Pixel Scroll 7/9/17 Silver Threads And Golden Pixels Cannot Mend This Scroll of Mine

(1) WHAT I READ. Mary Robinette Kowal sent several tweets prodding reviewers to do better assessments:

When seeking reviews to link here, I’ve been surprised at how very many people start off with brilliantly written story summaries — then the review promptly ends, with very little having been said about what the writer accomplished or what the story adds to the genre.

(2) TOO MANY WORDS. But those reviews we’re complaining about above look like gems beside the work of The Literate Programmer at A Literate Programmer’s Blog who posted his “Hugo Awards – Best Novella” rankings with a confession –

…With the voting deadline for the Hugos coming up on the 15th, I decided that I wouldn’t have the time to read all the books in their entirety, and would instead just read far enough to get a feel for the style….

So I began once again working my way up to the novels, this time reading the novellas….

This Census-Taker by China Miéville was the first of the novellas I dug into. …However, the story definitely has a strange and slow start, so it was easy to move on….

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson sets up a nice inversion right from the beginning…. I didn’t finish it yet, but I expect it to take a rather darker turn eventually, tough not entirely too dark….

Then I picked up Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and didn’t put it back down until I was done. …

Victor LaValle wrote the other novella I finished in its entirety, The Ballad of Black Tom

The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe is another take on Lovecraft… Definitely something I will finish, as I want to know what happens to Vellit….

Last but not least comes Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold. I like what I’ve read so far and it’s entertaining …

Someone else might have spent the time it took to write this post on, oh, I don’t know, reading the rest of these novellas before voting?

(3) BOOK JENGA. Walter Jon Williams describes the “Tower of Dreams”.

So the other night I dreamed I was in the Tower of Definitive Editions, a giant structure literally built from the definitive editions of every book ever written.  There was some kind of mechanism that would pluck the book that you wanted from the structure without either damaging the book or destabilizing the tower.  (Maybe it stuffed the hole with John Grisham novels or something.)

(4) DON’T LET THE DOOR BANG YOUR BUTT. Tony B. Kim at Crazy4ComiCon does not sympathize with what he calls “Mile High Comics breakup letter to San Diego Comic-Con” by owner Chuck Rozanski. Kim devotes several paragraphs mocking him as a “dinosaur” in “Comic-Con has changed and it sucks…”.

I cringe whenever I hear someone say that ‘the show has changed’ in a negative context. The show hasn’t just changed, the world has changed and certainly no one has felt it more than the publishing industry. We all know change is hard but writing letters and blaming everyone else for your business woes sounds like an entitled kid that wants to take his ball and go home. Chuck had 4 1/2 decades of pursuing what he loved and built one of the most noteable shops in history- hashtag #FirstNerdWorldProblems. I want good men and companies like Chuck and Mile High to win and get the respect they deserve. No doubt he has paid his dues and has committed his life to providing comics to a legion of adoring fans. My hope is that he and his business continues to grow each year without relying on Comic-Con business. However, after his letter, I won’t shed a tear for him and I hope Comic-Con International doesn’t either. Chuck, just go to the island, Chris Pratt will be along shortly to welcome you.

(5) JUST A LITTLE SMACK. Will this work? “Nasa to send asteroid away from Earth by firing a bullet at it in attempt to save the Earth from future strikes”.

The agency has laid out the plans for its DART mission – where it will send a space capsule the size of a fridge towards an asteroid to shoot it off course. For now, the mission is just a test, but in the future it could be used to save Earth from what scientists say is an underappreciated threat from asteroids.

The mission has now been approved by Nasa and will move into the preliminary design phase, getting ready for testing in a few years.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique – striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”

DART’s target is an asteroid that will pass by Earth in 2022, and come back two years later. More specifically, it’s actually two asteroids: a binary system called Didymos B made up of a larger and a smaller rock.

It’s the smaller one that Nasa will try and knock off course. But by using a binary system, scientists will be able to check with more accuracy how well their test has worked.

(6) KEEPING THE STEAM IN SELF-ESTEEM. Jon Del Arroz says 80% of the people responding to his survey recommended he not join SFWA. So our genre’s leading concern troll has worked up a list of what needs to be fixed. With SFWA, that is.

(7) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

The Twilight Zone episode, “A Penny for your Thoughts,” written by George Clayton Johnson was shopped around as a series where each episode would have a different cast experiencing the ability to read minds.

(8) TODAY IN HISTORY

  • July 9, 1982 TRON premiered on this day.

(9) CLASSIC ROCHE. Next year’s Worldcon chair Kevin Roche makes a fashion statement in this (public) photo on Facebook.

(10) SOLO ACT. ScreenRant evaluates Ron Howard’s latest news-free tweet.

While Howard’s tweet is amusing, it’s realistic to think that at some point Star Wars fans will grow tired of non-news “news” from the Han Solo set. Since Howard is relatively new to the project, perhaps he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing anything from a film that he hasn’t really taken ownership of yet, his presumably strict NDA aside. Hopefully, that time will come once he not only completes principal photography but the five weeks of reshoots which were previously budgeted into production. Only then will Howard be able to help shape the tone and vision that Han Solo co-writer Lawrence Kasdan originally intended.

