James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Blog > Post

All Shaking Thunder; or, Why I Didn’t Mention Your Favourite Book

2 Mar, 2024


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

I have been known to muse on particular themes and tropes common to science fiction, fantasy, and related fields. Often, I provide five examples1. Just as often, sometimes even more often, people will helpfully point out that an obvious example has been omitted from my list. What dreadful reasons could possibly explain these inexplicable lapses?

Here are five explanations, which may apply singly or in concert to particular cases.

Firstly, I may have forgotten about obvious possibilities. While I am a superlative example of online reviewer, it is a regrettable fact that on occasion my memory is not perfect. Having read something like 15,000 books over the last half-century plus, every once in a while one slips out of memory2.

Secondly, I have already mentioned the works in question. I prefer not to highlight the same books over and over. Why write two essays with the same content3? When I compose pieces for Tor, I check to see if any of the works I am considering were mentioned in other essays, and if so, how often. The memorability of certain tales works against them, as that increases the possibility that I have already cited them.

Thirdly, I enjoy long comment threads. Leaving one or two obvious examples for readers to mention encourages conversation. If appearing a bit absent-minded is the cost of facilitating discussion, it’s a sacrifice which I am willing to make.

Finally, it is possible that I bear malice toward specific readers. Perhaps I have a dossier on you4. Perhaps I have a dossier on your favorite books! How better to subtly enrage someone by presenting them with a topic for which their favorite work is the most obvious example, then frustrating them by not mentioning it! It’s a flawless tactic … and perfectly legal.


As you can see, these five explanations cover all possible cases. Should you be perplexed as to why a particular book seems to be missing, consult this essay and all will be clear.

1: Why five? There is a reason but I have a limited word count and by composing such long footnotes, I have used up my allotted words.

2: I’m afraid I have forgotten (for no reason that I can discern) the plot of almost every Roger Zelazny story I’ve read. On the plus side, this means I have a shelf of Zelazny books that are effectively new to me.

3: Yes, yes, writing two essays with the same content is acceptable if to get paid” is a good reason. However, that can lead to user boredom and reviewer termination.

4: This sentence was written prior to the revelation about the 2023 Hugo Dossiers. Life changes so quickly.