MIND MELD: Books We Love That Everyone Else Hates (and Vice Versa)
This week’s Mind Meld topic was suggested by John Klima. We asked this week’s panelists (including John):
Here’s what they said…
Gene Wolfe’s Wizard-Knight. As far as I am concerned this was like reading C.S.Lewis writing Conan the Barbarian. I was mostly repulsed by the ethics, and while I quite understand that this was meant to be a juvenile wet dream of muscular morality, that doesn’t mean I need to read it. The frightening thing was that when I presented this analysis to several well known critics, they agreed with me, and then went on to explain why it was a work of genius.
John, John, John. You and the hot potato questions. Ha! As a writer myself, I can hardly go around bashing other people’s books…it ain’t good karma…
Having said that, of course there are blockbuster successes that make me roll my eyes. This is a very subjective business. One man’s crab cakes are another’s stale Wheat Thins. No book is going to reach all of the people all of the time, and I get to experience this personally with my own work. A gratifying number of folks have responded positively to the Plague Year novels all over the world, but there are also those who bash the books online or go out of their way to send me hate mail, which sucks, so I can only play along this far because the poor guy is dead:
As you’d probably guess, I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and consider myself well-read in this subgenre. I regularly encounter people who praise or defend Earth Abides as one of the greatest PA novels ever written…
The storytelling is clunky at best, the hero survives the global pandemic only because of a chance encounter with a rattlesnake that bites him and apparently – implausibly – the snake’s venom acts as a vaccine against the killer virus. (But then why does anyone else survive? And… really? Our hero is the hero because he was stupid enough to step on a rattlesnake? Some resumé!)
I’ll grant you that the book has a few great scenes. The part where the smart kid figures out they can use the spare tires mounted on the back of jeeps to create a full set of four good tires is fun. At the end of the novel, when the hero’s savage descendants have worked out a capricious rationale for using penny arrowheads to hunt one prey and nickel arrowheads for another – that’s genius. It’s obscure and sad and very human.
Otherwise? Bleh. I’ve heard it argued that the characters in Earth Abides are “common man,” not action heroes. I say common man is smarter. Our hero can’t even teach kids to read! What a buffoon!!!
For my money, for a classic apocalyptic novel, give me Lucifer’s Hammer or On The Beach – smart people doing smart things to the best of their ability in impossible situations.
First, I’d better backtrack and confess that I don’t get epic fantasy at all. Harry Potter leaves me cold, the Twilight phenom bewilders me, and so many of the other chart-topping series just seem like the same thing over and over and over again.
I accept the clear truth that it’s me who’s wrong. You can’t argue with eighty million rabid fans… and I don’t believe The Gandalara Cycle was unpopular. The copies on my shelves are tattered paperbacks. When I looked to replace one, I found reprints. Publishers don’t reprint books that don’t do well. Nevertheless, when I’ve pushed these books on friends, I’ve heard responses such as, “Oh, gawd, those books are so corny.” People tell me they were irritated by the forever-driven-apart romance between the hero and heroine. Or they say they saw big reveal at the end coming a mile away. One guy even launched into a biological criticism of the series’ unlikely environment.
Man, I just think it’s great storytelling with magnetic characters. Admittedly, the series suffers a bit because it was lopped into seven thin installments and the last six, trying to work as stand-alones, are salted with backstory to bring new readers up to speed. Nearly half of the last book is unnecessary rehashing. Arg.
When I’m emperor of the universe, a fine-eyed editor will go back through the series, remove the recaps, and we’ll re-issue The Gandalara Cycle as a single speedy volume. Bwah ha ha ha.
While I’m dreaming, I’d also like to recommend a “lost” book instead of a loved or hated one. Will someone please explain to me how it’s possible, especially given his success, that John Barnes’ The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky out of print? Two years ago at a book signing for a different writer, I actually pulled aside a Tor rep who was on scene and personally (but pleasantly!) accosted him on this matter.
Published in 1986 as Barnes’ debut novel, The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky is an edgy, dark, high concept and utterly captivating read much like his triumphant Kaleidoscope Century. It’s absolutely bug nuts. Awesome. Wizard.
If you like sci fi, find a copy. That’s my hot tip for the day.
