Everything Is Nice

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

On Being Libelled By Liviu Suciu

with 24 comments

Liviu Suciu has a post at Fantasy Book Critic about negative reviews which uses two examples: Tibor Fisher’s review of Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas for the Guardian and Liz Bourke’s review of Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan at Strange Horizons. The comments, however, are entirely about Bourke’s review which has itself received many, many comments, including several from Suciu.

In the course of the post and the comments, he also alleges that both Strange Horizons and its reviewers are inherently biased. This isn’t the first time he has made such allegations and he also repeats them on this post from Larry Nolen which discusses the reaction to Bourke’s review. Abigail Nussbaum, the reviews editor of Strange Horizons, challenges him on the allegations but, predictably, he refuses to either support or retract them. Since Suciu also specifically makes these allegations against me I also challenged him and asked for an apology. This comment was deleted so, slightly re-purposed for the different context, here it is:

* * * * *

You set out an accusation: that SH has a deliberate policy of favourably reviewing certain books (“the establishment” consisting of “the scalzis, the tors, the oldies, the pc’s”) and negatively reviewing other books (“newcomers eg Mark Newton or Mr. Sullivan and the un-pc’s (Neal Asher, JC Wright)”). You provided no evidence for this accusation.

Abigail then refuted your accusation by providing comprehensive evidence that your claims were false.

You responded by saying “Well, you deal in over the top claims, you gotta take them too.” Here you are ignoring the evidence and instead comparing Liz Bourke’s supported claims in her review with your unsupported claim above. This shows that a) you have no interest in the truth of your claim and b) you can’t tell the difference between hyperbole (tone) and a lie (content).

Abigail pointed this out and asked you to justify yourself.

You repeated your claim that you are just giving an eye for an eye but then claimed that you’ve already provided evidence. Namely: “the names I mentioned that got thrashed and somehow happen to be authors that do no fit into the pc/establishment places, while utterly similar (or worse and we can discuss that too btw if in the mood) books and authors (eg Sword of Fire and Sun which is on the same level with Theft orf Swords from quite a few points of view) get the plus treatment.” Your argument here appears to be that since books which you personally believe are of similarly quality (you only give one such pair despite your original list of authors) received reviews that differed from your personal opinion then Strange Horizons must be inherently biased. There is such a catastrophic chasm in your argument that it is hard to know how to take issue with it.

Abigail again called you on your conflation of hyperbole and lies and your total lack of evidence for your claims.

You responded by accusing her of slander. What you mean is libel and it is an extremely bold word for you to use. It is you who is libelling Strange Horizons when you accuse it of being inherently biased. More specifically, you are libelling me when you accuse me of giving Mark Charan Newton a negative review because “he dared being a 20 something to have success”.

You say you “do not spread lies as I simply note my perception”. When you voice a perception that is contradicted by reality, it could generously be called being mistaken. When you voice a perception that is contradicted by reality even after that contradiction has been pointed out to you, it is called lying. When you repeatedly voice a negative perception that is contradicted by reality even after that contradiction has been pointed out to you, it is called defamation.

You then put the cherry on the cake by saying: “I am happy to be shown the error of my ways but with deeds not with accusations.” This is, of course, another lie. You have been shown the error of your ways and this has been shrugged off as irrelevant. If you really are happy to be shown the error of your ways then please apologise for defaming me.

* * * * *

I did not expect to get that apology. Sure enough, my comment was deleted and comments on the post were closed. However, Suciu has now appended this note to the post:

I also want to make clear that while I question the judgement and the way of expressing it in the above linked reviews and a few others alluded in the comments, I do not know personally the reviewers involved, have no reason to question their motives beyond what their public words say and I deeply apologize if my comments have been construed as personal attacks. I also do not condone attacks based on race, ethnicity or gender.

This is not an apology. If Suciu had no reason to question the motives of Strange Horizons reviewers beyond their public words then he would never have made his allegations. Having made them, he has still not retracted them and instead apologises for anything that might have been “construed as personal attacks”. Nothing has been construed as a personal attack, he has explicitly made personal attacks on the integrity of me and other reviewers. He signs off by saying: “The sff online community is a great thing and I think we are all better for it, but it is also an easy thing to shatter and I again apologize for contributing to ill will feelings.”

Liviu, if you honestly mean that then publicly retract your statements about Strange Horizons and apologise for them.

Update 1: Suciu responds in the comments.

