Today I present you an interview with Paul Weimer. I first heard Paul on the SF Signal podcast, where he is a regular panelist. In addition, he was mentioned a lot on the Functional Nerds podcast as one of their (very prolific) reviewers. When I also saw him included in some super interesting discussions on Twitter, critical mass was reached and I started following Paul directly, instead of via other channels. And I’m glad I did. Besides being a prolific reviewer for both the Functional Nerds and SF Signal, Paul is super knowledgeable about the genre and always has something interesting to add to the discussion, whether on Twitter or on the podcasts. So, I thought that he would make for an excellent interview subject and I was definitely right, Paul provided me with some excellent answers. So let’s see what they were:
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Paul Weimer?
Paul Weimer is a 40 year old reader and fan of science fiction and fantasy. He is an ex-pat New Yorker who circumstances and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have dropped him into Minnesota, where he has been for the last 9 years. His day job has nothing to do with genre whatsoever.
He’s just this guy, you know?
What got you into blogging?
I’ve been blogging for years, just no one really noticed it. I’ve had websites and presences on the internet since the very early days of webpages, but, again, its mostly been not noticed. Blogging was a natural outgrowth of having a webpage, and more dynamic, less static.
Why Functional Nerds and SF Signal, why not a blog of your own?
Visibility, really. I’ve been blogging, publishing book reviews on my blog and on webpages for years. No one really seemed to notice or to care. Kind of disheartening.
(One exception: John DeNardo did ask me, once, to a Mind Meld a few years ago)
When I seriously started being on twitter, I also started putting reviews on Goodreads, and on a forum SF Signal had experimented with. John Denardo, Patrick Hester and John Anealio noticed the reviews in those places, liked them, and wanted to get me under their aegis.
It is actually amusing that John DeNardo and John Anealio and Patrick “negotiated a treaty” for my services and the “rights” to me. [Ed. note: Did they conclude payment in bagels?] Patrick and Anealio picked me up first, and not too much long after, DeNardo asked if I would do stuff for him, too.
And so, now I do stuff for both. It’s all about the visibility. No one knew or cared when I posted reviews on my site. Now, people read them, and care.
What is your unique selling point? Interviews, humour, news coverage?
My unique selling point is detailed book reviews from someone who has been reading in the genre for 30 years. I also think I do a pretty decent bit at wrangling Mind Melds. I also write columns such as Roll Perception Plus Awareness.
What are your goals with your blogging?
My goal is to tell the readers about what I’ve read or what I’ve played, and if and why it might be of interest to them.
One of the eternal book reviewer debates is to rate or not to rate? Where do you stand on the issue?
As readers may have noticed, SF Signal has star ratings, but the Functional Nerds do not. So I am familiar with both techniques.
If I had my druthers, I would prefer not to use stars. Sometimes my reaction and response to a book is complex and complicated and a star rating doesn’t capture that complexity. Two books can have a 4-star review, but be very different beasts in my book, and the books are not meant for identical readers. [Ed. note: This! I was just struggling with this yesterday!]
Negative reviews, yay or nay? And why?
I believe in honesty and ethical book blogging. If a book did not meet my expectations, if a book is in my opinion and analysis something many people are not going to like, it is my obligation to tell readers the truth about it.
It does me no favors to praise a book that I didn’t like, and I find it difficult to do so. I don’t relish in writing negative reviews, but if a book deserves a negative review, or if it has significant weaknesses, I feel my reputation demands that I say so. This way, when I do praise a book, there is a grounding to that praise.
In addition to blogging, you frequently appear on the Hugo-nominated (must not forget that or Patrick will chide us) SF Signal podcast and recently on the Functional Nerds podcast. Which is more work? Writing a blogpost or prepping for a podcast, assuming you need to do so?
Writing a review takes much more work and time. I’m the usually quiet one on the podcasts, and can often build off of what other people have already said. I certainly put preparation in beforehand for a podcast, but my perfectionist streak means that book reviews often take a while for me to finish. I can’t be so luxurious with a podcast. One exception to this was a podcast I did with Skiffy and Fanty, where we talked about the movie Doom. For that podcast I had to watch the movie, and then come up with things that I liked and disliked about it. That podcast was a lot of work.
You said one of your unique selling points is that you deliver detailed reviews with the perspective of having been reading genre for 30 years. How has the genre changed in that time? I know this is a question that is often asked of writers, but from a reader’s perspective what has changed, aside from the availability of genre books? Has SFF become more pessimistic, for example, with the end of the NASA space shuttle program or the advent of ‘gritty’ fantasy?
