Signposts on the Way to Oblivion by Caitlin Woods

*So I’m an idiot and set this for the wrong date and just noticed.  Sorry Caitlin! Note I only noticed because I wondered why you weren’t getting comments.  DERP – SAH*


Signposts on the Way to Oblivion
by Caitlin Woods

From what I can tell, a lot of us here at AtH have had a lot of the same experiences when it’s come to reading Science Fiction and Fantasy.

When we’re young, everything is pretty awesome–we’re reading everything we can get our hands on, and our brains are exploding outward with new ideas and stories and fights. A lot of you cite Heinlein and LeGuin and Simak–I’ll be honest, here’s where I was head-over-heels obsessed with KA Applegate and Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman.

But after a time, our passion faded, and we found ourselves wandering to other genres or other media entirely. Of course we wandered back–once we discovered the issue wasn’t with us, and there still were books worth reading, even if our betters didn’t want us to read them. (Much better to push the fake memoirs of a drug addict or whatever, I guess.)

We’ve all heard that part, though. We all know each others’ tales of how we found indie and life was improved and sci-fi/fantasy regained its meaning.

I want to talk about the other side.

The road to oblivion is rarely smooth, a gradual descent into nothingness. No, it’s littered with debris of previous fights, of sudden descents where someone makes a Big Change or small climbs when someone reworks the formula.

And, of course, there are signposts–individual books that tell you, whether or not you realize it at the time, where all of this is going. And that it’s not going well.

Those books are the ones I want to talk about.

My signposts were in middle school. Because middle school was a little bit of a magical time for me.

I mean, it was kind of terrible in some ways–due to Things, Weird-as-hell me (I?) was living with my sister and my mom, mom’s biker boyfriend, his wannabe gangster brother, and their traditional Mormon parents, which resulted in all kinds of multigenerational misunderstandings that would probably make a decent sitcom. School was miserable, I had few friends, no privacy, and no understanding of just how big a sacrifice everyone was making to make sure my sister and I were doing more or less okay.

But, in a very real way, none of that really mattered.

Because I had a bookshelf.

I suspect it was Biker Boyfriend’s sister’s, who by this point was married and on mission in… Czechoslovakia? Unsure. But it seems like she was a giant sci-fi/fantasy geek, and had left behind a treasure trove of books for me to read at my leisure, without even ever taking a book out of the house. (I… lose things.)

It was amazing. I fell in love with so many books at this point–Steven Brust’s Taltos series (I need to catch up with that one, I fell off around Orca), Steven R. Boyett’s Ariel, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s The Darksword Trilogy and Death Gate Cycle

But with the good (or, at least, enjoyable to middle-school me) was a lot of… less enjoyable. And stuff that, looking back, I realize was kind of emblemic for what I hear folks complaining about now.

(It all also came out around when I was born. But I figure it doesn’t really matter when you come to a thing, if it still describes the situation.)

Signpost #1: Delan the Mislaid (Laurie J. Marks) (1989) has the honor of being the first book I ever, in my life, consciously decided not to finish.

It was a hard decision, even so. I defined myself, at that point, by being a reader–the sort of person who, if nothing else was available, would read ingredients lists and the backs of movies. (I never quite pressed myself to reading the phonebook–which is sort of a pity; creating interesting names is something I still have trouble with.) If I started a book, I was going to finish it.

But… I just couldn’t.

Delan, you see, is Different. Delan doesn’t look like anybody else in Delan’s poor, oppressive and mean village; Delan has strange, sensitive lumps on Delan’s back, and while it’s presumed that Delan is a girl because Delan doesn’t have a penis, Delan also never grows breasts or any other markers of sex.

But it turns out that Delan is a member of a wonderful, winged, hermaphroditic race that can never be really understood by the poor, awful creatures who walk the ground. We get a quick lesson in proper pronounology from another creature of Delan’s race who comes to have a quick sex scene and talk about how Delan was beautiful and special even if Delan had always thought that Delan was ugly…

…and anyway, what really killed it for me was when I was partway through the book, and Delan was chained up in some evil ground-guy’s basement, being tortured and pissed upon daily for some damn reason, and… I just didn’t give a shit.

And usually, someone being tied up and treated poorly is something that pulls at my strings enough to make me forgive a number of literary sins. But… oh my god, the sheer amount of this poor perfect enlightened darling being tortured beyond any reasonability for no other reason than his being special… just made me want to kill people.

I believe I did launch this book. Which is another habit I’m happy to generally avoid.

So, yeah. Special Post-Gender Snowflake Abused By the Masses. I’ll call that a signpost.

Signpost #2: Refugee: Bio of a Space Tyrant #1 by Piers Anthony (1983).

Reading reviews on this, the reason I don’t care for this one is more or less the opposite of why everyone else hates it.

The basic premise is that you’ve got a refugee Hispanic family from one of Jupiter’s moons taking a boat to Jupiter, having gotten on the shitlist of one of the local ruling families (’cause one of their members tried to rape the main character’s sister, and MC hurt (killed?) the guy.). Along the way, they’re boarded by every space pirate in existence, all of whom beat and rape and poison (or whatever) the refugees before going on their merry way, often either taking folk with them when they go or leaving behind a massive body count.

The reviews I read about this dislike it due to its sexism. Women only exist to be beaten and raped, and it happens often enough that it seems like blatant titilation to the author. For goodness sake, give us women who aren’t solely victims.

My problem, however, was that… everyone in the world appears to want to torture and rape our poor Hispanic refugee barge, because humanity is scum. (Well, Jupiter’s forces don’t want to do any of that. They just want this unauthorized shipment to go somewhere else.) It’s just an entire exploitation film on the fact that people trying to do nothing more than get by will be tromped on and abused by absolutely everybody in the universe.

(There’s also an extensive side-note at the beginning that it’s unfair that Initial Rape Threatened Sister is only desired because she looks really White, and shouldn’t every culture have its own beauty standards? Which makes me think that it’s Trying to be sensitive. Kinda. And hell, one of the rapists IS a woman, so… I suspect that’s one non-victim?)

Which doesn’t sound that different than the other thing, but I think it is. Either way. I didn’t go on to read the other books in the series. Because characters aren’t compelling because they’re abused. And… what do you know. A lot of the Right Literature is marked by characters whose sole (supposedly) compelling feature is… being abused. Signpost.

So, yeah! Those are mine. (Minus Sea of Glass, which I remember hating and… very little else about it.) But this… this is just the tale of a partial reading of a single bookshelf, where the trend was in fact genre-wide. Tell me about yours?

542 responses to “Signposts on the Way to Oblivion by Caitlin Woods

  1. Sarah said “derp”. Bwaha! ~:D

  2. masgramondou

    Part of the problem I have is that I generally fail to recall the books I didn’t like. This can be a problem because it can lead me to accidentally reread the thing, get to approx the same point where I hate it and then realize I’ve read this piece of crud before.

    Then I discovered Baen and subsequently various Indie/Small Pub authors and have never bothered to read the mainstream stuff anymore.

  3. Just out of curiosity, I looked for Delan the Mislaid on Amazon … and just the appearance of the cover was enough to put me off ever reading it.

  4. I kind of wish I could remember some of the stinkers I picked up back in the day, but my subconscious has done a wonderful job locking those facts away.


    • Oh yeah.
      Every once in a while I’ll get one that offends be so mightily I rip in half. (Yes, you can rip a paperback in half with sufficient motivation. Even a fat one.)

      Can’t remember a single one. Thank God for selective memory.

      Hasn’t happened in many years. These days my biggest problem is finding something I care enough about. So. Tediousszzzz…. wha?

      Sarah Hoyt Monster Hunter story. HURRY UP. I’M MELTING HERE.

  5. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series was mine. The first…I don’t know…seven books? Whatever. They were pretty good, lots of action and magic and stuff. Then….sex. So. Much. Sex. Graphic sex, alluded sex, sex in bedrooms, in cars, on operating tables. What the HELL!? And then she spent about a hundred pages, in a car ride from the Vegas Airport to a hotel downtown (like a twenty minute drive at most?) defending her choices and complaining that no one understood her and she was just playing the hand she was dealt.

    Gag. Throw. Read cooking books for a while.

    That seemed to be the trope of the “Urban Fantasy” genre for a lot of those authors. I get you want a kick-ass heroine, and some do a great job (Kate Daniels springs to mind, as does Mercy Thompson and that Urban Shaman girl from C.E. Murphy), but she doesn’t HAVE to be abused. The final tipping point was during Lilith Saintcrow’s first series. Her main heroine chick, who is now somehow half-demon, is constantly mouthing off to her full-demon boyfriend, insulting him, telling him his plans are stupid, and no, she won’t be left behind because she can PARTICIPATE and WIN. So he picks her up and holds her against a wall with one hand, to prove how unable she is to fight at this level, and she spends the next like 30 pages being shocked and betrayed because he finally snapped and told her to shut up. Jesus. Get over it already.

    On a related note, the first book I couldn’t finish was The Bourne Identity. The only book I’ve ever read where I felt the movie was better.

    Good topic.

    • I’m still reading Hamilton, but I know what you are talking about. Patricia Briggs modern werewolf books haven’t gone down the porny rabbithole so far, and are a lot of fun.

    • I just realized the first book/series I walked away from — it was Norman’s Gor. I read the first book and enjoyed it thoroughly, went out and bought the other three then available in the series and halfway through the second book decided I’d had enough.

      • Stephen St. Onge

                I was seven or eight books into the series before I became disgusted. The kinky sex overwhelmed the series.

        • I got it recommended because I liked Burroughs. I bounced, hard. It wasn’t just the kinky sex, it was the Boring kinky sex, and I tried a few of them, at best they had the plot and story of a short story that was fleshed out into novel length with lots of boring, kinky sex.

          • On the other hand, they are cult classics, and if you pick them up at a thrift store or yard sale, there is a ready market for them used. In fact I think there is enough demand that most are being reprinted.

          • A clarification on “I tried a few of them,”; them refers to 1)Gor Novels, 2)kinky sex, or 3)Boring kinky sex?

        • Mine was Book 7 of Gor; 9 was tolerable for certain values of tolerable, mostly for the scene where the Viking rebel main character tells the tyrant he’d rather reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.

          • Make that two votes against Book 7… someone sent me #5 and #7. #5, I liked. Reasonable story, and the board-type game they played was really interesting. But #7 was a slog. Banged the same, uh, drum over and over, and I was cured of ever reading a third.

            Iain Banks’ Culture novels. I forget which one I read, 1st or 2nd. The plot was basically Dicewars using planets, the MC was a bore, and I quickly became weary of everyone who didn’t love the Culture being regarded as stupid. Cured me in one!

        • The kinky sex was the point of the series!

      • RealityObserver

        I remember the exact one that killed it for me – “Nomads of Gor.” Before then, it was a mildly interesting culture examination – starting there, it was all the sex.

        I met the man once, through my own English Literature professor. I am not sure to this day, whether he cracked up from some personal experience, or got addicted to the money (Daw did keep advancing him through a LOT of books). Could easily be the latter, so I don’t particularly condemn him – just about every professor in my New Hampshire liberal arts college had either a different primary job or a moonlighting job back in those days.

    • I actually wrote a letter to Hamilton to tell her that while I didn’t mind sex in her books (hell some of it I enjoyed), I was pretty unhappy when I got to one of them that the first 150 to 200 pages was nothing but one!! sex scene!
      I told her that she is a great writer, with a great character, and a great story, and yes, I understand that sex sells, but I want to read about her character doing exciting and interesting things, not just having sex constantly.
      I also complained about how the next book, which was really just a novella, was an insult because she shortchanged us on one of the most interesting characters out there. I let her know I was disappointed in the way she was going with the story.
      I have actually since stopped reading her. I may go back, because she really is a great story teller. But I honestly want a story to read, not just a non-stop orgy.
      And I want to see that whiny ass Richard either grow up, or get put in his place.

      • Every so often I decide it couldn’t have been that bad and try again…..

        • I have an interesting perspective on Hamilton. I stopped reading on the book right after 9/11. Not her fault, but people picking up pieces of people at that moment… NO.
          OTOH I needed to work on my timing and she has excellent timing, so three years ago decided to start at the beginning again.
          Now, I had read them when my kids were little and went through the first 7? in a week.
          Now my kids are young men. I could not finish reading the FIRST. The objectification of the men, who are treated as pieces of meat, just made me gag. I know that sounds stupid for someone like me, but there it is. I could NOT read that series again, and in fact got rid of it when we started culling to move.

          • The “only the main character is a full person” effect. Yeah, lots of popcorn writing hits that– it works if they don’t spend a lot of time musing. Sometimes.

          • I only read one of the vampire ones and couldn’t get into it, but I kind of liked the fairy ones…they just got to be way too much. I got rid of them. The fairy series had potential, especially when they were sort of doing the detective agency thing. Too bad.

          • I totally agree with that. Jean-Claude and Richard, who should be absolute badasses in their own right, are nothing more than pitiful shadows of power, or sex objects with no definition. They ARE just pieces of meat, for Anita to use and abuse as she sees fit, with no consequences (seriously, sex magic or not, she can’t be THAT good).

            • Eh, that arguably doesn’t apply to Jean Claude except in his interactions with Anita. Richard however is Leonard from BBT stuck in a werewolf body across all his interactions. Whiny, insecure, and delusional.

          • regularjoeski

            FWIW Disney poked fun at her series in a cartoon in the late 90’s or so. They have a fan asking her how can a vampire hunter become the lover of vampires and why does the series contradict itself. Her answer is that her publisher just ghost writes it and she hasn’t read it in years. It was one of the cartoon network edgy disney cartoons from late 90’s.

          • I think a lot of how the first part of the Anita Blake series comes off has to do with when they were first written. Guilty Pleasures came out in 1993 and seemed to me to be a conscious backlash against the Anne-Rice-inspired tradition of romantic vampires, and I remember being pleasantly surprised by the last line of the book, which came off as something that could have been a tag-line for the series: “I don’t date vampires. I kill them.”

            That Hamilton failed to maintain this counterpoint I had initially always put down simply to editorial pressure from the marketplace; I remember being very surprised to learn of how her personal life had influenced the changes in the series. (Bearing in mind the inherent grain-of-saltness of all such stories.)

            • Forget “could have been”. It WAS the tag-line for the series at first. You can probably still find the original cover of the first book with “She doesn’t Date Vampires, She Kills Them”.

              The funny thing is that I -LIKE- porn (hey, I’m a guy, and it hasn’t been outlawed yet), and the series STILL lost me. I do feel that the sex:plot ratio was getting badly skewed, but even that would be forgivable if the characters were interesting enough, and they just…weren’t.

              • While I don’t dislike p0rn, I can buy it when that’s what i want to read. Putting it into a bad novella just makes for a bad novel. Albeit a bad novel with p0rn, but why not dispense with the bad novella?

                • I put up with the porn for a long time, hoping she’d get on with killing the mother of that vampire family… then came a twenty-page scene that was basically a combination of a really bad porn direction scene and the sudden, offhand death of not one but TWO founding vampires. Traded the entire series at a secondhand bookstore the next day.

          • Sara the Red

            You know, I hadn’t considered it in that light, but I think that *is* one of the things I hate about (most) paranormal romances: the objectification of men. It’s gross.

            I couldn’t put my finger on it before, going in for a “oh, argh, another impossibly sexy vampire/werewolf/demon/something WHY?”

            Also why I think I liked the Mercy Thompson series so much. Sure, there are plenty of pretty men-folk about, but they are all fully realized characters–and they do NOT all lust after the heroine!

            (And there might be another issue with paranormal romance: many, many of them are overpopulated with Mary Sues…)

            • It always struck me as unbelievable that there’s this absolutely ANCIENT vampire / werewolf / [insert other paranormal thing here], who is inhumanly sexy, and he’s going to lose his mind over someone NOW? After all this time, he hasn’t found anyone yet? Or he doesn’t know better? Come on, that’s just…silly.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                I think that theme has nothing good to say about the women who write it and the women who like it.

                IMO they drive away strong males but prefer strong men over the weak types around them.

                IMO they “whine” about men not wanting to “commit” while ignoring the reasons that men don’t want to commit to them.

                So they read/write about these strong sexy males who want to/need to commit to a given woman.

                IE they want some strong sexy male to commit to them but don’t realize that they are driving away the strong sexy males who might otherwise commit to them.

                • It is a form of pornography (imaginary people fulfilling readers’ lust fantasies) that is socially acceptable because you know why.

                  This was actually addressed in a movie a year or two ago (I forget the name) about the development of a relationship between a guy who wallows in smut and a woman who wallows in Romance, with both parties having to learn to engage with a person of the opposite sex as a person and not an embodiment of their wish fulfillment.

                • I think that theme has nothing good to say about the women who write it and the women who like it.

                  Depends on what they get out of it.

                  Think of it kind of like Barclay’s holodeck dream-fiction– it wasn’t good, but it indicated that he was hungry for good things, like love, approval and acceptance.

                  The “ancient and powerful guy who’s crazy for her” theme could show a recognition of the issue with the “everybody has trial relationships until they’re 30 and then they start looking into actually building a stable pair-bond” just-so story of success.

                  If “real” men and women are highly, ahem, experienced, and all the other junk that goes into it, what other kind of romance could they hope for? Another spineless, passive-aggressive guy who acts like his physical desires should fulfill everything she wants in the relationship, and living together is a big favor to her?

                  There’s some nasty folks, yes, but I think a lot more are the walking wounded. They’re hungry, but don’t even know how to recognize what would actually fulfill that hunger, so they just look for what will reduce the pain.

