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Are There Any SF/F Books You Could Not Finish?

Following up our previous discussion of books we’ve read more than once, I was curious to know what science fiction and fantasy books our readers have not finished.

Here’s my list, along with the reasons why I couldn’t finish them.

  • 253 – The Print Remix by Geoff Ryman – This was more literary experiment than a story. I though the piecemeal ficlets would be so consumable in whatever spare moments I could find that I would whip through this. Sadly, it failed to keep me interested.
  • Blindsight by Peter Watts – I’m not entirely sure why I failed to get into this one. I was just not immersed in the material for some reason. I made it halfway through the book then decided to stop. This was the book, in fact, that led to The 33% Rule of Reading.
  • I read Poul Anderson’s Fire Time and as part of our 1975 Do-Over Reading Project. I though it was slow-moving and I stumbled over the awkward prose. I didn’t even last through the first 33% of this book (which I read before I formulated the rule, so there).
  • Half Past Human by T.J. Bass – Another book that I just couldn’t get into. I had issues with the writing style and the plot logic. People came out in droves to defend the book after I posted this review.
  • Return of the Emperor (Sten) by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole – I was reading these books like I was popping M&M’s and I think at this point I was just burned out.
  • Speaking of overexposure, Spin State by Chris Moriarty was last in line of a series of posthumanism stories I read in quick succession. I had a serious Been-There-Done-That reaction to this one.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin – I read this long ago, in the pre-Blog Era, and so have no exact recollection of why I stopped reading. But I do seem to remember stumbling over the super-long passages and tiny type of the old paperback copy I had. I’ve since read other LeGuin stories set in the Hainish universe and found them to be much better…so much so that this is one of the much classics I’d love to revisit one day.
  • The Merchants’ War – This one just bored me to tears, which was wholly unexpected after reading the awesome prequel The Space Merchants.

What SF/F books could you not finish? For what reasons?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

31 Comments on Are There Any SF/F Books You Could Not Finish?

  1. Poul Anderson? Blasphemy!:D

    I never finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars.” It just seemed very tedious after the first few hundred pages. Which is weird, because I usually love really detailed hard science fiction.

  2. Guy Greyy // August 7, 2007 at 12:47 pm //

    The only two books I could not finish were Battlefield Earth and Interview with a Vampire. I trudged 200 pages into the first and 100 into the second before giving up. And I even tried a couple of times with each. Just couldn’t get into the story. The movies did not give e the impression that I missed much.

  3. Dune. The first 50 pages weren’t hard to understand, they were just boring. I’ll give it another go one day.

    Ringworld used to be on this list; I stopped reading it after a particularly badly written sex scene. (You know the one I mean.) After about 15 years I tried again and quite liked the book … but the sex scene was still really bad!

  4. I put down Stephen R Donaldson’s Lord Foul’s Bane three pages from the end of the book because I was so sick of Covenant.

    Just recently I had to drop Jay Lake’s Trial of Flowers because I couldn’t read one more abusive passage about that dwarf.

    There are a lot of books that I’ve been distracted out of, stuff I love to read, like Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. I love the book, but things happened and my bookmark has been about two thirds of the way through for over a year. One day I’ll bet back to it.

  5. On the other post, I said I re-read LotR once a year, which would make me a big Tolkien fan…except…I have one serious defect as a Tolkien fan…I’ve never been able to finish Silmarilion. No matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t finish it…it puts me to sleep every single time.

    Outside of that…I don’t remember any other books I was unable to finish πŸ™‚

  6. I gave up on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series in the middle of Book 8, The Path of Daggers. The only thing that got me through books 5-7 was hoping that they would somehow recapture the essence of books 1-3.

  7. I will walk a grim death march through most any book just to claw my way to the end. This is partly because I’m extremely cheap and I can’t bear to waste money I spent on a book. I have exceptions but the author’s code prevents me from giving titles or <cough>David Weber</cough> names.

    But stopping three pages from the end? Man, that’s cold. Which makes the book worse, stopping three pages in or getting all the way to the end of a pretty thick book and not caring what happens in the last three pages?

