Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Amazon – It’s a jungle out there

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury
Fiction 256 pages
Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition. 2012

Out of curiosity, I looked up Ray Bradbury’s, “The Martian Chronicles” on Amazon. I read it as a child and enjoyed it immensely. However, even then, I could spot Bradbury’s inconsistencies and deviations from his basic milieu. Still, there are those who consider it a classic, so I looked.

This book, published in 1950, includes stories published during the later portion of the 1940s. That explains the inconsistencies—Bradbury didn’t set out to write a book. It emerged from his stories. Actually, that’s part of its charm. The Mars in one story isn’t quite the same as the Mars in another. And, there’s no great effort to be scientific. That’s not what Bradbury is about.

The book has 391 reviews and well over half of those display five stars. However, I was more interested in the nine one star reviews and perhaps a few of the twos. Two of the one star reviews, and at least five of the two star reviews, were written by A Customer—amazingly all on the same day. It makes one wonder how many Amazon accounts A Customer has, or perhaps multiple people use that handle and write reviews at the same time.

Two of the reviewers found Bradbury’s language graphic and/or offensive. At least three reviewers found the book dull. One called it far-fetched and another said it was the “worst non-fiction book i ever read.” Did he mean to write science fiction?

After reading some of the reviews, I’ve come to several conclusions: 1) some people don’t proofread, 2) some people are offended by 1950s era profanity, 3) some people found the book dull. Regarding the second two conclusions, I further conclude: 1) some people don’t see many movies, at least not those without G ratings, and 2) if you prefer science fiction with more special effects, you should probably stick to movies.

Before Amazon, books didn’t get 391reviews. That’s because there were only a handful of people with literary credentials available to write them. Now you don’t need literary credentials to write a review. There’s been a revolution and the people have taken the power from the critics. There are good aspects to the democratization of opinion. However, without experts to tell us what to like, we may sink to the depths of bad taste. Therefore, we still need literary critics, unless something high-minded emerges to take their place. Luckily, civilization generally survives temporary lapses of good taste.

Among its advantages, Amazon, provides a path to publishing that some authors would not otherwise have. It also provides a platform for hacks and lack wits. Still, there are some self-published gems out there. There are also thousands of me-too opinions, uneducated opinions, and trolls lurking about. In fact, it’s a jungle—so one must tread carefully. In time, the jungle will become more manageable. Let’s just hope it isn’t destroyed in the process.

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