              • Sara the Red

                Yeah. I also find the trope (far too common in many places, but particularly in romances and *especially* in paranormal romance) that men are entirely ruled by their penises. I’m sorry, but most of the men I know are thinking, feeling human beings who *don’t* allow their sensitive bits to rule their lives. Of course, men-as-animals is also part of the “narrative,” because it’s then easy to go from that to “all men are evil monsters who can’t control themselves.”

                But yeah. Ancient being suddenly losing his mind over someone mortal here and now…just reeks of Mary Sue. It’s gotten so bad that even in an otherwise well-written book I usually cringe and drop it. Now, if it’s a case of “ancient being has been in love before, multiple times, and is coming round to falling in love again despite the inherent problems” that’s another story, provided it’s well done (which it rarely is). But it’s also surprisingly rare, especially in novels…

              •         That’s just obvious wish fulfillment.  An incredibly sexy man can’t be happy till he finds his soulmate, the person the female reader of the book projects herself as.

                        A very human fantasy.

                • And his soulmate is always an overweight, divorced, housewife in her early thirties. Which with the possible exception of the divorced part, is amazingly similar to the target audience.

    • As far as I’m concerned, Ludlum’s prose is maybe slightly better than Clive Cussler’s and his research is slovenly at best. Still and all, both are best sellers, which is either a testimony to the power of habit and marketing or a suggestion that somewhere, somehow they push a button with the public.

      • Sara the Red

        Gah, I used to enjoy the hell out of the Dirk Pitt novels. Then about six (seven? I have no idea) in…I realized that the Author’s Very Special Appearance had gone from being a sly joke (ie, in the early books he’s just show up as a random old dude with a beard, and maybe say “hello” or something to the MCs, and then they’d look at each other and go “did he seem familiar to you?”) to showing up to give crucial plot information. Um…no. That is the laziest of lazy-ass writing, right there. I’ll forgive slovenly research, and I’ll even forgive a certain amount of purple prose, or improbably and physics-defying escapes (so long as they’re cool) but showing up in your own damn book because you can’t be bothered to actually have your characters sort out there own problems? Nope, into the never-reading-again pile with you! (Also…Cussler spends waaaaay too much time in his books obsessing over food and clothes. It’s…a little weird, actually, considering that, generally speaking, this is NOT something his MC was supposed to be deeply concerned with…)

        • *laughs* I’ve always thought that including that obese gourmand (Perlmutter, is that his name?) as a plot trope was bizarre, to say the least. And as much as showing up in your own books is a nod to Hitchcock and Vonnegut, you really CAN’T use it to advance your plot. It makes for really boring reading.

          His two series are so alike, the characters almost exactly the same, that it seems impossible he’s sold as many books as he has. Him and Ludlum both. ^Richard is right, it must push some button with the public. Sort of like corn dogs, I guess. They’re tasty sometimes, but man….just think about what you’re eating, yeah?

          • When I was younger I enjoyed Cussler’s books. But, even though they were over the top to begin with, they became so farcical it started pulling me out of the story. Then he started telling two stories in one book. Each story could have been entertaining in it’s own right, but tying them together got annoying. I had to give up.

            On the other hand, while I liked Ludlums’s books (most being quite light reads), the two I enjoyed the most were the two most over the top; The Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha (which is my favorite).

            • My daughter (who is not a writer, but a reader only, which is why I consult her input as of she were an instant-read thermometer) says that two different plots/characters going in one novel usually means that she is more interested in one than the other, and so tends to skim over the one she is not interested in to get to the one she is interested in. This does not apply to things like Lord of the Rings, though.

              • I’ve found that to be true. Game of Thrones, for example, I skim through Daenyris’s (I’m sure I botched the spelling here) chapters, but stay glued to Arya’s, for example.

              • The best that I’ve ever seen the split timeline/plots done was Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I thoroughly enjoyed both plots and they were tied in nicely. I found his Baroque Cycle rather tedious though.

                • Yeah, I liked Cryptonomicon’s storylines about the same. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was good.

                • It may have been the callowness of my youth, but I recall ERB having a pretty good way with split timeline/plots.

                  • Sara the Red

                    He wasn’t as bad as some–but he did usually limit it to only two (maybe three) POVs, at least for long stretches. It’s been a loooong time since I read any Tarzan (and I haven’t gotten to John Carter yet), but I seem to recall that he might sometimes insert a POV for a villain or minor character for a scene or two, but otherwise in a split plot book it was either Tarzan + Jane (doing two separate plot things that would meet up towards the end) or Tarzan + some other relatively major character (and the two plots would usually meet up towards the end).

                    • Zombie fic (ZF?) usually has lots of POV characters, but then they do tend to go through them quickly.

              • Sara the Red

                I’m generally not a fan of multiple POVs either (as both reader and writer). Multiple plotlines that are only vaguely related to one another…yeah, it’s hard to stay interested in both, and I prefer my POV characters to be limited to *maybe* two. I hate cast-of-thousands POV books, where you’re constantly jumping heads. I cannot think of an author who has many, many POVs where the characters don’t end up all sounding alike, or where they’re poorly realized due to constant head-jumping. (It’s a taste thing, though, and what I find deeply irritating in one book may not bother someone else at all.)

                • Too many POVs can be a problem in that I may not care about them all.

                  Also if they don’t start out in the same place, it can be annoying waiting for them to interweave. (I liked Lord of the Rings‘s handling that. We never ever had a point-of-view character that we had not first seen, externally, from a prior one. Even the first points of view are portrayed by the narrator before we go in.)

                  • Sara the Red

                    Yes, whatever Tolkien’s other flaws as a writer (and I love him, but he had some definite flaws), he did handle multiple POVs very well indeed. And you *cared* about all of them. Even then, though, he didn’t span out into so many POVs that you stopped caring–most of the time, he stuck to the four hobbits. And that worked great, because they were the most relatable of the Fellowship.

            • Well I can see our tastes differ, I liked all of Ludlum’s books EXCEPT the two catholic ones; Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha. Those two were absolutely gagworthy wall-denters. IMHO

              I have never seen any of the Bourne movies, but admittedly the Bourne books were the hardest to follow of any of Ludlum’s work, and with a MC that I sometimes loved, and other times hated. Of course that is kind of understandable, since the MC has dual personalities, I just despise the angsty one.

              • I know several people who hated the two Road books (including many family members). They felt it was too far out of his normal stuff. I thought he was just poking fun at everything, having a bit of a lark with it.

        • CC: I read one and started a second, which turned out to be the first one again, more or less. boring.

      • Or Dean Koontz. As much as I enjoyed Lightning, he needed a little more firearms research. *tips his hat to TLK’s post today*

        • References make me happy. 😀

        • Sara the Red

          I’ve only ever read the Odd Thomas books by Koontz. He’s enjoyable fluff, I think–but yeah, could probably stand to do a bit more research into lots of things. Holy cow, though, that man is prolific!

        • I was reading his Intensity, and was thinking this was going to be a book like the movie 7:10 to Yuma or The Set Up that will take place in exactly the time it takes to read it, but I get to this scene with the revolver and CLONK. ?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But.. she…. ARGH! It makes no sense. No sense at all. And it took me till next weekend to get over that scene and read the rest of the book. He had apologized for the revolver shells on the floor in Phantoms (one of my favorite books) but it didn’t bother me at all. But the scene of the revolver in Intensity…

        • The most recent head-desk factiod I came across in fiction; the author mentions a carburetor problem… on a diesel engine.

          • RealityObserver

            Hmmm. If you have a carburetor on a diesel engine, you do have a problem. (Actually, you have a rather old gasoline automobile engine if it has one.)

            Although I think (being a non-expert, I could be wrong about more thoroughly atomizing the mixture) – it would probably be a *brief* problem…

          • *facepalm* Sheesh. You only find carbs on older model cars and new-model airplanes. And some tractors (usually with a few “interesting” mods for racing the things at tractor pulls as well as daily use.)

            • Yeah, you need a more recent one if you are a low-carb diet. Your newer cars have more protein and fat

          • Sara the Red

            I always wonder a bit at authors that do this. I mean, if you know nothing about it in RL, and don’t care to do any in-depth research…why bother putting something like that in??? I mean, you could get away with “the vehicle broke down and we have no idea why” because that’s what, like 90% of us end up saying when something goes wrong with our vehicles. And if you’re trying to write it in because the character is a mechanic…then for pity’s sake, do the research.

            I know nothing about car mechanics, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy, but at least Mercedes-the-VW-mechanic gives an overall feeling that the author did her research. At least enough to write in a little about it without going into great detail, ie, the *feeling* of being a mechanic, without needing to include details from the manual (or made up details that make someone who knows something about it cry shenanigans).

            This was one of the reasons I finally gave up on Michael Crichton. He would do incredibly detailed research…but only to a point. So it was painfully clear, if you knew anything at all about the subject, that he’d done incredibly detailed half-assed research….and that was annoying. (Timeline was what did it for me.)

            • Regarding specifically the aforementioned, “diesel engine with carburetor”, it’s easy to see why it happened: Author knew something about gasoline engines, but for some reason the engine in the novel was a diesel (perhaps he assumed it would be due to what kind of vehicle it was, or perhaps he knew that a certain model of vehicle had a diesel engine), and he assumed that it had a carburetor, because the engines he knew about has carburetors.

              Some other kinds of screwups in researching stories make less sense, though I can’t think of examples off the top of my head.

          • Last Carburetted vehicle sold in the US was the 1990 Subaru Justy.

            Just one of those factoids bouncing around in my head, displacing the important stuff.

            • Nope, I know Nissan sold pickups with a four cylinder carbureted engine up to at least 1994, because a friend of mine had one he bought then. 1989 was the last year Toyota offered a carburetor option on their 22R motors.

              • Google hasn’t helped. But a lot of cars ended up with Throttle Body Fuel Injection because it was an easier conversion from a carb. (wishing I could get a conversion for my old chevy van. It’s been flowing too much fuel and dieseling like mad)

      • If you think Ludlum’s research was slovenly, you ought to try a Vince Flynn novel. I didn’t get very far into the first one I started, before I had to put it down (I came back later and finished it) when he has a hit team made up of a married couple who are both Special Forces veterans. I don’t remember which type, SEAL, Green Beret, or what, but do know it was specified, and there has never been a woman of whatever was specified. And this story was set in the 90’s or the 00’s.

    • Josh Kruschke

      Bourne really?


      Wondering where you left off?

      • The first one, Bourne Identity. I may try it again, because tastes change, but I just…couldn’t do it. I felt it was poorly written and I just didn’t care if Jason got hit by a bus or lit on fire or something.

  6. I find it easier to categorize such books as “easy to put down, hard to pick up again.” It is rare that I consciously decide that the diminishing amount of sand trickling the hourglass of my life require I spend no more of them on a particular book; it is rather that I realize I am spending less time reaching for the book, that it is more of an exertion when I do and that the book tends to get put down more easily.

    On the other side of that are such books as Little Fuzzy which caused the Beloved Spouse to curse at me for turning the nightstand light off and on again as I constantly vacillated between :I need some sleep tonight” and “Just a few more pages.”

    When we first discover a genre (in this case, SF/F) we tend to be thrilled by the freshness and novelty of it. There is usually a pretty good backlog of appealing material to read and one quickly becomes skilled at decoding the hobo code of the book cover to find that which most entertains. Plus, there are numerous authors whose accumulated works we can devour with fair confidence of quality. Thus we are able to binge on certain authors and sub-genres, consuming their benchmarks until we pass out or puke.

    Binging also tends to bring satiety, of course, as we find ourselves overdosing on authors who seem to have only one or two themes to explore and who, no matter how skilfully they tell them soon become dull. For me such an author was Michael Moorcock whose various stories were undeniably well-written but after a while it was like eating nothing but pancakes. I could cite others but the point doesn’t require them and, as we all recognize, YMMV.

    Once we’ve consumed the backlists of favorite newly found writers we are faced with the task of finding something new to read. Many of us Sad Puppies discovered that the literary beer being proffered by the publishers had become mighty weak and flavorless with a sour aftertaste. Having already drunk the best of the old stuff we were dissatisfied with what was available on tap (most of which was a bit heavy on the wine the brewers publishers had blended in to increase its appeal ti the critics) and sought heartier fare or went to another saloon, one whose cellars we hadn’t already drained.

    (Looks at mound of empties surrounding work station, forgets what point of this comment was and decides to wander off in search of something with which to slake thirst.)

    • “Many of us Sad Puppies discovered that the literary beer being proffered by the publishers had become mighty weak and flavorless with a sour aftertaste.”
      I didn’t say it was bad. I said it was horthe pith.

    • Little Fuzzy. H. Beam Piper was a fave for me.

      • Yes! I loved Little Fuzzy. Awesome.

        Definitely dis-recommend Scalzi’s redo. Retains none of the H. Beam Piper-ness, contains all the preachy bullshit one would expect given his blog.
        Such an uneven writer, that guy. Old Man’s War series and Zoe’s Tale, excellent. Some of his other stuff looks like his editor hated him and let him leave all the preachy in.
        His blog persona is 100% dick. I bet money he’s a lot more polite in person or somebody would have done for him by now. Guy argues like a two-bit internet troll.

        Got a bit of hate in me right now, I’ve spent a couple days arguing with the Whatever goofs and they pissed me off. Point to them I guess.

        • I confess to somewhat enjoying Scalzi’s Fuzzy, with the acknowledgement that what was good was Piper’s and what wasn’t Piper’s wasn’t good. If I hadn’t read Piper’s original (multiple times, although with later readings I wasn’t sitting up every thirty minutes and turning the light back on to read “a few more pages.”)

          Okay, minor points for spelling & grammar. But the book was very easy to put down although not that difficult to pick back up.

          I think most of us here like our fiction to be compelling, not repelling. That and the plots shouldn’t require rappelling.

        • Scalzi’s Blurry Nation (I refuse to admit it has any connection to Piper’s Fuzzy books) certainly has one of the most creative reasons in all SF for planetary exploration: Digging up coal to send to Earth.

          Every time I say this I re-check the Amazon preview for the book to make sure my memory isn’t playing tricks on me. No SF writer could possibly come up with something so lame, right?



          • The Word For World Is Forest. Just sayin’

          • I quite don’t recall the coal shipping — probably because it makes so little sense (oil offers more concentrated energy) that it bounced right out of my mind. Nor do i see it mentioned in the Amazon description where, to give Scalzi credit, he touts Piper and Keith Laumer.

            I still stand by my original assessment: as Samuel Johnson puportedly* said about another book: “[It] is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

            *As with so many great quotes, attribution is spotty. Go to for an entertaining explication.

            • MadRocketSci

              Nevermind coal vs. oil: Think *anything chemical* vs. the size of the rocket powered by *anything chemical* that you need to launch the payload into orbit. 90% propellant / 5% structure / 5% payload is on the *high* end of achievable payload fractions.

              If you have the technology to land on an Earth-mass planet and take off again without refueling, you’re not using chemistry to power your rocket. If you have fission powered or better rockets, you shouldn’t be shipping oil/coal/chemical fuel anywhere: you should be *manufacturing* it wherever you happen to need it.

              A lot of the “space resources” used to justify imagined “space colonialism” are really poorly thought out.

              • RealityObserver

                Well, I would never have gone for oil or coal from other planets, unless for some reason we come across a Verne or Wells story about it. All of the useful fractions of those we’ve been able to synthesize for a *long* time now.

                I’m becoming less tolerant now on the ones that have some mysterious, non-synthesizable fish oil or such. Surveying the field right now, we’ll soon be able to do just about anything that nature can come up with so far as chemical synthesis is concerned. They’re getting closer and closer to folding proteins to order…

              • That why I keyed in on exotic Hardwoods. Luxury goods that can’t come from anywhere else.

              • Perhaps the Hipsters of the future prefer to heat there retro-McMansions with only Organic Artisan-Dug Virgin Coal, creating a huge domestic market in the upscale gentrified Gulf-Coast megacities.

            • MadRocketSci

              A corollary: If your setting has tons of star-ships flying around, then your society cannot possibly be energy constrained – at least not on any level that would register as a constraint for normal Earthly manufacturing uses.

              Another corollary: There is no such thing as a disarmed starship/interplanetary ship. Merely by virtue of having x tons of mass able to accelerate up to hundreds to hundreds of thousands of kps, your starship is a potential weapon of mass destruction. Any sane government would be at least a *little* concerned about what those pissed off Belters/Interstellar tramp freighters might do, even if none of their ships *look* threatening.

            • MadRocketSci

              Sorry, the oil thing just triggered annoying memories about a National Geographic special about Titan.

              I think they were showing some astronaut *lighting the atmosphere of Titan on fire* with a match. Yes…..
              And then the comments (got to stop reading those) were complaining about how Earth would just ‘rape Titan for it’s oil resources’. Not too many people know orbital mechanics, I suppose, or exactly how much energy you would have to burn per kilogram to get that oil back to Earth.

              • That is kind of the point i was making by positing the silliness of arguing over which natural resource would be worth transporting.

                Neither product could conceivably contain sufficient energy to justify transport unless shipping was incredibly cheap, in which case it would be crazy to import carbon-derived fuel.

                As I said, some things my brain just refuses to absorb as too dumb, so I plow on through the book and ignore the maguffin.

                Besides, coal or oil, it would contribute to Earth’s global warming. 😉

                • That’s right! Clearly we’d burn the fuels there on Titan and just beam the electricity back as microwaves or laser. The lack of environmental or safety regulations on Titan, btw, are just as key to the economics of it as the prevalence of the fuel.

