Fourth Walls: Strange Horizons has a fund drive, and I have some thoughts related to one of their recent columns

Strange Horizons are having their annual fund drive.

I don’t know what to say when it comes to Strange Horizons. I don’t read short fiction very often, and their editorial taste in poems is frequently – although not always – very different to mine. (They bought a poem from me, so it’s certainly not always.) I write reviews for them, so all I have to say about the reviews department is coloured by the possibility of bias – I’m honoured to be in that company: me, I come up well short in comparison to Foz Meadows and Nic Clarke and Aishwarya Subramanian and Martin Lewis, among the rest.

They publish interesting columns. All their staff are volunteers. They pay all their contributors, and the rates are pretty damn good. If they were ever to go under, they’d leave an enormous gap in their wake.

$11,000 is a relatively small budget on which to run a weekly magazine. They’re worth supporting.

The most recent of their columns, Renay’s Communities: You Got Your Industry In My Fanwork has drawn a spot of attention. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully get where Renay is coming from: there’s space for authors to engage in discussion of their own work… but crucially, only as long as they get that intent isn’t everything. It’s not magic: their work is open to multiple interpretations, and they have to live with knowing the interpretation they’d prefer to put on it isn’t always going to be the one that strikes the reader most strongly, or even at all.

It depends on the reader. For some of us, the brown parcel sat abandoned on a train station bench is just a package. For others, it’s a potential bomb and they’ve had too much of that kind of hurt already. (If you’ll forgive the metaphor.)

It’s odd, reviewing things and writing about them, in an SFF context. I learned to think and talk about books from writers working on the craft of creating them, because back when I acquired a computer and entered upon internet communities, I wanted write novels. (It’s a hobby I’ve mostly managed to give up – or fooled myself, at any rate, into believing so. There’s little time in a PhD for extraneity.) I kept a running tally of the books I read for my own reference. A friend – its publisher – asked me to contribute a review to Ideomancer, and that gave me sufficient confidence that I starting pitching elsewhere.

I needed coffee-money, after all.

Some of the books I’ve reviewed have been authored by friends. Some of the people whose books I’ve reviewed, or who have agreed to interviews for that column I write, have since become more than mere acquaintances. You can’t talk to pleasant people about shared interests and enthusiasms and not eventually become friendly with some of them: I’d say you had to be an asshole to want not to. And the line between what’s appropriate between friends or potential friends and what’s appropriate between writer and reviewer… gets a bit odd, at times, from this perspective.

If their book doesn’t work for me, I won’t say it to their face. That’d just be rude. But the review isn’t for them. It’s for me, and for the general readership of the website or magazine that’s (normally) paying me. The exercise in intellectual honesty – Am I harder on this book because I like the author? Or, conversely, Am I not looking hard enough at its flaws? – combined with the exercise of figuring out what the appropriate level of professionalism is in interactions with authors, publicists, editors and the like who aren’t friends who I know’ll call me on it if I step over the wrong sort of line… makes it occasionally weird, awkward, and stressful.

Maybe more than occasionally.

That weirdness leaves aside interacting with people who are readers without being also otherwise engaged in the production of reading material, or who, like me, review things for money or kicks.

Renay talks about a “fannish fourth wall.” I’ve never been a self-described abstract “fan.” And from where I stand, it looks more like a funhouse mirror. Things appear differently, depending on how you look.

Mind you, something doesn’t appear differently no matter how I look at it?

In the comments to Renay’s piece at Strange Horizons, Ben Aaronovitch keeps looking like a disingenous ass.

4 thoughts on “Fourth Walls: Strange Horizons has a fund drive, and I have some thoughts related to one of their recent columns

  1. I’ve had plenty of pleasant interactions with authors about my negative/critical reviews of their works. I think people know by now that I call em like I see em, if they send me something for review. It can be done. Unfortunately, and as much as I enjoyed his novels, Ben Aaronovitch is not being the best ambassador for this idea, to say the least.

  2. His behaviour in the comment threads has been making me sad that I like his books. Because if Peter Grant were one iota less good, I’d be writing him off. Going around calling people idiots!

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