Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Online reviews and online submissions

I expect many of you will have already noticed that the guys at SF Signal were short of more erudite commentators, and hence decided to ask me to contribute to their new “Mind Meld” feature. The question was:

“From your point of view, how has the proliferation of online book reviews affected the publishing world?”

The responses are very interesting, actually – quite harmonious in many respects, though with everyone playing their own little melodic riffs on the theme. Go take a look, leave some comments over there.


While we’re on the subject of the effect of the web on genre fiction, here’s an intriguing thinking-out-loud post from Jeremiah Tolbert, who’s wondering where he should be submitting to build up his short fiction career:

“For a while, I decided that I would only submit my work to places that would take electronic submissions. I was making so little off of the sales that I did make that it wasn’t worth the cost of postage and envelopes. I haven’t decided whether I should change that policy yet or not, honestly. So many ‘zines do take electronic submissions now. Which don’t? F&SF, Asimov’s, and Analog. The so-called “Big Three.”

I’m kind of curious to see if I can build a reputation for myself without appearing in those markets. They don’t pay that much better than anyone else, and their circulation isn’t spectacular (although it may be better than just about everyone except Escape Pod). It’s kind of weird, but for the purposes of building an audience, I think making reprint sales to Escape Pod might be the best thing I can do for myself.

That’s a very weird situation, and really represents the state of the industry.”

The man has a point. Your thoughts?

[tags]book, reviews, publishing, short, story, fiction, markets, submissions, electronic[/tags]

Friday Photo Blogging: Electric Eel Shock live

What a rotten week for weather, eh? It’s turned quite clear today, but there’s been little opportunity for taking pictures outdoors in the last seven days.

So, it’s lucky I got some half-way decent shots at the Electric Eel Shock show last weekend, isn’t it?

Electric Eel Shock, live at The Wedgewood Rooms 2nd December 2007

Yes, they’re as endearingly crazy as they look. If you like your rock and metal music – but don’t take it so seriously that you can’t stand to see it spoofed – you really must see Electric Eel Shock play live.

A friend who I took with me described it as “the most hilariously enjoyable gig I’ve seen this year”. It’s a fair description. More shots available if you’re interested.

Writing about music

As the above should make plain, I have a review of the last show of Electric Eel Shock’s European tour for you to read over at The Dreaded Press … but of course, as you’ve all subscribed already, you’ll already know about that, and the handful of other stuff that’s appeared over there in the last week or so.

The really good news is that there’s much more to come. I’m very pleased to have gotten myself onto the mailing lists of five PR outfits already. That’s small beer for the big players, but not bad going for a one-man-band site that’s two months into operations, as far as I’m concerned.

So, I’ve got a stack of material with forthcoming release dates that I need to get reviewed, which means I’ll have to start incrementally pulling back on the writing I do for other sites. Which is kind of a shame, as I’ve become rather fond of the discipline of doing it .. but onwards and upwards is the way.

I’m off out again this Sunday to a local show by a young band called Not Advised, and I’ll be interviewing them also. That’ll be my first face-to-face interview off my own back for my own site! Yay!

In the pipeline (sometime after the New Year passes) will be a chin-wag with Justin Broadrick, formerly of Napalm Death and Godflesh, currently of depleted-uranium-shoegaze-metal band Jesu – I’m looking forward to that one, I can tell you.

Other interview news – I’ve sent off a batch of questions to Sir Hank of Rollins, and am eagerly awaiting the responses. The PR sent the first draft back, because I included about three times as many questions as he’d have the time spare to answer …

Writing about books

I’ve been shown the preliminary typeset PDFs of my Iain Banks article, and I have to say I’m fairly pleased with it. You lot will have to wait for the next issue of Interzone before you can give me any feedback, of course … 🙂

Otherwise, no reviewing to report this week, as I’ve been busy wrangling with music deadlines. But for the first time in ages I have no outstanding or pressing deadlines of a literary nature, which has given me the chance to (gasp!) read a book just because I wanted to.

I’m not complaining, because I love my reviewing work, but it’s strangely liberating to walk up to your shelf and think “hmm, what do I fancy?” The [holiday which shall remain unnamed] break (which I will be spending in the tranquillity of the Yorkshire countryside) promises to be a catch-up reading binge of truly satisfying proportions. wh00t!

Of course, in the meantime I need to figure out how to deal with the Interzone reviews section in light of the seasonal postal delays

Books and magazines received

No hay libros o revistas esta semana. Apesadumbrado, amigos.


Well, if (comparative) brevity is a virtue, this is one of the more virtuous FPBs of recent times. It always feels odd to have little to report, and somehow a little disappointing … what that says about my personal psychology, I have no wish to know in detail.

I’m working on this “content to be myself” thing right now, and at the times it fully clicks into gear I can see why people who are good at it make a point of recommending it. Practice will (hopefully) make perfect – or as near to perfect as is possible in an imperfect universe, eh? 🙂

Enough blather – I have things to do, and I expect those of you who are still reading this far down the page probably have things to do as well (no matter how well you may have convinced yourself otherwise).