          • Harry Turtledove had a YA interdimensional story where the protagonists were bringing back GRAIN, specifically wheat, to feed the global warmed US. GRAIN, the stuff that the US ships around in megatons in a little thing the size of a bus. I think that being a CHORF means not having to do you your homework.

            • I recall some Turtledove as quite enjoyable, especially the first two Videssos series (with some minor slack cut for the Roman legion one which can be better explained by Col. Kratman or John Ringo but, IIRC, violate certain practical considerations, such as fundamental geography.) Others of his books … you could pay me to re-read, but only this side of seventy and it would cost you a fair bit.

              I suspect one problem of writing for CHORFs is that a competent author would quickly grow contemptuous of them and the shoddy work they accept, making writing for CHORFs a Chore.

            • RealityObserver

              Oh, yes. RAH just *barely* pulled that one off. I still have my doubts on it, even with the convict slave labor…

            • Sara the Red

              ::facepalm:: I reiterate my above comments about authors who can’t be bothered to do even basic research.

              I was going to say “didn’t they pay attention in science class in school” and then I remember the state of our public schools. (Not that that’s an excuse for not educating yourself, dammit.)

            • The Turtledove series was a Paratime story. I have a deep love for Piper’s Paratime series, and even Kurland’s Otherwhen (don’t love the man there). I also liked the “kids surviving on their own” YA theme. I read a lot of pioneer/frontier stories with that plot when I was young.

              But, yeah, I wish it had been better.

            • Made me think about Stagate SG-1, where the Goa’uld ships which were perhaps a little bigger than, say, an ocean tugboat were called, “Cargo Ships”.

              That’s really something that a lot of SciFi writers screw up. Space-borne cargo ships will be HUGE once we have better than chemical propulsion. They will never land, nor will they be built on the surface of a planet, either.

              You would get some low-volume, high-price stuff transported in smaller ships, but not much.

        • I couldn’t finish his fuzzy book. I really liked his movie reviews. His blog put me off to the point that i don’t biread anything of his anymore..

        • RealityObserver

          Ardath Mayhar’s contribution was pretty darn good. (Speaking of liking “diversity” in my authors.) “Golden Dreams” also didn’t suffer from the problems that William Tuning encountered with his “sequel” coming out just before the lost manuscript by Piper was relocated – read the two in succession, and you get cognitive whiplash…

          • I found Ardath Mayhar’s book at a library booksale on Saturday. Is in one of my short stacks now.

    • “Many of us Sad Puppies discovered that the literary beer being proffered by the publishers had become mighty weak and flavorless with a sour aftertaste.”

      Reminds me of a Canadian acquaintance’s pithy description of American beer: “Like having sex in a canoe: f***ing close to water.”

      I honestly don’t remember when I first noticed one of these ‘signposts.’ Maybe it was the day I looked at my bookcases and noticed that damn near every piece of new fantasy I’d read in the last several years, from the first Thomas Covenant trilogy to the entire twelve-volume-long Thieves’ World series and attendant spinoff novels, was dark, nasty, and thoroughly depressing. (The sole exception to that rule is also the only TW-related book I still own.) Or maybe it was the day I finished #3 of “The War Against the Chtorr” and realized that (author’s claims of consultation with a biology professor notwithstanding) the Chtorrans’ biology made absolutely no sense. In addition, the situation had developed to a point where there was no believable way the humans could win. Two other novels by the same author, both of which had come highly recommended, also failed completely to hold my interest.

      Somewhere around then is also when I walked away from Star Trek The Next Generation because its habit of turning fine dramatic ideas into laughably weak and stupid stories had become intolerable. Puts it around 1992 or so. After that I subsisted primarily on older SF/F found in used-bookstores (thank the gods for Half Price Books!), a handful of renegade TV series like Babylon 5 and Highlander, and Baen.

      • Sara the Red

        In defense of ST:TNG, if I recall right, 1992 or so was when Gene Rodenberry was still alive and still forcing the Next Generation show writers to stick to his utopian ideals. Once he died and wasn’t calling the shots any more, the Star Trek storylines got MUCH more dramatically interesting and far more entertaining.

        (Rodenberry’s utopian ideals were sweet, but the man had a hard time grasping the fact that, in fiction, conflict of some kind is necessary to good entertainment, and even if we all hope that our future space exploration is all peaceful scientific research that doesn’t mean we want to *watch* fictional people doing nothing but that.)

    • Same here. I hardly ever throw them, just set them down and forget to pick them back up. Sometime in the late 80’s I gave up on SF (except my collection of classics, financed by selling yard sale trash to Annie’s) and switched to horror. When that petered out I read mysteries (bleh) until amazon cleared the horizon. Now i read mostly zombie and PAC leavened by whatever you guys talk about that I haven’t read, or not in a long time.

  7. Yeah, ‘Bio of a Space Tyrant’ was a 100 percent politically correct series, because everything that was going on in it (or almost everything) was a reflection of the left’s views on what was actually happening right then at that time. Some of it was incredibly blatant too.

    I noticed that more than once. And while I did struggle through all of it (I tend to finish what I start and it wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t great either), I have never read another Piers Anthony book, even though some of his I’ve been told are quite good.

    The problem is: I hate being preached at. So why give him another chance to disappoint me, when there are others competing for my dollar?

    • I enjoyed much of Anthony’s earliest works quite thoroughly, although life took hold and I wandered away from his book-stall around the time Bio and Incarnations of Immortality came out. I had already decided he was beating Xanth to death, albeit moderately entertainingly, and decided his series took too much to read. I would generally recommend anything of his (solo works) published prior to 1982 as being interesting and entertaining but works after that period carry the reek of “established author”, no longer depending on winning fans but confident they will consume whatever swill he serves.

      • I remember the exact book where I gave up on Xanth. Whathisface the golem had gone to Good Magician Humphrey and, in place of a year’s labor, explained to him how he could return to his proper age. Unfortunately, the tone of the whole passage made it clear that he threw it together to weasel out of his world-building. (Letting, for instance, Dor off the hook was handled much more graceful, with his just stating that of course for the prince he would do it for nothing.0

      • Sara the Red

        I discovered Xanth in…early high school I think (so circa 1994). Enjoyed the first few books…and then they descended into appalling puns and juvenile sex-humor, and I threw my hands up in disgust. (And I was far from being a picky reader at that point in my life!) I read Mer-Cycle about the same time (because mermaids) and found it…disturbingly obsessed with sex. (Apparently this is a theme with Piers Anthony…) That and the bad puns were why I resisted reading Discworld until I was an adult: I was dead certain it would be just a British version of the horrors of Xanth. (Thankfully, I was proved very wrong indeed!)

        I did pick up the first of his Incarnations of Immortality (Ride a Pale Horse) in later high school, and hope was revived. It was quite good! The premise was interesting! I enjoyed it! And then I picked up the next one. Or one of the next ones. And the female POV character spent the first chapter or two obsessing over her self-cutting and the fact that only the girls who pretended to be virgins used pads, and everyone else (because of COURSE, apparently, all teenage girls are sexually active) just owned it and wore tampons. (My response, in order was: “WTF?” and “Why the hell is ANY of this important to the story????”) And that was the last time I ever read Piers Anthony.

        • John R. Ellis

          You made the right choice. The utter creepiness of his writing about young female characters intensified and bloated in the Mode Series.

        • Feather Blade

          I decided years ago, that the first three books of any Piers Anthony series were decent reads, but you’re better off giving upon them after that.

        • Had a very similar reaction to Pier Xanthony, right down to Ride A Pale Horse (good) and the rest (book-shaped-missiles), at about the same time. He was even too much for *my* teenage hormones after a while (I just got into highschool in ’94, too). *chuckle*

          I wish Peter Grant had been writing back then. Or that I’d discovered Dave Freer, and our host here… I quite literally gave up on sci-fi and fantasy reading for years. At least new stuff. I’ve a wall full of old Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Bolos, and afterwards Jim Butcher, David Drake, Glen Cook, and David Gemmel that pack both sides of that gap like bookends (pun intended).

          It’s a good time to be a reader. No, it’s a bloody *great* time to be a reader. Speaking of, just one more chapter tonight…

        • Incarnations of Immortality , I choked on the “theology”. Most children are innocents, but some are guilty — because their early deaths caused them mothers to commit suicide? Or a woman is in Hell for suicide and murder because she panicked when men were about to rape her and magically but accidentally wrecked the plane they were all on?

          • Sara the Red

            Yeah, I think I blocked out most of that. I do remember chuckling at his “everyone gets the afterlife they believe in” because he specifically mentioned Mormons (and in a non-negative light–a bit of a rarity, sometimes). Beyond that…it’s probably just as well. Or it didn’t come up in the first book, which was really the only one I read.

      • “Prostho Plus” originally 1973, great story about the lack of proper dentistry in the galaxy at large. “Orn” and “Macroscope”, and a couple of the pre-Xanth series were OK. Once he became famous, it was either the spambot cranking out the Xanth-of-the-Month, or those strangely-sexed, not just over-sexed but taboo/self-destructive acts.
        Sara is referring to the ‘Mode’ series, with the suicidal teen who fortunately has a horse as a sex-object, they go to a planet where all the people (except the leaders) are furry people of three genders (Like Buck, Doe, Dear for dear), and after a little sex, they finally get back to the realm of the male protagonist, who can only have sex with the suicidal teen if she is wearing a diaper. All the time, being chaperoned by the ‘grandmother’ figure, who fortunately travels in reverse time, so she can’t squeal on you.
        Actually, these are ‘good late’ fiction for Anthony, in that the other novels/series have even more sex, and the ‘Chroma’ series, where sex substitutes for money…
        My personal sign-post for Anthony’s novels is “Tortoise Reform”, the cover has a cute little girl, an owl, bunny and a tortoise. I am so afraid of the deviant sex scene, I have never read past the first two pages.

        • I didn’t know Prostho Plus was that old. The other two books after Orn weren’t bad, and filled in a lot of gaps. One in particular that I liked of his later work was Steppe (though it’s probably not THAT much later). I liked his Kirlian books, or whatever they are supposed to be called, and the Apprentice Adept trilogy.

          • 1973 Berkeley press: Per Piers’s own site, so if we can’t trust him, who can we trust? I think the Kirlian were the Tarot series, but, yes. Those and the Adept books were those pre-Xanth (or at least early Xanth) series that were good.

            • It may be a result of an author, early in his career, has to please the public. Once he’s built a fan base he turns to trying to please the critics. Xanth gave him a steady supply of lucre so once it achieved annuity status he was free to pander to write for the critics rather than the market.

          • Yes, I liked Steppe, too, and was sorry the book didn’t generate more of that type. Of course, having read all the Harold Lamb my young hands could get their jelly-begrimed fingers on, I spotted what he was doing rather quickly.

            Check the publication dates: the bulk of his more interesting work was done before 198384.

            As for Xanth, the original trilogy was quite good, the remainder had great resemblance to milking a bull or playing Bach on kazoo; interesting that it can be done but after that has been demonstrated it quickly gets tedious.

          • I’ve read those, but didn’t find them all that enjoyable. I’ve been unable to get into several of his other series. I enjoyed his early Xanth, and some of his later works until sex became too explicit and all-consuming. But then, I’ve found that even the best sometimes have an off-period, where what they write is so much bilge-water. That includes Anne McCaffrey, who I enjoy very much, except for the “Deluge” series, which leaves me cold, and a few others. I also gave up on Asimov’s “Foundation” series after the first three books – the rest are just holding on to something that was popular, and cranking out drivel for profit.

            The one thing I think all of us would agree on is that a story is more popular with us if the characters are realistic, and that we can relate to them. A lot of what kills a book for me is when the author writes such unmitigated drivel, so impossible activities by his characters, that they become not only unbelievable, but undesirable. If you’ve got a character no one can like, even the best plot in the world is going to struggle maintaining the reader’s interest.

          • I’m just glad he never sequelled it. That was always his biggest problem, I thought – the first few books in a series would be excellent, but then quality would drop like a rock.

        • Sara the Red

          Good gods. I am SO glad I never read any further…

        • I read the Mode series. In retrospect, I’m really glad a lot of it went right over my head.

    • I grew up on Piers Anthony – I read the Xanth books in middle school – and I was appalled when I read _Bio of A Space Tyrant_, because it was an attempt at a thinly veiled allegory which wasn’t in fact veiled *at all*.

      His other work isn’t nearly so blatant.

      • In checking his bibliography for a review on when he published what I was surprised to see that the 40th Xanth book is scheduled.

        Nice annuity, I guess.

        Xanth isn’t quite a dead horse, I suppose, but probably for reasons similar to Prometheus not being a dead Titan.

      • I actually made it quite a ways through the Bio of a Space Tyrant series, because stubborn (I’ve read all of the Dune books, including the ones by the son, because stubborn).

        But the first book I remember giving up on was whichever Bio of a Space Tyrant book starts out with a Terrific Plan to Solve Everybody’s Problems that was so obviously Lenin’s New Economic Plan that I couldn’t deal with it.

    • Before I read anything of Piers Anthony’s, the young manager at a bookstore I worked at a while ago threw a copy of Firefly down on the counter and with a tone of utter horror and disgust in her voice, said “Don’t read this. Just…” struggling to say something. “Don’t.” So I just skipped him entirely.
      My own personal horror novel I took straight back to the used store because I wouldn’t have it in my apartment was Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates.

      • Firefly was … different. Very different. It’s one of only a few of his books I can’t read a second time. Some of them I can’t even read a first time.

        I have to confess. I sent Piers a 4-page outline for a Xanth book, “Yon Ill Wind”, and he used quite a bit of it. That was one of the things that got me off my kiester and writing on my own.

        • RealityObserver

          Guilty admission here too – I still pick up the Xanth books, but at the used book store… There are times I need to read something that does not engage any higher cerebral functions.

          The other books are hit and miss – definitely miss the blatantly political ones, they will seriously annoy you. (Some series, like “Incarnations,” are only semi-political – but, honestly, Eddie Boy didn’t actually kill that poor girl, he was the innocent victim of a demon attack?)

    • Ferret Buehler

      I read all five books of the Bio series early in high school despite the obviousness of the pathetic allegory and the silly shadow-boxing with the Richard Nixon effigy (named Toxin, I think, in the books). One of my friends had the series and thought they were the cat’s pajamas, possibly even the bee’s knees. I was not of the same opinion.

      I might add it ended up being the next-to-last Anthony I ever read: I had just about reached my tolerance for him with the first four or so Xanth books, and I think I gave up the fifth (or maybe sixth) half-way through. Never mind the silly bawdy passing as mature flirtation and sex that was too juvenile even for overheated 15-year-old me, the puns had gotten so painful I couldn’t tolerate them.

      Many years later I was in a bookstore with a broad SFF section and saw one of the later Xanth books, The Color of Her Panties. I just shook my head and said, “The Color of her Panties. Of course it is.”

  8. Amen on the “I identify as a reader” thing.

    The point I can remember is where I was reading one of the Ship Who series (I think it was actually a station, but eh) and they mentioned that they were aborting all the pregnancies that resulted from the Evil Space Orc Humans raping the humans. Because they were not “really” human, y’see. Evil genetics, or something, but they had to die because of who the father was.

    That it happened to be shortly after I’d mainlined a half-dozen of the books on the Nazis and eugenic theories that I still don’t know how they were in the school library…yeah.

    • I know exactly which book you are talking about, but you know I absolutely don’t remember them aborting all the crossbred babies. There is a later book in the series where one of the characters is one of those, I think, so they must not have gotten them all.

      • Or someone flatly refused. Although part of what squicked me is how they acted like nobody was asking….

        • You are going to make me go reread those, now. Athough it was Stirling and McCaffrey, I don’t think either of those two would hardly even realize that someone would object to abortion, and Stirling at least would see it as perfectly acceptable to force them.

          There was a couple of direct sequels (actual sequels with the same characters, not more Ship Who books) to that one. The one I am thinking of I can’t remember well, except there is some sort of love interest between the crossbreed and a normal human, kind of a heavy handed; interracial marriage is okay, message. But the one about Joat all grown up, that Stirling wrote by himself, was quite good.

          • Somehow, I have no trouble seeing that happen…although with the world building I remember, it wasn’t even analogous, part of the justification was basically that any child they had would be the same, genetically; they prided themselves on it…

            Meh, better you than me. Really don’t need that right now, although I still think making a weak problem and solving it is cheap.

  9. Well, sometimes it is us. Recently re-reading a book I knew and liked as a teen, I was thinking, Gee, this plot is kinda random, and the heroine ought to either have some motives or be more obviously a puppet of the psychic object (with its evil needing to be played up more then), and when she and the hero are thrown back in time, they are monumentally self-centered clods, traipsing all over the alien culture in a way that would do real harm without even noticing it. . . .

    Writers get it worst because we try to look for weaknesses (you can’t turn it off when it’s not your own work), but everyone learns to recognize them.

