Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Lewis’s Revelation

with 10 comments

Today I saw someone on the internet say that 90% of everything is crud. Now, I have complained about Sturgeon’s Revelation before. It is, in a word, balls. I know, I know, someone is wrong on the internet, so what? But the thoughtlessness of the statement still offends me and its persistence depresses me.

Then I remembered that I love evidence. I could, in fact, test Sturgeon’s Revelation against the 54 novels submitted for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award, a selection of novels that we’ve agreed form a pretty good proxy for British science fiction as a whole. So, was 90% of everything crud?

Taking a liberal approach to the word “crud”, you could perhaps claim that 72% of science fiction published in Britain in 2010 was crud. So now we can obviously extrapolate from this that 72% of everything is crud. I call this Lewis’s Revelation. But wait! What if I asked one of my fellow judges to provide their own percentages? Or I repeated this exercise again for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award? Or I took it upon myself to read every science fiction novel published in the US in 2010? Or every thriller? Wouldn’t the percentages change? Why, it is almost as if Lewis’s Revelation is meaningless. Funny that.

Written by Martin

17 March 2011 at 20:44

10 Responses

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  1. That’s 72% of all books considered good enough to be worth entering for an award. What about the books that were so bad they couldn’t possibly win?

    Andrew Ducker

    17 March 2011 at 23:44

  2. Wot Andrew said. IIRC, Clarke Award only considers those books submitted by the publishers, right?

    So “Gritty clever novel” by “Smart Bloke”tm gets submitted, but “Dark Nights 36: The Vampire Who Shagged Me” by the same publisher is much less likely to be, n’est ce pas?

    Not saying your basic poit isn’t sound, but this isn’t evidence to support it.


    18 March 2011 at 00:23

  3. And I forgot to tick the button below…


    18 March 2011 at 00:23

  4. What about the books that were so bad they couldn’t possibly win?

    In my years, there were plenty of those submitted; publishers tended to err on the side of submitting their entire list just in case.


    18 March 2011 at 01:05

  5. I would make the case that it’s more like 95% on a casual reader (that’s me) basis. My test of reasonableness would be how many books I pickup because they seem interesting but after reading the blurbs fail, and are returned to the shelves. About 1 in 10 I might buy and begin reading. Once they are read, I would say that about half I judge as good upon completion, so 90% are diagnosed as crud while still in the bookstore and the other 5% achieve cruddyness during the reading process.


    18 March 2011 at 03:19

  6. Andrew & Mat: Alas, as Niall say, you are making some unwarranted assumptions about publishers. To the benefit of Science but the detriment of my eyes, publishers submit pretty much everything they have. Indeed, it is hard to imagine books that could possibly be worse than some of those submitted.

    What the Clarke doesn’t cover very well (and couldn’t, to be honest) is spinoffery. So if you take the submissions list as a proxy for science fiction in the UK, it has to be original SF in the UK. That does raise an interesting point though. Tie-in fiction is often considered to get a raw deal by its defenders (usually jobbing authors or publishers) so it would be interesting to repeat this exercise for all 2010 spinoffery. My suspicion is the ratios would lean much more heavily towards Bad and Meh. However, this is not an experiment I am prepared to undertake.

    Larry: I’m not convinced there is enough Science in your methodology.


    18 March 2011 at 08:38

  7. After spying a couple of Mass Effect novels and then looking for reviews online, I noted that there seems to be little in the way of critical coverage of tie-in novels.

    I’ve been contemplating taking a look for myself to see how bad they really are. I’ve managed to survive a few Halo novels without ripping my eyeballs out (although that one by Tobias Buckell was awful) so I may be able to give this a go.

    I think I’d start with Karen Traviss. Her Star Wars commando novels were entertaining so her attempt at putting together something coherent out of the mess that is Gears of War could be worth reading.


    18 March 2011 at 11:13

  8. Aspho Fields, one of Karen Traviss’s Gears Of War tie-ins, is perhaps the only tie-in novel to reviewed by Strange Horizons. It didn’t get a very good one.

    I would certainly be interested in seeing more reviews of the better spinoffery though. The problem (as with many things) is having to wade through all the shite to find the gold.


    18 March 2011 at 11:19

  9. Sturgeon made a soundbite statement about the bell curve of most things and it propagated within SFF.

    As we scientists say, “Theories start as heresies and end as superstitions.”

    Athena Andreadis

    19 March 2011 at 15:23

  10. […] or after that, I plan to make good on a comment I made on Martin’s blog back in March about reviewing some of the many tie-ins that I have kicking around. I say “tie-ins” […]

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