(11) DRAGON QUEEN. TIME Magazine’s Daniel D’Addario, in “Emilia Clarke on Why Dragons Are Daenerys’ True Love on Game of Thrones”, has a lengthy interview with Emilia Clarke where she says “I’m five-foot nothing, I’m a little girl” and adds that she thought she would be sacked from Game of Thrones because it was her first job out of drama school and she felt insecure.

(12) FIGHTING WORDS. Jonathan Cook, in “Wonder Woman is a hero only the military-industrial complex could create” on Mondoweiss, says the heroine is “carefully purposed propaganda designed to force-feed aggressive Western military intervention, dressed up as humanitarianism, to unsuspecting audiences.”

My reticence to review the film has lifted after reading the latest investigations of Tom Secker and Matthew Alford into the manifold ways the U.S. military and security services interfere in Hollywood, based on a release of 4,000 pages of documents under Freedom of Information requests.

In their new book “National Security Cinema,” the pair argue that the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Agency have meddled in the production of at least 800 major Hollywood movies and 1,000 TV titles. That is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg, as they concede:

“It is impossible to know exactly how widespread this military censorship of entertainment is because many files are still being withheld.”

(13) BIG PACIFIER THEORY. Baby’s first quantum-mechanics book: “Something New For Baby To Chew On: Rocket Science And Quantum Physics”.

The books introduce subjects like rocket science, quantum physics and general relativity — with bright colors, simple shapes and thick board pages perfect for teething toddlers. The books make up the Baby University series — and each one begins with the same sentence and picture — This is a ball — and then expands on the titular concept.

In the case of general relativity: This ball has mass.

But some of the topics Ferrie covers are tough for even grown-ups to comprehend. (I mean, quantum physics? Come on.)

(14) SLOW DEATH. A Ghost Story may be too slow for some: “Grief Hangs Around At Home In ‘A Ghost Story'”.

I should mention that the film is virtually without plot, so it requires some patience. Major stars and that title notwithstanding, A Ghost Story is not a Saturday-night date movie. More a provocative art film in the European sense. Though barely 87 minutes, it unfolds in long, static shots, most of them without faces to hang onto. It’s almost a film without genre, and by the end it’s become a story untethered from time itself.

(15) A SERIOUS HARRY HABIT. The 100,000 UKP Potter habit: “Harry Potter fan from Cardiff spends £100K on memorabilia”.

Her collection features posters, scarves in the house colours, broomsticks and the official Harry Potter magazines – with the memorabilia costing more than £40,000.

The rest has been spent travelling to Orlando in Florida to the film studios and more recently to Harry Potter World in both London and America.

(16) AVAST ME HEARTIES. Davidoff of Geneva is sold out of the pen and letter opener set shown here, but they have plenty of other golden loot they would love to sell you.

(17) ANOTHER AMAZON PRODUCT. Brazil gets into horror: “The Blair Witches of Brazil”.

Their titles practically shriek at you: Night of the Chupacabras, When I Was Alive, The Necropolis Symphony. Right away you can guess that these are films you might need to watch through your fingers, tales of horror to quicken the heart. But you might not know where they’re from. Step aside Carmen Miranda and The Girl from Ipanema, these frightfests are from Brazil.

(18) NOT GOING APE OVER THIS ONE. The BBC is disappointed by War for the Planet of the Apes.

The first point to make about War for the Planet of the Apes is that it isn’t actually about a war. There are a couple of Skirmishes for the Planet of the Apes and one brief Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but the all-out humans-v-hairies conflict that the title promises is nowhere to be seen. And that’s one reason why the film, for all of its technical wizardry and daring solemnity, is a let-down.

(19) GOOD NIGHT. Next year’s CONvergence GoH Elizabeth Bear signs off from this year’s con:

(20) LAST WORD. John Hertz is never impressed when I use idioms as I please.

(21) DARTH HOMER. Here’s a selection of YouTube videos in which Darth Vader is voiced variously by Clint Eastwood, Nicholas Cage and Arnold Schwarzenegger. John King Tarpinian declares the Homer Simpson version to be the funniest.

[Thanks to JJ, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, and John King Tarpinian for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]

142 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 7/9/17 Silver Threads And Golden Pixels Cannot Mend This Scroll of Mine

  1. The space opera category in the Kindle store has a couple of subcategories like Galactic Empire, Space Fleet, Space Marine and so on, so it’s quite possible that he was in the top ten of one of them for a few hours. But that doesn’t necessarily mean much in terms of sales.

    I was No. 1 in English language epic fantasy at Amazon France once, ranked above GRRM even. It only took me a single sale to get there. I took a screenshot, but I’d never think of calling myself a number 1 bestseller.

  2. (5) Will this work?

    Best case scenario is that not only will it work, but the success will also deter other asteroids from even thinking getting into earth intersecting orbits.

    Worst case scenario is we’ll get to see this novelized in an Asteroid Hunter Nation series, where manly men heft around enormous guns to blast wayward Asteroids on sight.

  3. 1) This is, like, 80% of the difference between professionals and amateurs.

    Ten percent is justifying our opinions based on both the text and our context/specific specialties and training. Like, I have excellent radar for spotting problems around class that can make a book fall apart for me, but not so much on gender or race, whereas for some of my colleagues it’s the reverse… also I’m willing to forgive any amount of handwavium if your characters have real an interesting psychology, and others are the opposite. This extends to things we like, too; I enjoy dense, baroque, or experimental prose, and many of my colleagues prefer the Hemingway approach. The difference is less that we think X is bad or Y is good, it’s that we’re able to articulate *why*. (And generally have to in order to get paid.)

