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The Worst Science Fiction Series

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Yet another site puts together a list of the “greatest science fiction book series” and has Asimov’s Foundation series in the number one spot. (I won’t link to the site because my anti-virus software didn’t like it.) Sigh. Do people honestly think that’s the best the genre has to offer? A badly-dated trilogy with perfunctory world-building and cardboard characters, and written in prose which possesses all the charm of a dead badger? “Best” means “of the highest quality” – not something you remember enjoying when you were twelve and still believed in the tooth fairy. Foundation plainly isn’t “of the highest quality”, not by any sane or accepted yardstick.

However, in the spirit in which that original list posited Asimov’s lumpen opus as the best sf book series, I shall now present the very worst of the genre. The following are science fiction book series whose label as science fiction embarrasses me, whose continuing popularity puzzles me, and whose fans I feel deserve a smack upside the head with a very large and nail-studded cluebat.

10 Honor Harrington, David Weber
These start well enough but, like a well-known fantasy blockbuster series currently being demolished by Adam Roberts on his blog, they soon turn obese, turgid and dull. The title character also becomes increasingly implausible, and I would not be surprised if the final book in the series – should it ever appear – has Harrington magically transform into a goddess and create an entirely new universe using some wildly implausible authorial hand-waving. Read the first two or three by all means, but ignore the rest unless you want your will to live to be slowly drained from you.

9 Four Lords of the Diamond, Jack Chalker
I could have chosen any Chalker series, to be honest. They’re all pretty much the same. And every series feels like a novelette stretched out to fill three or four novels – with this happened and then that happened and then they all sat around and talked about it for a bit before that happened and this happened. The rambling plot usually leads to a weak resolution, which makes you wonder why you bothered reading the books in the first place.

8 Grand Tour, Ben Bova
I like the idea of these books: a series of hard sf novels about the gradual colonisation of the Solar system. But they’re a real slog to read. Bova’s prose is not so much workmanlike as bolted-together. If prose should be a sleek and powerful Italian sports car, then Bova’s is a great lumbering tank powered by a million hamsters running around a million wheels.

7 Pern, Anne McCaffrey
I’ve never understood the attraction of these books. They have dragons in them. But they’re not fantasy. Honest. They are, however, gooey. McCaffrey’s writing makes your teeth rot. Reading them is like eating a bucket of candyfloss – insubstantial, sticky, and so sweet the slightest sudden movement makes you feel nauseous.

6 Projekt Saucer, WA Harbinson
The central premise of this series is a well-documented conspiracy theory and quite loony. It goes like this: during World War II, the Nazis invented flying saucers and they used them to flee in 1945, and have, variously, either a base on the Moon or in Antarctica. In Harbinson’s series, written in the finest deathless prose, the saucers were actually invented by an American genius who went to work for the Nazis, and he is now the head of a secret scientific organisation with a hidden headquarters in the Andes. From there, he plans to take over the world, muahaha. Despite their cool premise, these books are painful to read.

5 Lensman, EE ‘Doc’ Smith
I could have picked any of Smith’s series, but the Lensman series – despite being out of print – still seems to be popular. It was written a long time ago. A long, long time ago. And it shows. Back in those days, sf was written by dirty old hacks or spotty teenagers. Women were either alien creatures or centre-folds. They certainly weren’t as clever or resourceful as men. A lot of them were naked too. These books are in no way representative of sf in the twenty-first century. They’re not even representative of sf as a genre.

4 Saga of the Seven Suns, Kevin J Anderson
Sadly, this series might well be representative of sf in the twenty-first century. Kevin J Anderson is a fiction machine. He churns out books by the metre. And his prose has all the wit and grace of prose written by a machine. Except he doesn’t actually write his books. He dictates them as he hikes around his backyard – otherwise known as the state of Colorado. It shows. These books do not contain carefully-chosen words, but the sort of words you pick as you scramble up a hill being chased by a goat.

3 Mission Earth, L Ron Hubbard
Anyone who thinks that Battlefield Earth is the greatest sf novel ever written is either a Scientologist or brain-damaged. Or perhaps both. But Battlefield Earth is, amazingly, better than the Mission Earth “drekology”. Rumour has it Elron was dead when he wrote the Mission Earth books. It shows.

2 Foundation, Isaac Asimov
This trilogy, while not as actually bad as some of those lower down this list, deserves its high place because it appears as number one in so many “greatest sf book series” lists. It’s not the greatest science fiction book series ever published. It’s not even very good. Asimov’s prose is like tofu – it is bland and tasteless, and when you find it in your food you’re never entirely sure what it is.

