For my 100th article in this blog, I decided to do something different. I’ll try to articulate why I’m actually putting an effort in this blog, what I’m trying to achieve, and what I don’t care much about. Nothing here will be groundbreaking; in fact, I suspect that it will be so mundane that the most surprising aspect of this article will be that I even bothered to write it.
Let me begin with a little personal history. Growing up in a communist country, there was very little in terms of science fiction. My humble beginnings were with Jules Verne and a little of H. G. Wells, but I greatly preferred the former, and I still do. There were a few titles that randomly appeared, only to be snatched by people and very difficult to obtain afterwards. This was an eclectic mix of titles, ranging from a collection of classic short stories (I think many of them were in the SFWA Hall of Fame), to Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, and a few things in between. I think the number of science fiction publications for the forty years leading to 1989 numbered only a dozen or slightly more.
In 1990, Asimov’s Foundation was one of the first science fiction novels published in the newly democratic republic. I was already out of school and mature enough to appreciate it. I read it and was instantly hooked. Since then, for over 30 years, I’ve read hundreds of books and thousands of short stories. My physical library contains 1200 books, about half of which are science fiction, and I indiscriminately add to my Kindle library to the point where I don’t even know what I have there anymore. I’ve read books on history of science fiction, in order to go back and trace its roots. I now have volumes that saw their first and only publication in the 1930s. And I still devour any written science fiction I can put my hands on.
There is reading, and then there is reading, though. There are plenty of books I’ve read a few times and can’t even remember the plot. This has become my main reason for establishing the blog. I found that reviewing works forces me to pay much closer attention to what I read, analyze the writing style and quality, better appreciate the story and isolate various elements, such as characterization, dialogue or environmental description. When I read or listen to a book that I want to review, I end up with a much more intense feeling towards the book. Any feeling is better than just mechanical reading. There may be books I end up strongly disliking, and there are those that I’ll love without even wanting to. A great example of the latter is the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers. The old me would dismiss it as adolescent drivel without a strong plot and action; the new me greatly appreciates the well-developed characters, the overall optimistic tone of the books and a vibrant universe.
Here’s an interesting thing, though: While writing the previous paragraph, I had no problem naming a book series and its author. Five years ago, twenty-five years into my science fiction reading bender, I would not be able to name either. I’d simply forget soon after I read the book. Writing this blog helps be to commit works and their authors to memory. This lets me follow the authors I like (and avoid a select few) because I remember them. It also lets me to discover new authors. Because I want to learn more about the background of science fiction, I support the Hugo awards every year, which gives me access to writers whom I haven’t heard of before. My horizons keep expending.
Speaking of expanding my horizons: I do have a limit here. I am not active on social media because I simply don’t see the reason to be. As a result, I don’t follow any authors and don’t know what they are talking about. I miss any kind of self-promotion, I don’t know or care what opinions they hold in the real world, and it takes something truly extraordinary for me to read up on that. I occasionally peruse File 770, a blog with news about the science fiction community, and I’m active on the PrintSF subreddit, which is almost exclusively focusing on written works, their analysis, and recommendations. For this reason, you won’t find any politicking here. You also won’t see me fawning over a work or dismissing it because of my feelings towards an author. The truth is, I rarely have the opportunity to develop feelings towards them, one way or another. That’s for the best, I think. I can rate a book on its merits, not on the author.
Rating may actually be a strong word. I don’t use stars or any numeric scale. I understand that everyone has different tastes and preferences. That’s why I try to describe a work and then critique from my personal point of view. (In fact, you may consider me to be an unreliable narrator.) People who read science fiction should not have trouble to read a 1500-word long review and make up their own mind.
It appears, though, that there aren’t many such people. I use the most rudimentary tracking software, which simply counts the number of visitors per day and the most popular article. The daily average is in single digits, and I don’t expect that it will grow fast anytime soon. That doesn’t matter, though. I write this blog because I want to increase my quality of reading and my enjoyment of science fiction. I believe I’ve been able to achieve both.