Mon
Mar 15 2010 3:36pm

Why reviewers don't often say “This sucks”.

In the comments to my “Series that go downhill” post, Kluelos writes:

When the computer game “Myst:URU” was released, and reviewers were panning it, but giving a grade of “B”, I recall thinking that if this game had any other pedigree than the revered Rand brothers, it would have gotten the “F” it deserved. We do too much of that, forgiving writers for a real stinker because of prior work. And it’s not just SF: Hemingway’s “Across the River...” just bit it but nobody was willing to frankly say so at the time.

We need to be readier to say and think, “but what have you done for me lately?”, to be less forgiving and quicker to evaluate a story on its own merits rather than its ancestry.

I may hear in person, but just about never read a reviewer saying in print, “Don’t read this. It’s a disappointment and worse than a waste of your time, it will spoil the previous one for you”. Reviewers and/or their editors just don’t have the, whatever, to say that in print most of the time.

I was reminded of this recently when reading Catherynne Valente’s review of Adam Roberts Yellow Blue Tibia. And here’s Roberts being snarky about Martin Amis. I was also reminded of David Hines review of John Ringo’s Paladin of Shadows series. (That link goes directly to Ringo’s response, scroll up for the review.) There is a joy all of its own to seeing something awful getting ripped to shreds—why else would I be glued to Fred Clark’s page by page demolition of the Left Behind books? And of course there’s the inimitable Nick Mamatas, who does occasionally say something about a book other than “this book sucks”, but he’s very entertaining when he hates something. Also, do check out Jim Macdonald’s awesome Red Mike reviews of awful movies. Reviews saying that things suck can be a useful warning, and they can direct people towards something they like and the reviewer hates—I bet than Ringo review helped sales—and they can be extremely entertaining.

There are, however, a whole pile of reasons why reviewers may be reluctant to say “this sucks”.

First there’s the one Kluelos mentions—“What have you done for me lately?” If it’s a new novel by a respected author, or in a series, some reviewers might be prepared to cut it more slack because they liked the earlier ones and the fond memories make them more forgiving. I don’t have this particular problem, as you can probably tell from my review of The Other Wind. It may also be that sometimes, as with the Hemingway example, that sometimes the author’s reputation is such that nobody wants to be the first to say they’re not wearing any clothes.

Then there’s the straight money problem. Lots of magazines only publish positive reviews. They don’t say “You must love everything.” It’s much more insidious. They’ll send a reviewer a pile of books and say “Here’s a pile of books. Write reviews of the ones that are worth it, get them to us by Friday and we’ll pay you $50 (or $100, or $25...) per review.” The corrolary is that they pay nothing for the ones you don’t review because they’re not worth it. The reviewer is then in the unenviable position of having a pile of books they have to spend time reading before Friday, knowing they’ll only be paid if they produce a positive review. Lots of people can find something nice to say about anything if it means the difference between being paid and not being paid, eating and not eating. I was sometimes in this position when I reviewed for the old British RPG magazine Arcane. I tried hard to be ethical and often succeeded. Only publishing positive reviews is as terrible an idea as it was when Orwell wrote against it.

Third, some people just don’t like to be mean—and sometimes books really are awful, and being honest seems like being mean. There’s that piece of advice about if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. And even if people don’t mind being mean about a work written by an abstract and distant writer, they might not like being mean about something written by their friends—and the more anyone hangs out with SF and fantasy writers, online, in cons, wherever, the more of them they know.

These days it a fact that, especially with Google Alerts, with any review that’s online you can count on it that the author is going to see it. They might not say anything—they almost certainly won’t, but they will see it. It’s also likely that they’ll remember it—I bet Adam Roberts remembers that review forever. I don’t remember all my bad reviews, but if you review a book of mine and state that it doesn’t mention Oxford or Cambridge, when it’s mentioned several times that the protagonist is looking forward to going to Oxford in September, you can be sure that this will stick in my mind. Even after I’ve forgotten the details I’ll think of you henceforward as someone who doesn’t read with attention, and have less respect for you. Similarly, Robert Silverberg upbraided me at Anticipation for conflating the character’s opinions with the author’s in my review here of Dying Inside. (Brilliant book.) Writers do remember these things.

