Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bosses, Blogging and Bastardstones

Anybody reading this (all five of ye) will probably be familiar with the Joe Gordon story (sacked by Waterstones for a few derogatory comments on his blog). If not, go here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1388249,00.html

Others have summarised and linked this story better than me, so if you want more details of how Richard Morgan, Charles Stross and Neil Gaiman, to name but a few, go to Vanderworld or Joe's own blog:

http://www.woolamaloo.org.uk/

Anyway, this is the tuppence-worth I'm chucking in. Maybe it's more a farthing-worth compared to the above big names, but fuck it, my vitriol overfloweth and I must vent...

Dear Sirs,

Having read of the dismissal of Joe Gordon from your Edinburgh store in this morning's Metro, I feel obliged to express my deep disappointment in what I had, until now, considered an ethical and progressively principled company, one that I was glad to give my custom to. I understand that I am not the first to do so, and I suspect I will not be the last; I imagine, indeed, that the various successful - even award-winning - SF and Fantasy authors such as Charles Stross, Richard Morgan and Neil Gaiman, who have all openly expressed their criticism of this draconian over-reaction on your part, will be joined by other writers like myself, and by members of the wider communities of bloggers and readers.

As a citizen of Glasgow I have been a customer in your Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street stores on numerous occasions. In buying Christmas presents last year, in fact - somewhat ironically - I deliberately chose to buy from your store rather than from Borders, having personally known individuals who had suffered from that chain's "corporate American" management style and the concomitant devaluation of its employees. Waterstones seemed to offer an alternative, a company which was not part of the bullying and exploitative culture increasingly prevalent in the service industry, one where specialist knowledge on the part of staff and management was encouraged and where real and pragmatic customer service might be expected as a result - rather than the all too familiar blank, forced smile of fundamentally disinterested, disenchanted workers. Clearly, however, this is not the case. Clearly a long-term employee with a deep knowledge of, and respect for, a certain field is worthless to yourselves. I must say that I am at a loss, however, to understand exactly what it is that is more valuable.

To be frank, the reasoning behind Joe Gordon's dismissal escapes me. I can appreciate that public criticism of the company by an employee would be frowned upon, and I assume that a posting on a personal blog is, to yourselves, on the same level as, for instance, writing an article in some high-selling national newspaper. One might have thought a warning, a request to withdraw such criticisms would be understood and accepted. To Waterstones, though, this is an outrage beyond the pale. Others might well compare a blog entry to someone letting off steam over a pint at their local with some friends, but clearly as far as Waterstones is concerned this is much more than that. A calculated Machiavellian act of sabotage, no less. A savage attempt to destroy the very company from within. Gross misconduct, no less. Bringing the company into disrepute. Petty, spiteful vindictiveness.

It seems to me, though, that if anyone has sabotaged the company's sales, brought Waterstones into disrepute, acted out of petty, spiteful vindictiveness, it is the manager who sacked Mr Gordon. The man has single-handedly destroyed Waterstones' credibility for myself and God knows how many others. Honestly, I think it would be extremely foolish to underestimate the implications and ramifications of this one act in the opinions of writers, readers, bloggers and genre fans across the country. It would be extremely foolish to underestimate the bad publicity, the way this will play in the media and in the writing, blogging and SF and Fantasy communities. What this tells us is not just that Waterstones is as contemptible in its attitude to its staff as the call centres and fast food chains that a huge portion of the book-buying market - young, educated, intelligent, middle class, liberal - will know and revile. What this tells us is that Waterstones is contemptible in its attitude to writing itself, happy to exploit consumer appetites for sharp-toothed, anti-corporate satire from the likes of Michael Moore, but utterly intolerant when it is made the target of even a few inconsequential jibes. Satire is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. Free speech is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. Writing is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. To Waterstones, in fact, such outspoken satirical writing is simply abhorrent… when it is not a product they themselves are capitalising on. I find it difficult to stress just how repellent I consider this act, just how far it lowers your company in my opinion.

To close, let me just say that over the years, apart from giving my custom to your store, I have attended and enjoyed many readings and book launches under your roof. As a writer myself with my debut novel due for release on 5th August this year, coinciding with the World Convention of SF and Fantasy fans, I had thought to contact yourselves with a view to organising a launch in your Sauchiehall Street store. I see little reason now to favour Waterstones over any of their rivals. I would also imagine that readings tied in to this convention would be of some potential value to you, given the numbers of potential customers that will be gathered in Glasgow for this event. Given that two of the most popular and respected writers in Scottish SF - Morgan and Stross - have both condemned this act, however, I suspect I would not be alone in considering Waterstones a far less suitable venue now than I would have previously.

Yours sincerely,


Hal Duncan

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