To Review or Not to Review

I recently got an email from a writer asking whether I was going to have Tangent review an audio ‘zine their work was published in. And thus, my dithering on the issue comes to a head.

Adding audio publications to Tangent’s review lineup is something I’ve been mulling over for a while now. As a writer, I’ve been ecstatic to see my work narrated by Escape Pod. As Tangent’s Managing Editor, I’ve observed the growing popularity of podcasts and the inevitable rise of audio publications accompanying it with interest.

But here’s the thing. While I’m a huge fan of audio storytelling–stories have their basic root in an oral tradition, and it stirs something both poignant and primal in me to hear a story well told–there are some very salient arguments against adding audio ‘zines to Tangent’s rotation.

1. Varying production values. Tangent’s mission is to review stories. While some commentary on layout, cover art and other ancillary items often sneaks into reviews, I discourage it. The words on the page (or on the screen) are what my reviewers are evaluating, not how beautiful the illustrations are or how easy the font is on the eye. My reviewers know to separate the production values from the stories in their reviews, or at least they’re supposed to. However, in the case of audio publications, it’s much harder to divorce the production values from the fiction. An excellent voice actor has the ability to turn a mediocre tale into a fantastic one, and likewise, a second-rate voice talent can make even the most brilliant story dreary. And that’s not even touching upon such things as sound quality, mixing, and background music/sound effects.

2. What makes for a good audio story isn’t necessary the same as what makes for a good written one. Guiding reviewers on how I’d like them to approach this sort of discrepancy is uncharted ground.

3. My reviewers are already bearing a pretty hefty load. Adding audio ‘zine(s) means pulling resources away from reviewing print/electronic publications–of which there are many queued up that I’d like to add to Tangent’s rotation but simply can’t.

4. There are logistics issues. A number of my reviewers are on computer systems that can barely handle PDF review copies. I find it likely that many will have a difficult time dealing with big honking audio files, and perhaps won’t be able to play them at all. Amazingly enough, not everyone has an MP3 player. This isn’t insurmountable–I can always download files, convert them to .avi, and burn them to CD and mail those out, or request CDs directly from editors–but it’s another complexity and potential drain on my time.

On the other hand:

1. I’m fully aware that by not reviewing audio publications, Tangent may end up overlooking some truly excellent stories–a disservice to both readers/listeners and the specfic community at large. It’s Tangent’s purpose to review short genre fiction, no matter how it’s presented. No doubt there was hemming and hawing about ezines when they started cropping up, and of course publications like SCI FICTION have proven that short stories don’t have to be on paper to be brilliant. Good fiction is good fiction. So how can I justify drawing a line at audio?

2. I may be severely and unjustly underestimating my reviewers. They may be able to separate the story from the production just as easily as they can with written presentations. Plus, I’m betting there are some who would absolutely love a chance to review audio fiction, and I very much like to have happy reviewers.

3. I really, really love the format, both as a fan, hearing fine tales presented as an oral narrative, and as a writer, having my own work read aloud. If I love it that much, then other folks will as well. Ergo, I can expect it to be a growing trend. I’m going to feel pretty stupid when a story in an audio ‘zine wins a Hugo and I didn’t deign to have Tangent review it because it wasn’t in print.

I’ve also considered having a single dedicated audio reviewer for Tangent, but that comes with its own problems and complexities.

And so the pondering continues.


Writing Stuff

“Honor is a Game Mortals Play” is up at Critters. Go critique, yo!

– An email from my Cricket editor letting me know that my check for “Li T’ien and the Demon Nian” was not lost down some bottomless chasm, but is in fact making its way to me via convoluted and circuitous Accounting Department channels. Huzzah!
– Editorial feedback and suggestions from Aberrant Dreams on “Nobodies and Somebodies.” They think the ending could be stronger, and I agree. Going to burn some brain cells and see what I can come up with.
– An email from one of my local(ish) writer’s group peeps sounding me out on doing a talk at her daughter’s middle school. She was chatting with her daughter’s Gifted English teacher and mentioned knowing a published, up-and-coming children’s lit/YA author (Aw, shucks. Am I really up-and-coming?) and would she be interested in having me speak/read to the class. The teacher said yes, and so I’m contemplating speaking to a classroom of gifted 13-14 year olds, which might also lead to an actual paying, much larger, assembly-type speaking gig at that school and perhaps the adjoining high school if I do good.

