I am reading through my backlog of Interzone magazines during lunch. Recently I finished a story (which I will not name for reasons that will soon become apparent), and I thought, "wasn't that one of the readers' choice stories?" IZ had the results of a readers' choice poll in issue 209. I pulled the issue, and sure enough, there was the story.
I can't say I was surprised, but, I have to be honest, I thought the story was gut-thumpingly awful. It was built around a gimmick, and it was written entirely to make a point that was bland, simple, almost trite (although true, but being true isn't enough). It assumed that the reader was too dim to have appreciated the point before, while being at the same time so sensitive as to be moved by the author's treatment of it. The author basically clubbed the readers over the head with this point and nothing else and sat back, satisfied this was sufficient to make a story worth writing. It was a ode to the author's own sense of what his writing could do for the world. And I thought it was terrible. It was the kind of thing I would expect from a gifted* high school student in creative writing class, not being published in a magazine that people pay for.
This was one of the readership's favorite stories of the year.
Obviously I don't understand what people like to read. Did they like that the story was oh so clever? Did they honestly think it was insightful? I'm baffled.
* Yes, gifted. It was well enough written for what it was.