And Now, Some One Star Reviews of Redshirts

As part of my continuing mission to remind authors and other creative people that there is nothing they will ever create that will be universally loved, here are some choice comments from one-star reviews of Redshirts, my current, fastest-selling and in many ways most enthusiastically received book:

“Sophomoric is the kindest word I can come up with. Boring might be another. Flat characters describes in 2 words, waste of money in 3 words.”

“DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME READING THIS….and if you ignore my advice, and read it anyway, I will happily send you a note saying ‘told you so!'”

“This is an onanistic, shallow and very disappointing book.”

“First time in a decade I was actually unable to finish a book.”

“The only reason I didn’t burn this book is because I borrowed it.”

I actually have an overwhelming desire to send this last dude a copy with the inscription “BURN ME.” But then I’m pretty sure I would go to Hell. Because book burning? Bad.

Once again: How do I feel about one star reviews? I’m fine with them. I’m sorry these folks had an unhappy reading experience, but the point is that no matter what I wrote, someone would have had an unhappy reading experience. I know this because there’s not a novel I’ve written that someone hasn’t seen fit to complain about, often at length and sometimes with the vitriol usually reserved for politicians of the party one does not like.

It’s part of the territory, and the sooner one as a creator comes to grips with it and accepts it as part of the process, the better off one will be. I think as a creator you owe your audience your best efforts, but if at the end of your best effort some of them are still not happy, the best response is, oh, well, maybe next time. You will never make everyone happy. If you try, you’ll likely create something mediocre, and then nobody will be happy. Least of all you.

One-star (and otherwise negative) reviews happen. Accept them, own them, and then move on from them.

91 thoughts on “And Now, Some One Star Reviews of Redshirts

  1. Wait, “onanistic”? Is there a *LOT* more masturbation related humor in this one than your previous books? (It’s in my to-read mountain, I swear!)

  2. I’m not at convinced that folks who write one star reviews have actually bought the book, let alone actually read it. There is just something about the wording of these comments which suggests a sort of nasty, unintelligent one upmanship going on.

    I have two review sites that I manage: neither uses any sort of scoring system as I really, really dislike this idea.

  3. WRT burning, I like the philosophy Kevin Smith expressed in one of the extra features on the _Dogma_ DVD. “Please don’t boycott this movie. Buy it and destroy it! Buy MANY copies and destroy them!”

  4. That last one reminds me of a line from a review of a (thoroughly awful) role-playing game: “Saying this book should be burned is an insult to fire.”

    (Personally, I rather liked Redshirts, but I’ll acknowledge it’s not for everyone.)

  5. i would imagine you realize that some may have solid and reasonable criticism. do you ever evaluate or tey and learn from them?

  6. I don’t think anyone has written a novel that someone hasn’t seen fit to complain about, actually. (Or a play. Have you ever seen what Tolstoy wrote about Shakespeare?)

    FWIW, I liked Redshirts. Funny and thought-provoking is a good combination.

  7. I’m fine with people not liking things for valid reasons, but disliking Redshirts because it has flat characters? Way to miss the entire point, fella/lady.

  8. These folks would’ve despised _The Number of the Beast_ (Heinlein, 1980). I loved it when I was 20, and am loving _Redshirts_ now that I’m, um, _over_ 20. Read 8 chapters today before breakfast.

  9. yowser:

    “i would imagine you realize that some may have solid and reasonable criticism.”

    Meh. The number of one-star consumer reviews I’ve read that have useful criticism is small; most of them are venting. In those cases you hope to be amused by the invective.

    That said, yes, a well-written, well-considered piece of negative criticism can be both interesting and useful, if one can get past the ego-bruising.

  10. John Gruber (an Apple podcaster and blogger) has a personality that – to say the least – does not appeal to everyone. In a recent kerfuffle over podcast networks, he garnered a lot of animosity (and one star reviews).
    Now, as he points out at the top of every episode, he has the privilege and honor of being the only 2 star-average podcast to make it to number 2 in iTune’s top 10 chart …

    You guys are starting a meme

  11. @Patrick: I’m not sure I could masturbate long enough to write “The Stand” or “It.” That approaches “If you have an onanistic session lasting more than four hundred pages, see your doctor.”

  12. @Fred C.

