Jul 2

Look, ma…no legs!

Posted by A Writer

Look, ma, no legs!

Despite the problems it can cause, there's something pure about the spirit of competition.  It can drive us to do more than we could normally.  But then there are those problems: people who lose any sense of, you know, the right thing to do…people who'll do anything to get ahead, even if it involves tearing down everyone else to do it.

You'll have to excuse my being a little cryptic–I wasn't sure exactly how to start a post about the situation I just heard about, and opted for ironic commentary because flat out vitriol didn't seem appropriate.  Nothing seems appropriate, in a way, for a guy like Robert Stanek.  If you haven't heard of him, it's because you haven't spent a lot of time hanging out on Amazon or in certain circles of fantasy fiction readers and writers, where his name is usually a punchline.  Stanek, you see, is a self-styled fantasy writer whose work is award-winning in the extreme.  Check out his Amazon reviews:

"This tale is highly original, fun, and dynamic. It's an easy read for those of you who have difficulty reading books. It's easy to follow and it makes sense, in the same way that J.K. Rowling's writing makes does. The wording is made to make sense, not to confuse. A big bonus is that there's a wealth of depth if you want to explore it. Like with the history of the world and the fact that every character has a history and seems real. So wonderful that all the characters have pasts, presents and futures. Excellent book as well as a series, I highly recommend it! Definitely a keeper!"  

"The battle for the Kingdoms and the Reaches begins! This is the best book, everything you would want in a book is right here it is so good at painting a mental picture in your head it will have you yelling out loud throughout this entire book if I could give it more than 5 stars I would!!!! It is perfect for teen and adult Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings fans. It is very realistic. Robert Stanek is a wonderful author who can write exactly what a reader likes." 

"It was great!!! Fantasy Book of the Year. Better than Harry Potter. The Storyline was exceptional. Can't wait to start the next one. WOW! Two thumbs up for Mr. Stanek."

Holy cow–that's pretty impressive.  And every one of these reviewers think his work is like (or better than) Harry Potter!  Why haven't I heard about this guy before, you're thinking, right?  Where can I read his stuff?  You're in luck, my friend, because if you search carefully you'll see actual excerpts of his work.  Prepare to be amazed:

"Carefully he dabbed a wet cloth to the corners of his eyes and only then did he become something other than the frightened boy who in his dreams huddled into the forlorn corner because of the sense of security it gave him to know his back was against the wall and that nothing could sneak up on him from behind."

Uh…

"The hair, black as the receding night, flowed to her waist and while it was normally braided and folded over her left shoulder, it wasn't now."

Er…

"Amir didn't know if whether it was the veins of black that streaked otherwise pure white hair, the eyebrows with matching spikes of black mixed with gray or the beard that flowed to the middle of his chest in a sheet of pure silver that made Noman seem a king, but he seemed a king nonetheless–and a great king at that.  But Noman was not a king…"

…nor was he a MAN!  Oh…sorry.  Got caught up in the prose there.  Hmm.  So THAT'S why you haven't heard of him.  The truth, of course, that his work is godawful…so bad it almost seems to be deliberate.  But so what?  There are lots of lousy authors out there pretending to be big literary presences. But this is where the story gets interesting…because, you see, Stanek is pretty much alone in assuming his own worth.  But what about the Amazon reviews, you say?  Let's take a look at a few again:

"While the author isn't necessarily the best writer and some of his plots were predictable, the story was nevertheless utterly fascinating. In review of all four books in the set and in what is a first ever for me, I agree that this series is in many ways as good as Harry Potter, Narnia, etc in that it is a wonderfully character-driven story with strong plot, good action, and a fantasy world that is extremely interesting. The magnificent illustrations in the books don't hurt either – they are spectacular."

"I haven't loved a set of books this much since reading Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. Prepare yourself for an immersive journey into the heart of the kingdoms of men! For anyone wanting to dig deeper into the mysteries and secrets of the stories I recommend any or all of the companion books."

"My children have enjoyed reading these as much as I did! Great books from a great author. The story's well written and beautifully illustrated.

This first book is as magical and wonderful as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's all about adventure and unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story. Recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy."

Noticing a pattern?  Like the fact that everyone, EVERYONE, wants to compare this to Harry Potter?  And I mean EVERYONE?

