See, the thing is, I had a pretty good suspicion that those movies were going to be some kind of ridiculous. I mean, I was a film major (I doubled in English and film), and I'd had it beaten into my head to dissect films like bugs. To pick apart the cliche along with the original. Of course I was hoping there'd be some redeeming qualities, some nuance, but I didn't have my expectations really high. If there had been something like The Fellowship of the Ring, or Blade Runner, or 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in the theater, I'd have definitely chosen those instead. But sometimes I just want my SF fix, my fantasy fix.
You don't always get to choose what's playing in the theater. You take what you can get.
But books are different. You don't have the bottleneck of a theater to limit your options and force you into a decision you regret. You can choose WHATEVER YOU WANT, and there is so much great stuff out there that you never really have to suffer through something sub-par as a place-filler. And, frankly, a bad film only costs you about 2 hours; a bad book can cost you ten times that.
But it can be hard to know what's good and bad. If you're a discerning film watcher, you can tell a lot from a trailer what kind of film it's going to be. You can read Ebert's reviews. Check out RottenTomatoes.com. But how do you tell about a book?
Book jacket summaries are just marketing ploys by the publisher, and fan recommendations can be unreliable at best. Lots of times I just don't know where the heck to go when I really want the lowdown on a genre book. The fact is, most fans give genre books bonus points for just being fantasy or science fiction, when what I really want is to read something that stands up to the best literature out there, something that participates in a conversation with the great thinkers and builders and dreamers. I don't want to have to settle for the book equivalent of The Adventures of Pluto Nash when I could have The Princess Bride, or Moon, or District 9, or debatably, Avatar. I don't want to have to settle for Goodkind's Wizard's First Rule when I could have T.H. White's The Once and Future King.
This blog is my effort to address some of the frustrations I describe above, perhaps so others can benefit from my explorations and disappointments. My background with literature instilled in me a desire to read the best available, and it's in the context of great literature that I want to consider my favorite genres. Because they CAN stand up to intelligent scrutiny, if only you look in the right places. If you don't like analyzing literature, than this blog will probably piss you off. But note that I do try to make room in my reviews for books that, for whatever reason, just keep you obsessively turning pages. There's always a place for that kind of book, and let me be up-front by admitting that when I was walking with my infant daughter, trying to get her to go the **** to sleep, I picked up a novelization of HALO to pass the time. It met my needs in the moment. I try to point that out in my reviews as well.
So, this blog serves a few different purposes:
1. It fills a gap in the review site universe. A lot of book reviews fail to provide concrete comparison points between books, and my ratings system seeks to remedy that. I've also struggled to find review blogs that look at the popular fiction of our time in the context of intelligent, well-studied literature (there are a few out there, but they're diamonds in the rough). I think juxtaposing the two can really help readers to make informed decisions.
2. It gives me a place to refer my skeptical non-sci-fi and non-fantasy reading friends, so that I can try to win them over to the genres. My wife is one of these and the fact saddens me every day, and drove us to therapy. Once I read Crime and Punishment in exchange for her reading Ender's Game, Dune, and Maniac McGee. Both hers and mine have something valuable to offer. Myths and legends, science fiction and fantasy, speculation on other worlds; these are at the core of the human psyche, I think. Joseph Campbell, a bona-fide smartie, thinks so too.
3. It documents my reading and allows me a place to put my thoughts, because my head is like a sieve: full of holes. It was Michel de Montaigne who said, "if I am a man of some reading, I am a man of no retentiveness." In a lot of ways, I can relate. I'm in the midst of trying to prove I can provide for my family as a writer, and so seeking out and writing down what either makes something work or not is helping me to refine and determine my own writing style.
A FINAL PLEA: I may sometimes sound like an arrogant S.O.B. (my wife says there's no "sometimes" about it), but I really do accept that I can be, and often am, wrong. I'm just a dude with an undergraduate degree in English, and a love for the science fiction and fantasy genres. I've got some specific tastes, and they sometimes lean kind of snobby, towards things that you may have found on assigned reading lists. But as I mentioned above, I've been known to pick up novelizations of HALO and DOOM to read while pushing my daughter on long walks in her stroller. I'm not always a snob. Also, there's the fact that hardly any American critics thought Moby Dick was worth a damn during Melville's lifetime. So if I sometimes seem unfairly critical of one novel or another (Wizard's First Rule, I'm looking at you), at least know that I'm aware that I'm not the final say on any book. I'm very interested in people's contrary or qualifying opinions. I fully expect that good discussions will alter my perceptions, and ratings, of various books.
My two-year old isn't shy about pointing out my bull-sh*t when she sees it, either. So argue with me! Sometimes a good debate helps me set my perspective right, when it didn't feel quite right before. I have an infinitely thick skin when it comes to these reviews; by posting them here, I welcome any criticism they inspire. Don't even worry too much about it being constructive, I'll happily take it all!