My review of Nisi Shawl's collection of stories, Filter House, has been posted at Strange Horizons.
It's the sort of review I mostly refrain from writing -- a negative review of a well-intentioned book from a small press. It took me ages to write, partly because usually I don't continue reading books that fail to hold my interest after a while, but mostly because my brain rebelled against the idea of writing such a review. I have an easier time writing negative things about nonfiction, because ideas are put out there to be challenged and analyzed, but a short story collection from a small press is more an offering than an argument.
So why? Selfish reasons, mostly. I had wanted to begin to clarify some ideas of what differentiates (for me, at least) competent/mediocre fiction from fiction that is either obviously bad or that has elements of greatness (or maybe not greatness, but something more than competence). Filter House was the book at hand, and I was struggling with it in the same way I have struggled with countless stories I've read for Best American Fantasy, countless novels I've looked at for reviewing, countless writings that have made me wonder, since they lack obvious flaws, exactly what it is that causes them to fall flat. I don't know if I succeeded at getting at much of that in the review, or if it justifies the review, but it was the motivation. And the final paragraph is sincere: Nisi Shawl has all the skills to become a powerful writer, and I would not at all be surprised if her future work achieved far more than Filter House does.
I should also offer thanks, as I always do when I review for SH, to Niall Harrison, who once again offered sharp, thoughtful editing and encouraged me to exorcise my dithers.