The Sword and Laser discussion

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if you read too much sf, do you get jaded like Tobias Buckell?

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message 1: by Tamahome (last edited Feb 09, 2014 02:52PM) (new)

Tamahome | 6187 comments Tobias Buckell - The fate of today's book bloggers:

http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/...

Hmm, maybe Samuel Delany is an 'artist's artist'.


message 2: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I've definitely hit a saturation of books read where I spend more time going "seen it before, seen it before". This is especially true in genres that tend to be more formulaic, like how YA novels these days often feature a female protagonist and usually contain a love triangle. But there are just so many books out there that I find there's still plenty of originality in the world, and I think his quote from C. C. Finlay is right on.

“A novel doesn’t excite readers because you took all the bad stuff out of it, it excites them because of all the good stuff that’s in it, regardless of the bad.”

For me, I look for, in rough order of importance: real-feeling characters, good pacing, novel ideas, world-building, and natural and/or funny dialogue. If enough of these things are good and none of them are egregiously bad, I can enjoy the work.


message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark Catalfano (cattfish) I think he's right, to a certain point. It's definitely true that I will highly rate a new take on an old trope. But like Joanna says, if the characters are great I can't help but love it anyway. But I definitely give out less 5-star reviews these days than I did before, I think.


message 4: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Knighton | 158 comments I found it interesting that his tactics for refreshing his reading go in two different directions.

One is reading something outside his familiar genres, a complete refreshing of the palate that'll provide new things to enjoy and look for in books. It's about reaching outwards to a wider world of reading.

The other is going back to long-loved books, seeing how his reading has changed. It's about looking inward to see how his experience as a reader has developed.

I'm not sure what, if anything, to conclude from this. Perhaps it's about pushing yourself as a reader to the extremes of freshness and familiarity to see what you find.


message 5: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6187 comments I think changing media could help too, going to comics or movies.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments He's pretty dead-on. His second point especially hits home with me:

"If you’re able to either unconsciously or consciously navigate the above, what you’re left with isn’t a raw, initial passion for reviewing what you love, but a more craftman’s-like examination of the book for an audience you may no longer really be a part of, but can remember being a part of."


I absolutely loved the fantasy and SF I read in my early teens. I read them over and over again. In retrospect, most of them weren't particularly original or imaginative. Today, I'll read a novel that's far superior to the ones I read over 20 years ago, but I'll never have the same all-consuming passion for it as I did back then.


message 7: by Tamahome (last edited Feb 11, 2014 08:56AM) (new)

Tamahome | 6187 comments I remember reading the beginning in the broken space ship of Stars My Destination as a kid and imagining it so vividly. When I read it today, there's really not that much description. Maybe it's old age setting in.


message 8: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Tamahome wrote: "I remember reading the beginning in the broken space ship of Stars My Destination as a kid and imagining it so vividly. When I read it today, there's really not that much description. Maybe it's ..."

I only read The Stars My Destination maybe half a year or so ago, never having read it before. I thought it was fantastic, particularly for its age. I liked it much, much better than The Demolished Man.


message 9: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2781 comments There are a couple of things going on here I think. One is simply the fact that long time readers in a genre you're going to have seen most of the tropes. Seeing, say, consciousness transfer as a plot point might seem really cool the first time you run across it. 20 years later, it's ho hum. It's almost impossible to avoid this if you read at all deeply in a genre and it's a bit sad since running across ideas for the first time is thrilling. The 31st time... not so much.

Buckell raises a different point that I've run across in other fields, that reviewing is a critical function not one of pure enjoyment. If I read a book as a normal reader I can let myself sink into it, skim past a boring page or two, etc. As a reviewer, I have to think about whether the plot makes sense, whether there are gaps, the quality if the characterization, etc. Critical reviewing often starts from the premise that you're there to point out flaws that keep a book from being perfect vs talking only about the good points. The latter is marketing and no reviewer wants to put out a review and then have it pointed out that there's this huge plot hole that they missed - that kind of thing tends to kill a reviewer's credibility. This is why I usually avoid 5 star reviews on Goodreads; almost no book is really perfect and without flaw.

Reviewing is just a different mode of reading and I can totally understand why people stop doing it since the reader kind of has to stand outside of the book to evaluate it and a large part of the enjoyment of reading, esp SFF, is becoming immersed in the world.


message 10: by Ken (last edited Feb 11, 2014 01:41PM) (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments I think people aren't honest enough.

