Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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Somewhere along about 1988, a friend who had connections with Romantic Times got me my first reviewing job. Kathryn Falk, who owned RT, controlled who got what romance novels to review, and most of that was done in-house, but she spun off another magazine that she hoped would do for every other genre what RT had done for romance -- make her some money. The new venture was called Rave Reviews, and I became one of the reviewers.
I can't say I enjoyed all the books sent to me for review. None, of course, were romance, so at best I got my second choice which was fantasy. Further down the list was horror and science fiction, as well as the occasional non-fiction. The Portuguese cookbook, for example.
For paperback originals, we usually got uncorrected page proofs, which had absolutely no value at all, not on any market. Most of the authors were unknowns or relative unknowns, and in those days before the internet, these 8 1/2 by 14 inch printouts were just so much text. Sometimes we got a cover flat to go with them. Often we didn't even get that. Our only tangible compensation came in the form of hardcover books sent out in advance of the paperback reprints. (The Portuguese cookbook, for example.)
Because my friend knew nothing at all about fantasy -- there's a story to that, too, but I'll save it for later -- she passed almost all of those along to me. Here I got lucky. One of the books I reviewed was Judith Tarr's The Golden Horn. Though it was the second book in a trilogy, it was enough of a stand-alone that I was able to enjoy it and give it a good review. I also got Bruce Ferguson's The Shadow of His Wings, which still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.
We reviewers weren't required to give rave reviews, though that was the title of the magazine. Like Goodreads years later, RR was intended to sell books for the publishers, so they'd buy ads. Favorable reviews therefore were much preferred to unfavorable ones. Sometimes it wasn't easy to find something good to write about a bad book, and often I just refused to be nice. But I always justified why a given book didn't work for me, and no one seemed to complain. Most, but not all, of my reviews made it into print.
Then came the one I simply couldn't review.
Our turn-around time was short, since everything had to go through snail mail. It wasn't unusual for me to get four or five books to read and write reviews for in a week. And in those days without internet, research was virtually impossible, pun intended. So when I got the third book of a fantasy trilogy that wasn't a stand-alone, I didn't have sufficient time to order the first two books on inter-library loan and wait a week or two or three for them to arrive. So I wrote back to whoever it was at RR that I simply couldn't review this book and it was grossly unfair for them to expect me to do so.
They weren't happy. They wanted a review of some kind.
I don't remember now if there were phone calls back and forth or letters or what, but I was ticked. Because I was also a writer, I felt an obligation to the author of the trilogy to give a fair assessment. And I couldn't do that. However, I also felt an obligation to myself. I liked reading fantasy, and this looked like a wonderful trilogy. I didn't want to ruin it for myself by reading the third book and not having the background and then hunting up the first two books but already knowing the end.
And now, almost 30 years later, I don't even remember if I wrote any review at all or if I completely refused or what. I do remember that that was just about the last time I reviewed for them and they were pretty ticked at me. Of course, eventually the whole experiment failed -- only the romance genre really played Kathryn's game -- and that was that.
I've become Twitter friends with Judith Tarr, who actually lives not too far from me. I lucked out and picked up a paperback copy of the first book in The Falcon and the Hound trilogy recently at the library book sale, then bought the final book in Kindle format.
I've also become a follower of the author of that other trilogy, the one I have only Book Three of. I never read the book, because I didn't want to ruin it for myself. Yesterday, after doing some clean-up work in the studio, I came across that book again and thought, gee, I should see about getting the first two books and reading the whole set.
When I first looked to see if there were a Kindle edition, the three book set was something like $22 and I just wasn't comfortable with that. Not now when my budget is stretched to transparency. Even though I have a little bit left on a gift card, I'm extra tight with it.
I'm not sure why I decided to check on the prices of the individual books as opposed to the complete set, but I did that this morning. Aha! Book One is only $2.99 and Book Two is only $5.99, but Book Three which I already have, is the deal breaker at $12.99!
So I'll buy the first two books of Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series in Kindle edition, and finally, after almost three decades, read that free hardcover edition of the third book.