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Having pimped Vector, it's time to pimp the Strange Horizons reviews section (sh_reviews). This week so far: Martin Lewis reviews Life on Mars:
This has to be the Doctor Who effect: you wait ages for the BBC to produce a science fiction programme and then two come along at once. As well as Hyperdrive, a Red Dwarf-aping sitcom, they are also currently showing Life On Mars, a genre spin on the format that's the bread and butter of networks the world over: the police procedural. It's safe to say, though, that Doctor Who never contained the phrase "I don't give a tart's furry cup."
More controversially, yesterday Liz Henry reviewed Touched by Venom:
From the snarking frenzy that consumed the blogosphere in the wake of last year's World Fantasy Convention, I expected Janine Cross's first novel, Touched by Venom, to be a badly written, laughable book. Something on the order of Slave Women of Gor, perhaps, or at best, those trashtastic Sharon Green soft-porn books about blood-drinking Amazonian women who ride around on giant lizards and rape men in their spare time. My reaction to the bad reviews went a bit like this: "OMG, sex with dragons, guys with dragon-viagra hardons, probably so bad it's funny, I must read it!"

So I did. To my surprise, I found a thoughtful, enjoyable work of feminist speculative fiction. It is a woman's hero-tale, the story of a survivor; a true dystopian fantasy, and one written with an awareness of non-Western cultures.
Responses to that one so far spotted here, here (Cheryl Morgan, who thinks it's a thoughtful review), and here (Nick Mamatas, who thinks reviews has hit a new low).
 
 
 
 
 
 
Humm. What should I infer from the fact that I'm the only commenter to date on the Liz Henry?
That you're the Nicest Man in SF?

That's an awful cover on the Venom Cock book.
That you're the Nicest Man in SF?

No, I'm sure there are nicer people.

/nice

That's an awful cover on the Venom Cock book.

That's the one piece of common ground among everyone in this. Ick ick ick.
Anyhow, I'm not nice. I'm dark and mysterious and pissed-off and-

Sorry, stole someone else's rant...
That the teacup in which this particular storm is taking place is even smaller than anyone first imagined?
Why do I find myself wanting to read this book? It's going to melt my eyeballs I can just tell.
More reviews, to help you decide: one negative, one mixed, one positive.
This is my favorite review so far.
Genius. I have now friended crevette and insanely enough I still want to read the book. I must be mad.
I do too, but not if it would cost me actual money.
Well, it doesn't look my cup of tea, and I think crevette
has helped to convince me, but I'm not one to be shocked by female circumcision (read 'Temple of my Familiar' after all).

Could be approaching from a personal perspective here, but I'm left wondering why the editor was criticised for letting a typo slip in (and nothing else? Actually I'd point fingers at the marketing department for the rest of the book, the editor may have worked wonders here. And to be fair, the marketing department chose a good book here - look how it's being discussed, even defended, by people who haven't actually read it!)
'Up the walls of the world' by Alice Sheldon also has female circumcision, and it is presented in a non-prurient way IMHO, and in no way belittles it.
Apropos of nothing, I loooooooooove Spaced. I think I've watched it all the way through like ten times, now.
:D
Did you read it Niall? I forgot
Did I read what? Touched by Venom? I haven't myself, no.
Yes, I meant the novel itself. I thought you hadn't and that your interest, like mine, was induced by Nick Mamatas's comments. The extract he quoted did seem ludicrous. But then sometimes being ludicrous is what you have to do to challenge the mainstream. For myself, I think a novel has to be bloody good to get away with any mention of dragons, let alone copulation with dragons. Suzy McKee Charnas got away with a novel about copulation with horses, though.
Suzy McKee Charnas got away with a novel about copulation with horses, though.

Have you read any of the Holdfast series? This is the first I've heard of them.
I've read 'Walk to the end of the world' and 'Motherlines' - is that called the Holdfast series these days?
I'm going on Henry's description:
Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast series takes place in an extreme post-apocalypse patriarchal dystopia where women are raised in filthy slave pits. The free women, partly parthenogenic, have sex with horses to start their pregnancies.
I take it from your comment she did get away with this and it is actually worth reading?
Yup. I liked the two that I read. They are somewhat harsh but well done within that genre. I have suzych friended on livejournal.
Yep, sex with horses. The books (there are four of them) are quite serious and quite good. It helps that the sex with horses is not introduced until about halfway through the second book, when the reader is already thoroughly invested in the reality of the characters and their world.
I thought you hadn't and that your interest, like mine, was induced by Nick Mamatas's comments.