Obviously, this is a fantastic and potentially fun chance for me to promote myself and my writing directly to one of my major target audiences. And it might even lead to money. However, not only does public speaking petrify me–and I’m talking panic attack, “I’d-rather-be-dead-than-speak-before-a-group” petrify–but children that age intimidate me.

Granted, “Gifted English” helps a lot. I’m much more comfortable around bright kids. They tend not to remind me of the kids who made my burgeoning adolescencehood a thing of profoundly terrible misery.

I really need to get over my sundry neuroses. I write a lot of children’s lit. I would be very stupid to pass up this opportunity. 21 bright kids in an English class–I have even been assured that they are well-behaved and polite–is as safe as it’s going to get, (barring the whole shut-in option, which is still under serious considering).

My brain gets it. My stomach and blood pressure, not so much.

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25 Responses to To Review or Not to Review

  1. jimhines says:

    Granted, “Gifted English” helps a lot. I’m much more comfortable around bright kids. They tend not to remind me of the kids who made my burgeoning adolescencehood a thing of profoundly terrible misery.

    Can I just say how much I relate to you on this one?

    • Eugie Foster says:

      You too, huh? It seems to be a surprisingly common element in folks I know.

      • jimhines says:

        Yup. Makes me wince when I think about my kids going through that. I’m hoping I’ll be able to intervene earlier with the school and do something about it, but who knows…

        • Eugie Foster says:

          It makes me wonder what happened to the evil kids. I mean, I know what happened to the terrorized, teased, and tormented when they grew up; I hang out with them. But it always seemed like there were so very many of them, the vast majority of the schoolyard population. While some of them are still around as adults–thugs and criminal-types. Did the rest of the terrorizers, teasers, and tormentors drop off the face of the Earth (as I oh-so-fervently hoped and prayed once upon a time)? Are they, as they should be, ashamed of their childhood cruelty? Or do they selectively replace those memories, free from any recollection and guilt?

          • jimhines says:

            I bumped into one little punk from ages back. He was grown up, had a house and two kids, married, and worked as a stockbroker. Completely civilized, and made polite small talk with me there on the sidewalk. Blew my mind.

            And hey, I thought the grand karmic design of the universe meant all of these kids were going to end up working for me.

          • Eugie Foster says:

            Or at the very least bagging groceries or slapping burgers! I think the cosmic accounts keeper is majorly slacking off–unless the evil kids end up reincarnated as toads or something. But since I don’t believe in an afterlife, that’s not much in the way of consolation.

            Scarred for life and all I get is . . . scarred for life. Dang.

    • Am I the only one who was happy and well-adjusted in school? Oh wait, I went to a nerd school. That explains it.

      • Eugie Foster says:

        Nerd schools rawk. I got to transfer to a nerd school for high school, and things were so much better there. I can’t imagine how insane I’d be if I hadn’t had those years to sort myself out–and there was still bumpiness to be had during that period. Instead, I’m just mildly neurotic and indelibly scarred from my harrowing grade-and-middle school experiences.

      • jimhines says:

        I think I would have loved the chance to switch to a nerd school in Junior High…

  2. elvesforeyes says:

    I’d love to see audio zines reviewed at Tangent, but I do have one major problem with reviewing them.

    When reading a piece of fiction in a magazine, one generally reads the story for what it is. Words put together for some kind of entertaining purposes. Yes, the story may be accompanied by a nifty piece of artwork, or the layout might be off and these are all factors that could potentially warp a reviewer’s thoughts.

