I’m always on the look out for new book blogs to follow. I always appreciate it when a book blog focuses on both new and older fiction, and when the blogger puts up a lot of really good content. A few weeks ago i stumbled upon Odd Engine, and I’ve been following its administrator, Peter, around ever since.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your blog, and how it got started?
A. Back in 2007, I started dabbling in writing short fiction. My reading habits at the time were somewhat snobbish, reading mostly literary fiction (Tolstoy, Melville, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, etc.). But I noticed that my own stories tended toward the fantastic. It was around this time that my reading habits shifted to fantasy and science fiction.
As I progressed in writing more (unpublished) short stories, I started an author blog, but later came to realize that I don’t particularly care to read the blogs of unsuccessful authors. I closed shop and thought it would be much more fun to write a book review blog. Reading is my first love, anyway, and it was an opportunity to look at fiction more critically. I was also attracted to the idea of interacting with others with the same interests and thought that getting ARCs to review would be a privilege.
A year-and-a-half later, Odd Engine is still going strong and is (slowly) building an audience. I write mostly for my own enjoyment and if others find it interesting, all the better.
Q. What types of books or genres does your blog focus on?
A. When I started Odd Engine, I was woefully under-read in pretty much every sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction. So unfortunately, I’ve been all over the map. What I enjoy most is brilliant fiction (doesn’t everyone?). Brilliance comes in many forms. I love mind-bending realities that metaphorically explore the human condition. Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, and Ted Chiang are examples of authors who do this well. I love great stylists such as Gene Wolfe and Samuel Delaney and the literary flair of Dan Simmons. I enjoy Scott Lynch’s witty prose and the incorporation of social criticism by writers such as James Tiptree and Octavia Butler.
I tend to get less excited about commercial, escapist fantasy. I prefer reading more complex plots with a subtext that presents a greater meaning. Science fiction is a genre that often does this quite well. That being said, I have been known to have a weakness for Star Wars tie-in novels.
I see the Odd Engine blog progressing with the same forms of fiction, but with a greater emphasis on diversity. Science fiction is a genre about ideas and to focus solely on white male authors seems rather close-minded.
Q. Where do most of the books you review come from? bookstores, library, Amazon, somewhere else?
A. from pirating e-books… I jest. A vast majority comes from three sources: electronic ARCs, the library, and e-books downloaded from Amazon. If it’s a book I think I’ll reread or would want to look at on a bookshelf, I’ll purchase a hard copy.
Q. What upcoming titles are you most looking forward to?
A. Tough question. I’m always looking for new and great things. I’m eager to read Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe. I recently finished Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves and will be reviewing it shortly. I’m also anticipating Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s completion of Locke and Key later this year. There are also several newly-published authors that I just haven’t had a chance to get to.
Q. You did a blog post earlier this summer about a few MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course) you are taking that are about Science Fiction and Fantasy. What’s been your experience with the MOOCs and would you recommend this classroom experience?
A. I’m a firm proponent of higher education and believe learning is a lifetime activity. MOOC’s are a great way to experience college-level courses for free. I recently took a class from Coursera.org called Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World with Professor Eric Rabkin. Assignments are peer-reviewed, which is valuable for the reviewer, but no so much for getting tangible feedback. The lectures were quite enlightening and there is a forum to interact with other students from around the world.
Q. You just started a new blog feature called In Context. Can you tell us more about this feature, and why or how you decided to run this feature?
A. I recently read a biography of SF author, James Tiptree Jr. For a decade, the SF community thought Tiptree was a man, but when her identity was discovered as Alice Sheldon, it completely shifted the public’s perception of who Tiptree was and shaped the way they viewed her fiction.
The intent of In Context is to examine works of fiction in the context of who the author was and what they experienced. Tiptree’s experiences uniquely shaped her fiction. The same holds true for other authors as well. The text of a story forms a personal bond with the reader, but in some cases we can grasp a deeper meaning by knowing the author’s history.
Q. You also have a few blog posts called Review of Book Blogs, where you talk about some of your favorite book blogs. What are you looking for in a blog? What makes one blog stand out from another?
A. I like for a blog to have a personality beyond simple reviews. I look for intelligent and well-written criticism and a blogger who will interact with their readers. Honesty is also important, but there are a lot of undeserved, scathing reviews that attract traffic, but turn me off as a reader. It’s one thing to speak your mind; it’s quite another to spark controversy for attention. The best book blogs are written by voracious readers who can articulate their thoughts with a sense of authority and style.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about the book-blogging community?
A. Interesting question, because I didn’t know there was such a thing as a book-blogging community when I started. First of all, I don’t have too many friends who love reading. And those that do typically don’t prefer science fiction. The book-blogging community provides an environment for fans of genre fiction to interact and learn from each other, be it through blogs or other forms of social media. I’m not as active as others in corresponding, but I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve shared with other bloggers.
Q. You review a lot of comics and graphic novels as well. What are some of your favorite series? What titles, authors, or artists would you recommend to people who are just getting into comics and don’t know where to start?
A. My experience with comics is actually quite young, but I enjoy them as much as any other medium. There are certain things you can do with comics that you just can’t do with prose or film.
My own interests are diverse, but I prefer creator-owned content over the constant rebooting of superhero comics. I am enjoying Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. Fiona Staples is absolutely fearless in her artwork. I also recently discovered Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, another highly-imaginative SF piece from the eighties. As far as horror, I’m enjoying Locke and Key, The Walking Dead, and American Vampire. And I can’t leave out Blankets by Craig Thompson, which struck a sentimental chord with me. This list goes on.
As far as starting out, I think the first thing to realize is that you can’t be a completest. I wouldn’t start a superhero comic from its inception. For Superman, I would pick up Mark Waid’s Birthright before I would start with the Action Comics of the thirties. I’d then move onto Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman. For Batman, his reinvention really began with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One. Spiderman is perhaps the exception – you have to start with Stan Lee.
There’s no right order to reading. The same theory applies to science fiction as it does to comics. Read what you think you’ll love.