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We get reviews

John Scalzi challenges writers to post extracts from their favourite one-star (stinker) reviews on Amazon.com.

Hey, this could be fun!

Regular readers may recall that back in 2006 I played exactly this game with great works of literature. So how do I stack up in the stinker stakes?

(NB: please don't contact Amazon about these reviews, or pester the reviewers. (I've deliberately left their names off in order to make it harder to do that.) They're perfectly entitled to their opinions; as every novelist learns very early on, whatever you write, you can guarantee that at least 20% of the population will hate it. If you disagree with them, that's your problem, not theirs. I'm posting this for my own amusement, and because I happen to agree with John: "Own your one-star reviews, man. And then, you know. Get past them. If you’re lucky, some of them might actually be fun to read.")

So here they are ...

Singularity Sky

"A terrible piece of work... speed read through most of this dreadful book and threw in the trash afterwords.... I would not recommend another sentient being waste their precious time on this beautiful world..."

"I got through about a third of this book before I just gave up and took it back to the library. Dull, dull, dull!!!!!"

(<smug>That's all the one-star reviews Singularity Sky got. ...</smug>).

Iron Sunrise

"Stross managed to thoroughly alienate me with the unpleasant characters, violence, and sick sex. I wanted to wash out my mouth and take a shower after one particularly graphic description. "

"His cynical, sarcastic political observations are as clumsy as they obvious."


"I gave it a good try based on all the good press and the Hugo nom, but it gave me a headache."

"While I will acknowledge that Stross' depiction of the future is imaginative, this book is devoid of both plot and characterization. It is no more than a bombastic showcase of his numerous technological ideas and an exercise in self-indulgence. "

"The writing is some of the worst I have ever experienced. "


"I didn't enjoy this book at all. It's a boring little whodunit, adorned with sci-fi artifacts.

The story in this book takes place in the world that exists at the end of "Accelerando". While "Accelerando" is fast-paced and fun, with a logical progression, this book is slooooooooooooooooooooow and full of contrived plot twists."

Halting State

"This book was impossible to read. I read over 100 pages and still couldn't figure out what they were talking about."

"Reminds me of cheap SF comics of the 50s and badly written online adventure games."

(Tackling the Laundry novels was hard — I had to use two-star reviews because there aren't any one-star ones on Amazon.com ...)

The Atrocity Archives

"Reading this is like reading a geek's blog, lots of silliness, lots of attention calling gambits and lots of geek snobbery, where the author throws stuff in just to try to impress you with his knowledge. What I wanted was a magic wielding spy, what I got was a magic wielding spy who doesn't do spy stuff, throwing out explanations that make no sense and talking about his daily life living with other nerds."

The Jennifer Morgue

"This inedible Mulligan stew claims to emulate the ian Fleming superhero, with perhaps Batman & Wonder Woman ancestry. The plot is fast paced raggedly coherent with sexually explicit interludes, characters are obsessively one dimensional, and the story is unredeemed by excessive satirical attempts at humor."

(Skips a couple of books ...)

The Clan Corporate

"It seems that the author believed that the series would make him rich if he could keep the series going so he trashes the whole concept of the first two books to do it. The first two books were great but this one is so much of a disappointment that I would advise people not to start the series."

"I taught myself how to speed read to get through the dross."

"I bought it because I'm a sucker for finishing a series. DON'T DO IT. Put the mouse down and walk away. Do NOT check that box."




First of all, I should say that I have enjoyed every one of your books. One proof of this is that I had to read most of them in English, not my mother tongue (Spanish) because only a few of them have been translated.
This being said, I must agree that because your style of writing, an occasional reader can find difficult to get hooked at first by one of your writings because you tend to start with a very complicated situation, with few information to the reader, in order to reveal this information through the book. I love this style of writing and it hooks me but, to be honest, I must agree that this can not be the best way to recruit new, not hard sci-fi, readers.
For example, my brother-in-law started to read "Halting State" and gave up after the first chapter. Lately, when I told him some of the things that happens after it, he took the book again, read it in a few days and thanked me for not leaving him miss it
I am expecting your new novel, even if I have to read it in English, though.


