Tag Archives: reviews

I Review The Human Division by John Scalzi at InterGalactic Medicine Show

My latest book review column is now online at InterGalactic Medicine Show. In this month’s column, I review John Scalzi‘s wonderful new novel, The Human Division. I also review a new piece of nonfiction about a science fiction pioneer. The Man from Mars by Fred Nadis is a fascinating biography of Ray Palmer.

You can read both reviews over at the InterGalactic Medicine Show website.

My Latest Book Review Column Is Online at InterGalactic Medicine Show

If you head over to InterGalactic Medicine Show, you’ll find the latest entry in my science fiction book review column, “The Science of Wonder.” In March I review Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel, Red Planet Blues and Stephen King’s time-travel novel, 11/22/63. Both books are excellent, but if you want to find out more details, head on over to IGMS and read the review.

My Review of IMPULSE by Steven Gould Is Online at InterGalactic Medicine Show

In my February “Science of Wonder” book review column for InterGalactic Medicine Show, I review Impulse by Steven Gould. I remember reading–and loving–Jumper twenty years ago, when the book came out and when I was half my present age. It was delightful to return to that Universe. Head on over to IGMS to check out my entire review.

Impulse by Steven Gould

A Review of “Lost and Found” on Diabolical Plots

I just discovered this review of  my story “Lost and Found” over at Diabolical Plots. The story appeared in October in Daily Science Fiction. It is always nice to see a good review and this is what Frank Dutkiewicz of DP had to say about my story:

This was very well written.  It took a while to get into it, required an investment from me, but the payoff was well worth it.  The author did a good job of pulling me into the life of the main character and showing me a bit of his life.  As the story moves to its inevitable end, I came to know the man and feel what he felt.  Well done.

Read the full review of the story and of all the October stories over at Diabolical Plots.

On the usefulness of reviews to a fan and a writer

Some recent online discussions about reviews had me thinking about my own feelings on reviews last night. I have two perspectives on them: as a fan and as a writer. And since I think of myself as a fan first and a writer second, I’ll start with my perspective as a fan.

I don’t go see a lot of movies (I think I saw one movie in 2011) and I don’t read movie reviews at all. I do read a lot of science fiction and I do read reviews of science fiction, but I am somewhat selective about it. I almost always skim the short fiction review columns in Locus. And I usually read the book reviews columns in Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF. I read many of the book reviews posted on SF Signal as well. I generally don’t read book reviews that appear in major newspapers like the New York Times or the Washington Post, but that is because I don’t generally read newspapers. I will read a review in one of those outlets if someone calls it out specifically.

As a fan, my greatest joy in reviews is reading a good review for book or story that I liked, especially if it is for a book or story by someone I know. I love seeing my friends and fellow writers winning praise from reviewers because I know how much hard work goes into writing the stories and it’s nice to get some recognition for that.

Of course, I occasionally come across a review that I don’t agree with, but even that is useful because it often gives me a different perspective on how a book or story is perceived.

Continue reading On the usefulness of reviews to a fan and a writer

Is it cheating to pay for a book review?

A few days ago, I arrived home from work to find a package from Amazon. I didn’t recall ordering anything, and when I opened the package, I discovered it was book I’d never heard of by an author I’d never heard of. Included was a gift receipt and a note from the author. The note indicated the author was a member of SFWA and then asked for me to read the book and give it a Nebula nomination. It noted further that the book received high praise from a prestigious review outlet. As I’d never heard of the author, I checked the SFWA directory and found the listing.

I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sit right with me, being sent a book and being explicitly asked to consider it for Nebula nomination. Everything I’ve ever been told about this business is that an award season post, letting people know what you are eligible for is acceptable. You do not ask people for a nomination. Certainly you don’t send them a book unsolicited. If I give the author in question the benefit of the doubt, the book was sent to me as a gift with no obligation whatsoever. But the note clearly had a purpose and whether or not it was intended, it made me feel really uncomfortable. And why send it to me? Simple research would show that I am not a book reviewer. Was it because I am a SFWA member? Does that mean a book was sent to every SFWA member? I imagine that if a Nebula nomination was being sought, SFWA members would be the people to go to.

I’d pretty much forgotten about it until today when I was reading a newsletter from a prestigious review outlet and discovered the book I’d been sent featured rather prominently in the newsletter. Curious, I read the review and clearly the reviewer liked the book. But I also discovered that the program under which the book was reviewed was geared toward independent authors. An author can pay nearly $600 to have their book reviewed and then use that review for whatever purposes they like.

