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May 14, 2007

When Amazon Reviews Amuse Me

I got a chuckle with this one-star review of Old Man's War on Amazon:

Actually, the first chapter had a rather novel premise. A couple pages into the second chapter I threw the book into the trash. I will not stand for subliminally being preached to. Far, far too many references to religion and god. I wanted Sci-Fi not mythical fantasy. Caveat emptor.

I find the idea of being portrayed as a stealth proselytizer amusing beyond words.

I found this fellow's e-mail and told him so, noted my personal profound agnostic state, and suggested he might give the book another try, or barring that, he might check out The Android's Dream, which readers of the book will recall has a religion whose founder was an acknowledged fraud. We'll see what the fellow thinks about that. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my holy state. Anyone want to be converted? Anyone? Hello?

Posted by john at May 14, 2007 04:39 PM

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nisleib | May 14, 2007 05:12 PM

Yes please.

Christen me with Crisco!

Actually I am already a member of the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster.

FSM forever!

Stephen Granade | May 14, 2007 05:18 PM

I read The Android's Dream. I've seen what kind of religion you come up with given a free hand. Thanks, but no thanks.

Laurie Mann | May 14, 2007 05:18 PM

Sounds like the reader was confusing the opinions of characters in a book with the opinions of the writer. You can't reason with anyone that dumb.

J | May 14, 2007 05:22 PM

So, they decided to write a review without reading the entire book? Without getting past the second chapter even? That's like deciding a movie is bad because you don't like the title card. Silly.

PixelFish | May 14, 2007 05:26 PM

Wow. Was he even reading the same book as I was? I mean, I know the characters quote from the Bible at one point, but that's because they are well educated, not because they are preaching.

John Scalzi | May 14, 2007 05:27 PM

Actually, I appreciate that he noted where he stopped reading; it gives people reading the review an accurate context.

Otherwise: Eh, what can you do. The fellow is obviously hostile to religion in a general sense, and so is sensitive to being preached at, or even feeling like he's being preached at. We all have our quirks.

Jim Wright | May 14, 2007 05:32 PM

Huh? My subliminal preach-O-meter is usually pretty dammed sensitive and I never detected any form of proselytizing (or mythical fantasy for that matter) in OMW. Sounds like reviewer went into the book with some seriously preconceived notions - and managed to find exactly what he was looking for by Chapter 2.

That fact that you actually wrote to this guy (politely, as is your style, I'm sure) and tried to set him straight is a real class act, John. Some of the current batch of politicians who want to be our next president should take notes.

On the other hand, I'm going to take a pass on the conversion offer - I'm perfectly happy in my current state of non-belief.

Jaquandor | May 14, 2007 05:45 PM

WHAT?! You were preaching to me when I read your book? That does it. Tonight, I am going to un-read OMW. And I don't un-read books that often.

Shawn Powers | May 14, 2007 05:48 PM

Come on now, your name is John. The main character's name is John. You obviously trying to push the 4th gospel.

John was the best of the 4 writers, so at least you have taste, you subliminal bass turd you.

rick gregory | May 14, 2007 05:48 PM

Damn... here I am, partway through Ghost Brigades and now I have to figure out if the reference to Frankenstein is subliminal preaching. And I thought I could just enjoy it as a great book. Sigh...

Chris Gerrib | May 14, 2007 05:54 PM

I sometimes wonder about the general public's reading comprehension level. This is one of those times.

Chris S. | May 14, 2007 05:55 PM

I, for one, welcome our stealth proselytizer overlord.

John H | May 14, 2007 05:55 PM

You know, some people would be offended by 'hello'...

John Scalzi | May 14, 2007 06:01 PM

What the hell do you mean by THAT, John H?!?!? Huh? Huh?? HUH???!??

J Erwine | May 14, 2007 06:05 PM

Amazon reviews are ridiculous. Like someone mentioned earlier, this person only got into the second chapter...how can they know anything about the quality of the book?

