The easy answer is that Lois Tilton leaving Locus got me thinking about reviewing. Thrown into this has been some general chatter falling out of that about reviewing, which opened up the old discussion of who reviews are for in general. Because, it is argued, no one pays attention or no one changes their habits based on reviews, or…well, there are a number of reasons why reviews exist in a strange place where they can be useful or useless, depending on whose complaining to who. Some said that reviews are really just for authors, that it's a sort of circle jerk of ego stroking. Of course, the same voices were sort of decrying the "state of short SFF" in the same breath, so I kind of think it has more to do with the reviewers perhaps liking stories that people don't think are worthy of time or attention.
Now, okay, Lois Tilton has walked away from Locus, where she reviewing an awful lot of stories. And, okay, to review some reviews, some of the work she produced there was…questionable. And not just in the "there were some reviews I agreed with and some I didn't." There are many reviews I disagree that I still think are good reviews, because they are insightful and because they are well written and because reviewing is a form that does take some work. Are reviews bad because they are negative? No. Indeed, negative reviews can be both damned entertaining and damned important texts. Are reviews bad because they are glowing? No, for much the same reason. I love sharing in someone's joy at reading a text, and what they manage to pull out from the words and techniques. When I have a problem with reviews my biggest complaint is failure to engage the text. Failure to try. A review that is half about how the author of a work's name is like a different author's name and is therefore confusing=not trying. A review that is basically complaining about how the story isn't really science fiction but is marked as science fiction=not trying.
Not that I'm trying to tell anyone their business, but I do think that reviewing and reviews deserve to be viewed with some measure of critical gaze and I just want to sort of go through how I look at and judge reviews. Because, more than anything, I want a review to help me think about a text. Either after I've read a thing and want to see other reactions to see if they help crystallize my own thoughts or before I read a thing in order to get an idea of what to expect. Now, there's also reading reviews to get recommendations on what to read and there's even reading reviews because reviews are fun to read. In all of these, though, I value honest engagement with a text. And if I see that a reviewer has two sentences to say on a text and they have nothing really to do with the actual work, I know to kind of stay away.
But what I think I'm trying to say in all of this is that reviews have value. Perhaps I'm biased because I review, but I think that reviewing has value outside what it can do for publishers. It's about energizing readers and connecting with stories, with texts. It's about passion and it's about expression in many ways just as much as the works that inspire the reviews. Like fanfiction in some ways, reviewing can't really exist without the original texts, and like fanfiction there's a vast range of reviews out there. Some are incredible. Some are…not. Hopefully I manage to hit somewhere in between (to lean more incredible than suck is my goal).
But mostly it would be nice to be able to talk about reviewing as one talks about texts in general rather than as glorified advertising. Just as I cringe away when people start talking about "the problem with short SFF these days is…" so too do I cringe when people start talking about "the problem with reviewing these days is…" We are living in a golden age of access to amazing reviews (unfortunately also a golden age of people not getting paid for them, but that's another thing entirely), with people being able to see review of stories and books and movies (via Amazon, Goodreads, etc.) from users all of the world. I would like to think this is a good thing, not just in order to make money for people and businesses, but to complicate how we talk about and approach texts. Because that is amazing. Thanks for reading!
All the best,