Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reviewer Time: Ken ["Neth Space"]


Another week rolls, another Sunday comes and my virtual chair welcomes yet another guest. This time on Reviewer Time I welcome fellow blogger Neth or Ken, depending on whether the dude is in his alter ego or not. That’s how much he likes speculative fiction; to the point he feels it’s only appropriate to have a superhero alias. I am guilty as charged to being a very irregular reader here as well, so I can’t sprout too much.

However upon further investigation I discovered that “Neth Space” is the ideal choice for the relaxed reader. Updates are steady and come in tides, which renders it a pretty manageable blog to follow without getting behind too much. Key phrase with Neth is average Joe, which in his case is used in a positive meaning. The man openly declares that he is not a critic or does not try to be a professional in any way. This alone sets him apart from a huge portion of bloggers, who strive to rise critically and stylistically and with their growth elevate their own websites to a state of professionalism. It’s not a secret that I wouldn’t mind being referred to as a well received and trusted critic. But Neth is beyond that. He is an avid reader and simply loves to blog. His stream of consciousness and yet well structured reviews are accessible to every type of reader and provide all the needed information about a novel.

What is also interesting here is that Neth likes to ask his audience questions, whether it be about cover art or the publishing industry or events in general. It seems like Neth either likes putting question marks at the end of sentences [sorry couldn’t resist] or he, the more plausible theory, enjoys establishing contact with his readers. He mixes his thoughts on various books and supplies of news with a more personal and autobiographical approach. I can’t say whether in its entirety this is a bad idea, since readers could learn where he lives and raid his library for books, while he is on a trip. Judging by my internal and online blabber, if I were to introduce a more personal side to my review blog, my stupidity filter would have a hard time keeping up. Yet, Neth manages to remain decent.

I think this is it from me, but here is more of Ken behind the cut.

____

1. We usually know so little almost to none about the people behind the reviews, so I think it’s appropriate to kick off this interview with some personal questions. Who is Ken in the life outside “Neth Space” and what does a regular day look like for him?

In real life Ken is a mild-mannered family man in his mid-30s. For my day job I work as an engineering geologist at an international engineering design firm out of Tempe, Arizona. However, a little over a year ago my wife got a great job offer in Flagstaff (3 hour drive north), so I now work remotely most of the time with the occasional commute to Tempe. I love living up in the mountains where the weather is cooler and the view of trees and mountains out my home office window can’t be beat.

In the last couple of years my reading time has decreased quite a bit with the arrival of my son, but I don’t have any complaints on that front. He’s a wonder and a joy and I expend more energy than I have trying to keep up with him.

2. In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

1. I was once mistaken for a terrorist when I was rappelling down the canyon walls at Hoover Dam in 2001 (actually, I was reported as terrorist numerous times over several weeks). What I was actually doing was a geologic investigation for the design of the Hoover Dam Bypass.

2. I’m a SFF-blogger with contacts in the publishing industry, I’ve conducted dozens of interviews with authors, and I receive lots of books from publishers before they were released to the public. Most of the people I deal with in ‘real life’ never see this side of me and would never guess that it exists.

3. I was born and raised in Texas. Really – in real life I meet almost none of the common stereotypes, I’ve never had much of an accent, and anyone familiar with my political leanings wouldn’t associate them with Texas. Now, I did grow up in Austin, which could explain some of this, but really it just goes to show that like most places, the stereotypes of Texas don’t (necessarily) hold up well on close examination. Of course my continued devotion to the Dallas Cowboys does tip some people off.

3. Now to go nearer known territory. What’s the origins story behind your site?

As I’ve said before – I really got into all of this by accident.

