Possibly My Favorite (Real) Negative Review Ever

It’s for Old Man’s War, off the Amazon UK site:

(one star) Mixes the bland with the objectionable

Marvel at the author’s universe of sockpuppets and strawmen! Rejoice… sort of… at the least interesting nanotechnology ever! Marvel at the author’s ability to select only the least satisfying cliches to assemble his work from; gasp at his inability to explore the few interesting ideas he has, or to construct a plot that doesn’t visibly move on rails; gasp at his profound understanding of philosophy and military history (“No army ever goes to war with more the bare minimum it needs to win.” Hello? Gulf 1? The British campaign against the Mahdi?)

Sort of like a mildly fascistic and extremely cliched soft rock album: you’d actually PREFER to listen to Rammstein or white power ska because as horrible as it is at least it has soul. In a sub-genre with gems like Starship Troopers (zeig Heinlien!), David Drake’s Slammer’s books, Frezza’s Small Colonial War and Fire In A Faraway Place (pity about 911 ending his career, what with his heroes executing an almost identical plan), and the mighty and perfect Forever War, this book is uber-ultra-dispensible.

However: great cover.


And look! Here’s Rammstein!

46 Comments on “Possibly My Favorite (Real) Negative Review Ever”

  1. I like “Sort of like a mildly fascistic and extremely cliched soft rock album,” myself. I had images of Dan Fogelberg getting it on with Leni Riefenstahl.

  2. The reviewer’s lack of knowledge about military history is both frightening and profound. For any who’ve studied military history to any degree, it is axiomatic that nations send their troops with as little as they can get by with. From barely armed peasant levies and helot platoons to more recent Soviet cannon fodder, it is a sad constant of military tribulations.

    It also bears noting that Gulf War I was conducted under the theory that mass amounts of materiel would be the easiest way to defeat Iraqi forces. Accordingly, it WAS the barest minimum, overall, that US strategists foresaw as necessary.

    As to British campaigns against the Mahdi, they’d previously sent even smaller forces against him, and only sent larger ones after the total rout and destruction of the earlier armies. Bare minima again.

    Seriously, white power ska?!?

  3. I would be a little surprised if there were. Not that there’s anything wrong with Rammstein, mind you. They do their shtick just fine.

  4. I enjoyed that review even though I found it completely false. Besides the overall tone, two things in particular disturbed me.

    1. Most boring nano-technology ever? Are you serious?? I’ve read more than a few sci-fi’s with nano-tech, and OMW was certainly one of the most clever while remaining based in theoretical plausibility. Nanobots switching into different kinds of ammunition on the fly, nanos moving throughout the epidermis to provide an all-over medical diagnostic – I think that your use of nanos was one of the best elements of the OMW universe as a whole. Nanos repairing spaceships and stitching together wounded soldiers (and only that) is boring and cliche.

    Of course, given his usage of the word cliche in the rest of the review, I suspect he wouldn’t know a cliche if a dark and stormy night punched him in the face once upon a time.

    2. As AEM noted, the rag on the minimalist military doctrine is completely unfounded. As said above, an absolutely overwhelming display of force WAS the least strenuous strategy when compared to having a relatively small force ferreting Revolutionary Guardsmen out of trenches and tunnelworks for many months.

    But also, the top militaries of the world are fine tuned to have the minimum edge…against other top militaries. I.e. the US Army has the minimum it needs to win against anyone in the world. They can hardly be breaking societal norms if, once in a while, they get called in to smack around a drastically underprepared fighting force from a developing nation.

    I give this review 2 out of 10 for pluckiness but a complete lack of reading comprehension and thought.

    However: great ending.

  5. Hey wait … I like Rammstein…

    Alas I can’t get the video to run while trying to view it from Mac OSX Opera. Clicking it just makes the play button bounce a bit, and that’s it. I can run it directly from Youtube, and I can run videos in other blogs elsewhere … but not this one here and also not that sheep shooter you posted a while back.

  6. Wow John, that was impressive. Another fine example of how the British education system produces better hate mail then the American. Or have we just been reading so much subpar flaming that this is amazing by comparsion?

