Paul was asked about his system of rating books on a 100 point scale. Paul's response:
I think writing a review, and not giving it some sort of numerical score is a cop out; it’s cowardice—pure and simple—since many online reviewers don’t want to upset publishers or authors. So they write reviews that are open to interpretation, using nebulous terms like good, overemphasizing the positive aspects of the book, trying very hard not to have an opinion. It’s okay, you’re entitled to have an opinion, you’re entitled to take a stand and let people know what you think.I call bullshit.
See, words lie; numbers don’t. And I don’t want to lie to my audience. So I score every book on a scale of 100. Like any review, the number is completely subjective; there are no underlying components. I score books by ranking them against other novels I’ve read in the genre. It’s rather simple. But effective.
It's not cowardice and it's not a cop out. It's not about appeasing publishers.
What it is about is being as honest as you can about the book you are writing about while understanding that the number doesn't mean a damn thing if I can't convey my thoughts clearly. And many times I can't, and giving an 87/100 on the bottom of a poorly written review of mine would be nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig.
What it is about is understanding that in something so subjective as talking about books, numbers don't mean anything. They lie as much as words. The review is based on your impression of a given book at the time that you write the review. If you change your mind later and think the 87 should really have been an 82, do you go back and change your score? Do you think that nothing deserves a 100/100 because no novel is perfect, but something comes along that is so good that you feel is just this side of perfection and you want to score it a 98 to reflect that. Except that you've given 97's before and this is so much better than that 97. Do you change your 97? Do you bump the new book to a 99? Does this new book shine so brightly that the book you gave a solid 80 to is now a 75 in comparison?
I don't want to lie to my audience either. So I don't. It's that simple.
I think writing a review, and not giving it some sort of numerical score is a cop out; it’s cowardice—pure and simple—since many online reviewers don’t want to upset publishers or authors.The arrogance! Are your numerical reviews so superior to Larry Nolen's unnumbered reviews? Is Larry a coward who doesn't speak his mind? Was I unclear when I reviewed Ammonite? Do the reviewers at Strange Horizons lie to their readers? Did I try to appease the publisher when I reviewed Sung in Blood? Do others? Who?
The thing is, Paul, you do a good job with your reviews. Your review of Warbreaker is solid. It tells me what I'd want to know. The 91/100 you gave the book? Superfluous. If it wasn't clear for the rest of the review, the last two paragraphs sold your opinion. If you want to slap an arbitrary number on the bottom of your review, feel free. If I was feeling uncharitable I might call giving a numerical score lazy, because I believe the review should really stand on its own and clearly state the opinion of the reviewer. I'm not feeling that uncharitable, though, and your reviews wouldn't deserve that because they do stand on their own and clearly state your opinion.
You see value in your numbers, fine. The text of the review backs that up. But to describe reviewers who don't slap a numerical score on their reviews as cowards sucking on the teat of publishers and authors*, well, sir...
That's just bullshit, lazy, and arrogant. I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't score my reviews because the numbers wouldn't mean anything to me, let alone another reader.
I find that opinion of yours to be a 1/10 and my response to be a 77/100.
*that last bit of imagery is mine.