Briefly Noted

Another review of Old Man’s War here (also posted on the Amazon page for the book, as the reviewer, Harriet Klausner, is apparently the #1 ranked Amazon reviewer, in terms of volume); a more detailed version of the reviews (with stats) is here. It calls the book “a terrific tale of a belligerent future in space,” which is nice, and also says it is “a tense anti-war military science fiction thriller that will leave fans pondering what is war good for.”

I certainly hope the latter part of that last sentence is true, although I don’t know that I subscribe wholly to the book being anti-war. I would say that it is anti-stupid, in that at least a couple of people acting stupidly in the performance of war in the book reap the consequences of their actions. This also happens to be my general opinion of war: Use only when absolutely necessary; try not to use stupidly or wantonly; be prepared for the consequences.

However, I don’t want to say the review is wrong. I think the “anti-war” assessment falls into that interesting gray area of legitimate textual interpretation based on the reader’s personal perspectives. As an author I think I get to set some boundaries regarding what the book says or is about; if you were to, say, tell me the book advocates genocide (as there is some discussion of the subject in the book), I think I’m within my rights as the author to say “well, no, it doesn’t.” But if you tell me it’s anti-war, I’ll be interested to see your line of reasoning. I like that people see my work in different ways than I do.

18 thoughts on “Briefly Noted

  1. I always wonder if these mega-reviewers at places like Amazon or Epinions have ever actually *seen* the products they are reviewing. If the reviewer can get all his/her information via the book jacket and other reviews, then is s/he really “reviewing” the book, or just summarizing the other reviews?

    I once looked up the Epinions reviews for a razor I had bought, and many of the reviews read as if all they had done was looked at the manufacturer’s marketing info (easily available online) and trumped it up with a “personal” story of their “experience” with the product — oddly coming to the opposite conclusion I had after actually using the product.

    Do these reviewers simply write for the ego-boost of being #1 (or 15, or whatever)? Or do they have some other incentive to write hundreds and hundreds of reviews?

  2. I assume that Ms. Klausner is serviced by publishers at this point — I know that at least some of the “top reviewers” from Amazon are.

    Whether she or any of the top reviewers actually *read* the book is another issue entirely, although I see no reason to doubt Ms. Klausner, and the statistical portion of the “all readers” review is pretty accurate, which it probably wouldn’t be if she hadn’t actually read the book. Ms. Klausner says she speed reads, and I suspect that speed reading gives you an idea of the broad outlines of a book at the loss of detail. For example, her overall assessment of the book is fairly accurate, but she flubs a detail in the review (John Perry’s wife is buried in Ohio, not Arizona, although Arizona is mentioned in the same general area).

    I myself can read very quickly when I have to, with reasonable comprehension — I read 2,400 pages of Joesph Conrad in a 24-hour period once, for a final in a class I had but didn’t exactly attend — but I don’t *enjoy* it, and I prefer to read at a rather more relaxed rate, and I’m glad to have that luxury.

  3. Harriett appears to review three to five books a day. Her review of SINGULARITY SKY was, er, *memorable*. (Yes, that’s the least incriminating way of putting it, I think.)

    (I wish I could still read a hundred pages an hour. Alas, ever since my retinas crapped out in different and creatively frightening ways about fifteen years ago I’ve been limited to reading at a mere 350 words per minute, or about 60 pages/hour. And with market-induced page bloat, my days of reading two or three novels a day — or even one — are over.)

  4. I’d take anything Harriet Klausner says with a massive grain of salt. The woman reads something like 10 books a day. I write book reviews and every so often I’ll look up her take on some of the books I’ve reviewed and it’s often like she read a completely different book (when her reviews even make sense). She also likes pretty much everything she reads, which I find unfathomable. For a reviewer, she’s awfully uncritical.

  5. Yeah, the Wired interview with her notes that she doesn’t post reviews of things she doesn’t like, which would indeed lead to the perception she doesn’t dislike anything. On the other hand, imagine the shock and terror if she *did* post a negative review.

  6. Am I the only one who’s discovered that learning to write has slowed my reading rate wayyyyy down? I read every damned word now. I can’t seem to break myself of the habit, either.

    Which has the side effect of, now, I start many books I do not finish, and I find reading to be much more work than it used to be.

    I used to have a two-novel-a-day habit, and now I’m lucky if I get through three a month.

  7. John said:
    “I would say that it is anti-stupid, in that at least of a couple of people acting stupidly in the performance of war reap the consequences of their actions.”

    [sarcasm]
    Huh. John Scalzi wrote about stupid people being punished for their actions. Will wonders never cease. As a long-time reader of this website, I have to say that I never saw that coming.
    [/sarcasm]

    I’m glad the good reviews keep coming in, John. I’m hoping to pick up your book in the next week or so (poor college student – sometimes food has to come before books) before my next semester starts. Everything I’ve seen and heard tells me I’m in for a treat.