1 Legends of Dune, Kevin J Anderson & Brian Herbert
These books get the number one spot not only because they are badly-written, were cobbled together out of sf furniture stolen from 1930s pulp magazine covers and 1950s B-movies, and feature characterisation on a par with Dan Brown… No, they get the number one spot because they took a large dump from a very great height on a very good series of books. Frank Herbert’s Dune novels are excellent; I would happily include them in a list of the greatest science fiction series. But the Dune books were never completed – Frank Herbert died before starting work on “Dune 7″. So KJA & Herbert Jr wrote it for him. In order to bolt on their own ending – it was all the fault of a Giant Computer Brain, apparently – they first had to rewrite Dune‘s back-history. And they put brains in jars in there. That looked stupid back in the 1930s. It’s even more stupid now. There are many, many things wrong with these books – every single word in them, in fact.

Yes, there are worst books than those above – and some of those I picked are no longer in print for, one would hope, good reason. But whenever people promote science fiction, some of the series I’ve chosen are the ones they use. And I find that incomprehensible. When there’s so much good stuff out there, why push the badly-written crap you liked once upon a time. It may well have been your entry into the genre but you were a kid at the time. The ten series above are, I suppose, an anti-list. They are the books which should never appear on any “best of” or “greatest” list.

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100 thoughts on “The Worst Science Fiction Series

  1. Thanks for a few minutes filled with smiles and laughs of pleasure and agreement.

  2. {{{ These start well enough but, …, they soon turn obese, turgid and dull. }}}

    Yeah, the 2nd book, Honor of the Queen, was as good as that series got. It was downhill from there. I wouldn’t read passed Flag in Exile now.

  3. Good gracious. I actually agree!

    I wouldn’t place /Foundation/ as high as that, but even as a kid, I found it turgid & dull. At best, I think, it’s worthy: SF for 1950s kids who wanted to grow up to become accountants.

    I rather enjoyed the /Lensman/ books as a kid, but they are too dated and even at their best, a long time ago, they were juvenile pulps. Again I wouldn’t rank them so highly in a bottom 10, but I can’t really argue.

    I must confess there are several there I’ve not read, but they have all the appeal of a fortnight-dead haddock locked in a heated room and you only bear out my suspicions.

    • It’s not that the books in my list are truly madly deeply appalling, but that they’re the sf series which should not be held up as the best of the genre. Except the Legends of the Dune trilogy. They really are shit.

  4. Thanks for some vigilante honesty on this. We seem to haul around so many rags from our youth recalling them as great fiction that the concept of good writing gets lost along the way.
    Leaves me rudderless sometimes when I’m trying to look back and try to read ‘the greats’ when I want to connect it to my own vision of SF writing.

  5. Almost exclusively series probably should end several volumes before they do.
    Have to disagree with you on Dune though. I’m not a fan of the original novel which I recall as dry, pompous and over long. The sequels are dreadful.
    Oh and the original Pern novellas, especially “Weyr Search ‘ are fine, it was the Harper books that really turned twee. As with Crystalsinger mccaffery created an idea that had to be essentiallly a tragedy and was then unable to go through with it.

  6. I have very fond memories of sense of wonder from reading the Foundation series, and I will follow your advice and keep those memories intact by not touching those books again.

  7. Sigh, “Foundation” bashing again!

    I’m not going to bother defending it again but I will say that I think you are wrong to assume that everyone who likes it is just looking back on it with rose tinted glasses from when first read it as a kid. Many people, including myself, read it for the first time as an adult and found it very good.

    Mind you, I’m not sure I would hold it up as the best the genre has to offer. Yes, perhaps it is overated somewhat but I don’t accept that it has no relevence today, or hasn’t any redeeming features that make up for it’s shortcomings.

    • Okay, explain to me why Foundation is so good. I just can’t see it. The prose is clunky, the world-building feels like the 1950s with spaceships, and the episodic nature of the story doesn’t allow for much in the way of immersion. As for psychohistory, that’s treated with so much authorial hand-waving it might as well be magic.

      • What I like about Asimov generally is the way he formulates an idea that may seem simple and straightforward on the surface and then rigorously examines how it might be put under stress, tested and (perhaps) broken.

        With the robot’s three laws, it was like his answer to the question: “How could robots be designed in such a way that they would always be subservient to man but have maximum freedom ?” And then the many robot stories (as well as the Elijah Baley series) were about finding different ways how those seemingly concrete laws could be gotten around and exploited.

        With Foundation, he did the same with the concept of Psychohistory. Okay, someone’s formulated the science and done their utmost to create a foolproof plan to guide civilization through the next thousand years of anarchy. So the foundation series is about trying to find ways how such a plan might be put under stress and how it might survive.

        It’s almost like the scientific approach to SF. Posit an idea and then subject it to rigorous testing and criticism and see if it breaks under pressure.

