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Is there really no such thing as bad press?

By Damien Filer

They say, “there’s no such thing as bad press.” They also say when Howard Stern was on the radio in New York the people who hated him listened for longer than his fans. But if I’m being honest, it still probably took the remove of time to allow me to laugh when I found out Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine reviewed my short story collection, From Blood to Water, and concluded it should be set ablaze. That’s pretty harsh. Don’t you think? Even unsettling amid the new fervor to ban books. Here’s my best attempt to reconstruct the story twenty-four years later.

In 1998, I saw myself as an up and coming writer. I was a grant recipient of the California Institute for Contemporary Arts and they decided to release a collection of my short stories in a way that was, in 1998, pretty cutting edge. The stories were to be read on a computer and had accompanying artwork and a soundtrack throughout. A new immersive way to read. More like a movie.

The institute that published From Blood to Water even hired a PR agent to promote it. I remember meeting her at a fantasy convention in South Florida to talk strategy. She struck me as well intentioned but she didn’t really know her way around the publishing world, or more specifically, the genre world (sci fi, fantasy, horror etc…). My stories ranged from mainstream to slipstream to straight out science fiction.

I’m sure she sent out review copies to the big science fiction magazines like Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Analog was the other in the big three but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to send it there because their specialty was hard science fiction. My stories were far from it.

The reviews I got – the ones I knew about anyway – were good. Dark Planet called it “More literary than genre-bound…by turns sensual, touching, and disturbing.” Sci Fi Entertainment said it had “A touch of The Twilight Zone.” And Talebones said the stories ranged from “From good to excellent.”

Fast forward 24 years. It’s 2022. I’m getting ready to launch a new publishing company and this leads me down a rabbit hole on the internet where I discover, 24 years later, my short story collection was reviewed by Analog! I never knew. I couldn’t find the review online but old copies of the issue in which it appeared (June, 1999) were available for a few bucks on eBay. I ordered one.

Part of me was just curious but I’m also an archivist so now that I knew this review existed I needed a copy for my library, my brag shelf, so to speak. I’ll admit, I was also thinking maybe if it was really good I could use an excerpt from it on my website or on a book jacket. A week or so later the old copy of Analog arrived in the mail.

It wasn’t in mint condition (I’m a stickler) but at least I had it. I thumbed through and found the review section. Tom Easton’s “Reference Library” included ten book reviews and I was in with some heavy hitters. Walter Mosley. Ray Bradbury. My review was the last and shorter than all the rest. Much shorter.

It turns out he never even read the stories. I guess the CD-Rom not only wouldn’t play, it froze up his computer. His frustration was with the technology. Ironic, because it’s the only reason I can figure they decided to review my collection in the first place. Not for the stories. For the technology. And it failed.

Tom Easton apparently spent thirty years as a columnist for Analog. He’s also the only person I’ve ever heard of who had trouble with the CD-Rom. Too bad. I know it’s a little late but I think I’ll see if I can send him another copy. You know, in case he wants to actually read the stories.

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