How NOT to Review Books or Movies

Last week, the New York Times ran an opinion piece (can hardly call it a review) on George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones that was dismissive, scornful, insulting and sexist. The claim was that girls don’t read fantasy, and that sex scenes had been thrown in as a feeble attempt to lure in the female readership. Say what?

Needless to say, we geek-girls were insulted. That Ms. Bellafante was given this venerable platform on which to air her derisive screed against a genre about which she is apparently completely ignorant is more than disappointing. There have been some very fine rebuttals from Aidan Moher, Daniel Abraham, and many others to the review. Even Martin himself took issue with the slighting of his female fans on his blog, and thanked the geek girls for rallying to support him.

So what drove this raging piece of hate towards all things geeky? Apart from the obvious explanation that it was tabloid journalism shamelessly using hyperbole and controversy to increase readership, I’d say Ms. Bellafante is judging the entire genre by the covers.

In the early days of fantasy, and indeed sci-fi (since they are typically lumped together), people often think of the pulps, and works from the pen of Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter of Mars, Tarzan), and publications like Amazing Stories, in which women were frequently marginalized, used as props, or left out altogether. The lurid covers of these early works often depicted half-naked women being abducted by monsters or aliens, clearly designed to appeal to adolescent boys (and less sophisticated adult males) as soft-core pornography.


Starting in the 1960s and on through the 1970s and 1980s the work of Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta depicted mostly naked warrior women, with unearthly body proportions. (Vallejo at least is now concentrating on erotic art, pretty much exclusively.) For years the covers of fantasy books were embarrassingly cheeseball, and this hasn’t quite gone away. Even Philip K. Dick’s books have had some of these titillating covers. For those unfamiliar, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was the basis for the movie Blade Runner.

I’m afraid this is what has remained the public perception of fantasy and science fiction.

But fantasy and sci-fi writers are not responsible for these covers. And those who have not read anything in the genre should withhold criticism until they do. There is some damn fine writing (and some good covers) in the fantasy and science fiction genres, not to mention any other ‘genre’ you could name, which any reviewer shouldn’t have to be told. The fact that Ms. Bellafante seemingly had not even read the book (and I can’t quite tell from her piece if she even previewed the show) should have precluded her from writing about it.

Cast member Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister in the show was interviewed about his experience in the show and had this to say, that sums it up nicely:

But I read the Game Of Thrones books, and they’re great. A great world to enter. So, I guess I had some silly ideas. I didn’t really know much about the genre before.

But genre doesn’t really matter, does it? If the story’s good, it’s good. If it’s good writing, it’s good writing.

Sadly there are still many out there who have not discovered this little fact, and the perception continues that it’s all unworthy of ‘serious’ attention.

For those who didn’t get to see the premier last night, HBO has released the opening credits sequence on YouTube. I’d post it here, but HBO doesn’t typically like people to do that, even though it’s out on the internet, so here’s the link:

Go watch, it’s incredible.

4 thoughts on “How NOT to Review Books or Movies

  1. I have never heard such crock in my life ” The claim was that girls don’t read fantasy, and that sex scenes had been thrown in as a feeble attempt to lure in the female readership”. I wonder where do they get this statistic from.

    The images are interested in which you pick. I remember when I was younger and still now seeing scifi movies with gorgeous women on the cover. Some with clothing and some with clothing rip off. I never thought of it as representing scifi though. When I think of naked women I think of beer commercials.


  2. It was mostly the early pulps that portrayed women this way. I’m not sure why they thought it necessary. I’d like to see some more sophisticated covers than much of what’s out there, but there are some very good ones as well. But how this reviewer could write that absurd drivel and get away with it in a forum like the NYT is the bigger question.


  3. The NY Times has some very good arts coverage, and a lot that is just plain snotty – the habit of the latter sort is to imply that if they don’t like something, it’s because it’s beneath notice, not b/c different readers have different tastes.

    BTW, I’ have to admit that Martian Sexpot looks like a fun read…


  4. You hit the nail on the head, in that they seem to feel they are the arbiters of good taste and judgement.

    Y’know, some of those old cheeseball-looking books probably were a hoot. 😀 I’m a bit surprised at just how risque some of those covers were. We’re almost MORE prudish now about it. I can’t imagine they were kept behind the counters like dirty magazines back then, or were they? Had they even thought of doing that yet? I’m not sure what year the Martian Sexpot came out, but the second one I have up there, with the Planet of the Knobheads (?? LOL) was from 1939.


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