    • Sara the Red

      Argh, I know that feeling. Up until my first year of college, I was pretty un-picky when it came to reading (though looking back, there were still plenty of the damn Message!fic books I actually didn’t finish). And then I got really, really picky. To the point that I have a really hard time going back to reread some previously beloved childhood authors. Anne McCaffrey, alas, is one of them. I tried to reread the original Dragonrider books a few years ago and was shocked to find that I couldn’t *stand* any of the main characters, because they were all entitled twits, and the plot was driven by the fact that they were all too twitty to actually, y’know, talk to each other and behave like grownups… I’m really hoping that I can reread the Harper Hall trilogy without as much trouble, but I fear for its place in the “fond memories” pantheon…

      • The Harper Hall trilogy holds up better, probably because Menolly is an unwanted child (at least, the way she is), so her mental state doesn’t really need to be hand waved away as “teenaged angst.” (She’s also not very angst-y.) Of course, I also know musicians and McCaffrey did a pretty good job of depicting a range of personality types common to them.

        I find it odd that I identify with Menolly so strongly, because I come from a supportive family with parents who actually encouraged me. Yet she’s the one I’d like to meet.

        • Sara the Red

          Hey, I came from a similar good supportive background, and Menolly is one of the only ones I’d like to meet. I think this is because she *isn’t* a brat. And she’s sensible (for a given value of sensible.) Unlike, say, Lessa, who is frankly a diva-tastic moron. (Someone says “don’t do this, it could kill you” so she does it. Sure, it worked out–but she put an entire friggin’ planetary defense at risk had she failed, and she did it mostly because someone told her NOT to, not because it was truly heroic.)

        • I check Amazon occasionally; Dragonsong and Dragonsinger still aren’t available in electronic format.

          • Sara the Red

            They are, however, available in audio format on Audible. I have the middle one (it’s my favorite) but haven’t listened to it yet, so can’t vouch for the narrator.

          • I think it was sometime last year when Todd McCaffrey posted on the Amazon forums that they were stuck in licensing negotiations.

            I reread those two books every year or so (they’re what I call “comfort food books”). My current copies probably have a couple of years left on them, since the binding’s about to go. After that I might have to buy the German ebook editions and relearn Deutsch.

        • I loved Menolly. However, I reread the first two books once too often and found a big continuity error that sticks out like a sore thumb now. And I never did warm up much to Piemur, possibly because I read “the White Dragon” first, and he turns into something of an inverse snob.

          • Feather Blade

            Really? What error?

            • When did Menolly write the Fire Lizard song? I couldn’t find any time she had opportunity between first seeing them and the arrival of the new Harper.

              • A certain kind of songwriter can write a song while he’s in the bathroom, or sleeping, or walking. It’s not something that takes more than an hour; sometimes it’s less than fifteen minutes. You can be writing a song while other people are talking to you, even.

                And since Menolly has a trained memory and great skill with charting music, the greatest drawbacks to songwriting while doing other stuff are removed. (Forgetting the tune or the words before you can get to paper is embarrassing.)

              • I’ll probably be rereading the book next week, so at least now I have something new to look for. 🙂

                I guess I assumed that Menolly just wrote it down to get it out of her head and stashed in the Harper’s schoolroom because that’s where she was used to hiding things like that. IIRC, in Dragonsinger she told Robinton that she hadn’t finished writing the song when he apologized for tightening it up.

                Wasn’t Elgion already at Half-Circle by the time she moved the eggs to the cave, as described in the song?

                • I believe so. I searched for an opportunity for her to write the song and couldn’t find it. Elgion arrived first, her father took her gitar, and she was kept away from him. She went out gathering, saw the queen and helped move the eggs, went back to Half-Circle, and was immediately pressed into service gutting packtail, when she sliced her hand. She was feverish and bedridden for some time and thereafter kept closely confined, until she ran away.

                  • She moved the eggs after recovering from the infection in her hand. I found a timeline of events on the web ( which indicates that you’re otherwise right, the time was VERY tight.

                    4.9.8 Menolly moves fire-lizard eggs
                    4.10.8 Menolly prevented from singing in evening
                    4.11.8 Menolly runs away at dawn

                    So, if she had worked out the song on her way back from the cliff on 4.9.8, she would have had to write it down and hide the skin either that evening or the next day (sometime before the evening meal). Next time I read the book I’ll try to keep an eye out to see what she was doing those days, to see if she might have had time to squeeze it in.

                    Even if it doesn’t work out, though, I’ll still treat the books as “comfort food”. 🙂

                    • Just a note here, she wouldn’t have had to write it down until she wanted to share it. Memorization of a song is pretty easy for any musician.

                    • Except that 1) Petiron had been telling her to write down her songs, and 2) she was desperate for a chance to get out of there, and she wanted the new Harper to see it.

                    • So it would take her what, five minutes? Ten?
                      Mozart used to write entire symphonies, in ink, in one pass, with no mistakes, no corrections. I have known musicians like Melony was in the story, so I just didn’t think writing it down would have taken any real time, and that the whole song was just in her head until she wrote it.
                      So it just didn’t stick out to me. Maybe I should go back and re-read it.

                  • That always drove me nuts, too. I mean, if the song had been about her seeing them flying about the Dragon Cave cliffs, then okay, but not about saving the eggs.

  10. sabrinachase

    Tried reading some frequently-mentioned books in the genre–Ian Banks “Use of Weapons” and Simmons’ “Hyperion”. Couldn’t finish Use of Weapons. It felt like it had been written in a drug haze–everything was vague and hallucinatory, and people just Did Things Because. Causality and you know, planning apparently had been banned in that universe. Oh, and something about a significant chair that I never understood. When you don’t care about the main character dying (and in fact hoping he’ll shut up) it is bad. Hyperion was amazing writing, with excellent character voices, but again…NOTHING HAPPENED. lots of movement, lots of mysterious things appearing for decoration, people deciding they just have to do some Deep Meaningful Thing Because. I also suspect drugs were involved.

    On the plus side, I don’t recall anybody getting raped, so there was that small mercy.

    • The first Hyperion novel apparently was nothing but set-up for the second, “Fall of Hyperion”. In that, he pulled some things together and had a fairly climactic ending. Even though his other novels in that same universe appeared to say that the climax in Fall of Hyperion didn’t have the effect it was supposed to.

      • Sara the Red

        See, this is why, in terms of being a sff reader, I’ve always fallen more under ‘f’ for fantasy than scifi. So much of the scifi I picked up in the late 80s thru the 90s was just like the above described: nothing happened. (I admit, I have not yet read Heinlein–largely because by the time I might have gotten to him, all the recent scifi had left me cold and unwilling to read it, and I’ve just never gotten around to it since.) The big exception was when I discovered the Miles Vorkosigan series, because here was *exciting* scifi, where things happened for actual plot reasons and it was a lot of fun.

        I feel like the fantasy decay took a little longer to set in. I don’t recall having the “there isn’t anything good out” until the early 2000s or so. Like most everyone here, though, I didn’t start really buying books (aside from the eagerly awaited new Pratchetts or Bujolds) until the advent of indie publishing.

        • See, I LIKE sci fi by preference. Oh, and stuff totally happens in Darkship Thieves. 😉

          • Sara the Red

            It is near the top of my to-read list. 🙂 I gave Brad a go for the same reason, and loved the Chaplain’s War. I expect to also thoroughly enjoy Darkship Thieves!

            • Warning, Athena CAN be an idiot, but at least she’s a fun idiot 😉 (She’s mostly emotionally idiotic. There is a plot-reason for this.)

              • Sara the Red

                I don’t mind idiotic characters when there are compelling reasons for it. 😀 I mean, Miles Vorkosigan is an idiot. A genius, but a friggin’ idiot. And so, so much fun as a result.

                • The dinner party in Civil Campaign…

                  Either the universe’s smartest moron or dumbest genius, and I can’t figure out which.

                  • She writes the only dinner parties I like better than the one in ‘Araminta Station’ by Jack Vance.

              • An idiotic character who behaves that way naturally is fine. An otherwise perfectly intelligent character who takes a random turn into idiocy isn’t fine. And my memory says that Athena doesn’t do that kind of random turn into idiocy. 😉

                • She wasn’t idiotic in general. Only where Kit is concerned. 😛

                  • Exactly. 🙂 If a character has a good in character reason then I’m good with it.

                  • Sara the Red

                    See, that’s fine. People are frequently idiots when it comes to other people–especially people they care about. It’s when an author forces a character to do something idiotic/act like an idiot because they had Plot Fail and can’t be bothered to fix it that I get pissed off. ^_^

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      David Weber has had smart characters “making mistakes” that some of his readers have complained about.

                      He wrote an article about a historical person that if he had based a character on, plenty of his readers would have said “Oh Come On David”.

                      Apparently, this historical person was extremely intelligent but did some very stupid things in his life.

                      I understand (and agree) with what you’re saying Sara, the fact is that real people sometimes do extremely stupid things.

                      Of course, I never do/say anything extremely stupid. [Very Very Big Kidding Grin]

                    • I have a phrase for this, I call it: Writing the Stupid.
                      I have a hard time writing the stupid, because I’m not stupid. But sometimes you have to as a plot device and I have seen it done amazingly well. I think the best technique is when everyone -knows- it’s stupid, but for ‘reasons’ (usually the law, or ethics, or compassion, or governments) they have to do ‘the stupid’ even though they think/know it won’t work.
                      I remember one book (I think it was in the convergence series) where not only did they do ‘The Stupid’ so well that I wrote a blog entry on it, but they started to do ‘The Stupid’ squared! And you’re starting to buy it, until someone in the story says Screw that! and they don’t do ‘The Stupid’.
                      That was a really good writer, to be able to do that, twice, and the reader (me) went along with it, because I could believe it.

                    • Which is why so many of us love Galaxy Quest.

                    • THat’s why truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. 😀

                    • It seems to me that all too many stories have very smart people doing stupid things in order to not resolve the plot less than a third of the way through the book. At least, in the past 30 years or so.

                    • Sure, in Real-Life we never see smart people screw things up. That’s why we elect them to govern us! And appoint them to regulatory Boards to make the rules for us to live by, ’cause we too stupid to run our own lives (and it isn’t as if our lives counted for very mush* much anyway.)

                      *Oops – Freudian slip of the finger.

                    • I guess I object to what I would consider as stupidity uncharacteristic of the character. Or sometimes, stupidity characteristic to the character, but taken to unrealistic extremes.

                    • Or the plot can go down the rabbit hole of unearthly complicated. Glowers at cursed book. Hits head on desk.

                    • We expect characters, unlike people, to make sense and be consistent.

                      Though I have a special hatred of idiocy, such that I can’t stand people acting like idiots even when sufficient reason is given . (There’s no such thing as an idiotic action; only one for which inadequate motivation has been delineated.)

                    • Sara the Red

                      I think part of the solution of having smart characters still *be* smart but not resolve your plot to soon is to have something else go wrong, something they have no control over. Because real life does that too. All the friggin’ time.

                    • Except in the book, just as we expect characters to be consistent, we expect the plot not to be random events.

                      After all, if all we were after was realism, we could get it 24 hours a day, straight.

          • Yep, very much prefer sci fi to fantasy. In fact for a long time I had a hard and fast rule that I only read fantasy by authors who I had already read their sci fi, and enjoyed it.

        • RealityObserver

          Ah, do start reading Heinlein. (I envy your fresh mind…) Just about everything he wrote has “something happening.”

          Um. Do *not* start with “I Will Fear No Evil,” “To Sail Beyond the Sunset,” “Stranger In a Strange Land,” or “Time Enough For Love.” Good books, mind you – but not when you have expectations of *constant* action.

    • Rob Crawford

      Yeah, if I hadn’t read a bunch of Simmons other work, Hyperion would have left me flat.

      • Hyperion was my intro to Simmons. Absolutely loved it. Went out and read the next one, and the sequel series.

        His newer series based on the Iliad lost me at the beginning of the second book. Never walked out of B&N with it.

    • I had to read a few other Culture novels before I could retry “Use of Weapons”, and even needed to ref the tropes page a few times.
      Not my favorite in the series. “Player of Games” and “Look to Windward” were way better.

    • Oh yes, Ian Banks.
      I read ‘The Player of Games’ because a friend of my loaned it to me, he thought it was a great book. It wasn’t bad, and it was an interesting read.
      Some time later I picked up another of his books, I don’t recall which one it was, and read that through.

      What a depressing piece of every left wing liberal message preaching trope THAT was! Everyone dies in the end, all of the characters!
      And all of the characters are BAD EVIL people, ALL of them! I don’t think there was a single character in the book (well not one who he spent more than a couple dozen words on) was a good person or had a single redeeming quality. Definitely not any of the people he was writing about.

      Yeah, there was a story in there, somewhere, but I lost it behind all of the messages.

      So yes, I’ll never read anything written by Ian Banks again. I’m sure a lot of people love him, but I don’t read to be depressed, and I honestly don’t think he’s capable of writing a story that won’t leave you depressed at the end.

      • “And all of the characters are BAD EVIL people, ALL of them!”

        wanders off, looking innocent

      • “What a depressing piece of every left wing liberal message preaching trope THAT was!”

        Yes, for somebody who is marketed as mil sci-fi, he manages to portray the military amazingly negative, and then hit every left wing message imaginable.

        About his only redeeming quality in that respect is that he did manage to cure global warming in at least one of his books, by creating a nuclear winter.

        I got a half a dozen of his books in a box of otherwise good books, and did read them, but by the time I got three quarters of the way through the one about the ship being buried in the ice of Europa, I was thinking, “nothing has happened, and I’m over three hundred pages in, why am I reading this?”

        • The military is negative in every book in the series. It eventually gets to his version of the Kobayashi Maru scenario in ‘Surface Detail’ where the Orbital Mind running it does it not to teach the militia trainees that sometimes you can only salvage what’s left, but that their existence is pointless, they should let the Minds deal with threats and go drug themselves up with the rest of the population. Even with his first book, during the Idiran War, it’s made clear that most Minds won’t fight-despite outclassing the enemy one ship to a fleet- so they build new Minds that don’t think much to fight for them. And later dismantle 99% of them.

    • Well, everyone in Use of Weapons IS a bad person, or someone slated for the chop because they are in the way.

      The major sub-theme is the MC, Z, being obsessed by the evil-mad genius of his adopted family who caused untold horrors and death… And to break the will of his foster brothers he was fighting a major coup against, killed a sister and turned her bones and skin into a dining table chair. And who in the end is revealed that it was actually Z himself.
      I did like the attitude of “only results matter” no matter what the cost.

      I looked at it as a cautionary tale, not a how-to book.

      (Don’t read the Wasp Factory, though.)

  11. It’s hard to remember titles like this because I was completely politically unsophisticated and unaware for a goodly chunk of my life — I didn’t start becoming aware of the things that have come to dominate a lot of my perspective until I was thirty-three. But if I had to point to the first SF/F book I ever read that hit me with the This-Story-Has-A-Point Hammer, it would be Gael Baudino’s Dragonsword. (There are two more books in that series but I never read them — like the OP, this was one of the first times in my life I had ever bailed on a series without finishing it.)

    Superficially a standard portal fantasy on the lines of Donaldson’s Covenant books, the shtick of Baudino’s trilogy is that her Fantasyland was actually created as a dream construct by a bitter old man in the wake of his divorce, and so the land is unbelievably patriarchal and misogynistic, which makes for all kinds of ostensible drama when the old man’s female teaching assistant is chosen as the land’s next great sustainer and protector. I had never read a more heavy-handed and unfriendly piece of “feminist” SF, and it’s left a bad taste in my mouth ever since.

    • And he was a rapist, too. The evil professor was also supposed to be Republican, but his country wasn’t anything like Republican. It was pretty ludicrous. And it was embarrassing, because she’s got a real gift when she actually uses it.

      Baudino apparently got a lot less radical after she converted back to Christianity, or so I’ve heard, but I haven’t really seen any of her stuff lately. She’s one of those authors whom they “encouraged” to change to a new pen name, I see on Wikipedia, but she only seems to have published one under G.A. Kathryns.

      She used to get all those cool Tom Canty covers in the early 1990’s, when Wicca stuff was big. She also had a pretty good elf story thing in Fantasy and Science Fiction, albeit there was a lot of random Christian bashing.

      The thing is, she could really write the feel of something otherworldly, and she could do eucatastrophe. So I hope she’s still writing under some name!

      • I had a soft spot for Baudino, she scratched a lot of the same itches as Barbara Hambly, but had similar… problems with fixations that repeated themselves across books. And I remember that elf thing from Fantasy & Science Fiction, it was one of my favorite stories from that year. They actually made a trilogy out of that pseudo-Arthurian Celtic thing? It was pretty awful, and probably the last thing of hers I read. Gossamer Axe still holds up as a good fantasy, I think.

  12. But I liked Bio #s 1-3. *sob*

    • Colorado Alex

      l liked Bio as well. The rape and exploitation of the first book made sense IMHO, since the protagonist is a refugee fleeing towards a planet that doesn’t want them and provides no protection to them. Refugees in the modern world are subjected to all sorts of abuse and predation, so why should it be any different in space? And the abuse that he suffers helps drive the protagonist’s choices through the rest of the series.

      As for the sex, most of the women seemed to be the dominant ones in those relationships. They wanted to sleep with the hero. Furthermore, many of them are very obviously the brains behind the throne, making them hardly weak.

      • I haven’t read the books — they’re undoubtedly in a box somewhere, packed away when we moved — but considering the timing and your description I wouldn’t be surprised if he was influenced by the fate of the South Vietnamese “Boat People.”

        That there is some history a body could mine and refine into some good tales. For that matter, think about the current reports on the people fleeing Tripoli and how those could be converted to quality SF.

        Just make sure you have a story underneath all the message or else the whole edifice collapses.

        • There’s a decently large community of Vietnamese Boat People in the Sacramento area, including a Little Saigon. A lot of them ended up being strawberry farmers, as that’s something which takes up very little initial capital.

