META/POLL: The Purpose of Criticism

Tom Russell milos_parker at
Tue Feb 19 08:45:14 PST 2008

You make very, very good points Eagle.  And the reasons you provide
are the very reasons why I try not to write highly-negative or tearing-
someone-a-new-orifice style reviews.

I will admit to doing it in the past, and as I've said before that's
in the case of stories I found to be offensive-- the only stories that
warrant, to my mind, such an approach.

Otherwise, I try to be gentle and balanced and I'd like to think I
succeed ninety-nine times out a hundred.

> All those standard, boring social grease sorts of things apply: focus on
> the work and not the author, when focusing on the work try to avoid things
> that even hint at opinions about the author, give the work the benefit of
> the doubt and explain why it doesn't work for *you* rather than decrying
> it as some objective definition of bad, and remember that the review is
> only your personal opinion.

Good points as well, and it's the kind of thing Martin's been saying.

I think this little tiff isn't so much because I disagree with what
he's saying, but because I don't think it necessarily applies: I
generally don't state that something is "bad" or "diseased hyena
droppings", and I generally do explain why it doesn't work for me.

I'd like to think, for example, that my review of The Enforcers in the
first or second Russell's Reviews walked this line fairly well.  The
story certainly wasn't terrible, but there were certain things that
prevented me from enjoying it as much as I could have.  I pointed
those things out as best I could, offered suggestions (for without
offering suggestions how can a criticism be constructive?) and I think
the general vibe was a positive one.

I'm certainly not trying to make anybody feel bad, and I'm not trying
to score points at someone else's expense.

I'm trying to help-- help people know that someone's reading their
stuff, help someone polish things up a bit, help engender some
discussion on the newsgroup.  I know when I first started out I was
very hungry for feedback.  I liked to know that I wasn't being
ignored, and I wanted to be a better writer.

I'm not implying that anyone is a bad writer.  (Well, maybe Willey.

But none of us are John Updike or Joyce Carol Oates or even Stan Lee.
All of us have areas we excell at and areas where we're lacking.  All
of us can be better writers, and all of us can help one another out in
doing that.

I mean, we're a community, y'know?  We're not some bookstore where
each work exists apart from everything else in some kind of vaccum.
We're a community of people who like writing and reading and generally
also like the superhero genre.

I'd like to think that many of us are friends.  Sometimes it feels
like me and Martin are on opposite sides of the room, throwing eye
daggers, but it wasn't too long ago that we were trying to work on a
miniseries together.  He might not like my current work, and I might
not care for some of his, but I know I have a profound respect for him
as a fellow human being and as a very funny and prolific writer.

I'm not saying that everyone's going to start commenting on everyone's
stories-- that's a pipe dream if there ever was one.  But I'd like to
provide a steady stream of feedback, at least from one man's point of
view.  I don't want anyone to feel ignored.  I know that feeling.  I
don't want anyone to feel left out.

I'd like to contribute that much to the group that's given me so much.

And discussion-- even heated discussion-- is _healthy_.  It helps us
all grow as thinkers, readers, writers, and people.

No one's perfect, least of all me.


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