        Like I have said, I realise that other aspects were often neglected (such as character development and world building). They were always secondary to the ideas he was trying to explore. But for me, that was a price well worth paying. Definitely a matter of taste though.

        And as for relevence? It was only the other day I saw a newspaper article about research by mobile phone company saying that people’s movement in groups was highly predictable.

    • I read Foundation in adulthood too and felt pretty underwhelmed by Asimov’s skills as an author.

      Until I read the foreword, He wrote this when he was 21.
      Pretty impressive in the opinion of another 20something year old.

      • I read the Foundation Series in my 30s and found them to be very interesting reads. While I admit they might be a little overrated, they are pretty timeless even for science fiction

        Foundation certainly doesn’t belong on this list. In fact, I would hope that this list would consist of 10 book series that I have never heard of (bad books having not been recommended for further reading).

  8. I don’t see any rigour in Asimov’s story. He comes up with an idea – psychohistory – and then hangs a story from it. From what I remember, the concept breaks quite early in the trilogy – not just the unforeseen appearance of the Mule, but I seem to recall one of Seldon’s appearances getting pretty much everything wrong. Which puts the burden of shortening the Long Night on the Second Foundation and its magical powers.

    For true rigour, you need to read someone like Ted Chiang. He puts his premises under the microscope and takes them apart bit by bit.

    • The task of the second foundation is to make adjustments to the original plan in an attempt to cater for unforseen occurences. It is known from the outset that a weakness to psychohistory is that posed by rouge individuals that somehow rise against the tide of the social flow.

      Things do get increasingly out of hand though and that is all part of the charm of the series in my opinion. Throughout the series we see an evolution of Asimov’s own ideas about what’s best for mankind, particularly in the later additions to the series.

      Ian, I have read a couple of Ted Chiang’s stories and yes, he is very good.

  9. Thanks for your list, Ian – haven’t read much of these selections but what I have read here I would completely agree with you on.

  10. Perry Rhodan. Enough said…

  11. Good heavens…The Lensman series is hardly great SF, but have you actually bothered to read it? It doesn’t sound like it, given your criticism on how women are treated in the series. The fact is that the books are filled with heroic women doing heroic things—not the least of whom is the astonishing Clarissa MacDougall—to the point where at the end of the series the entire universe is saved from destruction by the sheer mental power of the eponymous Lensman’s daughters.

    • Yup, read them several times as a teenager, and Second Stage Lensman again only last year. And when female characters in a book repeatedly declare themselves to be less intelligent than their male counterparts, then yes, I consider the book sexist.

      • I agree with all of your choice except the Lensmen books. I reread/relisten to these about every year or two. Yes, the prose is bombastic and episodic and the gender issues certainly stick out a bit, but the _story_ and the characters are unforgettable. If read with an eye towards the context of its creation, it blossoms. Complaining about the fact that it’s arguably the first example of High Space Opera is like complaining about the whaling tech in moby dick or the dusty language of any Victorian author – it misses the point. You might as well complain that Beowulf has poor spelling.

        The first time I read the lensmen books, I was simply floored by just HOW MUCH people had ripped off ol’ doc smith. “OH! So THAT’S where Lucas got the idea for the Empire’s ships.” or “Huh… I wonder if Green Lantern has ever read these…”. These are the bones of Sci-Fi; the skeleton upon which so very much of the culture we love has been hung upon. Hell, and when Heinlein tells you the lensmen books kick ass… well, it should at least give one pause before dismissal.

        Finally: Doc Smith is the man who literally invented the machine that puts powdered sugar on doughnuts. I don’t know what that’s worth in literary terms, but I must admit it inclines toward likin’ the man. :)

  12. This list automatically invalidates itself by failing to include one or both of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.

  13. Herbert should have stopped with Dune – the sequels drop in quality exponentially.

    Foundation suffers from the same problem as much of Asimov’s work – it’s all academic.

    I have to admit to liking the Pern series – it’s not great science fiction or fantasy, but it’s decently written (something that can’t be said for the works of L. R. Hubbard or K. J. Anderson).

  14. I agree completely with you on Kevin J. Anderson in general and concerning the Saga of Seven Suns and the new Dune books.

    The Seven Suns was a marathon in molasses.

  15. To bash the Lensman series is silly — it is of its time; perhaps you would also remove the The Merry Widow from the operetta stage due to its sexist themes. As for The Foundation series, I re-read it annually to remind me of Asimov’s genius. Perhaps I should wish a sound smacking amidships for you.

    • If someone asks me to recommend some mainstream fiction, I don’t suggest Katherine Mansfield. If someone asks me to recommend a thriller, I don’t suggest John Buchan. And if someone asks me to recommend a sf book, I don’t suggest one written 70 years ago, and then say, “Oh don’t worry about the sexism and the horrible dated slang – it is 70 years old, after all.”