No, my interest was induced by comments elsewhere.
The extract he quoted did seem ludicrous. But then sometimes being ludicrous is what you have to do to challenge the mainstream.

The trouble is, if you get too ludicrous (without the chops to pull it off), you shoot yourself in the foot. Which is what I think happened with this book at WFC.

Does it do any of the smart stuff that the people who like the book think it does? I have no idea. The excerpt made me laugh (at, not with) and cringe, which didn't give me a whole lotta confidence that the rest of the book would be worth the trouble.
Yeah, but you can't buy this kind of publicity.

And scarily, as someone outside the brou-ha-ha, the positive and neutral reviewers are generally sounding saner and less like they have something to sell. Which is backasswards.

Then again, Crevette's review was AWESOME. I wanted to go buy the book after that, but instead I'll recommend it to at least three friends I know for whom this book will be as manna from heaven.
I'm practicing not taking SH critiques personally, so I'm mostly not going to get involved in this (other than to say that I could not be more pleased with the current state of the reviews department). But I'm actually -baffled- by the (by now common) implication that when we publish nonfiction that people disagree with it's because we don't -edit- nonfiction content.

Anyway.
Ummmm. At risk of being a bit off topic, I just finished this practical interview with Jeff VanderMeer about speculative fiction publishing.

I know most of the people involved in this Great Dragon Society Debate would be much happier reading about VanderMeer's books...

Cheers,
Jason Boog
But I'm actually -baffled- by the (by now common) implication that when we publish nonfiction that people disagree with it's because we don't -edit- nonfiction content.


Actually, I'm simply saying that non-fiction is being edited poorly, from acquisition through to publication. And this is hardly only a matter of stuff I disagree with; I just don't care to pick through two-three reviews a week that are horrible and certainly weren't edited by anyone who knows anything about editing non-fiction unless I am also interested in the topic otherwise. Venom cock is interesting to me; Australian fiction and the various neurotic complexes of Oz authors, not so much.

The non-fiction department would do well to learn the difference between a critical review, a review essay, and a feature article, as these halfwit chimeras are doing you no service.
One correction: Strange Horizons doesn't have a 'non-fiction department'. It has a reviews department, which I run, and an articles department, which is run by someone else. You're entitled to say what you want about the magazine's non-fiction content, of course, but please don't criticise both departments on the basis of reviews published by mine.
I referred to, at the very top, in my post, to a non-fiction feature article published by SH. While the thrust of the day has been reviews, there is plenty to go around for the articles gang as well.
Speaking as an uneducated member of the seething SH-reader masses here, I quite enjoy reading the half-wit chimeras published by both the Articles and the Reviews departments. I especially like the new Reviews format. I admit I don't read every single review -- I'm maybe averaging one a week -- but that's part of what I like about it. I feel like I can graze in peace... Lego Star Wars one week... Travel Light the next. I feel the same way about the Were-Rabbit review that Mamatas feels about the Cross review, except in the opposite sense: My God, WTF, that movie was hysterical, I had to go the emergency room to get my spleen replaced afterwards, were you on serotonin-suppressing drugs when you went to the cinema? There, I said it. Um. But that wasn't my point...

My point was, I like the populist feel of the new format. I like the highly-variable writing styles; I like the feel of reviews written by lots of people from lots of different backgrounds, people who might -- might -- have something in common with my pedestrian SFF tastes.

Above all, I like the variety. And as a privileged member of the non-MFA-holding population, I'm not haunted by the spectre of "quality". I don't know the difference between a critical review, a review essay, or a multi-million-dollar placed advertisement for Gillette razors. And -- this is important -- I don't care. Not for this application, anyway: as long as it's an amusing diversion, that's all it takes to make me happy. As long as I learned something I didn't know, something I'm glad to have found out -- it would have taken me another decade to stumble across _Travel Light_ on my own -- then it's all good. Wonderful. I got what I wanted out of that five minutes.
FWIW, as the author of said Were-Rabbit review, I was indeed not on serotonin-suppressing drugs at the time: I genuinely thought that it failed to do some important bits of what it set out to. But - especially given the comments upthread and elsewhere and et cetera - I'm really glad we can agree to disagree about that. Niall is one of the very best editors I've ever worked for, and that seems to me as good a reason as any to write for SH.
Thank you! That's very much appreciated.