Making Book

by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

Cover image

Publisher: NESFA Press
Copyright: 1994
Printing: December 2003
ISBN: 0-915368-55-2
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 158

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Teresa Nielsen Hayden is probably best known these days as a blogger and a science fiction book editor, but she's also a long-time SF fan and fanzine editor and contributor. This is a collection of essays, drawn mostly from fanzine writing, that was published for Boskone 31 and still in print through NESFA Press. Before the eyes of everyone not involved in SF fandom glaze over, note that I'm mostly uninterested in fandom myself, and despite some bits that will only make sense or hold the interest of hard-core fans, there are some great essays in here.

That is not to say that Making Book is non-stop gems, nor is it, despite the conclusion one might draw from the cover and the title, about editing science fiction, the publishing process, or anything else related to making books. (With one exception: "On Copyediting" is an expansion of what was originally the Tor house copyediting guidelines and is a fascinating look into a portion of the publishing business, the things copyeditors are concerned with, and the bits that sound like mind-numbing tedium.) It is, instead, essays, mostly short, on a huge variety of topics ranging from religion to narcolepsy to the excretory habits of bats. About a third of the book, unfortunately, is stuffed full enough of fandom in-jokes, obscure references, and bits of fanzine writing that make little sense out of their original cultural context. Those bits ("High Twee," "Hell, 12 Feet," "Tits and Cockroaches," "Workingman's Fred," and most of "Over Rough Terrain") form the center of the book and were, for me, completely forgettable. For the non-fan, be aware that you're buying about 100 pages of content that's probably going to be of interest.

However, those 100 pages contain wonderful gems. "God and I" is probably the best piece, a hilarious poke at the oddities of the Mormon religion that somehow turns into a fascinating observation of human behavior. I'm not sure how an essay about one's excommunication from a church complete with plenty of ridicule of their odder beliefs can leave the reader with a quietly bemused feeling towards the people doing the excommunicating, but somehow "God and I" manages.

Other highlights include a great look at why the post-holocaust survival stories of SF can ring false ("Apocalypse Now and Then"), wonderful looks at student financial aid ("Black Top Hat and Mustache") and secretarial work ("Of Desks and Robots"), and a fantastic broadside against woo-woo "new age" scholarship ("The Pastafazool Cycle"). Teresa Nielsen Hayden also writes about her narcolepsy in "The Big Z" and parts of "Over Rough Terrain," an inside look that I found fascinating given that prior to reading this book I knew nothing about narcolepsy except a dictionary definition. Nearly all of the essays are short and pointed, great reading between other things or when one only has a few minutes. Most are funny, in one way or another, but also witty, memorable, incisive, and observant. The ratio of content to pages is extremely high.

One is paying a fair bit of money for not that much content, which makes me hesitant to recommend Making Book unconditionally. On the other hand, if you like essays and skip the fandom stuff (or, unlike me, love fandom), this is great stuff. More would have been better, as would better print quality; normally NESFA Press's work looks better than this, but while the binding is fine, Making Book has the distinct and annoying appearance of having been printed on a moderately good laser printer. But I won't complain too much. What is provided made for two nights of highly enjoyable reading.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-01-31

Last modified and spun 2016-10-24