August 21, 2017, 05:29:16 AM

Author Topic: Is "Talent" Subjective?  (Read 1543 times)

Offline tebakutis

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Is "Talent" Subjective?
« on: August 02, 2017, 05:43:11 PM »
Justin Jordan, a comic book writer friend, offered probably the most in depth (and savage) of the reviews floating in my fb feed:

Quote from: Justin Jordan
Things I have learned reading 32% of Ready Player One
1. This book is godawful
2. There's literally no plot for the first 18% of the book. A fifth of the book. LITERALLY. NO. PLOT.
3. This book is godawful.
4. The author either doesn't know how far 5 kilometers is, or hasn't thought through the effect of limiting the people on a particular world, a school world, to a not very fast walk. Although later the character sprints.
5. As yet, the nostalgia is.....listing things from the 80's. Not anything about why these things are special, or what made them interesting, or anything. Just....listing them.
6. I've read seven other books while getting to 32% of Ready Player One.
7. Even if the rest of this book is amazing, it's not going to make up for this 32%.
8. Even if Spielberg makes a movie worse than 1941, it will still be better than the source material.
9. Seriously, what is wrong with you people.
10. This book is godawful.

Gonna be honest here. Comments like this (your FB friend, Bradley) really annoy me, and not just because I enjoyed the book. BTW, this is not directed at you specifically, Bradley, just a comment on the Internet at large.

Because of the social nature of the Internet, there is an annoying tendency of folks to try to one-up each other in how they insult things, *especially* once someone (like an author) finds mainstream success. As soon as an author gets a big deal, rather than congratulating them and saying "Hey, good on you, fellow nerd, you've made it!" the tendency (because of jealousy, or another reason) is to pile on and say "Well you don't deserve that. Your book is terrible and you're a terrible writer." It happens so often.

Ready Player One's success as a book (and the fact that it's now coming out as a movie) have made it the latest target of Internet scorn, and honestly, it makes me sad (and it would even if I didn't like the book).

Basically, here's what I see:
- One person says (quite reasonably) "Eh, I read Ready Player One, but it just didn't grab me. Wasn't for me." Totally cool! What we like is subjective.
- The next person, wanting to one up them, says "Yeah, Ready Player One was really poorly written. I DNF'd it on the first chapter" (quality writing is incredibly subjective, but okay, you didn't like it)
- The next person, wanting to one up both, says "Yeah, Ready Player One is a steaming pile of crap and the worst book I've ever read anywhere in the whole of existence. Reading it is like having hot pokers shoved in my eyes while a sabertooth tiger rips out my intestines". Like seriously dude, what?
- And so on and so on...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me (the last example I can thing of where people trashed a super-successful author and her work was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer) but I wish we wouldn't pile on like this. Twilight is actually a perfect example because I *didn't* like it. It wasn't for me, but I'm glad so many people enjoyed it and hope it got them into reading more SFF. I'm also glad for Meyer and wish her all the success in the world.

Am I off base here?

EDIT: To be super clear, I think everyone should clearly state their preference on books (I liked it, I didn't like it) etc and authors should be ready for that. I just see Internet comments, specifically, spiraling into absurdity because people want to one up each other on how thoroughly they can trash the latest book to succeed.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 05:46:35 PM by tebakutis »
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Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2017, 08:49:42 PM »
Am I off base here?

No. The tendency to play hyperbole wars for entertainment is not one of humanity's best traits.

That said, it is an awful lot of fun, and we all need to vent sometimes. And sometimes books we dislike do cause the need to vent. Because...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me (the last example I can thing of where people trashed a super-successful author and her work was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer) but I wish we wouldn't pile on like this. Twilight is actually a perfect example because I *didn't* like it. It wasn't for me, but I'm glad so many people enjoyed it and hope it got them into reading more SFF. I'm also glad for Meyer and wish her all the success in the world.

There is a common perception (which I share) that success in the entertainment industry often comes down to visibility and promotion more than actual talent. Therefore, when people (and sometimes myself) see people with less talent receiving more visibility and promotion, it often makes them angry. Someone has been given the keys to success when their actual product should be behind several others. Receiving what should have gone to others is getting close to a dictionary definition of undeserving.

That's what fuels the anger. Bad books getting great hype. And yes, bad is mostly subjective, but why shouldn't we get angry over subjective things? Particularly as subjective and objective aren't always clearly defined. I would argue there's enough of a consensus that on bad writing that we can call some things objectively bad. Some arrangements of words are so dissonant to the vast majority of English speakers that they fail to accomplish the purpose of the words.

