Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Your Response is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

  My second oldest son, Alex, had his short review of Dune published at the Castalia House blog the other day. He wrote it in about an hour a few days after finishing the book and I shared it with the editor of CH who was kind enough to put it up.
   Alex wrote a largely neutral review ('some parts were great, some parts were terrible, overall average so I don't understand the hype' is a solid summary, IMO) and the overall comments largely boil down to 'yeah, that sounds accurate'.

  Reviews are tricky things to begin with because they are subjective opinions. Reviews of older, well-regarded things are even trickier because there are a lot of other subjective opinions already formed. You expect some pushback, especially from the True Fans, and Alex frankly expected a lot more than he has (so far) received.
  While still a minor, Alex is a big boy and I usually let him fight his own battles; he has so far declined to even read any of the comments since "...the sorts of people [he] cares about know it is just [his] opinion...".

  But there is a review I was made aware of I would like to point out as an example of terrible defense. Alfred Genesson's reply titled 'The Sleeper Must Awaken: A Defense of Dune'.
  Let me begin by saying - Mr. Genesson is entitled to whatever opinion of the book Dune he wishes to hold. If he wants to call it the pinnacle of human arts and letters - fine! he can. I am talking about the fact that his post is objectively bad and he should feel bad for writing it.
  Let's begin!

  Mr. Genesson writes,
  " Alex Stump has gone and made some rhetorical opponents with a tirade against Dune. Sure, he claims he's "meh" towards it, but who on Earth gets that passionate over something you're ambivalent towards? Sorry, the word count alone belies not apathy or ambivalence, but rather, antipathy."
  I must ask - if the essay was only 1,000 words would this be under the 'antipathy limit'? If the final rating had been 7/10 rather than 6/10 would this raise the 'antipathy limit' word count threshold? Is there a PDF Mr. Genesson could share showing how many words indicate approval, admiration, and pure animosity?
  All kidding aside, what Mr. Genesson has done is impart motive with no actual proof. He is saying, essentially, 'no matter what he wrote, I know what he really felt' and trying to justify it with something totally unrelated to the actual point. This is terrible writing, especially when he could have just asked.

  He goes on to show a picture of a 1st edition of Dune, which is cool. He continues,
" I'm a going to have to say, his summary and "good stuff" section is well, overly simplistic..."
  It is a less than 2,000 word review, so simplistic is the key. This seems like a cheap dismissal of the fact that the review does speak positively of the book and Alex admits it 'sucked him in'. Of course, that would mean his 'antipathy' theory is wrong, so....
  He then writes,
  "...he gets bits wrong here. Melange does indeed grant longer lifespans, but prescience? Only to the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah figure of the story."
  Let me be very blunt - the instant I read this I came very close to dismissing the rest of Mr. Genesson's reply and almost didn't finish reading it.
  Why?
  It is very badly wrong. As in, 'sell off that first edition because you don't deserve it and go actually read the book' wrong.
  A central plot point of Dune is that melange is essential to FTL travel because the astrogators use it to see the future. The book Dune explicitly states that melange gives prescience to Bene Gesserits that have access to it, to astrogators, to Fremen during their communal events, etc. It is strongly implied in Dune that anyone who consumes enough spice gains at least limited prescience. The Kwisatz Haderach is different in his level of clarity, etc. but it is a matter of degree.
  This is a critical misunderstanding of what is arguably the central plot point of the book and means that I personally find Mr. Genesson to have very little credibility as he continues to discuss Dune.

  Mr. Genesson then writes,
  "Alex calls the "man vs. machine" story cliched, but how many times have those in the Pulp Revolution crowd pointed out that the so called cliched stories of the old Pulps are in fact, better, and more compelling stories?At any rate, this is centuries after the Butlerian Jihad, and I fail to see the point of complaining about a background piece that the book isn't even about. His immediate comparison here is to The Matrix, and honestly, that's only a mediocre film addressing VR, AI, and philosophy. It looks pretty, but if that's compelling to you, I'm guessing you don't or watch much SFF."
  Whether a story is good or bad does not change whether or not it is cliched. Also, Alex wasn't complaining, he was discussing the background. And Alex never mentioned whether or not he found the Matrix compelling, he was mentioning that Dune was written well before the man v. machine concept was recently popular. Just as with the 'antipathy' bit at the beginning Mr. Genesson is inventing emotions and motivations out of thin air. This strawman he is erecting seems to be so he can try some character attacks.

