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I review things

My review for Temple: Incarnations, by Steven Savile, has gone up on Tangent short fiction review. If you can spare a moment, I'd love a comment over there on what you thought of the review...

Temple: Incarnations is four snapshots of a wanderer, Temple, "incarnated" in a post-apocalyptic world (originally serialized in Apex Digest issues five through eight). We begin in media res, melodramatically surveying details of a not-quite-ruined city. The pockmarked and broken earth has been inherited by the violent and the ignorant; cities are derelict, and people are, at best, scavengers. And you have to wonder how some of those scavengers could possibly have survived. It is not an unfamiliar scene, though Steven Savile does manage to dream up some particularly detailed horrors.

Want to read more?

[ETA: please note errata in comments]


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 10th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)
What strikes me as interesting is the way two tangent reviewers are completely at odds with each other over the same story -


Feb 21 - Temple is haunted by the dead. On top of that, he’s also suffering from amnesia. Bearing a silver cross, he avoids the silver-eyed dead as he travels through the cities of Europe, finally landing in Paris. There he searches for his identity while death and disease follow in his wake. It is the dead he unconsciously calls to himself who finally lead him toward the information he seeks.

Savile uses colorful language and good characterization to carry his tale. The disorientation and confusion that Temple experiences are shared by the reader, and layers of understanding unfold for us as they do for him. Temple learns parts of his tale from the dead; for instance, a woman named Katja points him in the direction he must go and reminds Tower that Nathaniel Glass is his real name. Secondary characters like her provide context and add depth. Little details scattered throughout, like street names and the fairy tale, Rapunzel, make a big impact.

Savvy readers may guess who Temple really is based on the title and the opening paragraphs of the story. Don’t let that deter you. The story Savile spins is a complex one and well worth the time.


This review intrigued me enough to order the collected paperback when it was announced for under 10 bucks.

Now compared with -

Much of the writing is awkward, and some comes across as just plain amateurish—it was originally written almost ten years ago, then re-written over the span of a week from the ground up—and unfortunately, I think both elements left their mark; there are errors throughout, and the piece as a whole doesn't hold together for me.

Well, that certainly wouldn't have inspired me to part with cash. But at the end of the day which one of you is wrong? After all you both represent the same magazine talking about the same story, no?

Can anyone be wrong in a review?

Well obviously not.

Now, aside from the differences which perfectly sum up the nature of a review, being an opinion piece, nothing more, nothing less, no matter how prettily dressed up, one implicitly trusts a reviewer until one finds fault in his knowledge.

So not tackling anything apart from whether your review is good or not (not the quality of the book in question, but of the actual written review as a piece of work that is) the review states: it was originally written almost ten years ago, then re-written over the span of a week from the ground up.

Now, this shows, to use your own words, sloppy work on behalf of the writer (of the review this time).

More should be demanded of a public opinion, no?

As the reviewer you stand as Vox Populi, people pay attention to your words, or at least you hope they do. The book in question clearly states part I was written over ten years ago and rewritten during the course of a week - a quarter of the text, not the entirety of the novella. There is a marked difference here. The review implies a rush job with no respect for the audience, where the truth is that an original idea from a joint project with other writers that went nowhere was redone and then developed upon.

If one is to put an opinion out there, basic mistakes in comprehension ought not appear or it causes the reader to doubt the validity of the rest of your argument. It is like not knowing the different remits of MI5 and MI6 (one operates within and the other without the UK) but if a basic mistake is made, and such an obvious one it causes the reader to question everything else.

None of this has to do with the liking or not of the book in question, it just reflects poorly upon the craft of the reviewer. The onus is on you to get your facts straight, as the rest is just hot air.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 10th, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Curious
I think it adds credence certainly for the only fact quoted to be correct - reviewing is an odd skill, rather like a house of cards. You don't want to give the words an excuse to fall down. What I think is most interesting about this small press release is the disparity of opinion on it, its weak or it rivals Kafka. I've just spent a few minutes googling before checking back (obsessive compulsive internet disorder in practice) and there's only been one mediocre review. That one exception, the other dozen reviews have pretty equally loved and hated it. Interestingly the love has come more from horror websites (other than that first Tangent one). I suspect it is one of style employed. Each piece actually reads very differently from the last - and certainly the third installment is the finest, the first the weakest, so there is no argument that the 10 year/polish was the weak link of the four. It also feels a little like four separate parts but not one whole, as though each part itself had its own voice and own story/concerns, and it wasn't so worried about being a 'classic novella' as being like the cover, vaguely fragmented...

