After yet another argument on a science fiction forum, I decided to work out how many books I’ve reviewed – because in order to review a book, I have to read it critically. Which is not to say I don’t normally read critically, although sometimes the book simply isn’t worth doing so; but for a review, no matter how bad the book is, I have to.
I have a rough idea of how many books I’ve read. Since I started keeping records in 1991 I’ve read 3220 books, but I’ve no real idea how many I read before that. Probably a couple of thousand more. I have, after all, been reading books for about 40 years. And around two-thirds of those books have been science fiction. So I’ve been reading it a long time, and I’ve read a lot of it. This means that when I say Asimov is a bad writer, I’m not saying it having never read any of his books. In fact, I’ve read most of his novel-length oeuvre, and a good many of his short stories.
But, critical reading… I started out reviewing books in 1988 for Paperback Inferno, a review magazine for the British Science Fiction Association. In 1992, Paperback Inferno was folded into Vector, the critical journal of the BSFA, and I began reviewing for that magazine. I stopped a couple of years after I moved to the United Arab Emirates in 1994.
Between 1993 and 2003, I was in an APA called Acnestis, run by Maureen Kincaid Speller. Each month, we’d write a contribution – a combination of fan writing, criticism, reviews, commentary on previous months, etc – and produce thirty copies, which we’d post to Maureen. She would then sort those so each of us received an envelope containing a copy of each person’s contribution for that month. Acnestis helped keep me sane during my decade in the UAE. In my contributions, I usually mentioned the books I’d read that month. Sometimes it was just a capsule description, but occasionally I’d write a longer review. But only thirty people ever got to see those reviews.
In 2007, I started up this blog – originally on blogger.com, but now on WordPress – and among the many things I posted were several reviews of books I’d read. I also republished some of my Acnestis reviews. In 2008, I became a reviewer for Interzone. In 2010, I was asked to provide reviews for SFF Chronicles. In 2011, I set up SF Mistressworks. And in 2012, when Daughters of Prometheus started, I began contributing to that…
So that’s a lot of reviews. It is, in fact, 237 reviews. And here are a few tables breaking down that figure:
Reviews by year
(Note ten-year gap from 1997 to 2007.)
Reviews by venue
(I have counted reviews only by their original appearance.)
|Daughters of Prometheus||5|
|It doesn’t have to be right||88|
The top ten by number of books reviewed of authors.
(Gwyneth Jones is no surprise, and I do have a habit of reviewing each new Iain Banks genre novel as it appears. Two of the Ian Whates books were anthologies he edited.)
|Iain M Banks||5|
|Carolyn Ives Gilman||3|
I have reviewed books by 182 different authors, not all of them genre. I’ve not included the capsule reviews I’ve posted to my blog in these numbers, though that would likely bump the figure by about another 100 or so. I can’t claim the quality of my reviews has been consistent, either over the years or within a single year. I like to think they’re readable, honest, and occasionally make useful points.
I don’t usually have the luxury of time to spend months giving a book a really deep read with the intent of writing several thousand words on it. There are far too many books I want to read, and a year in which I read only a dozen or so books would feel like a complete waste of twelve months to me. Of course, I don’t write a review of every book I read. Nor do I choose every book I read for review – for Interzone, for example, I can only pick from among what’s available, and I don’t always get my first choice.
But I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I’d like to think I’ve sort of got the hang of it. I don’t consider myself a critic – I don’t have the toolset for that. And, to be honest, I’d sooner focus on writing my own fiction than study to be a critic. I think it is important, however, that if you want to seriously discuss science fiction, or any fiction for that matter, then you need to read critically. Otherwise it’s just squee. It’s no good being knowledgeable about a novel’s universe or story, you also need to understand how that story works, where the author has succeeded and where they have failed, and why. That’s what reviewers try to do, that’s what I try to do when I write about other people’s fiction. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since 1988, over the course of 237 book reviews…
* The Lyre was a small press genre magazine I co-edited in the early 1990s. We published two issues, featuring original fiction by Eric Brown, Simon Clark, Stephen Baxter, Michael Cobley, Keith Brooke, Gwyneth Jones, Peter F Hamilton, Peter T Garratt, and a few other less familiar names.