalwood, both in historicals and even some contemps! come on, even in historicals there has to be SOME other kind of soap!!!

    LOL! so true!

    Love the Rant! This one and Dear Author’s was fantastically funny, yet kind of sad in its truth.

  • Kate & Zena
    January 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    That letter really makes me angry. On one hand, I understand that the publishers lose money when they have to ship out ARC’s to bloggers. It’s a book. On the other hand, bloggers are doing the publishers a huge bonus because it is the BLOGGERS who help generate interest in a book and it’s usually because of a blogger’s review we go out and buy a book. Most people go read reviews before going to get a book from a bookstore or a library! Since subscribing to this site, I’ve been reading more (and let’s just say I’m a voracious reader as is) and getting interested in books that I would have never found interesting.

    I think it’s rather unfair that they are asking you to not only read and review a book within a certain amount of time, but also hold a giveaway. Aren’t giveaways supposed to be something up to the blogger? Aren’t giveaways supposed to celebrate something? (Maybe this is me with the notion that giveaways are like parties and should be to celebrate a particular milestone or to celebrate a book you REALLY LOVED. I mean, what’s the point of giving away a book you really hated?) Shouldn’t it be up to you when you want to host a giveaway?

    I think you two do a lot. You two read a WHOLE LOT more that I do. I have no idea how you keep all of your books straight!

  • Eselpee
    January 4, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    So, book publishers are creating a dystopia characterized by a lack of any sort of bite or actual danger facing our inevitably beautiful, (supposedly) intelligent, often uber-powerful book reviewers. My heart is pounding like a drum! You have become the downstairs to their upstairs.

    A little frankness would be the antidote. The publishers could share what isn’t working for them and offer possible solutions.

    But regardless, keep your honest, insightful reviews coming!

  • Serenity
    January 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    It would be so cool if you guys could maybe do a guide to good dystopian novels, pointing out the high quality stories and the ones not worth the time/money. The market is saturated with so much “fake” dystopian shit (with uniformly angsty-girl-in-flowy-dress type covers) (and that are actually in reality teen romances or stupid ass love triangles) that it makes me leery of trying any of them, especially the ones with the most Hype.

    On another note, “As book bloggers, our allegiance is first and foremost to our readers. We are passionate people that have worked long and hard to build our readerships…We are the forums for the customers…We are the destinations people love to visit…” made me immediately think of this:

    Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

  • de Pizan
    January 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Regarding dystopias, totally agree. Someone mentioned Birthmarked above for the unusually less than perfect heroine. Which was a book I wanted to love–but the heroine spends almost the whole damn book bemoaning how hideous she is, how she’s flabbergasted that anyone, especially male, would look at her without flinching and vomiting or running away screaming. The rest of the book was actually not bad, but I was so frustrated with the heroine that it nearly turned me off the whole book.
    And on Downton Abbey, I know I’m in the minority, but I didn’t really care for the first season. Kind of like the new Upstairs Downstairs, it just left me cold. Too much of the beautiful rich people and their beautiful rich problems and the noble servants who faithfully and loyally serve them to the end of their days (and any servant who doesn’t is usually bad and must get their comeuppance in the end).

  • Kate
    January 5, 2012 at 9:05 am

    ‘scuse me while I applaud for a bit!

    Right. I’m back. And I really just have to say how much I agree with you about the publisher/blogger thing. I AM a publisher, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that there are critical, thinking bloggers out there whose first priority is reading books, thinking about them, and talking about them with other readers – it makes it possible for me as a reader to find new books I want to check out, while also making it possible for me as a publisher to get good feedback on our books.

    While also, you know, bringing them to the attention of the blogger’s audience!

    It just flabbergasts me that some of the Big Dog publishers could be so tone-deaf when it comes to working with bloggers. Not having bloggers work FOR them – working WITH them. It doesn’t take much to be thoughtful, courteous, and pleasant in your interactions. Sheesh.

  • Sean Wills
    January 6, 2012 at 2:07 am

    As we’ve complained before, these so-called “dystopias” are nice and pretty and sanitized.

    Yes time a million. I can’t adequately quantify just how disappointed I am in much of a letdown the dystopian trend has ended up being.

  • Mervi
    January 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for a great blogging year!

    I agree with you on the publisher/blogger relationship and it makes me happy that I’m such a small blogger that I’m rarely contacted for reviews. The moment that my landlord accepts books instead of money as rent, I’ll consider free books a payment. Before that happens, it’s a hobby.