    _The Number of the Beast_ would have been a great book if it weren’t for all the sex. But I say that about most of Heinlein’s novels.

  13. I noticed some of them seemed to be saying,
    “It’s not OMW and so I hate it no matter what.”
    You can’t really get much useful feedback out of that.

  14. Well, as my Nana used to say: You try being all things to all people, you just end up being nothing to nobody. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty crappy epitaph.

  15. Man, I’ve never done anything to get reactions even half as spirited as these. And my blog has never been trolled either. I think I’m not trying hard enough.

  16. Clearly, the book is committing the LITERARY sin of Onan. W

    hich in this case is refusing to mate with it’s deceased brother’s wife (Zoe’s Tale), and telling God (By which I mean PNH) that it would rather spill its… ink… on the ground than produce another gorram book in the Old Man’s War universe.

    Totally biblical, yo.

  17. Book burning? So old fashioned. I had a friend who once hated a book so much that he put it in a fish tank with a large fresh-water catfish that he didn’t feed so that it ate the book as it disentegrated. When it was gone he then killed, cooked, and ate the catfish. True story.

  18. I have to wonder – given that it is known that you read and repeat these one star reviews – if some people aren’t just saying bad stuff to get their comments read by your rather largish fan base.

  19. Got my copy in the mail last night, started reading it this morning and I’m already up to page 124 and having fun. You’ll definitely get more than one star from me. I’ve had several laughs out loud, and at least one, “Oh, shit,” which is always a good sign.

    It would be nice if these reviewers actually gave specific points about what they didn’t like. I hated the first “Series of Unfortunate Events” book with the kind of passion one might reserve for cockroaches or Kardashians, but at least I could explain why. So far the only thing in this book that has stood out to me is a rather glaring typo on p. 113 (a Kerensky where I’m pretty sure a Jenkins should be).

    Anyway, back to reading…

  20. Simple way to fix reviewers, alow only ppl who bought it from their store to review and authors construct something like rotten tomatoes to curate book reviews.

  21. In my line of work, the one star reviewers – who, in my experience, provide a similar level of meaningless drivel in their review – literally make or break the project. It is a nice perspective to realize how little is on the line for you as result of their barbarian yawps, and is actually making me think I should read comments with that attitude at all times.

  22. Sigh… I wonder if the reviewer who used Onanistic realizes that in the story of Onan, it had nothing to do with the commonly mispercieved “sin” of masturbation. It was a crime because Onan pulled out before loading the wife of his dead brother with his seed and impregnating her. On the other hand, at least no one offered to send a note saying “I told you so”… oh… wait….

  23. I find one and two star reviews (once you’ve ignored all the “I didn’t buy this book because it costs too much” and “I read three pages and hate this with a passion” stuff) are often very good indicators of whether I’ll like a book. Also useful when I can’t figure out what bugs me about a book (Time Traveler’s Wife had three distinct types of I Didn’t Like This responses, one of which fit mine perfectly). Anyway, when someone hates something because it does something I like, well, hey!

  24. Sometimes you just don’t like a book. If people have legitimate criticisms, I’d love to see them. Many people, when they write reviews, can only give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. I can see why there would be one-star reviews for any book. I don’t go out and read Stephen King because I just don’t like horror. So yeah, I’d probably give it one star (no, probably not because it will be well written coming from King). Nowadays there are so many places where you can read a chapter or sample for free. Nifty little feature. You would think that would lessen the amount of one-star reviews?

  25. When I think of Onanistic writing, books like Dalgren by Samuel Delany come to mind. Books whose authors are so enamoured with their own ability to write pretty prose that they can’t get out of their own way to tell a decent story. Scalzi’s can never be accused of that! His books are always fast, fun rides that never leave you wondering what he was smoking when he wrote that. The only problem with his books is that I read them too fast and have to wait a year for the next one. Bravo Mr Scalzi. Please write faster.

  26. Fred C. at 10:33 pm: I’ve frequented many SF conventions, and I can tell you that there are quite a few people out there who do indeed despise The Number of the Beast, for a variety of reasons. I too, loved it when I was 23, and I still re-read it occasionally. It may not be the best book Heinlein ever wrote, but I thought it was certainly among the most fun to read.