I think Scalzi is right that you should own these reviews and I admire the both of you greatly for stepping up to that with a laugh. I suspect I'd have to wince a few times if those reviews were mine, and the laugh might get a little hollow at times.

Yes, these reviewers have a right to their opinions, and I might (I say "might") feel the way they do if I was a completely different person, but really now, calling Glasshouse "boring" is just silly, unless the reviewer skipped the whole first chapter and carefully read only the exposition and not the actions scenes after that.

The good news is that, based on other reviews, sales, and awards, my guess is both you and John are holding the percentage of dissatisfied readers well below the 20% figure. Amd I don't think I personally know anyone who fits into that group.


Don't fret, Charlie - if people like those liked your books, you wouldn't be writing as well as you can. There is a very diverse audience out there, and what appeals to some upsets others for exactly the same reasons. Similarly, I love Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, but to some people they are dreadfully boring. What I find interesting is that those reviews you quote all ring bells with me. They take aspects of your writing I have noticed, and blow them up out of proportion. For instance, I'm sure you would admit that characterisation isn't your greatest strength. But that's a venal sin when writing SF; many SF books have no distinguishable personalities at all.

What bugs me is the way some people on Amazon can't resist marking my *reviews* "unhelpful"! I can't work out if they have just taken a dislike to me, or if they disagree with my view of the book, or what.


Reminds me of something that Liberace is supposed to have said to a critic: "Thank you for your very amusing review. After reading it, in fact, my brother George and I cried all the way to the bank."


"I taught myself how to speed read to get through the dross." - comic genius!

Or is that this year's "trope"?


There was sick sex in Iron Sunrise? How did I miss that? Will have to go and re-read it.


Nice, they mostly listed all the things I liked about the books. :)


I've been hooked on Stross's work since I found Amazon giving away PDF copies of Accelerando. Since then, I've read every Strossian things I could find. Sure, some are better than others, and I despair of a Clan Corporate series without end, (not because I don't like it, I'm just uncomfortable witout closure in my plot streams :P) but nothing is a one-star for me, or even 2. Some may be 3, but only by comparison to the rest.

Despite this, I can see why people might not Stross's work. I like it because it deviates from much of the other scifi literature out there, so it certainly makes sense that someone would dislike it for much the same reasons.


What Red Wolf said. Don't know how I missed it.


Hee. I did like the nod to Aineko in The Glasshouse.

Re Iron Sunrise, weren't there meat puppets or something?


Well, okay: wasn't too crazy about Accelerando, but I've liked everything else I've read so far; I especially remember laughing myself silly over Atrocity Archives from page 1 onwards. Now if only my local bookshop will get its act together and procure that copy of Halting State I asked them for a mere three months ago...


Charles Pellegrino is a science/Sf author who seems to take particular pride in negative reviews of his work. Those are the only reviews he quotes on his website, after all.



What? These people are sadly broken. Stross is the best new author we've had in decades.


Not all authors take that advice. James pointed out one that seems to get quite upset, and actively games tha Amazon system to get all but 5-star reviews removed.



Like Red Wolf and Stargeezer, I also seem to have missed the 'sick sex' in Iron Sunrise.

On the subject of sex in sci-fi, I did find the big love scene in Ken Macleod's The Execution Channel a bit disconcerting - like discovering that your grandmother has the ability to curse and swear like a fishwife.

(and btw, Ken, if you're reading, I loved the EC - please don't expel me from the party or anything).


If I may be so bold to offer some input, to explain some of these bad reviews

Singularity Sky- Lack of talking robots, and no one was the last member of some lost race. No laeer guns, or giant drawn out space battles.

