Reading Blues

I haven’t posted much recently about what I’ve read, not because I haven’t been reading, but because I won’t mention books I dislike by name, and I’ve come across too many of those lately.

These days I tend to read F&SF as much to keep up with authors with whom I’m not familiar as for entertainment and enlightenment. One of the problems with this is that I’ve been reading – or trying to read – too many books that have been well-reviewed and in which I’ve found I have no real interest for one or more of the following reasons.

The first reason is because in one type of book being recently written/published the setting is not only implausible, but wildly so, not to mention internally self-contradictory, as well as, in at least one case, apparently written to test the reader’s ability to deal with example after of meticulously written grossness, which earned it praise as highly original from several review sources. Personally, I don’t consider the equivalent of sludge and sewage particularly original, given that they’ve been part of any urban culture since there have been towns.

Another matter is the growing tendency to shift viewpoints wildly from character to character, for no discernable reason, often just to show how irrational, scheming, or evil even minor characters are. A good writer doesn’t need to shift POV to show that, or even to show that the minor character villain is more than a cardboard plot device, but perhaps editors are allowing this sort of writing because fewer and fewer readers seem able to pick up smaller clues and hints and need massive “signposts.”

Then there are the books that dwell in great depth on the miseries of personal incompetence, ineptness, and/or apparent powerlessness in authoritarian or bureaucratic societies that could care less, which can be done well, as in 1984 or Brave New World, or even, more recently, A Memory Called Empire, but seldom are most authors able to do that well.

Then, there’s the class of books where I find myself asking, “Why on earth should I care about these people?” Now, admittedly, I could care less about most of George R. R. Martin’s characters, who are all despicable to greater or lesser degrees, but George writes them well, possibly because of his long experience in Hollywood. Most writers presenting despicable characters don’t.

Finally, there’s another class of books that also befuddles me. I don’t mind good action novels, but not the ones where every detail of every fight, every explosion, every betrayal, every sensual scene is described, but where it’s almost impossible to discern where in the generic setting any of these actions take place.

And those are just a few of the reasons why this curmudgeon isn’t recommending more books.

12 thoughts on “Reading Blues”

  1. Darcherd says:

    And I imagine your experience doesn’t even encompass the growing body of self-published works out there where the editorial standards are even lower.

    1. Lourain says:

      There are some good self-published novels. The problem is separating the wheat from the chaff. Usually, reading the first two chapters will make up my mind whether it’s worth continuing.
      I beta read for a self-published author. Fortunately for my peace of mind, she can write a coherent, interesting story.

  2. Sam says:

    This is completely tangential but on the topic of sporadic updates I was wondering about the ‘Questions for the Author’ section of this blog.

    The last question answered there was in 2018 and I was wondering if there was a reason for that? Has no one submitted any questions worth responding to in the last 5 years?

    I did wonder if maybe something was wrong with the question submission form and questions simply weren’t getting through.

    1. I’m having my web designer look into the question form.

  3. Matt says:

    If you’re looking for one to read, I might recommend Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

    It’s probably the best written new novel I’ve read in a very long time.

  4. KevinJ says:

    Some have criticized it as too political, but I highly recommend Isolate and Councilor by renowned author L.E.–

    Oh wait.


  5. Ryan P Schmitz says:

    Glad I am not alone. I was thinking there might be something wrong with me since I haven’t been able to get through books by newer authors for over ten years. I finally gave up and started looking backwards in time for books I somehow overlooked. I have been haunting used bookstores seeking Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, Greg Bear (who I somehow never read until last year and after reading Blood Music was like—whoa!), and various others. The modern era of writing has also led me to reading James Joyce (it took like three months to make it through Ulysses), Vladimir Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and etc. I recently discovered a pair of books by Stephen Marlowe: The Death and Life of Miguel Cervantes and The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus (with the assistance of Stephen Marlowe of course) that I quite enjoyed. I have noticed that most modern fantasy no longer interests me as much, so many of the storylines seem endlessly rehashed and some seem to think creating awful characters makes up for the repetition, though I don’t really want to put the unnamed authors down: it takes a lot of work to write an entire book and get it published. Still, I don’t quite appreciate the direction many tales have taken. So much seems like reading prose intended for elementary students and I can’t quite deal with that. Fortunately, I have an entire shelf and a half of your books to reread, and am awaiting Contrarian and all else that follows.

    1. Bill says:

      We all remember when we first discovered SciFi/Fantasy books and everything was new. It was very exciting and interesting. The first time travel book is always fascinating. The same with Space Opera, hard SciFi, hero’s journey, interesting magical system. But once we have read a few in any category, our tastes become more sophisticated and we appreciate novelty and well written stories. It gets hard to find good books to meet our sophisticated palates. Also as we age we fall out of the target market. We are no longer hip or in tune with what sells or wins awards. Good works and the great ones transcend the categories and deliver regardless of age. But there are also many works that we couldn’t read when we were younger because we weren’t ready. We should expect that roughly 5/6s of the books out there aren’t going to be that good.

  6. Joel says:

    “I don’t mind good action novels, but not the ones where every detail of every fight, every explosion, every betrayal, every sensual scene is described, but where it’s almost impossible to discern where in the generic setting any of these actions take place.”
    Whereas, Isolate series has details of every meal, every change of clothing, every time he parks the car/wipes it down/refuels, but that is ok, because the settings are always specific(work or home).
    I wonder how much shorter the Isolate novels would be, without descriptions of food, clothing, and car maintenance; and whether I would miss them.

    1. It would be shorter, and, from your post, you likely wouldn’t miss them, but the book wouldn’t be the same.

  7. Brad Murgen says:

    Mr. Modesitt, I don’t know if you’ve ever read Robin Hobb, but I recently discovered her work and it’s fantastic. It would probably be right up your alley given your complaints.

    1. She likes my books, and I like hers.

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