I suppose there is money to be made in the business of reviewing books, but to me, it seems kind of like cheating to pay for your own book review. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe paying for reviews is the new way of doing things, but if I get recognized, I want it to be because of the buzz my stories generate, not because I paid someone to review them.

I have not read the book I was sent. It may well be as good as the review indicates. But if it was really that good, why did it need a paid review in the first place? Wouldn’t I be hearing other people talking about it? And yet, I haven’t seen any buzz anywhere, not on Twitter, Facebook, not in the usual SF news and review outlets.

I come away from this whole thing feeling dirty for reasons I can’t quite explain. Both practices–asking for Nebula nominations and paying for book reviews–seem like cheating to me. If you want to be a writer, be a writer, work at it, earn your nominations and reviews, don’t pay for them. I would think you’d be more satisfied in the end.

Am I totally off base here?

Amazon reviews

I was glancing at the reviews of various books that I’d posted on Amazon, looking to see whether they are particularly helpful or not based on on the feedback that people can give. The results seem mixed and I decided to take a look at reviews by others for a book I’d recently reviewed to see why some are rated very helpful and others not very helpful. In doing so, I looked at reviews that rated the book itself very highly and very lowly. And I made a discovery which surprised me:

People rate books low (e.g. 1-star) because of the price of the book.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. This is probably old news at this point, but there were dozens of people who, for instance, gave 1-star to Stephen King’s 11/22/63 for the sole reason that they felt the Kindle version of the book was overpriced. People are free to express their opinions as they see fit and I have no problem with that, but it did bother me that a rating system was being used as a kind of protest mechanism against the publisher and not to rate the book on its actual literary merits.

I gave this a bit of thought. People should be able to express whatever opinion they have about a book (or any product) for whatever reason they choose. But a rating system should also be designed to be helpful to those interested in the quality of a product above and beyond just the price. Giving a book a 1-star rating because of price alone games the system in a way that makes it difficult for people looking for opinions on quality to easily find them. I wondered if there was a possible solution and thought of at least one:

Why not two scales for ratings: 1-5 stars for quality and 1-5 stars for value. The quality rating would be used (in theory) to rate the book on its merits, completely separate from how it is priced. The value rating provides a mechanism for someone to rate the overall value (including price) of the book. In this way, a person could say that they thought a book was phenomenal (5-stars for quality), but thought it was outrageously overpriced (1-star for value). This seems like a perfect compromise but I suspect it has two fatal flaws:

  1. People would still protest overpriced books by hijacking the quality rating. That’s just human nature.
  2. Publishers might balk at such a rating system (although its hard to imagine what they could do about it) because it would expose too much about their pricing practices.

In the end, it is easy enough to simply filter out the noise of 1-star reviews based solely on price. And I’ve been marking these reviews as “Not helpful” as I find them, because for me, they aren’t helpful at all. They tell me nothing about quality. I just wish there was a better mechanism for separating out quality from value in these reviews.

A few comments on the reviews I do here

In the last couple of weeks, I have gotten (my first ever) requests to review books and post reviews of books for people that I don’t know. I’m not entirely certain why I get these because I am not a reviewer, but in talking to some science fiction-writer friends, I guess this is fairly standard. One reason may be because I occasionally post reviews here. So I just wanted to make a few comments about the reviews that appear here (and the ones I post on Amazon and Goodreads) as well as clarify my policy with respect to reviews generally.

  1. I am not a reviewer and I don’t do unsolicited reviews. I think a reviewer (a good one) has a particular skill set. They are able to succinctly summarize a book, talk objectively about what works for them and what does not (and why) and stays focused on the book and not the author. I don’t think I possess the skill set to do these kind of reviews. I also don’t have an inclination to do these type of reviews, or for that matter the time.
  2. I do occasional write a review. I do this under very specific circumstance: (a) I read a book I loved and I want to share that love with the world at large. Word of mouth is one way to pay back an author for a great read. (b) I thought the book was pretty good (maybe not great) but nevertheless I feel it is an important book to read.
  3. I never write reviews for books I didn’t like. This is completely biased. A good reviewer would write a useful review for a book that they found unsatisfying. That is not my goal in writing reviews. My goal, as I said, is to share the love.