Iron Sunrise- No talking robots, all the good guys were more like real people, with faults not heroes, and perfect. Also, not enough space battles. Oh, and sex is ichy. I am sure the person that made the comment had never been with anything that didn't require some inflation.

Accelerando- It wasn't Neuromancer, or Snow Crash. And, not talking robots.

Glasshouse- Science Fiction should only be like most other books in the genre, either cyberpunk, or space opera. Anything else, is bad.

Halting State - Can't comment, have not read it yet, it is coming in the mail.

The Atrocity Archives- The IT was too much like real world IT, not like the movie Hackers, or the movie Wargames. All computers should speak, be self aware, and either tell jokes, whine, or try to kill you. They also seemed to expect James bond meets Harry Potter.

The Jennifer Morgue- Again, sex is bad. Oh, and where is the James Bond with the wand?

The Clan Corporate- Not gotten to this one yet, so can not make fun of the review.

So, remember, to sell to the LCD, you need talking robots, space battles, Harry Potter, and no sex, ever. Then, you can expect shitty films to be made using the names of your works, and having some people with the names of your characters in them.


My favorite "one star" review of a book was penned by Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, who also had some involvement in national politics around 1860. Mr. Lincoln said of the tome in question, "This is one of those things those who enjoy this sort of thing would enjoy."


Individual Amazon reviews are usually not that interesting. They are not considered, often off-the-cuff, and sometimes deliberately inflammatory. I've written a few myself in that mold - my *** Amazon review of Clarke/Baxter's "Firstborn" being at odds with other reviewers.

I think one cam always assume that there will be a wide distribution of reviews, from fawning worship to excoriation. Keep pleasing your readers and treat even bad reviews as something to learn from, as long as there are enough reviewers with a similar opinion to make a valid point. I think it has been said before that critics wouldn't bother if they didn't care.

Sometimes the reviews can be very binary. "The Stones of Summer", a book that was made famous by a documentary about finding this ny times rated author has 71 reviews, either very +ve or very -ve. There is no middle ground.


I did actually read one of the "Accelerando" stories as s short story in Analog or whatever. It was the one where they are trapped in a local node after flying to some nearby star. (If you've read it, you'll know what I mean)

I thought it was rather silly, didn't like the characters, and relied too much on things being the same in this alien local network node thing etc.
I read "Accelerando" a couple of years ago, and the short story did make a lot more sense, put in context, but I still didn't like it too much, maybe 3 stars at most.


Well, yes, you are just not going to please some people, though reading the 'reviews' I have some trouble believing they were talking about the books I read.

You, along with Ken MacLeod and Ian Banks are on my 'must have, buy NOW!' list. I like the world-view you present.

More Laundry stories please,


Well I liked accelerando so much I put it on my company's core 300 list - One of the 300 best books of 2005! We've only sold 19 copies of it so maybe our customers, mainly US academic libraries, didn't believe me. Here's the bibliographic record as proof:

Publisher: ORBIT Place of Publication: LONDON
Pub Year: 2005 ISBN: 9781841493909 Country Of Origin: UK
Binding: Cloth Pagination: 433 P.
Content Level: GEN-AC YBP Select: Basic-Recommended
LC Class: PR6119.T79 A63 2005
Lists: Core 300: Language/Literature. 10/2005
Literary Type: Novel
Geographic Focus: United Kingdom
Language: English
US List: 31.88 USD US Status: Import Only NON-RETURN/NON-CANCEL YBP
Last Received YBP: 11/9/2005
UK List: 16.99 GBP UK Status: Reprint under consideration. Backordered
Handled On Approval L&C: 8/24/2005 Last Received L&C: 11/11/2005


I always find it amusing that almost all 1 star reviews are about a sentence long.


Interesting that the 'great works of literature' reviews seem to be written in the main by illiterate ignoramuses who don't know any better whereas the Stross reviews seem to be written by reasonably erudite people with some kind of axe to grind.