    Likewise, Redshirts might not be a literary triumph destined to be taught by English professors in 2042 (and I don’t believe that Scalzi was aiming for that), but it was a damn fun novel well worth the hardcover price.

  27. _The Number of the Beast_ would have been a great novel if it weren’t for all the wanking.

    … and I”m not talking about the sex. I actually consider it one of Heinlein’s weaker novels.

  28. Redshirts did have a slow spell in the part where we get into Nicks’ blogs. It recovers nicely. Reminds me of the trudge-through-the-wilderness section of HP-Deathly Hallows. White doe shows up and we’re off again.

    But I still want another Brian Creek story!

  29. My copy of Good Omens is inscribed “Burn this book” by Neil and “Place match here” by Terry. Or possibly vice versa. Either way it’s clearly what they write as standard when signing that particular book :D

  30. I enjoyed Nick’s blogs, actually. The payoff when he has that final chat made it worth it. And I had Mary Robinette Kowlal’s voice in my head playing Denise Hogan, so that was nice.

    Anyway, I finished about an hour ago, and am letting it percolate before I write the review – which will be greatly positive, to be sure. Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale are up for this week’s podcast, though, so maybe that’s some small substitute.

  31. Russ @6:20 am: My copy of Good Omens is inscribed “Burn this book” by Neil and “Place match here” by Terry. Or possibly vice versa. Either way it’s clearly what they write as standard when signing that particular book :D

    More or less, with some variation. Mine also has Neil signing “Burn this book” — followed by Pratchett’s “We need the publicity!”

    Book burning should be a thing of the past soon — how would you go about publicly burning an ebook?

  32. John, why are you reading the one-star reviews?

    As you said, you can’t learn a thing from these screeds, and they don’t improve your work.

    I can’t imagine worst torture for an author. If you don’t read them, they don’t exist.

  33. There are two types of reviews I hate:
    “THIS SUCKS!”
    “THIS IS THE BESTEST EVER”
    Neither tells me anything useful unless I know the reviewer well enough to know if I might agree or disagree with them. The local paper used to have a reviewer that often was dead wrong (in my humble compared to him opinion) but I read him every time because he told me WHY he liked or disliked the work. From that I could figure out if I would enjoy it.

    It seems like the majority of 1-stars on any work are the “IT SUCKED” variety and they are easy to ignore as they have no value. But you seem to have a healthy attitude about the whole thing. If it makes you happy and is selling I guess it must be OK.

  34. Redshirts was recommended by my girlfriend and was my first experience with Scalzi (other than SGU, which I loved) and this is the first book in a long time that I couldnt put down. I immediately went out and bought Old Man’s War and Ghost Brigades.

  35. Ron Mitchell wrote, “I noticed some of them seemed to be saying, ‘It’s not OMW and so I hate it no matter what.’”

    This is why some authors use pseudonyms when they turn to a different type of story from their usual or best-known work.

    My own opinion is that Scalzi’s prose style is so distinctive, regardless of the topic or setting of the novel, that it would be foolish for him to try.

  36. I’m just glad you’re writing things I love to read. I just started the audio version of Old Man’s War this morning (having previously read Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts), and made the following statement out loud to nobody: “John Scalzi, I will read everything you write, forever. I will happily fund your daughter’s college education.” So by all means amuse yourself with your one star reviews, and remember the majority of your readers are folks like me; eager to read your signature blend of storytelling and humor! (Happy thought for the day!)

  37. I’ve never understood the value in pooping on other people’s fun. Telling people that something they like is horrible without good constructive criticism, and even if you can generate the criticism, leave it at that because it should speak for itself. And there’s no real reason that it makes the world a better place to try to build yourself some sort of moral high ground where you can look down upon those tho have different opinions from yourself.

    That being said, all the comments to the effect of “these people who didn’t like the book clearly didn’t read it.” are also pretty obnoxious. Just because they give crappy and vitriolic reviews doesn’t mean they didn’t actually read and not enjoy the book (disclaimer: I read it and didn’t like it much, but I don’t see much value in trying to pick it apart here or anywhere), it just means they are poor reviewers and may have awkward communications skills.

  38. The best advice I ever heard regarding negative reviews was “be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm.”