I’m about to shock the world (or at least anyone who has an iota of respect for me). The one book that I love, but everyone else hates is Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I don’t know why, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book (and its sequel, Eldest). I wouldn’t consider myself an obsessive fan, though, but I have been known to defend the book from the haters from time to time. To be fair, the haters make really horrible arguments about Eragon, so it’s easy to defend; besides, I think people who dedicate themselves solely to de-constructing a book they claim to hate is downright silly. Do something constructive!
As for the book I hate that everyone else loves, I’d have to pick The Lord of the Rings (which also might ruin any respect anyone out there has for me). I should clarify, though: I don’t hate LOTR because I think it’s a bad book, per se; I have to give Tolkien props for pioneering (not creating) the fantasy genre as we know it. The thing is, the books are incredibly boring. The guy could build realistic worlds and languages, but he was not a great writer by a long shot. His prose wanders, the story takes forever and a day to get to the point, there are too many wasted pages in The Fellowship of the Ring (the first third of the book is practically wasted space; don’t get me started on the Council of Elrond scene), etc. But everyone else seems to adore the thing as a book, rather than a cultural product. I think that’s a terrible oversight in our collective consciousness.
Please send your hate mail to Mr. DeNardo.
I’m guessing that you mean ‘everyone’ to refer to ‘everyone in SF/F’, in which case the best answer to this question is a general one: I love all that high-culture experimental Modernist and postmodernist literature that so many truefans take pride in denigrating — genuinely love, I mean; not just ‘think it makes me look clever to namedrop’ or ‘grudgingly admire’. A lot of people in SFF don’t. For example, Orson Scott Card loves Lord of the Rings but he hates Ulysses and sneers at people who like James Joyce (‘you lucky Smart people; you really have it over the rest of us poor peasants who find it to be one long tedious joke … pay no attention to us as we close the door to your little brown study and get back to the party’) Well, I love Ulysses almost as much as I love LotR … and that’s saying something. More, I’d say that Ulysses and Lord of the Rings are essentially the same book: both large-scale fantasies about the epic and mythic underpinnings of seemingly banal and ordinary lives; both absolutely fascinated with language, both richly inventive (although each in slightly different ways); and both deeply engaged with importance of moral choice. The point, here, is not only that Ulysses is a Fantasy novel, but that it is a great fantasy novel. Similarly, Proust’s Recherche is a fascinating post-Wellsian time-travel story; and Jonathan Littell’s Kindly Ones a large-scale exercise in,or deconstruction of, Edgar Rice Burroughsian adventure.
The book I hate that everybody else loves … well ‘hate’ is a strong word. There are things I find genuinely hateful in some of the SF-F I read or watch: the large residues of sexism and racism, for instance, that our genre seems to be having difficulty purging. But isolating specific authors would be not so much invidious as misleading; since I think both those things are systemic, not individual, problems. Otherwise, and if we put ‘hate’, on one side, I’ll confess I am baffled by the enormous success of a number of SF superstars. Kevin J Anderson, for instance.
I’ll start with the controversial answer first. Add me to that heretic band of sci-fi/fantasy fans that actually can’t stand J.R.R. Tolkien not one little bit, particularly The Lord of the Rings. I guess I encountered the fantasy grandmaster a little late — I didn’t read him until my freshman year in college — and by then his tedious pacing and self-indulgent prose just drove me up a wall. (And this from a guy who loves unabridged Robert A. Heinlein novels.) I consider it a triumph of epic proportions that Peter Jackson was able to extract a workable trilogy of screenplays from that morass of desperately-needs-an-editor scenery pondering. And the movies were still overlong and in need of some tightening. I gratefully acknowledge that Tolkien originated the modern form of the fantasy genre in the same way that Chaucer inaugurated many conventions of modern English literature, and I can appreciate that accomplishment from an academic standpoint, but I’m actually more likely to read Canterbury Tales for fun than I am Fellowship of the Ring, if only because the sex scenes are better.