  7. And I thought I couldn’t love Rammstein any more. :D

    (there’s White Power ska? really? Then again, I don’t recall ever coming across fascist soft rock, either.)

  8. What bothers me is the parallel construction of Marvel… Marvel… gasp… gasp. It grates, like Sting’s AAAA rhyme schemes. He should have mixed in a “thrill to…” and a “cheer as…” and possibly an admonishment not to give away the predictable ending. Or something like that.

  9. Not to take the frivolous review too seriously, but…

    The “no army ever has more than the bare minimum” speech came from a *sergeant*. More to the point, a drill sergeant.

    It’s a sergeant’s job to be the cynical pragmatic bastard, counterbalancing the officers who, as far as he’s concerned, are either starry-eyed idealists or job-seeking glad-handers (or both). And it’s the *drill* sergeant’s job to tell those soft civilians that by golly they’re in the army now, and life is going to *suck*.

    (None of that is new or unique to Mr. Scalzi. Heck, that’s what “This Is The Army, Mr. Green” is all about.)

    I think Silly Reviewer is making a common, but still really stupid, mistake–taking something that as presented as the voice of an idiosyncratic character, and assuming it’s the voice of an omniscient narrator who precisely reflects the views of the author.

    (As it happens, I think there’s a lot of truth to what the sergeant says. But still, if the actual situation is something more like “the politicians are going to cut corners when they can”, any drill sergeant is naturally going to read that as “they’d send us out with loincloths and tomahawks if they could get away with it”.)

  10. Wow. However did I manage to muddle through life without the guidance of ItsNotMe “jonathan5158”? Had I but read his reviews, I would not have wasted time or money on such works as _Accelerando_ (“Imitation without style”), _Coalescent_ (“lacking in […] in interesting ideas”), or _Old Man’s War_; instead I could have become an instant guru of coding, thanks to _Teach Yourself Perl In 24 Hours_! [1]


    John, I hate to break your toy, but that was not even a review, let alone a negative one. Perhaps someone will explain to this benighted drool-pool the difference between pointing and victory [1] before he unleashes his next screed.

    [1] The comparison offered between TYP24H [sic] and Randal Schwartz’s _Learning Perl_ is so far beyond untruth or libel that it can only be accounted for by either an alternate-universe breach, or utter daftness on the part of the reviewer.

    [2] “zeig Heinlein”: closest translation would be “point at Heinlein” — a task beyond the reviewer’s capacity (and rude to boot).

  11. Wow. I’m thinking that if I ended up meeting this reviewer at a bar, it would end in fisticuffs. Not that I’m necessarily trying to defend OMW, but jeez…

    I love Starship Troopers. I love David Drake’s books, as well as Frezza’s books. And while I don’t love love love Rammstein, I think they’re pretty cool. Sometimes you just WANT some guttural Germanic tech-metal.

  12. > I would be a little surprised if there were.

    I’m a die hard Rammstein fan (have all of the albums)!

  13. I never heard of this Freeza fellow. Does anybody know why “911 ended his career” (one hopes not permanently) or is the reviewer blowing more smoke?

  14. JAJ:

    “Wow. I’m thinking that if I ended up meeting this reviewer at a bar, it would end in fisticuffs.”

    Heh. Well, you know. Do try to avoid him, then.

    And glad to see you wouldn’t do it on the book’s account. Clearly, the review doesn’t bother me, since I found it amusing enough to post here. And also, you know. It’s an Amazon review. This isn’t a pro reviewer, it’s a guy who plunked down his money and didn’t get what he thought wanted. He’s entitled to a bit of snark if he was unsatisfied.

  15. I may question your taste in music (you have horrible taste..one mans trash and all I guess), but you do know how to write a book. Meh…I’ve heard better flame mail.

  16. I too am interested in this business about Robert A. Frezza’s career being ended by September 11. He’s not on any victim list I’ve found.

    There was a Robert M. Frezza who died, college-aged, in 2001, but Robert A. Frezza hasn’t yet died that I’m aware of.

    I’m a big fan of his _Small Colonial War_ series, and have long wondered why he dropped off the face of the planet after the mid-’90s when _Cain’s Land_ and _VMR Theory_ were published.

