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.