What were you reading?

We’ve all read those reviews – the ones that leave us scratching our heads and saying “What book did they read? ‘Cause that wasn’t the same one I read.”

Okay, aside from the review of one of Peter’s space operas complaining about the alien invasion of earth being cliched (there are no aliens, and it’s not set on Earth, but on a space ship), usually the reviewers are actually talking about the same story. The mental furniture they use to view the world, and the emotional baggage they bring to the story, is just radically different from ours.

Sometimes this is as minor as the reader envisioning a particular character as being played by some actor, and then getting upset when a character description later contradicts this. Sometimes it’s as weird as the gigantic rant about the politics, and the rest of audience is going “The what now? It’s rayguns and antigrav sleds and chase scenes and fights?”

Sometimes it’s the reader having a lot more knowledge of a subject than the author, much less the rest of the audience… never watch CSI with a forensic investigator, war movies with soldiers, historical movies with professional costumers or historians, or flying movies with pilots. Not unless you have a lot of popcorn handy for them to throw at the screen. And you find the yelling hilarious. In fact, getting Jim Curtis, my darling man, and LawDog to watch a thriller is really hilarious as long as the rest of us start with at least two drinks….

If you’re worried that your story might turn into the latter, definitely tap a subject matter expert or two to alpha or beta read. If it’s the former? Um, I’m not sure there’s anything you can do about that, other than throw up your hands, complain about how people are crazy, and keep writing.

Or you could just not read your reviews, so the not knowing what any readers say can drive you crazy instead of the knowing that you have no clue what in the world that reviewer meant by that….

What? You thought I had an answer?

I do; it’s called having another white Russian and laughing and crying with other writers over the insanity of the universe and poking fun at ourselves and our muses and our processes.

…I didn’t say it was a helpful answer!


  1. Sometimes the author inadvertently used misleading tropes. David Drake with the first few Leary and Mundy books used a few romance tropes, which were not his intent in any way. Since his readers were largely non-romance readers, nobody warned him.

    He wrote his way.out of it by providing actual romance for the main character with someone else, and various other dependents and interests for the other character. But.It took a while, and some people still prefer the romance tropes books and interpretation.

    So yeah. Sometimes it is a weird reader, but sometimes it is a semiotic/semantic error.

  2. Right now, I’m somewhat amused by a four-star review I got that reads, “This is not great literature…”

    I want to comment on it and say, “Of course it’s not. It’s meant to be enjoyable.” πŸ™‚

    1. It has been my experience as both a fan and an occasional beta and copy editor that “great literature” almost invariably sucks the life out of what might have been decent story telling.
      Never forget that old Willy the Shake was writing his day’s equivalent of soap opera for the masses at a ha’penny a throw for the cheap seats.

    2. The wholly negative three star review was interesting. Especially since the reviewer wanted to the dragon to win but offered against the hero that he got help from a witch. An interesting interpretation of the witch — but more to the point, if a dragon is acceptable, why NOT a witch?

  3. historical movies with professional costumers or historians

    Erm, guilty as charged. πŸ˜‰ It can be a lot of fun watching Gladiator or Last Legion with some other Roman historians – we don’t even expect them to get it right. :p

    It is worse with documentaries. The makers of those should get their facts and costumes right. Saddles with stirrups, lorica segmentata in Scipio’s army …. πŸ™„

    What irks me in some historical fiction novels is not only those basic details the author could have got right with some research (sorry, no tomatoes on a Roman table), but the way people from the past use modern values. A patrician Roman girl would NOT think about slave liberation. Nor would she go to the market unattended. *wall, meet book* (Ok, I didn’t throw it since I like books to much for that, but I didn’t finish reading it.)

    1. My mom’s focus was Elizabethan costuming, and *loved* watching movies of the period solely (near as I can tell) to snark at them…

      (There was one ridiculously expensive DVD set she’d managed to get as a gift that she wanted because it was apparently really, really good about costuming? (Elizabeth R, I think.) And she still had to snark about a dead extra lying in a ditch having a fly. >.>; That one seemed a little beyond for me–I figure extras shouldn’t be held to the same standard. <.<; )

      1. I would think that a dead *anything* lying in a ditch would have lots of flies. πŸ™‚ Depending on how long it’s been dead, of course.

    2. Or the 2004 King Arthur movie which manages to get almost every single piece of its history dead wrong.

      1. Is that the one with the Sarmatians? I but vaguely remember it; I’ve watched it on German TV which means it was running the background while I did something else. :rofl:

        1. My favorite part is where the guy is really shocked to hear that the Legions have left Britain . . . in 467.

          A little late, don’t you think?