As such... I'm not for it. But I understand it. And tbh, I'm only not for it until I next find a book that's really popular and really enraging to my subjective sensibilities. There's a reason I won't touch Eragon...

... and a reason I won't touch Twilight either. I can be pretty calm on books not meeting my personal standards and getting success, but the way Paranormal Romance is rolled into Fantasy rather than being treated as a different sub-genre of SFF does boil my piss a wee bit. I can't wish Meyer success while that continues. And generally, yeah, I wish every author success. Once again, that's a matter of the visibility given to a book rather than the quality itself.
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2017, 10:17:16 PM »
EDIT: To avoid threadjacking this thread (which I really shouldn't have done anyway, given it's for reading!) I made a new thread with the discussion topic here.

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?topic=10872.0

Feel free to respond or join in if you want to tell me why I'm wrong! :)

ORIGINAL POST:
There is a common perception (which I share) that success in the entertainment industry often comes down to visibility and promotion more than actual talent. Therefore, when people (and sometimes myself) see people with less talent receiving more visibility and promotion, it often makes them angry. Someone has been given the keys to success when their actual product should be behind several others. Receiving what should have gone to others is getting close to a dictionary definition of undeserving.

That's what fuels the anger. Bad books getting great hype. And yes, bad is mostly subjective, but why shouldn't we get angry over subjective things?

I can understand this thinking, as I sort of agree and don't agree. It is true that success in entertainment industries of all stripes (books, movies, games) will always have an element of luck to it. That's unavoidable, and people who refuse to acknowledge it should do so. But it's never been my impression of Kline (as one example) that he seems full of himself (as in "I wrote the best book ever and you should bow down").

Rather, he seems more like a nerd who wrote a book a lot of people enjoyed, and is now psyched to see a movie made out of it. I mean, if I was him, I'd be stoked (and to be fair, probably would ignore Internet hate). The idea that he doesn't deserve his success seems bonkers to me.

I guess this is because I think there's a baseline required for success, setting aside the luck factor. You have to write a solid, sellable book. Kline's book sold to an agent, and a traditional publisher, and then a ****load of copies everywhere, enough that a movie studio and Stephen Spielberg said "We want to make this into a movie". That's an objective fact if there ever was one.

As an aside, it's also an example of an SFF book my wife (who doesn't read ANY SFF) really enjoyed, which speaks to the fact that the book has appeal beyond hardcore SFF fandom. I personally haven't been able to interest her in my stuff (though she reads it to help me out) so hooking folks outside the SFF genre isn't something I've mastered yet.

For me, there are only a few "quality" things you can judge objectively, such as if the book is formatted readably or riddled with typos. But whether the book is "good" is entirely up to each person. The cold hard reality is, if a book is selling a ridiculous number of copies, the author did *something* right. Luck can help get you an agent, and luck can help get you traditionally published, and luck can get you some sales, but ultimately, sales and success on the scale Kline has had require more than just luck (IMO) even if, upon reading his book, we don't necessarily understand why it's so popular.

Rather than saying it sucks because we don't understand it, I'd rather we say "Eh, I don't know what he did, but good for him" and then go back to working on our own stuff. Spending time trying to be the person who comes up with the most elaborate way to say Ready Player One is a terrible book seems pointless to me.

It's like that GIF (which I can't link), where one child is yelling at another child and saying "Stop liking the stuff I don't like!" :p

Particularly as subjective and objective aren't always clearly defined. I would argue there's enough of a consensus that on bad writing that we can call some things objectively bad. Some arrangements of words are so dissonant to the vast majority of English speakers that they fail to accomplish the purpose of the words.

Yeah, but I don't think Kline's work falls into this regard. You could certainly say it leaned too heavily on nostalgia, but it *was* readable. I certainly didn't have any issues understanding the prose or the story.

I can be pretty calm on books not meeting my personal standards and getting success, but the way Paranormal Romance is rolled into Fantasy rather than being treated as a different sub-genre of SFF does boil my piss a wee bit. I can't wish Meyer success while that continues. And generally, yeah, I wish every author success. Once again, that's a matter of the visibility given to a book rather than the quality itself.

