September 21, 2012

Friday Review: Thunderstruck

In The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson spun an intriguing tale of Chicago in the last 19th Century, entwining the tales (unfolding at the same time) of America’s first serial killer and the man responsible for developing and overseeing the 1893 World’s Fair. Compelling as it was, the Devil never really meshed with the White City, so the book wasn’t the unified whole it set out to be.

Thunderstruck takes the same basic idea and adds an obvious tie in between its two subjects. In spite of that, the sum of the parts comes out to a less interesting work than its predecessor.

One part of the Thunderstruck duo is inventor Guglielmo Marconi. As the book begins, he makes his way to Victorian England to demonstrate his wireless telegraphy system, then in its infancy (indeed, it’s nearly killed in the crib, the first unit destroyed by overzealous customs officers as a threat to the queen). Marconi’s story then becomes one of his attempts to establish transatlantic wireless service, while trying to fend off both competitors and intellectual rivals who, among other things, charge him with stealing the whole wireless idea in the first place. Larson does a good job of setting up the rift between Marconi, who was not an educated scientist and proceeded from endless trial and error, and the more theoretical Brits that battled him. In the end, of course, Marconi wins.

The other story of Thunderstruck is considerably more grizzly, but less compelling. Hawley Harvey Crippen was a Michigan “doctor” who relocated to London with his wife, Belle. I put “doctor” in quotes because Crippen went from being a homeopath to a patent “medicine” salesman, which aren’t too far away from each other on the crank scale. Belle, on the other hand, had dreams of stardom on the stage, which never materialized. By Larson’s telling, she was an overbearing, controlling woman who basically ran Crippen’s life.

Except for the affair he had with a young coworker named Ethel. Eventually, Belle disappeared, Scotland Yard started making inquiries, and Crippen and Ethel (dressed as boy) hopped a ship for America. Belle’s remains, allegedly, were a moldering under the basement floorboards.

Which is where Marconi comes back in - Crippen and Ethel were apprehended thanks to wireless communications, the first such capture in history. And that’s actually the most exciting part of the book. Thanks to the instantaneous transatlantic communication, newspaper readers on both coasts followed the chase day by day (Crippen and Ethel, and the rest of their shipmates, were kept in the dark). Sort of like O.J.’s white Bronco chase, but in really really slow motion.

Before the merger, Marconi’s story settles into a bit of a rut, as he repeatedly extends the range of his wireless equipment by building ever bigger towers (until he learns he doesn’t have to). Crippen’s does, too, as his domestic issues just aren’t that compelling. It’s not as if anybody would argue Crippen acted in self defense. Larson engages in a little leger de main in telling the tales, alternating chapters and obscuring the facts that the Marconi thread takes place several years ahead of Crippen’s flight. It’s a little sleazy, to be honest.

Crippen’s actual conviction for Belle’s murder is treated as an afterthought, which is kind of a shame. His case was, to be sure, a “case of the century,” yet we hear little of his trial. What was his defense? A simple “I didn’t do it” doesn’t seem sufficient for a case in which you’re charged with dismembering his wife. I know the legal maneuvering wasn’t really the focus of the book, but more of it would have been welcome.

As it happens, the year after Thunderstruck was published, new evidence emerged to suggest that maybe Crippen didn’t kill his wife. Modern DNA analysis suggests that the remains discovered under the basement didn’t belong to Belle. Given that there’s no hint that Crippen was even suspected of killing someone else, that really throws a monkey wrench into things. Talk about bad timing.

In the end, Thunderstruck is, like its predecessor, a quick and fun read (or listen). Larson does a good job of getting in little details of Victorian and Edwardian English society that lends the story a depth beyond the mere historical happenings. It’s not a masterwork, but it’s well worth the effort.