I don't think I have ever disliked a book enough to bother to write a negative review of it, at Amazon or elsewhere. I will confess to having made a few snide remarks in passing, but complaining that something isn't what I wanted it to be, then going on and on about what I wanted, is far too Harry Knowles-esque.


Now, while your reviews may be one-star, they just don't approach the sheer genius of the ones in the other thread. I especially liked this:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

R. Vanderhoof wrote: "I spent several weeks slogging through this book and found it to be very repetitive and tedious in the extreme. Keeping track of the family tree is a constant effort. At best, Marquez reveals an egalitarian attitude that seems to pervade the Americas south of the Rio Grande (no wonder those countries are in constant economic trouble). Marquez should study supply side economics as described by Milton Friedman, another Nobel Prize winner, in order to give his book better balance."

(Sorry, I'm no good with html, don't know how to make it a quote.)

It starts reasonable: tedious and repetitive - I can see where he's coming from, and the familiy tree is rather messed up, - and then it suddenly turns to economics, and supply side economics, and Milton Friedman. I mean, *why*?? And a more balanced picture?? Guess I must read it again, now my Spanish is better, I can't believe I never even noticed the whole Economics discussion.

Most reviews on amazon say a lot more about the person writing them than about the book in question. (Book reviews in newspapers etc. probably are the same, except that most journalists have learned to hide behind better writing.) So you just have to find a review whose writer is as similar to you as possible, and listen to them. Or go for reviewers with different tastes/opinions from you, and buy what they didn't like.

Which is why I'll go looking for the Laundry novels now.


Ew. One more reason (besides basic laziness) why I'll never write a book. My ego is far too weak to be able to take even one bad review so gracefully.


To spice things up, there is another author who has bad reviews of his work posted prominently on his homepage..
Tom Kratman (.. as my father had it explained, people are varied, and then there is the other kind of man.. Kratman is the other kind I guess. Tried staying in the army as long as possible.. ) ..

Pre-Order "A Desert Called Peace" at Amazon.com!
What some people are saying about Tom Kratman:

"Tom Kratman's A Desert Called Peace is practically the platonic ideal of epic Jacksonian war-porn. The printing process involves soaking the books in testosterone. It is so beautifully, terribly and gloriously Jacksonian, in fact, that merely reading the book carries the risk of pregnancy for unprotected women and metrosexuals."

---- Albert Norman, connoisseur of fine literature

"But Kratman knows his intended audience, and is only too happy to assuage the bloodlust of the red state rabble by letting our valiant SS paladins bust some hippie heads. "

---- Thomas M. Wagner, African Famine Expert

"Every word he writes is bad, and that includes "a", "an" and "the"."

---- Michael Weber, stay at home dad and egg connoisseur

"Yes, you can't get higher literature than that."

---- Nikki Fellenzer, High Fashion Model

"Kratman is an idiot, and drools."

---- Gene Ward Smith, Gay activist and bestselling doctoral thesis writer.

"The utter moral nihilism aside, _A Watch on the Rhine_ and other books of its ilk reflect a worrying trend in science fiction."

---- Randy McDonald, World famous literary critic and bookstore stockboy

"Kratman ist nur ein untalentierter Teilzeit-Schmierfink." ("Kratman is only an untalented small time lubrication finch." Loses a certain something in translation, doesn't it?)

-----Martin Hoyer (Who knows? Who cares?)

.. I am too lazy to write reviews... though not so lazy as to refrain from sending ebooks from the family's hoard to people who might like them( I also recommend they buy the book afterwards .. )


The Kratman is interesting because he's made up "insulting" job titles for his critics.


Kratman is also (I presume) a grown adult, yet he thinks Mr. that calling someone 'gay' as an insult is an exercise in wit which G.B. Shaw himself might have envied.


NelC @26. Just start with short stories...some of those rejections are killers. If you can get through those though, you're onto a winner.