  39. Had to look up ‘onanistic.’ Learn something new every day. Thanks, one-star reviewer!

    I’ve got Redshirts on the Kindle right now, saving it for a plane trip this weekend.

  40. I can’t help but wonder how many of the reviews are “retaliation” by Kotaku readers over the whole “lowest difficulty level” imbroglio.

  41. I read all of these reviews before and my thoughts where, in order:
    1. onanistic. They finally got a chance to use it! A real win for the Word-of-the-Day Calendar industry!
    2. Either none of these people read the last page of the novel, or it was too meta for them to ‘get’.

    Not that you haven’t gotten enough praise, but I took a half day from work so I could go home and finish it. It was a lot of fun! Thanks!

  42. You know, I’ve been known to write a book review on occasion. I certainly haven’t loved every book I’ve reviewed, and when I don’t like a book I will say that I did not and explain why. However, I do not understand why some reviewers feel the need to be snarky and nasty when they review something they did not like.

    I also wish that reviewers of books, movies, music and whatever else would realize that “I did not like this” does not equal “this is a piece of crap”. They didn’t like it? Fine. That doesn’t mean that anyone who did like it is stupid.

    However, I don’t understand most people most of the time, so this could just be me.

  43. Number of the Beast is the only Heinlein book my friend ever read, and he didn’t care for it. But he acknowledged it’s probably the worst way to be introduced to Heinlein.

  44. A friend of mine got a one-star review on her first (self) published novel. The reviewer went off on the grammar (if you haven’t read many reviews of self-published novels, this is a common complaint). I had read the book also, and I asked the reviewer what specifics she could reference about the grammar because aside from some misuses of a comma, I didn’t see many grammatical mistakes. She actually responded and noted that she couldn’t name any specifics, it was just a general feeling she got while reading the book. It makes me wonder how many other negative reviewers reference novels this way, by feeling rather than specifics. As a budding writer (I recently decided to revisit my childhood passion for writing stories), one-star or overly negative reviews without specifics to back them up are something I truly dread. While I wouldn’t want to get in a flame war with a negative reviewer, I feel like I would challenge anyone who writes a negative review to be constructive in their criticism. Criticism for criticism’s sake is just noise in the wind, lacking any meaning, as far as I am concerned.

  45. I can think of a worse way to be introduced to Heinlein: have the very first thing you read by Heinlein terrify you so much that you never read any science fiction again. True story, happened to a close relative–she read “The Puppet Masters” as a young girl, and the story gave her nightmares. She wouldn’t touch science fiction after that for fear that it was all like that–for the next 50 years.

    When I’m looking for a non-fiction technical book, I look at the best negative reviews on Amazon. People who like a book all sound alike: “This book is the greatest thing ever and I learned the entire subject in one go from this awesome book”. This does not give me a clue if the book will work for me. People who don’t like a book and explain why are much more helpful. If they don’t like a book for the same reasons I would find it problematic, I don’t buy it. If they don’t like a book for reasons that are the reasons I want the book, I buy it. I have done this more than once: Someone didn’t like a particular C++ book because it was only an overview/reference (an “in a Nutshell” book); I was looking for a good reference book, not a teaching book at the time, so I bought it.

    Fiction books, on the other hand, I mostly choose by word-of-mouth (“Here Mom, read this!”), reviews from blogs I trust (i.e., Internet word-of-mouth), and having previously read the author and liked their work.

  46. I finished Redshirts yesterday on a plane. What a fun read! I would not give it five frickin’ stars but it was pure Scalzian setting and dialog–i.e., lots and lots of fun, especially for fans of ST.

    I have to add that the three Codas were beautifully written and entirely fitting. They detracted not a whit from the main plotline and added so much more. Thank you, John, for making sure they were included.

    Now I need to go write my Amaxon review: “REDSHIRTS–Where the New Weird meets the Old Guard and laughs at it. And points, too.”

  47. I really liked Redshirts. My wife (who is also a Scalzi fan) couldn’t get into it. Quote: “It’s like a bad Star Trek episode.” So I laughed and got her to read more.

