So the Nerds of a Feathers site held a blog table on the positive value of negative reviews, because apparantly negative reviews are a problem now:
I have a real problem with the online review culture of ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ that seems to have emerged from some of the review/rating websites. It’s a disservice to the reader, and I think to the writer as well. It’s hard to make a judgement about a book without at least the possibility of dissenting reviews existing, while I’d argue that a writer should at least be aware that not everyone loves everything they do, even if they actually don’t read the reviews themselves. A world in which everyone agrees about everything, and every book is a five-star read and the best thing ever, is a world which is bland and in which there is no incentive to do better or to do something different.
I think a lot of fan coteries miss the fact, as they rally round their authors and go after the so-called bullies, that we all exercise critical judgements every day. Something as mundane as ‘I prefer apples to oranges’ is a critical judgement, but I’ve never noticed orange-lovers hounding apple-lovers because of it. There is a clear understanding that a preference for one fruit is not a judgement about the people who prefer another kind of fruit. And yet, these days even a slightly less than totally stellar review can have people behaving very oddly, trying to suppress reviews or silence an errant reviewer.
This whole review culture is strange to me. I’ve been keeping a bookblog since January 2001 and the only time somebody objected to a slightly negative review was when a relative of Theodore Cogswell disagreed with what I wrote about one of his short story collections. I blame Goodreads and that whole reviewing as social activity scene for that idea that reviewers should just be unpaid publicity agents for mediocre writers in return for free books.
It’s a common fandom fallacy, not just in book reviewing or science fiction, to be an enthusiast first and critical second, because we’re all in our fandom together and it’s rude to point somebody else’s flaws. The strange thing is, it’s rarely the good writers who get snippy about bad reviews: it’s the self promoters and Funky Flashmans who take offense. Or the deranged, like Anne Rice a few years ago. Most professionals know getting bad reviews is part of the job, that even if you write a good book, not everybody will necessarily like it. Or that it’s even desirable for everybody to like your novel.
Fans are different. If a novel or a series or a tv show is important enough for us, we can get really, really angry if somebody disparages it. The most poisoneous form of that is of course GamersGate, where a particularly obnoxious subset of gamers led themselves be used in a vendetta by notorious sleazeball Eron Gjoni to get back at his ex-girlfriend, all because they get really, really angry at any suggestion of sexism in videogames and the videogaming industry.
So in conclusion, objecting to negative reviews in general is insane and we should be careful in stamping that attitude out in science fiction.