The other day, someone commented on the blog that, unfortunately, Imager’s Intrigue and Haze were boring and major disappointments.  I replied directly, something I usually avoid doing, at least immediately, because the comment punched several of my buttons.  As many of my readers well know, my first fantasy, The Magic of Recluce, features Lerris, a young man who, at the beginning of the novel, finds virtually everything in his life boring, and everything that he railed against at the beginning far less so at the end… yet the world in which he lives has changed very little.

I have no problem with readers saying that they personally found a book of mine – or anyone else’s – boring… or whatever.  I have great problems when they claim the book is boring, without qualifications.  A book, in itself, is neither exciting nor boring.  It simply is.  When a reader picks up a book and reads it, there is an interaction between what the reader reads and what the writer wrote.  What a reader finds interesting depends at least as much on the reader as the writer.  There are some books that have been widely and greatly acclaimed that I do not find interesting or enjoyable, and that is true of all readers.  In general, however, books that are well-written, well-thought-out, and well plotted tend to last and to draw in a greater percentage of readers than those that are not.  The fact that books with overwhelmingly positive reader and critical reviews that also sell large numbers receive comments like “dull,” “boring,” and “slow” suggests that no book can please everyone.  That’s not a problem.

The problem, as I see it, is that there are more and more of such unthinking comments, and those comments reflect an underlying attitude that the writer must write to please that particular reader or the author has somehow failed if he or she has not done so.  This even goes beyond the content of the books.  A number of my books – and those of many other authors – are now receiving “one-star” or negative reviews, not because of faults in the book, but because the book was not available immediately in cheaper e-book versions at the time when the hardcover is published.  Exactly how many people in any job would think it fair that they received an unsatisfactory performance review because they didn’t offer their services at a lower rate?  Yet that’s exactly what the “one-star-reviewers” are essentially saying – that they have the right to demand when and at what price what version of a book should be released.

It took poor Lerris exile and years to understand that Wandernaught was not boring, but that he was bored because he didn’t want to understand.  But that sort of insight seems lacking in those whose motto appears to be: Extremism in the pursuit of entertainment (preferably cheap) is no vice, and moderation in the criticism of those who provide it is no virtue.

7 thoughts on “Boring?”

  1. mbaren says:

    One of the problems I find is that most people don’t really think about the distinction that you are drawing. At least in my own life, I try to draw distinctions between me thinking something is good/bad/funny/lame/boring/exciting/etc. vs. something actually being (inherently) those things. And, by the way, I attribute this at least in part to your influence – Lerris’s “Order is not boring – you are bored with Order” phase resonated with me for some reason, and it stuck with me.

    People understand the difference when you explain it to them – it’s not terribly complicated, after all – but they don’t seem to be able to translate it into practice. It’s quite frustrating, but when someone says, “I didn’t find that movie funny,” they hear “That movie isn’t funny.” Not all people, to be fair, but a lot of them.

    I sell software for a living, and opinions are pretty divided on my product. But it isn’t inherently bad or good – it’s just useful for some people, and less useful for others, and that’s as it should be. For some people, my competitor’s product is more appropriate, and I’d be the first person to tell them so. But it’s not “good”, any more than my software is “bad”.

    And of course, now everyone can make his or her opinion known in easy, relatively meaningless chunks thanks to the internet. I’m really sure there are actually more of these comments than there used to be, as you say, or whether there’s just increasing access to them. Regardless, if nothing else it’s a reminder that it’s always a good idea to do more than just check a star rating.

    To your note about the sense of “right to demand”, I’m reminded of a particular piece a comedian Louis C.K. did about how people seem to be feeling increasingly entitled, in this case due to various technological advances (

  2. Joshua Blonski says:

    I’ve also seen some one-star reviews to the tune of: “The story itself was fine, but the e-book format was horribly done.” I can only think (or occasionally respond) that the stars are for the story, and the written review can then include the caveat that the formatting wasn’t done well for a particular version.

    One thing those reviewers probably don’t think about is that they’re reviewing ALL TYPES of formats for a particular book. Had they read a paperback copy, the noted problem wouldn’t have been an issue. Therefore on those grounds alone, it’s a mistake to rate the entire work based on one format.

  3. j says:

    Haze is an odd book, and I can understand, even if I don’t agree with, the polarization in reviews.

