The industrious David Langford has just published the final collection of Algis Budrys's book reviews. There are three volumes currently available: Benchmarks Continued, Benchmarks Revisited, and Benchmarks Concluded. I don't know if there were any prior volumes or if these are the complete set, but in any case, Budrys's criticism is well worth reading.
I remember that when I started out in science fiction, my then agent Virginia Kidd told me never to review books. "Every negative review will make you an enemy," she said, "and a fiction writer doesn't need that." Budrys, however, was fearless. If he didn't like a book, his review would blister paint and flay skin.
"Pray that you never receive a review like this," Gardner Dozois told me one day and showed me the job that Budrys had done on . . . well, never mind who. He wouldn't thank me for bringing up such a painful memory.
Inevitably, of course, Budrys did give me a review like that. Believe it or not, I forget what novel it was for and, believe it or not, I wasn't upset -- not because I don't have a thin skin, like every other writer I know, but because my book was just an excuse for an attack on something he disliked about New York publishing at the time.
As a critic Budrys was simply brilliant -- though, as I've implied, some of his take-downs were as unfair as they were unkind. But, of course, that only made them all that much more entertaining to read. Provided, of course, that they weren't of your work.
Late in his life, Budrys created his own science fiction magazine, Tomorrow Speculative Fiction. I vividly remember stopping by his table in the huckster room of some Worldcon or other and having him slam down a freebie copy of the magazine in front of me with a scowl and then snarl, "Submit a story to me!" in a way that suggested that a lot of writers wouldn't. So I guess Virginia's advice was right.
Nevertheless, I liked Budrys. He was a brilliant writer. (If you haven't read him, I recommend the collection Blood and Burning for a starter.) And he was almost as good as a critic. If you read criticism for insight, I can recommend these books with a clean conscience. And if you read criticism for entertainment, the same thing goes.
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