    My airing of grievances would be over Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s 8th season, the comics.

  • Emily
    January 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    @Mervi: If your landlord ever starts accepting books for rent, will you ask him to talk my landlord into doing the same? 😉

  • Adrienne
    January 9, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    As a long time stalker…I mean reader of your blog, this posting is my favorite and I look forward to it every year. It is so spot on-especially with the YA portion. I read so much YA and I have about 20 books which are DNF at the moment because all the chicks are soooo pretty/not popular but pretty/ordinary then SPECIAL!/or at 16 they sprout WINGS!! WTF???

    BTW…if I smelled some male that was slightly spicy and very MALE smelling I probably would hold my nose or ask him when the last time he washed 😛

  • Mervi
    January 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

    @Emily: I’m sure he would be delighted to talk to your landlord. 😉

  • Marjorie F. Baldwin
    May 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Hello Ladies,

    I came back this afternoon because, while chatting with a friend, they mentioned your site had a rant about Dystopias (which is what I write, though NOT the YA kind, the fully-grownup kind like Huxley did when he basically founded the subgenre of SF). So I was reading along and noticed this link to the grievances and had to click through…and here I am.

    THANK YOU and that’s for a number of things.

    1) I was LMAO reading this and that always deserves a thank you. I find so little to really laugh wholeheartedly about these days under the stresses of being an Indie Publisher who is consistently discounted as a “self-published” amateur. I’ve gotta say, if I BUY one more “traditionally published” paper book with blatant typos, grammatical errors and ridden with internal plotting inconsistencies, I might have to vent by writing the sequel to Farenheit 451–except I can’t see how making the poor dead trees pay for the publishers’ tresspasses is fair.

    2) Thank you for speaking up. I don’t know where some people get off taking anyone for granted when they do free work. I’ve been online forever, since DARPAnet days. I’ve had blogs and web sites since before Marc Andresson created the IMG tag and Tim Berners-Lee had to surrender control of “his” World Wide Web. I’ve seen people “claim” ownership of all kinds of things in Usenet discussions and I’ve even survived “Dead Cat Wars” of every color. I’ve never seen such absurd behavior as I have in the publishing industry the last 3 years while the eBook market in the US has exploded. Americans seem to think we “created” the eBook market (conveniently ignoring that average Japanese citizens were reading — and writing! — books on “un-smartphones” back in 2000).

    THANK YOU for acknowledging that there are actually other people in the world besides the Big Six traditional publishers who might remotely influence readers on their buying decisions. Duh-uhhh. I deliberately joined Goodreads to rub shoulders with the readers, and have avoided the Kindleboards and sales-centric sites because of the lack of balance. Just pushing “Buy this! Buy this!” offends me when *I* go shopping. How could it possibly not offend readers?

    I’ve been writing Science Fiction (mostly dystopian or like Heinlein’s “Future History”) since 1968. I’m “old.” I’m also a little more tech savvy than your average bear and probably more involved in social networks than half the marketing execs putting out those ridiculous press releases like the one you snippeted here. I did marketing and internet consulting in the 90s and I can’t believe these people are STILL this clueless! No, I can believe it, but it amazes me everytime I hear a new cluegun hitting the floor instead of the mark.

    3) I *had* noticed you two reading a LOT of YA this year, significantly more than half of what you’ve read you’ve listed as YA something or other. I was a little worried, as an author, that there was no point to my querying you to read an adult SF Dystopian novel. I was glad to see the various points on which you tore the YA “Dystopias” a new one. Sometimes you’ve gotta tear a new hole in the universe to get anywhere at all, right?

    4) Finally, just a general thank you for bothering at all. Yeah, you enjoy reading. Yeah, you get free books sometimes so you don’t have to go bankrupt to support your reading habit but hey, I know a lot of people who NEVER write reviews. In fact, I have one friend who probably reads 3 books a week (and read MY 230,000 tome in 2 sittings) but I’m still waiting for his review. I won’t hold my breath 🙂 I love to read, myself, and I also hate writing reviews. Not everyone likes to do it. I like to talk about books with others but I don’t like to lecture on this or that one. I don’t like to think others are actually going to DECIDE based on my opinion! *eep* So thank you. As both an author AND a reader, I really appreciate the existence of book bloggers. I can’t keep up with all the new titles hitting the market. It’s nice that you do so I don’t have to try.

    -Friday
    @phoenicianbooks

    Author of Conditioned Response A SciFi Thriller to Remember–if you can!

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