      2. I remember when that came out. I was on a post-roman British kick historically speaking and cringed at all of that. Especially the “Sarmatians were Arthur’s knights” crap.

        1. I laughed in the wrong places, although I did like seeing Pelagius as a good guy. (I’d been reading far too much Augustin of Hippo at the time I rented the film.)

  4. The history and geology departments at Flat State U used to have movie nights, critiquing films in our subject areas (_The Patriot_ . . . That was a painful movie for historians.)

    The rock jocks had more fun. They got to throw popcorn.

      1. Films: The Core; Dante’s Peak; Volcano. Those were the “big three.” Classics like the one about the crack that almost split the Earth apart were saved for special occasions.

        1. Picks Dante’s Peak for a wikilook. I can see a lot of cringe-worthy elements therein. (Looks towards Mount Scott and mutters “Nice volcano. Niiice volcano. Let the thunderbeast sleep for a while longer, OK? A few thousand years sounds about right.”)

    1. FWIW, Michael Crichton’s Congo had me howling, though it was a bit closer to walling the book. The Macguffin was blue diamonds, to be obtained for their value as semiconductors. Sorry, the last time natural materials had a major impact in electronics was in the (galena) crystal.

      “Krylon” batteries, I suspect he needed a noun and the label of the can of paint was in his subconscious.

      OTOH, I’m sure he did fine with the gorillas. [grin cough *Gell-mann amnesia* cough]

  5. I’m been so confused, disoriented, and ambitious beyond my skill level that I’m not worrying about the inevitably many, many errors of fact.

    If I can figure out a plot that makes sense, and can pace it well, the rest is less important.

  6. I was asked nicely as a favor a while back to edit a Victorian cozy for a friend of a friend. As I had time available I agreed, though definitely not my genre of choice. I actually wound up having a great time as the writer was and is a heck of a story teller. Anyway, seems a young lady of a certain station had slipped away from her school to go stay at her aunt’s home in the countryside only to find that the aunt was away and the home was empty. While she had a full wardrobe of clothing there at the aunt’s, she could wear almost none of it as it all required help to put on. Minor, almost throwaway situation, but it brought home to me, unfamiliar as I was with the era from that perspective, the situation someone of that class might find herself in.

    1. Ah yes. That story.

      I’m ashamed that I hadn’t finished it.

      I’ll have to correct that error this evening. πŸ˜‰

  7. Sometimes it’s nice not being an expert in anything. But I can’t count how many times I’ve been watching a military-themed movie or TV show and said or thought “learn to salute.”

  8. Grumble, Top Gun, grumble… And my ‘favorite’ 1 star review… This was nothing but a bunch of short stories. The TITLE of the book was… wait for it… Vignettes!!!

  9. I’m afraid I was bit harsh in this review – although it was five stars: “A copy-editor or picky beta readers would help. I would dawn my editor’s hat, but I don’t have one. (Yes, ‘dawn’ instead of ‘don’ is frequent error in this book and the only one that consistently threw me out of the story.)”

    I started and ended the review with a request for the next book, so I don’t feel too bad about it. For a first book, I thought it was great – and said so. I laughed out loud when I stumbled across “linins” (instead of “linens”). How could a spell-checker miss that (it’s underlined in this comment box)?!? I probably wouldn’t even have noticed that the cover had a photograph if people here had not mentioned that was a no-no for Sci Fi. I left that tidbit out of the review.

    I will be very happy if my first attempt is as good as that book.

    1. BTW: I also believe it was this group that convinced me that five stars didn’t mean “best ever”. My current criterion is simple: Do I want to read the next one? If so, five stars and a review. If not, a star rating via GoodReads (automagic on the Kindle, but sometimes they don’t carry over to Amazon) and no review.

      Sorry to the series authors here, but I rarely review more than the first couple. Particularly Pam. But at book 46, does anyone reading actually care about the reviews? I can’t imagine that, “I read the first 45, but I’ll skip this one because of the poor (or lack of) reviews,” is actually a thing.

        1. I don’t know if I’ve read anything by your “friend” πŸ™‚ Now that I’ve looked “him” up, Waking Late looks like my sort of thing. The TBR list is a bit long, right now, so give me a couple of weeks.

          My dust bunnies have transmogrified into dust elephants and I’m on a murderous rampage to vanquish them.

      1. The readers might not care about reviews at that point but I think that Amazon still treats books differently, more visibility or what not, and it’s an easy way to let the author know that they made someone happy today. πŸ™‚

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