Genre changes in the last 30 years? I could probably write an entire blog post series about that!
When I started reading genre at the cusp of the 1980’s, cyberpunk had not yet been invented. The Tolkien clone strain of fantasy had started but had not yet gained full power anad flower. Cyberpunk as we know it today did not yet exist. Still, exciting things were happening, with authors like Tiptree, LeGuin and others breaking and remaking gender barriers. Giants like Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein were writing their last novels.
As I matured as a reader and a person, I watched the rise of the Tolkien Clones, Cyberpunk, the Hard SF Renaissance, the New Space Opera, the invention of Urban Fantasy (I owned a copy of Bordertown and I loved War for the Oaks!). I remember the flurry of Shared Worlds, Thieves World, Liavek, and others. This thing we call the internet started to take shape, too. And, yes, the diminishement of Space SF and then SF altogether, as the 2000s have marked the rise of Gritty Fantasy, the lurring of UF with Paranormal Romance, and the improbable thing called Steampunk.
The only constant thing in genre is change, and I have no doubt that the Gritty Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Steampunk “triumvirate” that holds sway over the genre these days will be eventually eclipsed by something else. Its possible Post-Apocalyptic SF and Fantasy like the work of Paolo Bacigalupi is the wave of the future. Or maybe it isn’t!
I look forward to what will come.
How important are blogs to your reading choices?
Social media, including blogs and twitter, have revolutionized how and what I read. In the days before those, I relied on magazines like Locus and the occasional newsletter from a publisher to know what was coming out. And even then, a trip to the bookstore was often filled with surprises.
Now, though, thanks to the work of bloggers and authors, I find out about books sometimes even before they have been finished. I feel much more “on top” of what’s going on in the field and give me a roadmap to the books I want to read.
How do you think blogs and reviewers fit in the book business?
I think blogs and reviewers should be independent agents who have the same overall goal as authors–to talk about their books and get them noticed. But that sense of independence is important. Reviewing and blogging takes time and energy, and when it feels like a “job”, its no longer fun.
What is your current read and what book are you most eagerly awaiting?
As of the time of responding to this question, I just started David Constantine (aka David Williams) The Pillars of Hercules. This is a case of practicing what I’ve said before–I first heard about this book via book blogs.
The book I am eagerly awaiting is a difficult answer, since I’ve been trying to get a bit through Mount Toberead (credit: Fred Kiesche) [Ed. note: Oh, I like that expression.] rather than buying endless amounts of books or even asking SF Signal and the Functional Nerds for more. There are lots of recent books that I am eager to get to, but have withheld buying for that reason.
So I am eagerly awaiting the chance to finally buy and read books like 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds. The Killing Moon, by NK Jemisin. Worldsoul by Liz Williams. The Long Earth by Baxter and Pratchett. And many many others.
Of the books that are on Mount Toberead, that’s a trickier question. I used to be extremely dogmatic and structured in my “order of reading” and once could have told you the next ten books I look forward to reading. Now, I allow myself to be led by mood and inspiration. I can tell you that books like Linda Nagata’s The Dread Hammer, Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellamonica, Libriomancer by Jim Hines, and many others are books that might well be the next book I try.
Is there something else you’re obsessed with other than books?
My other major passion is photography, especially landscape and architecture photography. My favorite subject are water features, such as waterfalls, and mountains. There aren’t real mountains around here, but there are plenty of waterfalls and rivers for me to photograph.
Anyone who follows me on twitter will find that I share at least one of my photos every day. [Ed. note: They’re lovely pictures too!] I have an ever growing portfolio and oeuvre that I love to share.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
On my Kindle, I divide my e-books into collections, by genre and most cunningly, a group called “To Be Read”. At home…I have books everywhere. Rather than being shelved alphabetically or by genre, they are shelved by usability. I have lots of “grazing” books that I like to flip through, atlases and reference books and Roleplaying game books. I like to have them “on hand”. Fiction I’ve already read gets winding up being ‘crated’. This proves to be a problem only when an author is in town and I want them to sign their book.
Thanks for an very interesting interview Paul! You can find Paul’s reviews at SF Signal and the Functional Nerds, two great sites that offer great content in addition to their reviews, be sure to check them out. You can also visit his personal blog, featuring a lot of his photography. And you can follow Paul on Twitter, where he is @PrinceJvstin, mind the v!