It’s not all positivity and shiny happiness around here, you know. Some times, I have not very nice things to say about science fiction and/or fantasy. This post happens to be one of them. You can blame Liam Proven – it was his idea. “Everyone does top five or best ten lists,” he said. “Why not do a worst five list?”
So he did. And you can find it here.
And so I did too. Listed below are writers and/or books whose appeal I just cannot fathom. They have their fans – a great many in some cases. But I am Not One Of Them.
We’ll take my increasing dissatisfaction with classic sf as read (no pun intended). Regular readers of this blog will have noticed my struggle to like, or be impressed by, such classic science fiction works as The Stainless Steel Rat series, Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, anything by Asimov… I’m not consigning all genre fiction written before 1980 to the dustbin – there was some good stuff written in the years 1926 to 1979. It’s just that for me most of what sf fans claim is the Good Stuff, well, isn’t. Or rather, not entirely…
I do like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, but not his The Demolished Man. Both are in the SF Masterworks series. Many of Philip K Dick’s novels strike me as far too haphazardly written for me to really like, but I very much enjoyed his A Scanner Darkly. Gene Wolfe has written some superb novels, but I hate most of his short fiction. As for EE ‘Doc’ Smith, well, the very datedness of his works I find too much of a hurdle.
The problem for me is that most sf classics lack timeliness. Some transcend their time of writing, like Dune – it reads as well today as it did when it was published in 1965. Unfortunately, I find that too much sf is very much of its place and time and, not being in that place and time – or that place and time is too foreign to me (time more than place, of course) – then I find those books less enjoyable than others apparently do.
This is not an argument that applies to mainstream fiction. They’re set in the time and place they were written, and so that becomes the world of the story. When I open a sf novel, it’s like I’m opening a Can of World. And if that sf novel is properly rigorous, then that can is hermetically sealed – the real world cannot leak in. (It, or elements of it, can be deliberately placed inside the can; but that’s an entirely different matter.) For mainstream fiction, the time of writing is the can; for sf, the invented world of the story must be the can.
But on with the list of popular authors whose works simply don’t work for me. I’ve blogged in the past about the authors I like and admire. Here are the ones that don’t float my boat…
Neil Gaiman – I just don’t Get Gaiman. I’ve read some of his short fiction, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about.
Peter F Hamilton – I’ve read his Night’s Dawn trilogy – and I did have the biceps to prove it – and I was impressed by its size. And that he managed to control his cast of thousands and hundreds of plot-threads. But there was little else about the three books I liked, and as a result I’ve never read any of his subsequent novels.
Kevin J Anderson – who is the Dan Brown of science fiction but, unfortunately, a thousand times more prolific. I have read the Dune books he co-wrote with Brian Herbert, but the sound of Frank Herbert spinning in his grave made it difficult to concentrate on their lumpen prose. I tried the first book of KJA’s Saga of the Seven Suns, and was not at all impressed.
The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde – I’ve no idea why this has proven so popular. The writing wasn’t very good, the plot didn’t add up, and Fforde couldn’t decide which of his two Neat Ideas to focus on.
There are a great many other books and writers I don’t like. This is just a small selection. There are also many books I do like, although I’ve no idea why – the novels of AE van Vogt, for example. They may well be the subject of another blog post.