On bad reviews, redux

I’m working on my review for Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold. I’m having a difficult time with it, because it’s one of those so-so books that are so-so to write about. And sometimes, when I’m feeling stuck, I like to look at other reviews, especially on Amazon.com. Seeing what a bunch of other people have found noteworthy can often jar loose unarticulated thoughts in my head and provide me with some much-needed focus.

But while looking up Amazon.com reviews for Falling Free, I found what has to be one of the most hilarious reviews of all time—one that tells you almost nothing about the book, but entirely too much about the reviewer. Seriously; scroll down a little and check out what Antinomian has to say:

If you’ve come to read these reviews, there’s a fair chance that you’ve learned that Falling Free was the 1988 Nebula Award Winner (for novel) that’s supposed to be awarded to the best science fiction of the year. I say `supposed’ because starting in 1987 the novels that received the Nebula award are shocking in comparison to other novels written that year that didn’t win. For four straight years, from 1987 to 1990, the novels ranged from so-so (for this one) to the absolutely mundane and awful (all the others). The organization that awards the Nebula, the SFWA, was apparently trying to assert itself into the field of fantasy (this is giving them the best benefit of a doubt), but you’d think that even award winning fantasy would be better. No, the novels range from mostly overt to blatant feminism, and so these years are the Feminism stage of the Nebula (and apparently it hasn’t subsided completely yet, if ever).


The Nebula awards aren’t relevant to science fiction anymore after 1987. If award winners happen to be science fiction then that that’s just happenstance. You’re a professional, you have several litigation’s to work through, space shuttles to prepare for launch, satellites to build, lives to save or mend, or heck you’re busy with work, with children, with significant others, with friends, and maybe have time for a novel or two a year and since you so limited and you love science fiction, you want these novels, well, to be science fiction and hopefully to be good. The writers of the SFWA are bored; they’re branching out. They want to read and write about lesbians, feminism, magical amulets, auras, Mayan spirits, etc. So if you’re hoping to squeeze in a science fiction novel or two per year, the Nebulas are no longer a consistent, valid guide.

Think this guy might have an axe to grind with feminists and/or the Nebula committee?

I was so flabbergasted at the lack of focus in this review that I decided to perform a quick analysis. Here are the numbers:

Total word count for the review: 753
Total number of words in sentences that refer to Falling Free: 314
Total number of words in sentences that can be construed as some sort of an opinion and/or summary about Falling Free: 270

Look, I know reviews often necessitate making statements of personal judgment, but I was under the delusion that the focus of the review should be the work in question, not the politics of granting Nebula awards, the state of SF in general, why “chartreuse” sounds like it should be a reddish color than the greenish-yellow it actually is, the lack of easy access to vibrating butt-plugs in Macedonia or whatever the hell other rant I have itching in the back of my brain.

I really want to verb this guy’s username, even though “antinomy” already has a definition. So, seriously, if I ever write a review like that, please feel free to tell me I’ve Antinomianed the book and that I need to knock that shit right off.

Comments are Closed

  1. Rebekah says:

    Hey!  Get off his back!  He’s a busy man doing…busy man type things!  He should be able to pick up a science fiction book and expect that it will reek with male privilege!  I mean, comeon women, go read you some Danielle Steele and Dr Phil and leave the science fiction to the men! Some things at least should be sacred!

  2. DebH says:

    Thanks, Mr. White Male Reality, for daring to say what other Napolites only dare to dream.

    Seriously.  If I ever, EVER write a review like that, someone just slap me!

  3. FWIW, Falling Free is one of my least favorite Bujold novels.  I’d recommend reviewing Shards of Honor or The Warrior’s Apprentice instead.

  4. eliza says:

    When ever I read a ranty rant about feminism as a broad evil force (which feminism?  what kind?), all I can think is that someone’s mommy didn’t hug.

  5. Wry Hag says:

    Hmmmm….  So who’s going to start dissing the EPPIE winners—for whatever reason?  (And they are, no doubt, abundant.)

