One of the first things a professional writer learns is to never, never answer negative reviews. It only gets you into energy-sapping flame wars, alienates reviewers, and looks petty. Despite knowing all that for at least 25 years, I'm going to do it anyway.
Reader Steve Mollman, on his Live Journal site, reviewed FAST FORWARD 2. He didn't like my story, which is of course perfectly reasonable. A lot of people don't like a lot of my fiction, for one reason or another, and they are entitled to their opinions. But Mr. Mollman's review underlined a point I've been making in recent blog entries, and which is much on my mind. He wrote:
"The Kindness of Strangers" by Nancy Kress -- Aliens destroy most of the world's major population centers yet do their best to assist the survivors. Why could this be happening? You won't really be surprised by the answer, and neither was I. These sort of better-than-you-primitives aliens who like lording over us were sort of done to death by Star Trek in the 1960s, you know? Except here, there's no getting out of the situation with a grand, moralistic gesture, just some empty nihilism. I'm pretty sure this same story turned up at least twice in Brian W. Aldiss's Galactic Empires collections, anyway.
My problem with this is that it seems to me to miss the point of the story, which was NOT its SF idea. There are many types of "kindness" in the story, and it's necessary to consider all of them to see what I was saying about the nature of kindness and its mis-applications. Thus, the actions of Carleen and Jenny are just as important as those of the aliens, and the relationship between Jenny and Eric is a necessary comment on the aliens' violent goal. To look only at the "SF idea" is to bring a tunnel vision to my story, and thus to negate entirely the reason why I wrote it.
The larger point here is that, in my view, SF should be more than its "idea." I am not writing about a "galactic empire" or about aliens who "lord" anything over humans. It may be that my story fails on these other literary dimensions -- character, emotion, human insight, moral implication -- as well. But I would like a reviewer to at least say as much.