Beyond that, there’s an extra layer if you are a writer reviewing—and this is why I stopped writing about everything I read. If you are a writer, there’s a way in which all the other writers are your competition. This is quite different from them being your friends. You’re competing: for awards, for review space, for attention, for sales. I don’t think it’s a zero sum game like this so that if someone buys my book they don’t buy someone else’s. But some people do. In this worldview, if I trash someone’s current book, not only am I hurting their potential sales, but they imagine I am doing it on purpose to put down a rival. The fact that this never occurred to me before someone accused me of doing it—on my livejournal ages ago, not here—is irrelevant. That was their perception. And I can only deny intentionality. I’m a midlist writer. I’m also a reader. From my point of view, I was a reader warning other readers to avoid a bad book. From that author’s point of view, I was one midlist writer putting down another midlist writer to my own potential advantage. This is so repulsive a thing to have thought about one that I’ve been extremely careful ever since.

What I do here is write about books I’m re-reading. I’m not a masochist, I don’t re-read things unless I like them—well, except sometimes. Anyway, I’m not always unequivocably positive about everything I read—I said the Darkover books were orthogonal to good only last week, and I did a post about why Feintuch’s Midshipman’s Hope was a bad book that I liked anyway, and I entitled my post about Heinlein’s Friday “The worst book I love”. You may notice however, that Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein and David Feintuch are all dead. This means I won’t hurt their feelings, and they won’t think I’m saying mean things about them to somehow advance myself. There’s also the case when the writer really is my friend, not just a vague acquaintance, and I know they’ll read what I’ve said in the right way—so I felt quite happy saying how I didn’t enjoy Jhegaala for instance.

I do sometimes review new books here if I feel extremely enthusiastic about them. But I don’t accept books on the expectation that I’ll review them. And you won’t be seeing any posts from me merrily ripping something to shreds anytime soon. But I won’t be telling any lies or selling anything either.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

41 comments
j p
1. sps49
Eventually, I think consumers realize that reviews are viewed through rose-colored glasses; but a newbie is born every minute. One must buy a lame (or worse) game, book, CD, or whatever more than once to realize that you can't judge a work by it's review.

Part of this is the pressure that a publisher feels to keep samples and, importantly, advertisers from witholding works, access, and money to retaliate for a bad review. This is exemplified by a magazine editorial where the editor wrote that he was not interested in giving bad reviews because he was ultimately in the business of selling magazines and ad space. This ended my purchasing and reading of his magazine, because what is the benefit for me?
Laurel Lyon
2. laurellyon
Another good reason for reviewing your re-reads is that readers like me can buy the books we like the sound of, cheaply, second-hand. NB - there are no English language libraries where I live.

I have a lot of catching up to do in my SFF reading, and the older books which are so well-known as to be part of the background for most aficionados are new and interesting to me. I think for at least half of your reviews here, I buy something (the latest was Connie Willis' Not to Mention the Dog) for which thanks!
jannils
3. jannils
I’m a midlist writer. I’m also a reader. From my point of view, I was a reader warning other readers to avoid a bad book. From that author’s point of view, I was one midlist writer putting down another midlist writer to my own potential advantage. This is so repulsive a thing to have thought about one that I’ve been extremely careful ever since.

That puts the dilemma very well, and helps me understand those who are most strongly opposed to negative reviews -- who consider them not only tasteless, but wrong and unproffesional -- too.

I'm not sure what the answer is to the growing pressure to only say things about books one has liked. It dilutes the discussion -- and I know I tend to stop trusting or even being very interested in reviews by bloggers who only talk about what they like -- and yet I tend to be a lot more cautious in talking about what I haven't liked, too. I do it, but only if I can also point up things I liked, and also if I either don't know the writer very well, or know them well enough to know they'll be cool with my mixed comments.