As to the book I love that everyone else seems to hate, I’ll go with Singularity Sky, the “forgotten” first novel by Charles Stross. I actually first discovered Stross in the pages of Asimov’s when I read “Lobsters,” the foundational short story for Accelerando. I was hooked then, and when his first novel came out, I grabbed it with both hands and adored every page. Everyone else I know, however, seems to view Stross’s longform freshman effort as opaque and too post-modern. Frankly, that’s what I love about it; he fires idea at you with blinding speed and dares you to keep up with the three-ring circus of high concepts being put on in every chapter. A sentient post-scarcity economy traveling to backwater worlds granting material wishes in exchange for folklore stories? A transcendent godlike artificial intelligence that governs time travel and space-operatically Balkanized all of humanity as a mode of self-defense? Spacefaring secret agents manipulated into cliché action/love stories by higher powers? I don’t just enjoy this book, I adore Singularity Sky, for all its unconventionality and all its idiosyncrasies and — above everything — it’s refusal to wait for the reader to catch up. It gleefully challenges you, and that’s probably what makes people hate it. That’s also exactly why I love it.
Love and hate – two words so powerful that people will tattoo them across their knuckles, no less. But universality? Therein lies a problem for me. I mean, someone’s gotta like a book in order for it to be published, right? So there can’t be any universally hated books, surely?
There’s certainly a few favourites of mine that seem to be dismissed as average by the canon of consensus, though… Julian May’s Saga of Pliocene Exile, for instance, as I’ve mentioned here many times before. Or there are those that get described as an acquired taste (viz. the work of Rudy Rucker – seriously, how can anyone not love the guy?), those that – for whatever reason – hardly anyone seems able to remember reading (David Zindell’s Requiem For Homo Sapiens trilogy, perhaps), or those that made a brief splash before their authors deftly snubbed the only fan-base they were ever likely to be able to rely on (Jeff Noon, your taxi is waiting outside).
As for genre books I hate that everyone else loves… well, hate is a word I try to avoid using, because it’s corrosive in the way it reduces a complex thing (in this case, a story) into a simple thing (a focus for derision and loathing), and because every book is the right book for someone – which is what I get for four years working in public libraries, I guess.
But if you really want examples of books that I simply don’t understand the appeal of, you can take pretty much anything from the splatterpunk horror shelves (because I don’t need to be reminded that human beings can imagine and occasionally do horrible things to one another, and if I really want to horrify myself, I might as well spend a productive hour doing my accounts, thank-you-very-much).
And while you’re at it, you can take all of Asimov’s classic Foundation novels, which I’m sure were groundbreaking at the time (and whose importance to the genre’s evolution is very obvious and fully acknowledged), but which now read like the clunkily-transcribed opium dreams of a rocket scientist who was forced to work on a mundane factory floor thanks to a Cruel Caprice Of Fate arranged by Cunning Long-sighted Psychohistorians in Distant Aeons Past, and which still cast such a massive and persistent penumbra of influence over people who’ve not actually bought any other science fiction novels since 1970, that one could easily argue that all science fiction novels written and published since are, in effect, and attempt to redress the balance in the eyes of anyone who’ll give you a chance to try… or even just the time of day. (It’s not an argument I could win, of course, but that’s not the point; everyone likes to have a rant once in a while, right?)
As far as fantasy is concerned, I’ve never understood the passion my mother has (and that many more otherwise sane and rational people also seem to have) for Terry Brooks’ Shannara series (which only make sense to me if they’re read as a dead-pan post-modern immersive satire of the very concept of generic secondary-world fantasy) and the deeply unpleasant Thomas Covenant novels of Stephen Donaldson; both sagas present a less exciting traipse through tired tropes and character templates than the internet-published literature of conspiracy theorists or addled devotees of marginal religious sects, although they’re arguably a little less embarrassing to be seen in possession of.
But all this has to come with one essential caveat, which is that – when I’m bored enough, and devoid of anything better to hand – I’ll read the ingredients list on a shampoo bottle for entertainment. There are hundreds of books I know I want to read (many of which are mocking me from my shelves as I type), probably thousands that I’d quite like provided I encountered them in the right mood, and countless others that would at the very least teach me something interesting…even if all they taught me was how to write an extraordinarily sucky novel. The authors and books and styles and subgenres that I’ve previously failed to get are in no way automatically excluded from the theoretical set of “books I’ll read if time and circumstance permit”… they just end up with a strongly negative priority weighting.
