Theft of Swords by Michael J. SullivanHello,

My name is Michael J. Sullivan and I’m the author of the Riyria Revelations. This series has been picked up by Orbit Books for a fall release and I’ll be back after Aidan’s honeymoon to tell you more about that. In the meantime, he asked if I would do a guest blog so that you all have something to read so you don’t go into withdrawls. I have a morning ritual that involves coffee and reading articles on my ipad. The day after the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire debuted on HBO, I read a few reviews that really got my blood boiling. I wrote a blog boast entitled “Song of Bias and Prejudice”, but since I’m still a relatively new, and unknown author I don’t think many people saw it. In any case I think it is appopriate for the audience so I though I’d take this opportunity to share. I hope you enjoy. Here goes…

When I was in eighth grade I was caught with a copy of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring in shop class, by another kid. This “kid” who I will refer to as “Richard,” because that was his name, had been my best friend in sixth grade. Richard had just moved to the area that year and didn’t know anyone, and I adopted him when he was shunned by everyone else. After settling in however, Richard traded me for a better, cooler, best friend the following year. One of the ways he endeared himself to his new circle was by using what he knew, from our best-friend-years, to belittle and humiliate me, which always plays well to a group of twelve-year-olds trying to establish themselves as superior to anything. So when he found me reading a book, his eyes lit up with new potential.

He snatched the paperback and leafed through it. Then formulating his plan of attack declared: “It’s fantasy!”

He let out a laugh more easily associated with a DC comic villain who had a superhero strapped to some Rube Goldberg torture device and about to unleash his ultimate monologue. “You read fantasy!” He said it like I had given him a gift of untold value. “Sullivan reads fantasy books!” He continued addressing the class with a mocking tone. The other students, less worldly than either of us, could not quite see the significance of this discovery. I suppose they were confused by the fact that I read books at all–this usually being a sign of intellectual superiority to the average twelve-year-old male. Nothing to be proud of certainly, but not something to be obviously embarrassed of either.

Irritated at the lack of understanding, Richard turned to the most learned in the room…the shop teacher. “Sullivan is reading a fantasy book. Fantasy books are stupid, aren’t they? Just made up crap. Right?”

I felt my heart sink. He had me. Even at that age I knew fantasies with dwarves and elves weren’t going to have the legitimacy of say, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or To Kill A Mockingbird. Not in a teacher’s eyes. And this guy was a shop teacher, one intellectual step above the gym teacher who got drunk after hours and tried to light the school on fire.

I was doomed.

“Actually,” the teacher began, standing before the class sagely in his knee length gray lab coat. “Fantasy novels are known for often conveying greater truths about the world and the human condition than more realistic novels. And fantasy books make up a large portion of the great classics of literature.”

It was at that moment that I discovered several things. First, that shop teachers aren’t shop teachers because their too stupid to be anything else. Second, that fantasy books are a lot cooler than I ever thought. Third, that Richard looked really dumb with his mouth hanging open and his face turning red. And fourth, that a lot of people have a tendency to denounce fantasy novels because they think it is cool, and will somehow make them look superior.

Game of Thrones Poster

Today two kids in a shop class stood up and made fun of George R.R. Martin’s new HBO series. Not so much because it is good or bad, but because it is fantasy. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times, and Troy Patterson of Slate, both attacked Martin and fantasy in general in the guise of reviewing a television series.

Not wanting to offend anyone, least of all those that might love Martin, I must confess that I’m not a huge Martin fan. His style and mine differ greatly and while I appreciate his talent, it’s just not my cup of tea. But these people are not making intelligent comments about his work, or even about the show–they are merely displaying an open prejudice for alternate-world fantasy as a concept. They are standing up in shop class and trying to make themselves look cool.

Martin and the producers of the show don’t deserve this kind of pre-meditated judgment and crucifixion from reviewers who could have written the bulk of their articles in advance of seeing the show. And I find it disheartening to see that same mentality I faced in eighth grade still prevalent in the minds of adults in positions to sway a population’s thoughts.

