Battle of the Sci-fi Nerds: Charles Stross Vs. Cherie Priest


Confidential to Charles Stross: I guess you've never read Verne or Wells, right? That time machine in the Time Machine was SUCH bullshit from a theoretical physics standpoint. And the center of the earth! WHAT! How were they not crushed to death by pressure changes or immolated by the air itself?
Cherie Priest, you are a Seattle treasure.
The article in the print edition of the Stranger was a gem.

As is Cherie Priest.
Stross got served. Or dare I say "punked"?
I just finished Priest's "Boneshaker". The problem isn't that her science is unsound or simply implausible. Even hardcore science fiction has to be a bit far-fetched to be interesting, and gothic or steampunk fiction should have a lot of leeway. However, an author has to exert a fair amount of discipline in how she uses this freedom. Priest doesn't, at least in Boneshaker. The steampunk tech seems to arrive only when the plot needs it, or when an otherwise boring section of the book needs a lift. Briar needs to get over the city wall? Suddenly there are airships. Two characters need to make another interminable journey across the city? This time they have to do it on moving walkways. Boneshaker reads like the novelization of a movie with a paper-thin plot but great special effects. Boneshaker isn't a complete disaster, though; I liked it enough make me want to read her new one, in the hope that she's grown as writer.
@5: agreed, except that I wasn't motivated to read her next. After all of Constant's hype (and as a mild genre fan), I found "Boneshaker" disapointingly amateurish.
I love Charles Stross, and I think Steampunk is silly as shit, and I didn't think Boneshaker was very good at all - for reasons having to do with a slow, confused plot, crappy characterization, and mediocre writing, not because it's steampunk. It wasn't terrible, but it was a struggle to finish it and I'm not particularly looking at picking up any more of her books.

But yeah, I do like Cherie Priest as a person and an author, from what I've seen of her, and I'm totally on Cherie's side on this one. Settle down, Antipope Charlie.

Though honestly I can't see criticizing the science of zombies as anything but tongue-in-cheek.
Although I enjoyed "Boneshaker", I would agree that at times it was a bit lacking. However, I liked it enough that I have read "Dreadnought", which is a big leap forward both in plot and effects! Overall it really is a much stronger book, and I'm hoping the next novel continues the trend.
And Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series is of course based on nothing but the hard science of alternative universe hoping as a genetically heritable trait.

I like Boneshaker well enough. I liked Glasshouse and Saturn's Children too. Stop fighting guys.
@9- "hopping" not "hoping." Why do I not see this until I OK the post? Sigh.
It's only a shitstorm if you stir it up into one, kind of like this post.

And I have to say that I think that the glut of steampunk is exhausting and exhausts the genre (such as it is), just like the romance tinged urban fantasies before it. Stross is right on that point.

I think that the Clockwork Century books are overstuffed whirlwinds that collapse under the weight of their pulp sensibilities. Another chase and another hair's breadth escape until I'm exhausted from it all. Then again, if it ever slowed down, I suppose the weirdness of the setting would probably crumble.
What balderdash@7 said.

Also, what Cherie Priest said, on her blog:

"Hey now, no hating on Charlie. He’s entitled to his opinion, and it doesn’t bother me any. If the metaphoric smiley-face attached to this post isn’t strongly enough implied – then let me just say this: :)"
Could be worse. Could be more stuff about Mars.
I had the same issues with "Boneshaker" that many others have expressed here, but I will say that "Dreadnaught" is a leaps-and-bound improvement, both in terms of style, plot and characterization, although Priest still has this annoying tendency to repeat major plot episodes (I mean, yes most of the latter novel is set on a train, but do we actually NEED to have THREE SEPARATE attacks on the same train? A little variety would be most appreciated!). On the other hand, writers like Heinlein and Clarke weren't exactly immune from this sort of redundancy either, particularly in their YA fiction.
Two hacks conspire to drive up traffic to their sites.

The end.
Actually reading what Stross wrote, I agree with pretty much every word *except* the complaint about the science in 19th century zombie fiction.
@15- I suspect as much, though I wouldn't call them hacks.
I generally like the steampunk aesthetic, but found Boneshaker a bit silly. It was okay, but I didn't really enjoy it much.

Still, Stross' argument is ridiculous. Who decided steampunk must be scientifically accurate? Does he criticize Harry Potter for not being scientifically accurate? Lord of the Rings? Tarzan? As long as steampunk follows whatever vague rules it sets for itself as a genre, I'm totally fine with it.

So even though I'm not exactly a Cherie Priest fanboy, her comeback was perfect. Stross is an idiot making this arguement.

Priest has issues with conjuring up deus ex machinas whenever she needs them in her other books, but the airships in Boneshaker are pretty integral to the story.

I did think that shock device that stuns the zombies was a little too convenient though.
I bet the "backlash" has more to do with's Steampunk week than Stross hatin' on Cherie Priest.
"Boneshaker" was terrible Seattle zombie lit. "Don't Eat Cat," the short story Paul linked to a few days ago, however, is excellent Seattle zombie lit. I know which one I want to read more of...

The airships ARE important to the story, but the way she introduces them is bogus. It would have been easy to have one go by in the background, early in the story. Instead, Priest introduces them only when they are needed. I think she was in love with the image of Briar walking out of the forest into the clearing with the huge airships floating above, and wanted this to be our first sight of them. This would have worked in a movie, but it doesn't work in a book. That's probably my biggest beef with Boneshaker; she seems to have written it using the conventions of a movie, not verbal storytelling.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." -- that well known and proud hack, Samuel Johnson.

Which is to say, you've made a distinction without a difference. *All* writers are hacks, by definition. The ones who proclaim otherwise do so pretty much to improve sales -- i.e., to improve their hackery.

"The Cretans are always liars." Or, "The trick is to keep banging the rocks together." Take your pick.
Is there more than one commenter here who's actually read Charlie's blog post? It's 95% about politics, 5% about science, and 5% about aesthetics (Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown). A pretty awesome indictment all around.
Being a hack more about the quality of work you produce than it is about getting paid.
To say that all writers are hacks is to redefine the word hack. If you have a better word to use to describe "writers who are paid to write low-quality, quickly put-together work", please offer one up.

Stross is a hack most of the time (his Merchant Prince series is especially lazy), but interesting ideas crop up occasionally and are entertained briefly before his attention fades.
Priest couldn't even churn out a paint-by-numbers genre piece well.

Lastly, that has to be one of the least true Johnson quotes I've ever read. But then, I'm clearly a blockhead, as are you.

@24 That is a terrific quote. I wonder who he heard it from.