  8. BTW, I was trying to be clever and put David Weber’s name in (cough) brackets but I used the wrong brackets and it came out in some HTML thing that erased them. I guess I’m not as clever as I think!

  9. We got you covered, Matt. It’s fixed.

  10. I quit Book 2 of Terry Goodkinds “Sword of Truth” Series after, the 2nd book things were begining to get redundant. I gave up on Joe Haldemans “Old twentieth.” Not enough dialogue.

    To Josh English: I’m almost near the end of Spin. I’ll complete it this week. It’s prettty good if you stick with it. Robert Charles Wilson is coming out with a sequel to Spin.

    e Jim

  11. The Silmarillion is one I couldn’t finish either, despite trying twice. I find it too boring and needlessly complex.

    I couldn’t finish The Illuminatus! Trilogy either, largely becuase the rambling story just got so odd eventually I gave up. I always assumed this book was written while the authors were taking copious quantities of controlled substances. What I find hilarious is that the Wikipedia article suggests that this book influenced The DaVinci Code (as a conspiracy novel) – perhaps I missed Hagbard or fnord in Dan Brown’s pop-culture craze?

    And most amazingly, I also gave up on Dune Messiah after but a few pages when I was much younger. After disliking Dune I never really tried reading the sequel seriously. As an aside, I find it interesting that no less than 20 publishers passed on the opportunity to publish the book Dune when initially sent to them by Herbert after it was serialized in Analog magazine from 1963-1965. Twenty book editors didn’t see it as a good work – and yet it has gone on to become one of the most popular science fiction books of all time. That says something…

  12. I have as hard a time not finishing a book as I do not cleaning my plate (there are readers starving in Africa, you know?), no matter how much I’m having issues with it.

    However, there was one classic SF book I just stopped in the middle: Stranger in a Strange Land, at the point where women are held entirely responsible for avoiding rape. I read the passage, read it again to confirm it was saying what I thought it was saying, closed the book, put it down, and haven’t opened it since. And I enjoy Heinlein! πŸ˜‰

  13. I am only going to list books that I thought I would like and that I really, really wanted to like.

    PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Me Evil– perfectly well written book, imaginative, very dark.

    Why? I could not finish it because there was simply too much shit in the book. I mean that literally, the s-word appeared at least once per page. Being a father of three children, and have changed a tolerable number of poopy diapers in my life, the constant reference to scat bored and annoyed me.

    SYSTEM OF THE WORLD by Neal Stephenson– again, perfectly well written book, at places shot through with genius, flights of wordsmithing that were a delight.

    Why? I could not finish the book because there were simply too many dicks in it. I do not mean annoying characters, I mean characters who either talked about their penises, or had penis wounds, or dropped their trousers and pulled out their penises, or what not. When William of Orange, a man of all men in history I most admire for his character, drops his trousers and forces a kneeling captive girl to perform a Bill Clinton on him, my threshold of toleration for the number of dicks onstage had been exceeded. Not to mention my displeasure at the anachronistic insult to this historical figure.

    ILIUM by Dan Simmons — again, this book was designed for me to love it. A posthuman mystery, a mediation on the nature of the human condition, classical themes, Greek Gods, and the absolute, top-flight best portrayal of John Donne’s Caliban one could hope for.

    Why? This one was harder to explain. More than halfway through, I lost faith in the author. I was deep into the second volume of this big-as-War-and-Peace tome, and I was still waiting for something to get started. None of the characters, even when I was halfway through the second book, had yet to engage me: none of the plots showed any sign of any resolution, and I had yet to see how any of the plot threads were going to make it back to some sort of resolution. Sometimes you can get a feeling that an author has let the reigns slip, and the book is careening out of control toward a cliff. I read a reviewer whose taste and judgment I admire, and said, in effect, that my hunch was right, that the plot was never going to come together in a satisfactory way.

    Too bad. If I had found even one of the characters lovable, or even likable, I would have slogged on through to the end.