      The point of my post – which far too many people seem to have missed – is that Lensman and Foundation are historical, and the genre has moved on in the decades since they were written.

      But then, if you think Asimov’s sf writing is genius, there’s not a lot I can say to you.

  16. I was always underwhelmed by Foundation, so I am glad to see it here. But Dune one of the greatest? When the only character worth caring about, Duke Atreides, dies halfway through the book, you got a problem. And the ending line “History will call us wives” has to be the most lame ending of a book in literary history. “Then I fell out of bed and woke up ” would be better. Dune, and even more so its sequels, is a plodding, pretentious exercise in pseudo-philosophy.

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you – not enough can or will ever be said about how horrid those so-called Dune books by Kevin J Anderson & Brian Herbert are.

    They are miserable. Painful. Disgustingly awful. The only books I’ve literally thrown across the room.

  18. Tofu is good for you kid. Your mother should have smacked you upside the head with a very large and nail-studded cluebat whenever you’d turn your snotty nose up at it.

  19. The Pern series may not fit into a pure scifi or fantasy tag, it’s kind of goths both ways depending on your viewpoint.
    That being said, it’s well written, enjoyable, and easily one of the best series I have ever enjoyed.

    You might not think it’s worth a place in the top ten series, but I damn sure do.

  20. Great list – and I fully agree with your remarks on Foundation, comments which could equally apply to any of Asimov’s works.

    That you refer to the one true literature as sf gains you extra brownie points and I shall bookmark your blog as a result of this fineness, sir.

  21. i am sincerely not trolling here, but i enjoyed the later dune books as a pulp trash stand alone series. i mean, every scifi cliche is in there, and it gives you the same stomach ache as candy.

  22. You know what book really sucks and is overrated? Any one that you like, that you suggest anyone should read. That one really sucks! Especially compared to the ones you say suck and are overrated. Critics are not like assholes, they are assholes.

    • No doubt you’ve been saving up that little epithet for years. I suspect you’ve used it a number of times as well. Well-argued debate is good; moronic comments such as yours are, well, moronic.

  23. I just don’t get the whole point of bashing other writers. I recently listened to the audio of “Mars” by Ben Bova. I thought it was great! I loved the story, the characters, and the dialogue writing. I was so engaged in the story I didn’t even think about the prose. And the fact that I didn’t think about it means that it wasn’t so bad. I read a lot.

    “If prose should be a sleek and powerful Italian sports car, then Bova’s is a great lumbering tank powered by a million hamsters running around a million wheels.”

    With analysis like this why would anyone take you seriously? I think the point of your post was to be clever and funny.

    • First, if books were meant to be listened to, they wouldn’t be printed on paper for you to read. Defending a writer’s prose because you listened to an audio version of their book is nonsensical. It’s like defending a film because you liked the novel from which it was adapted.

      So you would take someone who was stupid and not funny seriously?

      • Your response makes no sense at all. Listening to an unabridged book is the same as reading a book. There is nothing left out. In fact it can enhance a book greatly, if the person reading it is good. They change their voices for each characters. They can collaborate with the author to get pronunciations correct. They can put inflections into the reading, especially the characters dialogue. I would never listen to a book at home. I listen to them when I’m walking the dog, riding my bike, working out, or driving. I’m listening to a T.C. Boyle book right now, and if you think I can’t hear and enjoy his wonderful prose your wrong.

        “It’s like defending a film because you liked the novel from which it was adapted.”

        Huh?

        “So you would take someone who was stupid and not funny seriously?”
        In your own words: “Well-argued debate is good; moronic comments such as yours are, well, moronic.”
        P.S. sureguy deserved that.

  24. I’ve never had a problem with dated social attitudes in literature I read. I even have trouble understanding why other people do. Ok, you might say it’s because I’m a whilte, heterosexual male and not on the receiving end of such attidudes but I don’t think that’s it. I would never abide such attitudes in real life. And we aren’t talking about real life here. I would never let such things get in the way of a good story.

    Yes, the genre has moved on, but not always for the better in my opinion. And being more politically correct as social attitudes dictate now does not make it better.

    • I don’t have a problem with dated social atitudes in dated literature. I do have a problem with people with holding up such works without pointing out that it is a product of its time. The implication being that all works, including current ones, are like it. That’s what I find objectionable. If someone new to sf reads one of the Lensman books, they might well think all sf is like that – because no one bothered to tell the genre has changed a great deal in the last 80 years…

  25. This kind of list with its moronic premise is Reason Number One why the internet sucks. Everybody now is infected with the mindset of the critic. And it’s the modus operandi of every critic after a certain point to assert something totally counter-intuitive because he’s bored with the useless task of criticism. Hand it to ‘Ian Sales’ for the predictable critic’s gesture of the day: the Foundation series is awful!

