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Saturday, July 7, 2007

How (Not) to Write an Review

The sci-fi or fantasy book review is an art form all to itself. It can artfully spoil the best books, and invoke a beautiful confusion over who is more worth reading: the latest Hugo award winner, or the author who puts an S&M scene and a thwarted prophecy in each and every one of his bloated, cliched, 1000+ page novels. Writing an book review that lives up to these standards can be difficult to pull off.

Here are some tips to pull it off in style.


Gushing shows your immense love for the book. It also demonstrates your belief that everyone must read it! Tell us how much you love the book. Then tell us how you wrote and asked the author to make beautiful children with you. Also make sure to tell us about your fanfic crossover novel with the characters from Buffy, Alias, your Dungeons and Dragons game, and this book. We need this info to gauge your devotion, because your devotion indicates to us the worth of the book.

Compare to Tolkien

Everyone knows Tolkien was the best, and it's the highest form of compliment to compare an author to him. All the professionals already do it on book jackets, anyway, so you should too. It is a compliment that will never, ever grow stale or become cliched, and will be forever meaningful, even if it is applied to every author and his dog.

Go Into Lots of Detail

Tell us as much about the plot and characters as you can. This is very entertaining, and summaries are meant to be long (the "sum" in summary means "add" after all), because there are lots of important details to include. Plus, you are probably a better writer than the author who put years of effort into the work, and can describe her plot and characters better than she did.

Start a Flame War

If you hated a book, starting a flame war about it is the best way to save readers from themselves. Tell us why you hated the book in the most inflammatory way possible, and explain why your favorite author is ten times better. If someone tells you that you didn't understand the book, or didn't "get" it, go after that person with your best insults. One technique for revenge is to reply that you are pursuing your Master's degree from MIT, and are thus smarter than all those who "get" it. I read a post like this once, and I was immediately struck by the realization that, indeed, this person's shining intellect dwarfed my own. My respect for MIT's admissions policy was likewise affected.

Use Big Words from Your Thesaurus

If your review is too highbrow for me to understand, the book must be too awesome for me to comprehend.

Spoilers Rock! Properly Use The Three Types of Spoiler

There are three types of spoiler, and it takes a master to use them correctly.

The Implied Spoiler: This spoiler does not explicitly give anything away, but it tells the reader roughly what is going to happen. Even the pro reviewers use this one, so you should, too! Readers hate surprises, and you can use this technique to subtly reduce the impact of those surprises. Here are some examples:

"The book has a great twist at the end!" Now the reader knows to be on the lookout for it! Good job!

"Follow his journey into the darkness and back out again." It's a good thing he gets back out of that darkness. Darkness is scary!

"After being dumped, she chases her love interest back and forth throughout the book. Will she get him back in the end?" Now the reader can skip to the end if he wants!

The Full Monty Spoiler: If you tell the reader how the book ends, then he doesn't have to read it. Efficiency at its best! Or he can read it, and be emotionally prepared for all the twists and turns. Chicken Soup for the emotionally brittle soul! You deserve a medal.

The Fake Spoiler: "Frodo and Sam DIE! LOLZERS!" Fried comedy gold. This one works even if it is the only line of the review.


You'll find many of these techniques artfully used in the jungle of book reviews that is To compete, you'll have to sharpen your intellect, hone your maturity, and use these techniques wisely. If you do this, you too can become a prince or princess among reviewers.

Your masterpiece reviews may alternately confuse and annoy those readers not sophisticated enough to appreciate them. Take this as proof of your mastery of these techniques, as well as your inherent genius.


Anonymous said...

Good piece, especially the line about MIT admissions ;-)

Looks like you've got a good start.

Ms. M

Billy Goat said...

Thank you! Most of this stuff comes from my actual experiences. I thought about linking to some of the offending reviews/posts (like the MIT one), but figured that would be kind of jerky. :)

Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Monday Morning Power said...

I am a SciFi and Fantasy book reader. I am looking forward to frequent visits to your site. One of my rules is that if I give a site more than just a casual glance I will leave a comment. If you have sustainability I would like to swap links with you. You would make a nice addition to my blogroll. Of course you would have to take a look at my site and determine if a link swap works for you also.
Let me know by leaving me a comment, if you decide to visit.

Billy Goat said...

Hey, thanks for the compliment! I'll make a point to stop by your site, and will let you know if I am interested in swapping links.

In any case, good luck with your blog!