  6. Fiamme says:

    /agree Darlene on it not being Bujold’s finest hour.

    Falling Free is fine, but so-so fine.  Of Bujold’s books, my favourites are Curse of Challion and Paladin of Souls, her foray into fantasy.

    A friend of mine refers to the Bujold sci fi (which I rather like, especially Shards of Honour) as ‘Mills and Boon in space’.

    The review as a review sucked.  I want to know why Falling Free is so so (by his lights) not why there are Too Many Damn Women Getting Published.

  7. Ann Aguirre says:

    I’ve heard many good things about Bujold, but I don’t know where to start. I hate picking up a book, only to discover I’ve got three of seven in my hand.

  8. Lia says:

    Start with Shards of Honor, or the omnibus “Cordelia’s Honor.”  Strong woman, strong man, partnership of equals set in military and political conflicts.  Comments equally on the idiocy of macho posturing and hyper-femmy “let’s all be nice” of the two societies.

    I love the Vorkosigan series.  “Shards” is the first.  Many of the books that follow are about Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan’s handicapped son.

    I think Falling Free—not my favorite, either, but better than most of what I read that year—won the award because goddamn, it’s a woman writing about an Engineer!  (Bujold’s father was a professor of welding engineering at Ohio State University.)  The book’s worth reading before the Vorkosigan saga because it sets some of the background.  It’s also a biting indictment against corporate control of biological science… some of the major characters are ‘quaddies,’ bio-engineered to live in free-fall, so they have no feet, 4 hands, and become redundant when artificial gravity is discovered.

    I’ve heard it compared to “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” and I think the comparison’s valid… except Bujold writes more fully-developed male and female characters.

    Her work is witty as well as intelligent—she never talks down to readers.  I can understand why an insecure male would feel threatened.

  9. Rosemary says:

    …why “chartreuse” sounds like it should be a reddish color than the greenish-yellow it actually is…

    Hey!  I thought I was the only one who ever thought this!  And to continue on the color topic, puce always sounded green to me.

  10. Lorelie says:

    to continue on the color topic, puce always sounded green to me

    You mean puce isn’t green?  Well, crap!

  11. Ana—I second the recommendation for Shards of Honor, especially in the omnibus edition Cordelia’s Honor, which includes the follow-up novel, Barrayar

    Part of what I love about the Aral/Cordelia storyline is how it’s about grown-ups behaving in a grown-up fashion.  It’s not all about “my needs” and true luuuuurve conquering all, but more about the tough choices we face in our lives, where individuals have to look at the larger picture, not only what’s best for them.

    You can start with The Warrior’s Apprentice, which is Miles’ story (available in an excellent omnibus called Young Miles), but you get important backstory if you read about Miles’ parents first—especially backstory on pivotol secondary characters like Sgt. Bothari.

    I almost envy you all the experience of discovering Bujold for the first time.

  12. Rosemary says:

    You mean puce isn’t green?

    Nope.  According to Random House Unabridged Dictionary it’s “dark or brownish purple.”

    Although, according to Miriam-Webster online, it’s “a dark red.”

    Either way, not green.

  13. Lorelie says:

    “She wore a dark purple blouse” sounds a lot better than “She wore a puce colored blouse.”  Just sayin’.

  14. Candy says:

    Yeah, “puce” comes from the French word for “flea,” and the color is supposed to denote the color of flea’s blood, or something like that—so dark red, reddish-brown, brownish-red, all those work.

    Chartreuse, on the other hand, is named after the color of the liqueur made by the monks of the Carthusian order.

  15. Carrie Lofty says:

    Candy bein’ all smert with the color thang…

    For me, the puce thing is because it sounds like puke.

  16. Ann Aguirre says:

    There’s a lot of connotation in word choice. You can slant a reader’s perception of a character in the descriptive words you choose. For instance, “Titian hair” and “ginger hair” say very different things to me about a person. It’s the same with puce. If I read that word to describe a shirt someone had on, my first thought would be “frumpy.”

