I suspect that reviews matter to me more than they should, but for a short fiction writer reviews are pretty much all the feedback one ever gets, outside of the writers's group and a few friends on-line or in beer-world.
Like most writers, my stories receive good and bad reviews. I have no problem with that. After all, reviews are just opinions placed in the public domain. Frankly, I'd be astonished if my mostly rather small-scale and character-led pieces attracted universal acclaim. All I can hope is that they don't attract universal opprobrium.
I do get some curious reviews, though. Velcro City's review of my story TLP, which was published in Hub #2, is a case in point. To read it, go to http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/magazine-review-hub-issue-2-winter-2007/
. The reviewer seems to think I'm trying to foist a belief in Christianity upon unwary SF fans. Anyone who knows me well would LoL at that suggestion. Granted, I'm fascinated by faith and belief -- that's why I wrote the story -- and like many an ageing agnostic I ponder Pascal's Wager from time to time, but surely if I wanted to proselytise I'd have picked somewhere more accessible than Hub, which I'd guess has fewer than a thousand readers. It also perplexes me that any reviewer should think that a story's narrator is necessarily serving as a mouthpiece for the author's beliefs. As a writer, one has to learn how to get inside the head of a character who *doesn't* echo ones's own beliefs.
Then there are the reviews that make you stop and think.
I can't link to the review, as the comments were made in print by Niall Harrison, who is editor of the BSFA's Vector critical magazine (#251). During the course of a long piece about the current crop of British SF magazines, he mentioned Touching Distance, which was published in Postscripts #7. He described it as a middling story by a midlist writer. By middling he meant competently done, readable, worth fifteen minutes of his time, but ultimately a bit old-hat and underwhelming. The editor of Postscripts clearly didn't agree and nor do I, but fair enough, it's a sustainable opinion. A story published eight years after the first draft was written may have gone stale for reasons that the author can do nothing about. But what really interested me was Niall's use of the term "midlist". What does that mean when applied to a short fiction writer? I wondered whether he meant "unambitious". A query settled my concerns on that score; no, he simply meant writers whose work he encountered from time to time, but who evidently received no great acclaim. Such writers aren't nominated for awards and don't see their work in the best-of-year anthologies. Okay, he's got me bang to rights there. But that did set me thinking about how I measure my progress and what my goals really are. If ten years ago you had told me that I'd see a handful of stories published in respectable magazines, I'd have been delighted. But now? Is more of the same enough? No, I don't think so. But what would "enough" look like? That's an interesting thought, because there are a *lot* of competent writers "out there" so there's potentially an awfully big midlist to break out of. And most of us have too little writing time and find difficulty (or worse) trying to break into the major markets. But it can be done. The irony is that Niall also tagged Ian Creasey with the same description. Guess what? During the last couple of years Ian has seen four stories in Asimov's, one of which has just been selected for Hartwell's Best-of 2006. Well done Ian! Maybe there's hope for the midlist after all.
So, it's time to get back to my novel outline. Nothing small-scale or unambitious there, mark my word. Interestingly, it builds on one of my published stories. Now, if only I could work in some old-time religion...