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 introductory line.

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 one.

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 M. Kornbluth

* * * * 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 SF sequels.

* * *

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 that.

* * 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 problemsThe 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 yours!

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>*&nbsp;*&nbsp;*&nbsp;*&nbsp;<sup>1</sup>/<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;</tt>&nbsp; </b><small>(explanation)</small>


genre_name story_length by Author_name. * * * * 1/2 (explanation)

2That is, assuming I've matured any.

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