Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reviewer Time: Rob B. [Rob's Blog o' Stuff]

It’s Sunday, but not any plain old Sunday. It’s a special Sunday aka the last Sunday in the Reviewer Time feature for the year 2009. I’m as perplexed as you are as how I managed to here from May to December with such commitment and such a low percentage of mishaps along the way. There will be a more introspective piece next Sunday that summarizes my experience with the whole feature, so let’s move on to the last guest in the line-up.

He’s Rob Bedford, although we all know him as Rob B the man behind “Rob’s Blog o’ Stuff” and he seems to have been around since ever. Which is almost correct in blogging time, since his blog has been around since 2004. I can’t say that I have been that great a follower, because his frequent, steady and overwhelmingly large posts about what he gets in his mailbox have driven me greener than envy and I wouldn’t mind receiving those titles myself. [You hear that Rob? I want to help you. I am a Samaritan.] And there haven’t been that much reviews, but links to reviews at other places, which to my scanning eye appeared to be cover art plus a blurb.

Now that I have read his whole reviews over at SFF World I am whistling along with some whoa sounds for good measure. Rob certainly impressed me with his reviews and I don’t have an idea what in his reviews makes me want to read the book he reviews, but there’s something in his words that hooks. I admit I am an easy catch, when it comes to speculative fiction, but Rob has been an inside guy over at SFF World and fact has stated that the man will review for the Sacramento Book Review / San Francisco Book Review. [Congratulations and keep me in mind, if you need to recommend somebody.]

I call this positive evolution. Anyway I hope you are already blistering what this man has to say about himself and the shameless amounts of books he receives, the bastard.


HM: Thank you Rob for the opportunity to interview you and let’s get started with some personal facts. What do you do, when you are not reading and reviewing? Yes, a tough one to answer, indeed, since bookaholics rarely think outside their habit, but what can you do.

RB: Thank you, I’ll be honest, it is a bit odd to be on this side of the interview. You mean there are other things to do? Seriously, though I hang out with my wife and watch TV, go to NJ Devils games, write (like most readers, I’m writing fiction, too), bowl (once a week in a league), and 5 days a week I work in an office in the publishing industry.

HM: You are a book addict. That much is obvious, but how did the book addiction creep into your life and where does SFF fit in all of this?

RB: The two sort of go hand in hand, I suppose. My parents, particularly my mother, were big readers. They were both “Constant Readers” of Stephen King as well as Robert Ludlum, Robert R. McCammon and Dean R. Koontz. After reading through many of the Three Investigator mysteries and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, I gravitated to King and through playing Dungeons and Dragons, I gravitated to DragonLance. Once I graduated college and could really spend free time reading, I picked up The Eye of the World, Snow Crash and a Heinlein (I want to say Stranger in a Strange Land). About a decade ago when I joined the SFFWorld forums ( the site owner, Dag Rambruat, invited me to become a forum moderator. From there, the rest is history but I can’t say enough how much I thank Dag for inviting me to join the staff of SFFWorld.

HM: Judging by the quantity of books in the mailbox posts you output, I gather that you have quite the collection, yes indeed. So where the hell do you store all these books and do you like give them away, when you are done with them?

RB: Collection is a nice way of saying it, but my wife would probably prefer the term “drowning.” I can’t possibly read all the books that land on my doorstep/in the mailbox/in front of the garage. I donate the books, pass some along to family and friends, or pass some along to fellow reviewers at SFFWorld.

HM: This is more or less connected with the last question. How do you manage to read all these books? Do you? Can you? Ultimately, what’s your readings schedule?

RB: Like I said, it is impossible for me to read everything that arrives, nor would I want to read everything that arrives. Some of the stuff just doesn’t appeal to me. My reading “schedule” is about two per week or three books every two weeks. I’m usually reading two books at a time, one at home and one at work and/or while I’m on my cardio cool-down at the gym. I try not to read two books with similar flavors simultaneously. That is, one will be a Space Opera, the other might be a Sword and Sorcery tale. Also, often times one book will be for an “official SFFWorld review” while the other will be something I want to read without having to write a review, though I often find myself at least blogging about those books, too.

HM: You are a prominent figure over at SFFWorld, do not deny, and a sizable amount of the content you produce goes there. My question is, why start your review blog in the first place, when you already have such a role to maintain there?

RB: Short answer: Why not? Longer answer: in the early part of the decade I was following a lot of comics bloggers and some fantasy and science fiction bloggers and I wanted to become a part of the community. I had opinions and wanted to share them outside of an “official reviewer” capacity. The blog is also a good way for me to publicize SFFWorld.

HM: You have been juggling your blog and SFF World duties since 2004, which is quite the circus act [not to mention your LJ account]. Haven’t you had those moments, where you wondered whether or not to focus on one place and shut the other?

RB: You’ve done your research haven’t you? The LJ account is just so I can troll through friends’ LiveJournal blogs so that doesn’t take up too much of my creative energies. I’ve been doing behind the scenes stuff at SFFWorld since 2000 and I have had those moments where I wasn’t sure about the level of effort at which I wanted to continue. In the end, I enjoy it. So at some level, I’ll always be reviewing for SFFWorld and blogging.

HM: What’s so cool about blogging and reviewing that got you here and made you stay? Describe the awesomeness.

RB: Awesomeness? More like geeky pedantic obsessiveness. I like being part of the genre community and pointing people in the direction of books I think are good.

HM: What is your approach to reviewing? Do you read the novel with thoughts for the review? Do you take notes or just let it all come back to you later?