Which leads me to wonder - Charlie - did you ever get any bad press/reviews/etc for short stories.

I recall that the reason I ended up coming here..and reading you books, is that you actually replied to a criticism of one of the Accelerando stories on Asimov's board :)


Reminds me of Venom. From Dancing at the Edge of the World, by Le Guin:

Some persons who shall be nameless, including myself, co-edited a brief-lived (two issues) journal of reviews of science fiction, called Venom. We felt that sf reviewing had become awfully milquetoasty; it was hard to tell the reviews from the blurbs -- everything the greatest, the biggest, the best. Venom was to be an antidote ('Mithradates, he died old'). The precondition for becoming a reviewer for Venom was that you do a killer review of one of your own books, to be published in the magazine. Then you could cut loose on somebody else. So that nobody could know which were the suicides and which were the murders, you had to use a nom de plume.

I'd like to see that journal return from the grave.


Charlie, I've done the Amazon review thing but hardly ever bother to trash things I don't like on the theory that I'm biased because I don't like them. Why bother? 'Clan Corporate' should have been longer, but then we'd still be waiting; that aside, I've got very little criticism of your work. Your characters are well-drawn and believable, your plots are logical explorations of the postulated scenarios, and you often boldly go where no man has gone before, which is more interesting than another crappy space vulture opera IMHO.

Contrast these crap reviews with my CIO friend who is pacing and muttering and waiting for you to hurry up and do the next Clan book, and it's obvious that you aren't popular with people who move their mouths when they read. So, either write something for that crowd ("Planet of the Mouth Breathers") or go right on with what you're doing. I vote Plan B.


Hey, I gave you a good review just like week! I don't use stars though.


If someone dosn't hate your work, your story is too bland :)


GordonM @23: I personally would find it much more satisfying to have to hear a well-written, if somewhat disingenuous rant along the lines of "this sucks because of too much/little character development/talking robots/etc." because someone had a beef with me personally -- or if not me, I suppose possibly with people who liked my work in general. I would imagine that someone who writes an illiterate one-liner against me is probably beneath my concern, but someone who GENUINELY CARES? At least they probably read the thing.


This stuff reveals more about the readers than the writer.


Smith@36: "This stuff reveals more about the readers than the writer."

I think you mean "work", not "writer". This is "literature" - there is no objective truth about the work, it is a communication that may or may not resonate with the reader. As Catherine@35 stated, a considered review is useful, and the non-professional reviewer, taking some time and effort to write the review, may well care about the author and his works. Just read Amazon reviews and see how many average or poor reviews indicate the reviewer is a fan of the author and would with for a better result next time.


This blog post is a waste of valuable electrons. Without a doubt the shallowest Hitler-loving garbage I've read all year. Charles Stross should be beaten to death with his own lack of talent.


("Kratman is only an untalented small time lubrication finch." Loses a certain something in translation, doesn't it?)

Only if you can't actually translate. Pretending to translate is a bit like pretending to be able to swim. But then, the penny has only just dropped that this book is the one wannabe Instapundit and general-purpose rightwing fuckwit Tim Worstall was pimping on his blog. Damn, he really is a rightwing fuckwit.


GLASSHOUSE is one the most important SF books this decade, just for nature of personality politics, gender-bending and any PK Dick subject alone. These reviews are . . . sad.

But then so was the dinner I had with a friend of mine who's somewhat movie-famous at a local restaurant. I was appalled at the behavior of people in this rather small town.


GLASSHOUSE is one the most important SF books this decade, just for nature of personality politics, gender-bending and any PK Dick subject alone. These reviews are . . . sad.

But then so was the dinner I had with a friend of mine who's somewhat movie-famous at a local restaurant. I was appalled at the behavior of people in this rather small town.


So, there I was, trolling through your blog, when BAM! I recognized my review of "Glasshouse".

