Chad, over at [Uncertain Principles](http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2006/10/cranky_book_meme_voted_off_the.php) found an interesting meme, which I thought would be fun to take a stab at:
>What authors have you given up on for good? And why?
Darn good question, that is. I’m often fascinated by comparing an authors earliest stories/books to their later ones, to see how they changed. And there are definitely a few authors who’s work I really enjoyed at one time, but who have deteriorated to the point where I’ll never read them again. I’ll tell you about three of mine – feel free to add your own in the comments.
### Steven King
The thing about Steven King is that he comes up with some really great ideas. But he’s not a good enough writer to be able to carry out those ideas. In the early days, when he actually had *editors* helping him cut his books down to a reasonable size, it was frustrating seeing him not make an idea work the way it should, but the books were generally enjoyable enough, if a bit on the wordy side.
But then he got famous. Famous enough to tell the publishers “No edits, or I’ll take my books elsewhere”. That’s when his novels went from being a little bit wordy to gigantic rambling monstrosities. Not only that, but without editors keeping a tab on him, his tendency to screw up great ideas got *much* worse – with no ability on his own to recognize the difference between the good stuff and the bad stuff, and a refusal to accept criticism that pointed out the bad stuff, his books just went to hell.
I gave up on King after “Needful Things”. It’s typical of how King can come up with a fantastic idea, and turn it into utter trash. The idea is simple but wonderful. In a small town in New England, a man moves into town, and opens a store. If you walk into that store, he has *the* one thing that you want most in the world. And he won’t sell it to you. But he’ll *give* it to you in exchange for a promise to do him a single favor whenever he asks.
Just imagine what a good author could do with that setup.
King starts off OK, but he ends up with the shopowner handing out Uzis.
What a waste.
### Orson Scott Card
Card used to write wonderfully imaginative and creative novels, with compelling characters – often characters with deep flaws, but always portrayed with a great
empathy. Stories like “Hart’s Hope”, or “Songmaster” were very unusual, excellent books. Even Ender’s Game, which is very overhyped, was a great read.
Then his Mormonism started to assert itself, and he gave up on writing about
interesting, compelling characters. Instead, he started to do endless crappy rewrites of Mormon theology, and to rewrite earlier novels in order to try to
change the events of the novels to fit better with his newly assertive loony politics.
### Laurell Hamilton
I really liked the early Anita Blake novels. They were trashy, but fun. Hamilton set up a world *almost* like our own, except that vampires and other supernatural creatures were real, and had recently achieved legal recognition as citizens in the US. The early novels were fairly hard-boiled mystery thrillers written in the first person of view of a seriously bad-ass woman vampire executioner. They definitely had sexual content, but it was mostly in the background, and more often implied than exhibited.
Over time, they’ve degenerated into bad porn with barely even an *attempt* to connect the dreadful sex scenes by a skeleton of a plot. The problem isn’t that
the books went from having implied sexual content to very explicit sexual content. That would be fine. But, as the sexual content increased, the *plot* decreased. The last one of her novels that I started reading had, quite literally, approximately 6-7 pages of plot in the first **200** pages of the book. All of the rest of it was porn. And she’s not even a *good* sex writer. It’s *bad* porn.
Michael Crichton – I liked his early stuff, like Eaters Of The Dead, read Jurassic Park before the movie, but his latest, “Global Warming Conspiracy R Us” book, and his cozying up to G Dubya ruined him as an author to read for me.
I also agree with your Orson Scott Card call.
I’ll take the geeky tech route:
William Gibson – As usual, the early stuff was fun. However, his new books are the equivalent of technology name dropping. Each plot device was a mirror of the current “fringe” technology. He strikes me as the old guy trying to be cool for the kids. It ended with Pattern Recognition. I barely finished that book.
Neal Stephenson – He can really setup a great story. He just can’t finish one. Cryptonomicon was great until the end which made me sell the book to Half Priced Books. I think I purchased a Forgotten Realms fantasy-trash novel with the two bucks. I can’t imagine even approaching the Baroque Cycle
Many of the same problems as you listed for Steven King.
The “Dune” series-
OK Frank Herbert is dead, but what a wretched mess his son has made of the series.
I agree about Stephenson’s total inability to write endings. I still enjoyed Cryptonomicon. But the Baroque Cycle – I bought the first book in hardcover the day it came out, and I’ve *tried* to read it at least a half-dozen times. But I just can’t maintain *any* interest in what’s going on, and I always end up dropping it. I haven’t totally given up on him; I want to see what he does after Baroque… If it’s no better, then I’ll give up.
Oh god, Dune. I got two of the novels by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson, and I was terribly depressed by them. Dune isn’t great literature, but it’s got a fantastic setting with a lot of interesting depth to it. Brian got ahold of it after Frank died, and didn’t even bother to *read* the original Dune series. There’s so much in those books that is absolutely inconsistent with the Dune series, and so much more that is just idiotically stupid. (The Mentats, the Bene Gesserit, and the Guild were all started by *the same person*? The giant robots with human brains? Etcetera. God, what crap!)
This may sound like heresy, but I was never all that impressed by William Gibson, even his first novel.
I once quoted something from one of the original Dune books to a relative, and seeing as how that proves I am a big fan, I now get treated to the newest installment of that crap every christmas.
You’re right that is heresy. However, I was 14 when I read Neuromancer. It helps if you are 14, addicted to computers, and have no friends. Then, Neuromancer is wicked.
@Orac (et al.):
I was never that impressed by William Gibson, either. So we can be heretics together!
