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