Continue reading A few comments on the reviews I do here

Nice review of “Take One For the Road” over at SFRevu

I happened across a review of the June 2011 Analog over at SFRevu, which contains my story, “Take One For the Road”. The reviewer thought the issue was “a pretty good one” and had this to say about my story:

Next up is “Take One for the Road” by Jamie Todd Rubin. Rick has a next-door neighbor named Simon. He had been part of an expedition that had walked on the surface of Mercury before Rick had been born. One of the four crew members had died and so had the manned space program. Simon is dying and he decides to tell Rick what happened. In a story like this, the payoff has to be pretty good and Rubin manages to pull it off for a well-written conclusion.

It’s always nice to see a positive review like this. After all, you hope when you write the stories that readers will enjoy reading them as much as you enjoy writing them.

A review of C. M. Kornbluth by Mark Rich (4-stars)

I posted this review on Goodreads, LibraryThing and Amazon as always, but I thought it was an important enough book to post it here to:

A wonderful romp through Golden Age fandom!

What a terrific book! I’ve long been an admirer of Cyril Kornbluth’s fiction, having read His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth in the past. And I’ve also learned bits and pieces of Kornbluth’s life through both Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl’s autobiographies. But this book gets into the details and does so in a remarkably impressive way. The book is as much about the development of science fiction from its Golden Age through the late 1950s, and a fascinating development it is.

The book is well referenced and many of the notes are just as interesting as the text itself. The cast of characters includes many of the big players of the Golden Age of science fiction. There are even fascinating glimpses of the early careers of writers such as [author:Robert Silverberg] and [author:Harlan Ellison]. But the focus of the book is on the life and career of Cyril Kornbluth. The analysis of his fiction is detailed and insightful, giving a complete picture of the development of a remarkable writer.

Much of the information comes from interviews with the people involved, or correspondence between the people involved. At times, it felt a little intrusive reading some of what must have been private mail. It is nevertheless fascinating and revealing.

The book does not paint a pretty picture of Frederik Pohl, which came as a surprise to me, considering their collaboration history as well as what Pohl had to say about Kornbluth in his memoir. In a similar vain, I was surprised with the portait painted of H. L. Gold. Despite complaints by authors who worked with Gold (including Isaac Asimov), he was a brilliant editor, if not the kindest of personalities.

This is clearly an important book for the history of science fiction and an outstanding biography of one of the Golden Age of science fiction’s brightest lights. I highly recommend it to those inside the genre, and to those outside the genre who wonder what it is like to be an insider.

Originally published at Jamie’s Blog. Please leave any comments there.

A review of C. M. Kornbluth by Mark Rich

I posted this review on Goodreads, LibraryThing and Amazon as always, but I thought it was an important enough book to post it here to:

A wonderful romp through Golden Age fandom!

What a terrific book! I’ve long been an admirer of Cyril Kornbluth’s fiction, having read His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth in the past. And I’ve also learned bits and pieces of Kornbluth’s life through both Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl’s autobiographies. But this book gets into the details and does so in a remarkably impressive way. The book is as much about the development of science fiction from its Golden Age through the late 1950s, and a fascinating development it is.

The book is well referenced and many of the notes are just as interesting as the text itself. The cast of characters includes many of the big players of the Golden Age of science fiction. There are even fascinating glimpses of the early careers of writers such as [author:Robert Silverberg] and [author:Harlan Ellison]. But the focus of the book is on the life and career of Cyril Kornbluth. The analysis of his fiction is detailed and insightful, giving a complete picture of the development of a remarkable writer.

Much of the information comes from interviews with the people involved, or correspondence between the people involved. At times, it felt a little intrusive reading some of what must have been private mail. It is nevertheless fascinating and revealing.

The book does not paint a pretty picture of Frederik Pohl, which came as a surprise to me, considering their collaboration history as well as what Pohl had to say about Kornbluth in his memoir. In a similar vain, I was surprised with the portait painted of H. L. Gold. Despite complaints by authors who worked with Gold (including Isaac Asimov), he was a brilliant editor, if not the kindest of personalities.

This is clearly an important book for the history of science fiction and an outstanding biography of one of the Golden Age of science fiction’s brightest lights. I highly recommend it to those inside the genre, and to those outside the genre who wonder what it is like to be an insider.

The Hard SF Renaissance, Part 1

I’ve passed the quarter way mark in my reading of The Hard SF Renaissance, having read the first 10 of 41 stories in the book. It seems that this would be a good time to collect my thoughts on the first 10 stories.

For those who are interested…