    Anyone have any more info?

  17. I was going to point out that Frezza’s most recent book predates 9/11 by five years but I see someone beat me to it.

    The last I heard of him was in 2002 when someone on rasfw said that Frezza was “currently finishing a long alternate history of WWII from the Italian perspective and looking for a publisher.

  18. I could name a number of authors whose careers lasted very roughly about as long as Frezza’s appears to have. Gilliland hasn’t had a new novel published since 1992, for example, Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. hasn’t had a novel published since 1990 and John Clifford Faust has not to the best of my knowledge published a new novel since 1997. That’s just off the top of my head.

    An unverified claim that I continue to attribute to Van Vogt is that a writer might have about ten years before the public’s taste changes enough to end their careers.

  19. I suppose the subtext there is that few authors have the ability to change with (or, perhaps more kindly, respond to) the times.


  20. “It’s an Amazon review. This isn’t a pro reviewer, it’s a guy who plunked down his money and didn’t get what he thought wanted. He’s entitled to a bit of snark if he was unsatisfied.”

    It makes me wonder if he knew your dictates on hate mail: at least he was entertaining. ;)

  21. The other things about Gulf-1 (the flaws in the Mahdi comparision being already resolved) is that the expectation of resistance was greater than it proved to be.

    Had the Iraqis prepared a better, in depth, defense, and maintained morale, the forces might have had a more grinding clash.

    In which case the armies present might have been more visibly minimal.

  22. I like some of Rammstein’s stuff, but mainly I respect their bassist Oliver Riedel, who, along with the bassist of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, can push the instrument to its limits, and make it sound amazing.

  23. Chris, have you read Hemry’s Paul Sinclair series? I actually contacted him when I found that there would be no more – however much I enjoy the Lost Fleet series.

    It was my favorite military-legal-science-fiction series ever.

  24. I haven’t read the book, but in reading the ‘reviewers’ remarks it sounded like the heroes in Fire In A Faraway Place used a tactic similar to the 9/11 attacks, and that he believes the similarity caused the end of Frezza’s career.

    Don’t know if that similarity existed, but I doubt such a coincidence would harm a writer’s career — if anything it should bolster his reputation for bringing realism to his stories.

  25. 40: As I recall the end of the book, the protagonists in FIAFP demonstrate their sincerity to their Japanese overlords by carrying out a program of targeted assassinations and destabilizing the Japanese stock-market. As a final “we regret the direction the relations between our two worlds have taken” gesture, two of the protagonists (a terminally ill man and suicidally depressed widower) fly a space craft into the largest (?) building in Tokyo, the HQ of the company that they blamed for much of their world’s troubles.

    They do take care only to destroy that one building (well, and the ones it fell on) instead of using the ship to destory the entire city.

    I know I’ve commented on how that ending has aged badly but FIAFP wasn’t Frezza’s last book thus far: either Cain’s Land or VMR Theory was.

  26. wow, what an unbelievable jackass! it just goes to show you, there’s no accounting for taste. and if this person hates the other novels she lumped OMW in with (aside from starship troopers), then i will have to check those out too!

  27. AEM @ 38 – The only Hemry stuff I’ve read is the Lost Fleet series, primarily because that’s how I found out about him. I’m not a big fan of the legal thriller genre in general, and really dispise the TV series “JAG,” so anything marketed as “JAG in space” I steer clear of.

    (The chief problem with the TV series is that nobody in their right mind in the military gives a lawyer a gun.)

  28. Well, I’m no fan of JAG either, or any legal shows for that matter, but the Hemry series blends everything nicely, and his experience in the navy definitely comes through.

    Of course, there are excellent reasons why nobody in their right mind gives lawyers guns – they’re lawyers!

  29. I tried reading A Small Colonial War this week- it was one my Dad gave me, but I gave up after 20 pages. All the 3rd battalion, 8th platoon first lieutenants running around saying military things really got in the way of th story, which had something to do with Boers.

  30. I was at a used book store over the weekend, and just happened to pick up the two Frezza books referenced in the main post. What I find most ironic is that in Frezza’s “Small Colonial War” the whole damn point is that the Empire sends the smallest force possible!

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