Even though I'm not bothered -- and even appreciate it -- when those I know don't let that get in the way of their being honest about my books.

But the notion that it's actively unprofessional for a writer to ever say anything bad about another writer's books does bother me -- and it seems more like accepted wisdom every day.
john massey
4. subwoofer
Well, for me I cite the example of the Two Thumbs Up guys. S&E reviewed movies, some they liked, some they trashed, some they disagreed about. More often than not I liked the movies they hated, for the very reason they hated them. Mind you, I have much lower standards. By that same token, they did warn me about Battlefield Earth, but like a doof, I went to see it anyways, but bailed in the first half hour so I got my money back, just not my wasted time.

This is also a PC world where we don't keep score because that encourages "negative" competitiveness. Negative reviews may send somebody home crying. Mind you, that No John Ringo No, was one of the funniest things I have read in a while. Heck, the author of the reviewed books even got a chuckle out of it. It is great when you don't take yourself too seriously.

At the end of the day most of this is about escapism. What a personal taste relates to in terms of satisfying escapism is an individual thing. Good reviews/bad reviews, read what you like and don't let anyone tell you different.

Woof™
jannils
5. jannils
subwoofer #4: We have a local movie reviewer I feel this way about--if he dislikes a movie, depending on just how he dislikes it, I can usually tell it's one I'll like, and vice versa.

Negative reviews can serve the useful function of not only steering those who won't like a book away from it (which is a reasonable thing to do), but steering those who will like it towards it.
jannils
6. N. Mamatas
I can see the argument for positive reviews only in a publication—people want to know what to buy. Of course, negative reviews don't actually diminish sales, especially if the review is spectacularly negative. Obscurity is the true enemy.

One thing I don't like is negative reviews of stuff nobody had heard of anyway. Who the hell cares if something nobody was going to buy in the first place stinks? I save negative reviews for naked emperors.

Aside: the captcha for this comment was SIT ARROWS. Yowch!
jannils
7. Calimac
I am constantly amazed at how people who disagree with one's opinions will erect elaborate and implausible psychoanalytic conspiracy theories about you to explain why you advanced that opinion, brushing aside the reasons stated clearly in the review itself.

Claiming that you reviewed a book negatively as part of an elaborate long-range plot to boost your own chances as a rival author, rather than because, y'know, you disliked the book, which is why you said you gave it a negative review, certainly falls into that category. Good grief.
john massey
8. subwoofer
Oh, and I haven't even started in on Oprah! That lady single handedly made my life a challenge in 1998- Nothing better than coming home and hearing about what I did wrong according to Oprah.

Her book club. I purposely avoid anything with her stamp of approval. Yes, I may miss out on some good reads, but as far as I am concerned, Oprah owes me for a year of grief and misery. And there is all the touchy-feely new age feel good about losing books she pushes. And relationship books. And old saggy baggy books she pushes. Snap! Lose it!

I personally like going into a book store and spending some time acquainting myself with a few books. Introducing myself to them. Getting a feel for the pages and pace etc. Sometimes the cover does sell the book. Sometimes it is the genre of book I am looking for.

Reading is a good thing so let 'er rip.

Woof™.
jannils
9. CarlosSkullsplitter
I've noticed a strong tendency among science fiction readers -- and much less so among other types of reader -- to excuse the author for various degrees of badness or inaccuracy, to the point where I have a stock reply: "It's not the purpose of the reader to make excuses for the writer."

I think much of this has to do with the collegiality of the genre. Many if not most SF writers come from the fan subculture, though I think this is declining with time. And there's a lot of cross-pollination, both good and bad, because of this. (I personally think it's made the genre far too insular, but other people might come to different conclusions.)

I don't think anyone would mind if I slagged on The Corrections or Three Junes, two highly acclaimed mainstream books I loathed. But pick on a bad book in SF where people feel they have a personal connection to the author -- I have one in mind, but I won't mention it by name here -- and it feels like a slap in the face to that community of people.