Yeah, I totally get where you're coming from, even though I disagree. And it's not like I feel the need to die on a hill defending Ready Player One. I thought it was a fun book, many other people did not, and I'm totally cool with that. Everyone has a right to think a book sucks.

I'd just like to see more of Nora's style of commentary ("Eh, wasn't for me") and less from Bradley's friend ("Seriously, what is wrong with you people." "This book is godawful.")
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 11:43:29 PM by tebakutis »
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Offline Bradley Darewood

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2017, 10:26:42 PM »
I just see Internet comments, specifically, spiraling into absurdity because people want to one up each other on how thoroughly they can trash the latest book to succeed.

That's a fair point @tebakutis -- I think it's fair to say that the internet has sort of become a giant hate mob (errr... YouTube comments? Reddit? Twitter?) and to my credit i only posted that my fb friends didn't like the book until I was asked for more details.  (and "a drunken handjob from Harry Knowles in the dirtiest bathroom at ComicCon" did make me kinda want to read it... so there's that).  I haven't read the book, don't love or hate it, I was just conveying some entertainingly eyebrow raising stuff in my facebook feed.

So, I'll agree with you that the internet (or at least my fb friends) has been uncivil with this book that i have not read.  But defending Twilight... TEB HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?  That's like defending 50 Shades of Grey or something. C'mon, you gotta let us at least let the claws come out with that one Teb!!!  or maybe I'm just a bad person.... I got in trouble on the what are you watching thread too...
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 10:28:58 PM by Bradley Darewood »

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2017, 11:03:35 PM »
.. I got in trouble on the what are you watching thread too...

Nah, just got led astray by the bad kid  ;D ;D ;D ;D
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Offline tebakutis

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2017, 11:42:13 PM »
Pinging @Peat and @Bradley Darewood, just in case they want to chime in further.

I started a discussion on the What Are You Reading Thread (which I threadjacked, and wish to unthreadjack) that I'd love to get more thoughts on, but I figure it's a discussion that should go in its own thread rather than there.

To summarize, I believe "talent", in regards to how good a writer a person is, can be judged objectively, but not in the way most people often say it can be. In short, I'd argue the only objective indicator of "talent" is sales and quality (more on that later). All other thoughts about a writer's talent are subjective.

I'm curious to hear other people's thoughts.

This is specifically in regards to the fact that I've noticed a trend in Internet commentary. Whenever any book becomes super popular, quite often, the critiques of that book increase both the number and ferocity, specifically in regards to questioning the writer's "talent". Basically, so long as a book is coasting or moderately successful, people who don't like it will say "Eh, not for me". But once a book has hit a certain peak (best seller status, movie coming out, etc) it seems like there is a massive spike in people who can't wait to get on the Internet and say "this writer is a talentless hack". And, I should add, these critiques generally come from people who have not attained the success of the person they're critiquing (not all are simply jealous, but many come across that way).

Also, I want to make it clear that I believe everyone is absolutely entitled to their subjective opinion about a book's quality. These are the type of critiques I think are fair game:

- I didn't like it.
- The characters didn't interest me.
- I found the plot too slow.
- I was bored.

These are the type of critiques I wish people would steer away from (and which seem common once an author finds large-scale success)

- This author is a terrible writer.
- This author just got lucky and is a hack with no talent (with the implication they don't deserve their success)
- People who think this book isn't terrible are misguided/wrong.

You'll notice the primary difference in these statements is their subjectivity. The statement "I was bored" is subjective. The statement "this author is a hack with no talent" is presented as objective (a fact) when in fact it is purely subjective (an opinion). You might think they're untalented, and someone else might think they're the best author in the world. Neither of you is correct. You simply have your differing opinions.

For me, when it comes to OBJECTIVELY judging "talent", there are three things we can judge objectively:

1) Is the language clear and readable? (you may not like it, but you can still understand it)
2) Is the book riddled with typos, or clean? (you can count # of typos per book)
3) How well has the book sold? (# of copies)

IMO, these three statistics (most importantly, number 3) are the best OBJECTIVE measure of if a writer is talented. Everything else is subjective difference of opinion. Talent, as I'm defining it, is the writer's ability to succeed in their chosen profession (writing). Those with talent succeed. This is not to say those who don't succeed lack talent (and I acknowledge luck plays a part) but that people who claim successful writers lack talent are being disingenuous.

