The Lazy Critic’s Secret: Less is Less

Early days yet, only a few publishers and authors submitting eARCs (electronic advance review copies) but already I have a great deal of reading (and reviewing) to do. This raises the fearsome spectre of “The Backlog.” People might get cranky if they send something in and months go by before they see the results.

After all, is not the whole point of advance publicity to get people all excited in advance of a book’s publication? Why, yes, from the book publisher’s point of view.

But how timely can OBIR be when it only comes out once a month? And there’s only room for X number of reviews? And the critic involved happens to be mind-bogglingly lazy and adamantly opposed to being rushed simply in order to meet someone else’s deadline? I mean, it’s only their livelihood and their money and their careers that are at stake. I see no reason to feel pressured because of minor details like that. From my point of view this is a leisured Gentleman’s gig.

Besides, this is an age when books hang around forever. You see, the traditional one or two weeks of bookstore shelf space allocated to a book is largely irrelevant nowadays, in that determined readers can easily pay for a download either direct from the publisher or from outfits like Amazon (which I assume financially benefits both the publisher and the authors as well as the third part seller, but I’m not clear on the details).

So, if, for example, I start reviewing a few stories at a time from an anthology published two or three years ago, there’s no need for the publisher and the authors to start tearing their hair out over my “idiocy” at “wasting” publicity on a book no longer available in the book stores (except maybe by special order), because the book in question is likely still easily available to the reader at the click of a couple of keyboard buttons.

And I would argue that bringing attention to past works by authors OBIR readers may not be familiar with bodes well for said authors’ upcoming works once they finally appear, as OBIR readers may be willing to try out a “new” author based on reviews they’d previously read in OBIR. Unless, of course, I had described them as the worst writers ever hatched and not worth acknowledging, let alone reading. In which case all bets are off.

Then again, given my rep for biased and ignorant reviews, a negative blast from me could well boost sales. Hard to predict.

Be that as it may, I’m going to try to “streamline” production of OBIR in an attempt to speed things up, such that more than one issue will come out a month. I can accomplish this by limiting the amount of material in a given issue. I envision that every issue (or at least the average issue) will contain the following:

1) reviews of every story in the pages of a “spotlighted” Canadian magazine with its cover appearing on OBIR’s cover.

2) two or three reviews of isolated stories by Canadian authors appearing in foreign magazines and anthologies.

3) two reviews each from five or six Canadian anthologies being “serialized” till all their stories have been reviewed.

4) Two or three reviews of Canadian genre novels.

5) One interview or article concerning a Canadian author or publisher.

6) A letter of comment column.

I’m hoping this will, at the very least, guarantee monthly publication, and preferably twice a month publication, or maybe twice a month every two months. Something like that. At any rate the reviews, functioning as publicity, will be somewhat more timely.

If I manage to produce two issues per month on a regular basis, how will I date them? Say, #3 and #4 both coming out in July?

Simple. #3 will be the July issue. #4 will be the August issue.

By this scheme of things, issues 13 and 14 published in December 2015 will be dated May 2016 and June 2016.

Stupid and pointless of course, but the concept vastly amuses me and makes me grin from ear to ear. No doubt to the irritation of future researchers and librarians, but I don’t care.

Call it my pathetic attempt to time travel beyond my lifespan. What the heck. Why not?

The Critic as Failed Artist

Aha! You thought this column (I know I’m supposed to call it a “blog,” but I’m old-fashioned) was going to be about the lack of artistry among critics, or perhaps their inability to appreciate artistry in writing, didn’t you?

Nope. “The” critic in question is just me. And the column has to do with the brightly-coloured header image above.

You see, when Jean Weber created this site on my behalf she selected a beautiful “placeholder” image of red Japanese paper lanterns amid tree branches.

I quickly replaced this with a rather fussy and busy medieval woodcut in B&W. It didn’t really stand in contrast with the background tile image so much as merge with it and create an overall impression of visual confusion.

So I promptly took the image file to Microsoft paint and began colourizing it. In order to use the “bucket-fill” feature I had to isolate certain areas by extending boundary lines pixel by pixel to make the space within self-contained. At the same time I took the opportunity to erase certain features in the image to render it simpler and easier to grasp visually. Most painful of all, at 800% magnification I tracked down each and every stray pixel and deleted it, which took me hours as there were so many of them.

My eyes becoming tired, I then took a nap. You know how, with your eyes closed, you see an ever-shifting, swirling cloud of extremely faint points of light? I found myself gritting my teeth and frowning as I subconsciously attempted to focus on each individual dot of light and delete it. Couldn’t focus. Couldn’t delete. It was very frustrating. Awfully hard to fall asleep when your eyes are so darn busy. Made my head hurt.