I read Neuromancer out of a feeling of obligation: in order to understand the history of science fiction, one has to be familiar with cyberpunk, and one cannot know a genre without knowing its canonical works, etc., etc. I can sort of get how somebody could have thought it was “revolutionary” in some grand stylistic sense, if they hadn’t read many books before then. And you know, I haven’t had the urge to pick up Neuromancer again ever since I first finished it. (Contrast this with Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, which I’ve read multiple times in both English and French.)
Now seems as good a time as any to quote a David Brin essay:
Oh, by the bye, it’s S-T-E-P-H-E-N King.
Your call on Stephen King was right on target. I read a short story or two and gave up permanently. You’ve got more patience (and, perhaps, broader priorities) than I do; I was never able to tolerate sloppy writing in return for good ideas.
Unlike King, who has always been an untalented and careless stylist, Alfred Bester (1913-1987) was universally recognized as one of the very best science fiction writers practicing the craft in the ’50s and ’60s. He won the first Hugo for The Demolished Man, followed that with The Stars My Destination, considered by many to be the best of all SF novels, and a raft of brilliant short stories — then sank at the end of his career to writing the forgettable and unreadable Extro! and Golem100.
A sad, sad slide for one of the greats.
Ye gods, what Brian Herbert hath done to the Dune saga… I’ll be the first to admit that Dune went totally downhill after Children, but BH brought the whole suckitude level up to a new plateau. I read The Butlerian Jihad and House Atreides and (almost) managed not to throw up in my mouth, but halfway through The Machine Wars I “accidentally” threw the book away. Oops! Muscle spasm!
I’ve never read any Laurell Hamilton, but it sounds like the exact scenario that caused me to drop Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire series. I really enjoyed the first couple books, which did have some romance elements but nothing that detracted from the stories, but then it just degenerated into smut. The plots were just segueways between unlikely S&M situations.
Robert Jordan. The first Wheel of Time book (if you got through the beginning) was alright, but, COME ON! I know it’s making you a fortune, but END THE SERIES ALREADY!
Gregory Maguire. (Wicked, Mirror Mirror, etc). Ok, so I guess I never really liked his work. Wicked was pretty good, but over-hyped and sucked completely at the end. Similarly with Mirror Mirror and the others, except those weren’t even all that good.
You know, I didnt give up on Stephen King until I read “Wolves of the Calla.” I forced myself to read the rest of the Dark Tower series, and was really annoyed. And then he redid “The Gunslinger,” his best book, because it didnt read like his work. Idiot! Doesnt he realize it was only good BECAUSE it wasnt his normal fare!?
King and Card would be #2 and #3 on my list, too. (“Needful Things” was also the one that made me give up on King. What are the odds?)
I’d have to go with Robert Jordan as #1. I remember how much I liked “The Eye of the World”…my thoughts were, “It’s kind of Tolkien-derivative, but he’s got his own voice, and the female characters are interesting. This is going to be a great trilogy!” But each book moved more slowly than the one before it, and I started realizing that the female characters all had exactly the same personality, and it was the sort of personality that gets more and more annoying as time goes on.
But I still think that if you compressed the 15+ books down into a trilogy, it would be pretty good.
(I wonder if I should mention Piers Anthony, too. When I was 16, I couldn’t get enough of his books, but a few years later I was embarrassed to even own them. His writing style didn’t change, though…)
I actually delaying giving up an King because of the Gunslinger. I *loved* the original stories that he turned into the first book. It’s by far the best thing he ever wrote.
But when I got the next book, I was really annoyed. As usual, he pissed away the potential. Drawing of the Three was typical King garbage – the entire tone of the writing changed to his usual dreck, and the entire book could have been condensed into a 20 page short story, instead of a 400 page novel. 400 pages is short for King, but in those four hundred pages almost nothing happens to actually advance the story – in typical King fashion, he can’t keep track of what the point is, and writes endless words about irrelevant nonsense for no good reason at all. (I mean, is there *any* reason why we need the details of when and where the junkie shoots up so that the injection scars won’t be visible to airport security?)
Orson Scott Card
Never read earlier work, but Ender’s Game treated some difficult subjects great. Already the next one was sinking into woo…
Andromeda Strain is readable, the rest hype.
Great idea in Dune, used and reused until it is as dry and tasteless as the desert.
Eric van Lustbader
Same as Herbert from The Ninja onwards.
Jean M Auel
Same as Herbert from The Clan of the Cave Bear onwards, compounded with Hamilton’s sexproblem.
“The Stars My Destination” was a good read, I don’t know why I haven’t picked up Bester’s other work yet.
Unlike most people I know, I still love Jordan. His novels continue to move slowly, but I love the style and the characters. He has promised that the next book is his very last, even if it has be 2000 pages to do it.
I agree with Stephenson. I picked up Crypto by accident and loved it; only later did I find that it is apparently a classic. I just thought it was cool. I later grabbed the first novel of Baroque, and was very surprised. It was difficult to finish, and I won’t read the rest, but I’m still interested in Stephenson in general.
A fantasy author that I had given up on for a while but recently came back to liking is Terry Goodkind. I really liked the first 5 novels, but after that they turned into empty political dreck that literally did nothing for the overarching story. Yes, I understand, you hate socialism, that’s nice. Move on! However, I’ve continued to read his books by stealing them from my younger brother when I visit him. I didn’t much care for Chainfire, but the sequal, Phantom, was awesome. It finally returned to the *point* of the series. I’m hoping this continues.
I was going to post a very similar comment about Goodkind. I stopped after “Naked Empire”. And I only bought that out of a dim hope that he would pull out of the nosedive he began with “Faith of the Fallen”. I never really thought Goodkind was a great writer. But that was totally forgiveable in my mind, because he did create an interesting world and characters. And I can read a book while disagreeing with the philosophy promoted by the storyline, as long as the story itself is worth reading. But the story and characters totally took a back seat after “Soul of the Fire”. The more recent books in the series are better classified as “morality plays” than novels.