    As far as personal reviews goes, I’ve used Amazon a lot lately for their reviews of appliances and computer products. Fortunately, it’s often easy to balance out the reviews written by the product’s marketing flaks (“God Himself came down from on high and invented this scanner”) with the reviews written by the stupid/easily frustrated (“The box said that making coffee was easy, but there was like, cords and pots and stuff, and I just returned the whole thing.”) I find that if I read 10 reviews or so, I get a sense of what the product is like. For the record – 10 Amazon reviews of Old Man’s War gives it an average of 4.9 stars.

    K

  8. Klausner generally reads the back cover (or inside flap) and the first chapter of the books she reviews, then makes up the rest of the plot. She’s reviewed four of the five novels I’ve had out so far, and for three of them her descriptions were so far off base–characters that didn’t exist, situations that didn’t happen–that I could tell she hadn’t read more than the first ten pages and, like a sixth-grader who hadn’t read the book for her book report, was trying to cover up her neglect with a lot of blather.

    However, on my latest release, her review was accurate enough that I actually suspected she read the entire damned thing. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

    There’s a significant anti-Klausner faction on Amazon who’ll automatically click the ‘no’ button on the ‘Do you agree with this review?’ portion of the page. When she gives you a positive review and you find that 0 of 10 people agree with it, don’t take it personally. It’s just the faction at work.

  9. I think it’s mildly terrifying that enough people *care* about Harriet Klausner that a faction actually exist.

  10. Klausner writes the worst reviews I’ve ever read – which is saying something, considering I used to be a Star Trek fan. I do sometimes use Amazon reviews to help me decide whether to buy an item, but I completely disregard hers due to their poor quality.

    But, like most reviewers, she’s pretty harmless.

    I find the “Was this review helpful to you?” ratings to be not helpful. :-)

  11. For what it’s worth, her review also says the book is mostly in 3rd person. I’m about halfway through it now, but I think I can safely say that isn’t true (John Perry is clearly the narrator here…)

  12. Klausner has popped up as a reviewer of a few books I had looked into recently. I was surprised at her breadth. Quite frankly, I thought SHE was a faction.

    Interestingly, as far as comments on Amazon go, I immediately read all the negative reviews, rarely reading any of the good ones. No good good review will ever make me want something like a bad bad review.

    I’d definitely have bought the complicated fictional coffee maker (pots and cords and all) mentioned above based on that kind of review.

  13. John,

    Not sure if this is a good place to post this, or if you’ll even answer, but I have had a question burning my brain for about the past week.

    As a writer, what is your perspective on the sensationalist books that are released and just absolutely bought up by the truckload by the general public? Case in point. The Amber Frey book that came out last week, where she’s documenting her relationship with Scott Peterson. Anyone that doesn’t know who that is, hasn’t had a television on, read a newspaper, or visited a news web site in a VERY long time. Anyway, how does that make a published author feel? Someone who has worked years at their craft to get published and recognized, and yet this person is in it for “15 minutes” and gone. I realize publishers don’t care about the content as much as the earning potential. I was just curious as to an author’s perspective.

    I realize the styles are quite different, and it may be comparing apples to shoes, but like I said earlier, I was just curious.

  14. So maybe what Klausner does is sits all day at the Barnes and Noble with her laptop, browses through the new releases, then hammers out her review, collecting her kickbacks as she goes?

    Not being much of an SF fan myself, where does one go for serious SF reviews?

  15. Well I didn’t take the book as anti-war. I’d put it at realistic to slightly romanticized in it’s portrayal of war. But, there are hints about “wait a minute… do we really need to fight these wars?” That could be read as an anti-war message. I’m curious to see if that thread gets played out in Ghost Brigades or further down the line. Or it could stay as a random character musing.

    Personally, I took it as a pro-slime diatribe. Slime rules.

  16. While I haven’t read the book yet (but plan to), I have generally found that “anti-war” people are more than anxious to take anything that does not pornographically revel in violence and death as confirming their personal views. Any serious presentation of war necessarily includes the horror and costs, even if the end conclusion is that the human costs were worth it. In this way, the “anti-war” crowd seem to falsely perceive the options available as always being between the white of “peace” and the black of “war” without realizing that the pure white of “peace” is an ideal and often never really available as a practical choice.

  17. “I think it’s mildly terrifying that enough people *care* about Harriet Klausner that a faction actually exist.”

    John, Harriet’s like spam and about as useful. I used to see her reviews on dorothyl for years before amazon came along, and her reviews also appear on a review Web site you mentioned some time ago. While I can certainly admire her stamina and drive, she reviews so much and so positively across so many genres and styles of books that her opinions are worthless. You can’t use her opinions as a lodestone for your book-buying decisions.

    But it is pretty mean-spirited to attack her.

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