The second part is easier, so I’ll begin with that response. One that immediately comes to mind is Little, Big by John Crowley. I attempted to read the book a few years ago and was sorely let down. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but I just couldn’t find anything in the book with which to identify or attach myself, basically a whole lot of nothing happening. Two more recent examples are Thunderer by Felix Gilman and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, two books that seemed to garner quite a bit of praise but sadly, did not work for me. With JS&MN, I found the footnotes a more interesting than the story told in the novel itself.
As for a SF/F/H book I love that everyone else hates? That’s a tougher nut to crack, but a recent series of books I really enjoyed that seems to be somewhat divisive is Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy. I also see mostly negative opinions on some of the sequels to Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, but I thoroughly enjoyed both Xenocide and Children of the Mind. Do I love them? I wouldn’t go that far, but I devoured them and my memory of how much I enjoyed both books is pretty strong.
I don’t think anyone who reviews on a regular basis can avoid this situation. It may just be me, of course, but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve found myself out of step with everyone else. Usually it’s books I hate that everyone else loves (the other way round, when you love a book, it’s much easier to find someone at least who shares your opinion).
I remember once, when I was reading for a book club, receiving a novel which was missing its title and author. I said it was juvenile, poorly constructed, clumsily written, and totally unconvincing. It turned out to be Moving Mars by Greg Bear which won the Nebula and was shortlisted for all sorts of other awards. But I still think I was right.
Sometimes, of course, it’s just a blind spot. I have a blind spot over Mary Gentle’s work, and despite liking his non-fiction I still fail to see what everyone else likes about Adam Roberts’s novels.
The other way around, as I say, is less common. Usually I’m a lone voice because no-else has read the book (such as The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs) rather than because everyone hates it. Though I do recall writing a very positive review of Un Lun Dun by China Mi@eacute;ville and then receiving puzzled emails from people asking how could I like the book.
The second question is actually the easier one. Like most sf readers, there are certain areas of the sprawling sf umbrella which do not particularly appeal to me, such as military sf, near-future dismal fiction, or techno-thrillers. So while I can easily name a half-dozen acclaimed novels which fell into my personal blind spot, I will limit myself to two which I was unable to finish: Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Both are Hugo winners, both left me bored and unable to complete them.
The first question is considerably more difficult, since I do not know any novels that were universally hated. However, I can name one of my very favorite all-time sf novels which almost nobody else even knows of, in spite of the fact that its author is not only a Nebula grandmaster, but the very person the grandmasters are named after! Damon Knight wrote a novel in the 1960s entitled The Other Foot [a.k.a Mind Switch], which, among its other strengths, is one of the shrewdest examinations of bias that I have ever read. I have never understood why this book is unknown rather than a classic.
One of my most hated books is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (1985). I hate Ender’s Game because the book reads as though it was the result of a drunken bet in which Card boasted that he could create a character that people would find sympathetic despite being utterly loathsome.
Ender is effectively a violent psychopath. When anyone messes with him, he kills them or maims them without regret and without hesitation. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with writing books about psychopaths. I like books about psychopaths. The problem is that every time Ender does something horrible, the book hurries to cloak him in get-out clauses… Oh he didn’t have a choice! Oh it was an accident! Oh he didn’t realise what he was doing! Oh it was the system’s fault! Despite being a cold-blooded killer and a genocide Ender comes out of the book smelling of roses. Later editions of the book even have prefaces in which Card boasts about the letters he has received from smart kids telling him how inspiring they found the book!
Better critics than I have argued that Ender’s Game amounts to a work of fascist apologism and it is easy to see why. Ender’s Game argues that you can commit any number of atrocities as long as your motives are pure. This is a defence that tyrants and butchers have been quick to adopt throughout history and, I suspect, Card would be more than happy to wheel out if you quizzed him about his views on homosexuality. Hate the sin, love the sinner indeed. Ender’s Game is Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream (1972) but without the irony.
Dune is the kind of novel I really should like. I like the fact that it comes in at less than five hundred pages. I also like the fact that it has a neatly self-contained story that is primarily about self-serving scumbags sneaking around and plotting against each other. I have tried to like Dune… I really have. After all, it is a work that has invited not only the adaptive attentions of David Lynch but also those of the great Alenjandro Jodorowsky. If two of my favourite directors can see greatness in Dune, then why can’t I?