And yes, while her work is personally not for me, this means I am arguing Stephanie Meyer (author of the Twilight series) has talent. I'm not a tween girl, and I don't understand the appeal to tween girls, but dammit, Meyer created a book that tween girls LOVED and should (rightfully) enjoy her success without a bunch of people who haven't had it yelling about how she lacks talent. :)

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Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2017, 12:01:29 AM »
Gods know I don't wanna get too deep into defending this - just I thought there was an obvious reason why people think X is undeserving and why that makes them angry (as a generality, specific to no one), and that deserved pointing out and considering. Ultimately I'd rather people made their criticisms in rational and useful ways.

But I do think it should be recognised for what it actually is - this isn't people spending actual time on it. Its the guys screaming at the TV in the bar when their team is losing, its hopping around swearing when you stub your big toe, its spending 30 seconds joking about the government with your co-worker before getting in your car and going home. A reflexive joke venting about something that annoys you.


For me, there are only a few "quality" things you can judge objectively, such as if the book is formatted readably or riddled with typos. But whether the book is "good" is entirely up to each person. The cold hard reality is, if a book is selling a ridiculous number of copies, the author did *something* right. Luck can help get you an agent, and luck can help get you traditionally published, and luck can get you some sales, but ultimately, sales and success on the scale Kline has had require more than just luck (IMO) even if, upon reading his book, we don't necessarily understand why it's so popular.

Sure - get a good publicist ;)

With the tongue out of my cheek - yeah, any author who writes a publishable book has done a lot of work and a lot of good things. Huge respect to anyone who makes it.

But a lot of people do something right and few of them become 'stars'. To be given that kudos you should be doing a lot of things right. If they're doing something right and getting treated like they did everything right, we're back at the undeserving thing.
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Offline Matamelcan

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2017, 01:02:46 AM »
While I agree with many of your points, sometimes popularity doesn't determine quality.  You can look at various movies, books, music, and other ambiguous subjects and say that the author is indeed terrible.
Look at Fifty Shades of Grey, immense successful with its own movie and over a 100 million in sales.  Yet the quality of its writing is low and the overall style is disjointed and sloppy.  Its main selling point is kinky sex.
Just look at these two quotes: "Jeez, he looks so freaking hot.  My subconscious is frantically fanning herself, and my inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm."
And: "His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate, fudge caramel, or... something."
You can purview some more of horrible quotes here: http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/02/14/21710269/fifty-terrible-lines-from-fifty-shades-of-grey http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/fifty-shades-of-grey/feature/a820703/worst-50-shades-darker-quotes/

Popularity does not mean talent.  If so, Justin Bieber's 'Baby' is one of the greatest masterpieces in history or Nicki Minaj is more talented then Mozart.

Being a successful writer doesn't necessarily mean you're talented.  There's truly terrible writers racking up millions of reads on fanfiction sites by exploiting popular topics like Alpha or Stockholm Syndrome stories.
In conclusion, I personally believe that success doesn't necessarily equate talent.  If anyone disagrees, I would love to hear an opposing opinion.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 01:06:57 AM by Matamelcan »
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Offline Matamelcan

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2017, 01:04:05 AM »
(Accidental doublepost)
"Deep within the dark embrace of the forest, under massive boughs and a roof of intertwined limbs, several elves bowed their heads, lips moving silently in prayer, the raging storm lost to them in the tranquility of their faith."

Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2017, 02:15:25 AM »
The short version of my thoughts would be

A) There's enough consensus on what good/bad prose and storytelling look like, and maybe characterisation and world building, that one can say "This meets/fails the consensus" with some degree of objectivity (although not total). So yes, I believe "X is a terrible author" is fair game, although almost always wrong when it comes to published authors.

B) Sales and popularity do not equal quality. There are too many other factors aside from the quality of a piece of work that go into sales and popularity. There's a strong correlation but no more.

C) Reviews offer a better group consensus view of overall quality than Sales and Popularity, although even then it's an inexact tool because not everyone reviews, more people leave good reviews than bad, and you can't review what you haven't read.

p.s. If the book is riddled with typos, should I be blaming the author or the copy editor/publisher? Seems to be the editor to me.
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Offline The Gem Cutter

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2017, 02:51:27 AM »
I do agree that no one can or should criticize a successful writer who is satisfying large audiences - that said, the 'credit' is not always entirely theirs, either. Many a work has prospered for reasons completely external to its making. And describing them as talented or not is flawed unless one takes the time to point to a supposed virtue or flaw and making a case. It still won't work: there's no real consensus that an element must or must not be present for a work to require talent; there's no surety that the artist used or avoided the element deliberately or even consciously; and it doesn't matter. People's tastes are entirely subjective.

