I just read a great story at Tor.com, and then I read the comments below that many readers had in reaction to the story. I don't know the author, so I don't offer this opinion in solidarity of him/her personally.
I was, as always when I read readers' comments in this sort of forum, surprised at how many folks actually criticized the story. On a public forum. Most of the readers used call names, so unless I knew them personally, I wouldn't know who they were anyway.
Maybe this anonymity gives them a sense of power. "I can say anything since no one knows who I am!" Only the cowardly go that route, but there are plenty of cowards in the world. I've known my share.
But my biggest problem with these folks is that they feel the need to criticize a story that Tor chose to purchase and offer free for whatever reasons they hold dear. Does it give these readers a sense of superiority to sit in judgment of a story that made the cut and earned the author money? Are they jealous of the story and wished that they had actually written it, but since they're probably not that skilled, it makes them feel better about themselves to try to prove that the author should be viewed as unskilled as they? Are they trying to hurt the author by not liking his/her story? Or are they just trying to fuel the flames of discord?
Whatever the reason, they either don't know or don't care that a large portion of the readers view them as the turds in the punchbowl. Why they don't mind looking like the giant and dumpy turd that they are being is beyond me.
Now, there's nothing wrong with commenting on something you would've liked to have seen differently in the story, but I hold firm with the opinion that you should make it clear that you enjoyed most of the story. Acknowledge the skill and effort that the author put forth. That's what gracious people do. Just because the author chose to go in a different direction than you would've liked to have seen doesn't mean it's a bad story. I've learned that from my many, many submissions that have been rejected for just that reason. They aren't bad stories, I'm told by the editors, just not what they're looking for.
To sit and rip a story apart however for no other reason than to be heard is inexcusable. Didn't your parents teach you any manners, applicable readers? Didn't they teach you the golden rule? Didn't they teach you that it's just not nice to complain for the sake of complaining? Are you unhappy people in your real life, and you just feel like making someone else unhappy, too? What is your problem?
Don't even go with the response that you're just trying to help the author learn what not to do next time. BS. If you were a qualified author, you wouldn't be sitting there in the cloak of the internet tossing about the metaphorical polluted punch. I even dare say that any truly aspiring writer would never attack a story like that. They know how it feels to create something out of nothing and then have someone like you criticize them for the audacity of it all.
Phew. ::wipes sweat off brow and climbs down off podium::
If you are actually reviewing a story, the above doesn't apply (though I still don't agree with being mean about your criticisms). If you slip one criticism in amongst mostly good comments, the above doesn't apply. If you sign your real name, then only some of the above doesn't apply (you figure out the parts that do and don't). But, for the most part, the readers were generous with their praise of the story, and those readers are the ones for whom the authors write. And for whom Tor publishes. You are the readers who rock.