With all the recent discussion of reviews, I spent an uneasy few minutes early this morning to check if any of the authors whose novels I have panned are likely to be at WorldCon. To my relief, only Stephen Baxter is on the list so far, and I suspect his ego is sufficiently robust (and the other reviews of the book in question sufficiently affirming) that he is unlikely to seek me out for revenge.
I’m usually happy to take the line that “This just didn’t work for me” rather than that the book in question is bad in some objective sense. Though I will be unforgiving of prose that is genuinely bad – such as the character whose wounds “looked like huge purple welts”, probably because they were large purple welts. And I like my villains to have a clear means and motivation for their actions.
Basically – and while this is of course just my view, I think it’s what most readers of the story and the critique would conclude (eg here) –
Boys are so foolhardy, impetuous, reckless, rash. They’ll lead the way into smoke and fire and battle.
We readers know that this is not universally true of all boys all the time, and I’m stunned that anyone could read it as an expression of the author’s personal view. The quote illustrates very well where the narrator is coming from, what he tells himself about the truth of the world; but we readers also know he’s wrong, because of our own life experience, and indeed the colonel’s own account confirms this, as he shows us his own more caring, less “manly” side at numerous points in the story.
My own “close reading” of the story suggests that the author is trying to say this: a society which rigidly divides the sexes and tries to enforce gender roles will fail, because it isn’t in human nature; and the narrator illustrates this through his own thoughts, words and actions. He feels loyal to the rigid divisions of his society, but he is in fact capable of acting in a less “manly” way, even though he may feel uncomfortable about admitting this to himself. The opening statements about boys are a statement of the character’s ideology, not the author’s, and should be seen as a profession of faith which the narrator (as it turns out) is himself not fully convinced of.
I’m not totally wild about the story – the basic theme seems to me a bit of a straw man, in that the society portrayed is unlikely to come about, and the whole theme was explored in much greater depth in a novel which I have an unfashionable affection for, Sherri S Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. But it’s amazing that Walters missed the point so completely, despite the efforts of the author herself and numerous others to point him in the right direction.
I also agree that because reviews are personal accounts, reviewers who write in the third person sound very pretentious, and this is a real disincentive to investing the time necessary to discover what the reviewer actually thinks.