Saturday, February 27, 2010

My New Review Scale

For when I bother to take the time to review a book, I'm now trying to follow this scale, more or less.

An A is something very impressive, one of the better books that I've read.
A B is something that I enjoyed reading and think was well-crafted. Good but not great.
A C was mediocre and didn't impress me in any way. I may not have bothered to finish it.
A D is awful. I'd only review something like this if it has had success that seems unfathomable to me.
An F has no redeeming qualities and isn't worth a long review.

For works of speculative fiction, I'm looking at the following areas:
  • Setting: Depth, breadth, and imagination are the name of the game here. A good setting draws you into the world of the characters.
  • Characters: I'm one of those readers who needs to have at least one protagonist who is likable or whose actions can be explained by necessity. I hate antihero lead characters who show no qualms or suffering about the awful things that they do--some level of introspection is important. I also appreciate villains with some depth to them. And characters who are smart are much preferable to ones who just gut things out. Characters who change over time, either personally or in terms of their relationships, are also preferable. Just my taste.
  • Plot: I like to be able to follow the plot. If there are Byzantine twists involved, drawing my attention first here and then there, then the resolution needs to tie up all the major loose ends created by those twists. If the story is supposed to lead up to some big cosmic revelation at the end, it had better be impressive or astonishing in scope. Otherwise I just feel as though I've been jerked around. Nothing wrong with a solidly told story that builds logically and drives through to a conclusion that has real repercussions for the characters. A LOT of otherwise impressive speculative fiction falls down badly in this area. The number of long books I've read that just fizzle at the end with a confusing pastiche of imagery . . . ugh. I call it the 2001: A Space Odyssey factor. I do not enjoy spending a week or more with a book only to put it down at the end and say, "What the f**k?"
  • Language: Some writers just craft more evocative or beautiful sentences than others. Or they write dialogue that crackles right off the page. Either way, it stands out. And then there are writers with a solid plot and characters whose descriptions and dialogue are so laughably bad that they kill the sense of being immersed in the story by reminding me that I'm reading something written by a hack.
  • Cool Factor: Some ideas are just cooler than others. Has nothing to do with how scientifically or historically accurate or complex they are, everything to do with how clever and imaginative they are. It's very relative and it only feels cool the first time you encounter it. An example would be bullet-time from The Matrix. Cool the first time. Got old after that.
  • Big Ideas: A lot of speculative fiction addresses one or more big metaphysical concepts, issues such as life after death, the nature of intelligence, perception of time, and so forth. Trying to tackle a big idea deserves some credit in my book if it is handled in an interesting way.
For comics, I add the following criteria for Art:
  • Clarity: Can you understand what you're looking at? Can you follow the panel layout?
  • Detail: Can you tell one person from another without looking at their clothes?
  • Visual Style: Does the look of the artist's stand out in a good or bad way?

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