          A lot of their kids became dentists. I’d noted the recurrence of Vietnamese names and happened to mention it to someone who serves with the local dental professional organization. She thought a minute and confirmed that there’s a very high percentage of Viet names in there…

        • Birthday girl

          I know a Vietnamese boat person personally, former neighbor. I would not want to read any of the stories she has to tell. Hearing them told circumspectly was hard enough.

          • I had someone who escaped the Vietnamese Communist Paradise in a small boat working for me a few years ago, and yeah, I really don’t want to get those stories that were hinted at in detail either.

            The “Gee, I could get this level of bad news, negativity and despair watching the network nightly news during an R Presidency” is exactly the wall I hit with the Battlestar Galactica redo. I thought it was interesting in the pilot movie and across the first season, was feeling like they were running out of surprises during the second season, and then when they decided to hammer me over the head with The Iraq War As Seen From Hollywood in season three I threw it against the metaphorical wall.

            • Birthday girl

              Thinking about how RES’s comment hit me (not at all meant as a comment on the comment, what RES said was fine), I just realized in a new way that when it’s someone you know personally IRL, suddenly these kinds of things (revolution, mayhem, violence, etc.) are a lot less entertaining and a lot more threatning …

  13. Joanna Russ “The Female Man”. It was an important book. Everybody said so. I can’t really remember much about it. I just remember that it was the first book that I couldn’t finish.

    • When a book is described as “important”, that’s usually a sign that I shouldn’t even bother with it because it’ll be a waste of paper and money.

      • “Important” usually does not mean “entertaining” when used to describe a book.

        The distinction is rather like that between food being “nutritious” and being “tasty.”

        I don’t even care whether the book has a nice personality; that isn’t sufficient basis for spending my time and money to be with it for a while.

        • “Important” is the ancient latin word for “castor oil.” Tastes like s*** but it’s supposed to be good for you,

        • Sara the Red

          Heh. But in the hands of a skilled cook, food can be both nutritious AND tasty–kinda like, if it’s in the hands of a good writer, a book can be both entertaining and have A Message.

          Which says sooooo much about the crappy message fic, eh? Bad cooks, as far as the eye can see…

          • Tasty sells nutritious far better than nutritious sells tasty.

            Ever notice the stuff the SJWs are hawking not only isn’t tasty but usually isn’t actually nutritious, either? They are like the activists in the 70s who insisted everybody should eat a diet of nothing other than dried beans, brown rice and millet (preferably bought, complete with gravel, at your local co-op) in order to express solidarity with the oppressed 3rd World. Frankly, my preference is to enable the people of the 3rd World to express solidarity with me rather than to express my solidarity with them.

            • Ever notice the stuff the SJWs are hawking not only isn’t tasty but usually isn’t actually nutritious, either?

              Here is what I don’t understand. When I want to learn things, I read non-fiction. When I am reading fiction I am reading for entertainment. I read fantasy or a mystery or what have you and what I want most is to be lost in a world or a character…I dont mind bad things happening per se, but I want there to be a good resolve or a happy ending or something that makes me think the book was worth reading. I don’t mind most things so long as they don’t slow down the story and I am well used to skipping over boring passages (boring sex scenes, hobbits singing, etc) to get back to the meat of things.

              I do not like being taken out of the story to think about modern politics.

              • That’s because their idea of art has two legs “preaches what I believe” and “shocks people.” The preaching part is boring, the shocks people puts people off, and there you have it.

              • Sara the Red

                Heck, I expect even my nonfiction to be written entertainingly. Which is why the first time I really got into and devoured a nonfiction book like a good novel was when I read Devil in the White City. Because he wrote it like a good mystery novel, by and large… (Fortunately, it seems many nonfiction writers–at least in the areas of history and science–seem to have twigged to the idea that “entertaining sells better”)

            • Sara the Red

              Hah. It reminds me of something I read awhile back by a paleo-diet devotee. (Now, don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of that diet that intrigue me–but I’m a hypoglycemic who requires a high-protein diet. But I will NEVER give up my cheese!) She was going on about how in the modern age women have monthly menstruation, and that’s just awful, because our cave-woman ancestors only had it once in a while and that was SO MUCH BETTER.

              After some thought, I wanted to get a big cluebat and whack her upside the head, telling her “That’s because they were on a freakin’ STARVATION DIET, you idiot!”

              So. Yeah. These people (both in the foodie world and in the writing world) need to get with the logic…

              • Yeah, I’m low carb (diabetes romps through my family!) but I cannot give up cheese. NEVAH.
                Er, yes, starvation. Also stress, to be fair.

                • ??? I eat standard market sharp cheddar that claims to be all protein and no carbs. Maybe I need to check the label again.

                  Online info ( says one cup provides 2g carb and 33g protein.

                  What kind of cheese are you guys cutting?

                  • No, not low carb. Paleo diet forbids cheese. (Rolls eyes.)

                  • Sara the Red

                    Paleo diet, boiled down to the simplest terms, is: fruits, vegetables, and anything with a face. (ie, eggs. Eggs are fine, but cheese is not. Grain is not–I suppose because agrictulture?)

                    Like most things, it’s utterly silly. But there are bits of it that appeal to my personal appetite (I actually really like vegetables, especially raw ones.)

                    • yeah, i just love the assumption that our digestive systems haven’t changed since the invention of agriculture…

                    • Oh, well, sure — our digestive tracts are essentially havens for bacteria and we all know how stable bacterial cultures are!

                      Personally, I find it humbling to think of myself as little more than a transport system for a bacterial colony. Betcha my bacteria process capsaicin better than yours!

                    • Yeah. What I miss on strict low carb is the restrictions on fruit. I MISS watermelon.

                    • I used to really like watermelon, then one summer at camp we got all the watermelon we could eat … and my cabin was a good 20 – 30 yards from the latrine.

                    • You have to combine paleo diet with a paleo exercise plan. For example, throw a rock at a Rottweiler to get the “oh-look-a-dire-wolf” part of the workout. MAJOR cardio, involves running, screaming, climbing, and cleanses the GI tract like you wouldn’t believe…

                    • Also quickly teaches accuracy in rock throwing… and force. Hit a Rottweiler accurately enough, with enough force behind the rock throwing, and the running, screaming, and climbing become unnecessary. At least until the Rottweilers owner appears on the scene.

                    • Went out last night to bring some plants in before the rainstorm Something BIG went thrashing through the brush right below the patio. Back inside with dispatch and a reminder why TX folk carry handguns outside. (Besides, we have exotic game ranches all over where I live now, so there’s no telling what might had hopped in a fence in addition to the usual critters.

                  • oh sorry, had beans yesterday.

              • But I will NEVER give up my cheese!)

                MarksDailyApple was the first place I read about it and his primal diet includes cheese if you tolerate it (and is a bit more 80/20 about the whole thing). I would never live without cheese unless forced.

                But yeah, the monthly menstration thing is hilarious. The other thing that was happening is that women were pregnant a lot more often than now. So….

              • That like ultra low body fat exercise fanatic women seeing the loss of menstruation as a plus. Of course the stress fractures from osteoporosis are a slight negative. But FITNESS! So live with it.

                • They’ve calculated. One hour a day of exercise — vigorous walking suffices — will get you all the life-extension benefits. Past that, it doesn’t go down but it doesn’t go up either.

              • Actually, our cavewomen ancestors scratched out menstruation day counters on bones, and we’ve found them. One of the oldest forms of calendar. So pbbbbt to those who don’t want women not to be healthy.

                (Though it’s very likely that she’s got fibroids or endometriosis or super bad PMS or other health troubles. That can take a lot of fun out of life, and make you less content with the existence of cycles.)

                Of course, if you get pregnant a lot, you also don’t menstruate very often.

                • Sara the Red

                  Well, and speaking as someone who is pretty damn miserable on a once-a-month basis, sure, I can definitely see the appeal in “only once or twice a year.” Provided, of course, it isn’t the result of some very nasty health problems…

                  And that’s cool about the counters. I didn’t know that! Makes sense, though, that such a thing would be one of the earliest forms of a calendar. After all, you don’t necessarily want to go out and taunt the ginormous predators while bleeding…

            • I tell folks the word “gluten” is German for “tasty.”

      • yes. If people want to describe a good book as important, they usually say that it’s a great book.

  14. Question for the regulars here,how come when discussing favorite SF books,no one ever mentions the Dune series?
    Or am I the only person who liked the series?
    I’m an avid reader,and there’s a lot of writers who’s books I quit reading because they were injecting either politically correct horsepucky,or leftist ideology into to their writing.

    • I loved Dune and can tolerate the next two. After that it became an assembly line and a turnoff.

      I have the same ambivalence towards the efforts to continue the Robert B. Parker series, which only show how hard it is to write as simply AND evocatively as Parker did. The TV producer “writing” the Jesse Stone considerations is the worst of the bunch. Every one of his sentences is just one prepositional phrase too long, and it’s evident that after years of reading screenplays he just doesn’t trust his readers to get an image or notion without beating you over the head with like stage direction. Worse, he does not understand the complex interplay of authority and affection between Jesse and his officers, not something you learn when you spend your life surrounded by production assistants and interns, I guess. Worst of all, he makes Jesse a whiner.

      I don’t blame him for killing off the Jesse/Sunny Randall romance; there’s a chance that might have been a marketing decision higher to try and bring in a chick writer to carry on the “chick mysteries”. Or it could have been the producer’s idea to carry on the bimbo-of-the-week tradition of TV detectives.

      • “considerations” = “continuations”

      • It matters a bit where you come in. When I first read Dune that was all there was and I loved it. Second book came out and because my memory for story details has its limits, I had to reread the first before starting it. It was okay. Third book came out and I reread the first and second books and then the third. Fourth book came out and I looked at it, looked at the idea of re-reading the first three and shook my head.

        Had all the books been available when I first read the first I propbably would have enjoyed the series.

        Sorry to hear that about Jesse Stone — I’ve quite liked the series. Parker is a good palate cleanser between more serious works even if his characters strike me as randier than anyone I’ve ever actually known.

      • I agree-the first three were good,with the first being the best-at the time,(1978)-I wasn’t going anywhere,as I was in traction in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio with 2 broken legs.
        There was no cable TV in hospitals at the time,and broadcast TV was not worth watching for the most part.
        I read Stephen King’s The Stand,was introduced to Dean Koontz,had already read Heinlein,read at least 5 books a week for the entire year it took until was up and about.

    • I’ve seen mentions of Dune several times as being liked, but it doesn’t appear to have had the effect on most people here as other stories did. For myself, I found Dune too convoluted, even though I did not dislike it. However, I didn’t read the following books, because it just didn’t interest me that much, even after hearing descriptions of them.

      • I enjoyed it, but I ended up as an environmental historian, where place has to be a main character. Which fits _Dune_ to a T. So I’d say it is very much a YMMV book, perhaps more than most “classics.”

        • RealityObserver

          Ah, you hit on exactly why I loved the first book – and detested everything after that. To be honest, I would probably have been happier with a sandworm POV; I was rooting for them more than half the time…

          IIRC, though – wasn’t there something in there about an *oil exporting* planet? Just had a discussion of that sheer idiocy over at TLK’s place.

    • I could never get into it. Perhaps in my case because of knowing a heck of a lot about Moorish history in the Peninsula?

    • Love it, but the series “Matrix’ed” itself in the sequels.

      • I thought the original novel rocked… but I was in the fifth grade at the time. I read two or three of the sequels and thought they stank.

        Re-reading Dune a couple of decades later, it was readable, but I thought someone should have used a chainsaw to cut some of the tedious bloviation out. I mean, it read okay… but even at my reading speed, by the time anything actually happened, I didn’t care.

    • I read Dune in high school, it was alright and had some interesting ideas and scenes. Human mentats, Shields against fast moving objects or beams but not slower moving knives. Genetic memory passed down from ancestors, although I don’t see a way that would actually work.

      My problem is I don’t like politics in real life or in fiction. And Dune was about 90% obscure, convoluted, byzantine, labyrinthine, and impenetrable politics.

      I prefer a more direct approach.

    • Sara the Red

      I read the first Dune book and liked it, but ceased liking it about a chapter into the second book. I’ve never been able to pick it up since.

      I quite liked the 80s Dune movie, even though it was far from faithful to the book. The SciFi miniseries was okay, and (I gather) far closer to the book. Which explains why I ended up disliking the books: the MCs are, when you get down to it, pretty deeply unlikable. (I really require the MCs of books i’m reading to be likable…)

      • Sara the Red

        I should clarify, because I agree with the “I hate politics in books” view: I liked the movie because it kept the awesome cool stuff, like the Voice and Shai’hulud, and ditched a goodly chunk of the politics. (And Sting in metal underwear is friggin’ hilarious.)

    • Thing I always thought about Dune was there should have been a way for ALL of them to lose. Kind of aristos that needed a damn good conquering from Boskone or maybe kzinti.

    • Glacial plot comes to mind. Dune is either the ultimate feminist triumph or fail. The whole book is the story of a man who wants to do something only women can do. (triumph) And then, we find out that not only can he do the same things, he can do them much better. (fail)

    • Dune is the first book I couldn’t read. I tried it in high school. And in college. In my 20s. In my 30s. In my 40s. I never got past the first 20 pages or so. Dry as sand (ha!). I’m nearing my 50s, and I will not be trying it again. Maybe there’s a story in there somewhere, and actual people I can “get”. But there are too many other books out there.

      Another one I couldn’t finish is all the rage at the moment: the Game of Thrones books. I read part way through the first one. OMG it was soul-deadening. The “strong” characters are slimy and evil. The “good” characters are weak and/or stupid. The few innocents are utterly doomed. Blech.

      I remember picking up a Gael Baudino (sp?) book once (once!). I didn’t hold it very long. I don’t remember anything about it now, except that it repulsed me within a very few pages.

      • Ah yes. GoT. I made it right up to the point where the brother was obviously pimping out his sister, and just put it down and walked away. Bleah.

        But loved Dune. The full-cast audio version was particularly good.

      • My problem with GOT is that is tries to follow a “real life” plot in a fantasy world. Then he just kills off main characters just for shock value or he became tired writing them. The series will never reach a conclusion because baring, an extinction event, “real history” just keeps plodding along.

        Plodding… The plot keeps plodding. ARGH!!!

        • Well, a winter that you don’t know when it will arrive, or how long it will be, possibly years, *is* an extinction event.

        • Glen Cook does it vastly better in the Black Company novels.

        • Sara the Red

          ^ And that is why I can’t bring myself to read the books. (And why I haven’t gotten past the first season of the tv version. Well, that and I get tired of boobs and sex as a means of exposition…)

          I admit that I fully expect him to pull a Robert Jordan and die before he finishes the books. And I fully expect that I will do exactly what I did when I heard Robert Jordan had died without finishing WoT and start laughing. And then I will have to go and apologize to my father (who enjoys the books) for laughing.

          • If he does, can we get Brandon Sanderson to finish that one, too?

            • I seem to recall that idea was floated to Brandon Sanderson by some fan, and he politely shot it down. Since I happen to think Sanderson’s worst is better than GRRM’s best, this does not displease me.

      • I knew Martin from “Fevre Dream” and “The Armageddon Rag.” Which were some of his early stuff, more or less in the horror genre. I liked them.

        Then I got a copy of “Tuf Voyaging,” which was… not very good. And like a lot of people I wandered out of the SF genre for a long time, and came back, and found that now Martin is supposed to be some major author, with a huge series that sounds like some kind of fantasy soap opera. And a TV series too.

        But… “Tuf Voyaging.” Angels may sing his praises, but not enough years have gone by to ease the trauma of that book.

        • “The Sand Kings” was awesome! Deservingly won a Hugo. GoT just plods.

          • Oh yeah. “The Sand Kings” gives me the creeps to this day and I read it once, by daylight. Great story, tight writing, hits all the notes.

            • John R. Ellis

              In addition to “Sandkings”, Martin’s ‘Portraits of His Children’ just might be one of the most potent, haunting stories I’ve ever read.

              That’s the frustrating thing about Martin. When he controls his yearning for self indulgence, he really and truly -is- so very good.

        • I borrowed Tuf Voyaging from the library a few months ago. Sorta like the Med-Ship stories, only the protagonist has a badly-dented moral compass.

    • I loved Dune for its take on prophecy. I waded through God Emperor just to see how it would play out. Other than that, I found it a slog. The rest of them became even more slogful (totally a word) until I gave up. I hated the movie but thought the SciFi mini-series was excellent.

      I’m looking forward to playing with something like Mercedes Lackey’s ForeSight that crops up in my universe.

      Reaching up-thread, the Piers Anthony book about the Fates had some similar issues. On a Pale Horse rocked! The series fell off a cliff after that (?sdrawkcab etirw ot dewolla eb ot rehsilbup ruoy yap ot evah uoy od hcum woH).

    • Birthday girl

      Like so many others, I enjoyed the first novel, but not enough to pick up the sequels. Though one thing has stuck with me … a couple years ago I was painting 12 ft tall walls and while I was up on the top of that ladder, the Bene Gesserit litany really helped calm my nerves … go figure …

      • yeah i mumbled it to myself before getting on the ‘one-rope bridge’ at Victory Towers in basic

    • I tried the original, and a couple of the sequels, now I usually finish books I start, but they were all so dull that I started skimming to see if anything happened, and when I didn’t find anything much interesting and when there was a scene where something happened it was so convoluted as to make no sense, well I put them down and never finished them.