    The last ten percent is understanding that not liking something doesn’t actually make it bad (or vice versa); it may work very well and just not be for me, or it may be utter trash, just sloppy from beginning to end, but I may still find it a ton of fun and love it anyway. I have to be both able and willing to acknowledge the difference.

    3) I keep hearing this in Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song voice.

    12) He’s not the first person to complain that WW takes too black-and-white a “British good, Germans bad” stance that the real history of WWI doesn’t even remotely justifiy–and in that sense there something there. But there are some mitigating scenes; much of the German high command is killed by the rogue general in the film because they are explicitly seeking a peace deal with Britain, and Chris Pine’s “maybe we’re all to blame” speech works really well. But it’s a superhero film; Might Makes Right is going to be the order of the day. Hell, that will ultimately be at the core of any action film, no matter how reluctantly the protagonists engage in combat.

    It is more or less unknown outside of US. I had never heard of it until reading here and I continue to mix it up with other Comic Cons.

    Really? I feel like it’s probably the most famous comic con in the world. The press releases and leaks that come out of there get world-wide press. Many of my friends take trips from other countries to go, and I’ve got friends as far away as Poland and Indonesia who follow and talk about what goes on there.

  4. Today’s Meredith Moment:

    Jonathan Strahan’s excellent Engineering Infinity (first in the Infinity anthology series) is only 99c at Amazon US (and presumably other formats) right now.

    Bizarrely, my Amazon tells me that #4 in the series, Meeting Infinity, is only $3.03 right now (the others in the series are currently priced at $5.38).

  5. My primary purpose in writing reviews is to help me remember my reading experience, and the reason they are online is so that I can easily look them up while at the bookstore, confronted with a vaguely familiar author’s name on an interesting looking book. The secondary purpose is that to participate in a reader community where I can get recommendations to my tastes, I need to provide some context for my current tastes beyond just a rating.

    At least my terrible, waste of everyone’s time reviews are short because I skip the plot summary and just post the insufficient opinion part.

  6. @JJ: JdA’s survey basically on par with a lot of the marketing surveys in hygiene/hair care/makeup/toothpaste ads (and probably basically any other survey quoted in ads, but it seems particularly egregious in those industries for some reason). Sure, 4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate but they also recommend the other brands too, and yeah ok 95.755435% of women agree that Pantene makes their hair silky soft, but there was only 13 women surveyed…

  7. I’m horrible at explaining why I do/don’t like something

    I find my vocabulary for stuff I liked is ever so much smaller than my vocabulary for stuff I hated.

  8. (12) @August When it comes to the Brits-and-Americans good/Germans evil for World War One, I didn’t really get that issue (I did have plenty of other historical nitpicks, even if the movie did great in showing the truth of feeling of the war, rather than the truth of fact), largely thanks to the movie exploring that everyone was influenced/corrupted by Ares (even Steve).

    My issue was rather that Germans, except Ludendorff, were largely rendered faceless in the movie, and Ludendorff was made into a cartoon villain. Sameer and Charlie were both great in showing different types of humanity in the war, but the same never happened with any German characters. I believe it’s that facelessness that leaves the Germans-are-evil feeling.

  9. 12. I think this is putting the worst possible construction on this. The military involvement in movies and TV comes out of their recruiting budget. The production companies get access to areas they wouldn’t otherwise, and save lots of money filming actual maneuvers and equipment. The production asks the military for assistance. If the producers want to make their art without having to place the military in a great light, they don’t have to involve them. This article seems to suggest that there is some sort of censorship board unfairly involving themselves. Well, when Coca-Cola pays millions for product placement, they don’t expect scenes discussing caffeine impact on low birth weight. I don’t see why any producer would think that he gets to use military money without similar script impacts. This article seems both naive and paranoid, an interesting combination.

  10. @ World Weary:

    This article seems both naive and paranoid, an interesting combination

    But by no means a new one for Jonathan Cook – most of his Middle East reportage is like that. He has a penchant for portraying the worst as the norm and rumor as fact, and he tends to put the worst possible construction on anything done by his ideological enemies. I’ve agreed with his conclusions on occasion, but even then, it always felt like he was coming from a surreal set of premises.

  11. (2) TOO MANY WORDS

    *stare* … Well, I’ve decided not to make myself finish novels or Puppy-crap if I’m hating them (mainly because I suspect I would hate 3BP an awful lot less if I hadn’t dragged myself to the end of it out of duty, and it hardly seems fair to blame a novel for that), but it really doesn’t take very long to finish a novella. I’d rather skip some categories but do every category I’m voting in well than do all the categories badly. Dramatic Presentation and Fancast will survive without me half-arsing it, I’m sure.

    I don’t write many reviews, partly because braining is hard and whenever I have to take a break from File770 I get incredibly out of practice at writing (I don’t know if anyone else notices – I probably pay more attention to myself than anyone else does – but I notice), and partly because I’m very aware that my genre knowledge is somewhere around noob-level compared to pretty much everyone else here. Difficult to say whether something is contributing new ideas and concepts when, well, it might have been done thirty times before and I just wouldn’t know it.