Terry Goodkind’s “Sword of Truth” series is a case study in how _not_ to write a philosophical epic. It began great. But somehow after book 5, it’s like he forgot how to be a novelist. Maybe he suddenly pulled rank like King and Clancy, I don’t know. But endless pages, and even full chapters, of the main characters expounding your philosophy in relentless and redundant detail… There’s no excuse for that. Not only because it’s just plain bad writing to do so, but also because it implies he thinks the readers are dumb and won’t get a subtle message. (Though that’s a distinct possibility judging by the things he has said in response to readers’ questions.)
He might as well drop the story, write a manifesto and be done with it….
If Phantom really did get back to the series’ roots, maybe someday I will go back and finish the series. But not while I have other intriguing things on my to-read list.
Absolutely! I loved the first three books in the Wheel of Time series, but things went rapidly downhill from there. Glutton for punishment that I am, I gave up around book 8 or 9 (they faded into each other so much that I’m not sure which). The only amazing thing is that I slogged through it that long.
Recently I was in a bookstore and saw the 11th (?) book in the series and saw that things that had happened in the 8th book or so still weren’t resolved. Worse, I just found out that Jordan’s been diagnosed with primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, which gives him a median life expectancy of four years. The bad thing about that is obvious: The guy’s sick and isn’t likely to live more than five or six years at the most. The only good thing is that he probably only has enough time two write two or three more books at most, meaning that he’ll probably wrap the series up in no more than that.
#1: Tom Clancy – His new books are long, boring, and they all sound the same after a while. Plus they are made up of 800 pages of background for 200 pages of good stuff.
#2: Clive Cussler – His stuff is now just cookie cutter writing.
#3: Greg Bear – I read The Forge of God a couple years ago and could barely finish it. I just thought it was poor writing and a slow story. Are any of this other works good?
You’re more persistent with Stephen King than I. The Stand (original, edited version, not the later uncut edition) was the last King I liked. Some of his older work, like Apt Pupil, The Long Walk, and a fair number of his short stories was excellent.
I didn’t like Herbert before Dune, and I didn’t like him after Dune (especially the Dune sequels). Dune was the only good thing he ever wrote, and I’ve often wondered if he was really the author.
Orson Scott Card had one good late book–Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus–but otherwise I agree with you.
Heinlein was never great, but he went really bad starting with The Number of the Beast. Plenty of pointless sex, bimbo savant characters, and not much plot.
I’m pretty sure that Herbert wrote Dune; he just only had one really great book in ‘im. After I loved Dune, I was given a lot of Herbert books for gifts. Most of his books sucked (the Green Brain – god but that book is a piece of flaming crap); but some were OK (The White Plague). But he has a very distinctive style – the way that he puts words together is very distinctive. And Dune has the same very distinctive Herbert voice – even if you put his worst stuff side by side with Dune, and read a page of each, it’s obvious that they’re written by the same person.
Heinlein, god yes, he wrote some great short stories, some mediocre novel, and then a string of truly awful misogynist tripe. Although I do always give him credit for being explicitly anti-racist.
Herbert should probably have stopped at three Dune books, but at least the later novels weren’t aimed at retarded twelve-year-olds like Kevin J. Anderson’s tripe. I could even have put up with the blatant canon violations if the writing hadn’t been so *juvenile*. And not even good juvenile, woeful, patronising, terrible, awful, ugh!
Robert Jordan succumbed to temptation, and it leaves me in terror that George R.R. Martin, who’s epic fantasy series I’m currently enjoying is doing the same, only time will tell.
Piers Anthony, am I the only person who is creeped out by the fact that he writes this massive series for children, but then has several books where our sympathetic main character is a *pedophile*.
Another assent for your Stephen King comments. I was obsessed with King going through high school. I read a dozen or more of his earlier novels. I also started losing interest around “Needful Things” too.
Ditto for Stephenson. I loved “Snow Crash”, “Diamond Age” and “Cryptonomicon” but I could barely finish “Quicksilver”.
I disagree with some of the above comments regarding Gibson though. I haven’t really bothered with his later works but I did re-read “Neuromancer” recently (8 years after my first read of it) and it is still a great book in my opinion. Even my English-literature studying wife who doesn’t normally go for sci-fi found it interesting and enjoyable.
I gave up on King with Pet Sematary. If you want to milk your reader’s sympathies, if you want cheap horror, just start killing little kids in brutal ways.
I like all of Gibson. It’s just not your standard overt SF — it’s the real world, just slightly off.
I’m going to reverse the opinions of Stephenson: I hated Cryptonomicon. The half of the book that was set in WWII was great, but the modern half was highly sucky. It fell into the pit with the annoyingly detailed description of how to properly eat Cap’n Crunch cereal. The Baroque Cycle, on the other hand, was delightful from start to finish.
I agree with J-Dog here on all counts.
The thing that’s weird to me about my current feelings on these two authors is that not only have the recent terrible turns in their careers left me unable to enjoy their new materials, I also somehow can’t go back and enjoy their old materials anymore.
This might just be spite or something, but I think also part of it is that now that I have a better idea what is going on in the thought processes of these two authors, all kinds of nasty subtleties come out in the text of their older work that I didn’t really notice there before.
In particular: Please tell me if I’m just crazy here: After Prey and the global warming conspiracy book, I have suddenly begun to notice something that I was entirely oblivious to when I was first exposed to Chrichton, which is that pretty much everything Michael Crichton has ever written has a drastic anti- technological and scientific progress bent.