I’ve been active in one way or another over at Wotmania for around 9 years now (sadly, it’s closing down at the end of this month). At the OF section of the site I had become a fairly well-known and respected poster and people continually asked to write out my thoughts and opinions on the books I was reading. So, I did – these early reviews are not much to speak of (heck you can read some them if you want in the blog archives). Due to the archaic message board structure over there, I decided that I needed a central location for my reviews. Since I had started a blogger account to comment on blogs, I decided I’d store them on a blog. Next thing I know, I realized that people were actually reading my blog – people from all over the world.

Now I was excited – I sought some advice from Pat at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and expanded my horizons. Then I noticed that some of the people commenting were editors and authors – eventually I approached Lou Anders at Pyr about review copies. He was happy to send me some and the rest is internet history that not so many people care about.

Back then it was different scene – there really weren’t many SFF bloggers around. So I really caught the wave early and have been surfing it ever since.

4. There is a lot at stake in the process of naming a blog. It determines the direction and general vibe. How did you come to “Neth Space” and also how did you become attracted to the genres you read and review?

Neth Space reflects my alter ego. My blogging life is actually quite separate from my real life, so I needed the mask and cape. In the real world, I’m Ken. In the SFF-blogging world, I’m Neth. Ken + neth = Kenneth. However, I do draw the line at heroics – I’m purely geek.

As for how I became attracted to SFF – well, those are the books I enjoy most. I’m definitely an escapist reader (though I’m happy to challenge myself along the way). Back in college I started reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. While I had read fantasy and science fiction before then, this really got me hooked. Eventually (2001) I was lead to the internet for news about the next book and I discovered the world of on-line fandom and message boards. Things grew from there.

5. Now let’s rewind to the beginning in a barrage of questions. Did you feel it was easy? Was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

As I said above, there weren’t all that many true SFF bloggers around at that time – certainly not like today. So, it wasn’t hard to become accepted – heck a lot of us hung out at the same message boards.

As for books, well I have tons of books – right now I have years worth of reading on the shelves. I review whatever I read – before publishers sent me books, it was something from my own library. Now, most of what I read and review is sent to me by publishers. If I had more time to read, I’d probably read more of the books that I’ve bought over the years.

6. What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something insightful about the craft?

I’ve never tried to be anything different. From the beginning I’ve set out to write reviews that I’d like to read myself. Nothing more complicated than that. I prefer reviews to be low on plot description with discussion about what’s good and bad about a book. I don’t want them to be overly long, and I generally don’t care for quotes from the text. So, I simply write what I’d want to read.

I doubt any tip I give would be particularly insightful, but I will say that people should find their own voice. Don’t copy others – find out what works for you and do it. People who like what you are doing will find you.

7. What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

I read whenever I can – which really isn’t all that often. Mostly I read once everyone else has gone to bed. This only leaves 1-2 hours a day for reading. Every once and a while I’ll get 3 hours, but it’s pretty rare. Weekends are typically so busy that I don’t get much reading done.

As for reviews – I generally write them at work. I find that taking a bit of time off from the day job helps keep the brain juices well charged and that my efficiency is better for it. So, I’ll write for 15-minutes here and 30-minutes there. It usually works out well unless I get behind due to being really busy at work (which is the case right now).

8. In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

I’ve never shied away from writing a negative review – I think they are at least as informative as a positive review.

I have been burned by an author who didn’t care for my review of their work. She took it personally and ended up looking quite bad for it. While it was an unpleasant experience, it won’t stop me from writing negative reviews in the future.

Publishers could care less as long as it’s fair and factual. Most publishers adhere to the belief that ‘all press is good press’.

9. Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

Well, I’d like to think that I write a better review (truth is, I think I write a much better review now than I did then).

Honestly, I haven’t really changed that much. I do lots of reviews, I do interviews, and I post whatever I feel like at the time. I shy away from blatant promotion and keep it to things that I find interesting. And sometimes I use the blog as a bully-pulpit.

10. Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

I once sat down to start the frame-work of a novel – starting with a map, since I’m a very spatial person. About 10 minutes later I remembered that I actually hate writing. I fully believe this is because by day I do lots of technical writing and in my education, I never really explored creative writing. But simply said, I don’t like writing. It was the idea of being a writer that I found appealing since I ‘hang out’ with so many on-line.

