All These Worlds, the collection of reviews and essays that this site was set up to promote, is out today! If you pre-ordered, your copy has been shipped; if you haven’t, you can order a physical copy here, or a Kindle edition here. If you’re attending this year’s Eastercon, Conversation, you will be able to acquire a copy in-person, either from the dealer’s room or at the launch event on Saturday at 13.30, where I’ll be chatting with Nina Allan about the book and all things review-related. (There will also be drinks and snacks.) The rest of my schedule for the convention is here.
The book exists because I was invited to be one of the guests of honour for Conversation. I wanted to have something to mark the occasion; and although reviewing is not the whole of why Conversation invited me, it is part of it, which felt like a validation not unlike a publisher expressing interest; and what with collections of sf reviews not exactly being mass-market propositions (and in any case not having a huge lead-time to fit into a publisher’s schedule), I decided to do it myself. It’s been a challenging but rewarding process, and I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Thanks in particular to (in alphabetical order), John Coxon, Alex Ingram, Andrew January, Emily January, Kate Macdonald, Sally Osborn, Roger Robinson, Jared Shurin, Tom Joyes (for his brilliant cover and design work), and Marilisa Valtazanou, plus the team at Short Run Press who made it a reality. It’s quite something, it turns out, to hold a distillation of a long period of reading, writing and thinking in your hands.
I am, of course, curious what people will make of it, if they read it. Review collections may not be a mass-market proposition, but they’ve been important to me, and as first drafts of literary history I’ve always found them fascinating. I think the first one I read cover-to-cover was probably William Atheling Jr’s The Issue at Hand (1973), a collection of columns on sf short fiction by a pseudonymous James Blish, written with vigour, wit, and seriousness. Then followed John Clute’s Scores (2003) and (out of order), Look at the Evidence (1996), which shaped my understanding of the period from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. Parietal Games (2005), a combination of M. John Harrison’s reviews and some essays about Harrison’s work, inspired me at the time when I was starting to take reviewing (and review-editing) more seriously, as did The Country You Have Never Seen (2005) by Joanna Russ. Then there are Gary K. Wolfe’s collections Soundings (2005), Bearings (2010) and Sightings (2011); Paul Kincaid’s Call and Response (2014); Adam Roberts’ Sibilant Fricative (2014) and Rave and Let Die (2015); Algis Budrys’ Benchmarks (1985) and the more recent Ansible editions of other Budrys reviews; and outside SF, Zadie Smith’s collections Changing My Mind (2009) and Feel Free (2018).
There are others, but those are the landmarks that stand out in my mind when I think about reviewing as a craft, and about collections of reviews that are put together with a purpose, and though I’m not putting myself in the same league, they informed how I approached All These Worlds. The book is structured as a history: it runs from roughly 2005 to 2014, with reviews of individual books arranged chronologically, followed by essays that provide different overarching views on the period. The collections I’m aware of that overlap with this period are Wolfe’s Sightings, Kincaid’s Call and Response, Roberts’ Sibilant Fricative, and two other Clute volumes, Canary Fever (2009) and Stay (2014). They all paint different portraits: this is to be expected, not least because I almost never had an editor telling me what books to cover, and wandered my own way across the landscape of sf. Many of the pieces reprinted come from the BSFA’s blog, Torque Control, which formed a nexus for discussion at the time, rather than from a traditional magazine. So as a history, it’s a very personal one, and perhaps a little narrow: because I have often written long, All These Worlds covers fewer individual books than any of the above. But there isn’t much overlap. I count fewer than five books in common with each of Kincaid, Roberts, and Wolfe, fewer than ten (across both books) with Clute. And so I think, or hope, that in that divergence is an additional perspective on the semi-recent history of sf that is worth reading.
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