When I was younger, one of the reasons I loved Jurassic Park was because it seemed to be a forward-thinking celebration of science and the amazing things people could do with it– Chrichton’s novel seemed to just brim with wonder at the capabilities of the genetic engineering technology and UNIX mainframes he seemed to be describing so lovingly. Now, in retrospect, they seem more like warnings— warnings about how dangerous things like genetic engineering technology and UNIX mainframes could be. Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Sphere and Prey all have the same basic plot: Mankind attempts to explore the boundaries of what is possible, mankind crosses the boundaries of what is possible, terrible things happen, people die. The world is full of strange and wonderful things and they are all terrifying. Sphere is even more explicit about this than just the technology-inspired disaster itself in the story, with the message in the end being literally that humans are unfit to have the power to translate their hopes and dreams into reality.
Is it reasonable that this is bothering me in retrospect?
Yes, it’s perfectly reasonable. From the first time I read anything by Crichton, it seemed like the whole book was nothing but a great big anti-science screed. My father had a couple of his books which I read – Andromeda Strain, Sphere, one other whose name I can’t remember, and they all seemed to be more of the same. They all came down to nasty rotten scientists who do things because they *can*, even though they *shouldn’t*, and terrible things happen when they do.
Crichton simply a bad writer. That’s more significant than his odd near ludditism. He’s not quite Robin Cook bad. But close.
As for Card, if you haven’t read his early work you really should. It is quite good. He’s had the odd book the past few years that is good. The first Bean book was excellent – nearly as good as Ender’s Game which it parallels. But he’s definitely had more crap than good stuff of late.
I put up my version of the meme here.
Regarding Card, it has been suggested that the reason his later writing declined in quality was because he did not write Ender’s Game nor Speaker. An article with more detail on this can be found here: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/5/28/22428/7034.
I don’t generally read book series, but the one I started and am not ashamed to admit I did, Asimov’s Robot series, was like that. It was refreshing that The Caves of Steel had characters acting rationally. But then the sequels got repetitive, and Fastolfe’s long diatribes about the human conditions feature a slightly more serious philosophy than Randism.
Actually Asimov is a great example. I thought the stuff written in his last decade or two were completely unreadable – especially his merging of the robots series and the foundation series. Good ideas. Bad implementation.
Piers Anthony, am I the only person who is creeped out by the fact that he writes this massive series for children, but then has several books where our sympathetic main character is a *pedophile*.
Given that half of the aforementioned children’s series is softcore porn, it seems pretty consistent.
(Of course, I think that’s the main reasons why children enjoy Xanth. It certainly was for me–gratuitous nude scenes > horrible puns.)
I didn’t have a problem with the Xanth books being bad softcore porn, being a dateless nerd myself. Especially as Xanth seemed to fly under the school radar (although I don’t remember seeing “The Color of Her Panties” on the shelves). But the blatant pedophile advocacy in his other works creeps me out deeply in retrospect, it’s like Ender’s Game, great in Highscool, deeply disturbing in adulthood.
I still can’t believe I didn’t notice the heavy handedness of being told every other line how INNOCENT Ender was, it tells me I wasn’t nearly as bright as I thought I was back then.
Good to hear that there’s at least one other person out there who enjoyed this as much as I did. Contrary to most people’s experiences here, I chewed through the Baroque Cycle, though Quicksilver was the slowest of the lot. Having Newton and Leibniz (and their rivalry) as significant parts of the story really appealed to the math geek in me.
When I was a young’un, I was also a big Piers Anthony reader. Xanth was fluff after the first few; some of his other series provided some good reads, though. As I started getting deeper into his work, I stumbled across trash like Race Against Time. However, I think Firefly was when I became a little creeped out by his work. That was definitely not an appropriate to read as a 13-year-old.
Thomas Pynchon’s short books are relatively disappointing (Crying of Lot 49 and especially Vineland) vs. the long masterpieces – V, Gravity’s Rainbow(!), Mason & Dixon. I’m looking forward to Against the Day at approx 1000 pp.
Walter Miller, Jr. – I dunno if any sequel has ever disappointed me as much as the sequel to A Canticle for Liebowitz (if you’ve never heard of this or haven’t read it, do it – now), Saint Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman. Granted, the latter book was finished by another author posthumously.
Gibson – I loved Neuromancer, and still do. I thought Pattern Recognition was actually something of a comeback; the books in between were pretty forgettable IMO.
Stephenson – Liked Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, though the latter fizzled out a bit near the end. Liked the plot of Cryptonomicon and some of the ideas (whatever that fictional country was in the British Isles where it’s always raining), but didn’t quite get into the characters. Yeah the Baroque Cycle was long, but I was pulled through it wanting to see what happened to Jack Shaftoe, who I think is a great character. The B.C. certainly lacked the energy of his early work, and I won’t automatically buy his next one.
Thomas McGuane – The early stuff was just completely inspired and loony, with a skewed code of Old West morality running through New West venues. (The main character in one of the early novels finds the editor of the local paper and administers a caning after the paper prints an account of his sister going insane that the family would rather not have seen publicized.) But somewhere in the past 10-12 years, the energy has gone out of the prose and the plot.
Completely agree with the Laurell K Hamilton. I picked up the first Anita Blake as a trashy lunchtime book and loved it as that. Then she started getting the full aging Goth angst and sex into so gave up on them after book 5 or 6.
A good replacement for them though is the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher – similar premise, our world but magicsupernatural is real, and he’s both a Wizard and a Private Investigator
I have the feeling I’m echoing somebody else when I ask this, but if not, you can attribute it to me: am I the only one who read Jurassic Park and thought, “You know, they could have avoided all of these problems if they made herbivores first.”
Let’s see, what other hot topics can I address. . . .