The answer is the writing. To begin with there is the fact that most of the weirdness of Dune is a sham. Its setting is not only a blatant rip off of real world History, it then attempts to cloak its laziness in page after page of unpronounceable, exotic-sounding names. Evidently this was and is fairly common practice in certain genre circles but apostrophes and extra consonants simply do not make an Other. However, what they do make is a needlessly bloated setting. Indeed, despite being only a little over four hundred pages long, Dune has all the pace and vivacity of a thousand page work of epic fantasy. Its simple plot and simplistic characters (Mary-Sue McJesus and friends) are clogged in page after page of world building and monologuing. Ah the monologuing…
Dune‘s greatest literary crime is its botched attempt at conveying a world full of paranoia and intrigue. Every time anyone says anything or does anything, it immediately sparks off a wave of self-indulgent analysis : “Why did he say good morning to me? It isn’t a nice day… it manifestly is not a good morning so clearly he is trying to put me off guard and…” Oh give it a rest. Politics and intrigue rely at least as much on instinct and intuition as it does on raw analysis and so by stressing only the analysis Herbert bungles the paranoia, leaving us mired in a world filled not with dangerous political animals but self-absorbed neurotics.
Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb’s Azure Bonds (1988) is genuinely a decent novel. Yes, it is a media tie-in for a Dungeons and Dragons setting that has, over the years, been eclipsed by memories of its video game adaptation but it combines the sword and sorcery bones of the gaming hobby with a degree of weirdness that is rare not only in media tie-ins but also in fantasy as a whole. Smelly dinosaur holy warriors? Scumbag halflings pretending to be bards? Clones? Mysterious tattoos? This book has all of them and an explanation for why the red-headed female warrior is wearing such revealing and decidedly unprotective armour. I cut my genre teeth reading gaming tie-ins and Azure Bonds has always burned brightly in my memories.
So the little bird from SF Signal comes to me and says, name a book you love that everybody else hates and vice versa.
I’ll start by confessing that I’m at a disadvantage as I have been out of “organized fandom” in any way, shape or form for many years. So I’m less familiar with the current trends, the current loves, what is hot, what is not, and what is no longer part of the “canon” (if we can agree to such a thing). To make things worse, I’m not even pretending on keeping up with the field in terms of reading magazines such as Locus or Analog anymore: I do buy them, but they stack up higher and higher, gathering dust and cobwebs. Someday. I can say I managed over 220 books last year (not all of them genre volumes), so I do read, just not in any organized fashion, not in any attempt to keep current, or any way that would surf the various waves.
And there’s no hate here. Puzzlement, perhaps. But no hate.
So what do I like that others may not like?
I considered the question long and hard. The books that I keep in my collection (several thousand volumes) are ones that I have yet to read (a depressingly large number), or have read and considered them important in one way or another (usually non-fiction volumes) or books that I have really enjoyed. If I don’t enjoy a book, I sometimes slog through to the end, but usually not. And if I don’t enjoy a book, I tend not to keep it. There are just too many books on the shelves to keep the volumes that don’t make the cut, so I dispose of the book, erase the entry from the database and flush the memory core.
So what might I like that others might not like, given that I don’t keep track of what others like and I only keep (physically or mentally) what I like? Hmmm…
Why do I feel people dislike it? Heck, it is a well-regarded and awarded book (that I bet many have never read). Well, look at the subject matter. Religion. Haven’t you noticed a trend among certain (vocal) groups of pros and fans that rather openly despise religion? Especially traditional religions?
I have had more than one conversation about the book where the person knows little or nothing about being Roman Catholic or even being religious; or considers it old fashioned, or backward, or is full of incorrect information about the practices and beliefs. And to have that in a science fiction novel? Shocking, I tell you. At least to some.
But. It is, in part, what I am. My religious beliefs affect my ethics and morals. They guide me in what I do. They comfort me in my sorrow. They are what I am. And a book such as this speaks to me, in ways beyond the story at the surface of the fall and rise and fall again of civilization, of an apparent futile struggle.
Fiat Homo (~2600 AD): The book opens some 600 years after the Flame Deluge and the end of our civilization. Brother Francis is a monk in the order dedicated to the Blessed (not saint yet) Leibowitz. While performing his Lentan fast, he discovers a number of artifacts linked to Leibowitz. The story looks at the order, its role in preserving knowledge, and the quest to have Leibowitz recognized as a Saint.