Also, in SF, a book is often an expression of a personal belief system, of the way the author thinks the world works, so a "this sucks" review often cuts to the quick much more deeply than it would for, say, a police procedural or a generational saga.
Andrew Konietzky
12. NeuroMan42
I sometimes use "This Sucks" simply because when I am writing a film review, I am writing for my readers and fans. I do not sugar-coat my opinions for anyone out there. I am simply honest.
Christopher Turkel
13. Applekey
Some books just suck. I may like the writer's other works and even the writer him/herself but sometimes, they can lay a brick.

Dragonriders of Pern sucks. Good idea ruined.

Winter's Heart sucks. Ruined by blatant plot manipulation (who the hell goes falconing in a war zone, c'mon!).

God Emperor Of Dune sucks. What was the point?
Theresa M. Moore
15. TheresaMMoore
Gee. I just lost a whole nice opinion about reviews. What gives?
Theresa M. Moore
16. TheresaMMoore
Take two: I tend to try to find the good in an SF book, no matter how naive and amateurishly written it is. But I have no mercy for bad grammar, punctuation, and syntax. If I get a book for review I reserve the negatives for the writer. In private. No need to plaster "this sucks" on anything unless there is no hope for the sucker.
Jo Walton
17. bluejo
NeuroMan: You make yourself sound so brave -- but do you know anyone in movies? Do you tell your mother her cakes suck?
jannils
18. warriorofworry
Just a couple of thoughts:
I value your (Jo Walton) reviews precisely because you rarely trash a work; even when it's clearly not to your taste (or has plot holes, or lacks character development, or . . .) you point out those problems along with some of the strengths. I was pretty sure that comes from being a writer yourself, and also having a good idea of your own likes and dislikes.
Just wanted to point out that Catherine Valente's "review" wasn't, per se; not published, just on her LJ (which, I know, people read, but a blog rant/review is different to me (as in imho, ymmv) than one here, or Strange Horizons, etc.
jannils
19. ofostlic
Someone not many degrees of separation from this blog (perhaps John Scalzi?) had an article saying that book reviews were different from movie reviews in average niceness because the purpose was different.

A review of a newly-released movie such as 'Avatar' should help me answer the question 'Do I want to see Avatar in a cinema?' There's a limited number of movies available in cinema, for a short time only. A negative review can be very helpful in answer the question.

A review of the John Varley collection helps me answer the question 'What would be a good thing to read next?' There is an effectively unlimited supply of books worth reading; I just don't want to spend time and money on books I don't like (unless there is some other reason to read them). A negative review of a book I probably wouldn't have read anyway isn't going to help me as much.


On the other hand, negative reviews of books I am likely to read are helpful. Reading a review of 'Kaleidoscope Century' by someone who liked John Barnes' other work might have saved me reading it myself.
jannils
20. hapax
There are reflective reviews, which do exactly as ofostlic@19 describes. But there are also trade reviews, which are used by booksellers, marketers, librarians, etc. to survey the multitude of books published every month, and decide quickly what to buy, what to push, and what to ignore.

I've published several hundred such reviews in my time, and I can count on one hand the ones that absolutely trashed the book. And looking back on them, every one absolutely deserved it.

Probably two-thirds of the books I've reviewed received a "meh" rating, though. Within the constraints of a two-hundred word review, there isn't a lot of room for nuance and reflection.

I do recall one book in a series that I absolutely loathed, but the review contained one phrase that, taken out of context, sounded like an endorsement. The publishers pulled that line out, and put it on the back cover. When I got a later (even worse) book in the series, I was determined that not one word of my review could be taken out of context as praise. I concluded my review with "Utter drek."

The result? The publishers made that two word tagline *the centerpiece of their marketing campaign.*

I give them full marks for moxie.
john mullen
21. johntheirishmongol
I am not much for reviews, particularly movie reviews, because the things I like in the movies often aren't the things reviewers like. Movie reviewers do say movies suck, all the time, in multiple paragraphs as nastily as possible.