    I also find that when I like something I try very, very hard not to spoil it which tends to lead to ‘I liked it!! I can’t say why but you should read it anyway!!! That one thing I didn’t expect but can’t explain without ruining it was awesome!!!!” whereas stuff I don’t like I’m quite happy to shred in spoilery (if rot-13’d) detail. I like the spoiler-friendly discussion threads for big film releases that Mike puts up for that very reason: completely safe to mention things that were cool without ruining them. 🙂

    Filers write great reviews, though. I’ve found some great books through Kyra’s, especially – if she thinks something is worth reading I usually do too, although I think I’m a bit less discerning.

    (6) KEEPING THE STEAM IN SELF-ESTEEM

    I don’t know why I expected the criticism to have more substance and basis in reality. I should have known better.

    (12) FIGHTING WORDS

    I don’t know about Wonder Woman specifically, but I thought we were already pretty clear about the fact the the US military uses popular media as a recruitment/propaganda tool? As World Weary says, it’s because that way the film-makers get access and resources.

    Still, it reminded me of this joke that’s been going around tumblr (rot-13’d for end-of-film spoiler):

    “Qvnan, juvyr chapuvat Nerf va gur snpr ercrngrqyl: V ORYVRIR VA YBIR”

    @Hampus Eckerman

    I first heard of SDCC when they had a bunch of male strippers for the launch of 300. Transformative works fandom got extremely excited about it. There were pictures. Other than that, it mostly only gets UK attention because the big film companies do special promotional stuff like first-release trailers.

  12. (6) I was amused at how JdA kept referring to SFWA as a club, not an organization of professionals. It’s just his typical negging of anything he’s trying to feel superior to in a vain attempt to make himself look good. Same with the over bragging about his readership and the Hass School.

    I see that he’s also dropped his strong Latino identity, the one he used to bash Baycon as racist, in favor of claiming to be a White Power Ranger so he can bash SFWA for being racist.

    (9) At least Kevin is wearing pants, which is never a sure thing.

  13. @1: I was taught that was the difference between reviewing and criticism, not between reportage and reviewing; a reviewer gives enough info for readers to know whether they’ll like the book, while a critic puts the book in context (is it new? does it question another work’s conclusion? etc.; cf Camestros’s midnight comment.) However, it occurs to me now that this is a weak definition; some readers’ pleasure comes from context (so the fact that a book does nothing to/for the field will matter to them where it wouldn’t matter to a newer(?) reader), and the border between the two isn’t exactly sharp.
    responding to @OGH’s comment on disappointment: do the well-written summaries not provide context internally, rather than leaving it to the end?

    @12: can you say “echo chamber”? Sure you can! He’s franking through an article from a site that gets clicks by deploring; has he checked any more-general sources?

    @20: Filers may have seen my occasional question “Who died and appointed you Humpty Dumpty?” to people declaring the One True Definition of a word.

    @lurkertype re @13: there’s a line in Beyond This Horizon about giving an infant what we think of as complex math — but not arithmetic because he was “only a baby”. That’s mostly RAH being contrary, but it’s possible there are too many assumptions about what’s too hard for younger and probably more flexible minds — cf “Mimsy Were the Borogoves”.

  14. (1) Reviewing short fiction is a little different (See “The Sad Truth About Short Fiction Reviews,” by Neil Clarke), largely because it’s hard to write very much without spoiling the story, but I agree entirely that reviews that merely summarize the story are 100% worthless. For people who haven’t read the story yet, I think the most valuable things to report are a) do you recommend the story b) does anyone recommend the story c) what’s the genre d) very briefly, what is the story about? Oh and definitely report it if the story is part of a sequence of stories and does not stand alone.

    A detailed review is of interest to people who already read the story. I sometimes think of it as a defense of the rating I gave it. For a ho-hum story, it may be very short, but it’s usually at least a couple of paragraphs even then.

    I’ll usually include a one-sentence plot summary just to demonstrate the the story actually does have a plot. Especially worthwhile if the actual protagonist is different from the focus character. If it has a sophisticated plot, then it’s worth commenting on how the different parts work together, how well-foreshadowed key events were, etc.

    Beyond that, it’s useful to talk about how effective the characters were, whether I felt anything for them, and how believable they were. Setting and ideas deserve a mention if there’s anything special there.

    It’s definitely worth mentioning references to other stories or to places and events in history.

    On the con side, you’d think writing quality wouldn’t be an issue in anything professionally published, but that’s not always true. Intrusive narration, info dumps, unnatural dialogue, and even Mary Sue stories can turn up in all but the very best magazines. Anything that seriously breaks suspension of disbelief deserves mention, as does bad science in an SF novel.

    Plot problems include things like “why didn’t they just do X and avoid all that trouble?” and “the ending came out of the blue; we had no hint he was able to do Y until . . .” Sadly, quite a number of stories have no plot at all. That is, you cannot identify the protagonist at all, or if you can, he/she isn’t trying to do anything in particular but just reacts to events and ends up more or less where he/she started. A few simply don’t end.

    Finally there are purely subjective factors. “This grossed me out.” or “This was depressing.” Or, conversely, “this made me cry tears of joy.”