    Really too bad. I know this author has the knack, has the spark, to be able to make characters loveable– the mad poet in HYPERION, the old man whose daughter grew younger every day, the girl detective, Aenea in ENDYMION, the Shepherd who becomes her unwilling disciple, the evil Swiss Guard super-soldier: all these were great characters. I know he can do it.

    THE WHEEL OF TIME by Robert Jordon — I was crushed on the Wheel of Time like a hindoo sacrifice being crushed by the great god Juggernaut.

    Why? This one is also hard to explain. The characters theoretically should have been a lovable as the picked-upon orphan-boy in HARRY POTTER, or the smart-but-shy Hermione. I mean, come on, a farm boy with a dread destiny, his honest blacksmith friend, and their friend who is good with dice. Not to mention Aes Sedai and way-cool ninja swordfighting moves and magical gateways and Dark Lords galore. But it never clicked with me: I was slogging halfway through the fifth or sixth book (yes, I stayed with it that long) when I realized that I wanted the main character to die because he was out of his mind, I wanted the gambler fellow to die because he was turning all dark and crooked, and I did not care of the blacksmith fellow lived or died, because he was spinning his wheels not doing much of anything. Somewhere along the way, I had lost all sympathy for all the heroes and all their goals–if they had goals. I mean, I had clambered up a mountain of thousands of gray pages, and I was still waiting for that “Council of Elrond” moment when Some Wise Mage tells Frodo-lite what the quest is. No one seemed to be doing anything and no one had a plan. And I wanted all of them to die.

    Now, in all fairness, this last might not have been a fault of the author. I am a cruel and sadistic man, like many readers, and I only read when I am a foul mood, either right before a gladiatorial game or an afternoon of kitten-stomping. So maybe it is just me.

    But Rand-al’Thor really did get on my nerves after a while. He seemed a character simply too small for the role. If Ranma Soatome has been the Dragon of that world, the Dark Lord Bumbershoot (or whatever his name was) would have at least been booted in the head before five books ground wearily by. If Paul Mu’ad-Dib had been the dragon, by then would have at least disrupted the spice production. SOMETHING would have happened.

  14. Oh, I almost forgot-

    RED MARS by Kim Stanley Robinson. Very good book, expertly researched, and one of the most impressive space-disaster scenes ever pictured.

    Why? I could not finish it because of the politics of the main characters: they all seemed to be one variety of pinko or another. None of them stood up for what most SF heroes stand up for. One of the groups–I kid you not–were pro-mars ENVIRONMENTALISTS who wanted to preserve the natural sterility of the Martian rocks. In other words, environmentalists whose job was to sabotage the attempts to give the planet an environment. I am not saying the author portrayed these nutbags as good guys or bad guys, but none of the opponents to the saboteurs seemed to have any moral high ground from which to defend their side: even though their side (as far as I could tell) represented Human Life. Again, I lost sympathy with the characters.

  15. John C. Wright – very enjoyable comment, cheers!

    I haven’t finished an armful of books in my life and for none of them I feel any regret or need to mention their name, with only one exception – all Dune sequels. Like a Sisyfos I had rolled my eyes up the slope of the first sequel again and again, only to be knocked back down repeatedly. But, being an avid Dune fan, I’m not giving up and I will keep trying because I simply refuse to believe that the books are bad. After all, it’s still Frank Herbert and not his son with his mate. In fact, I feel my nausea from the last attempt vanishing again so next month I will give Paul another chance. Keep your fingers crossed πŸ™‚

  16. Couldn’t finished Robots of Dawn by Asimov. By the 3rd entry of the robots series, I couldn’t stand Elijah wandering off on mental tangents and crunching logic.

    The fact there is no story, and it’s all just mental masturbation on the part of the main character is beaten over your head the more you read into the series.

  17. Also could not read Riders of the Purple Wage. I hated that it was written up as an awesome dystopia novel, but it’s really just them raising famous directors from the dead, and doing all kinds of absurd stuff, and calling it a dystopia. I think it was trying to be The Futurological Congress by Lem.