So, before setting off on the traditional jaunt to collect The Friday Curry Of Intestinal Righteousness And Olfactory Justice, I will bid you all a good weekend – have fun, ladies and gents.

[tags]Friday, photo, Electric Eel Shock, livestock, rock, metal, gig, reviews, music, bookstores, writing, blather[/tags]

Paul Kincaid’s book reviewing credo gets my vote

Well, the Readercon panel on book reviews seems to have generated a lot of dicussion around the issue … kind of the inverse of the Eastercon panel, which took place after the worst of the smoke had cleared from that particular salvo.

But here’s the inestimable Paul Kincaid, hitting the nail on the head and describing my own standpoint on how and why I review books almost exactly:

“My own credo is simple. A review should be honest (any reviewer who allows her opinion to be swayed by friendship, bribery, peer pressure or whatever, is not worth reading), defensible (I don’t mind if people disagree with my judgement, I am quite used to being the only critic to hold a certain position, pro or con, on any particular book, but I want to be sure the readers can see why I reached that particular judgement), and, so far as I am able, well written (a review is also an entertainment, the reader should be rewarded for taking the time to read the piece). This credo, it should be noted, is an aspiration; I have no idea how close I ever get to achieving it.

Notice I say nothing about reviews being good or bad, positive or negative. It is part of the honesty of a review that if you don’t think a book is any good you have to say so. It is also part of the honesty of a review to recognise that very very few books are entirely wonderful or entirely terrible, and the job of a reviewer is to identify and note that balance. Because of that I do not believe I write positive reviews, or negative reviews – but I hope I write honest reviews.”

Result. Paul Kincaid is one of my newly-inherited reviews team at Interzone, which – given his pedigree and experience – is quite bizarre, because by rights he should be the person editing me. Though I doubt he wants the administrative headaches that come with the post – another indicator of his native common sense!

He and I (and others) are keen to see what comes from Jonathan’s plans for Son of Scalpel, too. This debate – for better or for worse – probably has a good few years mileage in it yet.

Friday Photo Blogging: humungous flying cephalopod

We move away from photos of plants (and, indeed, from actual photos taken with an actual camera) for this week’s FPB, because … well, because I’ve not taken any. So instead, here’s a snapshot of me checking out an air kraken in Babbage Square, Second Life:

Air Kraken at Babbage Square

I went to see Babbage because it was one of the places Warren Ellis mentioned in his column about ‘awesome builds that seem like ghost-towns’. A fair assessment, too – Babbage is a beautifully made steampunk-themed sim, but it was dead as a Victorian doornail when I went there, except for a few other people who’d obviously had the same idea about following Mr. Ellis’s list of suggestions. That flying squid just had to be photographed. You can buy your own, too. Second Life is like that.


Even that screen shot is from over a week ago, too – time has been short, and SL exploration has to, by necessity, be one of the first casualties of temporal triage. I think my keyboard is starting to resent the ceaseless battering – it keeps sighing whenever I sit down in front of it.

Of course, I could be making all this up, couldn’t I? Yakking on about how busy I am in an attempt to make you all think I’m something I’m not? Well, I might be trying to convince you I’m a more professional and successful writer than I really am, but I assure you that I’ve been working. In fact, I have the proof.

I pointed earlier in the week to my critique of Mike Resnick’s Starship: Pirate at SF Site (and in doing so proved the axiom of the Summon Author spell), so you already knew about that. But I write about music too, you know – and a whole lot of my stuff has gone live on the intarwebs in the last week.

For Subba-Cultcha.com, I have reviewed albums by Dungen (trippy), Azalea City Penis Club (interesting), and Blacktop Mourning (by-the-numbers emo pop). Plenty more stuff already submitted but yet to be published.

For Pennyblack Music, I have reviewed albums by the Young Gods (mind-blowingly brilliant industrial) and Malkovich (craftily nihilistic Dutch metal lunacy), an EP by Silicon Vultures (very promising but as yet unpolished), and live shows from Pelican (supported by These Arms are Snakes) and Clutch (supported by The Sword). Here too, at least as many pieces again still pending publication. And I still need to write up and submit my interview with Franz from the Young Gods that I recorded on Tuesday …

Plus I’m off to review Biffy Clyro and supports on Sunday night, and on June 2nd I get to interview the mighty desert rock heroes, Fu Manchu! OK, so I don’t get paid for any of this, but it’s great fun and great portfolio. If I can just work out how to survive on three hours sleep a night, I’ll be doing brilliantly. And there’s paid work in the offing, too – I’ve got my first test copywriting assignment for the Sea Your History project to work on. I have to boil down the Admiralty’s attitudes and approaches to naval dis- and re-armament in the inter-war years … to 500 words! Yipes!


So, incoming materials for the week are all magazines (because I only count items that I intend to read, which invalidates the latest batch of teen vamp-shagging novels from Orbit … the public library will be more grateful for them, I expect):

Hell knows when I’ll get time to read them, though, because I’ve also received the recommended reading list for the SF Criticism Masterclass next month – and it’s … well, it’s extensive. It’s also almost entirely made up of articles from learned tomes of crit that I have little or no chance of getting hold of, so it’s lucky that the SF Foundation’s library can supply me with copies of the relevant articles and extracts. I don’t think I’ll be doing much reviewing of books this month, that’s for sure.