  48. I long ago stopped reading one star reviews for anything other than amusement. I take what I like to call the “East German Judge” approach – discard the lowest reviews (which tend to be venting, foamy affairs for the most part) and focus on the mid-range. These are where I find the most helpful reviews, as they tend to mention both what they liked and what they didn’t, which helps me decide if it is going to work for me. There are, of course, exceptions, but in general it works

    That said, I really like the philosophy of owning the bad reviews. There is just something really sensible and healthy about it; not to mention some of them are damn funny. Why is it that so many uber-negative reviews strive to achieve this “I am soooo much smarter than the room” ennui? Especially if the item under review is successful. I also love how on Amazon the negative reviewers all band together with comments like “I marked your review as helpful, you should go do the same with mine.” As though through their secret brotherhood, they can bring down the system from within, or something.

  49. Aaron: I feel like I would challenge anyone who writes a negative review to be constructive in their criticism.

    I think Scalzi’s main advice is the useful thing here: Everyone gets bad reviews, therefore don’t go crazy if someone gives you a bad review.

    I’m not sure how useful it would be to criticize the criticism. It’s not like someone can’t give you a one-star review if they can’t say “why” in a way that is satisfactory to the author. “I didn’t like it” is no less valid a review than listing all the specific plot holes, the mary sue’s, and so on.

    It is true that if you’re in a writing group and critiquing each other’s writing, that it helps to be specific in the “why” something didn’t work so that the person you’re giving feedback to can fix the writing. But if someone is reviewing a published novel, the author probably isn’t going to do a major re-write of the novel. At which point, the review isn’t for the author, it’s for other readers.

    Put another way, if you’re getting significant valid criticisms of your novel that you never got from any of your beta-readers, you need more/better beta readers.

    Any valid criticism in reviews of your book should be stuff you already know about and decided to leave alone because it wasn’t important to you, was too hard to fix, would make you miss a deadline, or some other similar reason.

    The remaining criticisms in reviews basically boil down to “the author is a doody-head” at which point, does someoen really need to explain that the reviewer is an idiot?

  50. Thank you for providing a great way to look at negative reviews. I’ll try to keep this in mind for my own books.

    The reviews that bother me most, whether good or bad, are those that are written because of the topic of the book or who the author is–not about the book, itself.

    I won’t look at Amazon reviews, because too often the reviews aren’t criticizing the book, they’re condemning the general topic of the book, the author, or the author’s views unrelated to the book. On occasion, the review is nasty because the book is an eBook selling for more than 9.99 or some such thing.

    This is a dishonest review that makes it difficult to determine if you should buy the book or not. You have to dig through the chaff to find the legitimate reviews, and if there are several hundred, you may decide it just isn’t worth the effort.

  51. My grandmother used to insist that every bit of food she ordered in a restaurant was either the best or worst thing ever. I don’t know if she was capable of a 2, 3, or 4 star revew

  52. This book is very different than the other books I’ve read by you. I really enjoyed it, but I could see that someone wouldn’t like it even if they liked some of your other books.

    Elaine in Fresno @ 10:24 am:

    I also wish that reviewers of books, movies, music and whatever else would realize that “I did not like this” does not equal “this is a piece of crap”. They didn’t like it? Fine. That doesn’t mean that anyone who did like it is stupid.

    Completely agree! It’s sometimes hard for people to separate “poor quality” with “not for me”. That’s one major drawback with any one-dimensional rating system. It ignores that different people are looking for different things in a product.

  53. I know this because there’s not a novel I’ve written that someone hasn’t seen fit to complain about, often at length and sometimes with the vitriol usually reserved for politicians of the party one does not like.

    I understand not liking a book. I even understand loathing a book and believing it’s a stylistic and literary travesty even when I personally don’t hold that opinion of it.

    But bad book and/or book disliked = ruining civilization?!

    Either I missed a memo or some people actually think that their personal subjective criticism makes the object of their critique colossally more significant in the annals of history than it would be if they’d liked it. Even when I’m the one who loathes the book or otherwise agrees with its critics, in my own subjective experience, I do not understand this level of egomania. To the credit of the one-star critics (see what I did there?) featured in this post, none of them compared you to Obama, Bush or Hitler.

    I actually have an overwhelming desire to send this last dude a copy with the inscription “BURN ME.” But then I’m pretty sure I would go to Hell. Because book burning? Bad.

    Dude, where are the best parties always held, the penthouse or the basement?

