Of Pharyngulans and fake reviews

It would appear my expulsion from the SFWA is not enough to satisfy some rabbits, as a few of them are upset that the Amazon star rating for A Throne of Bones is a respectable 4.3 out of 5.  It’s interesting to see that while book lovers on the right don’t hesitate to publicly support left-wing writers, those on the left can’t even bear to consider the possibility that an ideological opponent might have written a book worth reading.  This is one reason why the Left is so frequently taken by surprise and obiterated in debate; they very seldom bother reading material from the other side and therefore have no idea what the other side’s positions and arguments actually are.

People sometimes ask me how I can so easily tell a review is fake, forgetting that I was once a nationally syndicated reviewer.  It’s usually obvious, because the fraudulent reviewer phrases his criticism in general terms, criticize various aspects of the book in an incoherent manner, and not infrequently refers to things that don’t even exist in the book. Fake reviews also usually appear right after something has happened to stir the warren up. In general, they read like an extreme case of a reviewer phoning it in, which is something that almost every professional reviewer has done from time to time.

Of course, it’s even easier to identify a fake review when someone publicly admits to posting one, as per this conversation yesterday at Pharyngula:

47 The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge
14 August 2013 at 5:33 pm

Since Vox Day has decided to “correct” the “errors” in George R. R. Martin’s fiction, perhaps someone should head over to Amazon and “correct” the 4.3-out-of-5-star rating on 109 reviews. Pharyngulate this sucker!

49 anuran
14 August 2013 at 5:48 pm
@47 TVRBoK,
I’ve given it a more appropriate review

54 JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness
14 August 2013 at 6:00 pm

Careful. With this comment he’ll be able to know which is your review. I don’t expect good things. But that’s your decision, with my situation the first thought was the risk involved.

71 ogremeister
15 August 2013 at 12:31 am 
Hmmm…and what will be your opinion should his followers decide to retaliate against PZ’s book?

Anuran, as it happens, appears to be one Todd Ellner from Portland, Oregon, who posted the following “review” of A Throne of Bones:

Tedious wish fulfillment
1.0 out of 5 stars, August 14, 2013

Flat characters, A plot that would need contour and triple integration to be considered “derivative” and a lot of chest-thumping Manly Men doing Manly Things with Manly Men. All that’s missing is the Heroic PUA.

The petty behavior of the SFWA further illustrates why Amazon was wise to ban all authors from reviewing books on its site.  I hope that they will soon also institute a policy of eliminating all reviews written by reviewers known to have written a fake one, and barring those individuals from reviewing products in the future.

As for retaliation against PZ’s book, my position is the same as it was when McRapey’s rabbits were posting fake reviews on Amazon. First, PZ didn’t take any such action himself or advocate it. Second, he is not responsible for the actions of his readers. Third, one’s integrity should not permit one to write a false review of a book, no matter how much one despises the author.  Fourth, I am actively opposed to all fake reviews, be they pro or con.  I do not want anyone who considers himself a reader, a fan, a regular, or Dread Ilk to write fake reviews of anything.  Why?  Because lying about what you have not read is wrong.

In this vein, notice that even the Pharyngulans who don’t think Mr. Ellner should post the fake review frame their objections in risk/reward terms rather than moral terms.  This illustrates a common theme here, which is that atheists simply do not possess a universal objective morality to which they can appeal when addressing the behavior of others.

I won’t pretend that reviews don’t matter. They do, which is why I always encourage those who have read the book, and liked it, to take the time to post reviews on Amazon. But I’m not sure that the fake ones don’t help more than they harm, because a cluster of one-star reviews not only increase the overall number of reviews, but indicate that the author is, at the very least, capable of inspiring genuine passion.

I should also be clear that I neither intended nor claimed to “correct” any “errors” in George Martin’s fiction. I am, as it happens, a fan of Martin’s fiction and think highly of the first three books in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, I think the direction he has been leading the subgenre of epic fantasy is a psychologically and creatively barren one and I began writing The Arts of Dark and Light as an attempt to show how an admittedly lesser writer could nevertheless accomplish more by rejecting Martin’s nihilism in favor of long-standing moral traditions.

And with only one book in the series having been written, I think it is far too soon for anyone to say if I have succeeded or failed in that regard.  For that matter, it may even be too soon to be certain that Martin is not considerably more conventional than he has hitherto appeared to be in the first five books.