Still, Amazon will let anyone post a review, and unfortunately, it seems like the negative people are much more likely to review a book.

David S. | May 14, 2007 06:06 PM

"Come on now, your name is John. The main character's name is John. You obviously trying to push the 4th gospel."

Wow, I hadn't thought of that before. Maybe he *is* John! I've often thought the gospel authors should have used their surnames (and done book signings). The Gospel according to John Scalzi, it might just work...

Carol Elaine | May 14, 2007 06:08 PM

As long as bacon (or any other meat product) isn't part of your Holy Covenant, I'll consider converting to The One and Only Truth of Scalzi. Though, like nisleib, I have wholly embraced His Noodly Appendage, so I may have to do some long hard praying on this...

JonathanMoeller | May 14, 2007 06:12 PM

I dunno. Replying to bad Amazon reviews seems like the ill-fated first step on the slippery slope to Anne Rice-esque madness.

John Scalzi | May 14, 2007 06:13 PM

Well, Jonathan Moeller, I didn't reply on Amazon; I just sent the fellow an e-mail. And I was polite, and also informed I wasn't trying to get him to change his review, just to give the book another try.

Brian | May 14, 2007 06:14 PM

Keep in mind, folks... Scalzi is an ordained minister...

cheshiregrins | May 14, 2007 06:24 PM

Well that explains it. You WERE surrounded by a nimbus at Uncle Hugos. To think I thought it was the three glasses of iced coffee. I'll remember to genuflect the next time your in mpls.

Nathan | May 14, 2007 06:24 PM


You wouldn't need to proseltyze if you followed my advice about setting up a goon squad in "Scalzi Produce" jersey's. Just kick his ass and tell him what he believes from now on.

Mary Robinette Kowal | May 14, 2007 06:48 PM

Ooo! Yes, convert me.

Samuel Tinianow | May 14, 2007 06:50 PM

Well, he's telling the truth: Old Man's War does, in fact, have "references to religion and god [sic]," which apparently is the same thing as preaching the gospel outright. Reminds me of an amusing fellow on the imdb boards a few months ago who had a problem with BSG because some of the characters follow (gasp) a religion ("illogical!"); anybody who opined that no, a futuristic society with religion(s) present is not an inherent paradox was denounced as a "fundamentalist."

The gospel of St. Dawkins is, of course, always cited.

Laurie Mann | May 14, 2007 07:00 PM

John, I forget where I read this, but at one point in time (like in the '80s), some Fundies felt "Hello" was praising Hell and suggested that phones should be answered by saying "Heaveno."


Frank | May 14, 2007 07:03 PM

"...has a religion whose founder was an acknowledged fraud."

I'm surprised you haven't received hate mail from Scientologists yet.

Prolly that St John of the Scalzi aura about you.

Charlie Finlay | May 14, 2007 07:24 PM

Wait -- is there going to be some kind of religious write-in campaign? Because I don't think I could stand to be crushed a second time.

An Eric | May 14, 2007 07:30 PM

No, he's right: if you take the first letter of every sentence in Old Man's War, remove the vowels, and assemble the remaining letters a la the Bible Code, you get an anagrammed version of Leviticus. It's very subtle, but it's there. Unfortunately, considering my tender sensibilities, I didn't realize I'd been converted to second millennium BCE Judaism until after I'd read the entire thing. It wouldn't be so bad, except the neighbors didn't keep calling the fire department and animal control every single time I'm ready to offer seven male lambs, a bull and two rams to The Lord.

Jim Wright | May 14, 2007 07:34 PM

You know, I think this reviewer may be on to something.

The current background view on the Whatever is cherry blossoms, which as everybody knows is scared to Sakura, which is, of course, the spiritual place of rice paddy gods.

It don't get any more subliminal than that. Just what are you trying to pull anyway, Scalzi? Goddammit, now I gotta go be deprogrammed - again!

