Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006


De gustibus non disputandum est

Recently, in a discussion forum on the internet, I provoked threats of violence upon my body from one of the other members. My fighting words boiled down to the fact that in a thread I had lauded the movie, Dragon Inn, which this other person watched after my recommendation and loathed. He stated that if he encountered me in person he would not be averse to striking a blow at me for wasting his time. Such a statement from an otherwise mild-mannered and urbane individual surprised me. In light of some of the movies he had found watchable (Seed of Chuckie), what could inspire someone to such venom?

There’s no accounting for taste.

I know from past experience that books, movies, and music that I enjoy might not spark the same feelings in others. Likewise, similar products praised by friends or professional reviews in the press may fail to move me, or make me curse a few hours of wasted time and attention. In the case of Dragon Inn, I had approached the movie as a fan of Chinese movies—martial arts movies in particular—Chinese history, and Chinese literary history (elements of this movie alluded to scenes from the vast historical novel, The Water Margin), and also an affinity for Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen, two of the actors in the movie. Thus, I saw several layers not apparent to someone just seeking two hours of entertainment. I failed to state why I enjoyed the movie, but simply said it was a great movie.

As someone who reviews books and movies, the risk always exists that another person will take what I write as a recommendation and seek out a book expecting to enjoy several hours of reading. If they discover instead that the book is not to their taste, will they no longer trust my judgments? In the same manner, if I seem overly harsh concerning some aspects of a work of fiction in print or screen, fans and defenders of the same work will feel insulted. As individuals, our tastes in books, music, movies, and even food or clothing, act as extensions of our self, our own identity. Two brothers growing up in the same house may have wildly divergent tastes, while two individuals countries apart may discover shared interests and instantly bond.

There’s no accounting for taste.

This is not to say no one will agree on anything. There's a market for all sorts of stuff. I've known movie reviewers who state that even watching a bad movie is worthwhile, because it gives them a benchmark against which to judge other movies. Brad Linaweaver once wrote a column analyzing the worst of the worst, calling it Der Krapp. Now available online at —mind the conservative war-mongering comments of main Big Lizards contributor, Daffyd ab Hugh, Linaweaver's column delves in shlock horror movies of the low budget type.

In terms of Prometheus readers, we already agree on one thing: the books between these covers tend to deal with liberty, either for or against. Yet when it comes to individual books, abandon all pretense of shared interests, and debate often will rage regarding the merits of certain books, be those merits on the basis of good writing, or libertarian content.

In this sense, when writing reviews, it’s just as important to state the content (what’s the book about), as the reasoning for opinions and observations (“I like this book because of X”, rather than just “This is an awesome book,” or the more famous “Two thumbs up”). In fact, one key raison d'etre for the critic is to engage the reader, and this often means taking views contrary to what readers might like. This often leads to elitist critics quick to disparage the works of popular authors and praise obscure and quirky works. Where this goes wrong is when critics act this way purely for the sake of being contrarian, rather than examining the merits of the work in question. Then it leads to bitter comments by slighted authors, and befuddled mistrust from the general public.

As a fan of fiction in general, there are many writers whose work I admire that have nothing to do with liberty. For example, Clark Ashton Smith and Michael Shea are two of my favorite writers, but I see no purpose in reviewing their work in Prometheus. By mentioning their names, I do recommend their books to fans of literary and imaginative fantasy fiction, but that taste is not for everyone. But, if you took my advice and hated my recommendation, just don’t bring a baseball bat should we meet in person.

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