RB: I’ve taken notes for only a couple of the books I’ve reviewed, so it’s mostly from memory. Certain plot movements, characters, and other story elements will stand out to me, obviously. In general, I try to give a little plot overview, a bit about the characters and move on to elements of the story/novel that did or didn’t work for me. In the end, I think it boils down to trying to give my honest reaction to the book.

HM: Which is the one book or genre you would never ever try, because it’s too far away from your comfort zone, if you have a comfort zone?

RB: Probably romance or erotica, I guess.

HM: Christmas is quite near and with it knocking on the door, people start thinking about gifts for their loved ones, while book-addicts look forward to a Christmas Wish List. Do you with the books you receive so often have the indecency to have a wish list already and how long is it?

RB: I often put a handful of books on my wish list, but as I’ve been receiving so many boos for review, that’s decreased over the past couple of years from when it was about 80% books. I’m also a big comic book fan, so a lot of the books I’ve had on my wish list as of late have been of the graphic novel variety.

HM: How was 2009 in reading and what do you expect from 2010 in terms of titles, events and in general?

RB: 2009 was a good year, I think. Let’s put it this way, any year that features a new R. Scott Baker, a new Dan Simmons, a new Peter F. Hamilton, a new Alastair Reynolds, 2 new Brandon Sandersons, not to mention newcomers like Lev Grossman, Peter F. Brett, Daryl Gregory, Kate Griffin, plus James Barclay and Mark Chadbourn finally coming to US bookshelves then I think it is a pretty good year by my standards.

Considering some of those names will have books in 2010, plus new books by Joe Hill, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Jim Butcher, Richard K. Morgan and hopefully a new Song of Ice and Fire novel, I should say 2010 looks pretty good to..

HM: After stumbling through your LJ I discovered the horrifying truth that you want to be an author as well. Not so horrifying actually, but we need dramatic tension. What is your current project, how long have you been doing this, etc. etc? Tell us.

RB: The current project on which I’ve been focusing began about a year / year-and-a-half ago and I’m having fun with it. I’ve been writing fiction on and off for about a decade and a half, though I’ve always had aspirations of doing so. I finished one novel about three years ago and began playing with it again about a year and a half ago, but put it aside for the current project. Not to mention a bunch of stories and worlds in some stage of incompletion/development.

HM: Not a while ago Mark Charan Newton posed the question that perhaps Sci-Fi is dying, while Fantasy is expanding and flourishing. What do you think about this one?

RB: Oh you mean this little beasty of a discussion - I see it as another wave in the great SFF debate, the evolution of the genre. Mark came at the recurring question from a pretty interesting position – author, bookseller, and publisher. Good healthy discourse will only help the genre grow. At least in the United States, SF is becoming mainstream in many ways, from the most popular movies, to SF books being published not by genre imprints but to the main fiction lines of major publishing houses, to commercials for innocuous things like razor blades looking science fictional, it is part of the mass culture. On the other hand, to Mark’s point, the percentage of SF books in the genre section is comparatively smaller than epic fantasy, vampire fantasy, and the like. Clearly, the answer to the question of “Is SF Dying?” can’t be answered here or by one or two blog posts. But I’ll try to answer it with one word: No.

HM: Also I have been drowning in genres that keeping sprouting everywhere and all the names and criteria just hurt my brain. I think that these specific secondary and tertiary subgenres are just blending together. Could this mean a possible post-genre future, where we just refer to major categories such as fantasy, science fiction and such and not urban fantasy, dark fantasy and the like?

RB: In terms of the people reading the books, I think people like us and forum members at communities like SFFWorld and Westeros get more granular in these genre discussions than readers who don’t get involved in such communities. On the other hand, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) which is the trade association for booksellers, has set guidelines and codes publishers use when they tag their titles before sending them to bookstores and libraries. Now, these codes can be very broad like fiction, or very specific like Fiction/Fantasy/Epic. In other words, all these sub-categories are just shortand for folks like us to throw recommendations around and for publishers to market books. Where will these genres be in the future? Who knows, but it seems like vampires are here to stay, but that was part of the thinking when Epic Fantasy was huge about a decade ago not that it isn’t huge now, just that the tramp-stamp vampires have become as big or bigger, at least based on the books I’ve been receiving for review. For example, of 8 books that arrived from one publisher on one day this past week, 6 featured vampires and five of those vampires in an urban setting).

HM: As social networks grow, countless new sites that measure ranks pop up and more of us show at the blogging party have you officially entered the web hits war? I know there is one, even if it is silent, since we all want to be taken seriously and counted as reliable sources for information and critique and numbers prove that. Where do you stand on this subject matter?

RB: I don’t really try to get the technorati rankings or the like. At most, I find it interesting which are the more popular posts on my blog, but I don’t try to outrank anybody.

HM: What are your future plans regarding “Rob’s Blog o’ Stuff”?

RB: To keep on blogging, I guess. Each year, in my head, I have some idea of what I want to do on the blog for the next year and it doesn’t always come to fruition. With that said, I plan on re-reading The Wheel of Time in 2010 – the last of which I read was Winter’s Heart back in 2000 and I may chart my progress and experience doing that.

HM: Please finish with your own words.

RB: One man’s nuthin’ is another man’s somethin’


PeterWilliam said...

Long live Jersey and Rob B. Certainly one of my favorites. Good times, both of you.

Harry Markov said...

Thanks Peter. :)

RobB said...

Thanks Peter! Again, thanks for including me in the program Harry!

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