Good Good Reviews

Last month over at the SF Signal Mind Meld, the question was, What makes a good genre review? I held forth on my three wishes for better reviews: I want more context (telling me what the book is saying in relation to other books and the culture), I want some discussion of the prose itself (with excerpts, please), and (especially) I want reviews that are well written. Is that too much to ask?

I guess not. The universe answered in the best possible (and most ego-pleasing) way:  with James Sallis’ review of Raising Stony Mayhall, in the May/June issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The review is extremely positive (that’s the ego-pleasing part), but it also fulfills my three wishes.

First he talks about the book in terms of where it fits in terms the genre, and how he deals with students who come across a genre book and say they “don’t usually read this sort of thing”:

Nor will many claims bring a more impassioned response from me than “Well, this isn’t really science fiction (or a mystery, or a western), is it? This transcends (or deconstructs, or suberts) the genre.”

Draw them guns, partner, you better be ready to open fire.

He goes on to talk about why he doesn’t read much zombie fiction, because zombies are “Your basic one trick, or half a trick, pony.”

Well, not if the zombies have the good fortune of being in Daryl Gregory’s blazingly intelligent novel that doesn’t subvert or transcend or deconstruct one damn thing but instead, as all great writing does, honors and fulfills its heritage.

Wish #1: Check.

Sallis goes on to quote the opening page of the novel, and after that, a few more sentences as well, talking about what he likes about the prose. Wish #2: Done and done. But even more pleasingly (but not surprisingly– Sallis is an excellent writer, probably more famous now for having written the novel behind the also excellent movie Drive)  the way he writes about the book makes me want to read my own novel. That’s Wish #3 to retire the side. I’m a lucky man.

Other review news:

In Episode 10 of the SF Squee Cast, Seanan McGuire delivered a blush-inducing review of Unpossible and Other Stories. I only learned later that I’d met Seanan at Bill Willingham’s party at the San Diego Comic Con… and ignored her.  Even though she tried to talk about my book Devil’s Alphabet. WHAT?! First of all, I feel terrible. Second, I can’t believe I passed up a chance to talk about my own book with someone who wanted to hash through the weird genetics in that novel.

Last, I came across a lovely review of Raising Stony Mayhall on Geek Speak Magazine. In their “Recommended” status they rated it “Hell yes!” But here’s my favorite paragraph, which comes at the end:

Geek Speak’s Brad Crammond had the nerve – the nerve, I say! – to skim through this and call it “Jodi Picoult with zombies”, and while I take exception to his dismissive tone, I don’t entirely disagree. This novel doeshave some elements of the tear-jerking saga about it, and I won’t deny there were tears for me in here: many. But every single one of them was worth it, and the novel’s thought-provoking ending has stayed with me in all the months since first I read it, and often comes to me at quiet moments, when I am contemplating the vast complexities of life, the universe and everything. Indeed, if the job of speculative fiction is to make us think, then all I can say is this book is due for a stellar performance review and a hefty Christmas bonus, because think I did… and still am.