Interview with Ian Sales (SF Mistressworks)

Welcome to the tenth in this ongoing series of interviews with the people behind the science fiction and fantasy sites. I am really enjoying their insights and I hope you are as well.

My guest today is award-winning author Ian Sales, curator of SF Mistressworks, a site set up in June 2011 with the aim of reviewing science fiction books by women writers published before the turn of the millennium. In the three-and-a-half years since, it has published 287 reviews of 232 books by 118 writers. There are no plans to retire SF Mistressworks, but it does depend on people contributing suitable reviews. So more reviews are always needed.

SCy-Fy: What is your usual pattern of posting reviews, Ian?

IS: I post two reviews a week, so I usually sort that out on the weekend. I either write the review myself, or scrape it from a contributor’s blog or website, and then schedule them to appear at 11:00 am UTC on the Tuesday and Thursday of each week. For contributed reviews, I always link back to the original appearance.

SCy-Fy: Which reviews have had the most impact or controversy?

IS: None of the reviews posted so far has proven controversial, but some are more popular than others – usually for books whose fame has spread outside the genre community and genre readers. The three most popular reviews on SF Mistressworks, for example, are of Atlas Shrugged, Frankenstein and The Handmaid’s Tale.

SCy-Fy: What were the best books you reviewed in 2014?

IS: Busy About the Tree of Life by Pamela Zoline (1988); Queen of the States by Josephine Saxton (1986); Extra(Ordinary) People by Joanna Russ (1984); and We Who Are About To… by Joanna Russ (1977).

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give reviewers?

IS: Be honest. Dishonest reviews help no one. And squee gets tiresome after a while. Contrary to what The Lego Movie would have you believe, everything is not awesome. SF Mistressworks exists to inform people of the existence of sf books by women writers from last century, writers whose contribution has either been marginalised or completely forgotten. We don’t claim that every book is a brilliant work of literature, we give honest appraisals of them. Of course, some of the books reviewed are indeed very good. But it’s more about raising awareness than point-scoring.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives for the site?

IS: I’d like to post an occasional feature on short fiction, perhaps a review of a well-known short story that fits SF Mistresswork’s criteria.

SCy-Fy: Looking forward 3-5 years, what do you think will be the major challenges for SFF blogging?

IS: It certainly won’t be running out of books to review. There seems to be less critical engagement with the genre online with each passing year, so it might well reach a point where there aren’t enough people contributing reviews. I’ve already had to lighten the schedule several times, although I’ve been lucky to manage two a week since March 2014.

SCy-Fy: It sounds like a bit of a struggle sometimes. What keeps you going?

IS: The books, and wanting to tell other people about them.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

IS: Dealers’ rooms at conventions, eBay, online sellers such as Cold Tonnage and Porcupine Books, and even charity shops…

SCy-Fy: Searching far and wide! Any particular traps in SFF blogging?

IS: Thankfully, SF Mistressworks has been ignored by the MRA idiots, so we’ve been allowed to quietly go about our business reviewing books only by women.

SCy-Fy: Any last words?

IS: SF Mistressworks welcomes reviews, we always need more. Feel free to email me at sfmistressworks (at) gmail (dot) com to volunteer. The only thing we ask is that reviews be at least 500 words long, and that the book being reviewed is eligible. We’re quite flexible about genre, we’ll take edge cases, but something that’s blatantly fantasy is a no-no. We’re strict on the date too – published in 2001 at the very latest. And if it’s an anthology where at least two-thirds of the contributors are women, then we probably won’t turn down a review.

SCy-Fy: Thanks, Ian, and best of luck in the future.

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