Greasing the Gears: Scandalizing Society behaviors << Prev Next >>
Author Karina Cooper gives us an account and reckoning of "The First Lady of Steampunk" Ms. Evelyn ...
By karinacooper on Jul 17 2012 Category:Editorials, Column, Media, Literature
This is an opinion piece regarding The Goodreads Incident. It is also supplication.
Who am I? Some of you may have seen the review of my steampunk-flavored urban fantasy, Tarnished, on this very site. Many more of you have never heard of me. I am—as I like to often claim to anyone who wonders what it is I, you know, exactly do—a nobody author of mass-market candy books; someone who still manages to be surprised when a stranger recognizes my name in a crowd, and who considers myself extremely fortunate to have made what small successes and fine friends I’ve made over the course of my endeavors.
I won’t try and wow you with my credentials. In this, they don’t matter (and I never finished the accredited courses, anyway). This isn’t about me. Or rather, it isn’t about me directly.
This is about a community. To wit, our community.
Steampunk Is Awesome
Any arguments? Of everything I intend to say today, this is likely the one that all of us can agree upon.
Our High Society Gets Around
Every group, every genre, has people who are more recognizable than the rest. Ours tend to run a gamut—from musical sensations Abney Park to author Cherie Priest; coordinators behind such conventions as SteamCon, TeslaCon, and the World Steam Expo to web-video creators and crafters League of S.T.E.A.M. We have those we claim—such as Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla, who aren’t saying much to us directly, being dead and all—and those who claimed us (even for a brief time), such as Justin Bieber, Panic! at the Disco, Nathan Fillion during an episode of Castle, and every fan who followed them to our doorstep and saw fit to stay.
Some of them are known even beyond the sphere of our genre, some are famous only because we revere them as trend-setters and experts. The point is: public people. People whose names are widely recognized, whose words are always heard, and whose reach extends farther than is necessarily expected. People who are the faces of our culture.
We Are Only As Good As Our Community
Perhaps it has to do with the era we emulate; manners were, by all accounts, an extremely integral part of Victorian culture and high society. Maybe it has to do with the type of person it takes to be a creative soul willing to take the outsider mockery for choosing to dress up in outdated and fictionalized garb. I’ve been a LARPer for over a decade, and boy, that never gets old.
Whatever the case, I stand by the fact that we remain one of the most courteous communities out there. Every vendor I’ve ever dealt with, every guest I’ve ever welcomed to our city for events and concerts, every “famous” person I’ve corresponded with has been nothing but genuinely kind and, even when extraordinarily busy, considerate. We reap what we sow, and we are all awesome.
...Except when we are not.
Pardon Me, Madam, Your Ankles Are Showing
Some of you know of what I speak already. For those in the dark, I am referencing a particular event in which a Goodreads librarian (read: moderator) who is counted among the influential names of our society abused her librarian privileges to (by all initial appearances) give her author associate an unfair advantage. An in-depth explanation of the original incident can be found at my original blog posting here, including definitions as to what Goodreads is, what a librarian is in their terminology, and direct links to the shenanigans involved. It is worth reading in its entirety to get a sense of the subject, but if you are short on time, I shall paraphrase myself:
A list was made on Goodreads of steampunk books.
Goodreads users added more and voted, creating a self-regulating community of readers all deciding which books were their favorites.
Evelyn Kriete, one of the “public faces” of the genre who is even mentioned in the steampunk wiki article (and a Goodreads librarian), suddenly culled the list on July 8th, 2012.
The author that she is closely associated with jumps to the top of the newly-culled list, with a mysterious array of new votes from accounts with precious little voting history on them.
As of July 10th, 2012, the list was slowly rebuilding. Voters had returned to recreate months of work, and as of the notes left on the steampunk list, Ms. Kriete has had her librarian status revoked (unconfirmed by this author). Unfortunately, the damage caused continues.
The public, whose introduction to a pillar of the steampunk community culminated in an action that suggested they were worth less than the time it took to hit the “delete” button in a browser, now has a sour taste in their collective mouths about a genre that is supposed to be filled with welcoming and creative minds.
Ms. Kriete’s actions as a librarian and as a member of the publishing industry has put strain on the relations of librarians and readers. Her decision to rampantly destroy the list, with the unfortunate appearance (stressed for emphasis) of gaming the system to place her chosen books at the top, has placed doubt in the minds of many whose hard work was so disregarded.
The responses I’ve seen to this incident tend to vary between optimism (e.g. “perhaps she didn’t know what she did”) to resignation (e.g. “it’s just her being her usual self”) to disbelief (e.g. “she did what?”). Until July 13th, 2012, I had no word from Ms. Kriete herself. Her explanation was quite lengthy, so I shall only take a portion of it to display. You may read the full explanation by going here. In it, Ms. Kriete points out the mysterious removals made by another librarian on June 30th, 2012, as the reason she chose to do what she did, and goes on to say:
I tried to get ahold of Goodreads to see if the staff could/would fix the problem, but I didn't get a reply. So, because I made the list and felt responsible for its fairness and accuracy, I decided that the only fair solution was to clear the list and start it over from scratch (it wasn't a perfect solution, but it was the best one available as it gave everyone an equal chance to get their votes back and go forward).