Uh-huh.  The truth is that fairly obviously, Stanek wrote all of his positive reviews himself.  The (lousy) prose is the same, the patterns close to identical.  And he didn't stop there: many one star reviews of other significant authors have the following pattern:

"This guy is rubbish, if you want to read real fantasy, go read Robert Jordan, George RR Martin and Robert Stanek!"

Yep.  Not content to pump up his own work with self-praise, he actually posted reviews of other authors in which (of course) his work was made superior.  (I won't get into what I think about Amazon allowing such behavior to continue…let's just say that Amazon isn't always known for making the wisest decisions either.)  But this would still be just an amusing story of self-aggrandizement without the final chapter.  Once real authors got wise to this practice, they (and a lot of readers and bloggers) started to call Stanek on it, humiliating him (I assume) in the practice.  Things died down until recently, when Pat Rothfuss, Jim C. Hines, and David Louis Edelman started to notice a bunch of one star reviews showing up on Amazon of their books–unusual, since all of them have been out for a while to positive critical attention (Rothfuss's Name of the Wind was a massive success).  All of a sudden there's a surge of negative attention for no reason?  Odd.  Let's look at a few of these reviews:

"I agree that this book doesn't come close to deserving the high rating it has here on Amazon. I give it three stars at the most. While there were some fairly interesting and tense moments in the story it was mostly a snooze, and the writing bordered on the poor side. The book reminds of something like a spin on Harry Potter that was written by James Patterson- it falls pretty wide of the quality/originality that I expected. How is it possible that it has such a high rating?"

"The only part of the book that resembles Potter is the presence of a school where the principles of magic are taught, that's it. Potter was very much a "chosen one" archetype. Kvothe is flawed and the degeneration of his legendary abilities as an adult is a change from the prodigy found in Potter and was a bold choice for the author. Kvothe is as fragile as he is talented. I've come to the conclusion that the people who are turned off by this book do not have patience for the kind of back story that Rothfuss created and failed to pick up on the satirical tone of the novel. It is a different kind of epic fantasy and it is not for everyone."  

"Hats off to you for your honesty about this book. A lot of reviewers have commented that for something rated so highly this is remarkably bad. One can echo that, but one must also note friends and family probably meant well. The writing is the worst of it. This discourtesy ranks up there with the worst of the worst of writers. So we look into world building, the story, world building and see what we find. The world is very poorly constructed, much like the characters. Every thing is so random and patched together and just doesn't fit so well. Perhaps shipping Rothfuss off to Iraq where many friends are serving would help him build some character and integrity? Until that happens, better to leave this untouched."

Now these sound oddly familiar, don't they?  And let's see…what do all of these authors have in common?  They're all fantasy authors, all legitimately published and successful, and—-every one of them publicly called out Stanek for his review scheme.

Surprised

Uh-huh.  Obviously Stanek has decided to go on the attack, and to hammer these other authors as a warning to all those who would dare to challenge his, uh, credentials (which seem to involve being a ex-Air Force vet with a fake Distinguished Flying Cross and writing crappy fantasy books).    

Wild Blue Yonder THIS, bitches!

Fortunately people are now wise to Stanek's M.O., and all of the authors he's gone after are too established to get affected by this…though Rothfuss still seems to be pretty upset about it, and I can't say I blame him.  (Again, I'm desperately trying to avoid commenting on Amazon allowing this practice to continue…and it's not easy, believe me.)  What's most staggering about Stanek's behavior isn't really even how unethical or utterly devoid of human decency it is; what's really stunning about it is how much it helps feed into Stanek's own delusions of persecution.  If he spent one fifth the energy and time he wastes tilting at windmills (much better written ones, btw) on actually, you know, writing better books, he might have had a shot at being published, or at least becoming a respectable writer, years ago.  Instead he's subscribed to that oldest and nastiest rule of competition: if I can't make it, nobody else will either.

Sometimes I like to imagine Stanek typing away at his keyboard, steam coming out of his ears in his righteous fury, blasting away at all of his critics real and imagined with his fake
reviews and his bogus authority.  But I try not to think about it for too long.  There's nothing more unpleasant, after all, than an undisciplined child throwing a really, really big tantrum.

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