There was a meme going around my Live Journal friends list about comic books that people wish they’d never read. And it started me thinking about science fiction/fantasy books that I not only wish that I’d never read, but wished had never existed in the first place. It would have been far too easy to simply list bad books. With one exception, these books were written by good writers who were just having a very off day. The one exception really needs to be noted, so it can be avoided.
1. To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert Heinlein.
Heinlein is one of my writing heroes. His groundbreaking science fiction, especially The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and his short story collection, The Past Through Tomorrow, remain among my favorites.
But later in his life, he began writing more about immortal redheads. This is not a bad thing all by itself, as Lazarus Long is a memorable character. Heinlein also seemed to favor group marriages. Again, not bad by itself.
But combine the two and, add incest and time travel, stir, and you get this book.
A time-traveling Lazarus Long developed a crush on his mother in a previous book. A bit squicky, but Lazarus seemed to also find it too much. However, in this story featuring Lazarus’ mom, we find out that she returned the affection, we follow the many sexual conquests of her life, see her condone incest between two of her own kids, and finally it’s revealed that she’s had a longstanding crush on her father.
And all the family members somehow manage to live happily ever after, lustfully, at the end of time. It has to be the most cheerful incest story ever written, I’ll give it that.
2. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
The last Twilight book is my eldest daughter’s contribution to the list. She loved this series, she was active on the official message boards, and was eagerly awaiting a solution to Bella’s dilemma of whether to choose Jacob or Edward, and how Bella could maintain her own identity among all of this.
Then she read the book.
And wanted, as she said, ‘brain bleach.’ Her main complaint is that Meyer broke the rules of her own storyverse by making Bella pregnant, then made it worse with a graphic birth scene, and then piled yet more weirdness on top of it by having Jacob mentally bond to the infant daughter as his soul mate.
“It’s dumb, Mom,” she said.
3. Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton.
For those enjoying True Blood on HBO, know that Hamilton got there first. True Blood is based on the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, who followed in Hamilton’s footsteps by using a world in which the things that go bump in the night are real and all around us.
In Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Anita is an animator who can raise the dead to ask them questions about lost wills or whether they were murdered or not. I bought book five of the series first, got hooked, and promptly ordered all the rest. The first nine books are a fantastic blend of first-person mystery, horror, science fiction and romance, something I’d never read before. They made me want to write.
Then along came Narcissus in Chains, book ten. This was the book that was going to attempt to sort through the convoluted relationships between Anita, her werewolf lover Richard, and her vampire lover, Jean-Claude, to say nothing of her more human responsibilities as a protector of humans from the supernatural creatures.
Instead, the book introduced a completely new cast of characters including a new soul mate for Anita, forgot the mystery plot until the end, and devolved into what the series eventually became, which is erotic fantasy.
A good chunk of readers aren’t complaining. The books still sell like crazy. But they’re not the same characters that were in the first nine books, they’re just characters that have the same names. I miss the originals.
4. Tarnsman of Gor by John Norman.
I read all the pulp adventure stories as a kid. Tarzan. John Carter. Doc Savage. So I was originally thrilled as a teenager to find another adventure series.
The first couple of Gor books follow the John Carter-like plot of an Earthman transported to a brutal world where being a warrior is prized. He wins the fair maiden, but then is transported to Earth, and must get back.
But somewhere after the third book, Norman decided the books weren’t really so much adventure stories as, well, something far more adult and more than a little misogynist. Let’s just say that the title Slave Girl of Gor is very apt.
The books have been recently reissued and the first few look like pulp adventures stories still, so I include this on the list as a warning to parents in the hope they don’t make the same mistake I did and think they’re all right for underage children. (No, I never did tell my mother about what was inside the covers.)
5. MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.
As a child growing up in rural New England, I didn’t have access to many bookstores, so the Science Fiction Book Club was a godsend. One of my first purchases was a three volume set of the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey. It still has stains from the Cheetos I ate while reading them. The spine is cracked, the dust cover long-gone and the pages are falling out. I loved these so much I read them to death.
I read most of the prequels and sequels as well, though they diminished in quality as the years wore on. That tends to happen with series. But it was with this book, centered on MasterHarper Robinton–my favorite character in the series–that I realized how much the quality had slipped.
It’s dull and episodic when it should be fascinating and tense. It feels like more a collection of notes than a real story. And it took what made Robinton interesting and mysterious and made him banal.
Though the books are dated in spots, I would still recommend the originals: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon to readers over twelve, and the Harper Hall trilogy: Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums for younger readers.
But this one will bring you no enjoyment.