To be fair, in my initial call to action, I did request an apology or an explanation, and what Ms. Kriete scribed is definitely “an explanation”. I must point out that the math involved in this matter holds up. The initial librarian deleted 13 books, leaving behind 73 as of July 7th, 2012 (cached copy). Ms. Kriete deleted all 73 individually, according to her logs, thereby compounding the issue, as she herself puts it, “all without explanation, warning, or even a simple ‘hey, I want to do this to your list.’”
That Ms. Kriete suggests the Goodreads employees “return the list to its original status” indicates that she somehow failed to see the very strong language (as described by Rivka, Goodreads employee) that one must agree to when removing a book from a list. This is not a hanging offense, by any stretch; sometimes, we all fail to see what’s right in front of us.
Then again, the fact that she indicates earlier in her comment that it’s impossible to do so removes the absolution of ignorance from her actions. Even as she falls back on the supposed “intent” for “everyone...to get their votes back.” Perhaps she meant by re-voting? Implications are unclear.
The end result suggests a potential for malice (a sad circumstance of how much we who are faces of the culture must take care), but leaves me considering it more an act of high-handed decision-making with no care for the consequences. It pains me when I am told, “That’s just how she is,” because I believe that we are better than that. All I see is a steampunk “celebrity” taking it upon herself to undo months of hard work—not just of other steampunks, but (and this is important), the general public outside the steampunk community. Readers who will forever associate our genre with the arrogance of someone who made an exceptionally damning statement as to how much their efforts mean to her (and like it or not, by default, “us”). We are more accountable than that. We should be held responsible for our actions, good and bad, and I strongly believe apologies should not be alien to our culture and community.
I had asked for an explanation. I received one, and I am grateful that Ms. Kriete took the time. Now, much to my dismay, I find myself wanting for an apology. An apology for the damage she caused her fellow authors, the Goodreads users, and, perhaps hardest of all, the decision to respond to the other librarian the way she did. It’s difficult to apologize for our mistakes; Ms. Kriete, let me be clear, this was a mistake.
If I may ever so gently point out for you, a “scorched earth policy” has never been the answer. Especially when all it leaves us is with a comparison: one librarian deleted 13 books; one deleted 73, and promptly replaced chosen books to the top of the list. Your explanation associated the act with blaming others. Appearances, madam, always consider appearances. You have made, after all, a reputation as one of our public names. By all accounts, you enjoy the benefits this gives you—now, you must partake of the responsibilities. To do anything else is to fly in the face of your chosen role, and only punctuate the damage your actions have already caused in the public eye.
Speaking of appearances, let me be clear on my own. To my knowledge, my book was not and, as of this writing on July 14th, 2012, has never been a part of that book list. I have never met or associated with Ms. Kriete. My outrage stems from the obligation we have as authors (or contributors) to readers to behave in ways that are at the very least not malicious, and the responsibility we have as steampunk voices heard in the general wild to behave in ways that are—at the very least!—not malicious.
I can’t stress this enough. Arrogance, even in its subtlest forms, is toxic to any group, and malice follows.
This casually careless behavior must end. We are only as good as our community, and the precedence we lay down now, as our community grows and blooms, will color everything that comes after.
I have seen that we are a strong group who supports each other, even when we disagree. We are an amazing society of movers and shakers; doers, builders, creators who support each other’s art and ideas because not only do we know that art and ideas must flourish, but that by supporting each other, we will have support in turn. We do what hundreds of thousands of people wish they could do—and we are the bridge to those people.
I extend a hand to all of you and entreat that when you go into the world, whether you’re going for labor, love, or on Continental, please remember that you represent us all. Remember that we are steampunk; we are the face that we take with us, and we leave it changed by our behavior. You are part of something truly great. If I can paraphrase (and butcher the words of) a certain well-known gentleman, “Be the steampunk that you want to see in the world.”
Don’t let this arrogant state of mind, this careless behavior, run unchecked by silence, whatever the cause of that silence. I’d rather you didn’t raise your pitchfork and torch and burn down anything (no flames, sirs and madams and captains and you vulgar engineers!); instead, stand up and claim, “This is unacceptable, and we will not support this behavior.” And then, quite simply, don’t. (If it pleases you, throw down a glove. Throw down two. There is leeway in translation.)
We are, the whole of us, amazing. So much more remarkable than has been shown this incident.
With great respect and sincerity,
(and rather more faerie dust in the eye than a good pair of goggles should allow,)
Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Steampunk Chronicle. Steampunk Chronicle has contacted Ms. Kriete for comment but as yet, has received no response.
Karina Cooper broke into the scene with her Dark Mission series, a gritty post-apocalyptic romance set in Seattle. When she isn’t writing, Karina is an airship captain’s wife and steampunk fashionista. You may visit her at www.karinacooper.com, or stalk her at Twitter as @karinacooper (which she prefers), or Facebook at /authorkarinacooper.