Jim Wright | May 14, 2007 07:42 PM

However, (something that occurred to me right after I clicked "post" on the previous comment) - Your blatant spirituality and proselytizing both here and in your books may, just may, make you very popular with the Neocon Republicans, I understand they like that sort of thing. Who knows? Certain state governments might pass a law mandating a copy of OMW in every classroom in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

sxKitten | May 14, 2007 07:48 PM

Does this conversion-thingie include a free t-shirt? Bumper sticker? A plastic Scalzi for the dashboard of my car?

Steve Buchheit | May 14, 2007 08:18 PM

John, I gotta agree with JonathanMoeller. You, yourself taught me this valuable lesson.

Do not taunt the crazy, screechy monkeys.

Well, actually you converted me to that view. I mean, after reading the Gospel of John concerning the Ann Rice in chapter 4 line 26 we read... aw, damn it. He's right!

Jim Wright, what's that number to the deprogramming center? And do they offer discounts for referals, 'cause I'll use your name.

Chang, for rizzle. | May 14, 2007 09:14 PM

Does your religion have funny underwear or headgear? Special glasses? Weekend get-togethers where you dress in white? Weenie roasts? Flesh-eating contests?

Oh, well.

Geri | May 14, 2007 09:15 PM

"A plastic Scalzi for the dashboard of my car?"


Soni | May 14, 2007 09:35 PM

"A plastic Scalzi for the dashboard of my car?"


I was just thinking the same thing...

Bryan Price | May 14, 2007 10:16 PM

OMG! Too funny!

And I'll take three of the plastic Scalzi for my vehicles. That ought to really torque my wife off.

Jim Wright | May 14, 2007 10:17 PM

Jim Wright, what's that number to the deprogramming center? And do they offer discounts for referrals, 'cause I'll use your name.

Steve, you use my name and they will probably charge you double!

But, put me down for one of those plastic Scalzi dashboard doodads. Better yet, one of those "Jesus Fish" things for the back bumper, only in the shape of Scalzi's head - with that expression from the "I'm Your New Striker, Adelaide" post.

mark | May 14, 2007 10:23 PM

An Adelaide United red shirt wearing subliminally preaching bobbly headed dashboard Scalzi?

I would donate much good money to charity for one of those...

Wink wink nudge nudge hint hint

Nathan | May 14, 2007 10:33 PM

I want the dashboard doodad too. Living in Brooklyn, I don't actually own a car, but I can use the suction cup thingie and wear it on my forehead.

On second thought...

Zork | May 14, 2007 11:33 PM

Man... if I owned a plastics fabrication plant, it'd be churning out the little plastic Scalzi's right now, by the truckload! I can see the New World Order coming!!!

Jim Wright | May 14, 2007 11:41 PM

An Adelaide United red shirt wearing subliminally preaching bobbly headed dashboard Scalzi

You know, with 24k plus daily readers here, there's a high probability that one of us has access to a fast prototyping printer/fabricator and some cheap injection molds - and could use a little extra dough on the low-low. Just saying.

Anonymous | May 14, 2007 11:45 PM

Well, it gives us something to talk about and that's something. John, you're always gonna see this and that about your work as long as your work stays in the public eye. I hate bad reviews and have, in the past, at least one time, rebuked a thoughtless reviewer. To this day, the poor bastard crosses the street when he sees me coming. Not that I'm so threatening. I'm sure he just doesn't want a second show.

You've given us all a great amount of pleasure, not only with your books but with this site and all the questions you pose here. I'm not even a stalwart SF fan, but I am a fan of good writing and especially a fan of top-notch blogging--something you continue to provide us with.

As for the Amazon review. I'm betting the reviewer might have filled his pants when you wrote him back and good for you. In my working, reviewed career, it's been mostly good reviews, but it's always very funny when the reviewed decides to open a dialogue with the reviewer.

Hats off to you. Keep up the good work. Too many numbnuts out there feel it's okay to burn someone who dares write a book. It's okay to punch them in the nose every now and then.

