Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't pay much attention to the release of a Star Wars tie-in novel. Beyond Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye (1978), the original Han Solo adventures by Brian Daley (1979-80), and most recently, Darth Plagueis (2012), I haven't read much in the Star Wars universe. But the latest tie-in novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, has caught my attention--and not because it's the first entry in the new canon set after Return of the Jedi. No, it's because the mixed reception on Amazon shows the power and limitations of reader reviews.
At the time of this writing, the book has received a whopping 825 reviews over the course of two weeks. Other recent releases as part of the new canon have fewer than half that many reviews. Star Wars: Dark Lords of the Sith, for instance, has received 337 reviews since its April pub date. Some of this imbalance is explained by the fact that Aftermath was billed as a lead-in to the hotly-anticipated film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and readers expect to find clues to the premise, if not the plot, of the movie.
Most of the early Amazon reviews of the book were largely or wholly negative. Within the first two days of publication the book's average rating dipped as low as 2.1 stars. The author, Chuck Wendig, took to his blog shortly thereafter to defend his work, contending that the poor reviews came largely from two camps: fanboys angry with Disney's wave-of-the-wand dismissal of the original Expanded Universe (now dubbed, 'Legends'); and homophobes put off by the novel's inclusion of LGBT characters. Some reviews clearly reflected one or both of these sentiments. But others--I would argue a majority--criticized the book for its breezy, new media style, paucity of characterization and dull plotting. (I read an excerpt from the first chapter and the style of writing certainly wasn't to my taste, but I'm not qualified to comment on the other issues.)
Regardless of the true state of affairs, it's clear the ease of posting reviews invites mischief. My upcoming book certainly won't receive Aftermath levels of attention, but I do have niggling worries the book's portrayal of race, class and politics will be misconstrued by ideologues on both ends of the spectrum. I tried to take a Shakespearean approach to these topics, meaning I let my characters speak for themselves without editorializing. To some, however, editorial silence is tantamount to consent instead of a pre-condition for genuine drama.