I do think there's too many concepts rolled into the term "talent." First, I think there's a big difference between people who possess talent and works that require talent to produce. Second, linking either of these things (or both, or neither) with commercial success and then connecting the jumble to talent is probably not reliable or useful and undermines objectivity. Objective data can be applied consistently across examples, and these cannot be.

Applied to writers and writing, I think we have a tendency to associate taste, professionalism, and other non-talent-related things along with the core concept of "natural aptitude or skill." And even setting those aside, there's several different talents involved: writing (a whole host of subset talents and skills), story-telling, marketing (not just selling, but choosing a project and designing it to satisfy a market), and many others. So filtering down to the term requires a tighter focus.

For my part, objectively measuring subjective things is not an improved strategy but a doomed one; while the metrics are more easily defined, the causal relationships are based entirely on subjective areas, mostly overdetermined ones. So while the compass seems to point more reliably, there's no consistent reference with which to plot one's course.

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Offline S. K. Inkslinger

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2017, 04:01:24 AM »
Also, I want to make it clear that I believe everyone is absolutely entitled to their subjective opinion about a book's quality. These are the type of critiques I think are fair game:

- I didn't like it.
- The characters didn't interest me.
- I found the plot too slow.
- I was bored.

These are the type of critiques I wish people would steer away from (and which seem common once an author finds large-scale success)

- This author is a terrible writer.
- This author just got lucky and is a hack with no talent (with the implication they don't deserve their success)
- People who think this book isn't terrible are misguided/wrong.

Great post, @tebakutis! I love the way you pointed out the reasonable critiques and the unreasonable ones. There are way too many people on the internet (and any other venues, as it is) currently that posted negative comments just truly based on their emotions, jumping on the hate train without even having actually experienced the works of the authors. People are better at insults then praises, it seemed, and many people just come on the net to vent their daily frustration withou heed of what is actually happening/ being judged. To calmy and clearly explain the points you didn't like about a book is totally fine, insulting the author and hating on people who loved his works are not.

Back on topic, I also believe that successful and quality could be parallel term in some cases, but not always. With the example of Fifty Shades of Gray above, one could undoubtedly say that it's successful, but the quality of the storytelling may be some other thing. Although since there are no clear requirements on what exactly constitute quality, that does puzzled things up a bit. Public consensus combined with certain qualities in storytelling is the way to go, I reckon?  ::)
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2017, 04:14:20 AM »
Literature overall is a very niche activity unfortunately, compared to pretty much everything else. How many books does the average person read per year or in their lifetime? People here who read 30, 40 or 50+ books each year... we're anomalies.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi are even more niche than the other genres, and that's without breaking it even further with subgenres. The common perception of the genre (that's just LoTR, GoT, Star Wars and Star Trek) among the mainstream doesn't help it much either.

While remaining in their area, even the most controversial works won't blow out of proportion. Did religious folk and parents worried about Harry Potter before it became a big thing, for example?

Reaching mainstream status means you're out for the masses. And the masses' tastes can't be labeled or predicted, much as some try to say otherwise.
The people who form the masses come from everyone, have an infinite combination of tastes, views and beliefs.

So when you "become mainstream" something you probably wrote as a certain genre will be thrown to the lions that probably may not even know anything about it or that don't care about the main intents of the work and focus on other details.

Take for example, Game of Thrones. GRRM just wanted to write an epic with large scale and a large cast of characters since he couldn't do it while working on TV. It had great success on its own, but when it became mainstream thanks to HBO things changed completely.

You can see people today using it to talk about disability, talking about under many different political/ideological/historical lenses, about women, economy, violence, sex, etc, whether it's praise or criticism. Some have no basis on anything or are purely anecdotes of a particular view, but that's what mainstream does: when something appeal to so vast and diverse of an audience, characters and events will have many different meanings to many different people.

Could GRRM possibly have thought all this would happen almost 30 years ago? Possibly not. Also, when reaching this stage pretty much authorial intent probably ceases to mean anything anyway.
People will see stuff that it's not there too or even if it makes sense, it wasn't intended. I read somewhere about a fan talking what Asimov did with a certain book, when the author himself talked to that fan and said he didn't do that and the fan simply replied: "Just because you wrote it, doesn't mean you understand it!"

