In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much. In the couple of months that followed, we made grand plans for future projects, and even started a podcast.
The criticism special was also the last major project the three of us worked on together, before Maureen’s cancer diagnosis. We lost her in September.
We’d already been toying with the idea of doing another criticism special in 2023; when the subject of a tribute issue to Maureen was broached, the only way we could envision it was through the critical work that she loved. The personal and the critical bleed into one another throughout this issue; in the foreword, Paul Kincaid, Maureen’s husband, writes about what it meant to think with her and be edited by her. Many of the other personal tributes—including Catherine Rockwood’s poem and Paul March-Russell’s overview of her work—are also glimpses of her critical vision. Likewise, the critical is underpinned by the personal, most notably in Clark Seanor’s essay, which also tells the story of its own development over years through conversations with Maureen. Other pieces—Niall Harrison’s on the structures of a subgenre and Zhui Ning Chang on postcolonial SFF—are included here simply because they embody the sort of analysis that she, and we, love; essays and reviews (double our usual number) that enrich the text, the reader, and the cultures in which they are read.
Last January, we wrote with Maureen a sort of mission statement for criticism at Strange Horizons. “None of us believes,” we suggested, “that a critic’s job is, as Maureen says in her article on Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker, to serve up quotable nuggets to go on the back cover of the paperback edition; but it’s clear from things we see online that some people do genuinely believe that the reviewer’s job is to promote the novel, and if the reviewer says something adverse then they’re not doing their job properly. As reviewers and critics, we see ourselves more as ‘critical friends,’ talking about what works, and what doesn’t work, while setting all of that in a broader context.”
Anyone who knew Maureen and her work can hear her voice in the above. There are many tributes to that voice in this special issue. Our own was published last September: “we will miss her because she was our friend—was the friend of all readers, and all authors, and all books. She showed us this every time she attended to a text and asked not just why she liked it, but why she—or why we—might not. Friends make us better, and they often do so via the unvarnished truth.”
That’s what criticism should do. It’s what Maureen did. And it’s what we will—we hope—continue to do in this special issue, in tribute to our great friend and the literature she loved.
Editors: Reviews Department
Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department