Mar 14, 2014

Anonymous reviews in Australian Speculative Fiction?

In an upcoming interview with Ben Peek we talk about critical reviewing in both the Speculative Fiction scene and the wider Literature scene in Australia.  I also caught the end of several twitter conversations about this because The Saturday Paper has announced intentions to have anonymous reviews. The Wheeler Centre has an article exploring the issues here.

So these are the salient points I have teased out of that article and I would like you to comment (if you can*)

Anonymous Reviews


  • no baggage, focus has to be on the written article
  • freedom to say what you feel needs to be said without fear of disproportionate reaction ie payback
  • the scene is small, insular and a real potential exists to cause your career or livelihood damage



  • a reviewer must be prepared to stand behind their words
  • a named reviewer is more likely to offer a respectful review
  • a reviewer as a writer must also be prepared for criticism
  • knowing who a reviewer is allows you to rate their experience/expertise
  • anonymity hides minorities/disadvantaged groups, their critical voice

I think there are good points made in that article from both sides of the debate. 

Is anonymous or pseudonymous reviewing the answer?  I think that you can still call a pseudonym to account, by attacking the work, the critique they have given.  In terms of giving a respectful or well considered review I think that how one’s respectful but less than glowing review is taken is dependant on the author.  I have been privy to seeing authors,(edited because I don’t want people guessing at who – but dear reader, no one you are likely to know) distraught over what I would consider an even handed, even positive review. 

You can also have profiles that list peoples gender, ethnicity, politics, experience without revealing their identity.

So I think the arguments Against can be mitigated against.  You can have a critical dialogue with the reviewer through their work.

My major concern is with the payback or damage to your career or livelihood.  If you are tied into the literature scene, reliant on grants for projects, what you say about certain works has the potential to curtail or end your career.  It can determine the opportunities provided to you, meetings and introductions etc.

To think that people are going to be unbiased if you rigorously pulled apart their novel or the novel of a friend or partner is unrealistic.  And the scene is small. 

So this discussion relates to the Literature scene in Australia and I think the Speculative Fiction scene is even smaller.

So my questions to you dear reader: 

Is their a place for anonymous reviewing in the Australian Speculative Fiction scene? Would it result in a more robust critical environment that would force our authors to push themselves to their limits?

I do wonder if there is a lack of interest and investment in people who are willing to take on the career of a critic, is it something we value enough to provide the money for someone to have a career exclusive as a literary critic?

Do you, if you a reviewer, feel as if your review is subject to self censorship because you know the author?

* its occurred to me that there may be a problem with many of my readers being able to answer this question since they are writers in the SpecFic community.  Feel free to email me anonymously if you would like to put a point forward.


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