The Details
By Erik Larson
Published 2006

September 20, 2012

Messin' With Fundies

I’ll admit, I was never as into dinosaurs as lots of little kids are, but I thought I was fairly up to date on them. I mean, I knew they were deeply related to modern birds. Who knew they’d gone and sprouted feathers? They’re still pretty cool, though:

And it’s honkin’ off the creationists, which is never a bad thing:
Creationists are on a campaign to ‘take dinosaurs back.’ Earlier this year, the creationist crackpot Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis - the organization that established the fundamentalist funhouse called the Creation Museum - said, ‘Dinosaurs have been held hostage for decades’ by his mortal enemy, the nefarious ‘secular humanists.’ Ham is determined to appropriate dinosaurs for biblical literalists. (The organization’s website even sells a ‘We’re taking dinosaurs back!’ bumper sticker.)
Regardless, I can think of one kick ass example of the species that, at least for now, has yet to sprout feathers. And I’m fairly certain isn’t in league with creationists:

September 19, 2012

Sometimes Clients Really Do Come First

As an appellate criminal defense lawyer, I spend an awful lot of my time trying to convince higher courts to find faults with a lower court and grant some relief to my clients. As a result, I’ve never been faced with the dilemma laid out in an interesting new law review article by Aaron Tang of Stanford University. In “The Ethics of Opposing Certiorari Before the Supreme Court” (published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy and also available here), Tang argues that in some cases attorneys who won a lower court judgment may take a dive in the Supreme Court certiorari process in order to have the honor of arguing before the high court.

A quick word on Supreme Court procedure – when a lower court (either one of the federal Courts of Appeals or a state supreme court) has made a ruling in a case, the next step is to seek review from the Supreme Court. Unlike most mid-level appellate courts, SCOTUS has nearly complete control over its docket. A losing party below has to petition the Court to issue a writ of certiorari and agree to review the case. The winning party below may file a response in opposition (although it doesn’t always do so), arguing that the Court should not take the case. Very few cert petitions are granted, which means very few cases actually get the full argument treatment from the Court.

With that in mind, back to the ethical dilemma that Tang has identified, which is more succinctly summed up, on the trial level, by noted legal philosopher Lionel Hutz:
I'll be defending you on the charge of... Murder One! Wow! Even if I lose, I'll be famous!
In other words, some attorneys will let their own self interest – to argue before the Supreme Court –trump their client’s best interest – to preserve their victory from the court below. The idea has some argumentative appeal. After all, a date with the Supremes is a plum assignment in the legal field. Who would want to turn it down when they knew it was a possibility?

So, it’s a problem in theory, but does it exist in the real world? Aside from one misread anecdote, Tang doesn’t really provide any evidence that it is. Instead, he surveys a number of regular SCOTUS practitioners who agree that it could be a problem.

But not for them, of course. Tang theorizes that the dilemma is more likely to crop up among those that might be called Supreme Court “amateurs,”* rather than the experts who make a living appearing before the Court, because the amateurs are more likely to want to grasp their one chance to appear before the Court, whereas the experts have a reputation to maintain in pursuit of further SCOTUS business.

In doing so, I think Tang frames the dilemma incorrectly. He assumes (as do many of those surveyed ) that attorneys are motivated only by how best to burnish their reputation, specifically the reputation of being a specialist or a “winner” in a particular field. That motivation overrides any others, including the one that should be at the forefront of any lawyer’s mind – the best interests of her client. That focus seems to come from one anecdote in the article:
In September 1999, the Court granted certiorari in Weisgram v. Marley Co., a case concerning the circumstances in which an appellate court y properly issue a judgment as a matter of law that effectively reverses the trial court’s verdict. One of the attorneys who would argue the case before the Supreme Court was a local North Dakota practitioner named Christine Hogan. After the argument, Hogan published an essay in the American Bar Association’s Journal describing the entire experience, her first in the Court. Reflecting on the moment the case was granted, Hogan wrote, ‘[M]y excitement level on the day I received the call from the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court informing me that certiorari had been granted . . . ranks right up there with my wedding day and the births of my children. I was stunned.’
Tang is right that “stunned” was a good reaction, as the Court turns down about 99 of every 100 petitions it receives. Yet from this rather slim reed, he detects the possibility of conflict because Hogan puts the fact she got to argue in the Supreme Court in the same category of “good news” as her wedding and her children. I don’t think she really means what Tang wants her to mean. Let me use an example from my own practice as an example.

Last year, I won a case in the Fourth Circuit, which is a rare enough occurrence. In this particular case, we** got a bit more than that, convincing the court to go against all the other Courts of Appeals that had dealt with the issue and come out the other way. In other words, we created a circuit split, one of those rare things that really raises the possibility of the Supreme Court taking the case on cert, particularly when the Government is asking for review. I’ll admit that, after the initial high of winning wore off, I was excited about the possibility of the Government pushing the case forward and maybe having a chance to argue it before the Supremes.

