The Negative Review

When I started this blog, I tended to approach reviews of books that weren’t very good the same way I approach Syfy Original movies; with a maniacal glee. Syfy Original movies, are, after all, fair game; nobody (not even Syfy) expects them to be good. I felt the same way about many of the genre books I read and discussed here. I could be snarky and mean to my heart’s content.

This week I posted a negative review of a well-promoted hardcover book by a famous genre author, Michael Moorcock. The book is The Whispering Swarm. Here’s a link. Writing this review was not fun. There was no dark glee, just a sense of despair — similar to the despair I felt reading it, watching hours of my life tick away and realizing the book was not going to get better.

I don’t blame myself. I hold 75-year-old Moorcock completely responsible for making this book a failure. I felt bad for myself that I had to read it, and I swore to myself that it would not be a Did Not Finish. I felt bad for Moorcock. Not as bad, but bad.

The book is an unsuccessful mix of an autobiographical novel of Moorcock in the 1960s, when he and a handful of writers (they weren’t all male, although you’d think so if you read the book) created the New Wave movement; and an alternate-world fantasy. Moorcock’s hero, a first-person narrator named Michael Moorcock, wanders into a place called Alsacia, on the River Thames, presided over by the White Friars. Alsacia (a variation on Alsatia) exists beyond the timelines and “branes” of M-theory, which the kindly monks discuss and which goes over Michael’s head. Michael’s life is part undisguised Michael-Moorcock’s-life and part hanging-out-in-a-cool-fantasy-precinct. Unfortunately, nothing much happens in Alsacia until the last hundred pages of a 480 page book — and was does happen is anticlimactic.

Still, it was hard to compose an unflattering review of someone whose work I had enjoyed, and someone I do think of as a mover and shaker, an artistic leader in his own right. And the prose, especially in the first fifty pages, was glorious, a glowing love letter to the post-Blitz city Moorcock loves. This actually made things worse, because I had been seduced by a writer who knows exactly how to sell a book on 50 pages and an outline… how to fool the readers and editors alike with a bait-and-switch.

So, I should have had some mean fun with the review, right? I didn’t. Writing it just reminded me how disappointed I was.

Now I’m going to go watch Snarknado versus Mega-Croc. That should make me feel better.

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