Now I’m quite comfortable knowing that I have no aspirations of becoming a writer.

11. Which are the authors you favor and have had most exciting times with and on the opposite spectrum, which are the ones you couldn’t connect with and avoid since?

I’m terrible with lists and favorites and such. So, I’m going to pass here – anyway, anything I come up with today would be different tomorrow. Check out the blog for books and authors that I’ve enjoyed reading.

12. What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres?

I don’t have any pet peeves that are specific to the genre – other than perhaps its prevalent inadequacy complex. What bugs me most is poor writing. Cliché can be done well as can pretty much all of the tropes of genre – but bad writing ruins everything.

13. Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?

There will always be bad writing and bad writers – and that writing and those writers will vary depending on an individual’s taste – so no, they aren’t going anywhere.

14. What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

I’m not a fan – mostly I think it’s a bunch of scumbags who are looking to make a quick buck from desperate writers. It’s hard to break into writing, as hard as it’s ever been. So I can see where the temptation comes along – especially since there are example of people successfully self-publishing (just remember that they are the exceptions – big exceptions). I don’t really feel the need to say more, especially since self-published authors tend to be a rather easily upset and defensive group.

15. Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

Look at what’s coming out of Hollywood. Look at what’s on TV these days. SFF is the mainstream now. The SFF world needs to get over its big inferiority complex and to get past the elitist attitude of some. SFF won – it’s the mainstream. Now shut up about it and get back to writing good books.

16. Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

Bah…I’m no fan of the direction that urban fantasy has taken lately, but that’s not the issue. I think that people should be looking deeper. They should be asking why urban fantasy has taken the direction it has. The world changed on 9-11, and I think that change ushered in the urban fantasy we know now. People need to feel empowered, to feel unafraid. So, we get a bunch of ass-kicking (mostly women) who are unafraid of the dark. This reflects the fears and aspirations people feel inside.

Lamenting the old-school and denouncing the direction urban fantasy has taken is simply denial of the changes that have occurred in the world. Anyway, if you look for it, there are plenty of great offerings of what could be considered classic urban fantasy.

17. I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

I’ve been going on long enough, so nothing much to add other than…

Visit Neth Space – it’s the greatest blog in the world!

5 comments:

Neth said...

Thanks for including me Harry. It was fun. And thanks for the kind words as well.

ediFanoB said...

First of all a big thank you to both of you.

I can really understand the separation between internet and normal life. Before I started to discover the blogosphere I created my ediFanoB (that was/is the "official" spelling but I tend to use edifanob more often) identity. If you read it backwards you get Bona Fide. I wanted something unique and something separated especially from daily work.

And you both keep up your good work.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Neth: A pleasure. It's the purpose of the feature and as far as I am concerned the more the merrier.

Michael: Very creative approach towards your identity. :) I should ask you to participate in a discussion about this.

Carl V. said...

Great interview Neth, as always it was really fun to read what you had to say.

I most appreciate your thoughts on SFF and its inferiority complex. I too get very sick and tired of feeling like I have to defend this great genre against all the whining and moaning that goes on and all the elitist discussion. I got so frustrated reading recent Hugo posts that I had to take a step back and realize that I am not these people. I like what I like and need not feel put upon by those who would set themselves up as the arbiters of what good SFF is.

Oh, and as a lifelong Cowboys fan I must say I was thrilled to see that you still carry a torch for them despite not living in TX anymore. I became a fan in the third grade while living in Nebraska and have been one ever since.

Harry Markov: daydream said...

Same with me Carl. I don't get why we should feel shame that we like what we like, when millions go on and watch LoTR or Startrek in the cinema and yet manage to diss us the enthusiastic about the genres and not one particular title. I don't pay attention anymore.

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