    In fact, the Foundation series along with the original Dune series stands at the top of science fiction, as is obvious. The prose isn’t turgid by any standard. It’s lean, tight, and strong. The original series, you may recall, was done as a set of short stories. So the writing had to be tight, and it was. As far as character development goes, and Asimov is always taken to task by this, the only people who aren’t moved by Asimov’s very human and compelling characters are people from the Heinlein school who only feel the characters are real if the story is stuffed full of literary-like description. These poor sods, without knowing it, want science fiction to be a kind of chick-lit.

    When you read the Foundation series you get a story with scope, with humanity, and an outlook that comes out of the scientific worldview with its roots in the Enlightenment. You get intelligence that is also entertaining — unlike some of the other garbage Sales apparently likes which is entertainment trying to be intelligent. Put Chiang’s drek in that category.

    I’m actually surprised that Sales here doesn’t prefer that neurotic and ridiculous label ‘speculative fiction’ since he is obviously also someone who has no feel for the essence of science fiction. Of course, no other genre has such self-loathing. You don’t see mystery writers struggling to call themselves writers of ‘problem-solving fiction’. Of course, science fiction has higher stakes — wonder. Something Asimov fosters in his writing, and few others.

    • Well, there you go. Heinlein is apparently literary and chick lit. And Ted Chiang writes “drek”. You, sir, are quite clearly an idiot. I’m surprised you can read books without pictures in them.

      And now your idiocy is displayed here for the world to see.

      • Snappy comeback — but hardly an argument. Which can also be said for your disdain for the Foundation series.

        Bad characterization in an effort to seem literary is no virtue, in my opinion, especially in a genre like science fiction with its self-image problems. And overlooking bad writing — like Chiang’s — just because it lends itself well to the practice of creating sci-fi criticism is disingenuous.

        Long live Hari Seldon!

      • Well, I thought Herr Moltke’s reply was funny. I’ve never come across the opinion that Asimov is a superior stylist to Chiang before.

    • I was too busy laughing at the characterisation of Heinlein as chick lit.

  26. I never said Chiang was an inferior stylist. I said he is an inferior writer.

    • Bad writing implies bad prose to me, as opposed to bad writer which indeed isn’t the same as bad stylist. But OK, point taken. So you aren’t just trolling? Well, a refreshing point of view in any case.

  27. Bad writing implies bad writer. But one of the main problems with criticism in general is that as an obligatory gesture it has to take whatever its object is *as* itself. That *as* inevitably distorts its field of vision.

    So taking the Foundation series *as* writing causes one to make the mistake, as a critic, that all it is, is prose. Like in your case: bad writing means bad prose.

    Of course, there’s more to writing than the prose. I maintain that even as prose, Asimov is excellent, and that one day after the current fashions are over, it will be recognized for what it is. But above and beyond the prose, as I mentioned above, there is an outlook and worldview in the Foundation series which, above all else, should be treasured, an historical importance which should be recognized, and a storytelling quality which shouldn’t be dismissed.

    • If you’d written the above as your first comment here, you’d have received a more reasoned response.

      I agree that prose alone is not be-all and end-all of a story, but I certainly disagree that Asimov was a good prose-writer. As for worldview – the worldview in Foundation is more than 60 years old! It hasn’t been relevant for half a century, at least.

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  29. I think the guys at Penny Arcade hit the nail on the head with regard to the Herbert/Anderson version of Dune:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2003/10/15/

  30. God, I love this…

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  32. Yeah, Foundation should definitely not be on this list. I think it has more to do with the quality of the reader than the quality of the writer, in this case.

    “It hasn’t been relevant for half a century, at least.”

    Obviously you’re a complete ninny and don’t aspire to the finer development of plot and suspense that Foundation offers. Bad characterization? Are you serious? Majority of the classics literature would be on the another list for the same reasons, if characterization was all that matter. I WISH there where more writers of Herbert and Asimov caliber today.

    Heinrich Moltke, don’t pull back from your previous statement one bit, you are 100% right. People expect grandiose sci-fi novels today, without an heavy story. Such as iansales, who someone clearly enjoys books like ‘Everyone Poops’ and ‘Give a Mouse a Cookie’ as the highlight of his reading collection. Next thing we know he’ll start bashing Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ or Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451′. In that case, we’d have to take his internet privileges away.

    • All literature needs to be evaluated in the context within which it was written. I read the Foundation trilogy as a teenager and must admit that I liked Asimov’s robotic (especially robotic detective) works far better. Even before chaos theory put paid to the very idea of psychohistory, I always found it a bit suspect.

      The fact is a lot of classic literature, in any genre, could not be published under todays market standards.

