*Wakes up, looks at email, reads through SF Crow’s Nest–spits coffee.*
Whoa. Okay. Soooo, just barely a month after a titanic whine from SF Crow’s Nest founder Stephen Hunt about the BBC not taking genre seriously and not showing any respect, resulting in a petition and more whining…under Hunt’s auspices SF Crow’s Nest posts this review of Best American Fantasy 3, edited by Kevin Brockmeier, which includes this snark about Thomas Glave’s “The Torturer’s Wife”:
“If I was a casual reader I would have given it up after four paragraphs but as a dutiful reviewer I finished all thirty-three pages of this rambling, disjointed mish-mash (Oh so arty, with lots of things in brackets) that is not really a fantasy. It’s a psychological story about the wife of a high placed state torturer in a totalitarian regime cracking up with guilt. I highly recommend you avoid it like the plague.”
And then concludes with these beautiful paragraphs:
Most of the other stories were okay but they lacked a certain something and, after some consideration, I think I know what. Firstly, they did not lack fine writing. Finer writing has never been more evident and this is hardly surprising because nine of the contributors have creative writing degrees and five of those teach it. The list of contributing magazines at the back has many that are published by universities.
Also lacking was the classic notion of a story as commonly understood, namely a protagonist facing a series of challenges which he overcomes by dint of his character and which changes him in some way, usually for the better. In too many of these stories something happens to someone and that’s it. This being modern urban fantasy the thing that happens is sometimes quite daft, like coughing up a little Bach who grows to full size, but never mind that. Many of the stories are mildly depressing. Perhaps they are meant to send you off to your analyst.
I find it all too arty, too academic and too refined. I also fear that a bright young Jewish chemistry student (Asimov) or a navy midshipman retired with tuberculosis (Heinlein) or even an English graduate working in a laundry and writing in his spare time (Stephen King back in the day) would find it hard to break into this cosy world of writing professionals, polishing their prose to a high gloss, publishing each other in their little journals and awarding each other prizes. Writers used to have some life apart from writing or at least had one before success. They had been doctors or biology professors or secret agents. If you go from school to writing degree to teaching writing might you not be too immersed in the stuff of fiction rather than the stuff of life? The other thing is that the general public don’t buy this sort of thing. They buy the three volume fantasy novels with swords and elves and a hero who overcomes obstacles and gets changed by his troubles. I fear the fantasy short story has left the general reader behind, perhaps forever. Too bad.
A negative review is a perfectly normal and natural thing in the publishing world. And I don’t really need to defend Thomas Glave—one of our finest writers, and someone whose stories that address political repression and prejudice are incredibly brave and unique. Nor do I have the time, because it would take a whole day, to unravel the stupid in these paragraphs.
But I do have to point out that when you promote a mentality of “us against them” this is the kind of bullshit you are going to get in your reviews. A disgustingly simple binary that negates all of the complexity and beauty of fiction and of individual writers from vastly different traditions.