  18. The Gormenghast Trilogy. I consider it a point of pride that eventually, one way or another, I finish every book I start reading. Peake’s trilogy is the exception – the one that beat me. Way too slow and way too depressing. I’ve read slow books and enjoyed them. I’ve read depressing books and enjoyed them. The combination and excess of both in this pile o’ pages was too much.

  19. Couldn’t finish Neal Aher’s latest, The Voyage of the Sable Keech. After a while, all them competing cyborgs, AIs and alien life forms got too much.

    I may give up on Asher altogether. This would put him in a pile with Stephen bloody Lawhead. I’ve started three of his books, and finished none of them. As a fantasist he is turgid, overblown and stunningly unoriginal. But as an SF writer he sucks.

  20. I tried to read ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood, but I found myself bored after the first chapter or two… and stopped reading it.

  21. Odd, people are listing some of my favourite books above!

    Also, just a hundred pages into The Space Merchants as I write this. Certainly not up to Pohl’s usual standards, agreed, but I should be able to finish it. It has a quick pace to it, at least.

  22. The only one I can remember is The Years Of Rice And Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. I hate giving up on a book, keep meaning to go back to it. The main problem (as with all alternate history fiction) is that I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t and so didn’t know if it was clever or not. Love his Orange County series and the Mars trilogy.

  23. I have to add two more:

    DUNE Sequels. You and me both, brother! Could not get past DUNE MESSIAH, CHILDREN OF DUNE, CHILDREN OF THE MESSIAH OF DUNE, RETURN OF THE BRIDE OF THE CHILDREN OF DUNE’S MESSIANIC RETURN. Bleh. I gave up on the series right after Leto turns into a Sandworm.

    DUNE is maybe the best SF book ever. This is because, unlike any other book of its time, and unlike far too few books since, it had an overall idea and theme, a sense of history. The sequels were potboilers: the author revisiting a mined out lode, having his characters run around with nothing to do. The space-Greek Empire has fallen to the space-Jihad: all the gene breeding programs of the witches have culminated. What are you going to do to top that?

    GORMENGHAST. What I would not give to have the hours I wasted trying to plow through this tepid piece of pretentious trash back. It is a book of hate, written by an Englishman who seeks to mock the class system and ritualism of England. Well, first, I am an American, so what do I care if you Brits hate each other? Second, I have seen the same condemnations of human pomposity and class-folly done better, and with with and imagination, by Jack Vance. Third, listening to anyone merely pick at the scabs of this festering hate is unpleasant at best, even when his foes and his faction are also yours. When his foes are meaningless to you, or his faction from another hemisphere, it is like listening to a crazy old lady on the bus, who is rocking back and forth, her yellow eyes unfocused, muttering about how her husband from six decades ago wronged her; and she lists his every flaw for you, even though you never met him.

    Why in the world is GORMANGHAST even considered a fantasy book? How in the world did it creep into our section of the bookstore? The only element even slightly fantastical is the sheer grotesqueness of the characters, the sheer size of the giant, moldering castle.

  24. For me, it would be Robinson’s Blue Mars. I liked Red Mars, and I thought Green Mars was at least readable. I didn’t care about anything that was happening in Blue Mars.

  25. I IMPLORE you to go back and finish BLINDSIGHT. The outcome of the book, while almost overwhelmingly dystopian, is also the most fascinating perspective on the nature of humanity in a very long time.

    If you simply can’t bear to return to a 33% dropoff (or 50% as the circumstance may be), download the first book from Watts’ RIFTERS series. People claim that BLINDSIGHT is a more “accessible” book than his previous ones, but in my mind STARFISH (the 1st of the RIFTERS series) is a fantastically contained perspective on human nature that remains very insular to its story (both literally and figuratively). After the first book, RIFTERS does become a diaspora of apocalyptic shenanigans, but by then I’d be shocked to hear that you’re not hooked on it.

    As my friend so aptly stated, Peter Watts is the Death Metal of Scifi. Take that as you will… I know that allegory may be a turn-off for a lot of people. But there’s no question that Watts is in a League of his own.

