Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On constructive criticism

The news that Lois Tilton has resigned from reviewing for Locus reminds me to mention my personal theory about constructive criticism:

There's no such thing.

Criticism is criticism - it's always some kind of fault-finding, and it's always personal, because some person did or created what you are criticizing.

The fact it's so common doesn't mean its helpful or even useful.

I've always felt criticism should be an internal process; rather than just lazily blurt out the problem you see, analyze the problem, and then offer a solution.

That's called advice.

The criticism is implicit in the advice, but when you're at least trying to be helpful, the subject can skate past the fault-finding and go straight to improvement.

Many people also criticize others for things which are really matters of personal taste. If you go on a date, and you order chocolate ice cream for dessert, and your date asks for strawberry, you don't jump up and shout:

"You're a complete idiot! How can you like strawberry ice cream! What a sorry little asshole you are!"

Of course, those of you who follow science fiction these days know most criticism sounds like this. That kind of reaction is the product of privilege, from people with a very limited world view who have grown up never hearing anyone disagree with them because of their political, social or financial privilege.

Last year most of the criticism of Hugo nominated works was done in bad faith from people who simply deep down don't like the fact the authors existed at all. The fact they weren't aware or couldn't acknowledge their preconceived biases is immaterial.

Most of the reviews of my short story "On a Spiritual Plain" boiled down to "The premise sucks, and it's a weak story, and it's badly written, and Lou Antonelli is a miserable human being, anyhow."

Occasionally I was surprised by some genuinely thoughtful reviews. Any author worth his salt will recognize VALID criticisms. For example, saying a story of mine relies too much on dialogue and first person narration is valid; I lean on that a lot, and it indicates a weakness in my writing skills.

But IMHO, overall most so-called constructive criticism I hear simply reminds me (having been raised a Catholic) of original sin. Deep down, we're all sinners, and it's something we all have to fight constantly - to do good and help people, and improve the world.

Constructive criticism is usually just a justification for hatefulness.

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Latest reviews

"It’s possible that you haven’t run into the stories of Lou Antonelli. Since 2003, he’s been publishing delightful short tales of alternate history all over the nooks and crannies of the SF world. Thanks to Fantastic Books, we now have 28 of these little gems in one place. "Many of Antonelli’s stories have an unexpected twist ending. And many of them are what he calls “secret history” stories, which aren’t exactly alternate history—they’re set in our familiar history, but there’s always some element that contemporary observers missed. " -

- Don Sakers, The Reference Library, Analog July-Aug. 2014

A better path develops for a distraught man in “Double Exposure” by Lou Antonelli (debut 6/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Jake is about to end it all. He has been trying to keep his high maintenance wife happy for decades and has needed to embezzle to satisfy her spending habits. Now, on the verge of indictment and abandoned by his spouse, he buys a gun. Before he pulls the trigger, he spies a Kodak one-day photo hut. Curious, he pulls up to the window. They are holding pictures of him and his last girlfriend from 30 years before. The package is a lot thicker than it should be. Double Exposure” is listed as an Alternative History story but I would classify it as a Magical Realism tale. It is set as a second chance tale, a look into a life that should have been. The author is inspired by his memories of the old photo huts (I remember them) and of their disappearance. A cool idea (photos of another life), one that I could imagine would make for a great anthology.

- Frank Dutkiewicz, Diabolical Plots

“Great White Ship”: A traveler stuck waiting for a flight strikes up a conversation with an old airline employee. The Old Timer tells him a story of a Great White Airship that arrives from a most unusual destination. The story of a craft from an alternate reality and how it got there is only the precursor to the final act. This is one of my favorite stories from this site. I have a great passion for lighter-than-air craft and their potential as a future means of transport, which opens the story. The author uses this speculation to launch into an engaging tale. As fascinating as the main story line is, the alternate history premise that accompanies it is just as worthwhile. This story was well written and very well thought out. It is well worth the read. Recommended.

- James Hanzelka, Diabolical Plots

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