      • I liked all of them and still reread them every few years. If he was writing the sequals today, SJW’s would scream bloody murder at some of the things he says in the last couple.

        Didn’t like the prequels, though. “House Harkonnen’ was the first novel I ever refused to finish, after the Baron comes up with the ‘subtle, unexpected’ plan of personally leading his troops on an attack against the Bene Gesserit homeworld. As a plan that wouldn’t suggest he had anything to do with it.

  15. I’ve certainly see plenty of messages in books, and annoyingly distracting mentions, but the one that really stands out to me that was so disappointing because I knew pretty much nothing about it going in it’s on almost all the best of lists…The Handmaids Tale. How I didn’t know this would be preachy nonsense I’m not sure, but I didn’t.

    Before that I definately had books I hated for various reasons but I can’t remember why. Pearl Bucks The Good Earth for some reason.

    I can power through some bad writing as long as something is there. I can remember one book that was so bad I actually threw it in the trash can instead of donating it. Kindle makes it much easier not to finish books for me, though. Maybe because it feels like it’s still just sitting in the que forever!

    • Handmaid’s Tale has the MOST wretched worldbuilding other than the Dinosaur Abomination. It’s like neither author ever met real people.

      • More like they met real people and didn’t care for them, at least in part because they didn’t share the author’s high opinion of herself. All the best opinions of how to reorganize the world are rejected by real people, after all.

        Isn’t that why we view our ideo-illogical opponents as The Faux?

      • Margaret Atwood is Canadian Writing Royalty. Which tells you absolutely everything you need to know about her work. I have never read it, because I know who Margaret Atwood is and what her favorite hobby horses are.

      • It’s like neither author ever met real people.

        I read somewhere the other day that Ms. Atwood saw the way Muslims were treating women in Iran I think? and wanted to write a book but didn’t want to write about that or was too chicken to do so. So she wrote it about christians instead. Because of course.

        That explained a lot.

        • Yes. That does. It makes no sense, but explains a lot. Projection and displacement. Without it, they’d have nothing.

          • I know people who absolutely rave about THT, think it’s the best book EVAH! I could never get past the fundamentalist christian cult taking over a country with almost 300M people. After Prohibition I don’t ever see this country coming to any sort of consensus on forcing people into intolerable choices, let alone slavery.

        • That makes sense. One of the ones I had to stop reading was Sherri Tepper. The hatred of men became not only pronounced but boring. She had one early book, however, that was clearly directed at the treatment of women in the Middle East.

          Wait for the shock and horror when everyone figures out what all the anti-Christian rhetoric on TV shows is really a metaphor for.

      • Live long enough inside your own head and you forget how to recognize them.

      • Yes, I’ve never read HMT, but I read enough fawning reviews and interviews of the author when it came out to know it was a thing to be avoided. Atwood herself admitted she basically threw all the lefty cliches/memes/tropes into the pot to make the world.

    • The Good Earth? = No one is good or even nice in it.

    • Yeah, The Handmaid’s Tale was a complete mystery to me when I read it (I honestly can’t recall if I finished it or not. I don’t remember consciously setting it aside, but neither do I remember it having any kind of an ending.)

      I still wonder how it got listed as Science Fiction. There wasn’t any attempt to make the society make any kind of sense–it was just “Men Suck.”

      • I read the whole damned thing – the main message is not just “Men Suck” but that “Evangelical Christian Men Suck With the Power To Pull The Chrome Off a Bumper (when they WERE chromed!)!”
        I got the same vibe from a trilogy by a dystopian-inclined fantasist named Suzette Haden Elgin. It was called “Native Tongue” – and a male hatefest from one end to the other. The Deity help us, it was apparently an experiment in linguistics, spun out to three volumes.

          • You realize, of course, that if it weren’t that men suck it wouldn’t be necessary for women to write books about how much men suck. They could instead write important books about water being wet, fire burning, bears being Catholic and the Pope taking a dump in the woods.

            So it is all men’s fault.

            (I hate to admit this but I have a sudden wish Gordon Dickson had written a book about the Dilbian Catholic church.)

            • Or these women could be delusional idiots looking for excuses to fail at human? Yeah, I know, unlikely, because women are naturally perfect and stuff because vagina, but you know, it COULD be true of some of them.
              And others could be opportunists seeking to profit off the vast mass of delusional idiots who were told they’re wonderful because vagina.

        • What’s worse is that Native Tongue is a trilogy. And it’s all Reagan and Bush’s fault, explicitly!

          • SheSellsSeashells

            I actually rather liked the first two Native Tongue books; Elgin’s got a knack for short vignettes that get her emotional punch punched, and the linguistic stuff was fun. One of the few people who can invent future-slang and make it sound like a natural part of its world. The THIRD book, though, got flung into a wall. “O hai, the thing we’ve been striving for for two books has been achieved offscreen and is totally pointless anyway because VIOLENCE IS BAD andcausedbypeopleneedingtoeatbecausereasons.”

        • The expression that I am more familiar with, is “sucks hard enough to suck the chrome off a trailer hitch”, which describes Handmaid’s Tale to a T.

      • As far as I can remember the ending was stupid and sucked. I think I finished it trying to figure out if there was ever a point. (Spoiler: no).

        The whole point of the book was abortion yay. Awful.

  16. One of my more recent “throw away” books was unfortunately Terry Pratchet’s “The Long Earth.” Tedious lack of plot, multiple timelines and characters without much explanation, and annoying main characters whom I just couldn’t get myself to like or care about.

    First one? That’s easy – the “White Gold Wielder” series. I finished the first one because my friends liked it. I refused to even crack open the others.

    The Shannara series were annoyingly internally inconsistent, and each book tells the same story with the next generation. I stopped halfway through the third book, and never looked back.

    • Sara the Red

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who couldn’t get into The Long Earth! Sadly, I ran into the same problem with “Raising Steam” his (second-to) last Discworld book. In Steam, I figured much of the lack of plot/other problems was an unfortunate result of his Alzheimer’s…but he co-wrote the Long Earth, so I don’t know what the other guy’s excuse was.

      • The Other Sean

        I encountered “The Long War” while on vacation, picked it up, and really enjoyed it. So I purchased “The Long Earth,” but I’ve yet to actually finish it. As for the co-wrote part, according to what I found, Adam Roberts of the Guardian found it to be “much more like a Baxter novel than a Pratchett one.” Maybe that’s Stephen Baxter’s normal type of novel? Certainly it didn’t seem like the Pratchett I’d read.

        • Stephen Baxter. I forgot about him. He’s a real downer. I forget the book because it’s gone away somewhere, but it left me depressed for days. Don’t know why I finished it, probably because there was going to be space travel and settlement so I figured we were going for a happy ending, but no. Definitely not.

    • Wait until July 23rd, when the 4th Long Earth novel is published, and read all four in one setting. “White Gold Wielder” starts out justifying a rape because the attacker has leprosy, and goes downhill from there.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        To be “fair”, Thomas Convent rapes the woman because he thinks he’s in a “dream world” where his leprosy is gone and he’s “overcome” by sexual desires that he hasn’t felt in years.

        Mind you, I dislike that scene and that series.

        • Very common opinion. But the rape occurs fairly early in “Lord Foul’s Bane”, and Covenant spends the rest of the book and the next nine paying for that selfish impulse at a high rate of compound interest. His physical leprosy has a moral counterpart, so yes, he starts out pretty ugly. But he finds health along the way.

      • Sara the Red

        Yeah, the whole justifying-rape thing killed the Covenant series for me instantly. I don’t care if the guy hasn’t had sex in forever because leprosy, or that he thinks it’s just a dream. I suppose it’s good that he ends up paying for that act/redeeming himself, but I just could not get past that scene. I like flawed characters as well as any, but there are some flaws I just can’t stomach. :/ (Which is probably why I’m not really a Game of Thrones fan, either…)

        • Yep. Killed it for me too, and the WRITING was slow and tedious. OTOH I should say I’m not a fan of epic fantasy.

          • Arg. There was no epic in that fantasy. At all. Yep, I dropped that one too, and have no shame of it.

            I’ve picked up one other that handled rape poorly- some space engineer indie… The Wandering Engineer series. You don’t just humanize an artificial character for four books or so, to the point of describing another rifling through and editing (deleting portions of) her memories as “rape,” and then drop the thread and toss off a bare few lines as “and then she got better.” It’s shoddy workmanship and shows a lack of respect for the reader. That or you need a better analogy. A *much* better one.

            A good epic fantasy should be like a good space opera, in some ways. Massive scale, intriguing characters, thick but quick plot (which is tough to pull off, I’m given to understand), and oh yeah some magic. And dragons and monsters and “stuff.” *grin* Some folks get lost in “my magic system is the awesomest ever!” (can’t remember the name of that one) and some go for “I seriously love politics. And torturous complexity.”

            As a reader, I do really wish someone would come up with a Safehold or a Destroyermen series with just fantasy. Yes, I get that the rewriting history with what-ifs technology is awesome, but the story, the pace, and the plot are… epic! At least, that’s on my wish list tonight. Along with whirled peas, a modest expense account, and an honest-to-goodness vacation. *grin*

            • Rob Crawford

              Have you read Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame”? College students from the mid-80s, playing an FRPG, get transported into their characters. Tragedy ensues. Seriously — this is a dark story at times.

              Eventually, the party wizard forsakes his magic (OK, they all give up something), and becomes the Engineer. The surviving students set themselves to creating a free society in the midst of a pseudo-medieval fantasy world. By the last books they were ruling an unsteady empire, starting a railroad, and the second generation of characters (more or less) had taken over the story.

            • I think Eric Flint did that, with a bunch of Marines finding themselves transported to The Odyyssey.. Title escapes me but it featured a pyramind ending up in Las Vegas…

              • “Pyramid Scheme” with David Freer. Loved it.

                • RealityObserver

                  Ditto. My first introduction to Dave’s somewhat… “odd…” sense of humor.

                  They’ve done Greco/Egyptian/Minoan. They did Norse. I really wish they’d do at least one more on Hindu. Although they’d probably have to drag John Ringo in for that one…

                  • I just read those books this week! (Loaded up Calibre with all the Baen CDs and have been working my way through the list.) There’s a definite opening for continuation of the story. We oughta send Freer & Flint a couple of round tuits with pyramids printed on ’em…

    • I’m sorry… Terry Pratchet?

    • I made it through the first one, got a few chapters into the second… and realized that I loathed Thomas Covenant, and had been rooting for the bad guys since shortly after they’d showed up in the story. And I quit there. I think I started one of the Gap books and gave up partway through.

      Oddly, Donaldson wrote some mainstream action/adventure that I thought was quite good – “The Man Who Fought Alone”, for example.

    • Birthday girl

      The Long Earth – I felt betrayed that nothing happened and they expect me to get the next book to find out _IF_ something will happen? Phhsssshhhttt.

  17. I’ve got a couple right here, one is Dante Valentine (the complete series omnibus) by Lilith Saintcrow. All rage-sex and supposedly smart magic users doing the -stupidest- things, plus demon good guys (wtf?) so really a dog’s breakfast of semi-feminist horseshit. Which was surprising and sad, because Saintcrow’s “Bannon and Clare” steam punk series is very enjoyable and contains some clever things.

    I also have Starhawk by Jack McDevitt here, and its just fucking boring. Lots of nothing going on, just some chick floating through the process of being a starship pilot. For all she does, they should replace her with a lemur. It would be smarter and less angst-y. If he edited the first half the book down to a couple of punchy chapters it might work. Can’t say about the other half, tedium has kept me from finishing. I may read the rest as penance for… whatever. I’m sure I did something bad someplace.

    • I bought Dante Valentine, on a whim, just before a weeks long business trip to an industrial site in the middle of a tropical jungle that we were not allowed to explore. Internet at dial up speed. I plowed through it twice due to sheer boredom. Sigh!
      Couldn’t even drink because it was a dry camp in a Moslem country.

  18. Stephen St. Onge

            The first book I ever failed to finish that I remember was “The Stardust Voyages” by Stephen Tall, a collection of four stories.  I only finished the second story because, having reached a sort of crescendo of badness, I wondered if it could possibly stay that stupid.  Yes, it could.

    • Huh. I particularly liked The Stardust Voyages. My copy is stashed in some box somewhere and I don’t recall which was the second story, but (given the way this is going) I’d be willing to be that it was my favorite, involving a world on which the only forms of life were lettuce, mill wheels, and stone blocks. The mill wheels were predators and would squirt the stone blocks with aspirin, melting them, and soaking up the puddles by rolling through them. The stone blocks fed by squashing the lettuce. No idea how the lettuce fed.

      • I suppose a redo would have to figure out a way to work in lizards and Spock…

      • I too loved The Stardust Voyages!

        I did hate The Good Earth though, which I had picked up because Pearl S. Buck was supposedly a great author. It cured me of ever wanting to read another of her books.

        • It cured me of ever wanting to read another of her books.

          I had to read it in school. I certainly never bothered with anything else of hers.

      •         The one you’re remembering is the first story in the book.  The one I wrote about was the second story, “The Bear with a Knot on his Tail.”

                I promise not to dislike you for enjoying that book, as long as you promise to never discuss anything else Stephen Tall wrote.

  19. My theory is that the quality of a story is approximately inversely proportional to the amount of sex in it. Heinlein fell off a cliff with “Stranger”. Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Frederick Pohl started to become repellent. I tried “Neuromancer” because it was supposed to be great stuff, and bounced off hard. The more SF&F started celebrating recreational and deviant sex, the worse it got. As a rule of thumb, the more tribute that is paid to sex-because-it-sells, the flatter and uglier the characters and the societies they live in.

  20. John R. Ellis

    ‘How NOT to Write a Novel’ discussed at length what seems to be the main problem with the first book….Compassion Fatigue.

    If your character only exists to be the Suffering Victim, to suffer and be victimized in order to prove that Pain is Bad….well, sooner or later even the most tender-hearted reader is going to go “Oh, cry me a RIVER already!”

    It also has something to do with anything pushed too far crosses an invisible boundary and becomes something else.

    Push the grotesque far enough and it becomes weirdly beautiful.

    Push depressing elements too far and they become laughably ridiculous, impossible to invest in.

    • Sara the Red

      Hmmm. That might be one of the (many) reasons I gave up on Wheel of Time in disgust. When the “hero” spends most of a 1000+ page book locked in a trunk going “Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy?” I’d had just about enough of that nonsense (though I did plow through one more book in the hopes that it was a fluke…)

      • For me, he lost control of his cast. It was like commentary on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade trying to narrate a five ring circus with acts running back and forth between rings, played in slow motion so you didn’t miss a thing.

      • You might try taking the series back up with the ones that Brandon Sanderson actually wrote based on Jordan’s outlines.
        Things actually start happening, and the stupidity quotient drops considerably.

      • Rob Crawford

        I have at times tried to figure out the ultimate F&SF theme park. The Wheel of Time attraction would be a long queue that snakes through scenes of sniffing, braid-pulling and whining, to eventually deposit the guest 10′ from where they entered the line.

        • Sara the Red

          Oh gods, yes. The women were the OTHER reason I stopped reading. They were ALL THE SAME CHARACTER. And apparently all the same shrewish, neckline-obsessed brat, too.

          I get it. Some folks have a hard time writing members of the opposite gender (I usually advise them to “start with the assumption that they’re people, just like you, and go from there…) But with Jordan I finally started wondering if he’d ever actually talked to a woman. Ever. At all. Or if he’d only ever met one, and she sniffed a lot, pulled her own hair, was a shrieking harpy, and obsessed over her neckline…

          • I understand that Jordan was married, back in a time when this required his partner be a woman, so he must have met at least one. I have noticed that some men never actually do talk to a woman, they merely talk at them. (I presume we can all concur this problem also occurs in the other direction, and is not limited to inter-sexual discussions?)

            As for the neckline obsession … I have been told this is the only area of a woman’s frontside that some men ever notice.

        • I must have been especially perceptive or something, because I crashed and burned in either the second scene or the first. . . .

          True, I had been primed to expect badness by the time I picked ’em up.

    • Birthday girl

      This is what turned me off Mercedes Lackey awhile back … too many poor abused protagonists … after a certain point, I just couldn’t care …

      • Sara the Red

        That, and some truly bad editing, is also what’s made me stop reading Lackey of late.

        I still like her early stuff, though. And one of her urban fantasies was set at my high school, so even though I rolled my eyes at huge chunks of the plot it’s still hilariously entertaining to read and think “I actually knew people like that, and that is exactly what going to that school was like…”

    • I suspect that this is a result of advice often given to budding writers: do bad things, horrible things, to your characters. This advice is understandable, because no one wants to read about a goody-two-shoes waking up refreshed, and then getting an A an her math quiz….

      But I think the advice misses the mark. The reason goody-two-shoes stories are so boring, is because the character isn’t doing anything…but it isn’t hard to imagine a story where nothing “bad” happens to goody-two-shoes, but in the process of getting that A on her math quiz, she had a *very* interesting study session the night before…

      Doing bad things to your characters isn’t sufficient for a good story–and it’s especially bad if, after the bad things happen, all the characters do is whine about their situation–but the reason why this advice is accidentally “good”, is that having bad things happen to characters gives the characters problems to solve, and for some authors, there will then be a natural tendency to have those characters then go and try to solve the problem!

  21. No problem for me–I’d read the e-mail about when it was supposed to go up today, so I thought it meant tomorrow. Love the discussion, though! 😀

    (BTW, I’ve also posted here as Akilika, just to clarify.)