Update 2: Cora Buhlert has written a blog post about this one but disabled comments. I respond to her below as do others who have had their comments blocked.

Written by Martin

16 January 2012 at 17:01

24 Responses

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  1. Appalling and biased though it may be, I judged the value of Liviu’s comments in accordance with his mangling of the English language.


    16 January 2012 at 17:43

  2. I judged it that way too. However, lots of people don’t. He is not considered a crank, he’s not even considered to be someone whose poor grasp of English is an impediment to him discussing fantasy in this language; rather he is considered a respected reviewer by a large chunk of the fantasy blogosphere. So, given his influence and given his persistence in making these claims, I’ve had enough and I think it is worthwhile stating this publicly.


    16 January 2012 at 18:05

  3. For what is worth I apologize explicitly for attributing any personal bias to you and as an organization to Strange Horizon. I stand by my claim that your review mentioned and the one of Theft of Swords are both misguided and use language I find objectionable, but that is my personal opinion.

    As for claims about Strange Horizons, while in the heat of the argument sometimes strong words are exchanged, my argument that this harsh language of the two reviews mentioned is used only selectively still has not been addressed. It may simply be a coincidence as I do not have the time and interest to follow all reviews, so I sure could have missed a few similar ones and as you and the editors have assured me that this so, I am happy as mentioned to recognize it and retract my claims as I do now.

    I will post this as a second update on FBC and I hope that this will put the issue to rest. I am flattered by your words: “rather he is considered a respected reviewer by a large chunk of the fantasy blogosphere”, while for the rest I leave the words said to stand by themselves.

    I do not want to escalate this but I also want to note that using terms like “libel” is a major escalation and can be construed as a threat and I think that we do not want to go there as it’s not worth it.


    16 January 2012 at 20:05

  4. ‘More specifically, you are libelling me when you accuse me of giving Mark Charan Newton a negative review because “he dared being a 20 something to have success”.’

    Does this mean I get better reviews on SH now I’m 30?


    17 January 2012 at 18:54

  5. Liviu: Thank you for this comment and the update.

    Mark: Over 30, British, published by Tor, part of the PC crowd; you’re bulletproof, mate.


    17 January 2012 at 19:31

  6. I might start making Bernard Manning jokes just to spice things up.


    17 January 2012 at 19:37

  7. Yawn…Zzzzzzzz…

    Liz Bourke's butt plug

    19 January 2012 at 07:29

  8. Despite seeing quite a few “a plague on both your houses” comments scattered around, I think we can see which side in this discussion has had the moral high ground…


    19 January 2012 at 09:14

  9. “he dared being a 20 something to have success”

    I know this is picky, but I’ve marked so many ungrammatical undergrad essays over the past month that I have become Pedantry Embodied, so: this makes it sound as if MCN made himself into a 20-something simply in order to be successful. Don’t suppose you’d care to share the secrets of your special age-controlling abilities, Mark? Wouldn’t mind being a 20-something again myself. Even if apparently it means SH will hate me.

    Dr Nic (@bibliolicious)

    19 January 2012 at 10:57

  10. Hi Dr Nic,

    Yes, I’ve currently accelerated into being an old man, which is my natural comfort zone. This enables me to drink whisky and stay indoors without a sense of shame. As for the secret… I tend not to share that. Everyone starts acting young again, which thoroughly pisses off my older self.


    19 January 2012 at 18:32

  11. Shame on you you juvenile blogger you! Seriously man get a life! Stop complaining about awesome people complaining about the wretched or more useful yet get a butt plug so you stop shitting out worthless bullshit!

    Everything is Nice, my ASS!

    21 January 2012 at 17:53

  12. I totally support Liviu, you’re a douche bag and a shitty reviewer too, you’ve just got to accept that. And Liviu should’nt be apologizing to you, he did’nt really take the time to flush you down the toilet. Now your stink is fouling up the whole blogosphere, wasting people’s time with attention seeking tactics.

    Now this is libel, I invite you to demand an apology from me, GOD BLESS FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

    Everything is Nice, my ASS!

