Monday, June 25, 2012

10 Questions: With Anya Johnson

Anya Johnson, Book Blogger

I'm a science fiction and fantasy book blogger, computer science PhD grad student and all around nerd. I read fiction to feed my creativity and open my mind to new ideas as well as to escape the dull moments of life for a while. I also find that the epic stories of science fiction and fantasy often inspire me to try just a little bit harder back in the real world, and try to keep reading even when class work and research bogs me down. I hope to apply my education to saving the world myself someday ;-).
#1: How did you get started as a book blogger?
I was sitting in class one day and started thinking about what I could start a blog about (computer organization tends to lead to daydreaming...). I had been meaning to start blogging because it is a good way to keep writing, but I had no idea what I knew enough about to actually write consistently week after week on. Then it occurred to me, the one hobby that has stuck with me my whole life: books! I always have a book I'm working on, and have a large back log of books I have read previously that I could write about, so it seemed perfect. In addition, I had very few people around me who read as passionately as I did, so it would be a relief to actually be able to tell others about the books I loved so much.

#2: What is your selection process when choosing a book to review?
I have a general interest in keeping to the tried and true genres I love, so I generally focus on looking through fantasy and science fiction books. Past that, however, my favorite selection process is simply walking through the shelves at the library and seeing what catches my fancy. I find it really fun to review a book that isn't on a best-seller list anymore or never was, since I like to read and review books that my readers haven't heard of yet. I also accept books from publishers and authors for review, so I try to keep a balance of library books and received books in my schedule.
#3: Have you ever declined to publish a review because you thought the story was terrible?
Not exactly. If I am working through a book and absolutely hate it for one reason or another, I will either decide that it's short enough that I should just push through, or it's too long and I stop. If I push through, then I feel that my readers have a right to know that I didn't enjoy the book so that they don't spend money on something they are less likely to enjoy. If I can't make it through though, what I write about the book will be shaped by what made me stop. For example, I decided to stop reading Pure by Julianna Baggott the other day because the premise just completely creeped me out and I found myself dreading reading more. I won't be writing a review on this book because it wasn't that the writing or premise were bad, just not for me. On the other hand if I stop because the writing and premise are likely to be judged horrible by most people, I would again want to warn my readers of my experience, with the caveat that I chose not to finish.
#4: As a graduate student pursuing a PHD in Computer Science and Evolutionary Biology (I feel smarter just typing that), does your education change the way you read science fiction? 
Haha, imagine how I feel when I type it, I'm still wondering if I'm completely insane to be doing this degree ;-). The answer, though, is definitely! I have always loved science fiction authors who take the time to back their ideas with a real science foundation and whenever I'm reading science fiction that is based on genetics (such as Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress), I find myself thinking through how likely the premise actually is. If an author completely mangles known science, I'll probably just cringe and keep moving forward, but books definitely get extra gold stars from me for getting the science right.
#5: You said that being a girl in a male-dominated field of study gives you a rarer perspective. Can you expand on that?
Sure. While it is a wonderfully true fact that the number of women in technical fields is increasing, the increase hasn't been felt as strongly in graduate technical programs. I've been lucky enough that while I was the only girl my year in my computer science program in undergrad, I was almost always respected by my male-peers, and many of them were actually my friends. I've also been lucky to have been able to go to a lot of the women in computing events that happen (Grace Hopper Conference!) and what I find time and time again is what most women in male-dominated fields probably do: having a different background than the majority can be frustrating at times, but it also can allow you to see things that others can't. For me this has meant that I didn't fit the computer programmer stereotype (hacking code since I was a teenager alone in my room) since I was instead pursuing my other love: evolutionary biology and genetics. Now it's specifically because I don't fit with the majority in my field that I'm pursuing a super exciting subfield, so I was able to find strength through being different than the majority.
#6: You said you prefer sci-fi and fantasy with more classic themes. Can you give some examples?
Definitely. I've mentioned a couple already, but for fantasy, classic books tend to have a medieval type setting with plenty of magic and the typical fantasy creatures (unicorns, dragons, etc). Class sci-fi often has elements of space adventure in it, but what I love even more is the sci-fi that focuses on what-if scenarios with advanced technology. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress is an example of that, since she takes the idea of genetic testing that we have currently, and goes further with extensive genetic modification of fetuses. Good classic sci-fi should make the reader think about the morality of too much and too little technology, and I think that's especially important for modern readers with the pace that the world is developing at now.
#7: You try to post a book review each week. Does the pressure of a deadline ever take the fun out of reading?
Yes, it's definitely a problem that all book bloggers have to be careful of. I'm lucky that I've been able to stay a few weeks ahead for most of my blogging, which relieves the pressure a fair amount. The trick is to make sure you are reading enough shorter books in addition to project books. The deadlines that are often more menacing for me are my writing deadlines. It's fairly easy for me to finish books, but often it'll take a few days of of denial before I'll actually sit down to write the review for a book I've recently finished.
#8: Have you ever had an author get angry at you because of a review?
Thankfully not yet. I've had the luck of not being forced to write less than a three star review yet. I'm a little worried though, because I have a two-star review waiting to be published currently, so this answer might be different in a couple of weeks *crosses fingers*. When I write reviews, I always make sure to list both strengths and weaknesses of every book, so I hope that no author ever feels too attacked, because I try quite hard to be as fair as I can be. I also always qualify my final verdict with the fact that other readers who can ignore the flaws that bothered me could very well enjoy a book I disliked.
#9: Suppose an author reading this interview wants you to review his or her book. What do they do? Explain your submission process.
Basically just email me or submit a query on the contact form of my blog ( ) with a description of the book and what form they can send it to me in. I have a Kindle and am happy to read e-copies. I also accept hard copies of books if you really like me :D. I'll read the book as soon as I get the chance, though I reserve the right to read the books I have in whatever order works for me, and then I'll be happy to email them a copy of the review and post it on my blog and anywhere else they'd like. I'm pretty laid back and I don't bite, so it's a pretty easy process :).
#10:  Let's do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn't ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.
Haha, pressure's on. How about: What is your best and worst experience book blogging? (I'm really bad at coming up with interview questions, please don't throw things! D:) My best experience book blogging is what Dean Murray commented on my review of his novel Frozen Prospects. Knowing an author liked your review and thought the weaknesses that you pointed out were fair (and they were planning to fix them for the next book!) is a really reassuring and gratifying experience. I squeed a lot to my boyfriend over that one. My worst experience blogging was writing that two-star review; I really hate feeling mean and used way too many qualifiers, but it was also really important to me to stay honest and true to my readers.
Thanks, Anya, for taking time to share your insight on book blogging.


  1. Excellent: "Good classic sci-fi should make the reader think about the morality of too much and too little technology, and I think that's especially important for modern readers with the pace that the world is developing at now."

    I couldn't agree more. Those are the type of books that when I close the last page, make me say, "Damn, that was a good book!"

    1. Thanks, Teresa. The reaction you describe, "Damn, that was a good book!", is what we shoot for as authors, I think. Royalty payments are just a bonus.