Stephenson: Started Cryptonomicon, never finished.
Asimov: Loved The Caves of Steel (like I said) and The Naked Sun. Had a hard time getting through the first Foundation book, partly because I didn’t realize it was actually a collection of short stories, and partly because all the heroes look alike. (Could you really tell the difference between a Hober Mallow line and a Salvor Hardin quote?) The other two books in the original Trilogy were much nicer. If Asimov had stopped with Foundation’s Edge or Foundation and Earth, I would probably have been let down — but Prelude and Forward the Foundation came back in style.
Pynchon: the only stuff I don’t think is great are the early stories in Slow Learner, of which “The Secret Integration” is the only really worthwhile block of prose. (Yes, I’m a Vineland fan. Rilly.)
Going into the past, I would like to say that A. Conan Doyle’s later works of Sherlock Holmes deteriorated rapidly. I do not find this problem with some modern “crime” writers like Ian Rnakin or John Mortimer who remain consistently entertaining at least.
Neale Stephenson … still, I love the guy, but I agree that he just can’t or won’t write a good ending. He gets a great idea, carries it through to the bitter end, then apparently gets stuck and makes up some stupid nonsense for an ending. Excruciatingly unsatisfying. Haven’t given up on him, but I can see how someone else might be inclined to.
Cryptonomicon had the best – er, least stupid – ending of any of his books I’ve read. Not very good, but in comparison to his usual endings, not bad.
I’ll second the Baroque Cycle (although I still have hopes that Stephenson’s future work will be more interesting) and William Gibson (Neuromancer was good, The Difference Engine was not, and Idoru and Pattern Recognition are two out of only a few novels I’ve ever put down and given up on in the middle).
Can I add a writer I’ve almost given up on? Stephen Baxter is a fantastic writer with a vivid imagination… but most of the novels I’ve read by him are horribly depressing. I was thrilled a few weeks ago when I found an anthology of his whose stories contained only one infanticide. And even when he writes about uplifting ideas, he often manages to find negative spins to put on them. I personally don’t mind dark fiction every now and then, but I’d like a change of pace, and I wish he had written some books I could recommend to all my friends as well.
Stephen King is like any author–he has good stuff and bad stuff. His early books (including the early Richard Bachman things) are excellent, as are some of his later books (It, The Stand, Insomnia, and the last two books of The Dark Tower come to mind). Cussler indeed is pretty cookie-cutter, though his recent collaborative efforts are at least fun. I gave up on Tom Clancy after Ryan became president. Clancy’s characters are all one-dimensional stereotypes, and his dialogue sucks. I agree about Dune. The first book was great, and then the series went downhill from there.
–Oh, another thing: how about L. Ron Hubbard? Battlefield Earth was okay (never read any of Hubbard’s earlier stuff), but the godawful Mission: Earth decalogy, which he seems to have written in the depths of his final senility, was complete dreck.
As the son of book editors, a Science Fiction professional author, former editor, and a Science Fiction encyclopedist, these are my brief comments on authors commented on above.
Stephen King — he is indeed beyond editing that he needs, because he has the best book contract in North America. He is, essentially, a co-publisher who earns 50% of GROSS on sales. However, he’s a better writer than you give him credit, skilled at the illusion of normalcy to make the invasion of the uncanny more impressive. He is very good at rapid coverage of the sequence of emotional states of interacting characters, in a computationally efficient simulation way.
Orson Scott Card: I recently discussed this with a Vatican astronomer. Card has veered from mainstream Mormon theology. Neil La Bute has replaced him as #1 Mormon playwright. Ender’s Game films could be hits.
Michael Crichton: anti-science fiction. Cool technology, then pulls back at last minute with the Frankenstein gambit, and restores the status quo. Makes no sense to knock him for becoming wealthy (TV executive producer) and powerful (White House access). That’s business, not literature.
William Gibson. Talent transcends Cyberpunk. Wait and see.
Tom Clancy. He phoned me once, and we talked about his work. Same comment as Crichton, in this case, he’d be in a Senate race by now if he hadn’t left his wife for another gal.
Neil Stephenson. Science Fiction authors are jealous of him for his $500,000 advance 3-book contract, alleged to have dried the well for other authors. He was the break-out mainstream crossover success of the decade. Will learn to stop wearing his research on his sleeve, but meanwhile the publisher demands big fat books.
Kevin Anderson: watch for his authorized sequel to “Slan.”
Greg Bear – “I read The Forge of God a couple years ago and could barely finish it.” Yeah, but me and my wife (Dr. Christine M. Carmichael) are characters in it, under our actual names. That was payment for being a technical advisor on it. Bear is getting better and better, both at mainstream-ish crime fiction, and deeply thought-through biology. Give him another chance!
Maybe more comments later. Good discussion.
This whole raft of rants proves an important point: It is very hard to be a good writer.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s first “Mars” book was very good. I had to drag myself to the end of the last one, though.
I heard a legend that Asimov would sit down at his word processor and hack out a book from start to finish – From what I read, it seemed to be true. Though I still consider him to be one of the best SF writers who ever lived!
The interesting thing about Heinlein is that he evokes such polarization in people. You can predict someone’s reaction to Heinlein by where they fall on the Nolan Chart!
[Speaking of which, I have tried to read L. Neil Smith – is there any author so heavy-handed as he?]
Nobody seemed to think Anne Rice was worth mentioning, but I do: “The Vampire Lestat” was very good. I never read “Interview…” and I only read “Queen…” to finish the storyline. I tried the first book of “The Mayfair Witches” series, but dropped it at about page 10.