  Mr. Genesson starts to really go off the rails,
  "Mr. Stump believes this book to be painfully long. I suggest he avoid Mr. John C. Wright's Somewhither at all costs, then, if he can't handle that. I find this argument specious and indicates a lack of attention span and possibly discipline. Please, try getting though Pierre Bayle's Commentary, I did. Get back to me."
  In addition to the strawmanning for character attacks, Mr. Genesson is now bragging about his own 'abilities' [he seems to be obsessed with the length of his... reading materials]. This was rather cringeworthy as I read it, but I soldiered on.
 It also reveals he misunderstands the point. War and Peace is a long book, but a pleasant read. A Jack Chick tract is only a few pages, but still 'painfully long'.

  Mr. Genesson joins a list of other people who miss a plot point,
  "As to Dr. Yueh's betrayal, everyone has a breaking point, and the fact is that nobody is immune to such, and even hardening and conditioning only go so far. Since it's the Harkonnen that have her, he was likely shown the horrors they have or will visit upon her if he doesn't cooperate. Where does loyalty and honor dictate one protect first? Yueh has an impossible decision to make, and acts with as much honor as he can given the situation."
  Yup. Totally misses the point.
  The book explicitly states that Suk School conditioning is so intense that it is assumed that anyone who has gone through it would die before telling a lie or betraying an employer. It is so incredibly powerful if the Emperor knew they had broken it House Harkonnen would be wiped out. Herbert has Yueh break over what an illiterate street tough would try first. It isn't the fact that Yueh broke that is a plot hole, it is that it was so damned easy it was laughable that is a plot hole.
  I have my own take on it here.

  Mr. Genesson again misses the point,
  "Further argument against this [argument that Dune is pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli] is the fact that the Arabs have not reclaimed any of the desert, yet the Jews in Israel have indeed done so."
  Alex didn't say 'Arabs', he said 'Palestinians'. You know, the landless, wandering, looking for a home Palestinians? The ones that OPEC nations marginalized and largely refused to shelter, a stance Palestinians in the '60's thought was because they were focused on protecting their profits from spi..., I mean, oil? The ones that fought the Israeli army that was largely considered unbeatable and that lived in its own harsh desert "world"?
  Yeah. Them.

  Mr. Genesson just keeps digging,
  "Not to mention that Mohommadans do not search for a Messiah..."
  Wow. Just... Wow.
  Yes, Islam has a Messiah figure. In Islamic eschatology the "Guided One" (or the Twelfth Imam, etc.) will come to earth just before the Last Days and the yam al-quayammah, the Day of Judgment, to fight the Masih al-Dajjal ('anti-Messiah') to rid the world of evil for Allah.
  This is Comparative Religion 105 level stuff. This is 'I watch PBS sometimes' type knowledge. This is an 'I am too lazy to spend the time to google 'Islam messiah' and read the top hit' error of fact.
  In Dune Paul takes the name Muad'dib
 The Arabic word for "Guided One" is Mahdi.
  Yes - Paul is meant to be a messiah figure!

  Mr. Genesson also keeps building that strawman,
  "Addressing his criticism of the Bene Geserrit..."
  What criticism?
  No, seriously. Alex never criticised the Bene Gesserit. He simply mentioned they are obviously patterned on the Jesuits. Period. The end. Nothing positive or negative, just  - 'look at this parallel'.
  Mr. Genesson is trying to refute something that never happened.

  Mr. Genesson goes on to state that he has a different opinion of Dune's characters and dialog. Sure!

  Mr. Genesson continues his wave of assumptions with this gem,
  "I get the impression that Mr. Stump doesn't understand stoicism..."
  I'd like that turned into an essay so I can figure out why, personally.

    Mr. Genesson signs off with a non-sequitur,
  "When you play Social Justice, the world loses."
  Which seems apropos of nothing. Perhaps he ends every blog post that way.

  Now that I have gone through Mr. Genesson's "defense" let me be blunt;

  Mr. Genesson, the title of this blog post is for you.
  I don't know you and I refuse to speculate as to your motivations, but here is why your response is objectively bad and you should feel bad.
  You made errors of fact about the essay you are responding to.
  You made errors of fact about Islam.
  Most damning, you made at least one critical error of fact about the book Dune.