      I wouldn’t put Asimov’s trilogy anywhere on my top list, but I wouldn’t put it on the bottom list either. I’ve downloaded the samples of the Second Foundation Trilogy written by hard science fiction authors Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin onto my Kindle and will give them a spin. BTW, anyone who was fascinated by psychohistory should check out The Predictioneer’s Game. Get past the fact the the author (Bruce Bueno de Mesquita) is brilliant, and not disinclined to let the reader know it, and you get a peek into how the actions of a few key players might be predicted and perhaps controlled by game theory.

      Then again, what do I know? I read the Hobbit and half of the Fellowship before I gave up on the Tolkien in a fit of “is anything ever going to actually happen in the damn book?” Loved the movies though.

    • Judging by your comment, perhaps you should try writing a novel – then there would be a writer of Asimov’s calibre writing today. If you think Foundation offers good characterisation and a proper plot – it’s a fix-up novel, by the way; you know, fixed up short stories; without a proper plot – then may I respectfully suggest you try reading some fiction by proper writers in order to understand what it is and what it is capable of.

      And yes, I don’t like Fahrenheit 451 either. But I love the film adaptation by François Truffaut.

      • You don’t like Fahrenheit 451?! This is the book pushed me to expand my horizon with sci-fi literature…wow, you must really be looking for specific things in your sci-fi selection.

        If that’s the case, how can you even call yourself a reader with such a low level of tolerance for difference types of books. Do you’ve no respect for the classics or what??

  33. Hey, if the Foundation series has encouraged even one of its defenders to read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall then I don’t think that anyone can say it has been entirely a waste of resources and time.

  34. Foundation demonstrated for the first time that:
    * You could write space opera for grown-ups (meaning without a comic-book hero protagonist battling bug-eyed monsters) and,
    * You could write a story about essentially -math- and still cover your advance. (though it would be decades until he could actually quit his day job).

    An astonishing number of SF literary tropes (Encyclopedia Galactica…) trace their origins to this series.

    And it would be required reading if you were to claim yourself to be SF literate.

    That said, the historical value distorts the literary value.
    Absent of that, the trilogy is, IMHO, a promising if somewhat mediocre debut.

    If it were not so seminal, it would be too dry to make anyone’s top ten list.
    If it weren’t considered canon, with all the expectations that go with such designations, it would not make your bottom 10.

    But look how it lit up the comments section.

    • Thank you. Someone whose reading comprehension matches their age. My post clearly stated that Foundation owed its high position to the fact it has undeservedly appeared on so many best of sf lists.

      However, I still question the trilogy’s importance, and I certainly question the need for sf fans to read it. Clarissa was an important novel, but not reading it doesn’t stop people enjoying everything from Jane Austen to Ian McEwan.

      • Not true, I read the Foundation series even before I had regular access to the internet or read any top 10 SF list, and I think this would apply to the majority of its defenders on this board too.

  35. Is there a need to read any particular SF novel or series? I don’t think so. One could confine oneself only to reading contemporary SF and still read a lot of good SF. The question is, would they be missing out at all? Does contemporary SF do everything that was done before better?

    If one read SF but never read anything from the “Foundation” series, would they be missing anything that hasn’t been done better elsewhere? I don’t think so.

    By the way, is being a fix-up novel incompatible with having a proper plot? Each story itself works well and fits well into the meta story. I don’t have a problem with fix-up novels anyway. What about Van Vogt’s “Voyage of a Space Beagle”? Another classic fix-up novel…

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  38. OK maybe I’m in the minority here but IF writing is an art, debatable I know, isn’t an artists ‘job’ to evoke a particular response from the person ‘consuming’ the art. In the case of a writer, if they convey the ideas, engage you in the story & make you empathise with one or more of the characters, then that’s job done isn’t it? to continue the analogy does it matter if it’s done with 1/2 a cow or paint & canvas? i.e. does writing style or prose matter? I’ve just finished Children of Dune and I won’t be reading any more of the Dune series because @ the end of the book I didn’t care about the remaining characters or the continued existence of that universe. With the Foundation series I cared @ the end what happened to the people and what choice the main character would make for the future of mankind!

    If that makes me hopeless as a literary critic then long live my ignorance.

    Books like music have different appeal to different people & therefore to qualify anything as best and worst is unproductive, select your recommendations according to the taste of the person you are recommending to.

    I waffle enough! Enjoy your Sci-Fi, enjoy your life & don’t judge others by your standards.

    Thanks for reading!

    • This is one of the great myths of reading – enjoyment is subjective, quality is not. There are well-established criteria which can be used to judge whether a piece of writing is good or bad. Their thresholds may be debatable, but the criteria themselves are well-defined.

      I do lists such as the one in the post because I think science fiction deserves to be taken seriously. And it never will be unless it can show it’s as good as any other form of literature. Promoting as the best the genre can offer writers and books which fail to meet those criteria only confirms the prejudices of the anti-genre crowd.