Book reviews are often more about sales and there are so many more books that 95% of books never even get reviewed.
Brit Mandelo
22. BritMandelo
I've run into this trying to review every book I read this year--sometimes, I mean... I really hate the book. I will gush as much as I can about something I love, but I don't feel right saying that I totally abhorred something.

But when other people write them, I like negative reviews. I don't want to buy a book I'll dislike but I usually will look up more than one review to make sure it's an across-the-board opinion. (I've read some negative reviews that have made me wonder if the reviewer actually read the books, though. There was one set about Sarah Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths books that complained constantly that they couldn't be read as stand-alones and gave them thumbs-down because of that. Baffled me.)
jannils
23. ofostlic
hapax@20:

Yes, trade reviews are more like I described movie reviews, where the consumer has to make a decision for each available title. Reviews of academic monographs and textbooks are a bit like that too, with the added complication that the reviewer is likely to know the author and may be viewed as a competitor (I've written some fairly negative book reviews for statistical journals).

And with Netflix, movies are becoming more like books -- the supply of movies that you might like far exceeds the time available, in a way that used to be true only for people who lived near a really good video rental store.
Erick Chase
24. TheMarchChase
I am reminded of J.D. Considin's clever review of 80's band GTR's eponymous album: TTL SHT

(full disclosure, while I laughed out loud when I read this review, I actually like the album)
jannils
25. Gorbly
Interesting you should mention the Slacktivist review of the Left Behind books. I used to be part of the comments, until I got kicked off. I figure it was because of two separate comments I made on two different occasions, that didn't fit with expectations: to wit, a comment on one Sarah Palin, that in effect her supporters were pillorying her; and one in support of an evolutionary psychology explanation for depression, which every other commenter assumed made me a Right Wing pal of the Anti-Christ.

Then I read a comment shortly before giving it up as a bad joke, that explained the human capacity for long distance running in terms of humans being predators, the only predators with long distance running skills ... and I felt much, much better about being kicked off. Predators don't need long distance running ability (Two barefoot men and a bear: "I don't need to outrun the bear: all I need to do is outrun you"): prey does. Us humans have long distance running ability: the predators called us "lunch". I felt at that point that Fred's commenters were starting to unintentionally pillory him, since his focus is on how the left Behind books are disassociated from reality. Make the connection?

The connection? Don't write a positive review of a book that has nothing to commend it. Don't give in to pressure to be positive in a way that has nothing to do with reality. Damning with faint praise ...
jannils
26. dmg
Well, I guess my belly is yellow.

When I like a book, I scream from the rafters in my reviews; I make the fact perfectly clear. When I dislike a book, I focus upon and commend only those (few) items the author got correct or did well. The difference between the two types of reviews is sufficiently vast that readers catch on rather quickly.

I review in this manner because I believe writing, especially good writing, to be among our noble(st) professions. I am no Big Kahuna in the vast universe of reviewers, but still I prefer my reviews not be so damning that I alter the course of someone's life. (We all are human and thus subject to our emotions, don'cha know! :-)
jannils
27. Some Other Existing Alias
Then there’s the straight money problem. Lots of magazines only publish positive reviews.

Can we have some naming and shaming?
jannils
28. James Davis Nicoll
Do you tell your mother her cakes suck?

How else would they learn?

There's an often repeated story in my family about one of my mother's first attempts at baking a cake. She was in most other ways a pretty good cook, generally able to master any culinary task she set her mind to, but for some reason cakes eluded her. Her first cake came out with roughly the consistency of battle-ship armour. As it happened, my paternal grandparents happened to be visiting and my father took enormous pleasure in demonstrating just how indestructible the cake was.

My paternal grandfather Scott then made a point of eating the thing and complimenting my mother on the taste.

Like most things that happen when one is young, I can't imagine this had any effect on me whatsoever.


