Welcome to the 100th in this series of interviews with science fiction and fantasy bloggers, podcasters, booktubers and magazines. That’s a lot of questions and answers! Thanks to all the interviewees and also to all the readers who have followed me.
There’s a heat wave in Europe at the moment, so I have drifted down to wintry Australia to meet blogger Luke Brown. Luke is part of the reviews team and a forum moderator at SFFWorld. He also maintains a separate blog at Tangle of Dendrites and tweets using @luke.brown2.
SCy-Fy: Tell me about a typical blogging day, Luke.
LB: A typical day starts with an email from Nila White asking me to contribute to an article on the (unofficial) top 20 dog breeds as voted by SFFWorld discussion forum members. Most of the members have specified “epic” dog breeds followed by “male only” in parenthesis. When it’s pointed out there might be some biases worth examining in their choice of dog breeds, most members start arguing against charges of sexism while writing two thousand word critiques setting out the evils of affirmative action.
I then make my way over to have a virtual cup of tea with Mark Chitty. But first he has to dig himself out from under the heavy pile of Peter F. Hamilton books that have fallen on him and buried him in the night. We talk like old boy Tories at each other for a while, laugh and regret the passing of the good old days, when science fiction was fun and mindless entertainment, unbothered by the starving minority groups clawing at its front door, slap each other on the knees in a purely platonic and heterosexual manner, and continue on our merry separate ways.
SCy-Fy: Pass us a virtual beer, will you, mate? Good old Victoria Bitter will do.
LB: Here you go. At some point in the day I will cross paths with Mark Yon, who’s actually quite mad, you know? At some point in the past somebody has convinced him that he’s a little blue monster trapped in a place called Hobbit Towers with an addiction to something called hob-nobs. I usually just humour him, make sure he’s comfortable with his back to a wall at all times, so he doesn’t get too agitated. The key is to assure him that Ash by Mary Gentle is a really good book. No, Mark, it really is. Greatest book ever.
Finally, Rob Bedford comes by, late as usual, cruising along in his own time zone. Rob’s seen more on Twitter these days, gloating about how he’s drinking the latest brew of Danziger Joppenbier or some similarly obscure ale. Despite the fact he’s got a foot in the door with some of our bitter rivals over at SFSignal, he reassures everybody at SFFWorld they’re doing a great job, but nobody understands him because he’s speaking American (except Nila, but we don’t understand her either).
While all this is taking place, Dag Rambraut watches over us from a balcony dressed like Takeshi Kaga, taking a single bite of a raw red capsicum and chewing lustily, before throwing it away and picking up another from a big sack at his feet. Every now and again he stops this bizarre ritual to laugh maniacally.
I imagine this is fairly typical for most SFF bloggers, though.
SCy-Fy: I’m sure it is. What are your future initiatives?
LB: I only rolled a 6, but I get a +1 for my Dexterity, so that makes a 7.
Oh, sorry, I misunderstood. My main objective for the near future is to keep trying to improve my review writing. It’s a skill, and like all skills it gets better with practice. I’ve only been in this game for about 6 months now, and I’m still trying to find that sweet spot for me between investing my limited time and energy into something which is a hobby and ensuring that I am producing a quality and entertaining product. I look in awe at people like Abigail Nussbaum and would love to be able to do what they do – inject more intellectual criticism into my reviews. I don’t feel I have the time or toolkit to do that at the moment.
I also have to admit that you are responsible for a little reading project I’m contemplating. A Twitter conversation I had with you, Rob Bedford, the G and Stefan Raets has got me thinking of doing an Iain M. Banks reread and review. It’s been over ten years since I read some of the earlier novels in the series and I really should revisit them. I also nominated his Culture series as my favourite in a recent thread over at SFFWorld, so a re-read might well be in order. But I shouldn’t make reading plans, because whenever I do I never end up following them.
SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major future challenges for SFF blogging?
LB: The number of easily accessible platforms on the Internet these days means that the biggest challenge is competing over the noise to get heard. That’s why I wanted to join a team like SFFWorld when I started blogging. This means I’m contributing to a blog that already has an audience and reputation. Even better, I don’t have sole responsibility for keeping material regular and current on the blog.
SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?
LB: I have the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by Peter Nicholls and Trillion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss. Both are terribly outdated, but they make me feel much more learned and wise than I truly am. I also find The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn to be a very useful resource. The Locus Science Fiction Awards Database and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database are also indispensable resources for me. My most vital resource, however, are my fellow SFFWorld reviewers, who provide constructive feedback and quality assurance on all my reviews.
SCy-Fy: Traps in SFF blogging?
LB: Turning something that should be fun into a chore. Taking yourself too seriously. Losing perspective.
SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?
LB: I can’t say I’ve had too many hard times, but I really enjoy being part of the team at SFFWorld. While we often have different views and come at books from our own unique perspectives, there’s a great sense of collegiality and support.
I also enjoy the feedback from authors on my review of their books. Obviously, writers often welcome observations about strengths of their books, but I’ve even had some writers agree with me and thank me for my comments on the weaknesses in their books.
I also received a signed hardback of Touch from Catherine Webb with a lovely thank you for my review of that book, which was very rewarding.
SCy-Fy: What have been the best books you have read recently?
LB: I really liked Touch by Claire North (pseudonym of Catherine Webb), Half the World by Joe Abercrombie and The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. I’ve already read and reviewed Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is excellent. I also thought Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road was an amazing debut.
SCy-Fy: Which upcoming releases are you most looking forward to?
LB: I am excited by two forthcoming books that will mark the end of a couple of awesome trilogies: like the rest of SFF blogosphere I’m looking forward to Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie; and the other one is Half a War by Joe Abercrombie, a writer who gets better with every book.
SCy-Fy: Thanks, Luke – now I better head back to the northern heat.
LB: I just want to thank you for this opportunity, and for running a blog that acknowledges and celebrates the hard work put in, and the excellent quality of work being produced by, many SFF bloggers. A tip of the hat to you, sir!