And Now, Some One-Star Reviews of The Collapsing Empire

The Collapsing Empire has done very well for me: It sold the most in its first year of any book I’ve written to date, got excellent reviews in the trades and among critics, was optioned for television, and was a finalist for the Hugo Award, and also for the Locus Awards, the winners of which will be announced this weekend. Not bad!

With that said, and as I do here from time to time, allow me to present some excerpts of one-star reviews that The Collapsing Empire has garnered on Amazon:

  • This was not epic and so boring that I couldn’t keep reading a third of the way through. Boring characters, uninteresting plot, and a clear lack of vocabulary from the author. I would pass on this one.
  • Scalzi has apparently forgotten that entertaining his readers is more important than entertaining himself. Although the book was reasonably well paced, most of his characters, as drawn, were not particularly likable. And the ending of the book [NOT A SPOILER ALERT!] stinks!
  • I won’t share any of this with my kids because John continues to sink into the social gutter. Do all your characters need to be sex addicted bisexuals with the pathological need to dwell on their depravity, use profanity as nearly every part of a sentence, and explore the far reaches of their flexible to nonexistent moral compasses?
  • Honestly there is nothing of merit in this book at all. I cannot believe the hype around it, terrible 1 dimensional characters and simply a boring and predictable storyline.
  • This was painful to read. The characters are obsessed with sex, the houses are nothing but virtue signalling, and the dialogue is all in one voice. I thought he could write dialogue? The copyediting is good.
  • I got this book from the library. If I had paid $13 for this book I would be using much more colorful language to describe it here.
  • Picked it up at my local bookstore as the blurb on the back seemed interesting. Unfortunately, that was all that was interesting.
  • I feel like a 12 year old wrote this. I’m still cringing.

I highlight these lovely reviews of my book to make the point that no book is for everyone, and not everyone is going to like your book, whatever it is and no matter how successful it may turn out to be. In fact, some people will actively hate it. Why? Because they are terrible people with no taste or discernment? Possibly they are, but a reason far more likely than that is that they are perfectly normal people who just bounced hard off your work, for whatever reason.

Which is okay! If you try to write for everyone, you’re very likely going to end up making no one happy, least of all yourself. Accept that not everyone is going to like your work, and some people will actually hate it, and then write the story that you want to write. I was very pleased with The Collapsing Empire because it was as close as any story I’ve written has come to being the book I imagined it being when it was in my head. And in particular I knew when I was writing the character of Kiva Lagos that there would be people who would hate her, because (among other things) she’s absolutely foul-mouthed and unrepentantly morally shaky. But I loved her to bits and wouldn’t change her. So the people who were unhappy about her would just have to be unhappy.

If you accept ahead of time that someone somewhere is going to be unhappy with your book and will then write a review of it, on Amazon, or Goodreads or anywhere else — and that’s okay — it will make it easier to deal with when it actually happens (and it will). This is part of the cost of doing business as a writer. Everyone gets one star reviews. It’s not just you. And everyone survives them too.

And sooner or later you may even get to a point where you’re able to have to have a little bit of fun with them. Because, come on. Some of those one star reviews that The Collapsing Empire got are delightfully snarky. I particularly like the one that ends with “The copyediting was good.” In fact it was! So that’s something.

New Books and ARCs, 6/21/18

Just in time for the solstice, a baker’s dozen of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Which of these would you enjoy reading on a short summer night? Tell us all in the comments!

The Big Idea: Daniel Godfrey

The saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” is a terrible expression (those poor cats), but makes the point that most problems have more than one solution. In the high-tech world of Daniel Godfrey’s novel The Synapse Sequence, there are very specific problems with more than a single solution, and as Godfrey explains, there’s drama in the difference.

DANIEL GODFREY:

Beta-Max, HD-DVD, Mini Disc. All perfectly fine technologies that, for one reason or another, didn’t manage to change the world. Sometimes the competition was better; sometimes the opposition was just more prevalent, or the new idea didn’t offer a big enough edge over an established system.

This issue of every problem having multiple solutions was playing on my mind as I was developing The Synapse Sequence.

All the science journals I read were telling me that there are going to be big changes in law enforcement (and other fields) as a result of the deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the harnessing of Big Data. These changes in the approach to detecting and reducing crime are going to be as big as the forensics revolution (which itself would have been science fiction not too long ago). For instance, it may soon be possible to use chatbots to interview witnesses and suspects, with inbuilt software to detect the vocal oscillations indicating stress (or lies). AI could be used to assess crime scenes, and direct police officers (or bots) as they search for clues – and make connections between evidence collected at different sites. Video feeds could be actively monitored looking for patterns of suspicious activity, or to seek specific faces within a crowd. And automated systems could be used to allocate police resources.

Many of these things are already being deployed, albeit in a basic form, in different parts of the world. As I read these pieces, I became increasingly impressed by the potential. But then it struck me: if such systems are going to become so good at their tasks, would there be room for any other approaches? And could a novel examine some of the ‘pros and cons’ of these approaches, rather than simply present a critique of a particular technological deployment.

The way I tackle near future science fiction is generally to take one aspect, and push it as far into the fantastical as possible, and then develop the rest of the world from things that are already happening but haven’t quite yet made it into the everyday world. So the police using AI was to me a given: if writing about crimes taking place in the near future than it has to include AI. And the fantastical element? That had to do with memory, and being able to see a scene as the witnesses to a crime had actually seen it.

The Synapse Sequence is built around two such competing technologies. Firstly, the system used by the police (AI and algorithm based) and secondly a system which allows an investigator (our hero!) to enter the memories of witnesses. When the only witness to a kidnapping is a boy locked inside a coma, the two technologies go head-to-head to try and find a missing girl.

My protagonist, Anna Glover, is a former air-crash investigator who lost her job when technology meant fewer and fewer planes actually fell from the sky. I wanted someone who wasn’t a traditional detective, but had all the problem-solving skills required. With employment prospects rapidly diminishing as AI take over more and more jobs, Anna becomes committed to developing the Synapse Sequencer to show the value of getting more information about ‘why’ a crime happened, rather than simply focusing on ‘what’ happened.

I submitted the final novel to my publisher, Titan Books, in mid-2017 having pitched it to them over a year earlier. Interestingly, as the publication date came closer, I saw journal articles showing how the images a person is looking at can be recreated by computers monitoring brain patterns, and which have been trained against an image library. Others articles told me how scientists are getting closer to understanding how memories are stored and written. Some of these academic pieces were openly discussing applications in policing. As such, the tension of which approach works best may be closer than we all think. Whatever the outcome, I think the era of the traditional detective working his hunches may be at an end.

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The Synapse Sequence: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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