In recent days I've received two interesting messages. This one showed up in my giveaway inbox last night, coming from someone who was wondering why I had not offered any response to Larry's (Dylanfanatic) post regarding poor reviews. Here's an excerpt:
Why can't this guy understand that not everyone is looking for essays? We've seen him whining on a couple of message boards and he doesn't seem to get that few readers seem interested in that sort of thing.
With all the copycats that have sprung up in the last year or so and copying what you've been doing with your blog, I'm curious to see if you believe that you are doing the "right" thing as far as reviews are concerned. I guess you must be frustrated that they're sort of riding your coat tails, no?
The second one came in my Facebook inbox and brought a smile on my face:
You know what the difference between you and [name withheld] is? You don't come across as a pretentious, obnoxious git in almost everything you post online. (I'm sure there are many other differences... ;) )
I'm not going to dump uninvited rant on you about a fellow reviewer, although this IS a bit random. But that observation made me think this:
An element of your success/popularity is surely that you always come across online as affable, friendly and non-judgmental of other peoples tastes. And that makes perfect sense to me in terms of generating an audience. Sure, people can behave any way they want and there's no rule book for it, but I just wanted to say that you set the standard in terms of how a 'professional' reviewer/critic should conduct themselves online. How a person treats others is fundamental to my opinion of that person - you're way over on the 'good' side of the line. :)
Sorry, if you find this offensive, it's not intended to provoke any argument. I just saw that there was a compliment lurking in my observations and I think compliments should be given away, not hoarded.
First of all, let me begin by saying that I wasn't even aware of Larry's post and his thoughts about my "no-frills approach" to reviewing. It might not speak well of me, but the proliferation of SFF blogs has made it well nigh impossible for anyone to keep track of everything that's going on out there. I have nothing against Larry, a reader and reviewer I've respected for longer than I've been blogging. If you hang out on any of the major SFF message boards, you are aware that we don't necessarily see eye to eye where book reviews are concerned. Larry has never been the same since he fell in with that VanderMeer and M. John Harrison crowd. See how a good kid can go bad!:p I must say he dug up that one from the mothballs. And it wasn't a veritable review, for I had not been able to finish the novel. Hence, to write a review of a work I had not even finished would have been seriously unfair. Which is why Frost's Shadowbridge received the same treatment. . .
I don't have the pretention of being a particularly good book reviewer. I would like to think that I don't suck, but that's for you guys to decide. The Hotlist will receive its 500,000th visitor this week, and its 1,000,000th page will be viewed later this spring. So I guess I must be doing something right!;-) As to what it might be, you'll have to tell me. You are the ones showing up here every day, so there has to be a reason for that!
In a nutshell, I write the sort of reviews I would like to read. That's as far as it goes. There was no other objective in my mind when I created this blog in 2005. Back then, I would never have thought that the Hotlist would become such a popular SFF site. But somehow, it did. How did it come to pass? To put it simply, I haven't the faintest idea. I guess that most of you like my "casual" approach to reviewing. I don't know. . .
Way back when, SFF book reviews meant high brow, intellectual, pretentious, I-have-a-pole-up-my-ass kind of thing. Most of the time, it wasn't even about the novel or work being put under the microscope. Nope, it felt more like it was about the reviewer himself, pontificating and showing how much he enjoyed hearing themselves talk. Yes, I guess we're back to the mental masturbation argument once again. . .
Then the internet changed everything. All of a sudden, websites such as www.sffworld.com saw the light and offered an alternative to SFF fans looking for good reads. It took a long time, yet publishers now realize the importance of online reviewers. While many do suck, a growing number of avid readers of the genre have now become respected reviewers and they deserve the kudos.
After going through a lot of shit early on as I and others helped pave the way for the new generation of bloggers, I have received my share of accolades. Although absurdly cool, I try not to think too much about that stuff. After all, doing my own thing in my "little" virtual sandbox led me here, so I would be crazy to change anything. But you might end up on the Hugo ballot, some have been saying. Surely you'll have to be a lot more serious from now on. And why is that??? Being myself brought me here, so I'm not going to start acting differently.