    The book reads as a kind of mirror image of Adiamante, which in my opinion is one of your best books, if not your best. However, Adiamante offers an extra hook for the reader–namely, the subtle hint of a romantic relationship between the two main characters. In Haze, you seem to very intentionally exclude this possibility. In Adiamante, the conversations between the main characters took place on a sociopolitical and a personal level at once, which meant readers that weren’t interested in the political angle could latch on to the personal level and enjoy the book anyway. In Haze, this is much harder to do, and readers uninterested in the sociopolitical questions are probably going to find the book boring.

    Also, if I recall correctly, the threat of violence was more consistently obvious in Adiamante, symbolized by the orbiting ship, which provided a single source of tension unifying the book. In Haze, the dangers, and the plot, are more diffuse and complex.

    On the other hand, I think Haze has some of your most imaginative scenes, best descriptions, and most lucid sociopolitical points. Your clear-cut prose style and your sense of imagery are working together here in a way that surpasses your earlier work, including Adiamante. However, that’s not going to be enough to please the readers who just came for the traditional kind of action and romance. Hence the polarization.

  4. Derek says:

    Haze caught me with the sociopolitical aspects, and the dangers Roget faced being diffuse fit well with the theme and story. Haze also caught me on an emotional level, the painting of the dachshund that had a minor role in the story gripped me for some reason. It was subtle, and showed the humanity of an Agent forced to hide everything in plain sight.

    As for the definitive statements of readers based on opinion, “I think it is boring therefore it is,” can be attributed in my opinion to the look-at-me generation. the idea that we can rate comments, books, music, videos, or anything on a five star system without technical expertize in the fields is arrogant.

    This generation has had instant feedback for their ‘input’ for so long that they naturally pander to each other. How many people can I get to ‘like’ my status? How many up-dings can I get for my Youtube video. The value of the object is not in the crafting, but the reception. I’m sure this can be argued as a good thing from an economic standpoint. In normal economics, all parties, the buyer and the seller, have money in the game.

    An online reviewer generally has no stake in the game, it costs him nothing to say what he says. It costs him nothing to give a ‘one-star’. And yet it can translate into real loss of business for those being reviewed. We have to ask ourselves something if we consider this system a valid and positive influence on society.

    Who the hell do we think we are?

  5. Nightsedge says:

    The Imager series was my favorite of all the books. Would love to see one more book or even perhaps more books like the Recluse Saga. The imager concept is truly fascinating! With Rhennthyl being basically the head Master Imager now, all kinds of new adventures and problems could be created. Thank you L. E. Modesitt for this series.

  6. JPowell says:

    I have noticed this as well, and it is very disconcerting. With a book like “Imager’s Intrigue” I expected that most of the story would revolve around Rhenn’s growth as a persona and as an Imager, and that most of it would be the “behind the scenes” work that was hinted at in past novels, but was never done by Rhenn himself until this book. I think it is because I have been an avid reader of yours for over 10 years that I find the subtleties of politics and such almost more entertaining than the action, though that is highly satisfying as well.

    A trend I have been noticing is the need for immediate gratification in all mediums, which is something I know you have noted in your blog before. And the largest way I see this playing out in terms of fiction books as the need for the more ‘base’ actions and thoughts on a regular and overt basis. When a book has very little romance or action, and it is a fiction novel, people have the tendency to assume it isn’t worth their time. I find that the more I have to think about and pay attention to figure out what is going on, the more it is worth my time and attention to read.

    As you have noted, I also believe that people are less inclined to think about their actions or words which also leads to a lower inclination to think about their entertainment. Saying that brings to mind the movie “Idiocracy” and that all entertainment the people in that movie in the future love is the entertainment that needs no thought to watch or make. I have the desperate fear that is the path our society is headed towards. A society so in love with thoughtlessness that they have no idea how to even try to think. A society so far into the decline that they have hit the bottom and kept going.

    But, I’m starting to ramble, so I’ll leave with this: Mr. Modesitt, I have loved your books for the majority of my life, and I believe that they have contributed greatly to the person I am today. I have only recently started reading your science fiction, but I can tell that it is just as exceptional, if not more so, than your fantasy and has made me think more about society than I probably ever wanted to. And for that, I’m grateful to you.

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