Tag Archives: reviewers

Hitting the Ground Running

Congrats to Jeff VanderMeer on his new Science Fiction Chronicle column for The New York Times.  It’s exactly what I’ve been wanting in mainstream coverage of genre fiction: nuanced, knowledgeable, multicultural, and respectful.  Jeff reviews Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, The Gaslight Dogs by Karen Lowachee, and A Life on Paper (Stories) by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin.

It’s exciting to see a paper like The New York Times cover small presses like Small Beer  (Redemption in Indigo and A Life on Paper) as well as a mass market release (The Gaslight Dogs).  It looks like Jeff is trying to explore not only the solid center of the genre with respected authors like Ian McDonald, but also its more experimental periphery. I hope future genre coverage in The Times is this well crafted.

The New York Times Profiles China Miéville

The Times profile begins with a paragraph that exemplifies the paper’s handling of genre fiction:

If your idea of a science fiction writer is a scrawny guy with computer-glow pallor who’s a little too interested in whether warp speed is a realistic rate of travel, China Miéville is not that person.

To be fair, that is most people’s image of a science fiction writer.  But it’s arguable that Miéville’s novel The City & The City is not actually science fiction as most would define it, if they bothered to think about a definition.  To be fair, the Times claims:

For the record, Mr. Miéville, 37, calls himself a science fiction writer — or, for those steeped in genre subdivisions, a purveyor of “weird” or “new weird” fiction. But he stands out from the crowd for the quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing.

Is it just me, or is “quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing” sort of like saying that he stands out because he’s “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy“?  While the profile is a good one, and I’m glad to see Miéville getting mainstream attention, the Times still lacks continuity in its genre reviews.  Since David Itzkoff abandoned his hipster snark filled “Across the Universe” column, the Times book section has only had one review by Jeff VanderMeer. It has otherwise returned to a general stable of people who mostly hold the genre and its authors in some form of mild contempt and can be surprised by something like China Miéville having a nicely toned body.

That said, the mainstream attention Miéville is gathering, combined with his notable personal charisma, could well propel him to a level of recognition enjoyed by writers like Neil Gaiman. Miéville’s writing is even more quirky and highbrow than Gaiman, and he lacks the fan base created by Gaiman’s start in comics. Despite that, among the genre crowd, he is known as a “rock star”.

I bemoan the NY Times focusing on his physique, but I’ve known plenty of fans, writers, editors and critics who get twitterpated about Miéville’s good looks.  So perhaps the Times was on to something. Will genre rock-stars of the future have to look the part as well as write it?

Being the Bearer of Sad Tidings

PW reviewer Laurie Gold writes about the painful side of reviewing:

I thought readers might be interested to know how it feels to write a review for an author whose work you’ve previously enjoyed… and would like to enjoy again in the future… knowing that it’ll dash their hopes.

It feels lousy.

I’m always a little puzzled when reviewers talk about gleefully writing negative reviews. I would always rather praise than deride; I never forget that authors and publishers read our reviews, and I don’t enjoy telling people that something they’ve worked on for months or years is awful. This may sound odd coming from someone who’s very firmly on the record about the ethical importance of negative reviews, but I think there’s a big difference between “It’s important that we be honest and make it clear that we’re willing to publish negative reviews when they’re warranted” and “Yay, I get to put the boot in!”.

Laurie adds:

It’s the flip side to the joy I get requesting a starred review at the magazine, particularly if the author is little-known or new to publishing altogether. Helping build excitement over a book I loved is fun.

A thousand times yes to this! And even more so if I know anything about the authors. At last year’s RWA, I saw Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare on a panel talking about supporting each other as writing partners and being overjoyed when they got their first book contracts almost at the same time. When my reviewers sent in starred reviews of both debuts, I was actually relieved; I was impressed by the authors’ spirit of collaboration rather than competition, but I suspected that one getting a star and the other one not would be hard for both of them, and I was so glad that they would have not only good news to squee over but good news they could share without reservation.

Here’s the thing: I love books. I love readers. I love authors. I love this whole messy industry. Every positive review is a sign that despite all the economic woes, all the struggles to find and keep readers, and all the debates over pricing and formats, we are still doing something right. Authors are writing good books and publishers are publishing them and we, the reviewers, are helping readers to find them and enjoy them and support the people who create them. Those moments of win-win-win are why I’m in this business.

I suppose I’m like a doctor who would really like everyone to be healthy even if that means I’d be out of a job. I wish every book were fabulous. But some aren’t, so I will keep publishing negative reviews even when it makes me sad, and I will keep looking for those moments of pure joy when a book comes by that’s really worth celebrating.