Comparative reviews are one thing and obviously must be done as objectively as possible but reviews of individual items are in many ways more difficult because you're not giving them context. They must be handled as objectively, as fairly, as possible and the following is the overall way in which I try to review something.

It is not enough to simply say you hated a film or loved it, you must be seen to be consistent so proper evaluation is necessary. I know it's a pain but it works quite well and can give some quite surprising results. The following outlines the method I use and the categories I use to do so, all the reviews on this site follow this method. I've given some considerable thought to these categories and hope that they make the review that little bit more objective and interesting.

Most reviews on this site will be books but occassionally I will also review films, TV & DVD, all are typically evaluated against the following categories:

  • Action: How much action (as opposed to violence) in the film.
  • Direction: Quality of direction and its effect on the final product.
  • Effects: Quality, appropriateness & effectiveness of the effects.
  • Extras: Quality and amount of extras (DVD only).
  • Music: Originality and appropriateness of the score & other music.
  • Originality: How innovative the concept behind it was.
  • Plot: How good the basic story is.
  • Presentation: Packaging, booklets & other extra stuff (DVD only)
  • Romance: How well/appropriately the romance & sex scenes are handled.
  • Scope: How wide-ranging the scenario scope is.
  • Sound: How good the sound effects (as opposed to music) are.
  • Suspense: Well we didn't see that one coming ... or did we?
  • Violence: How much violence (as opposed to action) in the film

Books are typically evaluated against the following categories:

  • Action: How much action (as opposed to violence) in the book.
  • Originality: How innovative the concept behind the story is.
  • Plot: How good the basic story is.
  • Presentation: Pictures, introductions and various other aspects of the book.
  • Romance: How well/appropriately the romance & sex scenes are handled.
  • Scope: How wide-ranging the book's scope is.
  • Suspense: Well we didn't see that one coming ... or did we?
  • Violence: How much violence (as opposed to action) in the book.
  • Scope: How wide-ranging the book's scope is.
  • Writing: How good the author's writing style is.

Games are typically evaluated against the following categories:

  • Action: How much action (as opposed to violence) in the game.
  • Addiction: How eager you are to get back into the game.
  • Control: How easy the game is to control.
  • Difficulty: How easy or hard the game is.
  • Gameplay: Straight line play or can the player deviate from the path (linearity).
  • Graphics: How realistic/smooth the graphics are in relation to the platform.
  • Music: Originality and appropriateness of the score & other music.
  • Originality: How innovative the concept behind it was.
  • Plot: How good the basic story is.
  • Presentation: Packaging & supporting booklets etc.
  • Romance: How well/appropriately the romance & sex scenes are handled.
  • Scope: How wide-ranging the scenario scope is.
  • Suspense: Well we didn't see that one coming ... or did we?
  • Violence: How much violence (as opposed to action) in the game
  • Scope: How wide-ranging the scope is.

All reviews carry two further categories:

  • Personal: A personal score based on the reviewer's gut reaction to it.
  • Overall: Overall mark (calculated ... see below)

Guidelines for reviews:

  • Reviewers can choose the standard suggested sets of categories or adapt them.
  • Reviewers should not use inappropriate categories e.g. the action category would not normal be correct for a romance.
  • Chosen categories should be accompanied by a short comment and/or explained in greater detail in the review.

All category marks are out of 10 but the "Personal" category score is doubled.

The "Overall" score is calculated as:

(SUM + (2 * PER)) / CAT

Where:
SUM: Sum of all category scores except "Personal"
PER: "Personal"> x 2
CAT: No. of Categories excluding "Overall"

Ultimately it up to a reviewer how they evaluate a film but this does, at least, allow for a degree of objectivity and if anyone has better suggestions we'll be only too pleased to listen.

Thanks for reading.

J. C. Rocks (aspiring author: "The Abyssal Void War" series)

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Learning To Write, Part 2

In the last article I dealt with mastery of your chosen language. This article discusses the basic inspiration which we gain from a variety of sources such as events, people, books, movies, television. My own arose from book series, several well written and one not so much and from that I could imagine better and whilst I may never fulfil that dream it gave me something to aim for. The next requirement is dealt with in the following article.

Learning To Write, Part 1

Writing may not be as easy as it appears at first glance. This article, the first of three, starts the discussion of what I think are those essential skills, the first of which is a good understanding of the language in which you choose to write. It then goes on to discuss ways in which you can improve your language skills. The next requirement is dealt with in the following article.

A brilliant idea that ultimately fails in execution. It has been said of Turtledove that he is the master of the alternate history series, on the basis of the first seven books of this series I have little choice but to disagree.

About Me

I'm a 58 year old, happily married Brit with two daughters livin2001: A Space Odysseyg in the south of England.