  15. Book reviews, etc.

    In recent years I’ve been having students in my literature read more essays and reviews published online (I will not bore you with the assorted pedagogical/jargony reasons!), and can say, yes, a lot of review are basic summary. I tend to look for ones that do more since I am teaching my students to do more, but it isn’t always “pro” vs. “amateur” (lots of the big name periodical reviews can be pretty weak–I’ve had students amazed to see that the assigned fan reviews were much better–by our class standards–than NYT reviews).

    One of the best sources is Strange Horizons; some Tor.com reviewers are great–Liz Bourke leaps to mind; Book Smugglers is also excellent. I also find wonderful reviews by individuals in their own blogs (have to read past the first page of Google hits!).

    Writing the sort of detailed analytical reviews that MRK wants is *hard* and takes a process: writing a good summary isn’t easy if it comes to that, and then going beyond it takes even more work. I tell my students summarizing is a good first step–the difficult part is climbing the rest of the stairs; the challenge for me is building that process into a class given that many students will not or cannot do it on their own. And that’s not even talking about the meta-language of analysis/review that has to be learned.

    Here’s an excellent article about teaching which goes to the heart of moving from a first/summary level of reading to the more complex reading/thinking that arguably underlies the more critical thinking that MRK is talking about:

    http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Secret-of-Good-Humanities/233097

    I’m assigning this article in my dystopias class this fall to talk about the goals for their projects (compared to the discussion posts in the early weeks of the class), to try to give them a sense of why I’m dragging them through what I do.

    And only slightly related, but this made my morning, and I am going to flaunt it all over: studies on how many hours students in different majors spend working outside class shows that humanities majors requiring LOTS of reading take LOTS of hard work (DUH):

    https://thetab.com/uk/2017/02/17/researchers-worked-degree-works-hardest-33264

  16. 1) 100% agreed with MRK. I Liked It isn’t a review, and the only reason to bring up content in a review is for context to the criticisms of the work being reviewed.

    Book reviews at least don’t have as many people arguing about the score or aggregate opinion like movies or games where people mostly disregard the review and just talk about the number or amount of stars or the direction of thumbs.

  17. 6) Considering he continues try and troll the SFWA president I’m betting that there’s a lot of agreement all around that he shouldn’t join the SFWA.

  18. I was taught that was the difference between reviewing and criticism, not between reportage and reviewing; a reviewer gives enough info for readers to know whether they’ll like the book, while a critic puts the book in context (is it new? does it question another work’s conclusion? etc.

    Ehhh. I mean, sort of? Most of my work as a reviewer is for a Canadian publishing industry trade magazine, so I’m looking to help librarians and booksellers make a determination about whether or not they want to buy the book, so context becomes fairly important, even if it’s just in the context of the author’s career so far, etc. I do the absolute minimum of plot summary I can get away with (literally only what’s relevant to what I’m going to say about other things), keep it as spoiler-free as humanly possible, and then I just say “this works, this didn’t, readers who are expecting X will be/won’t be happy,” stuff like that. But most of the time I’m working in print with a target word count of 350 words, and there’s only so much you can do in that space. Most reviewing is triage; how to say what you think is most important about a book as succinctly as possible. Every so often I get 900 or 1,000 words, and I can go into a bit more depth, but it’s still with an eye for librarians and booksellers.

    More serious (though by no means academic) criticism, in terms of who I work for, tends to happen in magazines like Canadian Notes & Queries or Brick, and I go as hard and deep as I can for my given allotment of words, bearing in mind I’ll be writing for an expert but non-academic audience. (What used to be called “the clerisy,” believe it or not.) None of the publications I write for are genre-specific; I just happen to be the “genre guy” for those publications (or one of them, anyway). I literally fell into this gig because I was a known fan of William Gibson and ARCs for Zero History were going around, and one editor I knew wanted a review of it and a friend of *his* wanted someone to interview him. Before that I was writing about authors like A.S. Byatt. (I was reading SFF, but not professionally.) Anyway, the point being that I’m not entirely sure if genre-specific periodicals have different standards.

  19. JJ says:

    I think that the reason I feel fairly comfortable posting mini-reviews here is that there aren’t the same expectations of me — from myself or others — as there would be if I had a review blog. The reviews I post here are a way for me to stop and really think about each book I read, and to squee about the things I loved — and if there are some Filers who feel that this provides them with value, that’s just a bonus.

    That’s exactly how I feel about my blog in general. I don’t want people to have expectations. I just want to share my thoughts. Often, my reviews are more for me to remember what I read and give it a second chance to impact my mind (my comic book capsules are all about that). I put them up publicly because I have friends and family who are mildly interested, and if I post them I can send people to my blog instead of boring the other folks who have no interest at all.

    Hampus Eckerman says:

    I like the mini-reviews, they are exactly what I need. A short synopsis, some thoughts of the writing and the feeling it gives. And no space to give away too much information or take away surprised (and by surprises, I also mean how it was written or information about the characters, not only about the plot).

    I try to avoid longer reviews, they spoil things for me. Perhaps reading them afterwards, but then for more analysis.

    There is no worse feeling for me than spoiling a book or story, and the many times I’ve done it inadvertantly because of sheer thoughtlessness have driven me into depression. I want people to READ the stuff I’m enjoying, so if I give any sort of summary, it’s going to be short. I figure if I spend more than a sentence summarizing the plot, then I’m cheating the reader of the fun of reading it themself. While you cannot summarize every story in a single sentence, you can give the reader a general idea with one line – and that is usually enough to launch your own thoughts with.