I've told every blogger who has asked me for advice the same thing: Be yourself. You must have your own voice and not try to do what everyone is doing. Sadly, not everyone took this counsel to heart. The problem with a lot of the newer SFF bloggers out there is that they have no voice. You read their stuff, and it feels as though they are afraid to offer their honest opinion. It seems that they don't want their personality to shine through their words, as if afraid that the supply of ARCs and review copies will dwindle and die if they say anything wrong. Gabe Chouinard had a voice. Jay Tomio has a voice. William Lexner has a voice. Rob Bedford and Mark (Hobbit) from sffworld.com have a voice. The same can be said of all of those who helped start the Blogosphere phenomenon which took the genre by storm a while back. We didn't give a damn and we could be brutally honest. Passion for the genre was what fuelled us, not any promises for rewards. After all, publishers saw us as little more than turds back then.
But I digress, for I have expounded on all this last July before going to New York City when I was debating cutting down on the giveaways. Go read that post if you are interested in learning more. . .
As I mentioned, from the beginning I wanted the Hotlist to be a place where I would post the kind of reviews I would like to read. Worldbuilding, characterization, pace, storylines, etc. That's the sort of thing I wanted to read about. Essay-like reviews exploring every underlying theme of the novel while not really telling me anything about the damn book make me want to open my veins. Which is why you won't find anything of the kind here. I'm not saying that it's stupid and insipid; I'm just not interested in that sort of thing.
I recently read about how many SFF reviewers felt that fandom had become fragmented to a degree which was alarming. From where I'm sitting, that couldn't be further from the truth. For the first time in the history of the genre, people have a choice as to where they want to go for reviews, articles, and related material. Which, in the end, explains the proliferation of blogs and websites everywhere. And that's as it should be. Instead of being forced to read John Clute and his ilk (which we had no choice to do for years and years and years), fans now have the luxury to go where they please. Some come here, while many others visit a panoply of blogs, websites, fanzines, etc. Fandom is driven by the same passion for SFF; the last couple of years have presented them with alternatives regarding where they can now get their information.
Coverage in print media is on the decline, and I am aware that many of the better known and older book reviewers feel that people like me are responsible for pulling the carpet from under them. If you ask me, their "high brow" approach is the reason why. Provided with a more "user friendly" alternative, fans have left them to follow other reviewers who are as passionate as they are, and who don't talk down to them. I may be wrong, of course, but I feel that the explosion of online book review sites and blogs is a demonstration that readers have "chosen" which path they will henceforth follow. . .
As to my "no-frills" approach, I guess that depends on who you ask. An editor recently emailed me to say that my site was one of the only places where she could read intelligent and in-depth SFF book reviews. On the downside, let's not forget that the pathetic drivel I post was atrocious enough that it inspired Gabe Chouinard and his cohort to create the now defunct Scalpel.
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has reached proportions that I never even dreamed of. I feel extremely flattered that so many people drop by every day, but I never let it go to my head. As I said before, I don't believe I'm such a talented reviewer. In any event, the sole point of my reviews is to intrigue people enough that they'll give the work I'm reviewing a shot. Or that they'll think twice about buying something I found not to my liking. The relationship between a reviewer and a reader is based on trust. I think that most people who trust my judgement as a book reviewers have discovered that we have similar tastes in novels.
I really don't want people to read my reviews and then shake their heads in amazement, wondering how I could write something so eloquent, so profound. I'm just the middle man, like a pimp (don't mention that word in an interview with Erikson!) or a pusher. It's all about the authors and their books. I'm just a beacon stearing you, hopefully, in the right direction. While it's fun to be told to keep up the good work and to have someone like GRRM nominate me for a Hugo Award, I always get that warm feeling inside when I receive a random email from readers thanking me for helping them discover writers like Scott Lynch, R. Scott Bakker, Patrick Rothfuss, or Guy Gavriel Kay.
And since this blog's mission has always been to spread the word about all that's good in the genre, that's what I intend to continue doing. With the same blend of news, interviews, giveaways, and no-frills book reviews!:-)
Okay, this post is way too long and I have a lot to do. I sincerely hope that I managed to make sense, though I am conscious of the fact that such might not be the case. I guess that what I'm trying to say is that there is now a possibility for SFF readers to visit sites/blogs/yada yada yada which strike their fancy, and methinks it's great for the genre.
If you are a Hotlist "regular" and love it here, then good for you. If not, well I'm persuaded that there is something for you out there!