You may have noticed a few writeups of mine that review
science fiction and/or fantasy stories. You will frequently see
a series of stars, perhaps followed by a 1/2, at the end of the writeup's
Ok, I'll admit it. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy -- probably
more than is good for me.
Many years ago, when I was just a lad, I noticed that the novels/stories
I read fell into different batches of quality -- Some were terrible, some
mediocre, some passably good, some very good, and a select few changed
my life. After a while, my mind began assigning "stars" to the stories
based upon how I felt after reading them.
I realize that when I write these review nodes, I am committing the
unpardonable sin of literary criticism -- judging other peoples' output,
if not their talent. Some writers worked extremely hard to produce
the children of their minds -- which I go and stick a sword through if
the mood suits me!
On the other hand, there really are inherent grades of quality in fiction
-- the cross product of talent and effort. I put up the ratings so that you have a clue as to what's worth spending your time reading.
Please keep in mind that:
The reviews I make are my opinion. Your experience may vary, but
I've read a lot of stuff, so don't say I didn't warn you. Some of
the stories I give low ratings to have won Hugos or Nebulas.
Some ratings are unreliable by their very nature. The highest and
lowest ratings represent the strongest emotions I have about a work, and
you may feel differently. Sometimes a story with a medium-low rating
is really worth reading and only got the low score because of technical
problems or the "wince factor". Yes, I'm a heartless bastard.
I've had different tastes in literature at different times in my life.
Looking back on it all, I might have given a different rating to something
now than during my misspent youth2.
Ratings only mean anything in relation to each other, anyway.
Ok, that's not entirely true; the lowest ratings are my idea of an absolute
measure of quality. In general, though, if a story has a higher rating
than another, I think you should read it before investing time in the other
Ok, so let's get started. Feel free to use the system1 if you
want to; even to link here if you want the ratings to explain themselves.
Other folks: be sure I wrote the review before flaming me!
* * * * *
The highest, and least reliable rating. These are the stories
that made me laugh, made me cry, wrung me out emotionally by the end of
the story and changed my life. Perhaps I was poised for a change
at the particular time I read it. This rating really says more about
me than it says about the story! Know me by my nodes; so much for
anonymity. Nevertheless, most five-star stories are very, very, very
good. Read it thirty-seven times.
Example: The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and Cyril
* * * * 1/2
Very, very, very good. The best sort of story: Solidly written
like a four-star story, with that little extra something that makes
it stand out from the crowd. If you start, you will probably read
it in one sitting. Read it now.
Example: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, probably
the best novel of the 1990's. I lent TSNotD to my sister one
night and she had read it twice by morning!
* * * *
Very, very good. Solidly written, everything fits together; I don't
think the author wasted any words or let any opportunities go by.
The narrative never made you want to put the book down. Read it.
Example: Night Lamp by Jack Vance.
* * * 1/2
Very good. If you see it in the bookstore, go ahead and buy it; if you
see it in the library, check it out. The story fits together but it might
drag in places or leave loose ends. Sometimes the loose ends beg a sequel;
this isn't always bad. Once or twice you might look up out of the book
and shake your head. But it's well worth reading.
Example: Hyperion by Dan Simmons and all three of its sequels.
There's much to be said for resistance to Wharfinger's law of diminishing
* * *
Good. The lowest rating where I think the story is worth your
time. There may be more draggy points or plot lacunae.
Example: The first three or four parts of Chung Kuo by David
Wingrove, the first two or so parts of The Death Gate Cycle by
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. You know what happens after
* * 1/2
Lots of problems. These vary wildly: Plot holes you can
walk through; spelling or grammar problems, awkward construction, annoying
word choices or plot devices. Things the author (wrongly) thought might
be clever, scientific lectures that don't contribute to the story.
However, when a story gets this rating, the plot redeems the problems.
The only unforgivable sin is to be boring. Depending on your mood,
you might be better off reading a two-and-a-half star story than a three-star one.
Example: Flux by Stephen Baxter.
Mediocre. Many problems as above, but without the redeeming storyline.
Sometimes there aren't any technical problems, the story simply sucks.
Don't waste your money. If you're stuck in the bus terminal for
several hours and you find that someone left the book on the seat next
to you, and you've already finished today's crossword puzzle, go ahead
and read it.
Example: I've forgotten. Oh, all right, books three through five
of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. The ones after
that are worse.
It takes an especially bad story to get a rating lower than two stars.
Normally, if a novel is this bad I wont bother to finish it and you won't
see a writeup about it on Everything2.
The stories that fall into the cellar are the ones that promise and
then disappoint. They start out well, but the author completely screws
up after a certain point. In a vain hope to find some glimmer of
the beginning's promise, or perhaps out of masochism, I read through to
the end, finding out I wasted my time and my money. Don't waste
These I remember, because they made me so angry.
Example: The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey, or A Plague of Angels by Sherri S. Tepper.
1Do the introductory line this way:
[genre_name] [story_length] by [Author_name]. <b><tt>* * * * <sup>1</sup>/<sub>2</sub> </tt> </b><small>(explanation)</small>
genre_name story_length by Author_name. * * * * 1/2 (explanation)
2That is, assuming I've matured any.