    Ingvar says:

    There’s a reason I call my “write about every book I read” ‘bookmeme’ rather than ‘review’.

    Oooh, I like that term. I’m not sure mine fall under that category, but it’s a good name for it.

    Steve Wright says:

    I suppose my efforts at reviewing mostly happen because I want to organize my thoughts about what I’ve read, and putting together a review seems the best way to go about that. And they’re posted online because, well, I have a bloated ego and like to imagine people will be interested in what I have to say.

    I know with my Hugo reviews, the ONLY reason I’m writing them is to organize my thoughts. I find my opinions grow sharper even with the tiny reviews I write. I start to get a better picture of the work and find myself figuring out where it fits on the ballot. I hate judging the works against each other, though – with a few exceptions, the finalists are all amazing and wonderful.

    But the reviews definitely help keep me focused on that final ballot and with only a handful of days left, I need that focus to get this done.

    James Davis Nicoll says:

    I find my vocabulary for stuff I liked is ever so much smaller than my vocabulary for stuff I hated.

    Ha. That’s another reason my Hugo reviews are so short, then! I have only a limited number of ways to praise something, while evisceration is much easier and can be done with many tools.

  20. Chip Hitchcock: @OGH’s comment on disappointment: do the well-written summaries not provide context internally, rather than leaving it to the end?

    Not the ones I saw recently. I agree that’s a style that can be successfully used.

    Whether this applies to my unspecified reviewers I don’t know, but some people actively avoid expressing opinions. Because when you express an opinion you create the possibility that someone may disagree and be offended. Safer just to happily describe what books are about.

  21. James Davis Nicoll: I find my vocabulary for stuff I liked is ever so much smaller than my vocabulary for stuff I hated.

    Very true. I wonder, is that because a negative reading experience consists of specific bits that throw one out of a story, therefore easily identified, while a positive reading experience keeps one immersed, making it harder to notice why a writer achieves that success?

  22. @Mike @James
    I agree: I think the articulation of that positive reading experience is harder. It requires a lot of critical thinking to take apart a successful work to find “why does this work” rather than seeing obvious flaws.

  23. microtherion: Worst case scenario is we’ll get to see this novelized in an Asteroid Hunter Nation series, where manly men heft around enormous guns to blast wayward Asteroids on sight.

    Since they say the projectile will be “refrigerator-sized” I’m thinking the worst-case scenario is that Indiana Jones will be inside it, and survive.

  24. @Mike: “I’m thinking the worst-case scenario is that Indiana Jones will be inside it, and survive.”

    Look on the bright side: maybe his son will be waiting on the asteroid, lightsaber in hand.

  25. The hidden secret to my reviews is that I rarely feel happy with them. Every now and then I’ll write a review and think that it is good, but most of the time I’ll tinker around with it for a bit until I realize I’m not improving it no matter how much I want to and simply accept that I’ll have to post it as is and move on.

    The really frustrating thing is that the reviews that I think are my best are never the ones that get the most attention, while the ones that are noticed are often the ones that I consider to be mediocre. I really have no way to tell what is going to be well-liked or not.

    Of course, my two most read reviews are that way because of the books in question, and not because of anything I wrote. For the record, they are The Ring by Danielle Steele, which is the blog post of mine that has the most hit by far, and Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, which has about half as many hits but still has a lot more than any other post I’ve ever put up on my blog.

  26. @DMS – At least my terrible, waste of everyone’s time reviews are short because I skip the plot summary and just post the insufficient opinion part.

    Eh. That is exactly the sort of review I look for when I’m trying to decide whether to read a particular book or to sort out a response to something I’ve read. Analysis and criticism are generally just as firmly based in opinion as things more transparently personal and I’m lazy enough that I prefer to avoid the work of separating out the useful bits from the ocean of prose.

    Once I’ve finished a Hugo category, I’ve been using JJ’s extraordinarily useful review roundup to see what others think and to check what nuances I’ve missed. That’s a special circumstance, though, although I regularly read or click through to any reviews that Filers post.

  27. We have the exact same discussion in boardgames, where a lot of people just write down a summary of the rules, followed by a “I like/hate it”. The reason is probably the same as with books: For a beginner its much easier to summarize something then to give reasons for mostly subjective reactions. Reviewing is a skill that can be learned. Things like (1) do help in the learning process.

    For me, I like to read a review with a short summary and weighted opinion to decide if I buy a book and an analysis once I finished it – to see what others thought and what I have missed (although I would read an analysis mostly of books Id liked and that have actual something to discuss).

  28. Argh – The box clearly shows traces of russian escapism mixed with the Frankfurt school of Weltschmerz-Denial. Its therefore a monument to form, a virtue without morals. The process of ticking it, mirrors what has gone from the World.

  29. (1) On the one hand, I’m relieved to find myself in such nice company. I always question the quality of my reviews. Balancing a plot summary with a critique of the elements that draw (or not) the reader into the story is a tough nut to crack. Plus the time needed to do a quality review is hard for me to find.

    On the other hand, there might be a more positive and inviting method of inviting readers to do more of a critique and less of a plot summary.