  54. Wait a second – do you mean that five one-star reviews are not equivalent to one five-star review?
     

    Oh, crap. John, I am so very, very sorry. How can I possibly apologize for what I’ve done?

  55. ‘Onanistic’??? Holy moly, I had to look that up in a dictionary. That reviewer better go back to reading Edward Gibbon. Jesus–onanistic? Who the feck says ‘onanistic’? Only a Vulc-oh. Now I get it. Your reviewers are Trekkers. Trekkies would enjoy the humor, but not Trekkers.

  56. I think “onanistic” should be blurbed on every future printing of the book.

    Only if John is planning to go for the ‘Mommy Porn’ demographic, which I devoutly pray will never happen. Though, now I think of it, Spanky Nation or Fifty Shades of Redshirts does have a ring to it…

    Aaron:

    I feel like I would challenge anyone who writes a negative review to be constructive in their criticism. Criticism for criticism’s sake is just noise in the wind, lacking any meaning, as far as I am concerned.

    And having written quite a few book reviews — good, bad and “if you’ve got nothing better to do” indifference — I don’t do “constructive” because it’s not my job. (I suspect John gets plenty of highly constructive critiques of his manuscripts from Mrs Scalzi, his editors and whoever else thinks may have useful advice to offer.) I’m a reviewer – and don’t write negative reviews for the shits and giggles, or to have an ego-wank public. Sure don’t do it for the money.

    My duty, as I see it, is to provide and honest and well-argued critique couched in the best prose I can muster. Develop my argument as far as length, good taste and ethical/critical norms allow. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a perfect book, and if there is it hasn’t crossed my desk, and I’ve very seldom seen anything so bad there’s nothing to say beyond “I’m off to get the eye-gouging spoon”.

  57. Yesterday, an editor let me know that one of my characters was on a “ten-best” list. Naturally, I zipped over to see. Yes. There she was. Cover illustration and everything. Yay! Emailed agent. More Yay! Then someone else said the comments were really good. Ran back and (foolishly, because a) I’m nose-deep in editing alligators with a deadline and b) there are holes in my rhino-hide armor) foolishly, I say, read the comments. Wherein one annoyed soul explained at length that he had feared my character might be listed, and read the whole list hoping not to see my name or hers, and there…at the last…was this crappy character by this incompetent writer, and how anyone could read that trash, let alone enjoy it…etc, etc, etc.

    Well, I thought, there’s _one{ person I won’t be knitting socks for next Christmas. (I’m sure he/she would diss the socks, too. Which would stretch my resistance to temptation to the breaking point, inasmuch as knitters carry around lots of sharp pointy things.) . And went back to the edits, thinking gratefully of all the people who’ve bought those books, love those books and that character, and whose support over the years has bolstered my confidence and my bank account. As you said, there’s never been a book yet someone didn’t decide to drop a steaming pile on.

    Congrats, by the way, on REDSHIRTS’ NYT ranking.

  58. @ EMoon

    Wherein one annoyed soul explained at length that he had feared my character might be listed, and read the whole list hoping not to see my name or hers, and there…at the last…was this crappy character by this incompetent writer, and how anyone could read that trash, let alone enjoy it…etc, etc, etc.

    Odds are they aren’t a bestselling author with a Nebula Award, the appreciation of the autistic reader community (including diagnosed HFAs such as myself), and a well-crafted heroine of a series of novels that infuse fresh vigor into the otherwise highly repetitious subgenre of military space-opera. Maybe they’re a rock-star in their own career field, but somehow I doubt it. I’m not trying to be vindictive, but, in my experience, people who take the time to fire off nebulous critiques of an author and their work in overdramatic lamentations while saying nothing concrete are frequently narcissistic losers full or ire at an Establishment that refuses to recognize their superior genius or nauseated disdain for the ignorant unwashed masses below their noses. All I have for those who blame everyone else for their failures is pity that it will keep them from attaining success in any real talents they may possess in fact or potential.

    @ David

    “Onanistic?” Someone remembers how to use a thesaurus.

    I quite enjoyed encountering a new word, a rare enough occasion at this stage in my reading life. If the rest of the review is chock-full of $10 words, or the $10 words are misused, then I’m with you. Otherwise, are we to use only the most commonly occurring words in the English lexicon until the langauge has been pared down to a couple hundred and we must go on at nausauting length to convey any sense of nuance or specificity at all?

