One of the things that often bothers me about the reviewing process is the idea that some reviews are inherently more valuable than others. By this, I don’t mean in the sense of the quality of the writing itself; after all, some reviews really are nothing more than a quick “I liked it” or are borderline unreadable. Rather, I mean “more valuable” in the sense that different styles of reviewing are worth more than others. While I think most of us would agree that this is poppycock, there are some in the sf/f community who would honestly claim that the critical/analytical review is simply better than the others (namely, the self-reflective review).
Where this often rears its head is in the artificial divide between academia and fandom-at-large (or “serious fandom” vs. “gee-golly-joyfestival fandom”). I don’t know if this is the result of one side of fandom trying desperately to make sf/f a “serious genre” or the result of the way academics sometimes enter sf/f fandom1. But there are some who seem hell bent on treating genre and the reviews that fill up its thought chambers as though some things should be ignored in favor of more “worthy” entries. I sometimes call these folks the Grumble Crowd2 since they are also the small group of individuals who appear to hate pretty much everything in the genre anyway — which explains why so much of what they do is write the infamous 5,000-word “critical review” with nose turned up to the Super Serious Lit God, McOrwell (or McWells or McShelley or whatever).
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since working with Renay (of Lady Business fame) on Speculative Fiction 2014, it’s that there are few wrong ways to approach reviews or fandom-at-large, nor must we like everything we encounter. The critical review can exist alongside the self-reflective review. Neither has to be the “right way” or the “worthy way.” They both have their value, and they should be respected as such. To a lot of people, the self-reflective review (on the self, feeling, reaction, etc.) is exactly what they hope for — possibly because the emotional experience of reading is ultimately what they seek. To others, the critical review (on style, form, content, meaning, etc.) holds the same essential value. I happen to flutter between the two forms — a product, I suppose of refusing to put aside either of my hats (academic and superfan).
I’m not saying that there aren’t standards for reviews (or any writing). There are. Neither am I saying that those standards have to be listened to. They don’t. What I am saying is this: the notion that we can reject so much of what qualifies as “fan engagement” on the basis that some things are just more “critical and analytical” is total bullshit. That isn’t how fandom should work. It’s certainly not how I want fandom to work. But I also think your emotional reaction to a work is as interesting as your interpretation of a scene or symbol. Why you feel the way you do — to me — has equal value as what you think a story means. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking both things.
The comments are open. Use them wisely.