Ultimately, the Government decided to let it slide, so the Court wasn’t asked to take the case. If it had come to that, I don’t think I would have had a conflict inside me about what I had to do – it was in the client’s best interests for the Fourth Circuit judgment to stand. I would have argued against the Court taking the case as best I could. The polestar of my work at that point would be the client’s best interests, not mine. That’s Legal Ethics 101 kind of stuff.

That being said, had it gone further and the Court had decided to take the case, of course I would have been excited. I don’t have kids and I’m not married (yet), so I don’t know where it would rank against those comparisons, but it probably would have been more exciting than, say, my two trips to SCCA Solo Tour events or the first time I saw Marillion live. Tang’s mistake is that he takes the emotions from one time and tries to retroactively graft them onto a prior time. Whether someone is excited about the reality of arguing before the Court is a whole different situation than whether they had a secret desire to fuck over their client in the process.

My major beef with Tang’s thesis is that (a) he bolsters it with a self-serving survey of the people who most need to project the image that they would be able to rise above such a conflict of interest and (b) he throws everybody else – including, specifically, public defenders – under the bus without any similar reaching out. Why not ask us about whether we labor under such conflicts of interest?

In my experience, most public defenders – at least those who hang around long enough to potentially have a case in position to be reviewed by the Supremes – are a pretty dedicated bunch. They put their clients’ best interests first, without question. Could I cobble together a scenario where one might sandbag a bit to get to go play in the big leagues? Sure. But it would be the same scenario that applied to any other attorney, even one of the vaunted specialists consulted by Tang, when they let their ego overrun their ethical obligations.

Is it really so hard to believe that, sometimes, the interests of the clients really do come first? If it is, the problem lies not with those who put their clients first every day, but with those who think they could be so easily disregarded.

* My term, not Tang’s.

** My colleague in the trial court set the issue up perfectly. I just headed the slick cross into the goal.

September 18, 2012

Musical Shuffling

Eagle eyes will note that the “Me @ ACIDPlanet” link has disappeared over there to your right. ACIDPlanet, which is tied to the Sony software formerly known as ACID Music Studio (I think it’s been renamed since I got it), was where I first started putting up music I was making. It made sense – it was free, I was using ACID, and using it for its main feature, which is fiddling with prerecorded loops.

However, I hadn’t added anything to my ACIDPlanet tracks since 2010. That’s both because I’ve slowly moved away from using prerecorded loops (I make my own now) and because I wanted something that would work better with the blog in terms of sharing my music. So I moved over to Soundcloud. I’ve meant to delete the ACIDPlanet profile for a while now, but only just got around to it. As a result, all those tracks I had over there have disappeared into the Internet either.

Fear not. I’ve taken the cream of that crop and moved it to Soundcloud, organized in two “sets.” Think of them as disc one and disc two of a “greatest hits” album chronicling their early days. Nothing new here, but the access is easier:

For now I’ve removed all my other tracks from Soundcloud. I’m finishing up two tracks now that, when they are finished, will complete another “set” (or “album,” if you let me be pretentious). When I get them done, I’ll put up the whole set in its proper sequence.

Until then, enjoy some nostalgia!

September 14, 2012

Friday Review: The Martian Chronicles

When Ray Bradbury died back in June, I realized that I had read very little of the man’s work. A lot of it I felt like I knew through osmosis, but when it came to sitting down and dealing with the words themselves, I hadn’t done a lot of it. So I dedicated myself to going back and rereading Fahrenheit 451 (and rewatching the Truffaut film) and finally getting around to reading (well, listening to) The Martian Chronicles.

The Martian Chronicles is an odd duck in a couple of ways. First, although it’s frequently referred to as a “novel,” it really is a collection of short stories. A few characters recur here and there, but for the most part the only constant from one story to the next is the setting (and even that is tenuous) and the shared future history of which they are a part.

The other oddity, at least for a 21st-century audience, is that despite the title and general plot about the human settlement of Mars, The Martian Chronicles isn’t science fiction (Bradbury said the only long form sci-fi he wrote was Fahrenheit 451). In an introduction to the written version I have, Bradbury asks:
[W]hat is Chronicles? It is King Tut out of the tomb when I was three, Norse Eddas when I was six, and Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten: pure myth. If it had been practical technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road.
Of course, The Martian Chronicles was written in a pre-NASA age when we didn’t really know what Mars was like in any tangible sense. It’s hard to go back to that space in your head in the 21st-century, when we’ve got rovers all over (although George R.R. Martin and others are going to try). However it’s classified, The Martian Chronicles does have, as a through line, a commentary on humanity and how it interacts with its environment.

