No, I’m not talking about Spaceballs, though that’d certainly make for a fun post. Though, since I’ve brought it up, I might as well put a plug for it right here: If you haven’t seen Mel Brooks’ classic lampooning of Science-Fiction Space Opera, you definitely should. But this post isn’t going to be about that. No sadly, this post is going to be about some dirty pool that’s been played in conjunction with—what else?—the Hugo Awards.
Now, while I haven’t posted about the Hugo Awards in quite some time, that still doesn’t mean I haven’t been following them. At a distance, since even attempting to stick my neck into that mess, even to just post a quick comment, is the equivalent of stripping yourself naked and running into a no-man’s-land (quite literally) of trigger-happy, ad hominem attackers. Watching the comment threads circlejerk back and forth with congratulatory backslapping only cements how far this division has come—there are dedicated, very vocal commentators on both sides, a lot of whom (particularly on one side) absolutely refuse to talk to the other side. They want backslapping, not debate. They want a safe space to shout their opinions over and over again, with no challenge to their statements.
So yeah, not much reason to get involved in that. But there’s been a newer development that I’ve noticed. Now that the packets are out and the votes are being weighed, some parties have apparently decided that it’s not enough to do the whole “No Award everything we don’t like strategy.” Now there’s another tactic flying around.
Lone Star reviews.
Basically, it’s pretty simple as a tactic goes. One of the more vitriolic anti-sad puppies out there appears to have been the start of it (though it may have begun elsewhere even earlier) in response to an observation that a lot of the usual Hugo winners didn’t fair that well on Amazon compared to some of what the SP crowd was putting forward. Now, there have been a lot of back and forth discussions on that even outside the Hugo Awards tiny little sphere, discussions going over the system the Amazon uses, whether or not it means anything for the author as time moves forward, etc. But this particular anti-puppy decided that the best response that could arise in return to this observation was—wait for it—to encourage a book bomb of all the books they didn’t like among the Hugo Award nominees, and swarm them with bad reviews.
It’s a scummy tactic. Worse, it’s a bit like escalation of firepower. Once one faction sees that the other factions are doing it, they want to pick up the same weapon. Even if they don’t, accusations that they are will start flying. Which brings us to a comment I read the other day.
A very vocal anti-puppy commented that simply because he was an outspoken anti-puppy, his books had been one-star bombed by the Sad Puppy supporters, and it was wrong. Except when the anti-puppies did it (yes, he actually claimed this in the same comment), because as long as they believed the were morally right, then they had a good reason to. Also, he dared more people to leave one star reviews on his book because all that proved was that they didn’t have a leg to—yeah, I started skimming it. It got ridiculous.
Point is, I checked him on Amazon, and indeed, he does have a very large number of unreasonable one-star reviews. He also had a few very well-thought out and explained one-star reviews to go along with them. I went along and did the helpful/not-helpful boxes as I browsed through them, because heck, even if the guy is loud and annoying to me, a scummy review is still a scummy review.
So, here’s what we have: Individuals on both sides appear to be leaving one-star reviews for books of authors they don’t like. And at least one prominent individual on one of the sides has encouraged such actions as a “take that!” to which supporters on the other have responded in kind.
I don’t approve of either. In fact, if you’re encouraging this or engaging in it, you’re part of the problem. Amazon reviews are already facing enough difficulties as it is. Thanks to the efforts of shady businesses that offer false reviews, a lot of people no longer trust books with high reviews, and some readers have started holding a stance that a five-star review is no better than a one star review. I don’t agree with this, nor do I like it (because it means that a well-received book is actually going to have a harder time being a success) but organizing a one-star review bomb of books whose authors you don’t like is just compounding the problem by introducing a bunch of baseless reviews into the mix.
Yes. Baseless. I don’t care if your feelings are hurt, or if you think that it’s only fair to retaliate to some perceived injustice by attempting to game the Amazon reviews. I don’t even care which side of this debate you’re on. Bombing an author is just poor taste and bad form. Worse, in the end it’s not going to do much of anything at all if the author is good enough. All it takes is ten people who really like the book and leave a five-star review to cancel out ten one-star review efforts, and in looking at the sales numbers for some of these books … Yeah. Any damage done in the long run probably isn’t going to do much to the giants.
There’s only one reason to leave a one-star review. And that’s for a truly one-star book. I’ve left maybe one or two one-star reviews in my life. I’ve left plenty of two-star reviews. In each case, I know nothing about the author. I’ve just read a book that truly comes up lacking in just about every area that makes up a story, from having flat characters to a poorly constructed theme. And a lot of the one star reviews I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks? Most of them don’t even mention the book. Instead, they play about with repetitious phrases like “This author is childish” (or far, far worse) and never actually mention the book themselves. In the end though, all it’s really doing is showing the childishness of the reviewer more than anything else.
Look, the Hugos have become an outright mess. We’ve got insulars trying to keep everything just the way they like it (which only coincidentally happens to be quite beneficial for them), Sad Puppies settling in for a lengthy battle, Rabid Puppies … well, I don’t even know what they’re up to. All I do know is that the results this year, and moreso next, are going to be quite interesting, especially as this battle between “fans” and “trufans” heats up (because at this point there’s no way it’s cooling down).
But come on. Have some standards, and stop with the one-star attacks. If you’re going to leave a one-star, at least try to rise above some of the drek that makes up a good portion of the Amazon reviews, drek like “Bought this book thinking it was another book. It wasn’t. One-star.” Have some class.
Of course, if that’s what you’re aiming to hit, well, I can’t stop you. Nor do I expect to. But when it comes to the Lone Star strategy, I only have one thing to say.