Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops: Control PointThis isn’t a eulogy for my father. The guy’s still around. In fact, every once in a while, he calls me and while I’m happy to hear from him, it takes me 3 hours to get him off the phone. But that’s not the point. The point is, that when my dad finally shuffles off this mortal coil (heaven forestall the day), there is one thing I will always remember about him.

When I was a young boy, dad would sit in the living room or in his study (he smoked a pipe back then, and the smell of pipe smoke still makes me comfortable) and read the New York Times Review of Books. He would disappear behind those venerable pages and emerge with a pronouncement, some minutes or hours later, that such-and-such a book sounded good.

What can I say? Kids are impressionable. Between my father (who, at the time, was the clear earthly authority on absolutely EVERYTHING) and that lauded institution known as the New York Times, if dad read the NYTROB and declared a book good, then it was GOOD, as objectively as anything can ever be considered in a matter of taste.

But, time has rolled on. Dad’s blind in one eye. I don’t trust his driving and he talks too much on the phone. I love him to death, but what is up with those pastel yellow pants? Just as I don’t want to be in a car with him behind the wheel, I don’t necessarily want him recommending me SF/F out of the NYTROB (not that they ever review the stuff anyway). I’m not a big Glenn Reynolds fan, but he was largely right in his Army of Davids. The Internet has diversified and broadened the arena of tastemakers, and I have long since turned to a bevy of blogs (the smaller and more independent, the better) to get advice on what to read next.

I look for many things in blogger book reviews, but the most important is lack of authorial voice. Yes, I said “lack.” Authors are egotists, and that’s no exception in writing book reviews. One of the things I like best about The Economist magazine is that it never includes authorial bylines. The result is that no author in that magazine will ever be praised or lambasted for what they write, and I really feel like I’m getting my news unvarnished by ego. I like the same feeling in a book review. When I go on a job interview (and may heaven forfend my ever having to do that again), I wear a suit and tie, not because I like that clothing or feel it says something about me, but because it is neutral dress and makes my appearance recede into the background. It encourages the interviewer to focus on what I’m saying, instead of what I look like. I think good book reviewers do the same thing.

I’m not looking for flash, likeability or personality. I’m looking to be counseled. I don’t have a lot of money. When I buy a book, I want to be assured I’m not wasting my money.

Here are some of the blogs I’ve come to rely on in recent years. CAVEAT: This list is NOT exhaustive (I read a TON of blogs) and in no way denigrates the blogs that aren’t on here. I am NOT slighting/slamming you if I forgot to mention you here. This also omits what I consider to be “industry” blogs (like Suvudu or that are run by publishing houses. These are great resources and I use them a lot, but I want to focus on individuals here. Also keep in mind that this is just my opinion of who is important/big and who is not, and not supported by any real mining of data. I welcome debate in the comments section. I am also ignoring online magazines and podcasts, which I use extensively to stay informed.

Big Two: These are blogs that have such a large and dedicated following and are so respected by industry professionals that they are nearing institutional status. They are Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and A Dribble of Ink (where you are reading this guest post). While these do read/review widely, and have an International audience, I still consider them to be American in focus, despite both authors being Canadian.

Big Two (International): These blogs are more recent, but they have a bit more of an international flavor to them and I like to keep up with their reviews as I am more likely to know what’s going on with a UK edition of a book I like (I can only read in English). They are Fantasy Faction and The Ranting Dragon.

Next Tier – Independents: These are blogs run by talented individuals that don’t have as large a following as the “Big Two,” but reliably produce solid reviews, make strong arguments for/against books and generally haven’t steered me wrong. They are Stomping on Yeti, Civilian Reader and Staffer’s Musings.

I don’t just use these sites for book reviews. They’re also useful to keep up with news and occasionally provide commentary that helps me think critically about the state of the industry and the art, and once in a while I can get lucky and win a free book. I will say that the diversity and range of opinions out there makes me feel empowered. To bring things back around to the New York Times, remember the Jayson Blair scandal? There’s a lot of opinions on that event, but for me, it shook my faith in the Times my father had believed in, and showed me the error of relying entirely on a single source of information. I’ve just listed seven different blogs, all of which I am surfing regularly, getting different (and sometimes contradictory) opinions on a particular book, or cover, or major event in genre publishing. The multiple data streams leave me feeling informed and empowered to make good purchasing decisions.

