Saturday, August 15, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Let Down, Set Free

So I'm stealing the title of this quick thoughts from a story by Nino Cipri (which appeared at Crossed Genres a ways back and you should all track down), but it captures something that I want to think through a bit today. Something about reviewing. I had something of a rant on Twitter a few days ago where I examined some of my own reviewing past, and it got me to thinking about...not what advice I would offer to people starting out reviewing (because I'm still new and learning and by no means "successful" so to offer advice seems...full of myself), but what I wish I had realized a little earlier when it comes to reviewing.

Firstly, of course, and probably something I knew even at the time, is don't be an asshole. Reviews can be weapons, can be used not only to hurt the authors of whatever is being reviewed but as a way to entrench shitastic genre walls and power structures that play into the old boys club mentality that pervades almost every corner of culture. I believe there are many ways to review well. There is no one right way. I feel this makes people think they can "win" some sort of argument with me, though, by saying if I believe that then people should review however they want. And that's just dumb. Because there being more than one right way to review does not mean there are no wrong ways. There are. A great many. And the easiest way to review wrong is to be an asshole, to use reviews as weapons to oppress and hurt and "defend the proper order of things."

I've spoken a bit about my thoughts on destroying science fiction. And genre. And while I have even more thoughts on them now, perhaps it's obvious that I strongly believe that the strength in short stories really rests in their ability to shatter genre expectations, shatter conventions, break down walls. Short fiction is where the most innovation is seen in form and character and giving voice to people who have long been not only voiceless but threatened if they tried to be heard. Part of that is because there are less financial barriers to short fiction. Almost anyone can write fiction and send it out, moreso than have time to write novels and go through the much more taxing process of trying to sell it. But it's also because change has to start at the bottom, has to start as a series of revolutions that work their way up, eventually toppling those who have stood on the backs of others and making room for a new (and hopefully better) landscape.

And reviews are a part of that. Reviews signal boost and, more than that, redefine the language we use when thinking about stories. They allow others to see that writing a queer story isn't just going to result in being shat upon on the internets (though that might happen, too, as recent history has taught). But in my ranting and moping, Sam J. Miller said something that really stuck with me, that the awful review of his story "We Are The Cloud," though full of hate, prompted a backlash, not of further hate but of love. It prompted people to talk about the story because they did not want to let one asshole at a problematic review site define what is thought of as good and what is thought of as bad. And that movement, to not let assholes decide what is good and what is bad, is gaining strength and momentum.

It is heartening to know that there are other reviewers out there doing so much to talk about stories that move them, that speak to them. In the face of the hate, the Puppies, the everything that seems to think enough progress has been made, enough freedom has been afforded those who have too long been silenced, threatened, and killed for trying simply to live up to the futures promised to them as human beings. There is so much hate out there, and some times it seems, while wading through it, that it's a sea that stretches on forever. But in the face of it all there is also love. And there is hope.

I no longer review for Tangent. Sometimes that feels like defeat. But that would be believing that Tangent is the best I could do. That anyone could do. And it is not. We are capable of so much more. We don't have to be assholes, or accomplices of assholes. Reviews can be weapons, yes, but that doesn't mean they should be used to hurt. Like the stories they champion, reviews are weapons of revolution, work to map a world free of the gerrymadered fuckery of bigoted assholes. It's work that needs doing, and I'm eternally grateful for everyone out there reviewing to change the world. From the reviews in publications to personal blogs to reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, we all need diverse reviewers. We need the voice of the asshole to not be the only voice in the room. It's the main reason I keep going, that I still love reviewing (aside from getting to read some amazing stories). We've got to let down our baggage, let down the shit the past has passed down to us, and set ourselves free to remake the world, to find what works for us.

And I guess I should get back to it, having fallen behind a little this week. But thank you, everyone, for being amazing and for showing me what is possible, and how to be better. And thank you for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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