What makes a good science fiction read (or not) – 2)

102_0220_edited-1Last week I outlined my frustration with a book that I enjoyed reading on one level, but annoyed me on another, because the basic logic behind the story didn’t stand up.   This started me thinking of other books that I’ve not enjoyed, so much so that in some cases I’ve stopped reading them.  I hasten to add that for me actually not completing a book is a rarity.  Maybe it’s a Northern England thing i.e. I’ve paid for it, so I’m damn well going to read it.  But it does happen and these are the main reasons:

1) There are just too many errors

In my blog ‘I’ve finally published e-published – 13 things I’ve learnt’ No. 8 was ‘If you are going to e-publish it has to right’.  I think having a manuscript that is littered with errors is the ultimate sin of the e-published book because it is nothing to do with how good the story is or how good the writing.  I know sods law dictates that the moment you press that ‘publish’ button you’ll find another error (It happened to me).  And I think readers of self published e-books will forgive the odd typo (you find them in books from publishing houses), but only a few.

In a former working life I learnt you cannot proof read your own work, the brain often sees what it expects to see, not what is actually on the page.  A book littered with typo’s etc. is avoidable, it may cost you some money, but it is worth it.

2) Badly written

Alright I know sometimes this can be a personal opinion.  I haven’t read ‘50 Shades of Grey’ (honest) or ‘Harry Potter’ (maybe I should?).  Now it seems to be generally agreed that the first of those is poorly written and second may not be the best piece of writing ever.  But they haven’t exactly done badly.   However, I have stopped reading a book for what I perceive as bad or sloppy writing.

One thing that really grates on me is the over use of adverbs.  Elmore Leonards ’10 rules of writing’  has ‘never use an adverb to modify the verb said’ as in: he said defensively, or enthusiastically.   Stephen King in his book on writing (see resources) goes further saying that they should be avoided where ever possible (but does admit that at times they creep in).  I go with this latter view.  To me their overuse can indicate that a writer just can’t be bothered to think of anything better.  I stopped reading one book that had an adverb in almost every sentence and two or three in some ‘he said defensively gripping tightly onto the rail, eyes constantly flicking away’.  I exaggerate, but trust me, only a little.

3)  Trying to hard

This is a difficult one, but I have found the odd book that does this.  There is too much convoluted ‘picture painting’ and straining descriptions:   ‘…peering at their monitors in the hopes that some answer might leap out and grab them by the proverbial testicles.’  (actual quote) what?, what are ‘proverbial’ testicles?  At times it seemed as if every other sentence was like that.  Too much, in my opinion anyway.  You become aware of the words.  Going back to Stephen Kings book on writing, when I read it (the first half is a short autobiography), you hear the story, the meaning, not the individual words (if that makes sense).

4 Preaching

By this I mean you get paragraphs or pages of text telling you something that you just don’t need to know.  It’s like a pet subject that the writer wants to impress you with or they’ve had a great idea that they just have to fit in somewhere.  I stopped reading one book that spent three or four pages telling me how the electrical system worked on a Mars base.  Why?  OK, it was already annoying me for other reasons, but this was final straw.  I also stopped reading Frank Herbert’s Dune series in book three, because for me it went off on some huge tangent  of personal philosophy (is this just me?)

5) Running out of steam

These are books or series of books where the story has started great, but for some reason the writer decides it has to be stretched out to the point where you lose interest.  To some extent this was the problem with the Dune series.  I really enjoyed the first two, but then it dragged.  The same is true for a series I read by Julian May, ‘The Saga of Exiles’ .  The first two were great and I was really looking forward to the others, but again it seemed to run out of steam.  Perhaps when  a series is successful there is that temptation to try and keep it going beyond its natural finish point.  I’ll return to this in the next blog.

These are five things that made me stop reading books.  Next time I’ll tackle a few more when I look at fantasy.  I would repeat that not finishing a book is a rarity and the good and great books out there far outweigh the not so good.  If you agree, have any pet hates let me know.  Also if you disagree let me know – debate is good.

If you enjoyed this blog and you haven’t already done so you might like to read part 1) and part 3)

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

2 thoughts on “What makes a good science fiction read (or not) – 2)”

  1. I agree very much with series of books running out of steam – I felt the same way about the Dune series (although the prequels such as House Atreides did work much better and for me were more like the original Dune) The Julian May series was similar in effect – the prequels were much more convincing and better to read, although you had to have persevered with the Saga of the Exiles to get all the nuances of the plot. I wonder it the Saga of the Exiles would have been better condensed to 3 books instead of 4.

    Interestingly I have very much the same reaction to television series – I will watch the first couple of series and then stop if the story seems to be drifting away – many crime series have lost me because they have become too wrapped up in the soap opera of the characters rather than their original purpose of being a crime drama. I do find it easier to stop watching a TV series than to stop reading a series of books though but that’s probably because I am a compulsive reader! I have only once that I can remember stopped reading a book part way through because it was so badly written!

    1. Tim

      Thanks for the comment. I think some manage to keep the interest going Raymond Feist and David Gemmell to name two. I agree re TV, I think the forensic one (name escapes me) is a case in point. I admit that I’ve been more critical of writing since I have writing my own, so I’m sure people might have the same opinions of me!

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