Seed has a story about SF writers dealing with climate change, but if you want to read the one book that probably did the most to make people aware of the consequences of nuclear holocaust, take Jud’s advice and read “A Canticle for Leibowitz.” The story seems quaint, now, but that’s because it has become so ingrained in our collective mindset, and because it had so many imitators, good and bad.
But that’s not what I came here for today! Mark – I was trying to send you an e-mail off-line, but couldn’t find address. I want to ask this question, and you can move this whole post wherever you like:
In all this talk about statistics, sampling, polling and such coming from the Lancet article hubbub, I would like to know what aspect of statistics makes opinion polls valid in any way shape or form. Sampling of inanimate widgets produced on an assembly line is true. Sampling of animal behaviors is true because one rabbit acts pretty much like another. But what truth is there in sampling human opinions, or even behaviors? We are supposedly free-willed and can decide on the spur of the moment how to answer the questions, who to vote for, or what to buy. I, personally, don’t do what my neighbors do, and don’t favor the front runner, just because the rest do.
Perhaps this has been addressed in other posts. If so, please direct me to that info. But I just find the reliance on “this is what most people think (or do)” to be complete BS. I always want to say, “No. It’s what most people you bothered to ask think.”
Please enlighten me.
Gibson: Neuromancer and the first couple of sequels were OK, if you realize that they aren’t really “hard” SF, so much as “neogothic” fantasy. (“cyberspace” == “the astral plane”) They did go downhill.
Card: I liked the first few “Ender’s War” books, but when he went back for the “Shadow” series, I didn’t bother.
Bear: Actually, *he* got better. It took a few books before he learned how to write a decent ending.
Crichton: The thing that bugged me from Andromeda Strain on, is that all his plots absolutely depended on the scientists being complete idiots, with no clue about backup systems or peer cooperation. I mean, come on: an epileptic scientist (1) forges her
way into a top-secret installation, (2) working alone, as the only person monitoring a critical test series (3) with no-one else reviewing the results, (4) and no automatic logging of significant anomalies. Jurassic Park is worse! Never mind sticking with herbivores, how about sticking to critters smaller than humans!
Laurell Hamilton: Well, in the recent Anita Blake books (and all the Princess Meredith books) the sex actually is relevant to the plot! That said, Blake in particular is suffering from a Monty Haul syndrome regarding her powers.
Vonnegut – the early stuff is classic, but he lost his sense of humor somewhere around 1978 Now I think he just needs Prozac
When is the last time Larry Niven wrote anything worthwhile?
Pynchon – GR is great, but Vinland and Mason & Dixon did not seem to have anything behind the virtuostic prose
Jurassic Park: Suggestions–stick with herbivores, stick with critters smaller than humans.
Herbivores might be ok, but people pay for T Rex’s, and this was a theme park. Deinonychus is roughly man-sized; it’s not clear that sticking with critters smaller than humans is a good idea. When I first saw the movie I hadn’t seen any previews (no TV at the time) nor read the book, so I had no idea what was coming. It was painfully obvious that reproducing a pack of intelligent, agile, vicious carnivores with little economic value was an incredibly stupid thing to do, which is about on par with Crichton. At least in Jurassic Park his security doors would stand a chance of passing an OSHA inspection (anyone remember the security doors in Westworld?).
BWV on Vonnegut:
I dig Vonnegut. However, I made the mistake a few summers ago of reading three of his books back to back. Now, I cannot tell them apart. I wouldn’t call him a one-trick-pony. Although, his style is definitely unique and he rarely skews from it.
The Others on Robert Jordan:
I enjoy trash fantasy as much as the next guy. Just kidding… However, after finishing the first book and seeing the look of defeat on my friend’s face when she finished the 8th book and still no end fight with the Dark One… Well, I couldn’t justify clogging up my precious book queue with that much story.
Could it be considered pretentious to think that your story’s universe is 11-books-important?
2nd round of comments on authors in comments. For vastly more data, see my web domain, click on “Science Fiction.”
Laurel Hamilton: the intersection between Science Fiction/Fantasy and Romance/Porn is too subjective and controversial for me to say anything. Again, see my web domain, and click on “Romance.” Oh, and Catherine Asaro’s work is is no way “smut” — she’s a real scientist and has appropriate romance elements folded into real Science Fiction.
Asimov. Immortal, personally, until he died of AIDS (from blood transfusions in quadruple bypass operation). Although he appeared in ads for a PC (was it a TRS-80?) he was last person in the world to need a PC. He typed on a bank of 3 side-by-side IBM Selectric typewriters, all powered on, so has to have 2 hot spares for redundancy. He wrote exactly 363 days per year, approximately 10 mean hours/day, 90 words per minute, and sold every word. His work is still immortal. Nobody unenganced genetically or with AI or nanotechnology will ever exceed what he accomplished.
Frank Herbert: recommend his “lesser” (i.e. non-Dune work). Many gems there.
Robert Jordan: doesn’t matter if you like WOT. Enough people do to make it good business. He is, by the way, a genuine expert on book contracts.
Piers Anthony: you miss the point. he earns 10 times as much per punny Fantasy novel as with the great Science Fiction that he personally prefers. Macroscope was a weird masterpiece. He is in business, you know. Writing is as hard a way to make a living as Math, and typically less profitable than Computer Science.
Eric van Lustbader: good story teller.
Jean M Auel: I personally admire her. She was a housewife raising a bunch of kids, and, as a pure amateur, began to research prehistory. She acquired elepant hide and tanned it in her back yard to research how mastodon hide might have been processed. The Clan of the Cave Bear was legitimate science fiction. I happened to be present when she asked how to apply for SFWA membership, and a SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) member nearby stated that her work was not Science Fiction. I defended her then, and defend her now. The amateur to professional phase transition is deeply difficult.