1: My maternal grandmother did not often come out from Nova Scotia and my maternal grandfather would be dead for another ten years or so.
jannils
29. James Davis Nicoll
From that author’s point of view, I was one midlist writer putting down another midlist writer to my own potential advantage.

There's a whole other set of reactions reviewers who are not professional fiction writers get from writers whose work they pan.
jon meltzer
30. jmeltzer
Here's one I've always wondered about.

As a cover blurb for a very well known multiple award winning novel, an author and critic who was well known for having a poor opinion of Tolkien wrote "As profuse and imaginative as "The Lord of the Rings" ". Damning with praise?
Jo Walton
31. bluejo
JMeltzer: There was a thread on rec.arts.sf.written once about what would be the most offputting blurb. "Excellent use of words -- Stephen Donaldson" "Great science: Anne McCaffrey", "Pleasingly complex plotting: C.J. Cherryh", etc.
Zed Lopez
32. ZedLopez
I was put off Terry Pratchett for a long time due to the "Prachett is fast, funny and going places. Try him!" -- Piers Anthony blurb on his old American editions. I'm very glad I got beyond it.
jannils
33. drunes
I reviewed books for a horror magazine for a few years, but never really enjoyed it. When I didn't like a book I always toned it down because the author had finished his writing and got it published while I still struggled to finish my first (and only) novel.

It never felt right to criticize because he had done what I hadn't (Teddy Roosevelt's qoute about the critic and the man in the arena always came to mind). Once after my only relatively scathing review appeared a friend said to me, "you really wanted to like that book." I did, but my friend had seen what I was struggling to say, a great idea had been squandered by bad writing.

That was the last review I ever wrote.
Jo Walton
34. bluejo
James: If you're thinking of "Write one better yourself if you think you can..." and so on, writers get that too, along with jeers at how awful one's own work is.
jannils
35. Grant Gould
Roger Ebert's book, I Hated Hated Hated This Movie, is for my money the true, definitive, and priceless artifact of the negative review. It is a collection of his less-than-two-star reviews, and is both screamingly funny and reminder of how much better film criticism is: He could write it precisely because he was not and did not aspire to be a filmmaker.
Wolf Lahti
36. wolflahti
I am a reviewer this year for Norwescon's Fairwood Writers' Workshop. The guidelines specifically state "Be kind and supportive" followed immediately by the adjuration "Be honest".

Sometimes the two are simply mutually exclusive. :P
david leikam
37. kluelos
I can't help wanting to object that this is being taken quite a bit out of context, which was basically that of a negative review of a sequel to a very-well-liked book. i don't think any of the examples cited are really comparable.

Enjoyable as Hines' review (for example) was to read, he didn't first love Ringo's "Kildar" (the one he started with) or mistake it for anything monumental. It wasn't a "Dune", it wasn't even a "Dragonflight". The great expectation of continuing something very special to him, was never there in the first place.

There are always bad books, and somebody once said something about most of everything being crap. The corollary is that there's never a lack of things to sharpen your fangs on, notwithstanding a pragmatic morality* about doing so, and there's perhaps some admiration for the cleverness with which you do that, but it is very much *beside the point*.

Which is, as I see it, a reviewer's special duty or obligation to let the world know that the issue at hand is not just disappointing, but destructive of the, shall we say, 'legend', or 'magic'? of its predecessor.

It's one thing to say that "God-Emperor of Pern" isn't so good, another to say that people who loved "Duneflight" really shouldn't read it, or should be prepared for heartbreaking disappointment with it if they do. It's that specific responsibility, in that context, (which was the subject under discussion, after all), that I think is far more often shirked than shouldered.


*I love that phrase, "... tried to be ethical and often succeeded".
john massey
38. subwoofer
There is also the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say"... and it does not end with "come sit by me". The other side to criticism is what do you hope to accomplish by being negative?

Woof™.
jannils
39. CarlosSkullsplitter
There is also the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say"... and it does not end with "come sit by me".
Why would I want to sit by an author of bad books?
The other side to criticism is what do you hope to accomplish by being negative?
Ideally, improvement. In worse cases, chastening. In extreme cases, humiliation.

