Today is an inaugural day. Today we begin a new feature at this blog called “Ask the Bloggers” (working title). Each post will contain one question that is put to some of your favorite SF/F bloggers, and their replies. This weeks’ question comes from Dark Wolf, of Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews.
Dark Wolf asks: “Since you blog and review have you been compelled or did you write in a particular case a good review despite not liking the book?”
Shaun Duke: No. I don’t write good reviews if the book is bad. When I review books I tend to try to give both the good and the bad. People who read the reviews can then decide whether it’s a book for them. Sometimes you get books that aren’t to your liking (perhaps because the story isn’t something you’d usually read), but the book itself isn’t bad. So you write the review looking at both sides and let people decide. But if a book is bad for obvious reasons, I’m not going to intentionally write a good review of it just to make the author or the publisher feel better. Bad books are bad books. I’ll either choose not to review it, or I’ll point out what’s wrong with a book. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to deal with the issue of bad books much, at least from publishers. Since I do take self-pubbed books I have already received one book that was actually really good (with some minor flaws, which probably wouldn’t matter to the intended audience–elementary school children) and one that, unfortunately, I couldn’t finish (and am still in a dilemma about whether I should review it, because there won’t be much good to say). Honesty is the best policy, because lying to your audience is probably not a good idea. If you keep telling them that the books you read are perfectly wonderful, eventually they’ll catch on and realize that you’re saying that on purpose (or you just love every single book and think they are all perfect little bits of art, if that’s even possible). That’s why I point out the good and the bad, if both exist. There are no perfect books. There are awesome books, sure, but no perfect books. Even the classics, books we all love from the dawn of science fiction and fantasy, have flaws. We love them for being great books despite those flaws, but are able to acknowledge that the flaws exist.
Another way to look at it, perhaps, is that the authors who read your criticism may take your “complaints” to heart. Authors are always wanting to improve their craft and if you have a constructive criticism about their work, they’re likely to think about in something else they read. Not all authors will do this, but some will. You can’t help them if you give only glowing reviews of the books you look at and you can’t help your audience find new and exciting books that they might like if you never tell them the truth (that books aren’t perfect). But that’s my opinion.
Scooper: No. If I don’t like the book I tell why I didn’t like it. It’s unfair to people who take time out of their busy schedules to read my blog to do that. I give what was good and bad to me and the reader will either read the book and make their own decision. If I’m wishy-washy about it, I’ll end with something like,”It was okay, but I won’t read it again.”
SQT: I’ll admit it, I did feel pressure to be more favorable in my reviews at first. I felt insecure when I first started and I didn’t want to alienate the publishers who were sending me books– or the authors.
The first book I reviewed was a hard sci-fi book, though I tend to prefer fantasy. People were raving about this book and I just couldn’t get into it. I could tell it was a quality book and there was nothing wrong with the writing, it just didn’t do anything for me stylistically. I reviewed it the best I could without being as negative about it as I probably would be now. I think I was more critical than any other reviewers that were reviewing it at the time but I wasn’t as critical as I really wanted to be.
I feel more secure now in saying what I really feel. A book that came up recently was Joe Abercrombie’s Before They are Hanged. Joe’s another author who gets a lot of glowing reviews. I like Joe a lot and I do think his books are good. But I could feel the impact the other reviews were having on my opinion, so I shelved the book for awhile and went back to it. I still liked it, but I think I was to be more objective by waiting a while to do the review. I still gave it a positive review, but added some criticism I might not have had I read it sooner.
It is hard though. I can tell when certain authors don’t really like the review and there’s that little part of me that cringes a little when that happens. But I feel a responsibility to be honest and it does get easier with time.
To find out more about an individual blogger, click their name to be redirected to their blog.
If you would like to participate in a further discussion and you own a blog (authors who blog are welcome too!) that writes SF and Fantasy Reviews, send me an email, or leave a comment. Question suggestions are also welcome.
“Ask the Bloggers” is a working title for this ongoing feature. Should you have a better suggestion, please leave it in the comments. The contributor whose suggestion I like best will receive a $10 Amazon gift certificate.