So RPO is an ode to the 80's. You can just imagine the amount of controversy and scorn it'll generate from various different kinds of people that lived at the period...

Another reason mainstream gets so much hate it's because it tends to be overhyped as fuck. While it helps to generate some interest, it also easily creates a way to massive disappointment, which leads to frustration, which leads to angry rants.

Mainstream also has the bad fame of "dumbing down" stuff for the masses. Sometimes it isn't true but sometimes you can just feel and tell when something great and meaningful has been diluted for the purposes of mass appeal. Bad adaptations usually come to mind.

There's also people who are avid fans of something when it's obscure and wear it like a medal of honor, then when it becomes mainstream they kinda of hate it on people who start playing/watching/reading it. I don't know what triggers such reactions but I've seen it happen...

And finally, another reason I think for such reactions is of people who like to think they're unique and different from the masses so hating on anything that hits mainstream is almost automatic. After all you can't be cool and unique if you like what everybody also likes, right!

Of course, there are people who can say how exactly didn't like something (mostly I think it's because of hype) but when you open some books on GR and most of the top liked reviews are 1*s that are mostly rants (just look Game of Thrones!) you sometimes just wonder if people simply just like to destroy stuff for the sake of it.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2017, 04:24:25 AM by Lanko »
"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Lanko's Year in Books 2017

Offline cupiscent

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #13 on: August 03, 2017, 04:35:47 AM »
I totally agree with the underlying point that I got from tebakutis's post, which is that a work should always be judged as a work and not made a stalking horse for ad hominem attacks.

That said, I will now disappear into philosophical rumination on definitional debates... :D

Because to me, the question of "talent" is kind of meaningless. I don't know that it's possible to judge from the finished product - and especially not from one finished product - whether a writer has talent, or just worked really, really hard. But this possibly boils down to what we define as "talent". For me, "talent" is the ability to achieve stuff without working hard, but I believe it's almost entirely possible to achieve exactly the same stuff with hard work.

F'rinstance, my husband has an aggravating musical skill, whereby he can pick up a musical instrument and almost immediately play a recognisable tune. It's a combination of lots of things - a fantastic ear, and a lot of time spent thinking about and playing music on various instruments already. But the point is: anyone else can also get a recognisable tune out of any instrument, we might just have to work at it harder.

Is that talent? OR is talent the bit at the other end, the bit that will always separate the virtuoso performers from the hard-working average players? That extra glimmer that is - and this is an important point - almost completely indistinguishable for the average listener. (To be honest, I would be tempted to call this "flair" rather than talent, but possibly that term is actually more applicable to my husband's annoying skill.)

Either way, when you come back to a book as a finished product... how on earth is "talent" distinguishable from the products of hard work? Did the writer "naturally" dash off a taut and satisfying plot, or did they agonise and rework every single twist of it over multiple rewrites? Do they have a natural ear for dialogue so everything they write is both natural and yet narratively efficient, or did they annoy everyone they know by reading it aloud over and over until it worked? And the kicker: does it even matter?

Not to mention that I don't think "talent" is an objectively good thing, because it depends on what you're talented at. Another f'rinstance: I saw Seanan Mcguire at Continuum in June, and her guest of honour hour (which was a Q&A session) demonstrated her tremendous talent at natural and entertaining storytelling, but it also confirmed for me all the things that I didn't enjoy about her written work: that it's very slick, but not quite deeply considered enough to be interesting to me. She has talent. It's just not a talent whose products appeal to me.

Offline abatch

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2017, 04:43:00 AM »
I've been a professional actor for more than thirty years. Along the way, I've been an opera singer and a stand up comedian...and now, a fantasy author. In many ways, I think that actions we take -- jumping, eating, fighting -- can be judged objectively. But when we're attempting to capture and articulate the feelings, ideas, images, etc., we must, of necessity, be subjective. We are, after all, subjectively expressing how we perceive reality. I think we can objectively say, "That person doesn't understand the difference between "it's" and "its," but I'm not as convinced we can say that person has no talent. Time was, I'd have said Chuck Norris can't act. But he clearly has fans who think he can. Perhaps -- perhaps -- my opinion has more weight because I've got a degree in acting, but that doesn't invalidate others' opinions.

I have no idea if any of that was remotely coherent. I guess I needed to say it for my own sake!  :)