Now, after six centuries of darkness, the monks still preserved this Memorabilia, studied it, copied and recopied it, and patiently waited. At the beginning, in the time of Leibowitz, it had been hoped–and even anticipated as probable–that the fourth or fifth generation would begin to want its heritage back. But the monks of the earliest days had not counted on the human ability to generate a new cultural inheritance in a couple of generations if an old one is utterly destroyed, to generate it by virtue of lawgivers and prophets, geniuses or maniacs; through a Moses, or through a Hitler, or an ignorant but tyrannical grandfather, a cultural inheritance may be acquired between dusk and dawn, and many have been so acquired. But the new “culture” was an inheritance of darkness, wherein “simpleton” meant the same thing as “citizen” meant the same thing as “slave.” The monks waited. It mattered not at all to them that the knowledge they saved was useless, that much of it was not really knowledge now, was as inscrutable to the monks in some instances as it would be to an illiterate wild-boy from the hills; this knowledge was empty of content, its subject matter long since gone. Still, such knowledge had a symbolic structure that was peculiar to itself, and at least the symbol-interplay cold be observed. To observe the way a knowledge-system is knit together is to learn at least a minimum knowledge-of-knowledge, until someday–someday, or some century–an Integrator would come, and things would be fitted together again. So time mattered not at all. The Memorabilia was there, and it was given to them by duty to preserve, and preserve it they would if the darkness in the world lasted ten more centuries, or even ten thousand years, for they, though born in the darkest of ages, were still the very bookleggers and memorizers of the Beatus Leibowitz; and when they wandered abroad from their abbey, each of them, the professed of the Order–whether stablehand or Lord Abbot–carried as part of his habit a book, usually a Breviary these days, tied up in a bindlestiff.
Fiat Lux (3174 AD): Civilization is starting to return to the world, but so has war. This section of the tale revolves around the quest of the scholar, Thon Taddeo (the “Integrator” mentioned in the passage above), to examine the manuscripts preserved by the Order of Saint Leibowitz.
“Yes, yes, but the freedom to speculate is essential–”
“No one has tried to deprive you of that. Nor is anyone offended. But to abuse the intellect for reasons of pride, vanity, or escape from responsibility, is the fruit of that same tree.”
“You question the honor of my motives?” asked the thon, darkening.
“At times I question my own. I accuse you of nothing. But ask yourself this: Why do you take delight in leaping to such a wild conjecture from so fragile a springboard? Why do you wish to discredit the past, even to dehumanizing the last civilization? So that you need not learn from their mistakes? Or, can it be that you can’t bear being only a ‘rediscoverer’ and must feel that you are a ‘creator’ as well?”
The thon hissed an oath. “These records should be placed in the hands of competent people,” he said angrily. “What irony this is!”
The light sputtered and went out. The failure was not mechanical. The novices at the drive-mill had stopped work.
Fiat Voluntas Tua (3781 AD): Man has found the way to the stars. Technological war has returned to earth. While the Order of Leibowitz struggles with the events leading up to the return of Lucifer (atomic war) and its aftermath; they also send a group of monks to the stars in order to make sure that knowledge is not lost and the Church survives.
“You are the continuity of the Order,” he told them. “With you goes the Memorabilia. With you also goes the apostolic succession, and, perhaps–the Chair of Peter.
“No, no,” he added in response to the murmur of surprise from the monks. “Not His Holiness. I had not told you this before, but if the worst comes on Earth, the College of Cardinals–or what’s left of it–will convene. The Centaurus Colony may then be declared a separate patriarchate, with full patriarchal jurisdiction going to the cardinal who will accompany you. If the scourge falls on us here, to him, then, will go the Patrimony of Peter. For though life on Earth may be destroyed–God forbid–as long as Man lives elsewhere, the office of Peter cannot be destroyed. There are many who think that if the curse falls of Earth, the papacy would pass to him by the principle of Epikeia if there were no survivors here. But that is not your direct concern, brothers, sons, although you will be subject to your patriarch under special vows as those which bind the Jesuits to the Pope.
