It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Oops, I did it again

8 Comments

Long time readers of this blog may remember a piece I wrote back in 2008, in which I took apart Asimov’s ‘Nightfall’ and explained why I felt it wasn’t the greatest science fiction story ever – you can read it here. It received a lot hits. About two months’ worth in the space of a weekend, in fact. And it provoked quite a reaction.

So a couple of days ago, in response to a number of best sf series lists I’d seen, I posted a list of The Worst Science Fiction Series (here). It received a lot of hits. About four months’ worth in the space of two days. And the reaction this time was a bit more severe.

And yet that reaction was essentially for the same thing: I dared to suggest that Asimov was a crap sf writer.

There are other writers named in my Ten Worst SF Series post. Some people felt their inclusion was undeserved. Just as others felt they’d earned their place. But the biggest amount of bile was generated by those who were upset at my comments about Asimov.

For the record, I’ve been reading science fiction for thirty-five years. Yes, that includes Asimov and EE ‘Doc’ Smith. I also review books for Interzone (see the non-fiction tab above). So when I write about science fiction, I do know what I’m writing about. I’ve even written the odd bit of science fiction myself, and I plan to write more.

For those whose reading comprehension is clearly wanting, I shall say it again: Asimov owed his high place on my list because he so frequently appears in best of lists. “Best” means “of the highest quality”. It does not mean “seminal”. It does not mean “made a good fist of it for his debut”. Let me repeat that: “highest quality”. In other words, the writing is the best the genre has to offer, as is the invention, characterisation, world-building, etc.

Do you really think that’s true for Foundation, and its sequels and prequels and mid-quels and side-quels and inter-quels, etc.?

That’s why Asimov was at #2 in my list. Because it is not of the “highest quality” but is repeatedly claimed to be. Yes, the Mission Earth books are worse than the Foundation books – but no one is stupid enough to suggest they’re the best books in the genre.

I wish I could respond to all of the comments that were made about my Ten Worst SF Series list, but a great many were just too stupid. (There are one or two such in the comments thread to my actual post.) However, I do want to make one important point: I did not include the Wheel of Time, or David Eddings, or Terry Goodkind, because the list was “Ten Worst Science Fiction Series”. Not “Ten Worst Science Fiction and Fantasy Series”. I titled the piece The Worst Science Fiction Series because it was about science fiction.

I’d also like to point out that my list was intended to be light-hearted. There were clues in the phrases I used – “powered by a million hamsters running around a million wheels”, for example – which is not an expression typically used by critics or reviewers. I stand by my opinions – I have a low regard for Asimov’s writing – but my list was written to amuse.

Having said all that, I’d like to thank everyone who dropped by, and everyone who linked to my post. It’s clear to me that Asimov is some sort of sf sacred cow, and you tip him at your own peril. That kind of uncritical adulation is not good – for readers, or for the genre. We need more debate – proper debate, the sort that doesn’t involve calling the other person a moron, questioning their sexuality, or confusing opinion with fact (people do that all the time. Fact.).

Finally, for my next trick I will post articles here explaining why: a) the Dune series books actually increase in quality after Dune, b) Robert Heinlein is plainly a fascist, and c) The Search For Spock is the best of the Star Trek films… So don’t forget to come back often and read my posts… just in case I ever do get around to writing the articles.

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8 thoughts on “Oops, I did it again

  1. So what’s your favorite Asimov story then?

  2. I hoped your next post would be ten worst fantasy series with Lord of the Rings at the top. That would secure the target on your back.

  3. Ian,

    I’d just like to say that although I was one of the ones defending “The Foudnation”, I do respect your right to disagree and criticise it. No one book/author should be beyond criticism and dogmatically worshipped.

    But in answer to your question: Do you really think that’s true for Foundation, and its sequels and prequels and mid-quels and side-quels and inter-quels, etc.?

    Yes, it is great SF writing. Not in a general literary sense, but in the ways that matter for SF, yes.

    Anyway, carry on airing your controversial views; it makes for good reading!

    • “Yes, it [Foundation and Co.] is great SF writing. Not in a general literary sense, but in the ways that matter for SF, yes.”

      Surely science fiction can be scrutinised in the same manner as general fiction. Yes, the ideas in the book were original and thought-provoking. Equally, the sparse attempts at characterisation, lengthy conversations to describe the situation, and constant information dumps are not signs of well-written prose.

  4. … “powered by a million hamsters running around a million wheels”, for example – which is not an expression typically used by critics or reviewers.

    Oh, bugger. *phones editor* ;)

    Y’know, I think you should sit down for a lengthy piss-up with Brian Stableford; I think you two would get on like a house on fire. :)

  5. Perhaps a counter list of good modern SF book serials is in order, Ian – the books and series’ that new readers should be introduced to, rather than old, moulding books.

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