Locus interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda, who's been covering science fiction books for the Washington Post for 25 years. And he talks about the huge "breakout" books that he's had reservations about, but also admits that the critics are often wrong about the books that really matter:
I've also always tried to review at least one major book in the field each fall and spring, usually those that publishers think of as 'breakout books.' More often than not though, I seem — regretfully — to have given many of them mixed reviews. I admired but had cavils or, in some instances, serious reservations about Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Neal Stephenson's Anathem. Anathem, for instance, won the Locus Award, and a lot of people obviously love the book, but it didn't work for me. I found it too long, too slow-moving, too heavy.
Of course, I could be dead wrong about Stephenson's novel. The books we can't make sense of, that knock us off-kilter, that we don't accept readily, will often be the books that matter most to the next generation. In fact, that's generally the sign of a really important book: it doesn't fit into our received expectations, it bothers us, it 'doesn't work.' Sometimes an ambitious failure is more worth having than a successful little novel that is perfectly well done.
The whole interview is well worth reading, both the selections online and the entire thing in the print magazine. [Locus Magazine]
Top image: Gluekit's illustration for the New York Times (not Washington Post) review of Anathem.