Occasionally I write reviews (or publish old reviews) because I read lots of books and watch lots of movies. So I thought it only fair that I outline the review and rating process that I use. Keep in mind that my reviews are merely opinions. Yours may, and will, vary. That’s okay.
Who are you?
Just a fan of speculative fiction with opinions. I’m not afraid to call something crap if it is, or to ladle praise on something if it deserves it. But you’ll never find me inflating every review I do with “My god, best book ever . . . 5 STARS!” like many people do on rating sites. I give everything a fair shake.
What qualifies you to be a “critic?”
Nothing. Reviews are opinions. Everyone is entitled to them … and entitled to disagree with them. If you want to yell at me because our opinions differ, please feel free. If you’re expecting me to get into an argument over differing opinions, I’m out. But, if you want to discuss aspects of a work that caused those differences, I’m in.
Why do you review speculative fiction?
Why not? I enjoy it. My emphasis is on science fiction, but I like all speculative fiction. It’s just my thing. I grew up when Star Wars hit the silver screen. It had a profound effect on me. I read/game/watch as a form of escapism. Nowhere in that formula does contemporary fiction have a place. It must be fantastical, different, escapist … not mundane and contemporary. That’s not to say I won’t ever post reviews of contemporary works. It will happen.
Your rating philosophy, explain it!
Okay bossy. I’m an engineer and applied scientist by training, and as with all things in nature I believe ratings should follow some form of statistical distribution, given enough samples. I use a 5 star system. With that being said I’ve never doled out a half or zero star rating. A zero star is absence of rating. I’m very selective with what I view/read, so there’s a high degree of certainty that I will finish something once started, so the lowest rating I would give something is a 1.0. Thus the average rating on my scale of 1 star to 5 stars is 3 stars, and the majority of ratings will fall in the 2 – 4 star range. Occurrences of truly great or truly abysmal works of film/fiction are somewhat rare … as they should be.
The final rating I give is based purely on gut feeling weighed against what I’m looking for below. In other words: opinion. Keep in mind that I use half stars liberally.
The Best! A standout! Highly recommended!
Good, enough positives to make it just above average.
Average/decent, worth checking out.
Subpar, enough negatives to make it just below average.
The worst! A standout! Avoid at all cost!
What are you looking for when you review?
There’s no simple answer, but I’ll give it a shot. I evaluate a book/film/game on several things. Few creators are good are hitting all of these marks, but most are capable of hitting one or more. All or some of these apply depending on the media being reviewed.
- Concepts – Mind blowing concepts. Big world building. Ambitious vision.
- Characters – Believable characters. Compelling dialogue. Likable characters. Interesting antagonists. Flawed protagonists.
- Prose – Writing that flows like buttah. Chapters/scenes that make logical sense.
- Action – Action moves plots. Characters talking to each other for 400 pages (or 2 hours) does not.
- Ending – Nothing can tank a good story like a really shitty ending (or no ending at all).
- Are you not entertained!!?? – Most of all a book has to be entertaining (fairly subjective). That’s why I read fiction.
I try to avoid spoilers. If I think I’ve included some I’ll make a note about spoilers near the top of the review. This review contains spoilers.
© 2015-2019, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
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