Saturday, December 26, 2015

Quick Thoughts - A Year Older, No Wiser

So I started this blog the first week of 2015. As the year comes to a close, I'm almost surprised to still be at it. Not because it's something I don't like doing, but because fuck is it a lot of reviewing. I started this blog thinking "There should be more short SFF reviews out there. Of whole issues, including poetry and maybe some nonfiction." You see, I was reviewing for Tangent at the time, and growing more and more dissatisfied with it. So I started Quick Sip Reviews hoping to do reviews my way. I thought, I'll keep it short, I'll read a lot, it will be good. I should have known that I'd never be able to escape myself.

I have a tendency to overdo things a bit. It's why, when I started this blog, I was reviewing for Tangent, Book Reporter, and Nerds of a Feather on top of starting this new project. And that...well, wasn't exactly good for my mental health. So I stopped reviewing for Tangent. I have recently stepped back from Book Reporter as well. And already I can feel the guilt start to creep in. That I'm not doing enough. Even as my reviews creep longer, as I have done over 300 posts for QSR in 2015. Over 300. On top of over 100 reviews spread over my other contributing sites this year. When I think of how much creative writing I could have done in that time, my brain explodes a bit. And yet...the world is probably better served by me reviewing.

So this last Quick Thoughts is my look back before the new year prompts me to look forward. It has been a very good year. I have published quite a few stories and a poem and been paid for it. And I have started this blog and tried to turn it into something that people might maybe possibly want to read occasionally. To get people interested in short SFF and maybe get people to read stories they otherwise wouldn't have. Also to have a place to put my thoughts about things effecting short SFF. It's interesting year for short SFF. And I can only hope that I will be able to keep at this, keep reading and reviewing and thinking and maybe even trying a few new things in 2016.

I'm not sure exactly what people expect when they visit this site. I don't feel like much of a proper reviewer. I'm not really a critic. I'm a fan. I gush and I hesitate and I try to be honest. Or at least earnest in my reviews. I try to engage. And that can be a tricky thing sometimes, because it means going into each story with a sort of innocence, or perhaps a sort of willingness to believe that the story will be good, that I will like it. I think too often reviewers that do full issues, that basically aren't going around picking out the stories they think they will like, can become a bit...resistant or closed. Not that reviewers can't dislike things, but I see an unwillingness to engage stories, an insistence that stories must pass some sort of "objective" test of "good fiction." Which can be quite...discouraging when those reviewers also claim to be authorities, when they believe that their tests actually determine whether a story is good or bad.

And maybe I fall victim to this, too. Or will. Maybe I'll become jaded and see every story as boring, forgettable, mediocre. Maybe I'll start writing two sentences and call them reviews, or will spend my reviews debating what genre the story deserves to be labeled as. Maybe I'll decide that certain stories aren't worth my time, because in a world where short SF far outweighs my ability to read it, isn't my time precious? Aren't I under-appreciated and over-qualified and don't I deserve to be able to decide what gets published and what doesn't and don't I have the right to be outraged, outraged(!) when I read a story that isn't good enough. I mean, come on, I probably didn't pay to read it, but come on, come on, outraged! Ahem...and maybe I'm drifting a bit from my point. Sometimes I feel like a raw nerve.

So I've been at this a year, and I guess I still haven't learned to protect myself, to distance myself. My first goal is always to engage with the story. To let it work on me and see how it feels. It's incredibly personal and perhaps not very useful to other people. Your mileage will vary. I am by no means a universal reader. My experiences in life are incredibly limited. I've been at this a year, but I'm no closer to being able to say what makes a story "good." I have no map. I know what makes a story "good to me." A story I want to promote and talk about. And I know what makes a story one I'd rather avoid. Not bad, but nothing I'd want to read. I won't be changing that. My reviews will still be filled with "I think" and "I feel" and "to me" because that's what's honest. Congrats, you've found a review site run by someone who completely rejects the idea of objectivity. I cannot tell you truth. But I can be honest.

A year older, no wiser. That's how it feels much of the time. But I'm still here. I will be starting some new things this year maybe, but we'll see. I do still intend to write fiction and poetry (regardless of how futile it often seems to be), and part of stepping back from other sites was to give myself more time for fiction. But I still very much believe that short SFF reviewing is incredibly important. I'm so honored to be a part of it alongside so many talented and insightful people. And I hope that anyone out there reading finds these useful. To all of you, thank you! Here's to another year!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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