Anyway, when I got back to the image all I had to do was fill in the colours, which is sort of like using a colouring book with an automatic “stay-within-the-line” function. I think the result looks pretty good. The red Death Demons, the lime green of the printer’s clothes, and the bright yellow of the books and papers really stand out against the background. The whole image practically pops off the page. It is now vividly separated from the background tile image. A very strong contrast indeed!

Of course, some may question my use of lavender for the ceiling panels and pink for the carpeting, but as I wanted to get the image done as quickly as possible I limited myself to the select colours provided and made no attempt to “create” my own colours with the hue control. I think this was a wise decision. As coloured the image is very successful I think. I like it.

Any artistry remaining after “the treatment” is of course the product of the original artist’s skill. Nothing to do with me. Art has nothing to do with me. Lively stick figures are the best I can do. This is why I am insanely pleased with the result of my “colouring book” exercise.

As for the background tile image, it is probably my favourite woodcut from the late medieval or early renaissance period. Shows a monk, or possibly an Abbot, or maybe just a rich retired merchant, reading a book. He seems like a comfy slippers, comfy sweater, comfy chair, comfy book kind-of-guy. Sort of a precursor to Perry Como or Andy Williams, or me. I identify with what he is doing.

The alarmingly heavy-looking over-sized book is probably the Bible (which in this period the lay public was forbidden to read) but judging from the faint smirk on his face it could well be the partially-preserved manuscript of “The Satyricon” by the famously jaded Petronius who was a literary advisor to his patron the equally jaded Roman Emperor Nero. At any rate he seems absorbed in what he is reading. I love reading. It is my favourite way to relax. I’m a very lazy fellow, so I get a lot of reading done.

Being profoundly lazy is the easiest way to be a productive critic, I say.

The Critic as Death Demon

Referring to the header image above, a late medieval woodcut depicting three personifications of the plague snatching the occupants of a print shop. At the time it may have been an in-joke in reference to censors who, back in the day, could get you burned at the stake.

I like it because I think it speaks to the innermost fears of authors happily going about their business yet constantly worried a critic might at any moment destroy their careers with an unexpected avalanche of unfair criticism. What’s the point of spending a lifetime developing one’s writing skills only to be sabotaged by some jerk trying to be clever?

I’m pretty sure this rarely, if ever, happens.

Besides, most critics, many being writers themselves, are conscientious. And then there’s the likely fact that most readers don’t read critics anyway. What truly counts is word of mouth. Add to this the extremely common phenomenon of readers “discovering” a favourite author and buying up everything he/she has written and/or will ever write, and really, the automatic dread of critics many writers feel is actually a kind of unwarranted subliminal urban myth. This type of death demon doesn’t actually exist.

“Fuck the critics and full steam ahead!” is the proper attitude for a writer to have. I think you’ll find most successful authors follow this policy. They are successful in part because they don’t waste time worrying about their reviews. Instead they treat them as a promotional resource, mining them for useful quotes and ignoring the rest.

So where do I, a newly minted critic, fit in? Possibly in the “some jerk trying to be clever” category. However, as I was explaining to Jill and Walter at White Dwarf Books, I’m focused on the strengths and intentions of authors, not their weaknesses. They were a bit dubious. “But what if they’re terrible?”

“Then I won’t review them.”

“But what if they send you a review copy and it never gets reviewed? Then they’ll know what you think.”

“Oh… bugger…” I said, because I suddenly realized I hadn’t properly thought through the full implications of my policy. “Well, I guess they’ll have to be satisfied I didn’t share my opinion with the public.”

“What about review copies stuck in your backlog of books waiting to be reviewed? As the months go by, given your statement you won’t review crap, might not the authors suspect you think their book is a piece of crap?”

“Oh… Bugger…” I said, because I suddenly realized this critic business was more complicated than I had anticipated. “God damn it, now I’m going to feel pressured every time I glance at ‘that’ stack of books. I’ll be living under a ‘perpetual’ deadline. I hate deadlines.”

“It’s your own fault, you know.”

“Oh, shut up.”

Truth is the conversation didn’t go exactly the way I report it above. I exaggerated a little. Okay, I exaggerated a lot. Being a critic you see. “..some jerk trying to be clever.” That’s my job.

But I believe I got my point across. What point, you may ask.

Oh… Bugger… I guess it shows I’m a lazy, sloppy-minded critic who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Thinks he’s got a lot to say, but all of it bullshit.

Relax. You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’m mostly harmless, by default.

Help satiate my lust for books!

Five Rivers Publishing has sent me PDFs of no less than four novels for review. EDGE Publishing is promising me PDFs. On Spec Magazine likewise. Four authors have given me hard copies and/or mailed me PDFs. All of it I will review.

All you slacker publishers and authors who haven’t sent me anything yet, get cracking! It’s a race! You don’t want to be left behind, do you?

