Yesterday I listed 5 writers I keep meaning to read 1. Today I’m listing 7 writers whose work I’ve attempted to read, but which for various reasons, I’ve struggled with. This struggle is likely the fault of the reader, not the writer, so keep that in mind as you go through the list.
1. Charles Stross
I am an avid reader of Charles Stross’s blog. I’ve met him on a couple of occasions (and once, at Boskone in 2008, we chatted briefly about system administration before a panel). But I’ve had trouble getting into his stories. I’ve tried reading two of his novels, without success. The first novel I tried was Singularity Sky. Later, I tried reading Saturn’s Children 2 I could never get very far into either book. This is embarrassing to admit, but I think his books are just over my head and I feel like I don’t get what it happening half the time. It is difficult to maintain interest under these circumstances. It’s frustrating because his books sound so interesting and so many people like them. I guess it is just a matter of technique and style. And patience on the part of the reader.
2. Cory Doctorow
The first I’d heard of Cory Doctorow was when he was writing for Science Fiction Age. I seem to vaguely recall reading his story, “Craphound” back in 1999, I think. He also wrote a Games column for the magazine. I had a friend who spoke highly of Doctorow and in the years since, I’ve tried reading other things he’s written but again I’ve struggled. In this instance, I think it’s different from Charles Stross in that I find Cory writing about things that don’t particularly hold my interest. This isn’t intended as a slight on Cory; not everyone can be interested in everything. There are certain types of science fiction that I like better than others, and Cory happens to write stories that don’t quite fit that niche.
3. Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ve struggled with Ursula K. Le Guin since I wsa ten or eleven years old. Unlike Charles and Cory, I keep trying with her, because I find that the struggle is ultimately worth it. I recall trying to read A Wizard of Earthsea the summer before I moved from Warwick, Rhode Island to Los Angeles, California, which would make me about 11 years old at the time. For some reason, I had difficulty getting past the first chapter. I kept re-reading it, and re-reading it, and eventually I got through it and continued and finished the book–but I have almost no memory of it, aside from the first few lines of the first chapter, which are burned into my brain.
Much later, I read other stuff by Le Guin. I recall struggling through (but finishing) “The Word for World Is Forest” in Again, Dangerous Visions. And I remember taking a long time to read The Left Hand of Darkness, but in the end I was glad that I did. I haven’t read much by Le Guin, and while I do struggle to get through her work, I am generally better for the fight.
4. Neal Stephenson
A friend of mine asked me many years ago if I’d ever read Neal Stephenson‘s Cryptonomicon. I hadn’t, but I take recommendations from this friend seriously and as soon as I could manage, I picked up a copy of the book and started reading. I was immediately fascinated. For one thing, I like big books, and Cryptonomicon is nothing if not big. As I read through the book I continued to be fascinated by the various threads. This fascination continued on and on until somewhere, perhaps 5/6th of the way through the book, I’d lost the threads. I couldn’t manage to keep them all together in my head, and the book, despite being fascinating, lost its point for me. Once again, I think this is a failure on the part of the reader, not the writer. In this instance, what I struggled with is the complexity of the story.
This has been true for other Stephenson books I’ve attempted to read. I’ve desperately wanted to read the Baroque Cycle, and I started reading Quicksilver when it was first released, just as fascinated with that story as I was with Cryptonomicon. And the same thing happened. Halfway through the book, I started to lose the threads and the story, despite being fascinating, fell apart on me. I’ve heard many good things about Anathem, which is sitting on my bookshelf, unread. I want to read it, but I’m worried that I’ll run into the same problem 3.
5. Vernor Vinge
I’ve struggled with Vernor Vinge‘s work for the same reasons I’ve struggled with Charles Stross’s work: I feel like his stories are over my head. I’d been told by many people that A Fire Upon the Deep was an outstanding novel. I tried reading it sometime in 2000. The opening of the book was fascinating and I loved how as a reader, you learned the language of the aliens along with them. But it soon spun into something deeper and I struggled to keep up with the story Vinge was trying to tell.
Many years later, I read his novel Rainbows End, and in this case, I finished the whole thing. But it was a real struggle and when I came out on the other side, I wasn’t sure I understood what happened in the story. Admitting this is embarrassing, but I’m trying to be honest here. I like to think of myself as a pretty intelligent person, but Stross and Vinge seem to write for people somewhat more intelligent than I am.
6. P. Schuyler Miller
I imagine that quite a few people reading this post may not recognize the next two names, even if you are science fiction fans. Both were established science fiction writers at the dawn of the Golden Age and I’ve encountered their work during my Vacation in the Golden Age. P. Schuyler Miller wrote fairly prolifically for Astounding and his stories seemed to me mostly adventure stories, but I never particularly enjoyed them. A few of them, like “Pleasure Trove” (August 1939, Episode 2 4) I couldn’t even finish. These days, when I come across one of his stories in an issue, I groan inwardly. I’ll give the story a try but I know that in most cases, it’s not going to suit me.
In most cases. There has been one exception so far. Miller’s story, “Old Man Mulligan” (December 1940, Episode 18) was a pretty good one which I managed to get through without cringing and which afterward, I was glad I had read.
7. Nat Schachner
Like Miller, Nat Schachner was prolific before the dawn of the Campbell-era of Astounding, and continued to be fairly prolific for a few years after. And once again, with one exception, I did not like his stories and struggled to read nearly every one of them. Stories like “City of Cosmic Rays” (July 1939, Episode 1) and “City of the Corporate Mind” (December 1939, Episode 6) had characters that it seemed the reader was already supposed to know all about. It made the stories difficult to read. It wasn’t until later that I found out that these were the last two stories in a series of stories about a set of three characters. But I’m not sure it really would have helped if I’d known this going in. His stories tended toward more of the pre-Campbell notion of science fiction: adventure and “fantastic” science, that wasn’t really grounded in anything we think of today as science.
The one exception was a story he wrote called “Cold” (March 1940, Episode 9) for which he got the cover. “Cold” was a spectacular story, very well done, fairly well grounded in science (relative to his other stories) and one that I completely enjoyed. I think I may have rated it as the best story in the issue.
So there are the seven authors I’ve really struggled with over the years. I can’t imagine I am the only one who struggles with writers work, despite giving them a fair try. I’d be curious to know your experiences. Are there certain author’s works with which you struggle time and again? Do you have any idea what the cause of the struggle is? Is there any author you’ve grown particularly fond of after struggling through their work?
- Incidentally, I read Robert Reed’s “Stalker” yesterday. Creepy story, but good and made me want to read even more of his stuff. So late last night I started reading “A History of Terraforming.” Haven’t finished it yet. ↩
- Indeed, this was the first e-book I ever purchased. ↩
- You have to understand that I try and give every book I read a fair chance, but my time is limited and I’ve learned over the years that if I am not making progress on a book after a certain amount of time, I have to give up on it and move onto something else. There is just too much to read, even in science fiction, to get bogged down on any one book. And this is true, regardless of the author. ↩
- Episode referes to the episode number in which the story is discussed in my Vacation in the Golden Age. ↩