It’s not a flattering commentary. On Mars, we wipe out the native population due to diseases we bring with us, so at least it wasn’t intentional, although it was careless (we’re more careful these days). We then promptly begin to turn frontier Mars into a pale simulacrum of the Earth left behind (well, to be fair, of the United States), complete with run-down roadside diners and meddling bureaucrats. Meanwhile, back on Earth, things chug inevitably to a nuclear war that basically destroys the place.

In other words, everything we humans touch turns to shit. In fact, Bradbury’s view, which is even more cynical than mine (*shudder*), seems to be based on the assumption that the ideal world is the one in which he grew up, small-town middle America in the years before the Second World War. That yearning comes through clear in not only some of the stories here (“The Third Expedition,” most specifically), but even in Fahrenheit 451 (the heroes escape the cities for the countryside) and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Regardless of the overall tone, since The Martian Chronicles is a short story collection it, by definition, rises and falls in terms of quality from one story to the next. To be certain, there are some absolute gems. In “The Earth Men,” the second batch of humans to arrive on the planet are met not with any fanfare or acclaim, but with shrugs (for a very interesting reason). In “The Martian,” a lone native’s ability to be all things to all people leads to a tragic end. And, of course, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” an elegy for the destroyed Earth. Alas, there are some clunkers, too. “The Silent Towns,” for example, is dazzlingly sexist. But the balance is firmly tipped toward brilliant.

I mentioned watching Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 earlier. The Martian Chronicles also was produced for the screen, albeit the small one in a 1979 NBC/BBC production. It’s not as bad as you might think, although it looks horribly dated. Richard Matheson (of I Am Legend and countless Twilight Zone episodes fame) wrote the script, which tried to tell a more cohesive story, tying together certain stories that really weren’t related. It didn’t really work, partly because the attempt was too forced. Besides, Matheson left out my favorite story, so I took that a bit personally.

The other reason the TV version of The Martian Chronicles ultimately failed is that Bradbury is a writer who demands to be read (or listened to). He writes with a style and beauty that is mostly lost when the plots and ideas are translated to another medium. It has a musical quality, the kind you simply can’t put into words yourself in order to describe it.

Thank you, Ray, for your words. We will continue to enjoy them for a long time coming.

The Details
The Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradbury
Published 1950

September 13, 2012

Careful What You Wish For

My job, as an appellate criminal defense lawyer, is to convince a higher court that my client’s fate in the lower court was undeserved. The punishment too severe, the evidence insufficient to convict. Maybe I’ve been going at this all wrong.

Brian Pinkas is on trial for first-degree murder in Illinois, just as he asked to be. He’s already pleaded guilty to that crime, but he tried for years to unsuccessfully withdraw his plea, using such traditional arguments as the ineffectiveness of his lawyer. When those didn’t work, he changed course:
When none of that worked, he resorted to a surprising claim — that he was not given a stiff enough prison sentence.

On that point, Illinois’ 5th District Appellate Court agreed.

In the wording of their 2011 order, the appeals judges seemed to acknowledge his peril in bringing it up. They said they were remanding the case to the trial court ‘so that he can withdraw his guilty plea and have his conviction and sentence vacated, if he so desires.’ The order warns that he would not only be liable to prosecution all over again but could see his 20-year term become 45.
His original 20-year sentence, the statutory minimum for his offense of conviction, by law should have been enhanced by an extra 25 years because a firearm was involved, but it was not. So he, in essence, argued on appeal that the court erred by not punishing him enough. Begging for punishment can be an effective plea at sentencing:

I’ve rarely seen it deployed as an appellate strategy, however. Such “bank error in your favor” situations do occur, but usually any subsequent litigation is all about trying to keep the error from being corrected. A few year ago, the Supreme Court heard a case where the defendant got a break at sentencing (then foolishly appealed), only to have the appeals court recognize the error and remand the case for the correct sentence to be imposed. The Supremes held that, where the prosecution doesn’t appeal the sentence, appellate courts don’t have the ability to notice the error on their own and move to correct it.