Seriously, I do appreciate any and all review copy “freebies” I can get. My fixed pension income severely limits my purchasing power. I will do my best to acquire works from other publishers and authors by dropping by my favourite book store, White Dwarf Books, and asking what’s new and cheap (a couple of pocket books and magazines every month is about what I can afford) but if I am to meet my mandate of promoting as wide a variety of Canadian SF&F genre literature as I possibly can I must rely on the generosity of publishers and authors to “fill in the gaps” of the works I review.

After all, it’s yet another promotional opportunity in a world filled with confusing jibber jabber. How refreshing to find a review zine with so narrow and precise a focus. Tailor-made for the Canadian literati. OBIR Magazine is a slave to your success. It exists only for you!

And if you believe that… I’ve got a few acres of muskeg to unload…

I admit OBIR doesn’t even measure up to old newspapers. You can use those to wrap fish. OBIR not at all.

Still, the initial response to OBIR has been encouraging. Some people seem to enjoy reading it. For instance, I enjoy reading it, savouring every word, chuckling aloud at unexpected points, nodding my head over confessions of sage wisdom, and generally gaping slack-jawed in awe at the magnificent prose, but some would say I am not the most unbiased of OBIR readers. Figure my opinion is just as good as anyone else so I don’t know what they’re complaining about.

In any event, costs nothing to send me a PDF. My ability to read is even slower than my ability to think, but I will get around to writing a review eventually.

By the way, I fully recognize advance review copies are for my eyes only and must not be shared. No problem. I can be quite adult and responsible when required, as opposed to my usual gibbering, drooling ten year old persona–which I prefer by the way, being much more fun than pretending to be an adult. I assume the combination of my two personalities makes me a versatile critic. Some kind of critic.

One sad note. A gentleman offered to send me a review copy of his novel. Unfortunately he was an American published in Britain. My mandate is to promote and celebrate Canadian genre fiction. I will review foreigners published in a Canadian anthology or magazine, or Canadian authors in a foreign anthology or magazine, but there has to be a Canadian connection. I assure you no prejudice is involved. Simply a matter of foreign publications by foreign authors falling outside the scope of OBIR.

Remember, OBIR promotes Canadian SpecFicLit. That be its mandate.

Cheers all!    The Graeme.

“OBIR” more than one meaning!

Just found out that “the OBIR” is a weapon found in a computer game called “Heroes of the Storm” where “OBIR” stands for “Obeya Burst-fire Infantry Rife.”

I anticipate some puzzled viewers wondering what my site has to do with their favourite weapon.

I also note that “the OBIR” is “inaccurate at short range.” Hmmm. What does this say about my review skills?

Anyway, so much for my assuming that “OBIR” was a concept unique to my clever little brain. Oh well.

OBIR Magazine Web Site Awakens!

Courtesy of the good will and technical skill of Jean Weber (former faned of the famous 1980’s Australian fanzine “Weber Woman’s Wrevenge”), this web site has been launched as the home base for OBIR Magazine. I am absolutely delighted and grinning from ear to ear.

The site is meant as the primary source for issues for the zine (issues #1 & 2 already uploaded under “Current Issue / Back Issues”). I deliberately chose a domain name which should be easy to search for and find on the web. Hopefully I will attract more readers as time goes on.

OBIR Magazine is free, by the way. No charge to you. Want to promote and celebrate Canadian Speculative Fiction as best I can, and I figure free is a pretty attractive price, one that will encourage readers to make the zine a regular habit.

It is my intention to publish every month, or at worst, every two months. Hope you enjoy OBIR!

R. Graeme Cameron welcomes you!


This site is devoted to presenting the absurd literary productions of R. Graeme Cameron.

Note: Originally this site was home to my book and magazine review zine “OBIR Magazine” which became redundant when I switched to writing reviews for my column in Amazing Stories (online) Magazine.

Herein you will find comments on the novel I am writing plus be able to download my personal fanzine “Great Galloping Ghu!” (I am still working on the first issue.)

GGG will feature assorted articles on SF movies, books and personal experiences, mostly of a nostalgic nature, plus excerpts from a journal I kept as a 15-year-old SF nerd in 1967, plus excerpts of a trip exploring the ancient ruins of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras I made in 1981.

Also, you can download back issues of OBIR Magazine, and click on a link to download my current and back issues of the two semi-professional fiction zines I publish: Polar Borealis and Polar Starlight.

Last and certainly least, there’s my blog. I might contribute to it daily, or simply whenever I feel like it, or almost never. Point is I intend it to be worth reading and good for a chuckle or two. A fairly reasonable ambition it seems to me.

The way I figure it, the whole point of being a science fiction writer, editor, publisher and fan is to have fun. That be what this site is all about.

Cheers!   Graeme