I’d just like to apologize to Mr. Martin on behalf of those who don’t know enough to realize they should.

Written by Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan is a science fiction and fantasy author. His fantasy trilogy, The Riyria Revelations, is one fantasy's most successful self publishing stories.     @author_sullivan

  • Nathaniel Katz May 10, 2011 at 6:43 am

    The Slate review – which I’m just reading now for the first time – is somewhat interesting for being, essentially, an open nonreview. The reviewer says:

    “The reviewer happens to have an anti-weakness for that general sensibility and those armor-clad generic trappings. Hey, his loss, he knows, but, for instance, he cannot trust his taste to tell him if the Harry Potter books are written well. ”

    While I don’t agree with his stance, it’s surely a fine one to have. If only he hadn’t then gone on to write several hundred words about, essentially, how Harry Potter was not well written after openly admitting he’s prejudiced and can’t tell.

  • Justin May 10, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Preach on. Just wanted to offer you some congrats. Orbit is a great publisher who really seems to understand how the eReader and the internet are changing the business of publishing.

    Crown Conspiracy and all your other Riyria books were some of my first purchases as an eReader. I loved them. Good luck and I can’t wait to read the competition of the series next year.

  • Bryce (seak) May 10, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Awesome post and great outlook on the horrid reviews. I love how more and more geekery is being celebrated – Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, Twilight even. We’re soon to be the ones making others look dumb for not liking fantasy…okay, that’s probably not ever going to happen, plus we’re better than that. :)

  • Josiah Cadicamo May 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Bravo. I was spitting bullets when i saw those reviews.

    Pissed me off to the point that i almost wanted to create a blog and rant about it. But you’ve got me covered. Thanks.

  • Michael Sullivan May 11, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Thanks Bryce – it certainly has become more popular these days – but as we saw there are still those that put their noses up at it.

    Josiah – thanks, I’m glad you feel my rant covered us both – thanks for writing.

  • Jamie Todd Rubin May 12, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Great post, Michael. You know that I am not a big fan of fantasy. I have always been a hard-core science fiction fan, but I loved the new HBO series so much that I started reading Martin’s series–and it turns out that I love that too.

    I read the reviews and laughed. I will be posting my thoughts on those reviews later, but I agree with your concluding line completely.

  • […] friend and fellow writer’s group member, Michael J. Sullivan, recently wrote a guest-post in which he defended fantasy fiction against some unwarranted attacks from reviewers. In […]

  • Douglas Hulick May 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for this post. Eloquently put, and very nicely presented.

    The whole on-going “ghettoization” of genre really starts to eat at me at times like this. If SFF (or whatever) isn’t your cup of tea, fine; but please have the integrity to either get past it when you’re being paid to review a work, or pass it on to someone who is able to evaluate the work on its own merits. Slamming the piece because of the label and (perceived) tropes, as opposed to the quality of the item itself, reveals the limitations of the reviewer, not the art being reviewed.

    Sadly, the opposite side of the coin seems to be a raging silence. I’ve heard several “leading” book programs and radio shows display remarkable ignorance when it comes to anything outside the areas of contemporary fiction, mystery, memoir, and travel books, even in areas with a thriving SFF community. Even with the growing market share of SF and Fantasy at the box office and in other media, the print side of the genre still seems to carry a heavy stigma. We can only hope that as other media continue to return to the SFF well for ideas, society will become more aware of the value of the genre as a whole and put the lie to what, has for a long time, been the critical literary party line.

  • Jess May 16, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Ohmydays, I’ve just read Bellafante’s review, and there is so much I want to pull out and scoff at (but will refrain). I find it particularly offensive that the female viewership is characterised as watching only for the illicit eroticism (a ‘point’ made with seemingly no awareness of what the books themselves contain, as though HBO simply threw these scenes in as an afterthought). Cheers, Bellafante, for subsuming us under an insulting female stereotype.