So, credit to Pinkas (and his attorney, if he had one) for spinning this odd appellate theory into gold. Whether it ultimately pans out (read more of the ongoing retrial here) is yet to be seen. One thing’s certain – if he’s convicted, you can bet Pinkas will get every year coming to him.

September 12, 2012

Win the War By Deciding to Stop It

The climactic scene in War Games involves not the explosion of thousands of nuclear warheads, but a few games of tic-tac-toe. Followed, of course, by the playing out of several thousand possible scenarios for a nuclear war. In the end, after learning the futility of both pursuits, the supercomputer who brought the world to the brink of annihilation concludes that “sometimes the only winning move is not to play.” The corollary is that sometimes the game is so far lost that the only winning move is to stop playing it.

When it comes to the War on (Some People’s) Drugs, the Portuguese have learned that lesson. Sadly, here in the United States, we’re still plodding ahead, thinking the game can be won. Two stories that popped up while I was away really threw that difference into sharp relief.

The first was this story, from Wired, about how United States Marines are stepping up operations in Guatemala. They’re part of Operation Martillo, which goes well beyond the usual training and technical assistance US forces have provided to overseas drug warriors in the past:
The Marines’ share of the operation involves chasing drug traffickers with UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Marine contingent has four of the choppers, and the Marines are carrying weapons. ‘It’s not every day that you have 200-some Marines going to a country in Central and South America aside from conducting training exercises,’ Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes, the public affairs chief for Marine Corps Forces South, tells Danger Room. Prior to the Marines’ deployment, there were only a ‘handful’ of Marines in the country, Barnes says.
The Marines are only authorized to fire in self defense (leaving the Guatemalans to proactively shoot the bad guys), but that doesn’t mean things always work out right:
On the night of May 11, Honduran troops along with Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly killed two civilians — possibly four according to local accounts — including a pregnant woman. According to a report released this month by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, Honduran troops and U.S. agents seized a boat on a river containing cocaine near the town of Ahuas, when another boat — containing civilians — rammed into the first boat in the darkness. DEA agents and Honduran troops circling in a helicopter then fired on the second boat. The U.S. has denied that any of its agents took part.

The DEA isn’t a military organization, but what the Ahuas shootings represented was a military approach to the drug war gone bad. A case of mistaken identity, sure, as the mayor of Ahuas said following the shootings. But it also reflects a danger of stopping drugs at the point of a gun.
The second paragraph there really nails it. The more like a real war you make something, the more often anybody who’s not on your team looks like the enemy. Which is not to say that the target of Operation Martillo, one of Central America’s violent cartels, are good guys who should be left alone. But it does suggest that there are better ways to deal with the problem than sending in the Marines.

Which brings us to Portugal. Ten years ago, the Portuguese decriminalized drugs and began treating addicts as a medical, rather than legal (and moral) problem. The results are in and it appears to be a roaring success (via):
’There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,’ said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered ‘problematic’ -- those who repeatedly use ‘hard’ drugs and intravenous users -- had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.
Drug use in Portugal is generally lower than the rest of Europe. The change in the criminal law wasn’t the only factor, of course, but it’s a necessary precondition for dealing with the problem as a medical and social one, rather than a criminal one:
A law that became active on July 1, 2001 did not legalise drug use, but forced users caught with banned substances to appear in front of special addiction panels rather than in a criminal court.

* * *

Since then, government panels have recommended a response based largely on whether the individual is an occasional drug user or an addict.

Of the nearly 40,000 people currently being treated, ‘the vast majority of problematic users are today supported by a system that does not treat them as delinquents but as sick people,’ Goulao said.
As you can see, decriminalization isn’t the same thing and legalization. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Imagine a public policy that would lower the number of people actually addicted to drugs that would, at the same time, rescue the Fourth Amendment from its nearly fatal wounds at the altar of the Drug War. I hate the term “win/win,” but that comes pretty close, don’t you think.

We’ve fought the War on (Other People’s) Drugs for decades and are no closer to winning it. It’s time to change course, trying something different, and realize that the winning move, sometimes, is to stop playing the damned game.

September 11, 2012

On Genre Snobbery

Stephen King certainly doesn’t need defending by the likes of me, but sometimes the guy doing the attacking is flailing so miserably that you just can’t help but join the fray, even belatedly.