    (12) Well, there are times when humanitarianism dresses up as Western military intervention….

    Regards,
    Dann

  30. @Meredith re 12) “Gur gehr eribyhgvbanel vf thvqrq ol n terng srryvat bs ybir. Vg vf vzcbffvoyr gb guvax bs n trahvar eribyhgvbanel ynpxvat guvf dhnyvgl.” – Pur Thrinen

  31. For me, different review venues seem to call for different types of reviews–with the practical problem for me being that I’m too lazy to write those different types of reviews. I consider my primary review venue to be my blog, and so I generally start off with a brief summary of the book because I can’t assume that my readers will be familiar with it. The analysis follows, and often before either of those I start of with some sort of context about how the book came to my attention, why it made it to the top of my TBR list (which is especially relevant if I end up not liking it much), and how it may relate to other reading or writing projects I’m engaged in.

    But then I go and copy-paste my review into GR, Amazon, and iBooks as relevant, and that’s where I deal with context issues. A lot of my “front matter” (the “why did I read this?”) becomes not only irrelevant at review sites, but could be actively confusing. And most of the time I could cut out the brief summary in those contexts as being redundant (since all the review sites include the book blurb as part of the listing context). And yet…if I think I need to do too much individual tailoring of the reviews to the site, it becomes a barrier to doing the cross-posting.

    So, in the end, I often default to just copying over the blog version of my review unaltered, because otherwise I won’t do it at all.

  32. Pity; it was several hours work and I would have liked it if others got the benefit as well.

    Reinventing the wheel, The posting on Mobilism has broken links, but the torrent at the bay appears to have seeds. Not that I’m saying that you should resort to that. (Oh, wait–yes, I am.)

  33. Interesting discussion of reviews. I’ve abandoned half-written reactions to/reviews of books in the middle of writing them because I realize my take is much less nuanced, in depth, and interesting. I’m pretty sure some of those Filers with their high-quality thoughts have posted in this thread about worrying that their reviews aren’t up to par. I’ve also gone ahead and posted them anyway when I’ve been in a less fragile mood.

    Those are usually positive reviews/reactions, BTW. Like others have said, articulating why something fails is much easier than why it succeeds.

    The discussions about books here frequently changes my experience of those books for the better.

  34. I started to write a review once only and stopped because I realized that I had nothing nice to say. It is one thing to tell your friends privately that you thought something was terrible. To post it publicly means that you are confident to repeat these criticisms to the creator directly. I can’t ever bring myself to say more than it wasn’t to my taste. I might even be able to post here why I didn’t like something. But I lack the courage to go farther than that.

  35. For a beginner its much easier to summarize something then to give reasons for mostly subjective reactions.

    This is for sure true. Also for beginners (and this was certainly true for me before I made the jump to pro) what can happen is that you describe something about the book, assign it the value of good or bad, and then just assume that it will be obvious from the description why that value was assigned.

  36. @World Weary

    I started to write a review once only and stopped because I realized that I had nothing nice to say. It is one thing to tell your friends privately that you thought something was terrible. To post it publicly means that you are confident to repeat these criticisms to the creator directly. I can’t ever bring myself to say more than it wasn’t to my taste. I might even be able to post here why I didn’t like something. But I lack the courage to go farther than that.

    Authors are generally cool with it as long as you don’t make it personal. They’ve got tough skins from all the rejections they have to deal with. It almost seems that the more you write about their story, the happier they are–even if you give it a bad review overall. “Wow! I can’t believe you read my story in so much detail! I hope you like the next one better!”

    Editors are the ones to worry about.

  37. I don’t want your fannish slan shack with a bheer in every room. All I want is the con you promised beneath the Barsoom moons.
    It’s Monday. It’s going to be a long week. Least I can do is sing a little Linda Ronstadt. (Yes, I know she didn’t write it, but hers is the version I heard first.)

  38. Ok, okay! Quit nagging! 😀

    The People’s Police (2017) by Norman Spinrad is a light-hearted near-future fantasy by one of SF’s most controversial and cantankerous old hippies. It’s not exactly a comedy, but it’s certainly tongue-in-cheek. Like much of Spinrad’s work, it’s extremely political, and full of sex-n-drugs-n-rock-n-roll (or -n-jazz in this case), but the humor takes the edge off the former, and the latter is mostly in the background, so those of delicate sensitivity have little to fear (aside from a lot of swearing).

    Overall, I liked it. There. Review done. (Just kidding.)

    In a near-future New Orleans, economic and climate change have severely increased the divide between the haves and have-nots. The bad parts of town have been nearly abandoned by the N.O. police. But the police are starting to feel the pressure of economic change themselves. Meanwhile, a young grifter with a voodoo act is about to get her own TV show. Except, it’s not entirely an act….

    There. Review done. (Still kidding.)

    I really liked the way Spinrad turned the famously-corrupt NOPD into the heroes of the people (“The People’s Police”). It was outrageous and ridiculous, and yet, somehow, he made it seem amazingly plausible. Unfortunately, not all his plot twists worked quite so well. There were a couple that felt a bit deus ex machina. (And I’m not talking about the literal one, with loas on the TV–that part worked.) This wasn’t as big a problem as it might have been in a more serious work, but the tricks he did manage to pull off were impressive enough that it made it more noticeable when he didn’t quite stick the landing.

