How to Be Proved Wrong

Now and then, those of us who write book reviews let our guard down and make generalized statements that could be proved wrong with a single exception. Sometimes we buffer such statements with qualifiers that technically relieve them of being pure generalizations, but I doubt many readers are fooled.

For instance, last year I wrote a somewhat less than positive review of Nisi Shawl's short story collection Filter House. I even said this:
While I find it easy to believe readers will experience Shawl's stories in different ways -- such is the case with any basically competent fiction -- I cannot imagine how a reader who is sensitive to literature's capabilities and possibilities could possibly say these stories offer much of a performance.
I certainly made a point of highlighting my subjectivity here: "I cannot imagine how...", but still. The intent is clear. I spent most of the review saying, in one way or another, that this book seemed to me the epitome of mediocre, and I tried to imply that it's inconceivable (INCONCEIVABLE!) that anyone would passionately disagree with such a rational perspective.

The greater the claims, the harder they fall... Within days, I had learned that Samuel Delany thought Filter House one of the best collections of science fiction stories published in the last decade or so. Delany and I have fairly different taste in fiction, but I deeply respect his readings of things, and even if I can't share his enthusiasm for a certain text, I've never felt like I couldn't understand what sparked and fueled that enthusiasm.

And now Filter House has been listed as one of the 7 best SF/Fantasy/Horror books of the year by Publisher's Weekly, and it has won a Tiptree Award.

While I will admit I still don't understand the acclaim, I have to say I was completely and utterly wrong -- dramatically, astoundingly, INCONCEIVABLY! wrong -- in thinking that it was an impossible book to see as an example of excellence. Plenty of very smart and sensitive readers have found it to be exactly that.

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