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  • Gerald L. Coleman

The Importance of being earnest

Updated: Aug 31

when readers write reviews with dubious motives



I remember a time when there was no such thing as a reader review. There were recommendations, but no reviews. It was back when we actually went to our favorite bookstore, made our way to the back corner (because that was where they inevitably put the science fiction and fantasy section), and scanned the shelves looking for the next thing to read. Most of the time we went because we really were looking for the next thing to read. Sometimes we went because someone we knew recommended a certain novel and we went to see if our bookstore had it in stock. Occasionally, we ran into someone in that back corner who gave us a recommendation - have you read this yet, they asked furtively, holding up a novel they pulled from the shelf? Most of the time the answer was yes. Rarely, we went because we'd heard that our favorite author had finally released the next book in the series we'd been reading for over a decade (you know who you are - RIP). But, when we went in search of a book we'd been given a recommendation about, it was because we knew the person, understood their motivations, and trusted their judgement. That's not the world of reader reviews that currently exists. The contemporary world of reviews exists because of sites like Amazon and Goodreads, which allow a "reader" to write a review without any kind of vetting. I placed reader in quotations because very often the reviewer I'm about to discuss has not even bothered to buy or read the book. Ask any person of color who has published or any woman with a novel on the market and they will all have experienced reviews written by racists and misogynists. Yeah, I said it. Did that offend your delicate sensibilities? Don't worry, you'll live. These "readers" are enraged by the audacity of people of color and women who write stories in which people of color and women are the protagonists. And if a white male happens to be the villain well that just exacerbates the indignation of these kinds of "readers." Their reviews go something like this: "This book is laughable. Plot is terrible and the characters are unbelievable. Do yourself a favor and skip this." Or, "I don't understand why this book has so many good reviews, it's terrible. I couldn't bring myself to read more than 20 pages before I gave up." Or my favorite, "NOT GOOD."

They are so threatened by a world in which they are not centered that they lash out at every story that doesn't cater directly to them. Their heroes are the writers who echo their idiotic pathos by calling these writers SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) as if that's an insult. In my experience every great hero in literature is an SJW. Their heroes also spew the garbage that people of color and women are "ruining" scifi and fantasy by writing in these ways that leave white males behind - as if white male characters haven't spent all of written history in western society as the center of storytelling. The contemporary world of reviews exists because of sites like Amazon and Goodreads, which allow a "reader" to write a review without any kind of vetting. I placed reader in quotations because very often the reviewer I'm about to discuss has not even bothered to buy or read the book. Ask any person of color who has published or any woman with a novel on the market and they will all have experienced reviews written by racists and misogynists. Yeah, I said it. Did that offend your delicate sensibilities? Don't worry, you'll live. These "readers" are enraged by the audacity of people of color and women who write stories in which people of color and women are the protagonists. And if a white male happens to be the villain well that just exacerbates the indignation of these kinds of "readers." Their reviews go something like this: "This book is laughable. Plot is terrible and the characters are unbelievable. Do yourself a favor and skip this." Or, "I don't understand why this book has so many good reviews, it's terrible. I couldn't bring myself to read more than 20 pages before I gave up." Or my favorite, "NOT GOOD."

They are so threatened by a world in which they are not centered that they lash out at every story that doesn't cater directly to them. Their heroes are the writers who echo their idiotic pathos by calling these writers SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) as if that's an insult. In my experience every great hero in literature is an SJW. Their heroes also spew the garbage that people of color and women are "ruining" scifi and fantasy by writing in these ways that leave white males behind - as if white male characters haven't spent all of written history in western society as the center of storytelling. Sites like Amazon and Goodreads have decided not to police them. As long as they don't directly attack the author with personal slights they are allowed to try to damage the writer's livelihood by writing disingenuous reviews of novels they haven't even read. I've even seen occasions where Goodreads reviewers will give one star to every book they feel has a political lean to the Left and five stars to every book that has a political lean to the Right, all in one day, as if they've actually read 100 books in the last 24 hours. And again, Goodreads will do nothing about it. Sharing a recommendation with someone about a good book used to be something sacred. Sometimes we'd even pass along our dog-eared copy. We'd smile and commiserate in the back corner of that bookstore about there being nothing new to read and go over our list of already-reads in the hopes of hearing about something juicy and choice that was available to be devoured - Wait, you mean you haven't read The Faded Sun series yet?! Are you saying you haven't heard of The Dragonriders of Pern?! And even if that person was a stranger, it didn't take long after discussing the novels we'd both read to decide on whether or not their tastes were in line with our own and their recommendation could be trusted.


That world is gone. Not just because reader reviews exist but also because an entire industry of books by marginalized people writing about marginalized characters that don't center white males are now available and in the offing. And that seems to scare some white guys to death. It scares them so much that they will actively try to sabotage those novels with reviews written with harmful intentions. Go look at any novel by a bestselling person of color or woman and you will invariably see one star ratings by "readers" who "just don't understand what everybody else sees in this book?" Even on the novels by a three time Hugo award winner, and black woman, who has made history by wining the Hugo for each book in her series. These white guys are still "baffled." They actually aren't, but they are unwilling to expose the real motivation behind their negative criticism of the work. It isn't that these stories are bad, it's just that these white guys aren't in them. At least, they aren't the hero. So, the next time you're looking for something to read and you are considering the work of a person of color or a woman, ignore the one star ratings - they aren't written earnestly.



Time for coffee ...

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"I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell. " Octavia Butler