Annalee Flower Horne | May 14, 2007 11:59 PM

Actually, I've been tossing around the idea that Richmond, Indiana needs a local chapter of the Church of the Evolved Lamb. Earlham College's geek corps can always put a good secret society name to use (we've got two already). And one that involves sheep? Heavens, that's like liquor and booze*.

But yeah, wow. Some people really can be offended by anything. OMW? Preaching? That guy must be really, really insecure about his religious beliefs if a book like OMW can make him feel attacked. Just sayin.'

*an unbeatable combination!

Bobarino | May 15, 2007 12:31 AM

I don't care if the weather's lousy
Long as I've got my plastic Scalzi
Ridin' on the dashboard of my car.

I'll drive tame or drive real ballsy
Long as I've got my plastic Scalzi
Ridin' on the dashboard of my car.

(Repeat a bunch of times, with vigor)

mensley | May 15, 2007 01:05 AM

Wait, you're not in the religion biz? Then why have I been hittin' the streets takin' the bacon to the cats?

I could probably whip up a blue sheep sticker suitable for bumpers and have it up on CafePress if folks would be interested. And if the basic outline of the sheep from the cover to The Android's Dream would be fair use.

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) | May 15, 2007 02:28 AM

I'll take a raincheck on the conversion, but you might want to talk to Uncle Ben; I hear his niece Anne Rice needs to be converted.

Petter Hesselberg | May 15, 2007 02:52 AM

J, near the top:

"So, they decided to write a review without ... getting past the second chapter even? That's like deciding a movie is bad because you don't like the title card. Silly."

Actually, it's eminently possible to decide that a book stinks (for some value of "stink") without getting past the second chapter; ask any experienced slush pile reader. Often enough the first page will do, or even the first paragraph.

Granted, that Amazon reviewer's notion of "stink" is decidedly not mainstream. I mean, anyone who can construe the Bible quotes of OMW Ch II as proselytizing has reading comprehension issues.

Nikitta | May 15, 2007 04:51 AM

Petter Hesselberg: It's also possible to completely misjudge a book based on the first few pages and I have done so a few times.

One example is the first books in the Wheel of Time series, which I picked up because the prologue seemed so promising, but after the prologue, the style changed completely and it turned out that the book couldn't hold my attention for more than a few chapters. I wouldn't write a review base on that, though, because it's far too little to base a review on.

Another is Mort, which was good for the first few chapters, but then changed into something I couldn't be bothered reading, so I put it down.

I can imagine that some books start out not so good, but then get better along the way, though I wouldn't know, as I'd put them down due to the bad start, but you can't always judge an entire book on the first few chapters is what I mean.

Ray | May 15, 2007 04:56 AM

I am still trying to comprehend "subliminal preaching". WHAT EXACTLY IS THAT?? It seems to be a paradoxal phrase. Like "Big Shimp". Or "Lost and Found".
Are the cable news networks preaching subliminally?
I don't know why but the movie "They Live" keeps on popping in my mind.

Petter Hesselberg | May 15, 2007 05:21 AM

Nikitta: I don't think it's possible to conclude that a book is "good" after reading the first chapter; the best you can say at that point is probably "promising". Deciding "this is going to be no damn use to me" is much easier.

Petter Hesselberg | May 15, 2007 05:51 AM

I once bought a book based solely on the opening line:

"I've got an idea!" Dad said. "Let's go to the moon."

Happily, I never had cause to regret the purchase.

Petter Hesselberg | May 15, 2007 06:20 AM

If I may be serious for a moment (if this is possible on a thread devoted to plastic dashboard Scalzis): OMW does touch upon metaphysical issues, though not in the way our Amazon reviewer imagines. I have in mind the transfer of consciousness from old bodies to new.

Charlie Stross does consciousness transfer with gay abandon in Accelerando – from meat body to machine; from machine to machine; from machine to meat body. But Stross makes it clear that he’s talking about copying the pattern that makes a consciousness (or a “soul”, if you prefer). After each such “transfer,” there are two more-or-less equivalent copies of the consciousness in existence. (They may thereafter diverge, but that’s not the point.)

