NewCon Books, 2014
[The first draft if this review was titled Adam Roberts, Yellow Blue Tibia]
Not only books should entertain, but also book reviews. If the criticism is boring and dull, there is not much sense in reading it, even if it reveals any hidden meanings of reviewed work or points to the book’s strengths. Boring criticism can always be replaced with not so boring prose.
Brit Adam Roberts at first glance (in the literal sense - look at the cover) is far from what might be called an entertainer. Roberts has an academic background, he teaches at the university, and also writes science fiction. Overall, not a clown or a stand-up comedian. But Roberts-critic and Roberts-reviewer (perhaps it is this side of Roberts is responsible for this book) both entertain the reader with reviews populating this collection.
The collection could well use the title Punkadiddle, so was called now closed blog, where the reviewer over four years posted his reviews on books and movies. Best from this blog, as well as reviews from online venues, and became part of Sibilant Fricative, a collection which has taken the title of another, new, Roberts’ blog.
For me, who has been following Roberts’s publications on the Internet, Sibilant Fricative became an occasion to re-read and recall the most memorable reviews (it’s a pity that the book, as opposed to the internet, is limited in size, and the collection did not include much of the rest). Since the book was published by a genre publisher collected, reviews on books and movies have also been limited to one genre (in fact, the book is divided into two parts, «Science Fiction» and «Fantasy»). Limited print run (while the digital version is available) is unlikely to help the promotion of book and, most importantly, the author's name to the masses.
And that’ll be loss for the readers. Roberts is definitely among the top five British reviewers, stuck somewhere between the genres. He can read the dullest fantasy, and can casually review Booker short list in its entirety. He is always looking for something new in the literature, but not disgusted by musty space opera. Roberts is a heir to John Clute and a colleague of Paul Kincaid, but will compete with Adam Mars-Jones, with whom they shared Guardian pages, Roberts has not yet made it to London Books Review.
Speaking of newspapers. Roberts almost has not been published in the newspapers, only in his blog (blogs) and SF online venues. Was he rejected or just doesn’t want it himself? Rather, the latter. Newspaper frankly will be too tight for Roberts. It's not just the space. The book contains either very tiny reviews and detailed reviews in several parts. The critic will be constrained by the form but not the space. What other reviewer in his sane mind will review all parts of Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, or will write a twitter review, or even choose to review not in the prosaic form, but poetic? Such liberties Guardian, or Locus (for example) would not stand.
Sometimes experiments with form have negative consequences. For example, from a review of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi written in the mocking form of a poem by Robert Browning you hardly will have an impression of the novel, just will applaud to Roberts’ creative abilities. And sometimes these experiments seem pampering and splurge: I can do this and that. And I can write a review with a glossary. Which, of course, does not negate the author’s talent.
If Roberts wrote only entertaining, he would have remained at the same level with a million Amazon reviewers. Roberts is well-read and educated. He can place any book in literary context, not just say is it good or bad, Roberts-academic gets in his reviews in the form of an abundance of quotations and references. Roberts is capable of almost chapter-by-chapter analysis of an unpublished Tolkien, with his heavy vocabulary, as well as lightweight or moronic thriller\space opera. Roberts can pick in a book, can dissect a book - and this is a quality that I value very high in the criticism.
Having written all this, I must now answer two questions. First, and whether you want to buy this book, given that the paper edition is not cheap (but digital one is)? My answer is positive. On paper these reviews are read more carefully than on the net, and has another advantage: while reading the rest of the Internet is not distracting you. In addition, the blog where reviews were posted from the collection, is now closed (and not everyone, as I have, at one time has saved the posts from the blog to his HDD).
The second question is what statement actually gives this book? Those who wanted, has long ago discovered, read and appreciated Roberts’ writing. And now still can read him on the Internet.
Sibilant Fricative release secured Adam Roberts’ status of an important British critic (ie, just critic, not just the genre critic) - that is the importance of this book. Prior to the release of the collection Roberts was one of, but not much more. Now, with the book of reviews under his belt, the world officially has to acknowledge Roberts-reviewer, as previously acknowledged Roberts-writer and Roberts-academic. Not every reviewer has published the collection of reviews. Even Adam Mars-Jones has not.
Given all this, you do have just not one reason to avoid reading this important and necessary book.