  26. I’m sure there are plenty, but the last one I couldn’t finish was Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress last year.

  27. I have rarely not finished a book, as someone above said, because once I spend money on it, I’m too cheap not to finish it.

    That said, Michael Flynn, “The Wreck of the River of Stars” (I think I’ve got the title right) never got finished. I hated each and every character in that book. Why stab yourself in the eyes with people you can’t stand?

    Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time”. Stopped at about book five. Lord, does anything ever happen in those books? Think of all of the innocent trees that were sacraficed for that turgid mess. Most of the books are now available in my public library, but I can’t even think of starting that series again.

    Steph Swainston (sp?) “The Year of Our War”. Sounded interesting, hated it. Junkies don’t make very sympathetic protagonists to me.

  28. acutetype // August 8, 2007 at 7:31 pm //

    What a Great Thread! I keep a journal entry on books I haven’t finished going back many, many years. I’m sure one of the later Dunes should be here, yep a bit after he was a worm, maybe even just into the next book, but that was too long ago. Very much like the new ones though!

    Chung Quo — Tad Williams, in the middle of the 2nd book or so, the violent sex passages (well, that really ugly one) and plotline jumps from isolated locales to cityfolk threw me. I’ll never get some of those sex scenes outta my mind, wonderful! I really like the epic nature of his writing and have arguments with others about if it was character building/descriptive or just gratuotous, but there’s some things I’d prefer not to visualize.

    Little Heroes — Norman Spinrad, i made it really far through this cause of the whole music meme, but just fizzled. It was pretty bubble-gum/pop writing all along.

    Dead Girls — Richard Calder, couldn’t get more than 5 pages in and tried a few times. Guess I have a rare edition too, folks keep wanting my copy.

    King Rat — China Melville, again, couldn’t get past page 5, tried and tried, wanted to like this one from all the reviews but just couldn’t grok the writing style? Dunno, just didn’t do it for me.

    Silmarillian — Tolkein

    Iris — William Barton, Michael Capobianco, puh-lease! Soft-porn masquarading as sci-fi. Travelers on a starship out to a distant planet (Uranus I’m sure) and, oh, what will they do during the long, long voyage. Too much body fluids!

    Snow Crash — Neal Stephenson (and cryptonomica was one of my favorite reads!) I think this is just pure jealousy that he stole some of Gibson’s limelight, I’m a fervent Gibson fan (see you at the readings tomorrow!) and this is right up my ally, but I’ve started it a few times and never got past page 2. Taking it on a trip next week though, so I wanna finish it! I do, I do!

  29. thoreaubred // September 3, 2007 at 6:06 pm //

    Neuromancer – Overrated sex-drugs-and-rocknroll better suited to be an anime than a novel.

    Dune – After 150 pages, nothing had happened, plotwise, characterwise, or themewise.

    Camp Concentration – Insanely pretentious. I shouldn’t have to have a PhD to understand what’s going on in a novel.

    Stand on Zanzibar – I tried hard, but I didn’t care about any of the characters.

    Valis – The second of my three attempts so far at PKD. I was able to finish Ubik and The Man in the High Castle, but not this one. I’ll keep trying; PKD is the only novelist in the entire history of literature that I would keep trying to “get” after not enjoying three of his novels. Such is the power of his reputation.

    Oh, and I’ve finished everything Kim Stanley Robinson has written, in some cases twice. πŸ˜›

  30. Almost didn’t finish Peter F. Hamilton’s THE NAKED GOD, part of the NIGHT’S DAWN trilogy. Made the mistake of putting it down half-way through and then picked it up like three years later. Finally finished it though! Have read everything he’s written except the latest trilogy that’s not all out yet.

  31. Heinlein’s Number of the Beast.  When the main characters get bogged down into a discussion over who should shower first and why . . . I threw the book away.  First and, so far, the last time that has ever happened.  Note: I loved all the Dune books [original] and Asimov’s Foundation series along with Stranger in a Strange Land and some others mentioned here so if I didn’t finish NotB it must of really stunk.

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