Oh, and talking of reviewing and Interzone, I think I can now safely reveal that I have just become Assistant Reviews Editor for Interzone, which is something I’m inordinately proud to announce. I think it’ll be a lot of work, but well worth it for the prestige alone. How I will manage to eventually fill the wonderful Sandy Auden’s shoes, I have no idea, but I’m going to give it the best shot I have.


So, there you go. I really have had a busy week – not that you ever doubted me, of course, but I like to be able to back up my assertions occasionally. But now that I have shared the wonder that is my week-to-week existance with you, good people of the internet, it is time. It is time for That Thing Which Must Be Consumed On A Friday … I’ll need the calories to keep me at my desk all weekend, if nothing else!

Have a good one, boys and girls.

Friday Photo Plogging: anticipating guacamole

Rejoice, veterans of VCTB; for this week FPB returns to plants, its original subject of observation!


About three months ago, I’d been making homemade guacamole (which was less than successful, truth be told) when I found myself about to throw out the stone from the avocado. “Hang on a minute,” I thought to myself. “I wonder if I can grow an avocado tree from this thing?” So I turned to the mighty intarwebs (source of all knowledge, accurate or otherwise), which advised me to put the stone in a pot of compost (pointy end up), moisten the compost thoroughly, and then seal the pot in a freezer bag and leave it somewhere sunny.

Above is the result, released from it’s bag only yesterday (because I’d quite forgotten it was there at all). Whether it will survive in the non-tropical UK climate, I have no idea – but given the fact we’ve just had an April that felt more like a June, I may be able to go into business selling my homemade guacamole … if I ever get the recipe nailed. I’ve been to the avocado capital of the world, y’know; did I ever tell you that?


Sheesh. Another week flies by – but I’ve not been idle, oh no. I submitted a critique of Mike Resnick’s Starship: Pirate to SF Site. I read, took extensive notes on and reviewed Dark Space (which was rather good, as it happens), and I’ve written four CD reviews and an essay for Pennyblack. I’ve also been poking at a new project that, although unpaid and entirely voluntary, has a real creative appeal to it – and which I shall talk about more when details are forthcoming. I haven’t got as much done as I hoped I would this week, but that’s par for the course really. I’ve met all my deadlines, and that’s the unbreakable rule. The pipeline is not clogged. Yet.

But thank [insert whichever deity, physical constant or expletive you prefer] for bank holiday weekends, because I could do with some rest time away from the computer screen. That said, I have a couple of assignments to finish before Monday arrives, so it won’t be all sofa and sunshine. Plus I’m off to review the rather excellent Nine Black Alps on Sunday night – a night out of the house with some raucous guitar music included in the deal. Result.


Incoming materials are fairly thin this week, if you don’t count the CDs (which, for FPB purposes, I don’t). The May issue of F&SF has arrived, and seeing as it contains a Bacigalupi story I may be forced to cherry-pick from it at some point over the weekend.

But the real rosette of the week is the eventual arrival of something I’ve been looking forward to for almost six months:


Mwahahaha! My copy of David Marusek’s short story collection Getting to Know You! At last!

When you consider the fact that I’ve been engaged in a few email discussions recently that deplore the whole ‘limited edition’ culture of the small press scene, it could be considered an act of hypocricy on my part to have shelled out the extra for a signed and numbered copy (#15, since you asked). In my defence I’d say that, for the little extra on top of the price of a normal Subterranean hardback, the chance to possess a signed artefact from an author that you [a] would jump in front of a moving train for, and [b] will probably never get to meet in person, was a hard thing to resist. So I didn’t. Resist, I mean.

And I know I’ve previously declared my ambivalence about book cover illustrations, but I’m unashamed to say that this is a gorgeous piece of work. Just look at that thing; lovely. Plus, being a SubPress job, the book itself is made to exceptional standards. I shall be savouring the reading of it as soon as I can find a window of opportunity in which to do so.


So, there it is, ladies and gents. Another thrilling week in the life of yours truly – I admire your fortitude and constitution, that makes you able to cope with vicariously experiencing my deeds and doings without passing out or expiring from the excitement! And so, the time for that most important of weekly rituals has arrived. I don’t know if any of you also intend to have A Friday Curry*, but regardless, I hope you have a damn fine weekend. Hasta luego.

[* Just a quick Eastercon flashback, and a commentary on the nature of being vaguely known within a select sphere of interest via one’s internet activities: one of the weirdest moments of Eastercon for me occured on Friday evening. As I was stepping into a lift which was already occupied by a lady with whom I was completely unfamiliar, said lady asked me cheerfully if I’d managed to have The Friday Curry or not. It took a good thirty seconds of full-bore paranoia before I realised that she must be one of the silent subscribers to VCTB. So if you’re reading, ma’am, accept my apologies for being impolite and neither asking your name or introducing myself in return. As I’m sure you could tell, I was a little shocked at the time …]