“You will be years in space. The ship will be your monastery. After the patriarchal see is established at the Centaurus Colony, you will establish there a mother house of the Visitationist Friars of the Order of Saint Leibowitz of Tycho. But the ship will remain in your hands, and the Memorabilia. If civilization, or a vestige of it, can maintain itself on Centaurus, you will send missions to the other colony worlds, and perhaps eventually to the colonies of their colonies. Wherever Man goes, you and your successors will go. And with you, the records and remembrances of four thousand years and more. Some of you, or those to come after you, will be mendicants and wanderers, teaching the chronicles of Earth and the canticles of the Crucified to the peoples and the cultures that may grow out of the colony groups. For some may forget. Some may be lost for a time from the Faith. Teach them, and receive into the Order those among them who are called. Pass on to them the continuity. Be for Man the memory of Earth and Origin. Remember this Earth. Never forget her, but–never come back.” Zerchi’s voice went hoarse and low. “If you ever come back, you might meet the Archangel at the east end of Earth, guarding her passes with a sword of flame. I feel it. Space is your home hereafter. It’s a lonlier desert than ours. God bless you, and pray for us.”
It’s a sad story. It’s a wonderful story. It’s a hopeful story. Civilization falls, rises, and falls again. Knowledge is preserved and passed on. Man struggles and perseveres. The book is chock full of time (look at the dates!), full of mystery (…Who, for example, is Benjamin? the Wandering Jew? Lazarus? And does he survive in the end?)
Then she was gone. He could hear her voice trailing away in the new ruins. “la la la, la-la-la…”
The image of those cool green eyes lingered with him as long as life. He did not ask why God would choose to raise up a creature of primal innocence from the shoulder of Mrs. Grales, or why God gave to it the preternatural gifts of Eden–those gifts which Man had been trying to seize by brute force again from Heaven since first he lost them. He had seen primal innocence in those eyes, and a promise of resurrection. One glimpse had been a bounty, and he wept in gratitude. Afterwards he lay with his face in the wet dirt and waited.
Nothing else ever came–nothing that he saw, or felt, or heard.
Which SF/F/H book do you love that everyone else hates?
I had a lot of trouble finding a book that fit this category. It’s a lot easier for me to think of movies that I like that others hate. But still, I did find a book. It’s a popular book, i.e., a book that sold millions of copies and is loved by millions of people and also made its author very rich. I even think it has a pretty good fanbase within the genre, but I know of a lot of people (particularly professionals) in the field who strongly dislike this book. Of course, I’m talking about Harry Potter And The Sorceror’s Stone.
There are a lot of complaints about the book and its sequels. For example: magic has no cost; Harry is able to best odds that it makes no sense for him to be able to best (i.e., how does a poor/bad student, barely decent wizard [there is nothing in the books to suggest that Harry is a wizard of better-than-average skill, in fact there is much to the opposite], defeat things that older, more intelligent, more skilled wizards cannot defeat?); the need for Voldemort to constantly show how powerful he is (i.e., if Voldemort is that powerful, why not just level Hogwort’s? Why not let another wizard kill Harry [don't save Harry for Voldemort, let whomever has the best shot take it]? Why overcomplicate things [i.e., making Harry win a tournament in order to capture him, why not cast the spell on something more personal and immediate to Harry]?); and on and on and on.
But, I love this book. It’s one of the few genre pieces that my wife liked and that gave us something to enjoy together, which is always a good thing. I liked how Rowling captured the pain of changing from child to adult and used the parallel of Harry’s destiny to enforce that. There are a lot of those aspects of the books that I really like and for me, that’s what makes this series work for me. And, given that the book was written for a younger audience, I can forgive a lot of the complaints that people make about the book.
Which SF/F/H book do you hate that everyone else loves?
I had a really strong aversion towards The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. That statement always makes people turn heads. I actually feel bad saying it, given how well respected the book is. Also, since many people consider this one of the best books of the genre (and for some, their introduction to science fiction and in a few cases, a life-changing book), people think I’m crazy for having this opinion.
A huge part of the problem is that so many people hyped this book to me as the greatest thing ever. I essentially went into this book feeling that my life would change having read it. The expectations were so high, that no book could have matched them.
It’s the only book I know where I can state my opinion, “I do not like The Stars My Destination” and have someone vehemently declare “You’re wrong.” In fact, so many people have such a strong and violent reaction to me not liking this book that I’m going to read it again, and I never read a book I disliked twice. I’ve been convinced that I missed something the first time through.
But before I can read it again, I have to let the furor in my head die down so that my expectations are set at a more realistic level.
