In fact, what seems to be missing from this discussion of how reviews ought to work is any example of, well, reviews that work. Larry pointed out reviews he didn't care for, and at least some of Jeff's strictures seem to be directed at specific reviewers, but neither one of them gave any example of what they consider a good review, or any explanation of why they liked it. With that in mind, I trawled through Strange Horizons's archives and came up with a list of reviews that excited me either as a reader, encouraging me to pick up one book or delivering a well-deserved slapdown to another, or as a reviewer, showing me ways in which my own writing could and should develop. (For the purposes of this discussion, I've concentrated exclusively on book reviews, though some of my favorite reviewers do their best work writing about television or movies.)
- 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, reviewed by Graham Sleight - I'm fond of this review because it's an excellent example of how to review a short story collection. I've written reviews of collections several times, for Strange Horizons and here, and I've always found it difficult to balance discussions of individual stories with an overarching view of the collection. The former are obviously the meat of the review, but there's a danger, when concentrating excessively on the pieces, of creating a bitty, list-like piece that ignores the whole. On the other hand, most single-author collections are accumulations of pieces published over a long period of time and don't necessarily have a unifying theme. Graham's review achieves that balance, giving serious consideration to selected stories and, through that consideration, discovering a theme that ties the collection together. Another good example of this kind of review is Dan Hartland's review of Farah Mendlesohn's anthology Glorifying Terrorism. Reviewing anthologies is even trickier than reviewing single-author collections, as the different stories usually don't have much more than a vaguely-worded theme in common, and this review would have been even more problematic given the collection's political aim, but Dan manages to give both the political and artistic merits of the collection equal weight, and to create a thoughtful, interesting review.
- James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips, reviewed by Farah Mendlesohn - this review was part of Tiptree week on Strange Horizons, in which Phillips's lauded biography was reviewed alongside Tiptree's collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and two Tiptree award anthologies. As such, it was published long after everyone and his brother had had their chance to (justifiably) praise the book to high heavens, and it seemed hard to imagine what yet another voice might add to the discussion. Perhaps out of a recognition of this fact, Farah gets the praise out of the way quickly and then discovers a new approach to the biography, highlighting an aspect of Sheldon's personality that Phillips, in her opinion, misread or at least failed to properly highlight. The result is not so much a review as yet another addition to the ongoing discussion of Sheldon's personality and the forces that shaped her writing.
- The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang, reviewed by William Mingin - it's still unusual to find essay-length reviews of short fiction, but a new story by Ted Chiang is clearly worthy of the effort. The broad canvas and short subject matter give Mingin the chance to conduct a close reading, to highlight interesting passages and conversations, and arrive slowly but definitively at his analysis. It's a perfect companion piece to the story, and one which caused me to appreciate it even more.
- Two Views: The Road, reviewed by Victoria Hoyle and Paul Kincaid - I love this (double) review not as a reviewer (though I appreciate it on that level as well) but as a reader, because it persuaded me to read a book I had previously been dubious about. The Road had been gaining acclaim in mainstream circles for some time before Strange Horizons reviewed it, but my cynicism about outsider SF, and my aversion to post-apocalyptic stories, had me hesitating at the Buy button. Victoria and Paul's reviews, however, were so effusive, and so eloquent about the ways in which The Road moved and excited them, that they put me over the top. One of the fundamental jobs of reviews is to get people to read books, and this piece is an excellent example of how to do that.
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien, reviewed by Adam Roberts - at first glance, these two books--a modern, well-received epic fantasy, and a 'rediscovered' work by the putative father of the genre--don't really belong in a single review, but Roberts takes the combination and uses it to discuss the very meaning of the sub-genre, the ways in which Tolkien dominates it and the ways in which modern authors have moved away from his examples. I'm particularly fond of this review because it discusses writing--something that Roberts is prone to do, but which other reviewers, myself included, don't touch on often enough. On a sentence-by-sentence level, Roberts compares the two books and talks about the two authors' styles, and more fundamentally, about what makes good prose.
- Streaking by Brian Stableford, reviewed by John Clute - I admit, even I don't always get along with John Clute's reviews. I (mostly) love his writing, but I can't always be bothered to care about what he's saying, which on occasion is only tangentially related to the book being reviewed (see, for example, his review of Michael Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel from today's Strange Horizons). When he's on his game, though, there's no one who can match him, and here he has a perfect subject for his profuse, florid style--the utter awfulness of Brian Stableford's Streaking, which any other reviewer might have categorized as indescribable, but which Clute is more than capable of tackling. This review is funny, sharp, and precisely as irate as Stableford's horrible, horrible novel deserves.