Jean-Luc Godard once said that criticizing one film entails making another film (as my good friend Steven Savage discussed earlier).
It's all too true in my case. I wrote my books (see the sidebar at right) because I was reading what passed for fantasy and found it uninteresting, and so I decided to critique it by writing my own response. What constitutes "success" in such an endeavor can be misleading, though: I didn't write them to displace other works so much as to show that there is more than one way to skin the cats of fantasy. The work is ongoing: Flight of the Vajra is meant to be my own response to what I see as a great deal of deeply unsatisfying SF, but I make no promises there.
What I would never do, though — and what I hope other people have the good sense not to do, either — is use that as a way of defraying criticism about my own work.
I've written elsewhere about how I've already had my particular trial-by-fire when it comes to criticism. The Four-Day Weekend garnered a gamut of reactions from "great" to "sucks", and in the end I decided that was fine by me. If they didn't like this one, maybe they'd like the next one, and by the time I'd been hit with the one-star review I already had put enough inner distance between myself and the work to not take it personally.
What I will not do, though, is tell other people that if they don't like it, they can go write their own damn book. Because while they can, that doesn't mean they should, and since when is that an excuse for ungracious behavior on my part?
This came to the surface in an essay titled "Why “if you don’t like it, make your own” is not a valid argument", where the same problem was mapped to the gaming industry. Short version: people had vociferously negative reactions to a given game trailer; other parties responded in the vein of "Don't like it? Make your own game."
It isn't that making your own game (or writing your own book) isn't a valid response. It's that that is not the only valid form of criticism. It's one of the most powerful, but to tell people they only deserve to respond in that form is tantamount to telling them they whine too much. A friend of mine put it this way: "You can disagree with me, but don't tell me not to be critical of something. 'Go make your own art' doesn't absolve [the sins of] the original."
The whole point of making something yourself as a response is that it is chosen freely. It has no real weight if it's reduced to the level of an obligatory reply. It's also mean-spirited as all get-out to suggest that only the people who can reply by making their own X are the only ones qualified to criticize X. Not every novelist is a good critic, and not every critic is a good reader, so it takes all kinds. The point of coming up with our own artifact-as-response is to widen the playing field and see what else is possible. But to use the fact that people do this as a rebuttal in itself ...
I'm astonished, and alarmed, at the way people can take a conceit which would be powerful when allowed to arise spontaneously, and turn it into a form of silencing dissent. Then again, maybe not. We've managed to weaponize just about every other form of discourse, so why not this one?
Other Lives Of The Mind