Alfred Bester — he was a very happy man, with a fabulous day job which distracted him from writing more brilliant early novels. He turned into a very unhappy man by the time I met him. Datum: he left his estate to the barflies at his local bar, where everybody knows your name. He came to hate publishers (who would not, for instance, publish his “Tender Loving Rape”) and editors and fans. Very sad end to astonishingly talented man.
Clive Cussler: mild entertainment, if read as fast as I suspect he wrote. Good story teller.
Thomas Pynchon: I’ll read anything he writes. he’s doing something so amazingly ambitious that it will take a century to determine the impact, as with, orthogonally, Lovecraft.
Thomas McGuane: on my domain, click on “Westerns.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He resented the success of Sherlock Holmes, one of the 5 immortal characters of past 150 years who is known worldwide (along with, as Harlan Ellison points out, Tarzan, Superman, others left as exercise to reader). He wanted to be known for his serious novels. Take a second look at his
The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Project Gutenberg
Download the free eBook: The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
which predicted the Islamicist terrorist threat!
Vonnegut: although he has written immortal Science Fiction, that’s a side effect of what he writes. His subject is satire on America as such, and human nature; the ironic side of what Bradbury and Henlein do straight.
Larry Niven: you under-rate him. I’ll read anything he writes. He is a pointillist, building intricate stories with flashes of detail, letting you fill in the blanks. His work coauthored with Pournelle, Steve Barnes, et al is different, as coauthors together build more conventionally structured and filled-in prose. Larry Niven did drop out of Caltech in late Frosh or early Soph year, but already knew more science than 95% of Science Fiction writers. He’s one of a handful of authors who ever succeeded despite the curse of being born fabulously wealthy (his family brought down the White House with the Teapot Dome scandal). Other such names: exercise to readers.
Hmm. Mickey and Mario, I presume?
It’s good to see other people are on to Michael Crichton. I dislike him for the formulaic plots and cardboard characters.
I loved Niven’s early stuff, but haven’t been able to get into anything after The Integral Trees. Then again, I haven’t tried lately.
Kevin J. Anderson pisses me off, either his stuff is incredibly fun to read, or utter trash. Theres no discernable pattern either, battletech series was good, half his star wars books, but none of his original stuff or the Dune stuff.
Dan Simmons, Hyperion was great, so was the fall of Hyperion. Story should have ended there, Endymion was only so-so.
Jack McDevitt, The Engines of God grabbed me by the balls and never let go. His other books in the series did however, quit quickly.
Neil Gaimen is getting dangerously repepitive too.
The question was: “What authors have you given up on for good? And why?” Hence to say of a writer: “either his stuff is incredibly fun to read, or utter trash” is not to conclude that one has given up on him for good, but, rather, only a fraction between 0 and 1 of his works are worth reading. Unfortunately, it is hard to know in advance which works fall in the “good” fraction. Hence one can, at most, conclude for such an author who blows hot and cold: “I will not buy EVERY book by that author.” Thus, in such a case, one might actual read reviews beforehand, or see which books are nominated for Hugo or Nebula Awards, said reviews and awards nomination data being available online. Caveat emptor.
By analogy, one might as well say: “Euler published more Math than anyone ever, but some of his theorems were weak or minor, so I won’t read Euler.” Or, perhaps, “Erdos had well over 400 coauthors of roughly 1400 Math papers. But the papers vary in quality depending on the coauthor, so I won’t read any more of them.
I’m also dubious of the arguments that: “Dan Simmons, Hyperion was great, so was the fall of Hyperion. Story should have ended there, Endymion was only so-so.” Story should have ended there? Parallel: “Liked the Illiad, hated the Odyssey. Story should have ended with founding of Troy.”
Problem with: “Jack McDevitt, The Engines of God grabbed me by the balls and never let go. His other books in the series did however, quit quickly.” Not all his books are in that series. At most, you can conclude that you won’t read any more in that series at once. This is one of the reasons that authors may write several different series of books, plus stand-alone novels, plus short fiction in magazines and anthologies.
Problem with: “Neil Gaimen is getting dangerously repepitive [sic] too.” is that one could as well say: “Too many of Erdos’s theorems are about random graphs” or “All these Shakespeare comedies end with people getting married.” Or, for that matter: “Gilligan keeps failing to get off the island.”
A baseball player who hits the ball safely only 3/10 of the time that he comes to the plate is considered a major star, and earns millions of dollars. A corporate CEO who makes corect strategic decisions 55% of the time is called a visionary and brilliant executive manager. I think that we need to cut science fiction authors a little more slack.
To quantify, the famous (and famously misquoted) dialog with Theodore Sturgeon went, as I recall:
[fan]: “90% of science fiction is crud.”
[Ted]: “Yes. But 90% of everything is crud.”
I am even willing admit that the number is more than 90%. I can entertain arguments that media-tie-ins and movie novelizations and books apparently written by someone who plays too many role-playing-games are much more than 90% crud. But that 10% of 5% or 1% or whatever noncrudaceous subset is a wonder and a joy. One never knows when a 3rd rate author will evolve to 2nd rate, or a 2nd rate author has a “perfect storm” at the word processor and writes an award-winner.
That being said, I’d like to thank Mark C. Chu-Carroll for initiating the discussion here, and the many interesting comments that readers made, some of which I agreed with, some of which I disagreed with. This is the kind of conversation that I go to Science Fiction conventions to participate in. This time, the travel budget was lower than usual. That helps to save money for the 2007 Worldcon — in Yokohama, with Dave Brin a Guest of Honor. The Japanese take on Science Fiction differs in intriguing ways from the Euroamerican take. It was, perhaps, indicative, that all authors discussed above were Angloamerican. The world is wider than that. The cosmos that authors point to is even bigger.