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  40. Oh come on, the problem with panning old series like the Lensmen by modern standards is that you could apply that to any classic. You might as well say Shakespeare is the worst written because its so wooden compared to today’s prose. For its time Lensmen broke some great ground, it helped create the space opera and many stories since owe their parentage to the old stories like this. Asimov – great ideas – horrible prose, total agreeement.

    • Point taken. But you don’t hand out Shakespeare to people wanting to know what British drama is all about. And, to be fair, Shakespeare’s prose may be 400+ years older, but it’s still a shitload better than ‘Doc’ Smith’s.

      As for the Lensman being groundbreaking… in some respects, yes. But both Jack Williamson and Edmond Hamilton were writing similar space opera before Smith.

      • Shakespeare literature overrated, the literature-play adaptations and plays are great, but his literature stinks with the except of Merchant of Venice. I really can’t stand anything not written in the vernacular. Literary creativity is a joke, often the main idea is lost in the author’s attempt of wit or overly complicate analogies.

  41. Good list, Ian. Not sure I would have included Foundation in a list of the worst series, but I hear you and acknowledge that you have raised good points about that series’ shortcomings. I think the thing to remember about Foundation is that out of all of the SF of that era, it is clearly some of the best.

    To the Legends series of books I’d add that everything those two “authors” have written. None of it is good; all of it sucks.

  42. I think Ursala Le Guin should be on the list of overrated authors… I read the first chapter of a series, and had to ask, ‘WTF does that have to do with the main story? Feel like I am reading a sci-fi Tolkien novel.’

    Anyone else feel the same? If I’ve misjudged her, please tell me the best book (best selling) she’s written and I’ll give it a go.

    • Le Guin is on my Best SF Series list, so I certainly don’t feel she’s over-rated. I’m also curious why you felt you had to qualify “best” by adding “best selling” in brackets after it. Best-selling doesn’t necessarily mean best. But. If I had to pick a Le Guin novel to try, then either The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed.

      • ‘Best’ is relative, best selling is most favorable and solid statistic. From there I can see where her work was most well received. Just like who you think The Foundation series is the worst. Relativity my friends.

        My previous comments were trolling, as I was outraged by your audacity to make such a claim about The Foundation and how it is the worst. A real top ten list is back by statistics, not preferences. Be well.

    • A top ten list backed by statistics would be a list of the most popular series, not the best. Quantity does not equal quality, and never has done. Enjoyment is subjective, but there are objective criteria which can be used to judge the quality of a piece of fiction. Thresholds may differ, but there’s nothing relative about it.

      • I’d be interested in learning what your “objective criteria which can be used to judge the quality of a piece of fiction” are? I was under the impression there was no such thing. I am sure they would have been useful when I did my A-Level English back in the day.

        Regarding E.E.Smith’s fiction, for sure, the dialogue is generally implausible, as are male/female interactions, but the Lensman plotting is generally tight and his descriptive writing of battle scenes verges on poetic, whilst the science seems to be internally consistent and reasonably consistent with what was thought at the time.
        For my taste, he over-relied on moments where he wrote that such or such an event was so similar to a previously described technique that it is not worth elaborating on it here, rather than inventing new techniques, plus he falls into the inevitable hazards when trying to describe characters who are more intelligent than the writer.

        I won’t comment on the others as I either haven’t read them at all or not read them recently enough to comment on. I did read the first Honor Harrington book recently and thought it was great, but I haven’t read the rest of the series, so am now a little wary.

  43. Ian,

    Hmmm. Obvious disagreement on a lot of scores here – not the least of which is your position on Foundation.

    But then you know the kinds of things I’d say and I know the kinds of things you’d respond with, so let’s both save the energy, lol.

  44. While I don’t know all of the works on your list, I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with why so many are upset with the Dune universe right now.

  45. I have to agree about the Honor Harrington series. Its great for as long as you can stomach it, but it just keeps pounding you with how amazingly awesome Honor is. I think Weber tries to show her flaws but she really only fails once and even then turns it into an overwhelming enemy spanking.

    I also object to listing the KJA “Dune books” on this list as it is very hard to even consider them sci-fi. If you wanted to make a list of the 10 worst Young Adult books ever written you could easily fill half the list with KJA books. I’ve never read something that was simultaneously as infuriating and astonishingly horrible as the nuDune novels. The books are amazingly awesome (through the original meaning of the word) in their horrendousness

  46. I actually like Hunters of Dune. And I am a Dune fanatic. But the Prequel stuff is pretty bad, and the only saving grace with Hunters is that they had the notes of Franky himself and obviously followed them.