I had, of course, been exposed to science fiction (mainly old style, black & white) when I was young but my epiphany moment (that moment when you think, "this is really, really good") was when my Dad took me, aged 12, to see "2001: A Space Odyssey". The ballet of spacecraft to the gorgeous refrains of Johann Straus Junior's "The Blue Danube" simply mesmerised me.

I had soon picked up my first science fiction book (Heinlein's "Tunnel In The Sky") and, from that moment, I was hooked. I got rapidly into the classic SF writers, Asimov, Clark, more Heinlein, Silverberg, Anderson, Pohl, Harrison and it was from that love of science fiction, written by people who often loved or were involved in it themselves that my real love of science developed.

Science fiction was mind expanding stuff and led to that curious duality in worldview that only the moderately religious can understand, yes science was absolutely correct and yes god created the world in seven days however, by the age of thirteen, I was Catholic in little more than a cultural sense. When I left school there were, of course, more important things to worry about namely clubbing, girls & drink.

My early career was inconsistent as I started off working in laboratory technology, spent a year and a half in the UK Armed Forces then, exiting somewhat ignominiously, and re-joining my lab tech career. Although the forces weren't for me I remain a huge supporter of them. I went on to gain a degree in biology and, during that period, met my future wife, the woman who (by whatever train of twisted logic she uses) has agreed not to dump me for more than thirty two years! After my degree I switched to IT support in science based industry but eventually moved out into the wider world of computing. .

I don't know when I realised I was but, there can be no doubt, I 'm a geek and proud of it ... as I say above I love science fiction. I've grown up reading science fiction, watching science fiction and playing science fiction. My all-time favourite film used to be "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi", now it's "Avatar" and I have liked what I consider the best of science fiction, everything from "Star Trek" to "Babylon 5", "Doctor Who" to "Buffy", "Dexter" to "True Blood" and "Dune" to "Ender's Game". Although I'm not into "cosplay" (my oldest daughter is) I occasionally go to conventions and I've even learned some Na'vi, the language of the natives from "Avatar", partly for fun but also because it taught me lots about language structure. Though I am an unashamed science fiction buff, my interest in film doesn't stop there. I also love the supernatural, thrillers, romances, comedies, high school, animations, musicals, westerns, war films, romantic comedies and so on. In short there are very few genres I don't like and I am trying to extend that catholicism (small c) to reading.

Moving with my wife to Kent, primarily because the housing was cheaper and we could get more for our money outside of London, where I started work at the aforementioned pharmaceuticals. Since living in Kent we have had a couple of gorgeous kids who are now pretty much grown up and I met some of my best friends. It is because, perhaps in spite, of my relationships with all those people that I am, philosophically, what I am today; a centre left hawk and a humanist.

I have been involved with writing for some considerable time. For a long time I have documented various procedures at work so that others can follow but my personal involvement with writing probably sprang from a combination of my interest in online debate, a particular game I used to love and website management. My debate activities, articles defending against the vacuous claims of science deniers, were written as pseudo-scientific papers which further developed my sense of written organisation. Initially I started to write gaming guides for the game in question (trust me, no one these days will want to know) and later, recognising its potential for role play and storytelling, fiction based on and around the gaming universe.

For a while I fell away from writing then, a few years back, I started to develop a user submission framework in which I planned to act as both editor and author. The level of detail escalated until it became overwhelming and I began to flag but then a TV show, a writing competition, came to my rescue and that of my best friend who was also a budding (now published) author. The competition was hosted by "Richard and Judy" in conjunction with "W. H. Smith" with a fifty thousand pound prize, enough to keep me permanently writing for two years. We didn't win and when we saw the list of winner's we could easily see why my science fiction and my friend's detective novels would never have won, nevertheless it spurred us on to bigger and better things. Having recently quit work and with far more time on his hands, my friend published his first book ("Soldier of the Republic") over a year ago and the detective novel he submitted to the completion ("Terminus Place") is on the verge of becoming his next.

JCR outside a Greek Taverna

Flagging on the original collaborative idea (I had found myself getting too personal with my characters, too involved) it was that competition that changed the project into a novel. I don't have as much time to devote to writing as my friend has had but I am getting there, my novel when I completed it to first draft had reached a staggering one hundred and thirty thousand words and looked like it would get bigger still. With that in mind I made the executive decision to split the book in two and am now working on the first novel.

I had been through the background material of my book (it will take time but my plan is to put most of that on this site) which changed it quite considerably and as such now have a specific review technique. I will outline that in a separate article but, whilst I am currently "taking a break" to create and update this website, I now have only three chapters top go.

Once that is complete I will publish it and start working on the second book to be published sometime next year.

So that's it ... for now I would like to welcome you to the site. I hope you enjoy it and if you have criticisms please can I ask you to be constructive when communicating them to me?

J. C. Rocks (aspiring author: "The Abyssal Void War" series)

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