Beyond the Burn Link

Let’s start with episode 5 of the Critical Friends podcast, in which Dan Hartland and Aishwarya Subramanian have a chat with Abigail Nussbaum about the nature and currency of negative reviews. Their discussion is well worth listening to (or reading — there is a transcript at the link above), and touches on topics ranging from “at what point does a review become a negative review” to the different motivations for writing such a piece, the authority of different people to write such a piece, and how The Discourse treats them. I think that within sf (less so the literary world at large), perhaps the most important factor over the last few decades that has changed the position of negative reviews is the decline of the column and the rise of individually commissioned reviews. Review columns, in which a reviewer tackles several books each month, and may receive strong editorial encouragement to cover particular titles, are less common than they were (and particularly rare in online venues); a much more common model is individual reviews, whether at places like Strange Horizons or The Ancillary Review of Books, or — perhaps most especially — on a blog, some of which do still exist, and in either case it’s common for reviewers to have a lot of input into the titles they cover. The reasons for this are various and often noble (it drastically increases the range of who gets to participate, for instance), but I think the shift makes the negative review, when it occurs, more of an event. Anyway, it was interesting to listen to this shortly after reading Ryan Ruby’s essay “A Golden Age at Vinduet, which is focused on the broader world of criticism, and identifies “genres” of contemporary criticism that “typically depart from the form of the standard book review”; he tries to reclaim the Contemporary Themed Review as part of this, as well as what he calls “personal criticism”, “in which the critic narrates the experience of reading a particular literary work in the first person as a means of situating their analysis of it”. I don’t think we see much of either of those forms within sf; maybe a bit more of the latter than the former.

Other reading:

  • Venerable BSFA journal Vector is looking for a new editorial team; full application form here. I’m going to take a moment here to acknowledge the brilliant work that Jo Lindsay Walton and Polina Levontin, and the guest editors they’ve worked with, have done over the last few years, putting out a succession of extremely strong issues. I mean, look at this graphic essay from the recent Futures issue.
  • Back to Strange Horizons, last week’s issue had a terrific essay by Shinjini Dey, “Making, Breaking and Extraction: An Exploration of Bodies and Time in SFF“. It sparked connections in my head with Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter, and also the Mike Nelson retrospective “Extinction Beckons” at the Hayward Gallery in London (on for another week — if you are able to get to it, it’s well worth a visit).
  • Notable reviews: Abigail Nussbaum on A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys and Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi (“maybe the question is, which elision—of the ugliness of the now or the possibilities of the future—bothers you more?”); Ben Hooyman at LARB on two books by Vladimir Sorokin (“The first major phase of his career, from the late 1970s to the fall of the USSR, is oriented toward the Soviet past, while the second phase sees the author […] sculpting speculative visions of the future”); and a minor spate of CJ Cherryh blogging, with Adam Roberts on Gate of Ivrel and Ian Sales on the Faded Sun trilogy.
  • Laura Miller writes about Death of an Author, a novella by Stephen Marche written while making use of ChatGPT.
  • The Science Fiction Foundation have announced the creation of the Maureen Kincaid Speller travel fund, intended for independent scholars. A wonderful way of memorialising Maureen.
  • For Esquire, Jeff VanderMeer writes about how “Climate Fiction Won’t Save Us“, or perhaps more accurately, the unreasonable expectations placed on authors when they are identified as writing climate fiction. (See also Tyler Harper’s essay for the BBC on “What Climate Fiction Gets Wrong“.)
  • Awards bits: SFWA have created the “oops we didn’t make them a Grand Master” Infinity Award, with Octavia E. Butler as the first recipient. A good initiative and a great first pick; I could wish the mechanism for subsequent picks was a touch more transparent, however. The Locus Award top ten finalist lists are out. The Locus news blog also pointed me to the Royal Society of Literature VS Pritchett Short Story Prize winner, “Doggerland” by Kaliane Bradley, which from the judges’ blurbs certainly sounds like it has speculative content. I haven’t read it yet, but the story is online at Prospect.
  • Neil Clarke describes the process and outcomes of Clarkesworld‘s recent call for Spanish-language submissions.
  • Head of Zeus is launching the “Apollo Africa” list, which will over the next few years reprint 100 titles previously published in the Heinemann African Writers series.

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  1. Thanks! The Sarah Hall piece is here, and it is interesting: Any list like the Granta one is going…

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