I really appreciate being in your list of favorite negative reviews. Though, in my opinion you left out the best part of the review: the title.

Anyway, all I can plead is that I'm pretty sure it's the only book of yours I ever really panned. I think I've been able to say nice things about the rest of your books.

I really appreciate your work. Given all the scorn that's been heaped on my review, I suppose I'd better re-read "Glasshouse".



The unpleasant characters, violence and sick sex were my favourite parts of Iron Sunrise.


This one is short, but you're gonna love it.


This one is short, but you're gonna love it.


ok, let me get this right; to be an author you have to invest (correct me if I'm wrong here) hundreds, nay, thousands of hours, nursing your little baby to fruition, only to tout said manuscript around jaded publishers until finally getting published. THEN, and this is important I think, you can't actually make a living at it until you take the risk of giving up your main source of income to write the next book (because, let's face it, writing doesn't pay for many people).

So you do that.

I expect it's quite difficult, not knowing what the reception will be (unless you get a 3 or 5 book contract) and even with a contract, all advances are deducted from initial sales. I may have missed something, but I assume this is how it goes.

So, your blood, sweat and tears, not to mention experience, goes into your next book, which you hope will be well-received.

Then some lazy little gobshite (apologies for the profanity) can't get his/her head around a concept that may be a little tricky for them and makes a comment on a website. And possibly hundreds or thousands of potential buyers see that 'unqualified' comment and may be turned away from a book they may otherwisw enjoy.

The new maxim should be; You can't judge a book by its cover or an amazon review. At least in newspapers and other media, the reviewers are actually required to READ the book before reviewing it.

Personally, I couldn't get on with the 'Clan Corporate' books, but that's more to do with bad books of a style I've read before. 'Accelerando' will become required reading in the near future, Glasshouse broke many moulds, and other books of Mr Stross' are really enjoyable reads.

I've never given a bad review of a book on amazon, mostly because I love reading, and just becuase I don't like a book should mean it's a bad book, it's just my taste, at that point in time.

Thanks for the books Charlie, I'll keep on reding them.

Anyway, that's my 2p.


btw, nost of the books I have read, that I wouldn't normally have read, I read because of personal recommendation, not because of reviews, amazon or otherwise.


But surely nobody takes any notice of reviews that just say something like "this book is rubbish"? But if you explain why you don't like it... I have written Amazon reviews that say things like, the contents don't match what is claimed, or, watch out, this book has factual errors - and given low scores because of that. I think that's different.


brent @46, most authors don't quit their day jobs until they're making enough money to support themselves with books. There are very few that get that far.


Marilee is right. I'm an exception: my day job quit me, leaving me doing freelance writing -- computer journalism, mostly -- in 2000. And even so, it was four years after my first novel sale before I phased out the regular magazine work (and I was lucky; I've had a stellar career, as far as this field goes).


Weirdly it earned me two stars on the review, but my second book Twilight Herald received a customer review which was largely complaining of the state of the nation. The reviewer was upset that there wasn't a happy resolution and not everything was smiles and roses at the end of the book (the second in a series of five, so presumably books three, four and five consists of characters sitting around being smug that they've won the day). What really bemused/amused me was the fact that he blamed Maggie Thatcher for it!


It's surprising how many Amazon reviewers confuse the inside of their own head with the book at hand, isn't it?


50: Is there anything that some authors won't blame Baroness Thatcher for?

51: "It's surprising how many New York Times reviewers confuse the inside of their own head with the book at hand, isn't it?" Fixed by the roving copyeditor.


Doug, Margaret Thatcher is clearly to blame for Everything.

(When she cacks it, I gather there's going to be an unofficial week of street parties in this country -- Scotland, that is.)


Science fiction, in general, is merely agitprop pampleteering, meant to reassure Stalinists or libertarians as to the ultimate validity of their respective political beliefs. This is all very well, as far as it goes, but it has nothing to do with literature.