I should start out by saying that I’m not a particular fan of King’s stuff. My initial exposure to him was the bad movies that were made out of several of his books while I was around high school age (Cujo and Pet Sematary, for instance). They all seemed so stupid (full disclosure – horror’s not really my bag to begin with) that I couldn’t imagine the books were much better.

In college, however, a couple of friends who were fans suggested I actually try reading some of his books. So I scarfed down Misery and The Stand and a few others. I quickly figured out why movies based on King’s books turned out so lousy – his strength as a writer was in description, set up, and cultivating a powerful feeling of dread. You just can’t take that kind of thing, plop it on the big screen, and expect it to work. It’s probably not a coincidence that my favorite King on film work is Kubrick’s version of The Shining, which King himself disliked so much he made his own TV version many years later.

That being said, back to the flailing lashing out man. In this case, it’s Dwight Allen, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books back in July (via). It’s a long, tragic tale of how, after decades of not reading any of King’s stuff on principle (Allen litters the piece with the names of the literary gods whose work he does read, don’t worry), he finally gave in and picked up a few of King’s lesser works. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t much care for them, although I’m not sure how anyone going in with this kind of attitude would have reached a different conclusion:
I thought I’d try another King novel, a later one, to see if his writing had changed over the years. I was avoiding, I admit, what was then King’s very latest, 11/22/63, in part because it is so long (more than 800 pages) and despite the praise it had received in, for instance, the New York Times Book Review (the editors decided it was one of the five best books of fiction of 2011) and The New Yorker (‘a deeply felt and often well-realized work, which extends King’s dominion over fantasy to the terrain of the historical record,’ Thomas Mallon wrote).

So I went to the library and took out The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), which ran to a mere 220 pages. I liked the title — I am a baseball fan — though I wondered how many readers (diehard Red Sox fans aside) picking up the book in 2012 would recognize the name Tom Gordon (a.k.a. Flash Gordon, a relief pitcher who thrived in the nineties)
To be fair, Allen eventually does get to 11/22/63, but by that point the damage was done. It’s a bit like saying “I really ought to give Beethoven a try, but those symphonies are so gosh darned long. Maybe I’ll try a piano etude.” You’re setting yourself up to fail.

Which would be perfectly all right, if Allen was content to say, “this isn’t for me,” and walk away. Instead, he loudly protests that he’s not really a snob about this stuff, when he pretty obviously is. Thus, we’re no longer dealing in matters of taste, but in metaphysical battles of quality. Any doubt is wiped away in the last paragraph:
My son, George, who is now twenty-four, read a little King in high school, but he hasn’t gone back to him since then. After you’ve read Roberto BolaƱo and Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, as my son has, why would you return to Stephen King? King may be an adequate enough escape from life, if that’s all you require from a book of fiction, but his work (or what I’ve read of it) is a far cry from literature, which, at its best, is, sentence by sentence, a revelation about life.
See, unlike you, dear reader of genre fiction (or, horror of horrors, purveyor of it!), George has evolved to a higher state of being. He no longer reads for the joy of it, but only to uncover revealed truths about life. He is, along with his father, a better class of human than the rest of us.

Buried deep in the piece, we find that Allen’s problem with King may stem from the fact that King tends to write genre fiction. We can assume Allen is not a fan:
I dabbled in science fiction, if Stanislaw Lem and Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood can be counted as science fiction writers.
Oh, yes, why would an author whose best known work is about scientists exploring a distant planet that appears to be sentient qualify as “science fiction?” Or whose best known work involves time travel and alien abductions? Or even one whose best known work is a vivid portrayal of the kind of dystopian theocracy that seems to shape so many modern right-wing fantasies? As I’ve written before, it’s sci-fi, deal with it.

I think that, at bottom, is what wound me up so much about Allen’s critique and others like it. As a genre writer myself, I’d like to think that anyone reading my stuff doesn’t give it two strikes out of the gate just because of that fact. If it’s not your thing, that’s fine. Just don’t shit on others for whom it is. Or worse, try to redefine the stuff you can’t avoid liking as something that it’s not.

Besides, if you only read stuff that is “sentence by sentence, a revelation about life” how do you get around in the world? Aren’t you too busy being transformed to actually, you know, work for a living?