Every book reviewer approaches his first column with some amount of trepidation, and I’m not going to be the one to buck the trend. A regular column, upon contemplation, is quite daunting from both sides of the paper. The reviewer wonders whether his opinion is worth print, and the reader wonders the same. It’s like a blind date, somewhat arbitrarily set up by a mutual friend (the Editor, in this case) who knows a little bit about both people, but whether true love evolves from the match is left to time and fate. Neither of us knows much about the other, and yet here we are about to share a couple of thousand words together. I hope the following brief biographical sketch is of some help in soothing your doubts as to my reviews, as well as allowing me to set before you what credentials I may have. The reason? For myself, I believe you must understand something about the reviewer to be able to evaluate whether his or her reviews can be worthwhile to your search for reading material. I would find it hard to trust a reviewer who heavily criticizes a novel set in Tibet, had that reviewer never set foot out of Dimebox, Texas–unless I also knew that the reviewer happened to be the University of Texas Professor of Tibetan Culture. For those of you who could care less about who I am, I suggest skipping to the bit of bold print that signals the first book to be reviewed.

The basics: I’m 23, born and raised in Texas, attended the University of Texas and majored in English, obtaining 99 credit hours before I was asked by the authorities to sit out for two semesters until I had fully contemplated the need for a 2.0 GPA. And, although it is true that I was parolled from that wonderful institute of higher education until January, 1990, it is also true that it was my choice. (Also, while it was true that my overall GPA was sublevel, my major GPA, in English, was above average.) As it says on the UT main tower, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” For me, this freedom entailed escaping the pressure from society to “get a degree,” thus releasing myself to do what I wanted to. For some, college is not the answer and it is absurd for society to expect it of everyone. I now work as a legal secretary here in Austin, write fiction and non-fiction at night and on the weekends (which is what I planned to do after I got the degree anyway), and have never been happier.

My education in science fiction: I’ve been reading SF since I was 8, if not before, devouring Heinlein, Norton, and Herbert before I got out of Junior High. I read voraciously during my teen years, averaging three to four books a week, although almost all of those books were novels. It wasn’t until I entered college that I started reading short fiction in equal quantities. My tastes have changed drastically over the years, due in large part to the work of Mike Godwin (ex-Daily Texan , UT student newspaper, editor) and Bruce Sterling (author of Islands in the Net and others), who taught me to examine what I read with a critical eye as well as reading for enjoyment. This was during the years of Cheap Truth and the infancy of Cyberpunk. While I was never a part of that movement, it was the work of Sterling, Gibson, Shiner, et al. that educated me in the way of criticism. In the past two years, I’ve realized that what I truly want to do is write the sort of fiction that I read. I’ve attended a SF/F Writer’s Workshop at A&M and have become a member of the Turkey City Writer’s Workshop.

My published work: My early reviews and criticism saw light by the way of the phosphor screen, as electronic bytes held in the memory of computer bulletin board systems in Austin. Accessible by modem, these boards provided my internship in writing. Reviews entered on one day could have several responses on my following call, thus giving me immediate feedback on my opinion, some of that feedback caustic, some faintly damning with praise, and some with gratitude and praise. It was a workshop in criticism, all done by the typed word. From these reviews of my own and many others, and from the interaction with people on these boards, grew a critical fanzine called NOVA Express, utilizing the same technology but finalizing it in printed form. Although I was not with NOVA Express at its genesis, I quickly joined the staff and am now the Managing Editor. Also, during this time, I tried my hand at a “rantzine,” a la Cheap Truth, called The Deadly Toxin, of which I have published two issues. Aside from that, I’ve also published a couple of humorous pieces in UTmost, the UT student magazine.

My current state: At the present, I continue to be the Managing Editor of NOVA Express, I have sold one short-short story, and I am working on an annotated bibliography on writers of the eighties tentatively titled The New Breed. Bibliography annotation requires that you see the plot, unraveling it from the cloth of the novel or short story, and then give a short synopis of the plot setting–it allows someone to recognize if they have read the story, but doesn’t ruin the story for someone who hasn’t read it by giving all the details away. All in all, good training for reviewing.

That’s my life story, take it as you will. If you’re like me, you like a starting point to base your opinion. By knowing the above, you know that I can’t claim to be an expert on Tibet, but I hope you will trust me enough that if I say a novel is original in its treatment of a science fiction theme, that it is. Thank you, and now on with the reviews!


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First Impressions Copyright © 2016 by Glen Engel-Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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