Anyone truly fascinated by literature, as I am, will, at some point (probably sooner than later) spend a certain amount of time reading critical work. In my own case, it just felt like a natural progression from reading a lot to learning about the writing. Heck, I’ve even discussed some of these reads here on CE.
Likewise, the leap from reading criticism to writing it felt natural. Although I still write a lot more fiction than criticism (what I do here on CE isn’t real criticism, it’s more an exercise in exteriorizing my own feelings about books without spoiling them for others).
The first inkling I had that my critical thoughts might be worthwhile to others was when I sent The New York Review of Science Fiction an article about the relative merits of science fiction in the West and behind the Iron Curtain in the sixties and seventies… and it was published.
The best part of that was that I received a short subscription to the magazine. I downloaded the PDFs, printed them out… and was amazed.
Here was no-holds-barred criticism about… everything and anything under the genre sun (suns?), some of it extremely tenuously linked to the genre, but all of it thoughtful. The depth of scholarly musings on subjects that wouldn’t necessarily have occurred to me was simply stunning, and the concentration with which these publications had to be read surprised me.
I subsequently published another piece there, and received another subscription, so let me use those as an example of the kind of thing you’ll find there (the samples are from December 2016 and August 2017).
Apart from my own piece (about SFF in Brazil), you’ll find an analysis of Gregory Benford’s fiction looking at from a pure definition standpoint, as well as a scholarly search for the true origins of a vegetable caterpillar found in Ripley’s… and several literary examples thereof. And these are just the cover stories of one of the issues!
The rabbit hole gets deeper, the scholarship becomes more specialized and you often find yourself reading about books you’re not familiar with… and writers you haven’t even heard of.
Sound like a recipe for boredom?
It isn’t. Or at least it isn’t to me. To me it’s the distilled essence of why I read in the SFF genre in the first place, a celebration of blurred boundaries between fantasy and reality as well as those between different literary genres.
I also understand why no less than the late, great Gardner Dozois always mentioned this publication in his annual Summation… and why he never failed to add the word “quirky” to his description.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author whose novella Branch is both quirky and thought-provoking. You can check it out here.