And most certainly you should stand behind your review - and it is much easier without a that moment of sloppiness (such a great word by the way) as there's nothing to detract from the certainty you know what you're talking about.

Now, if you actually want to give this author a serious look to see whether you like his work or not, and ever stumble across his short story collection Angel Road, you'll see a completely different personality on display. More creative, more controlled. Seven of the Nine stories in it picked up mentions in the YBF&H - again there were a couple of weak spots, but those seven more than made up for it.
Jul. 10th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Curious
[i]the love has come more from horror websites[/i]

There is a disparity between "horror" readers and "other" readers that I'm still trying to come to terms with--I would say that I love horror, but "horror" readers don't seem to notice or care about grammar or editing--it seems to me to be similar for a "golden age" afficionado's lack of care for characterization, only applied to language itself, ... and to both audiences, the idea seems to be more important than any other element of the writing.

I actually enjoyed the first _story_ the most, though there was still a fair amount that annoyed me through it (particularly at the sentence level, occasionally at the word level; and it spouts off references to a number of other works of fiction for no apparent reason).

I think the fourth was actually the weakest, for me--and that could be my failure for not getting it, but I _really_ failed to get it; and it didn't have anything that even approached a bright point for me.

The second part had enough of a story, and started to actually introduce (or at least, define the curve of) the arc; but it was then that I really started getting frustrated by the episodic nature of the piece--not so much that the elements were episodes, but that the episodes didn't seem like they could hang together in the same world. Which could be "answered" in the fourth piece, but I don't know it.

And just to mention it, I think the third piece had the most promise, could have easily been the strongest, but needed more development. And anything that cavalierly tosses in artificial intelligence with no seeming regard for its context rankles me--again, more development, more context.

Maybe this is stuff that should have gone into the review, but I was afraid I was already being too negative.
Jul. 10th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Curious
Some say if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, right? Others would say back up opinion so it becomes informed opinion.

Now, I find THIS review or exchange of ideas, much more interesting to read, personally. There's a depth to it that there isn't in the original review - now of course you don't want to sit and slam a book over and over and over, that gets tired. But as a reviewer you owe it to yourself and your readers to say more than 'this sucketh'.

The grammar is an interesting one, because it is most certainly a stylistic choice - truncated clauses etc - for the meter of the sentences. It isn't that they are mistakes, at least I don't believe so, more that they are wilful transgressions.

Interesting also that you see four separate worlds on offer in the four... given the cyclical nature of the story, that might even be deliberate, a world for each Incarnation or something - I'm not sure and wouldn't claim to put meaning where there quite possibly is none :)

Anyway, thanks for responding - hope you didn't mind me jumping in -
Jul. 10th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Curious
I don't mind your jumping in at all--I'm still new to this reviewing gig, with the major driving factor behind my own reviews being what I like and don't like in others'. It's good to hear what people (besides the author) like and don't in my own.

As for the grammar--some of it could be stylistic (and more so in this particular case than what I think "horror" readers are happy to slog through)--in this particular case, though, there were lots of what I think were actual editing errors. I didn't read the story while it was serialized, so I don't know if they were carried over from Apex, or if they were added in (or if edits were reverted, or...)

I hadn't considered the possibility of different incarnations in that sense, though it's possible. He definitely left a lot open to interpretation. :)
Jul. 11th, 2007 12:17 am (UTC)
Re: Curious
I used to review for a print mag in the UK MANY years ago, and I remember it being a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. So much you want to say, or think you want to say - certainly was in my case, right up until I sat down and tried to get it on paper.

Personally I love the reviews by guys like Ed Bryant - there's a man who shows incredible understanding of the mechanics and machinations of genre fiction. The reviews themselves are a treat to read.

I didn't read both versions, so I can't comment on the carrying over - it's possible.

Anyway, pleased to meet you - I'm Jim - for what it's worth, in terms of reviews, as a reader I find it much more informative to go deeper if you're confident in what you want to say - less isn't always more. Thanks for the dialogue -

Jul. 10th, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Curious
I appreciate the feedback--and as I was starting to say that I stood behind my interpretation of the author's afterward, I saw my mistake there:

"[...] I immediately put it out of my mind--until about a week before delivery was due, and suddenly I realized I had nothing, zip, nada, zilch, no idea that I could conceivably spin out for 30,000 words."

The thing being he only had to spin it out for ~ 4,000, and that was rewritten "from the ground up over the next couple of days".

Can anyone be wrong in a review?

Well obviously not.

Not so obvious, if facts are misstated, as you've pointed out.

I'll see about getting that fixed on the review.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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