Critics Who Use a Newspaper for Bodily Functions Other than Information Input
Posted by hyperpat on December 27, 2006
The New York Times devoted an entire page to a review of John Scalzi this last Sunday. As written by Dave Itzkoff, I found it to be the epitome of everything I don’t like about critics. This response will be in two parts, the first being on the failings of this critic, the second on an accusation he makes within the review that I take extreme exception to.
In general, I find that far too many critics:
1. Can’t read
2. Can’t write
3. Can’t think.
4. Force their own pre-conceived notions onto what they are supposedly criticizing.
Mr. Itzkoff displays all these qualities in fine style here. Taking the second item first: This is supposed to be a review of Mr. Scalzi’s works. But the entire first half of this piece is taken up by a diatribe on the supposed failings of Robert Heinlein, with Scalzi not even mentioned till the fourth paragraph. Now Scalzi is known to have been influenced by Heinlein, but it might be noted that anyone who writes SF today has been influenced by Heinlein, whether they know it or not, and anyone who writes a military-oriented SF book is guaranteed to have some comparisons made to Starship Troopers. Now back when I took a few courses in writing, having an introductory paragraph to ease into the piece’s theme was fine, but backhandedly slipping in a review of Heinlein’s work in a piece that supposed to be about Scalzi, and then highlighting it by having it be the entire first half of the piece, is bad writing.
Now let’s look at the piece’s content when he does get around to discussing Scalzi. The first paragraph of this is reasonable, detailing the plot of Old Man’s War and drawing parallels with Starship Troopers. But in his next paragraph, Mr. Itzkoff shows his biases by attributing much of OMW’s commercial success to “recommendations from conservative political blogs like Instapundit and The Volokh Conspiracy”, ignoring the fact that word of this book was spread by a large contingent of SF fans, of all political stripes, and doesn’t even mention that it was nominated for the Hugo Award. The next paragraph sees the statement “Heinlein may have cultivated a philosophy that now seems distasteful bordering on appalling”. To whom is this philosophy appalling other than Mr. Itzkoff himself?
Then Mr. Itzkoff has the temerity to diss Scalzi’s latest novel, The Android’s Dream, because “there is still a position less commendable than having dangerous ideas, and that is having no position at all”, totally missing the fact that this book is meant to be a fun romp and not a political diatribe. Then he has even more chutzpah to insist that Scalzi get back to works like OMW and more political philosophizing, that The Android’s Dream was merely a detour for Scalzi’s career. All of this is a pretty good example of items 1, 3, & 4.
Now since Mr. Itzkoff has indicated he is at least somewhat familiar with Heinlein’s works, I would direct him to the last chapter of The Number of the Beast, where there was a special room set up just for critics. I think he belongs there.
Now any exposure in something with as much clout as the NYT is probably good for increasing sales of Scalzi’s books, even something as negative as this piece. I just wish the NYT would find someone else to review works in this genre.