Book Reviews / Self-Publishing

Both Sides of the Coin

I’d like to begin this article by talking about a Dungeons and Dragons game I’m involved in. To be blunt about it, I really respect the Dungeon Master for the amount of work he puts into the game. The story is a bit cliched, but solid enough, he populates the world with vivid and colorful characters, and he works to make our combat encounters fun and challenging. I can appreciate all of this because I’ve run a game before,and I’m comfortable saying that it is no easy feat. On the other hand, I feel like he’s very heavy handed with enforcing his story. I regularly feel like he’s trying to dictate the way people play the characters that they have created. To me this is a cardinal sin; you create the world, and populate it, then you turn your characters loose and see what they do. You never twist someone’s arm into playing the way you want them to in a game. You can encourage it, but twisting of arms is forbidden.

For example, in one of the more recent games I ran, I allowed my small party to be a group of pirates. They had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. They could have roamed the high seas stealing from the rich. They could have performed heroic deeds and saved underwater kingdoms. They could have performed dastardly deeds and tried to take the world for themselves. What did they do you ask? One of them used the ship to transport cargo, sailing from city to city trading spices. Another one of them frequently started bar fights. And the third created sculptures from driftwood, which she lovingly referred to as Gryphons of the Sea. And as a group? They regularly said “Oh hell no, I’m not going down there, there are monsters in there.” And despite the fact that I had created an elaborate dungeon with loot, traps, and monsters, I let them do it.

In the end, my criticisms are pretty subjective and unimportant, because storytelling is a highly subjective thing. What someone may love, another may hate. I still really respect the amount of work he’s put into breathing life in this story, I just really don’t like the way he forces people to experience it. The point behind this explanation was to illustrate that I’ve seen both sides of this coin. I’ve been a Dungeon Master, and I’ve been a player. I feel like this gives me a unique point of view, which leads us into the main point of this article.

If you’re reading this blog, you know that I like to write. I want to tell stories, and at the same time I respect others who tell stories. Recently another author approached me and requested that I review his book. I read up a bit on the book, looked at a few of the reviews, and wrote the author back stating that I did not think I was the best person to review this book. I would be biased against the themes in it (It’s a book with heavy Christian themes and I’m an Atheist. I don’t hate Christians by any means, but I’d be lying to myself and the author if I said I wasn’t biased), and, all things considered I just wasn’t sure it was the best book for me to review.

I wrote him an email explaining this, but it mattered for naught. He had read a review I previously wrote and seemed to respect my candid and blunt method of conveyance. He wanted me to read and review his work. Personally, I respect a person who spits in the face of danger. So I accepted. I’m about halfway through the book, and things aren’t looking good. I don’t want to give the guy an overwhelmingly negative review, but that’s what I’m leaning towards at the moment.

I’m familiar with Christian stories (not at all an expert on it, just familiar), I’m familiar with Tolkien, and as we established earlier, I’m familiar with the Great and Powerful Gygax. Having at least some knowledge of these three areas, I’ve found myself feeling like there isn’t an original bone in the guy’s body. The monsters they encounter are ripped directly from a Dungeons and Dragons monster handbook, the main character is a hairy footed halfling destined for greatness, and a character has basically roleplayed out Abraham’s sacrifice. I’ve read a single thing I’ve liked thus far, and that was a short bit of dialogue. In short I feel like after a night filled with drugs, alcohol, and various other bad decisions, a Dungeon and Dragons Monster Manual, The Bible, and Lord of the Rings had a three way love child that they are ashamed to talk about, and that is this book. As one writer/reader to another, I really don’t want to give him a negative review. But if that’s what I have to do, it’s what I have to do. I told him I would be brutally honest, and thus far his writing has done very little to garner a great deal of respect. As a writer and/or a book reader how do you handle it when someone asks you to review a book? Do you immediately grant the book a good review, because you want to support the indie community? Or do you give the book a completely honest review, because you expect the. same out of an indie author as you do a traditionally published author? Personally I say that I’m going to give a honest review, exactly what I expect from the people who read my work. Your work is your work, and you should always want to put the best you can do out there.

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3 thoughts on “Both Sides of the Coin

  1. Two comments – first, the DM. I can smell these bastards a mile away. The kind of guy who says you had a nightmare are now afraid and depressed all day. Who regularly tells you how you feel. Id find a new game.
    Second – I write and although no one has asked for my editorial opinion, if they say be brutal, I guess I because indie or traditional does the world really need more crappy writers? Maybe his true calling is gardening?
    Tough call though. Good post.

    • I mostly enjoy the game we play with him, there are just a few small things that happen to really damage the overall experience for me. Differences of opinion really.

      How to respond to this guy is the really difficult part for me. I don’t want to be overtly mean by being blunt (which, in my experience, my bluntness is usually interpreted as negativity) and damage something this guy enjoys doing. But at the same time, I want to give an honest opinion of the work, which involves me being blunt. Kind of a catch 22 really.

      • Yeah. Not fun being a jerkwad to someone asking for help. Still. Lying to him wont help. Maybe say you personally didn’t dig it, but maybe someone else would if they read it instead. Good luck.

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