    With audio fiction, there is even more to distract the reader (listener?). Music in the beginning, rants about unrelated topics (I hear these a lot on the Escape Pod mp3s), someone’s voice not quite up to expectations. Blah, blah, blah. Too much is going on to truly focus on the story and its impact.

    Like you said, an interesting voice can make a subpar story superb. So what are reviewers to judge their thoughts on? The reader or the words? It’d be hard to decipher the two in a review, I think.

    I’m sure I have more thoughts on this elsewhere, but for now that’s all I got. Your points for and against are all strong, and while I’d love to see even more content at Tangent, podcast zines might cause more trouble than triumph.

    I read your demon hunter story earlier and sent in my crit. I enjoyed it!

  3. ktempest says:

    If you decide to do reviews of audio stories, you could put out a discreet call for more reviewers. I think there is a growing desire for reviews of this kind of thing. At least in my head.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Tangent sorta has an ongoing open call for reviewers. I suspect I get all out there who are interested in reviewing already. Then again I might get more folks if I switch from a passive “if you’re interested” approach to a more proactive one “I’m looking for” one, especially if it’s with an eye towards including audio. Hmm.

  4. mtfay says:

    my 2 cents

    A big problem with reviewing audio stuff is that most people I know (myself included) can have a hard time seperating the story from the performance in something that is purely auditory. A good story teller can mask a so-so story. A bad story teller can ruin an otherwise good story. I mean, “A Prairie Home Companion” isn’t one of the more popular radio shows of our day because of the consistent quality of Garrison Keilor’s writing, but rather because of the consistent quality of his performances. Cause his writing is rather more inconsistent.
    And performance isn’t, in my mind, really a matter of production values.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Re: my 2 cents

      Yep, that was my first concern when pondering the issue.

      And performance isn’t, in my mind, really a matter of production values.

      That’s true, but for Tangent‘s purposes, it falls into that category–the same as accompanying artwork really isn’t a “production value,” and yet it is. It’s all “extra stuff” that has the potential to affect a reader’s (or listener’s) enjoyment.

  5. mtfay says:

    Re, my previous comment

    BTW, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but rather that it is hard. And requires a lot of practice. would probably be amongst the best I know at it, simply because he works at it on film all the time.

  6. basletum says:

    If the podcasts have written transcripts (which I’m guessing they would), the reviews could be done by reading the transcripts instead of listening to the audio files. Doing it that way would eliminate perhaps 95% of the cons.

    Whenever I read, I’m usually doing so with a seperate “voice” (or more) in my head that comes complete with special effects, even a music score once in a while; so for me, reading a story isn’t much different than watching a movie or listening to an audio, anyhow. The only difference being I don’t see words in front of me.

    But I think written transcripts might be the best route if you plan to have podcast reviews. You also wouldn’t have to worry about sending a 100+meg file to someone.

  7. neo_prodigy says:

    sounds like you’ve already decided in that while it would be a wonderful addition, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth at this time.

  8. benpeek says:

    talking to kids that age is eaaasy 🙂 all you’ve got to remember is that a) if you can be laid back and funny and not stress it, you’re half way there, and b) most will sleep through what you say anyhow. even if they are gifted. they just won’t give a shit. even if this doesn’t turn out to be true, it’s good to tell yourself that beforehand.

    but nah, i do it all the time. gifted kids are usually a bit annoying, cause they think they know everything. otherwise, it’s easy. trust me.

  9. dionycheaus says:

    I dunno. I think a lot of the anti-audio arguments could be solved by the good old-fashioned list of “please don’t do this in your review…” And addenums as necessary.

    Applying for clarion as I am, I’ve lately noticed that I’m not as hot as firing off critiques for stories I hear out-loud as I am for stories I read. Which is a problem, because I want to be equally sharp at both. I could be a lone opinion, but I bet some writers feel this same way?

    Mainly I want Tangent to review podcasts because I think its all spiffy and internet-age. But that’s just my peccadillo. 🙂

  10. The middle school talk gig would be so good for you. I see big opportunities coming your way. You are so talented and have so much to share with the young wannabes. Go for it!

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