    @ cranapia

    Only if John is planning to go for the ‘Mommy Porn’ demographic, which I devoutly pray will never happen.

    Why would porn for mothers involve blurring the word onanistic?

    And having written quite a few book reviews — good, bad and “if you’ve got nothing better to do” indifference — I don’t do “constructive” because it’s not my job.

    Yet some constructive criticism should be implied if your goal is to be a guide to others. You don’t need to suggest how to fix what’s wrong, but you should at least tell the audience what you found wanting in some concrete manner. There’s nothing I consider more a waste of my time than reading an art and/or entertainment review that tells me jack-all about why the reviewer hated, loved or otherwise felt how they did about the work or its creator. If I were a violent person, it’d make me want to punch a bunny. Fortunately I love fluffy little bunnies. Wait, Hopkins, where are you going? Come back! I was only kidding…

  59. One star reviews mean nothing: I would give every paragraph I’ve ever read of Gene Wolfe’s a one-star rating, but for some reason he’s a demigod to many, especially writers.

    So, who’s to say?

  60. OABTW: “onanistic” is not an exotic word, people. Geeze. If it is, that’s one low frickin’ bar.

  61. @Gulliver:
    Call me crazy, but “onanistic” and “for mothers” are rather antithetical concepts, no? More than a little blurring required to make them work together.
     
    Blurbing, on the other paw, is… hmm…
    *estimates odds of Tor approving Captain Noble’s modest proposal*
    Nope, no problem there.

  62. I don’t mind my one-star reviews; I find them entertaining and endlessly fascinating. What one reader hates, the next loves.

    My favorite, so far, was a DNF by a woman who’d borrowed my book from the library, hated it, then was thoroughly miffed because she forgot to return the book in time and wound up having to pay a fine.

    Really though, even bad reviews help readers find books they enjoy. And that’s what reviews are all about.

  63. @ Christopher Hawley

    Call me crazy, but “onanistic” and “for mothers” are rather antithetical concepts, no?

    Not being a mother, I wouldn’t know. I will say that I’ve read a lot of romance novels (including sex-romance novels) and never once encountered the word. There are other written forms of porn I’ve never read, but I’m not sure what all that says about the demographics. Masturbation has come up on several occasions relating to both genders, but that has a rather less specific meaning.

    @ Alex Adams

    Really though, even bad reviews help readers find books they enjoy. And that’s what reviews are all about.

    Cory Doctorow once mentioned that he was reading a negative Amazon review that referred the reader to his website where he has long put his own books up for free downloading, telling readers to go see how bad it was for themselves if they didn’t believe the reviewer, and which point Cory realized this negative reviewer is working for me!

  64. My working experience is that a book that gets a large number of 4s and 5s, not many 3s or 2s, and a substantial minority of 1s is the one that will sell best. If everybody says “that’s nice,” your book will often be DOA; you need enough attackers to stimulate the defensive responses of the people who like the book.

    I go on at somewhat greater length about this in a recent post in my blog, and in the comments in another blog, but in general, I think a “lopsided U” is the best shape for a graph of responses.

  65. “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone”
    –Bill Cosby

  66. Shame on you! Shame on you John Scalzi! I spent all day reading your book, shirking duties left and right…nearly didn’t eat dinner because I forgot to thaw the ground beef…and all for what? An hysterical, thoughtful, clever, deeply philosophical joy that makes me want to read your other books. But why? I already read too much! I have my favorite authors all bookmarked and set to ping my account when a new volume comes out. The schedule has been made. And now you go and write something like THIS? Right up my alley? Exactly what makes me want to sit on the couch and refuse all human contact for 12 hours or until it’s finished? Well, THANK you John Scalzi. Thank you very much. You’ve just cost my husband clean pants for the next six months. ;-)

  67. I actually have an overwhelming desire to send this last dude a copy with the inscription “BURN ME.” But then I’m pretty sure I would go to Hell. Because book burning? Bad.

    Weeeell…

    I recall when a whole bunch of we librarians got together and tried to come up with ways to publicize that We Were Unhappy with massive cuts to the book budget and processing funds. I suggested “Why don’t we hold a book burning outside on the front steps?…”

    Half a dozen pairs of eyes looked at me in shock and horror.