But science fiction is the genre of extreme cases, because for too long its readership would accept nearly anything as long as it had a rocket or a dragon on the spine.

Does your boss praise you if you do bad work? Readers employ writers, albeit indirectly. And personally, I expect standards. If a book uses history, get the history right. If a book uses science, get the science right. This isn't hard -- or rather, it's hard, but it's the job.
Jo Walton
40. bluejo
Kluelos: You're right, that is a special case and deserving of special attention. I think I'm more inclined to speak out about disappointing sequels -- I mentioned several in that original post.
john massey
41. subwoofer
@Carlos- okayyyy... so what would the point really be- to warn people off of reading said book? The book is already in print, you want the author to have a re-do? Take the books back and type them again. Or try harder on their next go about? It could happen I suppose. But I am fairly sure that the publishing company will not have damning evidence on the cover. Also, your review has to be special to stand out as gospel over every other opinion.

OTOH if a person is really so much of a knob that they buy a book on relying on someone else say so, without reading the blurb and maybe a chapter, then it is their own damn fault. For me, if I shell out $10-$50 or so of my own hard earned coin, I will take the time to make sure that the book doesn't so bitterly suck, I am left with buyer's remorse. There are some books out there that are not for me. I just take enough time to make sure I am not spending my money on them. There still has to be some responsibility on they purchaser- buyer beware.

In my experience negativity rarely has a positive outcome. There is negative criticism and then there is constructive criticism. One is meant to bash and put down, the other is meant to show what could be improved upon. I find that most people focused on the first take themselves wayyyy too seriously.

Woof™.
jannils
42. CarlosSkullsplitter
"Woof", I think an informed readership would be the best thing that ever happened to science fiction.

It's not the purpose of the reader to make excuses for the writer. And it's even less the purpose of the reader to say, "hey, let the buyer beware."
david leikam
43. kluelos
@subwoofer, I still insist that this is a very special case, not a generic negative review of a generic unimpressive work. None of the examples so far remotely qualify.

The original work is *special*, to many people including the reviewer, who is somebody that 'gets' that. We're talking about a sequel to the sort of epic that you show to your friends who say they 'don't like SF', something that approaches the best things about this genre, or something that you think is among the best things ever done here.

And we're talking about a work at hand that doesn't just disappoint, but is a literary black hole that seems to actually diminish the creation of the first work. (I cited Masterharper" as actually dynamiting the structure holding up the plot of "Dragonsong" et. seq. Pern was special to me, and I bitterly resent the loss of it, but I simply can't buy in to it anymore.)

Perhaps if you read the original thread? Because THAT is the sort of thing being talked about, of things that started out great and then turned to crap, series of which people say "read the first one, then just stop. Go read something else. You're may be living in a fool's paradise, but it's still a paradise. Enjoy it.".

This is an edge case, for all that it's not so rare: a situation where there is a genuine consensus that, yes, perhaps you're better off not reading this at all. Not to say that it's bad, or to say that there are better examples, but that you actually shouldn't read the book.

I maintain that's a really extreme position for any reviewer to take about a book, and I also maintain that we've all been there regardless.

THAT is something I would like to know in advance from a reviewer whose tastes accord and whose judgment I respect -- but which I've never actually seen a reviewer say when it was appropriate and the right thing to do.

This is not meant for the author at all: it's meant for the potential reader. It's meant for those occasions when you as reviewer have that sick feeling in your stomach, and you want to hand the book to a trusted friend, "read this, tell me I'm wrong, I'm in a bad mood, that it can't possibly be as irredeemably awful as I think it is..." the way just about every Hemingway aficionado feels when they come to "Across the River...";

'It must be me. There's something wrong, I just don't know how to appreciate good writing... it's Hemingway, f'catssake... that couldn't have really been the piece of self-pitying, maudlin trash I thought it was..."

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