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Dana Stevens Gets in the Way in “Gravity: Beauty, Terror, and Wonder”

In response to Dana Stevens’s 867‑word review of Gravity on Slate

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Although Dana Stevens’ writing style has long relied on a friendly “you-and-me” faux banter with her audience, she manages to sneak in a bit too much in her latest work “Gravity:  It gives outer space back its beauty, terror, and wonder.”

Beauty, Terror, and Wonder comes from a line early in the review that finds Stevens musing about the return of these elements to the science-fiction genre. From the outset, however, the breezy, peppy tone contrasts so sharply with beauty, terror, and wonder that readers will find it hard to believe her.

As a “movie review,“ Beauty, Terror, and Wonder is an entirely serviceable and not unenjoyable popcorn-read: elements of plot are sketched handily, the visuals drawn up in language worthy of an author of Stevens’ sort, and her analysis ranges from observant to rather insightful. The piece’s conclusion, in particular, is profound and well-written.

Yet taken as a whole, the work simply suffers from instances where the author inserts herself almost self-consciously. It’s not an error in her style, per se, it’s an error in her approach to this particular work.

Instead of courting seriousness and earning the reader’s trust, Stevens manages to be a bit too flippant. A comment towards the end about a “profundity loan” nettles. The result is that Beauty, Terror, and Wonder never lives up to its title.

Stevens is a fine author. However, this piece is a textbook example of how a creator can get in the way of her work—and why the effect is less than desirable.    

Quality of Writing Quality of Argument Spoiler Avoidance Presentation