Much as I miss dad’s rustling newspaper, the smell of his pipe smoke, and the certainty that followed his pronouncements, I much prefer the current scenario, where a range of quality blogs enables me to cover my own six, and keep up with what’s going on.

Written by Myke Cole

Myke Cole

Myke Cole is the author of Shadow Ops: Control Point. As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.

  • Colleen Vanderlinden March 21, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Thanks for the great recommendations, Myke. I wasn’t familiar with a few of these sites.

  • Justin March 21, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Great post Myke. Thanks for the shout out, although I think my authorial voice is far too prominent. I believe I was officially a hypocrite when I called a book self-indulgent.

  • Paul (@princejvstin) March 21, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Thank you, Myke.

    I find this especially valuable because you are a writer, and the writer-reviewer engagement is something I’ve mused about before.

  • Bryce Dayton (@myawfulreviews) March 21, 2012 at 6:01 am

    New goal: Make Myke’s list.

  • Stefan (Far Beyond Reality) March 21, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Wasn’t there an author who used to write a regular SF/F column in the NYTROB? Jeff Vandermeer maybe? Like Myke, I haven’t read that insert in a while (mostly for the same reasons too) but I seem to remember a quarter or half page with some capsule SF/F reviews in there at some point…

  • neth March 21, 2012 at 8:05 am

    it’s a good list, though the egotist in me thinks it would be a better list with my blog on it. Though I’m generally quite pleased to fly just under the radar, slow and steady as I’ve been for over 6 years now.

  • Ryan March 21, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Cool guest post Myke. Always nice to see an author be active in the blogging community and give props to the bloggers. Personally, I’d put ADoI ahead of the Hotlist any day. I feel like the content here has much more depth to it.

  • Jared March 21, 2012 at 9:11 am

    You do know that Justin, from Staffer’s Musings is actually a complicated algorithm, run by a high schooler comp-sci class in Tennessee, right? And the team from Ranting Dragon are international – but only because they blog while they SMUGGLE OPIUM? And don’t get me started on “Fantasy Faction” (true fact: if you read their reviews backwards, you’ll summon a Steven Tyler).

    Ridiculous choices.

  • Aidan Moher March 21, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Thanks, Ryan!

    And, yes, everything Jared says is true. I checked with my, erm… fact-checking guy.

  • Justin March 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

    @Jared – Complicated and Tennessee in the same sentence violates everything else that comes after. Zing.

  • neth March 21, 2012 at 10:36 am

    @Justin, clearly you’ve never tried to determine how people are related to each other at the typical Tennessee family reunion.

  • Larry March 21, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Clearly I’ll have to kill some people who besmirch the good name of my glorious native state. Don’t you know that if it weren’t for Tennesseans fighting in the War of 1812, we’d all be Canadians now? ;)

  • jeff vandermeer March 21, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I like Myke a lot but um this is just a lot of generalized b.s. re the NYTBR. And their news and features sections are not run by the same people as the book review. Citing a f– up in a different section of the newspaper is meaningless…even meaningless in terms of the overall quality of those sections. But, you know, you’d actually have to read the NYT to have a sense of it.

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  • Garrett Jones March 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Thanks for the shoutout to RD, Myke! I /still/ geek out over how you recognized the name of RD right off the bat at NYCC last October (and subsequently invited me to lunch and the like, that was awesome).

  • Kelly L. March 22, 2012 at 6:44 am

    I respectfully disagree, at least where fiction is concerned. I do want a reviewer to talk about the objective quality of the book–i.e. is it full of grammatical errors, that sort of thing–but fiction is also supposed to evoke the emotions, and I’m interested in a reviewer’s subjective experience of the book as well as the mechanical aspects. Ergo, I like the authorial voice in fiction reviews. And when it comes to wasting or not wasting my money, yes, I still want the subjective stuff. I’ve blown a lot of money on books that were mechanically perfect but that I disliked. I think it’s simply impossible to quantify a novel without any kind of subjectivity getting into it. Nonfiction is different; there you can get into whether the facts are correct, etc.

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