So You Want to Be a Critic

by Bill Venable

If you will but peruse the letter column of any prozine you will discover that each and every fan is a self-appointed literary critic, of a rather poor sort. At least most fans are willing to stick their necks out as far as to say, "This was a good story," or, "This was not a good story." However, when it comes to getting down and reviewing a book or magazine for a fanzine there are very few fans who can do this sort of thing. At least, the field at present is hogged by ten or twelve Superior Minds who are able, on the least provocation, to sit down at a typewriter and turn out a searching criticism of anything that happens to be in their line of vision. It seems too bad that more fans cannot develop this sort of skill. However, with a view toward remedying this situation, I have carefully studied the techniques of these paragons in the field of criticism, and believe that any fan with a brain, or even half a brain, can acquire the art of criticizing,

The prime requisite of a Big-Time critic is that he is able, without the slightest provocation, to pre-prejudice himself on any type of literature in a very short time. This is a skill which he must have taken years to acquire, and we cannot treat it too lightly. Thus any prominent critic has already figured out, at least six months in advance, what he is going to say about all the forthcoming novels during that time. Of course we cannot hope to carry this around in our heads, as the expert critic does. Until the skill is acquired it must painstakingly be written down. It would be best for the would-be critic to take a pad and pencil and write down a listing of this nature:

A really professional critic, does all this best when he is absolutely ignorant of what the forthcoming books will be. He has to figure on what his public wants, and what has gone before. Thus, if he has treated six or seven books in a row pretty decently it is now time for him to really smear one. Or if he has condemned to hell all but two of the last ten books he is ready to praise one to the skies. This randomness also leads a note of originality to his criticism. When everyone else is praising the latest Bradbury anthology our critic, according to his list condemns it as juvenile babblings. While the populace is not in agreement with him they respect him for daring to say such things about Bradbury. In fact, it is the character of a critic that he is able to say terrible things about the best authors, things you and I would never dream of saying. This shows he is head and shoulders above the crowd.

The second greatest asset of a critic is his ability to classify any book at a moment's notice, to classify it in a way common people never think of. Thus, when a new book appears one critic writes, "This is a book." while another critic states, "This is not a book." The third critic asks, "Is this a book?" while the fourth uses a different approach, "The new SIMON AND SCHUSTER s-f novel is just another tale turned out by the Eniac under the pen name of Ray Bradbury." Ray Bradbury, the Eniac! Who'd have ever thought it?

This does not end our catalogue of the necessary qualities of a critic, however. It has been recently discovered that the best critics are people who know nothing about that which they are criticising. Thus a great art critic looks at a painting done in the modern style. "The color," he says, "is rotten.

"Where?" asks the artist vehemently.

"My dear fellow, I don't know where." says the critic. "I am color blind." And turning a withering look on the ruined painter he walks away.

Similar characteristics were uncovered in one of the prominent s-f critics, at an interview at which I was fortunate enough to be present. "Have you done any writing yourself?" the reviewer asks the critic.

"None." says the critic, polishing his glasses.

"Are you familiar with the great literary works in the English language?" says the interviewer. "Certainly not." replies the critic. Asked if he can read or write, the critic turns away to the window and mutters, "No."

The interviewer asks then how does the critic do his work?

"Simple," says the Great Man. "I grind up the book and mix it with my dog's RED HEART. If she eats it, I praise the book. If she turns away, I condemn it. Great lover of literature, that animal."

The interviewer is astounded. Just then the animal in question enters the room. The interviewer sees her. "Is this the dog?" he asks.

"No," says the critic, "this is the one who doeds my typing."

However, to fans who do not like dogs we offer a note of hope also. Recent ecperiments indicate that monkeys and duckbill platypusses are also capable of that sort of thing. Otherwise you will have to train your own animals.

Bill Venable





Data entry by Judy Bemis