  17. Tonda/Kalen says:

    The thing about “puce” is the Heyer used it in almost all her books. I think that’s the only reason so many romance readers know the word. She pretty much only used it for the clothing of the villain or someone we’re just not supposed to like very much). I think there’s only one instance of it being worn by one of her heroes (I’m 82% sure Sir Anthony Fanshaw, from The Masqueraders is wears a puce suit).

  18. Rosemary says:

    I’ve always know that it was a color, but I just assumed it was an assy green due to the similarity to “puke” as well.  It wasn’t until Open Season by Linda Howard that I found out that it was the color of dried up blood.

    One of the characters used it as a test to see if a man was gay.  If he was gay, he knew it was a color, and not a made up word.

    And I’m finished abusing commas for the day.

  19. --E says:

    Wow. Just…wow. He’s objecting to the girliness in picking the Bujold book that greatly resembles Heinlein’s finest? (Falling Free absolutely did make me think of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress though I could never put my finger on why.)

    Hmm. If he thinks that SFWA has gone all girly, I wonder how he explains Bujold’s five Hugos for best novel (a fan-voted award). “Argh! The wimmen are taking over the genre”?

    I see far too many books about special ops military types shooting folks described as “backward towel-heads.” I guess that’s more Antinomy’s speed.

    (Hee hee hee—my bot-catcher word is “hes12”, or perhaps “He’s 12.”)

  20. dl says:

    Agree with Darlene & others, try Shards of Honor, then some of the Miles adventures.  Have diffidulty getting into her fantasy stuff, possibly because I found the first one (with the ring and murdered baby) so terribly disturbing.

    Maybe our male critic prefers that old SF series (don’t remember the author), where the women were chattel, mostly undressed, and sexually available to the hero anytime. 

    Or, maybe it’s perception.  After decades of reading SF, My grandfather recently found out Andre Norton is female and totally had a hiss.  Like it changes the books he has enjoyed for 50 years?  Go figure.

  21. Ann Aguirre says:

    Okay, Shard of Honor it is. I’ll give that a try.

    On the subject of wimmenz takin’ over SF, I guess those who feel that way should just read some John Norman.

  22. Lia says:

    I think Moon and Falling Free are similar because they both have smart techies taking on a corrupt society and winning freedom for an oppressed population.  And I love the way quaddies occasionally show up in the later books.

  23. I’m frequently amused at the propensity for people to use Amazon reviews for everything but actually legitimately reviewing the book.

    I don’t read the genre much myself, but I have heard conversations about it at large, and what I’ve heard is that it’s basically dominated by traditionalist men that squick at the first sign of cross-genre writing or small press/ebooks. Basically, their way or the highway. No market is constant, but they want it to be, so screw the marketing data.

    As for the feminism crack, allow me to post a couple of my favorite quotes on the matter:

    Women have a much better time than men in this world: there are far more things forbidden to them. ~ Oscar Wilde

    I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiment that differentiates me from a doormat. ~ Rebecca West

  24. Bujold is my favorite author. But Falling Free isn’t my favorite book by her. It’s a solid read, but it’s an early book and I think it reads like one. Still, an early book by an author of her talent is still worth keeping and re-reading, IMO. I did like how the Quaddies reappear in the Vorkosigan series.

  25. bungluna says:

    I’ve just come off of a week-long, Bujold-induced reading frenzy.  I’d read “A civil Campaing” before and enjoyed it enough to keep an eye out for other Bujold books.  When I managed to get my hands on “Cordelia’s Honor” I was sunk.  I read through both novels contained in this book, searched throughout my small town to find only “Yound Miles” was available over-the-counter.  Having finished the 3 stories now, I’m coming down from my high, miserably aware that Amazon will take several days to bring my next Bujold fix. 

    It’s a terrible thing, this bookaholism…

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