In OMW, on the other hand, the CDF claims to transfer a consciousness from an old brain to a new one. None of the characters ever question this. Consider: If John Perry’s consciousness was not actually moved, but instead copied from old brain to new, and his old body ever-so-discreetly terminated, how could the “new” Perry possibly know? He’d still feel as though a transfer (rather than a copy) had taken place. (The “old” Perry would be dead and not likely to voice an opinion one way or another.)

In one sense, of course, it wouldn’t matter to Perry II that his left-behind “twin” was murdered; after all, he would be alive and well. But it would matter very much the moment he came face to face with his next body transfer: he would be facing his own termination. Neither Perry nor any of the other characters ever raise this issue.

But what if the CFD speaks sooth – they really don’t copy; they transfer? If so, what “essence of consciousness” travels from old brain to new, leaving Perry’s old body to quietly expire? It seems to me that this scenario moves us straight into the land of dualism, positing the existence of a “soul” independently of any physical substrate capable of “running its software.” The metaphysical implications go unacknowledged, by Perry and by his entire cultural matrix.

Any thoughts on this, John? Or did I miss something?

Nikitta | May 15, 2007 06:50 AM

Petter Hesselberg: You have a point. I don't think that it's a good idea to keep reading a book if the first part gives you a bad impression and you're not enjoying it; there are far too many books you will like from the start for it to be a good idea.

However, I've also heard of exceptions where people have changed their minds about a book, for the better, as the story evolved. They are exceptions, but enough for it not to be safe to write reviews of a book based n the first few chapters.

Nikitta | May 15, 2007 06:58 AM

Yeah, I have also picked up books based on how the first part read and I have gotten some very good reading experiences from some of those. You can be lucky that way and I must admit to enjoying the feeling of a book reaching out and hooking me at the very first line.

A.R.Yngve | May 15, 2007 08:10 AM

"subliminally being preached to"?

Would have sounded much cooler if the critic had rephrased that:

"I will not stand for being preached to ninja-style, by a master of the hidden arts of messaging."

mark | May 15, 2007 08:36 AM

I am still trying to comprehend "subliminal preaching". - Ray

It's not as much of an oxymoron as it sounds. An awful lot of SciFi does exactly that, preach subliminally. Some do it fairly obviously, L.Ron Hubbard or Orson Scott Card. Some less so, Heinlein, Frank Herbert. (okay Herbert may actually fall into the obvious category, but you get my drift)

Since an author is putting so much of him or herself into a book, some amount of their own religious opinions will show up. Even "hard" SciFi writers like Larry Niven or Poul Anderson end up with slight and subtle religious leanings in their books.

Are they purposefully trying to convert you? Usually not wholesale to a specific religion. It's individual ideas. Often in SciFi its exactly the opposite of religion thats being preached. Or rather the Grand Religion of Science.

(don't throw things, I'm a dual wielding believer in Science and Religion)

All that said, What matters more is that some jerk decided some perceived religious content matters more than excellent writing.

(here's where I'd wander off on a rant about reading good writing regardless of subject, but I'll spare you)

Daniel Sroka | May 15, 2007 08:42 AM

Does the Church of Scalziology have Gregorian chant? I only join cults.. er, religions!... that have chant.

mark | May 15, 2007 08:47 AM

Edit to my earlier post... No the earlier, earlier one.

An Adelaide United red shirt wearing subliminally preaching NINJA-STYLE bobbly headed dashboard Scalzi

John, I think this could be a cottage industry for you. Imagine the possibilities... A whole series of contemporary authors as bobble heads.

Seriously though. I think a charitable project just might be floating out there waiting for the right connections.

John Scalzi | May 15, 2007 08:51 AM


"What matters more is that some jerk decided some perceived religious content matters more than excellent writing."