    And then I said “…and we can use those old government standards we can’t seem to get rid of, and I’d happily donate my copy of “Atlas Shrugged” to top position on the fire.”

    And they all turned thoughtful as they considered the idea…

  68. Having read all of Scalzi’s books to date, I liked Redshirts the least of them (just finished it). Not one star perhaps, but mid-range compared to the others. On the other hand, I don’t expect any author to hit one out of the park every time.

  69. One star reviews are palatable if the reviewer actually read the book. What I can’t stand are sites like IMDB which allow people to rate a product they’ve never actually viewed.

  70. I can’t think of many books where I’d give a 1 star review, but of those I can think of, I definitely know the reason and would give it. For example, one, whose title I have conveniently forgotten, was a mystery with a protagonist who was the ghost of a policeman. The ghost was basically powerless, the story was written with a soppy sentimentality that grated against my nerves, and the mystery’s solution was obvious in the first twelve pages. I could not bear the prospect of reading another two hundred or so pages of insipid passivity and mournful intangible clinginess with a predictable conclusion, so I never finished it.

    @JohnBarnes – enjoyed your post – does that explain the sometimes startling inclusion of somewhat objectionable subject matter into most of your otherwise uncontroversial seeming stories? I’d wondered… and the lack of same in a few like Earth Made of Glass which had an entirely other way to elicit a minority of 1 stars – how without spoiling … being such a downer? I have to say it’s at least worked on me, I’d give most of your books 4 or 5 stars and a very few of them 1 star, which is not at all my typical reactions!

  71. I rarely find one-star reviews helpful, but I don’t understand the hate for them either. (Clearly, I have missed a chance to be offended on behalf of strangers — odd, I normally have a knack for finding those…)

    Yes, helpful reviews generally give more specific critiques than “I wanted to burn it” but I can think of some books I’d review that way. Catcher in the Rye, for instance. My fingers would fall off from exhaustion before I could possibly type everything I hated about that book. Of course, I also wouldn’t ever review it, since one-star is too high, but I digress.

    Sometimes you don’t have a reason for disliking something. My husband loves the movie Fifth Element, I hate it. He asks WHY I hate it every time the subject is mentioned, and every time I have to say “I DON’T KNOW.” I just find it irritating for some reason.

  72. I love your writing….usually. And maybe my problem with “Redshirts” seems to come from listening to the book rather than reading it. But, FWIW, the word “said” appears so frequently that it’s become all I’ve noticed. Seriously distracting proportions. Listen to that first conversation between Dahl and (can’t remember her name) while they’re getting a drink waiting to board the “Intrepid.” Understand that I say this with much respect — please consult a thesaurus occasionally.

  73. I gave up on the audiobook after about 2-3 hours because the central part (post prologue, pre codas) is virtually unlistenable to. It was only today, when I listened to Luke Burrage’s review on the SF Book Review Podcast, that I started to get an inkling of why. Of course, I now know the full premise, all about the codas and the bigger picture with all the “meta-ness”. So I am starting to understand why the middle bit was written as it was. Fact remains that, as an audiobook at least, that section of the book is very hard going, and mostly not very funny. Even if it is so for a reason, you are still asking the reader to suffer for a goodly portion of the book before they get the very clever pay-off, which I now know about but have yet to enjoy. I will therefore at some stage give the book another go and keep going to the end, trusting to Luke who is a remarkably entertaining (often ranty) reviewer but also remarkably perceptive. Luke did say not to consume the audiobook at any cost, but I’m not shelling out again for a print or ebook. So I will just have to grit my teeth, stick with it past the painful bits and get to the end at which point it may become clear why this book won the Hugo.

  74. I just finished the audiobook version of “Redshirts”, read by Wil Wheaton. I loved it. I always thought that there should have been an episode of Star Trek from the point of view of the security staff (kind of like those weird M.A.S.H. episodes from the patient’s perspective), and you did better by throwing in time-travel and multiverse stuff.
    Thank you!
    Now what happens when they bring back the cast for the movies?

    And Wil Wheaton was not only a brilliant voice actor for the audiobook, but you could tell he really “got” it.
    Screw the reviewers.

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