My two cents: Philip José Farmer. He managed to enthrall-then-disappoint me TWICE: once with Riverworld, the other with Universe Makers. His series seem to have a two-to-three books lifecycle. I find it maddeningly infuriating.
Ooh, ooh–another one: Stephen R. Donaldson. The first Thomas Covenant trilogy wasn’t bad, if you got over the emotional perverts that are his characters. His later stuff, though (like the Gap series), is really, really tiresome.
The Mirror of her Dreams trilogy was pretty good, too.
And now we have *another* group of Thomas Covenant novels to slog through!
I remember picking up the first book of the Baroque Cycle a few years ago. I got a hundred or so pages in and gave up. It wasn’t until I was confronted by a few long flights that I tried it again; it was worth the slog. Second time around I found it very cool. But I agree Stephenson isn’t so hot at ending books. (I think it’s a common problem – not just with him.) The endings seem a little too easy; too Hollywood happy end. They really don’t need to be so neatly tied up, in my opinion, and I think they suffer as a result.
Given up on Patricia Cornwell, Robert K. Tannenbaum, Trevanian (whoever he is), Spider Robinson.
Don’t kill me, but I’ve never been able to figure out the Lord of the Rings, and have given up.
Roger Penrose – his books SOUND like just the sort of thing I would love. I buy them. I try to read them. I stop. In particular ‘The Road to Reality’ – well, no matter how much you scrimp, I don’t think you can teach that much math in that short a space. Calculus (including partial differentiation) gets 10 pages or so. Not everyone is as smart as he is (very few are).
I disagree with many about Stephenson, I liked the Baroque Cycle (although not as much as earlier books).
Three Words: David Foster Wallace.
After reading all the way to the end of Infinite Jest (which is actually only about four-fifths of the way through the book – the last 300 or so pages are footnotes, and sub footnotes) and realising that not one of the many, many dense and rambling plotlines had a conclusion of any kind, satisfactory or otherwise, I not only threw the book across the room, I kicked it several times afterwards.
I’m in the curious position of having given up on Iain Banks. The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road are both good stuff, and all of his early books are interesting. But after Crow Road he seemed to lose inspiration.
What makes this curious is that I still like Iain M. Banks. He still has a lot of imaginative spark left.
Well, you know, nobody gets younger.
That goes for writers AND readers. You won’t be the same reader at 40 that you were at 20. Your experience and taste will (hopefully?) change and grow.
Having said that, it’s also obvious that writers (or any artists) can fall victim to their own success: not having to answer to editors, self-indulgence… the reason we don’t see more of this is that most writers are not all that commercially successful (as, say, Stephen King or George Lucas).
Don’t be bitter! Time stops for no one. There will be new generations to discover books for the first time, and who will find them magical and enchanting.
In defense of Hubbard’s “Mission: Earth”…
It’s not all that bad if you read it as parody: Suppose that a sci-fi author from the 1940’s had founded a religious cult and spent 40 years running it.
Since had hadn’t read any science fiction in all those years, he’d write a 1940’s style pulp novel with lots of racial/sexual/homophobic stereotyping that would be considered terribly offensive later on. And he’d work in long rants related to his religious cult; maybe diatribes against psychiatrists and the Rockefeller family. That’s basically “Mission: Earth”. It’s so bad that it’s entertaining.
Also there’s one neat gimmick in it; the main players are all stock pulp characters, and the story is told from the point-of-view of the Evil Mastermind’s Bumbling Henchman.
(That said, 10 volumes is a bit much. And they’re in a large font; the word count is probably about equal to an epic fantasy trilogy. Buying them new would put too much money in the publisher’s pocket, but if you can get used or library copies then they might be a fun read.)
The Japanese take on Science Fiction differs in intriguing ways from the Euroamerican take. It was, perhaps, indicative, that all authors discussed above were Angloamerican. The world is wider than that. The cosmos that authors point to is even bigger.
It’s hard to find Japanese SF books in the US, but it’s fairly easy to find Japanese SF anime. The new Ghost in the Shell series is excellent, but I couldn’t list it in this discussion since it’s not a book and it hasn’t gotten bad yet (though as I’m still working through Second Gig, it could eventually decline.)
For Indian SF, I’ve read some of Salman Rushdie’s science fiction like Midnight’s Children, but I haven’t read enough of his work to know if there’s a decline. I haven’t found any other Indian SF authors.
For Eastern European SF, Stanislaw Lem and the Strugaski brothers were very good at times, but uneven.
The South American writers that I enjoy like Borges or Marquez tend to fall more under magical realism than SF.
What would recommend for non-Western SF?
SF COUNTRIES essays and list of links to authors and magazines from 35 countries, as well as 34 entries which are essentially void about countries with which I have little knowledge, for a total of 69 countries
last updated 2 March 1997.
Actually takes 2 clicks to get to a given country, as first click gets you to a chunk of a full alphabetical page.
Given some time, I seriously need to update this part of the Magic Dragon Multimedia domain, subdomain known as The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide.
Stephen Baxter. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s him, but I’m fighting to get through Transcendence currently. The entire “Michael Poole and why he’s so special” bit is wearing a little thin.
“(I wonder if I should mention Piers Anthony, too. When I was 16, I couldn’t get enough of his books, but a few years later I was embarrassed to even own them. His writing style didn’t change, though…)”
I went through exacly the same expearience even the ages line up. huh?
All SF. It has basically all gotten screwed up. Best thing is to find little teensy forgotten gems that you may not have read yet. Like the power, like the revolving boy.
Any of you who would buy King or Jordan or the like need to have your heads crushed.