They write reviews in some kind of formulaic pattern, and try to be super fair. So fair, and so polite, that the reviews don't actually resonate and don't stand out from one another. There's nothing unique about one versus another. This seems to be a growing trend. Being nice, trying to be impartial, trying to say nice things in even measure with the criticisms.

I dislike it. If you hated a book, say why. And say what kind of reader you are. If you loved it, go ahead and gush especially pointing out how it overcame any setbacks. I'd like more reviews to focus on success of delivery rather than plot points. We have enough summaries floating around to sink every forest into the sea.

Why should I read your review and not someone else's? That is the key question, for me. It is not because you are more fair. It's not because you are more polite, or that your summary is more complete or concise. You will stand out to me only if you are honest to yourself and to your audience, and present something that is wholly you, not paraphrased buzzwords.

I rarely read reviews, because of these issues.


Back to Rick here, I ALWAYS read as both the "normal reader" and the "critical reviewer" and see no distinction between them for myself, anyway. I take joy in finding writing that works, quality of message delivery, vocabulary, phrasing. The plot is only the beginning.

But back on to his other point, yes, we as readers change and become insulated from the sensations that once impressed us. That is something to keep in mind when reviewing and when reading. It is not a bad thing, and it allows those books that really are original to stand out from the rest that, while well-written, are just the same as the last twenty.


message 12: by Rick (last edited Feb 11, 2014 02:29PM) (new)

Rick | 2781 comments "..I ALWAYS read as both the "normal reader" and the "critical reviewer" and see no distinction between them for myself, anyway. "

I get the impression that most people don't do this, at least not if they regularly review things. To use a non-book example, the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, has the villain do some incredibly convoluted things to get to London. It's fun and involving to watch, but of course afterwards you think "dude, why not take a flight?" Some people probably thought this during the movie, others just went along and enjoyed it and didn't.

"If you hated a book, say why. And say what kind of reader you are. If you loved it, go ahead and gush especially pointing out how it overcame any setbacks."

this is the biggest issue I have with many reviews (some in this group). I couldn't care less if someone loved or hated a book... I want to know WHY. I think your point about what kind of reader one is is important too. For example, I can't stand Greg Egan's stuff, but that's because I hate a) polemical fiction where the author's pushing a philosophical point of view and b) I like compelling characters. Others love his stuff because his science is VERY hard and the ideas are dazzling. Without knowing the reader's predilection a review of his work won't tell the reader some important information. If a reader is like me, they should avoid Egan. If they're my opposite and love complex ideas and very hard SF, they should take my relatively negative review of his work as an endorsement perhaps.

I used to be an audio gear geek and there's a magazine called Stereophile that reviews high end gear. When they brought on a new reviewer they had the reviewer write an article about what they liked, what was important to them and about their listening room and other gear. So, for example, someone who primarily listened to chamber music would tell readers that they didn't care as much about deep, accurate bass but really focused on the separation of instruments in the soundstage and on the accuracy of how strings where reproduced. A reader who cared a lot about symphonic music would thus know a bit about how to read that reviewer's future writing.


message 13: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments Tamahome wrote: "Here you go. http://requireshate.wordpress.com/"

Wow, I have a new example of how not to review something.

I have been reading Harlan Ellison's Watching, a collection of movie reviews written Ellison. The man is quick to tell you when he dislikes something. But he takes a movie apart point by point, sometimes sentence by sentence. It is informative, and very well-reasoned, even if you don't agree. He's also mean and witty, so it's fun to read. A negative review is not always just someone yelling incoherently.

Personally, I avoid this by reading broadly. I take breaks and read literary fiction, or historical fiction. The antidote for blandness in fiction is in the old saying by William Cowper, "variety is the spice of life." And "the Spice must flow."


message 14: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments Rick wrote: ""..I ALWAYS read as both the "normal reader" and the "critical reviewer" and see no distinction between them for myself, anyway. "

I get the impression that most people don't do this, at least not..."
I suppose what I meant by that first part is that I can't turn my critical mind off. And I wouldn't want to. Most people aren't like me.


message 15: by Rob, Roberator (new)

Rob (robzak) | 6740 comments Mod
Tamahome wrote: "Maybe it's old age setting in"

Well you are over 100...


message 16: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6187 comments I hope so one day.


message 17: by Rob, Roberator (new)

Rob (robzak) | 6740 comments Mod
Tamahome wrote: "I hope so one day."