    21 January 2012 at 18:26

  13. God bless freedom of speech, indeed.


    21 January 2012 at 19:01

  14. Yes, if nothing else you do have to appreciate their determination to make your point for you.


    21 January 2012 at 19:09

  15. Please guys let us stop here; I do not condone derogatory comments on Mr. Lewis and I am a big boy who does not need “defense”. While sometimes comments get heated – and I tend to regard them closer to verbal conversation on the spur of a moment than calculated, thought out stuff – it is really not worth continuing this…

    I definitely plan to moderate away anything related to this on FBC, so any further derogatory comments there on Mr. Lewis or anyone else for that matter, will be marked as spam.

    Let’s read some good books instead.


    21 January 2012 at 19:18

  16. And with an apology for a double comment and to avoid misunderstandings, I already marked such comments as spam and deleted them.

    And as January marked the publication of 4 major sf novels in the UK (3 last week on Jan 19 and as the other escaped my notice until recently, I bought them all Thursday and started reading them one by one) – In the Mouth of the Whale (done), Blue Remembered Earth, Transmission, Dark Eden (next I think) – I even have a suggestion for good books instead of wasting time on silly comments…


    21 January 2012 at 19:45

  17. […] bias at Strange Horizons against certain types of speculative fiction. As a counter response, Martin Lewis cries libel and declares that Strange Horizons is not deliberately biased. In the comments, there are snide remarks about Liviu Suciu’s grasp of the English language. […]

  18. The link above to Cora Buhlert’s blog discusses this post in some detail and touches on various issues that I would like to respond to. Unfortunately Buhlert seems to have said her piece and then walked away from her computer as my comment has been sitting in moderation since yesterday morning (and I know my comment isn’t the only one). So I’ll give it until this evening and then post my comment here instead. Given the genesis of this post, that seems more than a little circular but if people want their word to be the only word then I guess that’s what I’ve got to do.


    24 January 2012 at 16:57

  19. Well, it hasn’t been approved. It is a shame for several reasons but mostly because it further removes the context from the conversation when I think this is already a barrier to Buhlert understanding the purpose of this post. Anyway, here is my comment:

    As a counter response, Martin Lewis cries libel and declares that Strange Horizons is not deliberately biased.

    I didn’t “cry” libel, you are ignoring the context of the exchange. This is hardly the first time either me or Strange Horizons have been accused of bias. In this instance, however, Suciu explicitly raises the issue of defamation. It is extremely galling to see the attacker play the victim so my deleted comment/blog post is an attempt to point out that words have meanings and to restore balance.

    I also wouldn’t say I “declared” that Strange Horizons is not deliberately biased. I pointed out that Suciu had produced no evidence that it was whereas the reviews editor had produced evidence that it was not. This is about the burden of proof, not simply declarations.

    In the comments, there are snide remarks about Liviu Suciu’s grasp of the English language. Classy.

    You leap into generic arguments here without ever addressing the actual discussion. If you don’t think Suciu has a poor grasp of English then say so.

    It would be absolutely ridiculous to attack “all international writers and critics” with “the patronizing assumption that [you] cannot speak or write proper English”. It is equally ridiculous to suggest all international writers and critics have the same level of English. You can see this very easily by comparing this post with Suciu’s one.

    Throughout the argument, Suciu’s demonstrates a poor grasp of English, both in his written comments and his inability to comprehend the arguments being made. This isn’t exactly rare in native speakers either and several other commenters on Bourke’s review display a similarly poor grasp. The fact Suciu is not a native speaker is the elephant in the room though; it usually goes unmentioned but it isn’t a “low blow” to criticise someone’s language skills if they repeatedly and aggressively demonstrate the paucity of such skill.

    Strange Horizons is biased towards certain types of speculative fiction. So is Black Gate, so is Fantasy Book Critic, so is SciFi Guy, so is Torque Control, so is SFX, so is Fantasy Hotlist, so is Futurismic, so is any other review outlet out there.

    It is telling that you draw no distinction between these different types of “review outlet”. Several of them are simply personal blogs so I’m not sure how they are relevant. Some of them are professional publications with a remit to cover a specific segment of the field. As far as I can tell, only SH and SFX are professional publications that aim to cover the whole of the field. So what are the institutional biases of these two magazines? And, if Suciu has a point, which of his specific claims are valid?

    Both magazines might well have institutional tastes that reflect their aims and audience but it isn’t helpful to conflate taste and bias. Similarly, it is obvious that utterly objective reviews don’t exist but I’m not sure why this is relevent (the only people seeking such were the critics of Bourke’s review). My reviews for SH aren’t utterly objective and they reflect my personal tastes but they aren’t biased.