I am at a complete loss as to what book I love that everyone else hates. I’m sure I can find fans for just about everything on my bookshelf.
But what do I hate that everyone else loves? Accelerando. Charles Stross. I just don’t get it. The first story in the fix-up is “Lobsters”, arguably Stross’s most famous story, and it is reasonably accessible. It’s all downhill from there to the point that I find the book unreadable. As much as I like his Laundry novels and can enjoy the Merchant Princes, I have serious problems with much of Stross’s science fiction. It all stems from Accelerando. Not only don’t I get it, I don’t care to get it. Same with Iron Sunrise. Unless it’s nominated for a Hugo or Nebula, I won’t even give his more overt SF a shot anymore. And even then, I generally can’t finish it.
So needless to say, when The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins kept being recommended to me–not to mention that it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 74 consecutive weeks to date (through February 21st, 2010), I couldn’t say no to reading it.
And, much to my surprise, I was disappointed–though I didn’t hate it. Obviously it has a lot going for it, but what I wanted (without being too spoilery here), was more suspense on the fate of Katniss. Being 1st person with only a single POV (Katniss), there was never any real question on whether or not she’d survive The Hunger Games. Which to me was the real issue with this book. I wanted to wonder whether or not she’d live, wanted to have the opportunity to guess who’d be the one to take her out. But instead, I was never biting my nails or changing reading positions a hundred times wondering if she was going to make it another page.
To me, that was the book’s major fault. The premise behind the The Hunger Games is not new, and although the writing–if not a little stark for my tastes–is technically very sound, pacing well architected, and it has strong characters that resonate well, the overall execution could have been tweaked to provide that “nail biting” experience.
Other books in a similar vein like Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and even William Golding’s The Lord Of The Flies generated suspense by either using multiple points-of-view or an omniscient narrator. I think The Hunger Games could have benefited from multiple POVs. Just think how things could have played out with a Peeta or Cato POV, or even Rue for that matter?
So although I didn’t “hate” The Hunger Games, I was disappointed–and am not totally sold yet on reading the sequel, Catching Fire. I guess time will tell–though with the size of my to-be-read pile, it’s looking very doubtful.
I have never been able to finish Red Mars. I should like Kim Stanley Robinson, I really should. His heart is in the right place, and he isn’t racist, sexist or phobic of anyone, but oh my god, the sheer grittily accurate portrayal of what it would really be like to be cooped up in a four-foot-by-four-foot cell on a freezing planet for several hundred pages. I kept wishing for someone to be mentally teleported to counter-Earth and made to fight insect men in a jockstrap. Why the insect men would be wearing jockstraps, I have no idea.
I read Babel 17 all the way through and can’t remember anything that happens in it, apart from all the boy-on-girl-on-boy-on-thing action. My characters feel no need to flaunt their nipples to the world. And why is this? I’m British, god damn it. You want a good novel about language, read Snow Crash and weep.
Alfred Bester…virtually anything by Alfred Bester. Bester reminds me of a guy who gets drunk at parties and says things like ‘Hey, what if, like, bread was intelligent?”, the only difference being that, having had this eureka moment, Bester would then quietly leave the party and, in the wee small hours, work feverishly to construct a novel plot based on having an entire planet full of intelligent bread. And win a Hugo for it. The bastard.
And the stuff I like, that everyone else thinks is crap? My own, of course.
I shouldn’t like The Survival Game by Colin Kapp. It involves plucky Earthmen who miraculously defeat an entire galaxy of imperialist warlords, a hero called, so help me, Colonel Bogey, and a finale which might as well involve the eponymous Bogey standing over a pile of dead enemies with his shirt off and the novel’s token female writhing at his feet. But I do. I love it. I do. Kill me now, I do not deserve to live. Much the same is true of Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle – I enclose a .jpg of the Orbit edition cover, which is so awful it has gone past awfulness and become a thing of beauty.
Tagged with: Adam Roberts. • Derek Molata • Dominic Green • Farah Mendlesohn • Fred Kiesche • Jay Garmon • Jeff Carlson • Joe Sherry • John Klima • Jonathan McCalmont • Paul Graham Raven • Paul Kincaid • Rob H. Bedford • Robert Sabella • Shaun Duke
Filed under: Mind Meld
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