UK Books - August 2007
by John Berlyne
Date: August 2007 /
Following Ern's appearance on a panel at the recent Readercon which discussed the difference between online and print reviews, it's been fascinating to see the amount of heated opinion that has been floating around the internet. In a balanced and thoughtful response to the arguments raised, British writer, editor and one time Clarke award administrator Paul Kincaid published this response on his blog to two discussion threads that had appeared elsewhere - specifically here and here.
What primarily concerns me about all these discussions is the apparent impression out there that SFRevu has a "positive reviews only" policy. If that is the case, then it's news to me!
In the eight years that I've been reviewing here, I've never once been subject any such policy, nor have I sought to enforce one. One of the many pleasures of reviewing for SFRevu is the complete lack of any kind of censorship. Unlike other venues where my views might be tempered by a heavy handed editorial policy, here I get to call it as I see it, not how I am told to see it.
The very idea of a reviewing venue that will only publish fluffy bunny, isn't life wonderful reviews seems ludicrous to me. However, it should be noted that I'd much rather write a positive review than a negative one - my love of writing and fondness for writers makes the idea of trashing somebody's creative endeavours a harsh exercise at best. It takes a hell of a lot of effort to produce a novel, firstly and most obviously on the part of the writer, and subsequently on the part of the agent, the editor, the art department, the marketing and publicity departments all the way up to and including the booksellers themselves. All these folks contribute in some way to production process of a novel and all these folks are in some way responsible if a book is a critical and commercial failure. I have reviewed novels before in which it is the editor and not the writer who has rightly faced the main barrage of my criticism. This notwithstanding, I would much rather not review a novel than set out to take one to pieces for the sake of it. Does that equate to a "positive reviews only" policy? Well, anyone who regularly reads my work will know that simply isn't the case.
On balance, it may well be that the vast majority of my review work indeed does positively recommend novels for our readers and that is due to the simple fact that we here at SFRevu we know our audience and we know good genre fiction. Thus our mission first and foremost is to guide site visitors toward the kind of genre fiction they are most likely to enjoy, and occasionally to guide them away from something they might not.
In conclusion, over and above everything that has bubbled to the surface in this debate, we should all remind ourselves that reviewing is a subjective art. Just because I say something is good doesn't make it so... it just makes it highly likely!