Well, we don't know he's a jerk, just that he's got a burr in his saddle about religion. We should state as a given that merely writing a one-star review on Amazon and/or having particular sensibilities regarding [insert subject here] does not make one a bad person or a jerk. He's probably a perfectly decent fellow.

(I should have, in fact, noted this earlier in the thread, but for various reasons I was away from the keyboard for most of yesterday afternoon through, uh, just about now. But anyway: Don't bang on the dude unnecessarily, folks. I'm not angry with him, or anything.)

chang, realer than evar! | May 15, 2007 09:42 AM

Does your church advocate sex with minors?

Because the helmets gives me a headache.

And the coal dust makes me cough.

WaywardSailorGirl | May 15, 2007 11:35 AM

Do the plastic Scalzis have heads that bobble? Cuz if they do, I want half a dozen. For the rear dashboard. Alternately facing in and out.

Carol Elaine | May 15, 2007 12:29 PM

"A plastic Scalzi for the dashboard of my car?"


So do I, but only if it's a Buddy Scalzi. That would be all levels of awesome.

Robb | May 15, 2007 01:48 PM

I must admit that I enjoy the direct honesty of the Church of the evolved Lamb.

And I was briefly wooed by the promise of goodies and living prophet that comes with the Churcg of Scalzi.

But I think I will remain a faithful disciple of Bokonon, endlessly searching out all members of my karrass.

Andrew S. | May 15, 2007 01:59 PM

Petter Hesselberg thusly: 'In OMW, on the other hand, the CDF claims to transfer a consciousness from an old brain to a new one. None of the characters ever question this. Consider: If John Perry’s consciousness was not actually moved, but instead copied from old brain to new, and his old body ever-so-discreetly terminated, how could the “new” Perry possibly know?'

Actually, I figured that's why in the transfer scene in OMW, there's one moment where Perry is running both bodies at once (he mentions being able to see both sides of the doctor simultaneously). That makes it much more likely that somehow, his ego is being moved, not just copied.

Mind you, I suppose it's still possible that the process makes a copy of the personality, and the two personalities are momentarily linked through the machinery (so each ego has the illusion of being in both bodies). Me, I'd be pretty reluctant to sit in the dang machine, at least before I'm 75...

TCO | May 15, 2007 08:10 PM

This particular one-star review is laughable (so are some of the praising ones). However, I did a sort on Amazon of all the reviews by lowest first and got several valid criticisms:

-lame attempts at humor (overvalued by other characters)
-negligeable SF elements
-cliched boot camp (and based on your gushing interview, I imagine you're not even aware of where you are clueless for the real feel for the real thing)
-too much talk
-not SF, not SF, not SF
-suckered into buying it with the Heinlein cover blurb, threw against the wall after 45 pages (note, that I'm in this camp). Well that one was the start of the 2-stars.

Blaine | May 15, 2007 09:03 PM

Am I too late to request a half-dozen Scalzi bobble-heads?


(deepening silence...)

Craig M | May 15, 2007 11:28 PM

There exists particular scenarios of dysfunction where sensitivity to anything religious can and will occur, real or imagined. Having said that: "If God did not exist, mankind would have to invent Him." Or at least react in some manner. Having said that: OMW is entertaining, thoughtful, worked out, and fun, all at the same time. Finally, simply discarding a fine book product outright; dude has more disposable cash than I do.

MikeB | May 16, 2007 04:34 PM

Actually the religion in The Android's Dream makes as much, if not more, sense than most of the flavours that have been shuffled around in the last couple of millennia. And why not?

Lizzibabe | May 20, 2007 01:01 AM

Interesting. It sounds like Mister Man there tossed the book after the discussion about how the meek shall inherit the earth. I love it that a mere quoting of the KJBible causes such disgust in a person as to waste their hard-earned money by throwing said book away.

I can only hope that he paid for the hard back. It amuses me that someone wastes something he/it/she paid money for to make a "statement." as if it *damages* you for someone to give you money, and then throw the book away. I mean, heck! you've already got his money!!

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