    (I should probably note that I don’t mind if anybody likes the books I disliked? No skin off my nose. These are just the earlier things where I saw that “people are evil no-good monsters who will do everything they can to destroy the light and good in the world wherever they find it,” which… seems to be how a lot of people define “art.” Blech.)

    • Should also clarify that I never read The Handmaid’s Tale. A lot of my classmates liked it, but I was so sick of “evil men oppressing women” stories–which everything my friends said made it sound like–that I was never tempted to pick it up.

      (Mind, I didn’t follow their recommendations a lot. I mean, tons of them were also into Go Ask Alice, and… it always just sounded like “Drugs Are Bad: The Book.” I’ll pass. I got into Watership Down, instead.)

    • I don’t mind if anybody likes the books I disliked

      Sometimes it isn’t a matter of a book being good or bad so much as it is the fourteenth time in the last month you’ve drunk from this particular plot well.

      The last book may actually have been the first to use that plot, but that doesn’t save the plot well from having been poisoned.

  22. Feather Blade

    This may be less of a sign post on the way and more of a “You’ve arrived at your destination”…

    The Mortal Instruments series: Wherein Shadowhunters are the genetic descendants of an angel (which heritage gives them their powers), and wherein the Shadowhunters have had their numbers greatly depleted by internecine warfare and the dangers of their jobs.

    It is in this setting that the elder son and only daughter of one of the most respected, skilled, and powerful bloodlines decide that they will only date, respectively, other men and the (un)dead, thus effectively ending their bloodline, and depriving the world of their descendants who would have protected it, and the other Shadowhunters of their future comrades.

    And this action (and the similar actions of a pair of young female Shadowhunters) is met by the kind of gentle bemusement shown by middle class suburbanites meeting their daughter’s low-class biker boyfriend for the first time over Sunday dinner.

    This aspect of the series is just… paint-by-numbers “diversity” that makes no sense in the world as established.

    Which is a pity, because the rest of the story is pretty interesting.

    • But for those who loved the author’s fanfic, there is a pretty darned explicit Draco Malfoy in leather pants character. File, file, file off the serial numbers….

      Aeh, I’d probably read them all if they were free. I think I did read the first one or two from the library. I know how to read past the cracky parts.

      • Sara the Red

        I laughed so hard when I found out that series started out as Harry Potter fanfic. I wasn’t able to even finish the first book, but once I knew that, I realized that probably the fanfic was better…

        • I laughed so hard when I found out that series started out as Harry Potter fanfic.

          Seriously? Now I’m going to have to try to rememer what actually happened in them…

      • I’ve never understood the Draco In Leather Pants meme. I mean, I understand what people seem to want out of it, but I always founder on the (to me) unmissably obvious point that once in leather pants the character is not the same as the original character. Once you’ve changed everything but the name you might as well just change the name.

        Maybe it’s just that “Someone Who Vaguely Reminds Me of Draco In Leather Pants” was too long to write over and over again.

        • Once you’ve over-identified with a character, there’s a tendency to white-wash everything, just as people who recognize that acts are wrong in the abstract can easily fudge up excuses that justify them in themselves.

          • Sara the Red

            I don’t quite get it either. I mean, I liked Draco in the actual books–because he was small minded, petty, cowardly git, and it was never implied otherwise. I loved to despise him. But I still ended up feeling sorry for the little twerp–because amidst all the bad, he was still a human being, and still a kid. What I don’t get is why people who are fans of him feel the need to whitewash everything. Sheesh, just embrace the fact that, sometimes, utter gits are strangely interesting, even if it is a train-wreck sort of fascination. (This is the only reason I can peg for the Kardashians’ inexplicable popularity…)

            • You can’t admit that you love a git. Your love is in itself proof that the picture drawn is inaccurate.

    • Pretty sure I read some of those mortal instruments books after I saw the movie (with my teen novel adaptation movie going crew. This was not one of the better ones although It would be hard to be worse than the last few twilight movies). They were…ok? Readable but if I read too many teen novels in a row I tend to get irritated.

      Ooh, I just remember I somehow missed the vampire academy movie adaptation, heh.

  23. I hope I’m not too late to this particular party, but I really, really want to add my own pet peeve here. Can’t really name particular books and authors, because I’ve taken up and tossed away too many too quickly … but for the Love of Life Orchestra, why are there so few, so happy few, authors of steampunk/gaslamp fantasy who actually have any respect or fondness for 19th-century culture? Most of them seem to consider the Victorians to have been a horde of brutal, racist men oppressing as their property a flock of foolish, fashion-obsessed women, and keeping busy conquering and brutalizing gentle, “earth-centered” primitive cultures of wise, magical innocents. The main theme appears to be the moral and cultural superiority of the author to the characters being held up for our instruction. Fortunately, Frank Chadwick seems to have kept this out of his “Space: 1889” shared world, and I must admit that I haven’t been to Scott Westerfeld’s world yet. Life is just too short to read annoying/boring books…

    • I totally agree! Yes, there are grim parts of the Victorian age, but sheesh.

      • Actually, from the inside, the agents and editors viewed steam punk as “social critique” which I found out when they wanted me to write it. No social critique, no publication.

        • It seems to me that Victorian era social critique would be pretty easy. Simply express the values and conditions of the era in comparison to our own era, revealing through that contrast the many ways our contemporary times fall short of the standards adhered to by the Victorians. It would also be entertaining to display the many ways in which actual Victorian behaviours differed from our contemporary myths about the Victorians.


          Possibly not the social critique they were seeking, though?

          • Well, duh. It’s like the people who call for literature to be subversive. What they mean is that they want to think that it subverts the worldview of a hypothetical little old lady in Albuquerque, whom they imagine is still a Victorian.

            • For myself, I love writing about real and authentic Victorians – who weren’t half the prudes and hypocrites as they were later painting. The best of them were amazing people – amazing, gallant, creative, adventurous, and forward-thinking.

              • Like Sir Richard Burton, discoverer of the headwaters of the Nile, transgressor of Mecca and translator of 1001 Nights? Stereotypical Victorian, ayup.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Maybe in your “spare time”, you could write a “steampunk” done right. [Wink]

              ::Yes, I know about your shortage of spare time.:: [Smile]

        • MadRocketSci

          You know, wandering through the early years of aviation in the Dayton Air Force Museum, it struck me that *actual history* in the late 1700s – 1920s is pretty fantastic in and of itself. Look at some of the machines these people were building back then!

          It’s unfortunate that steampunk is heading into the social-whinging gutter: there is so much potential there. (I don’t have enough of a history background to do anything like it convincingly myself.)

          Jules Verne: Doing Steampunk before it was cool, while it was happening. 😛

    • Cheap superiority

    • Probably because they were writing to a template 19th Century for the most part. They were writing to Dickens and other romantics, all of whom HATED the industrial revolution. The ‘satanic mills” crowd lost the war but won the history. I’ve seem 19th century mills and even worked in one(the company made industrial gas compressors). They are hardly satanic. But Progressives never seem to be able to do the kind of research to make the stories real.

      • MadRocketSci

        Maybe the best fiction about any subject comes from someone who has a love, or at least an appreciation for the subject, and worst preachiest stuff comes from people that are enraged by/hostile to it?

        • It’s always seemed to be that way to me. And that’s probably at the heart of the current fight.

        • That’s it! Thank you.

        • Exactly – my current WIP has a heroine running away from a bad situation – by taking a train west, and being a Harvey Girl. One of the things that is coming out and which I am trying to make clear is what an absolute marvel and liberation the railway was, once it really got going in the western US. Travel – faster than a horse-drawn coach! More comfortable, and relatively inexpensively! Crops, cattle, luxury goods could be shipped across the country in a short time! I think of the 19th century railways, as I continue writing and researching, as a kind of internet. There were so many people that it enabled to make a good living, in all kinds of secondary industries – operating restaurants, organizing mail order stores, coming up with ever more luxurious parlor cars.

          • Steam ships were perhaps even more of change. It’s not just that sailing ships were slower (and so had a higher mortality rate), it’s that they could get where they were going, on schedule.

            Time was, you wanted to emigrate, you sold everything you could not carry, moved to the harbor, and prayed that a ship that you could sail on arrived before the money ran out, or you died of living in a not very healthy port.

            Steam ships? You sent your oldest son to town, he bought tickets, and you sold everything you could not carry, and arrived at port just on time. If you timed it right, you might not even have to spend a night ashore.

            • This reminds me of a story someone I once knew told me about why their ancestor came to the US. Seems he was challenged to a duel by the Duke’s son, which he won by killing the Duke’s son.
              He then promptly walked down to the harbor and got on the very next ship that was leaving, before the Duke’s men caught up with him and killed him.
              That ship just happened to be going to America, and so that’s why his family got started here.

    • Sara the Red

      Gah, amen to that. But I love steampunk, so I’ve sifted through a lot of dross and have actually found a few gems!

      (Okay, sorry for the ensuing blurb. TL;DR version: There are some good authors amidst the dross who *don’t* hate their source, or who have done good research/worldbuilding to create a believable steampunk world in which to write.)

      The Iron Seas books by Meljean Brooks. Okay, they’re fairly steamy romances, and past the first couple of books I started to get irritated (because some definite stupid had entered the plot). But the first couple of books are great. The worldbuilding is amazing–instead of the usual handwaving and “just add steam tech” there’s actual reasons. As in, the Mongols developed nanotechnology sometime in the 15th century, and used it to enslave/conquer pretty much everything but the New World. And so everything else was affected as a result. So by the time you hit the early 19th century, you have advanced steam tech and cybernetics…and the recently-liberated-from-nanobot-control Brits have serious issues, including some perfectly understandable racism issues. (The heroine of the first book is half-Mongol–thanks to the nanobots and related forced breedings–and so deals with some hate from her fellow countrymen. Instead of whining about it, though, she just sensibly accepts a bodyguard and gets on with her job as a police inspector.) Airships must be used because the Horde genetically modified critters in the oceans, and they are now hella dangerous to cross (and can only be crossed with old-fashioned wood-and-sails, because any kind of engine will attract the nasty kaiju-esque monsters). Most of Europe was devastated by a zombie plague, thanks to a modification in the nanobots that went very, very wrong. The list goes on, but basically the author did her research, asked herself “Okay, so how can I make a society that incorporates some things relating to 19th century culture, but also allows me to have a woman in what, at that time, would be a non-woman profession?” If it weren’t for the irksome incidences of alpha-jerk-as-male-lead, it would have been a nearly perfect book.

      Another fun steampunk-esque series is the Emperor’s Edge, by Lindsay Buroker. She went the entirely new world route, and it worked quite well. She has another series that is set during the Yukon gold rush that’s steampunk–but so far as I can tell there is neither heavy handed social commentary nor any hate for 19th century culture. (Insofar as it even makes an appearance. As it takes place in an isolated location at the height of a gold rush–well, obviously even in the real world the ‘usual rules’ didn’t apply. Several of the Yukon’s most successful and powerful businessfolk were women.)

      • I recommend the Romulus Buckle series by Richard Ellis Preston Jr. Action! Adventure! In a post-apocalyptic steampunk California!

        And, of course, Girl Genius

        Hmmm. . . is A Midsummer’s Tempest steampunk? It’s got anachronistic steam technology!

      • Have you tasted Naomi Norvik’s Tremeraire series? I don’t know whether it is steampunk and, well, the last couple books seem to be running low on steam, but it starts quite entertainingly.

        Now I think on it, there are good reasons to not read a series until the author is well and truly deceased.

        • Oops — Temeraire. I think I may have found why I’ve been running low on “r”s of late. Now, if only i could determine why my upper case “I”s have been running low, causing me to have to fill orders with lower case ones …

        • The Temeraire books take a hard SJW turn in the third book and just keep getting worse book to book, until by the time you get to the end of the Australia book, we’re in “why the British are the font of all evil” territory.

          • Don’t you hate it when an author practices such “bait ‘n’ switch” story-telling?

            At least she made the lot of the Russian dragons worse. Probably establishing a predicate for justifying the Marxists overthrow of the Tsar.

          • I’m trying to think when I dropped that series.
            I think it was after the fourth book happened.

  24. Just to throw a name against the wall and see who gets splattered: any opinions on Jack Chalker?

    I will reserve my own except to say I’ve read enough of his to have opinions.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Chalker had a “way” of putting his characters through hell. [Smile]

      Seriously, some of his books I completely enjoyed but others not so much.

    • Chalker… I kept reading him, trying to find out when there would be a point. And I finally figured out that the point was to torture the main characters.

      That said, I understand some of his books were horrible on purpose, because (rumor is) he could get out of his contract if they refused to publish something he wrote. But they didn’t refuse to publish that stuff.

      • I got rid of his books when I moved from SC. Yet many people adore his writing, so…

      • Sara the Red

        Well, the point of *most* exciting plots is to torture the MCs. But at some point, there has to be a, um, point (gah, it’s early, shutup) and/or a reward or payoff for the characters. I gather Chalker never reaches that stage…?

    • I read his “Well of Souls” series and it wasn’t all that bad, once or twice. I tried another series, and his constant body reshaping turned me off. Then the second Well of Souls series and its premise that the reboot of the universe was producing the same **** thing as the old, as well as turning kickstuff Mavra into a helpless victim of every brutal misogynistic society on earth…Nope. No more.

    • The Other Sean

      I thought all of Chalker’s stories I’ve read were well written, in terms of prose quality (and often pacing). Some I enjoyed. Other stories sometimes became frustrating as horrible things befell the characters I liked, seemingly for no good reason.

    • Loved the Four Lords of the Diamond, right up until the last one, where I didn’t like the ending. Rest of the series was pretty good, particularly like Charon.

    • Interesting comment about Chalker. The Flux and Anchor series was explicitly written as a commentary on Islam. He just didn’t tell you in the novel that was what he depicted. But I remember seeing a note by him at one point where he stated that openly.

    • Ran into him at a Philcon once. I showed him a copy of my ‘zine. He walked off with it. (It was a $12 book, IIRC).

      • Word at the time was that he wasn’t the most pleasant man on the circuit, I never spent any time in his presence other than to watch a few panels, mostly at Confluence. I really liked his early stuff, especially the original Well of Souls series and Dancing in the Afterglow. As he started getting contracts for those high-volume multi-books novels like the Dancing Gods and Four Lords of the Diamond, he started getting sloppy and indulged his fetishes in a way that did bad things to the books. I read him far longer than I ought to have, but it wasn’t much fun by the end. The Flux and Anchor series in particular was nasty.

  25. The first series that I remember consciously saying ‘No More!’ was The Gap series by Stephen R. Donaldson. I actually liked the first book. It wasn’t very long, had a fairly tight little story with characters that I hated (but in a good way). Then the next two books it seemed like he wrote without an editor. Some cool concepts, but he just rambled on and on and on. I pushed myself through the 3rd book and couldn’t take anymore.

    The last book I gave up on was Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. I was trying to widen my reading pallette and heard this was supposed to be a good feminist novel with plenty of sex. I think I made it a little over a third of the way through. Too much talk of shit. Actual shit as in various types of toilets and contemplating your bowel movements. Had it been an actual book it would have hit the wall after her description of having sex with a guy who literally shit the bed. ARGHH!

  26. Meredith Dixon

    While I definitely do *not* recommend that you go back to it and finish it, you threw *Delan the Mislaid* against the wall at its low point. The world itself, once we finally learn more about it near the end of the book, is mildly intriguing, or was to me when I read it many years ago in college: the world is shared by Delan’s avian species, the ground-based Walkers she grew up among, and an intelligent gestalt in the sea.

    My main objection to the book was and still is the astonishing amount of hermaphroditic sex the author managed to fit in; Delan, you see, is not just a special and wonderful bird among Walkers, she’s “a white-winged silver,” with the rarest and most beautiful plumage of her species, and once she gets home to her own people, that means, apparently, that every bird who sees her wants to sleep with her at once.

    Several years later, I bought the sequel, but I never got past the first chapter. The protagonist was Delan’s child, and I found her a repellent little brat.

    As another commenter upthread has said, my main problem with Bio of a Space Tyrant was that it was transparent political commentary: Anthony even says so outright in his preface.

  27. On a violently off-topic note, I’ve been looking around for some article Dorothy Sayers wrote that I think someone here posted a link to about playing “spot the would-be Nazi” at dinner parties?
    Does anyone have a clue about what I’m talking about, or is this all in my head?

  28. Birthday girl

    ” (I never quite pressed myself to reading the phonebook–which is sort of a pity; creating interesting names is something I still have trouble with.) ”

    Ah, but did you read the dictionary? I find it fascinating … and the encyclopedia, too, back in the day when those were on the shelf … many a rainy Sunday was filled with learning tidbits like that.

    • RealityObserver

      My high school had the complete OED. I remember falling asleep in the library, and waking up with *no* circulation in the legs…

  29. Anybody else here recall reading any Lawrence Watt-Evans? I first “met” him in regular columns in the Comics Buyer’s Guide (worth getting almost alone for the Fred Hembeck strips) doing, IIRC, a regular column called “Rayguns, Elves and Skin-Tight Suits.”

    I particularly liked a couple of his Ethshar novels and found the rest enjoyable. Some of his other series were also enjoyable, such as the Dragon series. I don’t recall thinking Tor promoted his work with much enthusiasm.

    • Meredith Dixon

      You’re writing about Watt-Evans as though he had stopped writing. He hasn’t. He’s just gone indie, so he’s not in as many brick-and-mortar stores. In recent years, he’s published several Ethshar novels as reader-supported serials, and he’s also done a couple of Kickstarters (one successful, one not). I believe he’s currently working on another Ethshar novel. His website is The Misenchanted Page,

    • (Sigh) Now, who’s going to write the story with Elves in Skin-tight Suits and Rayguns?

