I have struggled a bit in determining a rating scale for book reviews. Sites like Netflix, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads use a five-star scale. Their purpose in using the five-star rating for them is two-fold. One is to communicate users’ opinions; the other is to encourage users to rate products in the first place. One of the pitfalls of the five-star scale is that it does a poor job of discriminating. An abundance of reviews end up with four or five stars and there is not a consistent criteria applied to each rating. For instance, how can one compare Ulysses to Harry Potter? One is heralded for its exemplary literary merit, while the other has widespread acclaim and appeal to diverse audiences. Even within speculative fiction, there are novels whose sole purpose is to provide escapist entertainment and others that deal with complex themes and strong characters.
Other rating systems include letter grades (Yahoo! Movies), 10-point systems (IMDB), and percentages (Rotten Tomatoes) — each providing the consumer with various levels of discernment. Another technique, which is done by the Michelin Guide for rating restaurants, was adopted at the SF review site Stomping on Yeti. This Michelin system offers 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars depending on how much someone should go out of their way to try the cuisine. While this system is intruiging and has its advantages, in the end, it is still a 4-star system.
Overall, I believe readers want a rough idea of what a critic thinks of a given novel. I do not see a need to use anything with a high level of precision (10 levels or higher). The criteria for rating a novel is subjective anyway.
In an effort to be consistent with the major retailers and book review sites, I will also use a five star system for reviews. This is also consistent with what is used on the Speculative Fiction blog, SF Signal. My criteria for each rating is as follows:
- 1 star: disappointing read — a story that contains several distinct and major flaws with few positive elements
- 2 stars: acceptable read — a story that contain one or more major flaws, but still has positive elements
- 3 stars: good read — a story that is worth reading. A majority of books will fall into this category. They may contain minor flaws, a simple plotline, awkward writing, or thin characterization
- 4 stars: recommended read — a high-caliber story that succeeds in many respects. It may contain minor flaws that leave opportunities for improvement.
- 5 stars: essential read — a story that surpasses most others in the genre. It has a rich plot with subplots, strong characterization, prevailing themes, and strong writing. The work need not be an instant classic, but should stand above the pack.