Reviewing Books

Given that there have been several recent posts in the blogosphere about reviews, including on OF Blog of the Fallen and, just today, Mumpsimus, I thought I’d weigh in with my two cents, for what it’s worth. (These thoughts aren’t responses to either BoF or Mump, just FYI, both of which seem to me to contain clear and cogent arguments, most of which I agree with.)

As readers of this blog know, I’m primarily a fiction writer, but I’ve also reviewed books, off and on, for almost twenty years. This gives me a twinned perspective as a giver and receiver of formal opinions about books. As might be expected, the same things that bother me in reviews of my work that I think are unfair or poorly written, beyond simple errors of fact, are also things I try to avoid in reviewing other people’s books.

By a “review,” I don’t mean two paragraphs I post on this blog or some of the capsule summaries of 200 or 300 words that appear on Amazon and elsewhere. I mean a “review” in the sense of an attempt by a person, whether formally identified as a reviewer or not, to fully engage a published text at a length of anywhere from about 500 words to 2,500 words.

So, that said, here are eight things I try to avoid doing as a reviewer—things that also bug me as a writer being reviewed, to a greater or lesser extent. Some of them are easy for me to avoid as a reviewer. Some are less so. But with every review, I think seriously about these issues.

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Books Received: March 28, 29

Steampunk galleys came–yay! Also an Eric Brown novel I’ve been assigned for review, a book I know nothing about, contributor copies of the latest Realms of Fantasy, and various comic books, including the latest installment of The Boys. Still no Situation. Sigh.

Just a Reminder: 2008 Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin Festival

That’s right–a staple of North Florida culture, the Worm Gruntin Festival, is just around the corner. Get ready…

Matt Cheney Interview

The Sunday Salon interviews (on a Saturday?) our very good friend, the multi-talented Matt Cheney:

Because I write book reviews, and have for five years, I get a lot of books sent to me by publishers and writers. Ten to twenty books a week. I’m not a prolific reviewer or a fast reader, and the volume is more than I could ever keep up with, even if I were able to read a book a day. Now with Best American Fantasy, I also get to see hundreds–even thousands–of short stories. The effect has been to make me ask myself, whenever I send a story out to be considered for publication, if I really feel that the world needs this story. Now, I would not send anything out for publication anywhere if I always had to answer that question with a yes, because I lack the arrogance to think that anything I write is really needed by the world. But the question remains strong in my mind, and it takes a lot, now, for me to foist my fiction off on anybody. If I take the time to finish a story (and I finish only a portion of the stories I begin), I have to feel that it is doing something that is…I can’t think of the right word–not worthwhile, and certainly not unique, but…different enough from the other sorts of things I see out there that I can justify (at least vaguely) to myself its existence.

For a … Silence Without: Super Sekret Visions

The mysterious sekret mastermind behind the Silence Without blog is offering up more of the dreams? visions? micro-fictions? that I find so imaginative. When there’s enough of these things, someone ought to publish them.

The government put a lock on teleportation. They couldn’t have people popping in and out all over the place as they pleased. There would be no control left, the nation would fall apart with people popping over to Ayers Rock or Great Kepple Island in their tea breaks, in their smokos.

For Photosynthesis
Am I glowing? I feel like I’m glowing. I should be glowing, but when I wave my hand around, there’s a lack of pretty light trails. No wonder plants flower so violently. I feel drunk and fat and glorious. I want to bloom, right here on the street. How indecent of me!

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Movie Review: Southland Tales

Southland Tales is a ambitious, admirable, sprawling mess of a movie. Caught between satire and reality, reality and science fiction, it never quite works, except for some individual scenes. It’s set in an alternate yet familiar California in which Homeland Security is more invasive and we’re at war in Syria after a nuclear attack in Texas. The Rock plays a movie star who might’ve been sent through a rift in another dimension, only to come back a changed man. Marxist rebels inhabit Venice Beach. A strange Dr. Strangelove-like Nobel-prize-winning scientist/baron has created a new source of renewable energy. And so it goes…

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Books Received: March 27

Interesting Soft Skull Press title, two Conjunctions for Best American Fantasy consideration. Caitlin Kiernan’s latest (with chapbook) and two mystery titles from Penguin (thanks Leslie!!!).


Amazon: Shooting War Optioned for Mini-Series

Just posted a short feature on plans to make Shooting War into a mini-series. This was one of my favorite graphic novels from 2007 and should make a terrific film. Also check out the Shooting War website–excellent stuff.

Books Received–March 26

I’ve heard this third novel by Abraham is amazing. A light haul, and not going to check today’s mail until late due to deadlines.