Behind the screen
Questions of objectivity and subjectivity are a burden borne equally by anthologist and reviewer, so it was with some surprise that I read Chris Flynn’s oddly unsympathetic and bathetic review of two recent collections in ABR (February 2011). Flynn seems under the common misapprehension that two books reviewed in the one piece need to be presented in opposition to one another: a literary horse race where one must necessarily be taken behind a screen and shot at proceedings’ end.
The gist of the review, for those who wisely skimmed past in search of nuanced criticism, was that the Black Inc. collection Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy, was humourless and unsuccessful. In contrast, Scribe’s New Australian Stories 2, edited by Aviva Tuffield, was a triumph. I have read both collections and found much to recommend, and a little that left me cold. Such is the way of anthologies.
Unlike Flynn, I found Michael McGirr’s story in the Black Inc. collection extremely humorous, Anna Krien’s contribution deftly funny, A.S. Patric’s wryly witty. That’s just me. Arguing about comedy is even more futile an undertaking than arguing about literary merit, but surely that’s the point. The headmasterish tone adopted by Flynn to scold the Black Inc. collection for being merely made up of Kennedy’s ‘favourites’ is puzzling, to adopt one of his terms. In contrast would he have us believe that the Scribe collection – a ‘diverse, hugely enjoyable compendium’ – is not composed of Tuffield’s favourites?
It would be unkind and, one hopes, unfair to question Flynn’s motivation for his strident advocacy of the latter collection. Far be it for this reader to question whether propriety might demand moderation or self-reflection in the reviewer’s enthusiasm for a story by a close personal friend (whose work appears on the following page of the same issue). Only the self-righteous and easily offended would question whether mention might have been made of Tuffield’s former role as Deputy Editor of ABR. And it would be utterly scurrilous to shine a light on Flynn’s own writerly aspirations and publication hopes. A confession in the interests of transparency; I have submitted, unsuccessfully, stories to both publishers. I have no horse in this race. Can Flynn (and ABR) vouchsafe the same?
But the above is beside the point. The review was mean-spirited, pompous, and arrogant.
Any suggestion that ABR would engineer a laudatory review of a publication by one of its former employees (or by anyone, for that matter) – or that any of its contributors would be so foolish as to succumb to such inappropriate pressure – belongs in the Faber Book of Fantasy. Ed.
Chris Flynn replies:
That two independent Australian publishing houses should choose to release their annual short fiction compendia simultaneously invites an obvious critical comparison. In my ignorance,
I had no idea until quite recently that Aviva Tuffield was a former employee of ABR – not that it would have made an iota of difference. I treat all reviewing assignments with the same critical dispassion and, as all critics should, declined to review a dozen books last year due to the fact that I knew their authors (albeit often fleetingly).
Mr McLeish’s insights into the personal life of this reviewer are most illuminating (indeed, some might say disturbing), but whilst his support for my future prospects is cheering, it is sadly misplaced. I do not have a manuscript under consideration by either of these splendid publishing institutions, in the main due to the fact I would have to write one first.
Timothy Roberts’s review of Christopher Booker’s The Real Global Warming Disaster (March 2011) is both curiously belated (the book was published twenty months ago) and wrongly dismissive.
The reviewer fails to even mention Booker’s central thesis: that climate change orthodoxy has for a decade caused UK and European governments to burden their economies with high future electricity prices by putting total faith in wind power and failing to renew ageing base-load coal and nuclear capacity. By doing so in face of declining North Sea gas production, they have placed Europe’s energy future at the mercy of the thugs that control Russian and North African gas supplies, and of the French nuclear industry, which alone can backstop unreliable wind generation.
This is the public policy disaster that Booker lays bare. Nearly two years after his book was published, European governments of both the left and right are now confronting the realities he predicted. They are scrapping unsustainable subsidies for wind and solar power, and scrambling to build or refurbish nuclear power plants. Many early champions of wind power – such as Denmark – have completely abandoned their reliance on wind because of cost and unreliability.
Booker’s work also dissects the ideological politics behind the creation and operation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and questions its methodologies. Many of Booker’s concerns were vindicated over the past year by revelations of unscientifically based IPCC claims about the rate of change in Himalayan glaciers and Amazon forests, not to mention the questionable academic integrity revealed by the emails emanating from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. You don’t have to be a climate sceptic to view these revelations with concern. Six months before the Copenhagen conference débâcle, Booker also predicted precisely what would happen at the conference and why.
Booker’s thesis cannot, therefore, be glibly dismissed as Mr Roberts seeks to do, much less rebutted merely by invoking the authority of Tim Flannery, whose infallibility has been more than a little dampened by the recent rains in eastern Australia, which Dr Flannery has so consistently condemned to perpetual drought.
As Australia now deliberates on how a carbon tax should reshape our energy future, this book has much to contribute to our public policy debate.
Graham Bradley, Sydney, NSW
Timothy Roberts replies:
Graham Bradley overlooks the central contradiction in Booker’s work: i.e. that man-made climate change isn’t happening, and that renewables can’t fix it. While there are legitimate concerns to be raised about renewable capacity, the argument that current technologies are inadequate for our needs proves nothing about anthropogenic climate change’s existence.
Other issues abound. ‘Amazongate’ was concocted by the Sunday Times, which published a complete retraction on 20 June 2010. Another of Bradley’s attacks on the IPCC, based on the wilfully misinterpreted ‘Climategate’ emails, is a beat-up: much was made by sceptics of Phil Jones’s offhand reference to a scientific technique as a ‘trick’, among other cloak-and-dagger ‘revelations’. ‘Glaciergate’ – one error among thousands of pages – was comprehensively corrected; other organisations would kill for that level of accuracy. So no, ‘you don’t have to be a climate sceptic to view these revelations with concern’. But it helps.
Bradley’s snarky attack on Flannery is similarly misguided. While Flannery shouldn’t have been making predictions in the first place, this does not detract from his work in The Weather Makers. Bradley’s triumphant reference to the ‘recent rains in Australia’ merely retreads the ‘it’s raining outside, therefore climate change is bunk’ fallacy.
There is much work still to be done in ensuring that renewables can power the future, but we can’t get there by basing our science on the hearsay of hucksters. The limitations of current renewables provide yet another reason to plough resources into R&D – not a licence to stop trying altogether.