    • That’s debatable. I don’t see Frank Herbert writing all those words and then having a Giant Computer Brain turn out to be the villain. Besides, the Buterlian Jihad as described in FH’s novels is a very different thing to that described by KJA & BH.

  47. I wouldn’t know, I read the first chapter of the Jihad, and lost interest. It wasn’t Herbert style and seem pretty melodramatic right off the bat.

  48. Wouldn’t a top ten backed by statistics merely recognize the marketing skills of the publishers and not the writing skills of the author? Or is Dan Brown a better writer than Isaac Asimov?

    • I think you give book marketers to much credit. Most books get popular by word of mouth. I’ve never purchased a book due to an ad. In the long run, statistic matter, shows how people favor it, despite time. That’s why Asimov is still favored today, that is why I found it, due to a friend’s recommendation.

      • It’s a bit more sophisticated than just adverts. Those tables at the front of book stores – publishers pay to have titles put on them. The discounts book stores offer – publishers pay to have them. The reviews that appear in magazines, newspapers, on blogs – publishers send out free books to wherever they think a review will help move units.

        Few books have actually become best-sellers – or remained best-sellers – due to word of mouth. Rowling is one. But The da Vinci Code had an extensive marketing campaign dedicated to it. Even Gibson’s Neuromancer only really took off after a pair of Hollywood producers spent $25,000 promoting it as they’d bought the rights and were trying to get a project green-lit…

  49. Good list, but judging by your explanations of what series qualified, perhaps it should be “The Ten Most Overrated SF Series”, rather than “Worst”.

    Apart from the latter-day Dune novels. They deserve to be on a Worst series list, for the reasons you’ve given.

    HBJ

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  51. That website that called Asimov’s Foundation trilogy the best ever was probably quoting the SFWA award given to it as best all time series, and in my opinion that’s quite correct. In MANY other people’s opinions it’s correct. In fact, you’re the first person to actually say it’s bad. That series built so much of what science fiction IS. The prose are like that on purpose; the reader is not distracted from the sophisticated mental play by superfluous adjectives or clunky unreadable junk. That style is derived from the great Russian short story writer and playwright Anton Chekhov. If you bothered to read actual literature as well as write thinly minded posts you would have realized that.

    • You’re joking, right? You think Asimov’s prose is derived from Chekov? Is your first language even English? Asimov wrote graceless prose. I’m not the first to say so -and I’m certainly not the only one – and I doubt I’ll be the last. And if you’d bothered to look around on this blog, you’d have seen that I read literature quite a lot. I suspect I read it a great deal more than you, because anyone who thinks Foundation’s prose is good can’t have had much exposure to proper writing…

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  54. Totally agree with you on the Foundation front. No matter how well I word my Foundation review on Amazon, there’s always that one-third lurking out there ready to bat at the 2-star fly. I read it and loathed it. It was just so simple, to the point of being tacky. While speaking of tacky, how can anyone say it’s NOT dated by reading this list of “atomic” words and phrases found in Foundation:
    Atomic blaster, atomic drill, atomic drive (also the hyperatomic drive), atomic fire, atomic force, atomic force-shield, atomic gadgets, atomic generator, atomic knife, atomic power, atomic shear, atomic ships, atomic specialists, atomic techniques, atomic washing machine (bwah!) and atomic weapons.

    • I also agree about the Foundation series. I tried to read it at an early age and gave up not because I wasn’t educated enough (I wasn’t, admittedly) but because it just didn’t feel…well, right. I gave it another go in my twenties….same result with added undertones of annoyance because people I trusted kept telling me it was great. I’m certainly old enough now to wonder if it’s just me when that happens, but everyone suffers from self doubt now and then.

      You want dated, though? VR anyone? Come back in twenty years and count up references to quantum entanglement in current fiction LOL

      And get ready for, “Higgs Boson generator engaged, Captain.”

      But be reasonable, with very (VERY) few exceptions science fiction is always a child of its own time and should be judged as such. A lot of current science fiction should be renamed Sci-Fad.

      Still, I really hope there is never a science fiction book series called “A Thousand Shades of the Greys”.

  55. I have always viewed science fiction as an ideas genre.

    Much is to be said about the people who come to our front porch in search of literary finesse!

    Has anybody ever read Asimov’s essays on the matter? He addresses his (intentional!) use of cardboard and plain prose in better detail than any of the critics can.

  56. I was talking about cardboard characters in my last post.

    [Pretend there is a joke here and how that might make you feel.]

  57. I think it was Spider Robinson who said that a well- known SF writer set out to write the worst novel he could… and then was surprised when it was a huge hit and reprinted over and over…. Does anyone know which writer and book this was?

    I might be the only person that has read every one of the BH/KA Dune books. They are terrible to start with, but like (fill in your favorite bad habit) they sort of grow on you…

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