SNARK IN THE NYT BOOK REVIEW
I read this review by Terrence Rafferty of Dan Simmons' The Terror with a rising sense of disgust. The opening paragraph is a lovely example of damning with faint praise:
Writing fiction isn’t an activity for the faint-hearted, and anyone who has managed, as Dan Simmons has, to generate two dozen books (in an impressive variety of genres) in just 22 years clearly deserves credit for discipline, diligence, resolve and, most of all, confidence. His will to persevere — to see every story, short or dauntingly long, through to the bitter end — has been regularly fortified by the recognition of his peers: his résumé includes a Hugo award (from the World Science Fiction Society), four Bram Stoker awards (from the Horror Writers Association) and a couple of World Fantasy awards. His latest opus, however, raises the disturbing possibility that this energetic writer’s hard-earned self-assurance may be tipping over into something more like hubris. “The Terror” is a 769-page novel about men stuck in the ice.Congratulations, Simmons, for doing whatever any writer does--finish your freakin' stories and novels. But now you've gone and done it--you're not just content with finishing your work. You're showing some ambition. Oh, Hyperion might have been the height of hackery, what with it being based on the structure of that festering cancre of mediocrity the Canterbury Tales, not to mention the low-born origins of your other work, but now you're at least trying really hard. Here, sit up and have a milkbone. This energetic writer’s hard-earned self-assurance. Give me a break.
Rafferty then ends with:
The attempt to produce a massive historical novel — one that might achieve the commercial glory of, for example, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” or “The Crimson Petal and the White” — isn’t, of course, a folly on that level. The quest for the Big Book is neither as heroic an endeavor nor, fortunately, as lethal. (“The Terror” won’t kill you unless it falls on your head.) But when a writer as canny as Dan Simmons can talk himself into something as foolhardy as “The Terror,” you know there’s a kind of insanity loose in the world of publishing, and all I really want to say in my one little page is, Stop the madness.
I.e., this is something Simmons did on purpose--a calculated attempt, not something from his heart. Simmons is a commercial writer, therefore what he does isn't personal. I don't want to read too much into it, but this is a skillful example of effing someone over while appearing to be half-way reasonable. (Not to mention this sudden veer, this sudden rampant twist of the steering wheel into the divider of the median strip: "there's a kind of insanity loose in the world of publishing, and all I really want to say in my one little page is, Stop the madness." What the f---?! Lazy does not even begin to describe this review.)
It's not even clear that Rafferty read the entire novel, from the analysis part of his review. He makes no mention of some of the most chilling and strangest scenes in the novel. He is not even willing to give Simmons his due for creating some of the weirdest and least commercial situations in a book given this kind of push by its publisher. Not to mention the muscular beauty of the prose. If you were to read Rafferty's review, you'd imagine a monkey had been dictating a novel to a walrus with a keyboard.
No, instead he notes the genre background of the author, makes some snide jibes at Simmons' personal intent as a writer (which are unknowable except to Simmons) and utterly fails to address the actual book in front of him. Out of seven paragraphs, only two constitute analysis, and it's hardly that--it's mostly summary. So out of a seven-paragraph review, we have two paragraphs devoted to "smearing" Simmons as a "commercial hack" without using those words (one can only imagine how much time Rafferty spent choosing the words in that first paragraph). We have almost two paragraphs just talking about the historical context of the novel. And the rest is lackluster, freshman-year college reviewing at its most banal.
Let's say for the sake of argument I'd read this book and not liked it. I would hope that my review would have at least acknowledged some of the bona fide triumphs at the level of scene and detail. But Rafferty isn't even willing to do that. Probably because he hasn't even read the book properly.
I'm sorry, but if a book of this scope and ambition appears on your doorstep and you're assigned to review it in one of the, if not the most, prominent book review publications in the country, don't expose yourself as a hack by presenting this kind of retarded, half-assed, snail-brained stew of received ideas and misbased assumptions as if it's a measured or intelligent review.