Lois Tilton Leaves Locus Online

Lois Tilton will no longer be reviewing for Locus Online she told readers of SFF.Net Webnews today.

I wish to announce that, after 205 columns, I’ve resigned as reviewer of short fiction for Locus Online. Without consulting or informing me, they had begun deleting material they considered negative from my reviews. To me, this is censorship and completely unacceptable. If a publication includes stories of no merit or interest, this is something a review should mention.

I had also begun to have misgivings about participating in the selection of the Locus Recommended Reading List, because of the possibility of conflict of interest.

So publishers with material for review will have to find another venue. Don’t send it to me.

Since it’s actually not likely that too many publishers will be reading here, passing on this announcement to relevant outlets would be helpful.

Before joining Locus Online, Tilton reviewed short fiction for the Internet Review of Science Fiction. She said in a 2012 interview:

In my first column at IROSF, I wrote as my manifesto: “I consider that my mandate is to the readers, not the authors or editors of the stories I review. I have no one else to please and no one else’s opinion concerns me, save that of the editors of IROSF.” This still holds true, mutatis mutandis, with Locus. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t keep doing reviews. When I reached the age of curmudgeonhood I decided that the rest of life is too short to let other people tell me what I can and can’t say.

65 thoughts on “Lois Tilton Leaves Locus Online

  1. BTW, Mike and Josh Jasper: I reviewed for Charles from 1990 onward, and while we agreed on the folly of the “killer review” (see my post above), at no time did I have the sense that he would alter or spike negative material in any of mine. Nor did he. Nor have I seen any change in editorial policy or behavior in the years since his death. Whatever Charles might have thought about negative reviews, it didn’t show up in his editorial role with me.

  2. @Lois Tilton – I find it sad that the internet seems to assume there must be a feud declared, a villain chosen, and sides taken.

    The internet is a vast place, comprised of vast numbers of people. It cannot come to a consensus over which you may then take it to task. In addition, if you make a public statement divorcing yourself from an organization and that statement uses the word “censorship,” then it isn’t particularly surprising that some of the subsequent discussion sticks there, with opinions for and against.

  3. As you pointed out, though, Elwood was more than forty years ago, though, and much has changed since. Even then, however, anthologies continued to be published well after his departure, profitably, as Mike Ashley pointed out in History of the Science-Fiction Magazine. Nothing much has changed since, though we have had some sell well over a hundred thousand copies, just recently. So it is not unheard-of. On the other hand, collections, are somewhat much harder to move significant copies, unless of course you’re extremely well-known, at which point you can sell their grocery list, too. But it also depends on the very definition of what significant is, as publishers have gotten better and better at making money with fewer copies shipped, these days.

  4. I wish to announce that, after 205 columns, I’ve resigned as reviewer of short fiction for Locus Online. Without consulting or informing me, they had begun deleting material they considered negative from my reviews. To me, this is censorship and completely unacceptable. If a publication includes stories of no merit or interest, this is something a review should mention.

    Gosh, I can’t imagine why people might get upset at Locus if they had deleted material from existing reviews without consulting the author.

    That’s not what actually happened, but that’s certainly how I and many others read the above announcement.

  5. I know authors who, when Charles Brown was alive, could never get their books reviewed in LOCUS. Nice to know the tradition continues.

  6. Andrew, there are any number of reasons for my not reviewing particular writers or books, and none of them has anything to do with editorial influence or interference, now or under Charles’ editorship. I worked with him for nineteen years and was pretty much allowed to follow my nose, vote with my feet, or whatever metaphor you prefer. I know that some writers kvetched about not getting reviewed in Locus, and for the ones I didn’t review, it was because I didn’t want to read them or the kind of books they wrote or I simply had never gotten around to them. I doubt that I was any kind of special snowflake, so I daresay that was and remains the case with the rest of my colleagues at the magazine.

  7. What Russell said.

    As I explained to a friend last night, I can’t speak to Lois’ experience (and have never met her, either virtually or in person). I can speak to my own, however. I’ve never been asked to change anything — either by Charles or Liza — because of some editorial mandate, nor have I been asked to review something I would not otherwise have read.

  8. OK, for the assembled multitude, or anybody still reading this thread, here is how a book gets a Locus review, as seen from my angle:

    UPS or USPS drops packages of ARCs (advance reader copies) or sometimes manuscripts on my front porch. Or, for the last couple years, I get an e-mail attachment, or an e-ARC is sent to my Kindle.

    Some of these I have asked to see (having ticked items from the Forthcoming Books listings), some are by writers I have been following (often for years), and the rest have been chosen by magazine staff without my input. The physical books might carry a Post-It with a notation–“For Russell,” “First novel by Campbell winner,” “Got good PW review.”

    I read the blurbs and publisher’s PR releases and then thumb through the candidates. Some whole categories are iffy from the start–I don’t read horror or most flavors of fantasy any more* and (as I have articulated in a couple of recent columns) am lukewarm on routine commercial military SF. But I do read a bit of every book, including those by writers I have never much liked. If the prose displeases me or if the ideas seem silly or strained, I set the book aside.

    Those that get me past five or ten pages are the ones that I will take a serious swing at. But I still might stop if I feel I’m slogging or if I find myself arguing with the book or if it’s just meh. If there are niggles or oddities or what I take to be aesthetic flaws that don’t stop me cold, I note them, finish the book and eventually compose a review. And the magazine runs it, very occasionally with a minor edit of the kind any writer experiences.

    During this process, the only communication I generally receive from Locus staff is a somewhat anxious e-mail (because it arrives around deadline time) from Jonathan Strahan asking whether I’ll have a column that month and what it will include.

    When Charles was still with us, the process was slightly different–nearly every month I would get a Jewish-mother phone call from him** during which he would pitch new and interesting writers and books and we would talk about the field, its history, and the Meaning of It All. Charles clearly had his own notions of what mattered and who was doing good work, but there was nothing coercive going on. If I didn’t want to cover a book, I didn’t cover it. As friendly and informal as our relationship was, in these matters it was as professional as any I’ve encountered in forty years of academic and journalistic writing.

    So–more than anybody wants to know about the exciting, mysterious world of SFF book reviewing. For a while in the 1990s, I reviewed home-office equipment, and aside from the kind of clutter generated, the processes and protocols were strikingly similar–though I never stayed overnight at the Home Office Computing HQ.

    * I do know the classics in these genres, though–that was my dissertation area.

    ** Really. It often began, “You never call, you never write. . . .”

    “If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”

  9. Again – I have to echo Russell. One small change, tho: my books occaisionally come with a post-it that says “seems gonzo. Give to Adrienne?” But other than that…

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  11. Good for Locus. There is a way to express a negative opinion without being hateful and rude and a bully. Locus had a right to edit the reviews. Their name is on them as much as yours, and what’s more, they paid for them.

  12. Cull Strider: Good for Locus. There is a way to express a negative opinion without being hateful and rude and a bully. Locus had a right to edit the reviews. Their name is on them as much as yours, and what’s more, they paid for them.

    Not a big proponent of editorial integrity, are you, eh?

  13. I’m sad to see Lois go. I don’t know if she ever gave one of my stories a “recommended,” but she generally said good things about them. I appreciated the encouragement.

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  15. Yeah, wow, this is a blow. I hope she will still review stories somewhere.
    I very much relied on Lois Tilton’s critical acumen and insight, very often finding her much more penetrating and on-key than other short fiction reviewers.

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