Visions of Paradise

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Least Favorite Authors of SF

Other than as a market category, science fiction is not a “genre” per se, but a huge umbrella which envelops numerous types of speculative fiction: space opera, worldbuilding (both physical worlds and cultures), future history, cyberpunk, steampunk, alternate history (which it shares with historical fiction and might be a genre itself, but there is enough connection between AH and SF to mention it here), secret history (ditto), hard science, and probably several others I’ve forgotten momentarily.

So what this all means is two things: (a) SF contains something for just about every reader who is not instinctively repulsed by any fiction which reeks of genre; and (b) it is unlikely that every fan of SF, not matter how devoted he or she might be, is going to enjoy every single sub-genre.

Thus, as I suspect is true of most SF fans, there are several popular writers whose fiction rarely resonates with me. Those writers tend to fall into three categories: writers pre-occupied with technology, writers who specialize in dismal views of the near future, and writers more concerned with flash than with substance.

In the past I have often listed my favorite writers, so here is a listing of my least favorite writers of SF:

Charles Stross. I have tried to read his fiction, including several of his “Accelerando” stories and his novella “Missile Gap,” and I have found them too much sturm und drang and not enough storytelling or character development;

Vernor Vinge. His interest in high-technological developments mostly bores me, although I did enjoy one of his novellas many years ago in Analog called “The Barbarian Princess,” which was a total departure from most of what I have seen by him;

Bruce Sterling: I cannot pinpoint why I generally finish a Sterling story with a feeling of dissatisfaction, but I usually do. It might have something to do with the fact that I generally feel no empathy for his characters, who generally have attitudes totally different from my own. If I cannot relate to the characters in a story, I generally remain cool emotionally to the story itself;

Greg Bear. I used to like Greg Bear stories until he decided to reinvent himself as a writer of thrillers. I dislike most thrillers which seem too artificial to me, little more than a series of unlikely complications strung together more for the purpose of keeping the thrill quotient high than actually being an absorbing story;

Terry Bisson. A simple reason here: I am not a big fan of humorous fiction. It usually falls flat with me, which is why I have hesitated to read any of Terry Pratchett’s acclaimed Discworld novels;

Greg Egan. Too much hard-science dominating his stories. I don’t mind a strongly-plotted story which has a hard science foundation, but Egan’s stories are mostly about analyzing the scientific basis of the story, and that’s too much for me;

R.A. Lafferty. There’s a point where strangeness becomes so dominant in a story that I totally lose interest in it. If I cannot relate to any of the characters, or become absorbed in the storyline, then the story has no purpose to me;

Paul McAuley. Read my comments about Greg Bear;

Spider Robinson. Reading a story of his usually reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where Eric Idle is smirking, “Nudge nudge, know what I mean?” while elbowing the person next to him. With the exception of “Stardance,” I’ve never enjoyed the other Robinson stories that I’ve read;

Rudy Rucker. See R.A. Lafferty above.

I assume that all of the above writers have written atypical stories which would not fall into my blind spot, but which I have not yet seen, so any such recommendations are welcome.


  • Yeah, pretty much with you on all counts. My problem with Sterling has to do with the fact that he doesn't seem able to write fiction anymore at all, and instead writes essays spoken by fiction characters.

    By Blogger Eric Rosenfield, At 9:31 AM  

  • Mine is Iain M Banks. I read 3 of his books because I heard so much about him. None of them resonated with me. There was one short story I liked-about a sentient space suit.

    By Blogger b harper, At 12:19 PM  

  • I am going to have to put you down as a perfect negatve reviewer for me as everyone of these writers is a favorite of mine.

    By Blogger Gary, At 3:54 PM  

  • This isn't so much a comment on your feelings about Stross, but I have only read his book Halting State and I really enjoyed it. It is a book largely connected with gaming and as such I imagine would appeal to a very niche audience, of which I am a member. Not sure if it would do anything for you in comparison to his other novels or if it would further solidify your feelings about him.

    I do heartily agree with you that there is something in this "genre" for everyone.

    By Blogger Carl V., At 8:40 AM  

  • I think this is the first time I have read a "Least Favorite" post. I think we all have popular authors that we don't like.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 5:21 PM  

  • I agree with Jim, we all have famous, well known authors we don't like. What I love about this post is it is a brief but honest assessment of what you don't like about it, not a patent "these authors suck and can't write" post. I get tired of those. I personally don't buy the argument that authors who repeatedly get contracts, repeatedly come up on best seller lists, repeatedly garner critical praise somehow are complete crap. I've read books by authors that I didn't enjoy, but more often than not I see good writing there, it just wasn't the kind of story that appealed to me. When the writing isn't good, it is usually a first time or little know author, not someone who has multiple novels under their belt published by a big name publisher.

    Well done on this post.

    By Blogger Carl V., At 5:44 PM  

  • 喜樂的心是健康良藥,憂傷的靈使骨枯乾。........................................

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 4:34 AM  

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