    • The Ethshar books have been consistently good reads, and “The Misenchanted Sword” and “With a Single Spell” are still loved and on my shelf where a lot of other books were deemed not worth packing over numerous moves

  30. Since nearly everything else has been covered, I’ll throw in my reaction to Hugh Howey’s “Wool” series. Excellent writing and worldbuilding, but when I finally discovered how the world ended up destroyed with 51 (if memory serves) missile-silos-turned-microcolonies as the only remnants of humanity, it took a lot of my enjoyment away.

    *** SPOILERS ***

    It turns out the world was destroyed INTENTIONALLY by a group of US politicians who intend to make a new world to their design using the people from the silo colonies in the distant future when the Earth becomes habitable again. Their plan is set out in programmed documents to be read and followed by themselves after they have taken a memory-suppressing drug for all of the time they are not in suspended animation. This preprogrammed and memoryless society is viewed as the only way to create socially stable communities that will last.

    This is as unlikely an evil as Margaret Atwood’s religious dictatorship. They recognize that what they are going to do is so evil that they have to blot it from their own memories, even in the control silo. It is vaguely hinted that these are Republican right-wing sorts. Hundreds of people are in on the conspiracy. Umm…

    • Golly, that sounds as if we caught the Russkies in a classic mine shaft gap!

      • My tecollection is that they released a nanovirus to destroy everything, no enemy was threatening… By controlling the few survivors, they planned to rebuild under their control. Insane idea. To make it believable, there would have to have been a real threat to US survival.

        • Nah. Eebil right wingers are like that. It’s on account of all of them being eebil. And stuff. (Rolls eyes. Just watched a thread on FB with Brad being sweet sanity and my other colleagues pretty much maintaining that we’re eebil. Also we write bad stuff. Because eebil and conservative, so we’re not original and have no new ideas. I think I need to kill more people in this book.)

          • There’s plenty of realistic evil to go around in human behavior — insecurity, fear of loss, revenge for being injured and mistreated. You don’t have to posit ridiculous conspiracies. Even the Nazis tried to disguise what they were doing with the Jews to avoid stirring up internal opposition — that’s about as evil as humans get, which is why we cite it so often. Our politicians can be corrupt liars and hypocrits, but never approach that level of evil. Howey’s series would have been better if it didn’t have that unbelievable premise. It would not have been hard to come up with a more likely explanation — alien attack and destructive blowback with only the silos surviving.

            • Yes. I agree. I’m simply saying that because they control the culture, the left tends to view us all through a simplistic and not at all realistic lens. So this leads to weak plotting and also demonization of opponents. Sigh. Which makes our fight hard.

              • Not really related to this thread, but: Last night, my wife was watching one of her Cop shows (which I have even stopped watching with her due to burnout), and I walked in shortly before they said that the bad guy was affiliated with a “right-wing extremist group”. I asked her, “Are the bad guys ever part of a LEFT-wing extremist group?” She didn’t answer.

                • Sara the Red

                  You know, I actually saw an episode of the Mentalist where they came across a murderer-in-hiding who had, in fact, been a member of a left wing ecoterrorism group back in the 70s. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor…But that is really the only example I can think of anywhere.

              • As Haidt has demonstrated, the Proglodytes only perceive half as many moral dimensions as doe conservatives; they lack nuance and complexity in their moral understanding.

                As we have discussed, they like MESSAGE in their fiction in large part because message sails right past them (reference: recent discussion of Heinlein.)

                OF COURSE they think us simplistic and eebil; in the Kingdom of the Blind the one-eyed man is delusional.

            • Even the Nazis tried to disguise what they were doing with the Jews to avoid stirring up internal opposition — that’s about as evil as humans get, which is why we cite it so often.

              Thing is, the way it’s framed it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

              When you get enough information to find out that they went for the disabled, and that they defined “Jewish” with a series of measurements as well as going by ancestry, put that with “people who are in the way” getting sent to the camps…it makes a lot more sense, and it’s a lot more human.

              Which is probably why it’s always set up in an alien way. If you put it in the “killing off the people who are or may be a hassle,” with the Jews being just part of a range of trouble, it’s much more uncomfortable as being reasonably possible to happen here and now. Recognizing a single, large pattern of mostly “eugenics”… *shudder*

          • Patrick Chester

            ….so we should all grow mustaches to twirl and work on our evil laughter?


            Hm. I defnitely need more practice.

          • Sara the Red

            What I love is the constant assumption the folks who write this kind of drivel seem to have that people are utterly blind, stupid sheep who will meekly do what authority tells them to…oh, wait. That’s because that’s what THEIR side would do. (Or at least, that’s what they believe. I rather think they’d be in for a nasty surprise–I know plenty of lefties who would happily shoot anyone who attempted such a thing in the face, regardless of their political affiliation.)

          • Ah. The cult of “original” or “Literary Status Envy” as Eric would put it (absolutely overrun by that cult)

        • I did not know this was the plot of that wool series. I think I have the first one on my kindle but never got to it. This though:

          they planned to rebuild under their control

          reminds me a bit of the Divergent series. With more cracked out thoughts that I won’t get into because spoilers I guess.

          • Feather Blade

            Wool is a pretty interesting series.

            I didn’t think that the Controllers read as right-wing, because I associate large-scale, forcible social engineering with leftists.

            Has anyone read Howey’s Zombie novel?

            The best-written, strongly-characterized novel that I never, ever want to read again, I tell you what.

    • I never got past the first Wool book, myself.

      Nothing to do with Howey’s ability to write, because he definitely can, I just found the ending so unsatisfying that I never bothered to pick up any of the others.

      • Rothfuss – name of the Wind

        The guy can use words, but a more pathetic, pointlessly beat upon, “I’m special and no-one recognizes it” with bad stereotypes of jocks/etc. is hard to imagine.

        Never finished the book – and that was a library checkout.

  31. Tribalism — the lefties tend to think they are so advanced that they don’t suffer from it. They bend over backward to be accepting and nonjudgmental toward other cultures but think their own close cousins are actively evil. This is bizarre. I am reminded of visiting Barcelona and hearing the stories of how the Civil War partisans raided the catacombs of the churches and paraded the bones and body parts of the long-dead priests, who they viewed as the focus of all oppression.

    • Heh. Have you seen their Twittering over the Bruce Jenner interview? They were all in favor of him being a her, right up until he admitted that because he believes in the Constitution he is a Republican.

      The Twitter supporters reversed field so hard that they left scorch marks on the internet. Hurled fifty-seven varieties of homophobic slurs at Jenner, too. It sure is a good thing they are more tolerant than are the nasty homophobic conservatives.

      • Sara the Red

        Oh, wow. That’s…wow. I hope that behavior gets widely publicized, so even more folks learn the truth of their “diversity.”

        • NY Post editorial today:
          Live and let live — from Bruce Jenner to Ted Cruz
          Bruce Jenner actually managed to make some news in his interview with Diane Sawyer — by coming out as a Republican.

          That prompted a few outraged tweets, but for nearly any American who tuned in, it just made the Jenner story more fun. We even spotted the odd “Jenner-Rubio 2016” post.

          Most Americans are live-and-let-live types; if you can credibly frame your cause that way, you’ll do just fine.

      • If it spares me from covers about him in the grocery store I’m okay with it. NO, not really,but look, I’m not even that interested in my own family. He’s been all over those covers for months, and I had no idea who he was.

  32. I’m currently listening to Arthur Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” and I am really surprised by how preachy and naive it seems to me now. As a teenager I was amazed by the story, and it’s still a good story, but first you have to wade through pages and pages of One World Central Planning propaganda.

    “Of course eliminating nations ended war, and eliminating religion ended ignorance, and since there was no war everybody had plenty of free stuff, and so there was no crime. Everybody could have sex with everybody else and so there was no jealousy or crimes of passion.”

    Seriously, a good third of the book is Clarke talking about how wonderful everything would be if only we would give up the idea of personal freedom and just let the right people run everybody’s lives.

    •         I think CHILDHOOD’S END is an excellent book, but Clarke does have what I think is an unrealistic picture of human nature.

              But that’s OK.  The whole point of speculative fiction is to speculate.  It’s the people who insist that they know what the future will bring who are annoying.

    • Blech. No wonder I didn’t care for him.

  33. I think I mentioned before how much I hated Sassinak (I went and looked it up, and was surprised it was Baen). The thing that really put me out of it was how Vegetarianism was the true sign of civilization.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      One of Chris Nuttall’s early books had a multi-species Federation that believed killing animals for meat was “uncivilized”. (IIRC they had “artificial foods” for protein).

      Earth had barely meet the requirements for membership so the Federation made contact. (Earth scientists were working on a FTL method that would caused major damage to Earth).

      Well one of the alien corporations needed colonists for a planet they were developing and had more volunteers from Earth than they expected.

      Well, the humans had “problems” with the idea that they couldn’t hunt & eat the animals of the new planet. Of course, there was also the problem that the number of humans settling the new planet meant that by Federation Law the planet reached the point of “deserving self-government” sooner that the corp wanted. [Evil Grin]

      Oh, Chris was obviously on the side of the “meat-eaters”. This was only a small part of the novel. [Smile]

    • Sassinak was built off of the worst two (sort of, they were later republished in one book because they were really one novel in two bindings) books, IMHO, that McCaffrey ever wrote. Since Vegetarianism as a true sign of civilization was a major foundation of that worldbuilding, Moon was pretty much stuck with it. That really bugged me as well, there were other things I had problem with in that universe, including us stupid little prole humans needing to listen to our betters, but that was my biggest problem with it, also.

      I’m sure Baen picked it up, because Jim knew he could sell anything with Anne McCaffrey on the cover. I’m not sure how everything came about, but McCaffrey had previously mentioned wanting to coauthor a book with this new writer, Elizabeth Moon. Since Moon was a Baen author at the time, I suspect that Jim jumped at the chance to publish McCaffrey, and I’m sure Moon wasn’t opposed to being paired with a legend in her field.

      • In all fairness, I’ve got a story where I use that “vegetarianism is the mark of civilization” thing.

        I just have the civilization sucking like a Hoover powered by a black hole.

  34. Very rarely will I put down a book unfinished. I am a masochist like that at times. Same with most series, I have to see it through to the end…if possible (then there’s “Wheel of Time”, GoT, numerous others). Funny, I think I have read most of the awful stuff in my youth looking for that one definitive story that truly doesn’t sucketh. That being said I have unfortunately forgotten the truly bad ones (yes there’s a few that I put down before pitching through the closed window). Others I have declaimed as truly offensive (Empire of Madness I think it was? [did a favour for a friend doing a post modernism lit course for her masters, she still owes me for that one {one of the few times where I exclaimed “Good!” on discovering the demise of an author}}).

    Some authors though have good days and bad ones (or is it books?). The trick is not throwing the baby out with the bath water for one that writes decently fairly consistently. One big turnoff for me is obvious axes to grind in a book.

  35. The first sign of it for me was Sheri S. Tepper’s novel _Grass_. It was widely praised and my housemate brought a copy along on a trip we took together in the early Nineties. I read it after I’d finished all the books of my own I brought along. It sucked, in the chrome trailer hitch range. Dumb plot, dumb worldbuilding, dumb characters. If you like horses, you might enjoy it because Tepper obviously loves horses. But if you like human men, you might give it a miss because she obviously hates them. Literally ALL the sympathetic male characters are actually or symbolically emasculated in some way. Actual masculinity is synonymous with evil.

    That was just the first wave. The tsunami didn’t really hit until around 2000. That was when I started going to the bookstore, looking at the shelves, and seeing not a damned thing I wanted to read.

    • Eh, Tepper hates humanity in general. The “happy ending” of her books — I read a number under a certain sick fascination — are brought about by tiny elites working ruthlessly and without even the awareness of the mass of humanity and in the most tyrannical manner. Magically forcibly aborting women (so they don’t even know what happened to their babies) if they had two kids already — magically murdering toddlers and babies who are third or later children (and making the bodies vanished) — massive Ministry of the Truth style rewriting of history, to stop space travel by convincing people that we had already colonized outer space, or to eradicate from history the knowledge that this small elite had committed genocide (oops! We didn’t mean to wipe out ALL of humanity, just most of it — and in the work, they are explicitly praised for the censorship) — mentally operating on people so they will collapse whenever they say “fighting words” — breed people like sheep (explicitly used as an analogy by the guys doing it) — and more.

      • Some of her earlier stuff is interesting, though—her True Game books have male characters who aren’t jerks (as well as members of both sexes who are) as well as an interesting critique of lenient judicial practices. Most of them are out of print, so I’ve only read the series as a whole once. (Still need two of the nine to complete my set.) Reminds me that I’ve got to cull my paperbacks, though, because I’m getting rid of the “will never read again” stuff… and I can think of a couple right now. 😉

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          The last of her Footseer novels showed the beginnings of her downhill trip. [Frown]

        • Yeah, well, the critique of lenient judicial practices was about a sociopath. And the way the True Game handled this was to have Midwives who murdered such children at birth.

    • Birthday girl

      Ack! The only Tepper I read was that Women’s Country thing … now I have a reflexive aversion to her name … and just last week, I saw a new book of hers in the public library, and I’m wondering who in this deep-red flyover region enjoys her ideas?

    • Yes. This is when I started having money to buy new books, and oh, deary me, it sucked like a hoover.

  36. Lets see… there was Stephen Donaldson, in both Thomas covenant and The Gap, writing characters I couldn’t sympathize with. David Feintuch did the same thing with ‘The Still’ and ‘The King’.

    There was Dennis L. McKiernan, writing a fantasy series where books are set five thousand years apart and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Not to mention copying Tolkien way too closely for his first five books (verbatim, occasionally.)

    There was Chris Moriarty, writing a ‘Ghost Spin’, in which the Israelis were auctioning off WMDs to the Arabs to keep the United States from getting any.

    There was Karen Travis, writing a series about eco-conscious aliens. Who exterminated an entire continent-wide city of aliens because they were threatening the survival of an intelligent species in the oceans. The aliens in question didn’t know about the intelligent natives, and the ecofreaks didn’t tell them. They just killed. These were the heroes, mind you.

    There was Phaze Something by Piers Anthony, with a gay rape in a theater for no reason, followed by a child molestation scene. For no reason.

    There was ‘Starhawk’ by Jack McDevitt a couple months ago, which I had to quit in the middle because it was so boring. Didn’t like doing that, either, since I like Priscilla Hutchins.

    Too many others.

  37. I second (third?) Steve Donaldson’s “The Gap” – couldn’t finish the first book. I was a little thick when I was young and made it through the first Thomas Covenant series pretty much by not noticing all the angst because I thought the world building was so interesting and different so it was “leprosy blah blah blah skim skim OH THAT’S COOL” for me at that time. Subsequent rereads left a less favorable impression. I got through the second trilogy on the strength of actually traveling to all the places that were mentioned in the first as places of myth and legend. It was a bit of a slog, but when I was younger I HAD TO KNOW how things turned out. I agree about 90% with the commenter who said there is nothing really epic about that “epic fantasy” in the traditional sense of epic fantasy; the setting is certainly that of an epic fantasy, but the themes are all about Covenant working out his issues, not epic at all. With the exception of the Giants – I think the Giants, their backstory, and then meeting and traveling with them in the second series – all great “epic fantasy” moments. His “Mordant’s Need” duology was a little slow but OK. Also very much angsty in its own way. There’s way too much Freud in a lot of this stuff from the 70s-80s. We really didn’t need to see you working your issues out in public at such great length, thanks.

    I got bored with Farland’s Runelords books sometime in the early-mid 90s – didn’t care enough any more to buy the next volume. Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer books and Thomas Harlan’s Oath of Empire quartet in the early ‘oughts were probably it for me in Fantasyland. I finished both series, and wasn’t really happy about it either time. I nearly threw the final volume of Oath of Empire across the room – literally could not believe that was how it ended. After that I got more selective about what I would buy to read – especially if it was a series – and spent more time checking out Amazon reviews before buying into something new. Particularly after I got iPhoned up in 2007 and went all-ebook; then I was buying pretty much exclusively from Amazon anyway.

    I always had some sort of genre lifeline though – for awhile in the early to mid-2000s it was discovering Bujold – Miles Vorkosigan pretty much got me back into SciFi. I bounced off John Wright’s Golden Oecumene books in the early 2000s – I could tell they were quality, but needed another 10 years to find the philosophical background and maturity to really understand what he was doing. Before that there was an unsteady dribble of Black Company sequels. I reread the three Dream Park novels a lot in the 90s. And a lot of the back catalogs of Niven, Steven Barnes, and Pournelle – I discovered all of the Falkenberg stories in there somewhere, and the Mote sequel came out sometime around the mid-90s. And I admit to Wheel of Time as a guilty pleasure, mostly because I just wanted to know how it all turned out, no matter how much the characters pissed me off. And then there was Vlad Taltos and Harry Dresden and Sarah and Larry and now indy publishing and SO MUCH TO READ.

  38. So I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t give a rats a$$ about what happened in Bio of a space pirate? It took me over 2 years to get through vol.1, and I gave up. The ending made me vow to never pick up any of the others in that series. Everyone else is dead, several of them sacrificed themselves to keep you alive, oh yeah, I guess being able to read and write in English is enough to let you gain entry into Jupiter, or, I’m tired of writing so I’m done here.