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Rating Composite Works

In order to assign a rating or ratings to a composite work such as a collection of short stories, it is first necessary to decide whether to consider the composite work as a unified whole or as a collection of disparate parts. (For unrelated thoughts about holism and reductionism, see … Ant Fugue.) In most cases, I found the correct decision to be intuitively obvious, but for the record I worked out a rule that roughly corresponds to my intuition.

A composite work should be considered as a whole only if the components were created from the beginning with the intention that they should be a whole.

This rule can also be thought of as a guideline as to when the principle of detachment should be applied.

As examples of the rule in normal operation, the stories in the collection Axiomatic are rated independently, while The Lord of the Rings is rated as a single work.

Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions. Sometimes, I'll rate a collection as a whole simply from laziness, as with Burning Chrome. More rarely, I'll take components that were presented as separate and combine them into a whole. The most flagrant example of this is the set of stories Continuum. Based on their content, the stories clearly belong together, but the name of the whole was my choice—I named it after the magazine the stories originally appeared in.


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@ March (2000)