    25 January 2012 at 09:03

  20. I’m assuming she’s just too busy to approve comments right now, since no action appears to have been taken on mine either; but I’ll post it here for now anyway:

    Interesting post.

    FWIW: The comments re. Liviu’s use of English were not snide (or at least, not intended to be), and they certainly weren’t aimed at all non-native English speakers. If I gave offence with my contribution, I apologise; as someone who reads languages other than English but lacks the skills and/or confidence to write in them, I have a very healthy respect for people who can communicate fluently in multiple languages! But I frequently get the feeling that there are certain arguments I wouldn’t be having with Liviu – or would be having differently – if we had a stronger shared language; there were several points in the original thread at SH, for example, where I think he simply misunderstood what was being said (such as the reviewer’s discussion of the book’s political set-up), and reacted against something that just wasn’t there.

    As for your final paragraph: I’ve written for three of the places you mention (SH, SFX, and – as a guest poster last year – Torque Control), I can honestly say that what you say here doesn’t match my experience. Individuals’ blogs likely are “biased towards certain types of speculative fiction”, but the sites and magazines that I’ve reviewed for are all staffed by multiple people of multiple tastes. There is a selection process that goes on at the level of assigning books, whether that be reviews editors offering books to reviewers that they know have some knowledge of the field – and both SH and SFX seek out people with a range of tastes and experience for precisely that reason – or reviewers requesting certain books for review because they’re interested in them. But once it comes to reading the books and writing the reviews, any bias/preference that exists is all my own and nothing to do with the site or magazine. Ditto for all the many other people who also write for said places, and each have their own tastes. Maybe it’s different elsewhere, but I have never come under any pressure to change my mind about a book and toe some sort of party line. I agree that there’s no such thing as a truly objective review (although I don’t think reviews are purely subjective either, but that’s a different debate), but I think it’s a misconception to think of collections of reviewers as having collective tastes, just because they happen to all be published on the same site.

    Dr Nic (@bibliolicious)

    25 January 2012 at 18:19

  21. Buhlert has updated her blog now but all the comments remain in purgatory so I guess she just doesn’t believe in the right to reply.


    27 January 2012 at 12:07

  22. Since it seems we’re copy/pasting in-limbo comments here, here’s what I wrote days ago in response to her comments on me:


    That’s a pretty big accusation there, especially when you have to use tortured logic to go from a comment that in full says this:

    So what’s the fuss, you wonder? Well, from what I’ve seen, there were several people tweeting and retweeting links to the review. Several of these people had either read Sullivan’s works before and either did not agree with the substance of the review or they took exception to the manner of presentation. It always fascinates me to see which types of reviews draw the most responses. Almost without fail, those reviews are of romance novels, paranormal romances, so-called “urban fantasies,” and epic fantasies. None of these literary genres occupy a privileged position; several critics take a rather dim view of works whose main defining traits are their ability to mimic the tone, structure, characterization, theme, and even prose of other works.

    When asked to describe why these works are liked by them despite others having misgivings about the quality of the prose, narrative, themes, or characterizations, frequently there will be variations on the apologia that the work was “light,” that it was a “real page-turner,” or that it was “fun.” What isn’t really said here is that those words do not define any real characteristics of the book at hand as it tries to place that book in context to other, similar works whose main trait is that their supporters tend to be inarticulate in their praise of works that others find to be weary, derivative, and on occasion stultifying works.

    to somehow making it into an attack on literary genres dominated by women. I believe the comment was in reference to readers and not the writers of works/genres in question: the inability to articulate arguments beyond “light,” “fun,” and so forth know no gender norms nor limits. Now if you want to make my claim that too often fans of those genres (which have numerous fans, both male and female alike) can’t articulate well their love of works into a gender/sexist argument, feel free, but I would just shrug and think it was a reach that wasn’t supported by the evidence there. The rest I hold to be differences of opinion.


    28 January 2012 at 23:15

  23. […] the way, speaking of that post by Jeff VanderMeer and how those ideas can also apply to bloggers? This is how not to do it. I have opinions about the original review and the subsequent back-and-forth, but I’m not […]

  24. […] using a single quote. 3) ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke – in which I dislike a story. 4) On Being Libelled By Liviu Suciu – in which I make extensive use of my right to reply. 5) ‘Nine Lives’ by Ursula K. LeGuin […]

    Four « Everything Is Nice

    24 September 2012 at 13:20

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