You mean you lied on your profile? Next your going to tell me you're not an animated character..


message 18: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6187 comments Oh yeah, I did. :)


message 19: by Gregor (new)

Gregor Xane (gregorxane) | 111 comments Kenneth wrote: "I suppose what I meant by that first part is that I can't turn my critical mind off."

I'm much the same way. But I do love it when the forward momentum of a novel sweeps me to the end and I forget to 'think' about it until it's all said and done.


message 20: by Jenny (Reading Envy) (last edited Feb 12, 2014 07:59AM) (new)

Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments I unfollowed the "requires hate" blog long ago, just overly negative. I believe in reviewing fairly, and I agree with Kenneth that its important to acknowledge who you are and how that alters your viewpoint. So in this case, if you're burned out say so, say what you're looking for.... But then you might also serve as a helpful filter to compare the book to other things.

I think reading outside the genre is a good idea to aid burnout, or in my case, becoming obsessive about a sub genre - post apocalyptic, post humans, cyberpunk... Take one and read read read.


message 21: by Serendi (last edited Feb 13, 2014 09:29PM) (new)

Serendi | 829 comments When I'm thinking about reading a book that's a totally typical example of its genre, I'm happy to read the standard reviews, find out if people liked it and what sorts of things happen in it.

For something farther out, I want *info*. I want to know why someone liked or disliked a book. A friend in a local book club reviewed a book she hated with specific examples, offered it to anyone who wanted to read it, and I snarfed it right up. (Admittedly, haven't read it yet.)

When something is more layered or farther from the vanilla, I go online and try to find a review by someone who doesn't just look at the plot. Sometimes it's even more important after I've read it; I feel like I must be missing something in M. John Harrison's Light, and I still haven't figured out what. Yes, it has some beautiful prose here and there, and there are things I like about it, but the raves this book got from other authors? I'm still going huh? What am I missing?

I wish people would do more "this book isn't for me" rather than "this book sucks rocks" when it's clearly a solid book. Or "This book doesn't do what I require in my fiction, therefore no one should read it." Um, what? Hey, Gone Girl is NOT something I'm ever going to read, but I trust the people who've told me it's a terrific book. I just don't want to spend that much time with those people. ETA: Oh BOY did this come out wrong. I don't want to spend that much time with the people *in the book!*

And reading a total fluff energetic romance/dragon story and getting upset because the author hasn't created a complex setting - sure, you'd rather she had, but that's not what she's going for. Did the writer succeed in what s/he was trying to do, rather than in what the reviewer wanted to read?


message 22: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2781 comments " Did the writer succeed in what s/he was trying to do, rather than in what the reviewer wanted to read? "

THIS. So much THIS. I can't stand reviews that take a book to task because it's not what the reader would have written. Go write a book if you're so damn hot, but in your review, evaluate the author on what they did.

Rule of thumb on reviews. Ignore 1 star and 5 star reviews. Read 2 and 4 star reviews since they usually are better reasoned.


message 23: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Rick wrote: "" Did the writer succeed in what s/he was trying to do, rather than in what the reviewer wanted to read? "

THIS. So much THIS. I can't stand reviews that take a book to task because it's not what ..."


I struggle with this. I tend to be all "this book was good, but these are the things that bothered me, and if they were changed, it could have been EVEN BETTER!!" Especially with representation issues.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments Hmm, I think those are fair critiques. What isn't fair is expecting fluff to be literary, for instance.


message 25: by Rick (last edited Feb 12, 2014 03:44PM) (new)

Rick | 2781 comments Joanna wrote: "Rick wrote: ""I struggle with this. I tend to be all "this book was good, but these are the things that bothered me, and if they were changed, it could have been EVEN BETTER!!" Especially with representation issues. ..."

The first part of that isn't a problem I think ('these things bothered me') and even the second half ('if this were changed it could be better!') is the same kind of critique as long as one qualifies that as "...better for me" that is, realizing that you might have liked it better but it would be different and others might or might not like your changes. I suppose that's obvious but too often I see "and if they'd written it this way it would be better" and the clear meaning is that it would be objectively better.