    I’d give it a solid B or B+. (And I grade fairly harshly.) Maybe not quite award-worthy, but I’d love to see it on next year’s ballot, just because it would make the right people’s heads explode! 🙂

  39. Authors are generally cool with it as long as you don’t make it personal. They’ve got tough skins from all the rejections they have to deal with.

    Editors are the ones to worry about.

    An author once wrote me a really, really nasty email over a (mostly positive!) mixed review, and then said that she would sue me for copyright infringement if I ever published the email. (Not something I would ever do anyway; not my style.) I was also once told by my editor at one of the magazines I write for that because I gave a (again, mostly positive!) mixed review to a certain author, that author’s editor would probably want to punch me in the face if he ever saw me at an event, and may very well be the kind of guy to do it, too.

    That being said, it’s part of the job, and most authors really are pretty good about it. I don’t think I’ve ever met somebody I gave a bad review to, but I have met several people I’ve given mixed reviews to, and if they had ever given it a second thought you wouldn’t know it from the way they behaved; gracious to the last. (Regardless it’s bad form to get personal about the author in a review, and if you’re writing for someone else’s venue under no circumstances should they allow it anyway.)

    I am always down to read any kind of review, good or bad.

  40. I don’t review books but I do review fanfiction. Of course fanfic writers are doing it for love, not money, so their feelings are probably more wrapped up in the story than the average author.

    All that said, I sometimes leave “Wow, awesome, write MOHR!” reviews and sometimes try to go into detail about some particular part of the story that I really liked, perhaps complimenting how they managed to keep the characters IN CHARACTER even in a sci-fi AU with genderbent protagonists.

    Some reviewers THINK they are being clever, but as Scalzi says (or was it Gerrold?) about the failure mode of clever …

    Recently some dude (and I am using the term with great precision) left the most arrogant, condescending, mansplaining review I had ever seen on a story by an author I happen to beta for. For context, it’s a modern AU of ‘Frozen’, where although Elsa is the Queen of a small Scandinavian country and still has ice magic, Anna is the Crown Princess and went off to do her military national service as a paratrooper. (The author is a 30-year Army vet with jump wings, so, she’s pretty in tune with all things military …)

    The reviewer went to great lengths to explain how no military would allow Royalty to risk themselves in such a role, and that sexism in the military is still rampant, and thus the story was ‘unrealistic’ because no modern military would let Anna serve in such a role.

    In a story based on magic Disney princesses, this is what he picked out as ‘unrealistic’. Ignoring Prince Harry and even William’s service, he could have made the same points reviewing the story without the arrogance, condescension, head-patting and all the rest of it. Oi.

    He got ridiculed by all concerned and felt much put upon.

  41. Sheila Strickland: I don’t want your fannish slan shack with a bheer in every room. All I want is the con you promised beneath the Barsoom moons.

    Ooh, I like that one.

  42. @ Greg Hullender:

    Authors are generally cool with it as long as you don’t make it personal. They’ve got tough skins from all the rejections they have to deal with. It almost seems that the more you write about their story, the happier they are–even if you give it a bad review overall. “Wow! I can’t believe you read my story in so much detail! I hope you like the next one better!”

    Oh hell yes. A negative or meh review still means that someone is reading and talking about my story, and there are few things I like better than talking about my stories.

  43. Techgrrl1972: your dude was also wrong about sexism — at least in Nordic forces (as in the said story), from what I’ve been reading on the BBC. (Article about US forces coming to learn how to work in real cold, at a post where IIRC the commander was female; no head-splosions mentioned.)

  44. @Chip: I got set theory in public school at age 6. No one older than me could help me with my homework. But we got arithmetic too. The New Math. They’d dropped it by the time I was 9-10 and went back to The Old Math, at which point Mom could drill me on multiplication tables.

    I still enjoy a good Venn diagram, but I can also add, subtract, multiply, and divide in my head to some extent (about two digits, and division’s tricky), which I occasionally use to astonish younger people with. I made a very young doctor croggle once.

    I have the same problem as most; negative reviews are way easier to write, whereas if a book is really outstandingly good, all I can do is burble “SO GOOD! Orbiting socks! And the part where they did the thing is like OMG!”

    A really well-written bad review of a truly bad book or movie is a lot of fun to read, though. I always liked it back in the day when Siskel and Ebert would try to outdo each other on how much they hated some terrible, hacky movie.

    You can find plot summaries anywhere. On the back of the book. As the description on Amazon or B&N. A short opinion could stand on its own rather than be tucked away at the end of a long summary. What did you like/hate about the plot, characters, setting, does it have a cliffhanger, maybe a content warning.

    @Joe H.: That is a concise yet fabulous review. Your review literally tells me everything I needed to know about that series. No plot summary needed.

    @Techgrrl: Did he flounce?

    Regarding Comic-Con: I often see chatter about it in Japanese. Auto-translate sucks, but I get the gist of what they’re saying about “Komikkukon” (tried to write that in katakana, but it refused to post the whole comment!).

    “Asteroid the fridge” is never gonna catch on as a phrase.

  45. Another two lines?
    Well, you think I should be happy with your con suite and your zines.
    And let me smooooth with sorrow while you play your smofish games.

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