Reviews and criticism

Finally got around to reading the various thought-provoking pieces linked to by here.

Myself, I read sf primarily for escapism. I have an intellectually demanding day-time job dealing with horrible things happening in the world. I want a hobby that takes me out of myself a bit and isn’t too demanding. If a writer produces material that is a bit more difficult, or requires a bit more concentration, to appreciate it, then I want to be additionally rewarded; I am normally reading to relax at the end of the day when my energy levels are low. That makes me a bit more unforgiving of experimental literary techniques than perhaps I should be.

I write about sf because I feel compelled to do so. It’s not so much because of the community aspects of fandom (though they are increasingly important to me) but because it’s a way of turning my hobby into easily quantifiable projects: this year’s nominees, previous years’ winners, all the joint Hugo and Nebula winners (that last a long-term project which I have been working on for five and a half years now). I also have found that since I resolved to write up every book I read (whether sf or not) on this blog, I have been reading in a more profound way, with at the back of my mind the thought that I must find something to say about what I have read once I finish.

Does this make me a critic? I don’t know. I don’t come to anything as a neutral reader; as well as not liking difficult writing, I am easily bored by military sf and have a distaste for horror, and am easily pleased by tales of time-travel and alternate history.

As for the cases in point: Yes, the two sets of critiques of Strange Horizons reviews to which objects are indeed plain silly. The Ian McHugh review is in my view a good, interesting piece of writing which clearly identifies the reviewer’s prejudices. I found fascinating his conclusion that the best stories in the book all share “a distinctive and unselfconscious ‘Australianness’ in their telling, that’s hard to put your finger on but that seems lacking in those covered above. And all but one have an unmistakeably Australian sense of place, either explicitly or through the physical particulars of their settings.” I have been struggling occasionally to identify genuine rather than confected examples of Irishness in the genre, and am rather cheered by McHugh’s conclusion that good sf by Australian writers does end up feeling more Australian than bad sf by Australian writers. It’s sufficiently interesting for me that I will buy the book, if I ever see it on sale, to see if I share his analysis.

As for Dan Hartland – well, I had heard of Naomi Mitchison, but then I am the sort of person who puts footnotes about Saki and Thomas Pynchon into papers on contemporary Balkan politics. It was a slightly silly remark in an otherwise good review.

I read through Bone Women and the various consequent on-line discussions. I didn’t much like the story. It did make me work harder than I want to, and there was no real sfnal element (yeah, yeah, the bits about the giant and Picasso, but there is no reason for us to believe the narrator in either case); on the latter basis I share the puzzlement of those who ask what exactly it was doing in Strange Horizons, but on the former I’m happy enough to accept that it simply isn’t to my tastes, and to be surprised that when others say so it provokes extraordinary reaction from people old enough to know better.

And I’m going to keep on writing reviews, for no better reason than that I feel compelled to do so; and no doubt sometimes I will upset people, and more usually I won’t.

One thought on “Reviews and criticism

  1. Is it going to be possible to search the whole thing (e.g., if one wanted to find out everything about Tom Baker by date?)

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