It's when someone is saying things that clearly indicate that they want the book to be entirely different from what it is that I start to lose it. Even representation issues can do this if one isn't careful since you end up judging, say, a 1950s book by 2014 mores. The older book might be flawed, but it's unreasonable to expect them to have the sensibility of someone writing now.


message 26: by Ken (last edited Feb 12, 2014 06:37PM) (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Hmm, I think those are fair critiques. What isn't fair is expecting fluff to be literary, for instance."

Is it? How many scales are there? I feel that there is one spectrum upon which stories can be judged. Bad stories, are, to me, bad stories. I'll define bad as "fluff" to avoid the subjectivity slope. People can like it if they want, but it doesn't change the fact that it's fluff.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2844 comments Kenneth wrote: "Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Hmm, I think those are fair critiques. What isn't fair is expecting fluff to be literary, for instance."

Is it? How many scales are there? I feel that there is one spectrum upon which stories can be judged. Bad stories, are, to me, bad stories. I'll define bad as "fluff" to avoid the subjectivity slope. People can like it if they want, but it doesn't change the fact that it's fluff. ..."


Honestly I struggle with this one, not so much in my reviews because I can explain it, but in rating a book. How can anything be five stars if Ulysses and Infinite Jest are around? I get a bit relativistic.


message 28: by Rick (last edited Feb 12, 2014 06:50PM) (new)

Rick | 2781 comments I look at authorial intent and the cohort to which a book seems to want to belong. For example, I quite enjoy the spy thrillers by Adam Hall. Of their sort they're good, as realistic as such things usually get ( the protagonist doesn't jump out 4 story windows, land and roll away etc), and they're reasonably well written. My point of comparison for them are other spy thrillers not the entire universe of English literature from Chaucher on.

I'm a bit of a wine geek and it's common in that field to evaluate wines by peer group too otherwise you get into silly comparisons like a top Napa cabernet being compared with a domestic Sauvignon Blanc, two radically different wines. Similarly, cars... a Ferrari is an awesome super car, but if you need to haul a couple, their 2 kids and some luggage on vacation a Subaru might be a better car.

Back to books... a bit of fluff might be fine. It's intent might be to tell a diverting story, say about a woman whose DNA is partially sheep (a Scalzi book) or a silly story about people riding dragons on an alien planet (Pern).


message 29: by Mark (new)

Mark Catalfano (cattfish) If you read too much sf you'll go blind


message 30: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments See, the problem I have with that Rick is that it's plot-level. Or perhaps you meant that plot-level should not be the basis.

All stories, fiction and nonfiction, fantasy and thriller, whatever the topic, have in common that they are stories. They can be told well, or they can be told poorly. That's the merit upon which I judge books, and upon how well the author succeeds in delivering their story, the currents beneath it, and the language in which it is written.

For an analogue, I'd say I don't judge paintings by subject, but by the quality of brush strokes, emotional impact, and depth of expression achieved.


message 31: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1541 comments And Kenneth that is why we all judge things differently. And that is fine. Too me plot plays a fairly important part in the story. It is not the only thing by a long shot, but an important part. I've even kept reading books I really disliked because I really wanted to know how the author finished the plot. I call this becoming "plot addicted". I've also kept watching movies or tv series for the same reason. Now, like has been mentioned in this thread and others, if you read enough you can usually figure out where the author is pointing you, but that's what makes plot twists so much fun when done right. It should also be mentioned that I'm an engineer both by degree as well as trade, and it is often in life just as important to me to know the how and why of something happening as it is to know that it has happened.

I also found it interesting in your analogy, I do find the subject matter of paintings important. Still life's have never really interested me, same with most portraits, but most landscapes I find much more interesting. Once again this is not the only thing I judge a painting on, but it does contribute.


message 32: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2781 comments That's fine Kenneth, but misses my point. I compare spy thrillers with other spy thrillers. It's silly to compare them with, say, SF, literary fiction or plays. To use your painting analogy, it's ridiculous to compare a newly printed fine art photograph with a Renaissance oil painting. They're both visual art, but they aren't the same thing.


message 33: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments In my mind, they can be the same thing. They tell a story, convey a message. Those that do so well and in original ways are good, and those that fail to do so are less good.

Oversimplifying, sure, but I think we as Western society are conditioned into compartmentalizing, categorizing, ever since the Greek philosophers.


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