When I started QSR in January of 2015, it was for a number of reasons, most of which I’ve written about at some point. Love. Spite. Guilt. Hope. Whenever someone starts a fan project like this, there’s this question that tends to come up about who you’re doing it for. Especially with reviewing, there’s something of a debate about who you should be writing to. Are you writing reviews in order to steer people toward stories? To help people complicate their readings? To celebrate what’s being published? To try and influence awards?
I started reviewing at first purely selfishly. I was a writer just starting out and I was doing Critters (from which I still value the respectability policy because though it is designed for critique, I believe reviewers would be well suited to try and follow some of the guidelines, especially about grounding opinions in the language of opinions). And there was an email that Tangent Online was looking for reviewers, and a general plug that Tangent was good for reviews. I applied to that, I got accepted. I don’t want to spend too much time dragging Tangent. I don’t believe that it’s a good place for new reviewers, especially those who (like me) weren’t really aware of the legacy of the site and who (like me) weren’t on social media to the point that they could easily find out. People who know what it’s about and still do it, okay. But I personally found myself involved in something that I grew more and more uncomfortable with. Eventually I started QSR, trying to take advice that I saw from writers, from reviewers, from everyone.
And hey, it’s kinda worked out. I'm nominated for a Hugo Award this year largely on the back of my reviewing. I have a Patreon that is mostly supported because of my reviewing (which, by the way, if you've ever appreciated what I do, my Patreon is 100% what allows me to continue and I would love any level of support to continue). I have a column at The Book Smugglers because of my reviewing.
And here, at 3000 reviews, I just want to re-affirm some things about my reviewing, which isn’t really intended as advice, but I want to say. Keeping in mind that this is all just my opinion, my approach to what I do, what I have been doing for over four years now.
I don’t really review as a service to anyone but myself. Meaning, I read and review to try and expand my own understanding and enjoyment of short SFF, and life in general. My goal is not exactly to just find things that I like. My goal is to understand myself better. Why?
When I started reviewing, I was just coming to terms with my sexuality after a lifetime of repression, confusion, and harm both to myself and to others. I’m an introvert. I don’t have a large network of people IRL to talk to or interact with or anything. It was through reading and engaging with short SFF (and short SFF fandom) that helped me to figure myself out. That continues to help me figure myself out. It has not brought me great material wealth. It has not fixed all the ways that I am broken or the world around me is broken. But I continue to get a lot out of it. I continue to learn about me. For myself, that is certainly valuable. For readers of my reviews, I can only hope it is valuable, in the same way that people write fiction primarily to explore themselves and yet that exploration can resonate with readers. I try to remain honest, and hope that my exploration of short SFF through reviews resonates with others in a way that they find valuable.
To completely contradict my “this is not advice” statement above, if I had one piece of advice to give reviewers, it would be to try to not approach reviewing as if you know what’s good and what’s bad. Often, I find that reviews that seek to judge stories on some objective or outside measure don’t really help the reviewer grow or change or improve. As a reviewer or as a person. And if our goal is not to improve as people, to challenge ourselves and better understand and interact with our world and ourselves, then what is the goal? What better goal is there?
But back to me. Because this is a post about me doing something. Having done something. Having reached a milestone. Maybe. Certainly, I feel like I’ve grown in doing it. I don’t feel done. And I still make a lot of mistakes. But. A breath. A recognition.
And hey, some thanks, primarily to the Nerds of a Feather crew for helping me out of a bad situation and giving me a much healthier place to be in fandom. To A.C. Wise for always being so awesome and encouraging to me from Day 1. And to K. Tempest Bradford who gave me the time of day when I was still very very new at this and gave me a boost when I needed it. And for every reader and writer who has either appreciated what I've done or told me what I was doing wrong. And really, especially to those who have pointed out ways that I could improve and ways I could learn better how to cause less harm.
I try to read enthusiastically. Compassionately. Respectfully. And as thoroughly as I can. I don’t often think of myself as overly positive. Doing so would insult the people who have been hurt by things I’ve written (and I do not doubt there have been those hurt by things I’ve written). It also, in my opinion, fails to value engaging with stories and trying to judge them not by some objective rubric but by how well they accomplish what I feel they set out to do. Yes, it’s a subjective way of reading and valuing stories. But it’s honest. And I find reviewers who are honest about their opinions to be more valuable than those who hide behind assertions disguised as truth.
I hope I never get to the point where reading and reviewing feel like an obligation or chore. I have commitments now to read and review a lot, but though these are things I depend on for money and, by extension, to live, I still feel I come to reviewing because I need it. Because I’m hungry for it. Because I’m not done figuring myself out, and I never want to be.
So for now, a breath. A little bow.
And the work continues.