On Reading Bad Books – and What They Are

I’m trying to get back to this blog, but paying work continues to intervene, and fiction writing is not paying work for me, nor is reviewing or commenting on fiction. I will get back to posting and even have some plans for some of my material elsewhere.

That said, this morning I found a link from Martin LaBar of Sun and Shield to a post by Elizabeth Moon, Why “bad” books succeed. If I can summarize her post very briefly, I think she is saying that it’s because bad books are not entirely bad.

And I would add that, of course, good books are not entirely good. For example, I read Ms. Moon’s books, and would definitely not call them “bad,” in fact, she is one of those authors I regularly read. Yet I sometimes dislike her battle descriptions and I was not too happy with the ending of Victory Conditions. But to all that I say, who cares? I read the books anyhow, and I like them. Sometimes when you’ve done enough reading you just feel like complaining about something.

To make the same point again, I hate time travel, yet I read everything from the Dragonriders of Pern and other series by Anne McCaffrey that I can get my hands on. Why? Anne McCaffrey is simply in a class by herself as a story teller, and her characters draw you in and make you want to hear more about them.

I think it’s fairly arrogant to tell other people what they ought to like in literature. I’ve been told I should like Dostoyevsky. I can’t stand him. All apologies to advocates of great literature. I’m going to miss that part of it. But are people who like his writing stupid? Do they have bad taste? In my opinion, they simply have tastes that differ from mine. In this case it might be that it is the social commentary and the ideas that drive them.

Speaking of ideas, I like reading parts of Ayn Rand, but things like John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged just turn me off as part of a novel. When I first read Atlas Shrugged I scanned the speech and then read it later when I was in the mood for some non-fiction.

I wrote on this topic before in Defining Good Literature (Or Not), and the follow-up, So Are There Actually Standards in Literature.

Enjoy. (Or not!)

Book: The Miracle at Speedy Motors

I’m prepared to read just about anything Alexander McCall Smith writes. This whole series is charming–enchanting, even.

The story this time centers a great deal around the office, with her secretary, or “Associate Detective” as she has become getting involved a great deal along with her fiance.

I’m not one to tell much of the story, but Precious Ramotswe finds herself solving things in very unexpected ways, even when she’s intending to do something quite different.

All I can say about the whole series is, “What’s not to like?”

Book: Hounded to Death

I like Rita Mae Brown, and especially the mysteries that involve Sneaky Pie Brown. This was my first time reading from her series written around fox hunting.

I guess I’m a cat person much more than a dog person, but I never really warmed up to the background in fox hunting. It just doesn’t resonate with me. In addition, the animals are less involved than they are in the books with Sneaky Pie.

Nonetheless I still detect the skill of the other books, even though I didn’t warm to the background. Rita Mae Brown can paint the background and characters that draw you in with relatively few words. You quickly feel like you know the characters and you actually care what happens to them.

I rate the book a three for myself, but I’m betting most mystery readers will rate it higher than that.

Book Notes: Cat in a Sapphire Slipper

I’m a sucker for light reading that involves cats and mystery, so how could I possibly not enjoy Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie mysteries?

This latest book finds Max Kinsella missing and Temple Barr getting engaged to Matt Devine, while the Fontana brothers are all kidnapped, and generally all hell is breaking loose all over.

The problem is to solve the mystery before everyone’s life is ruined, and this is accomplished in a most amusing manner in the required number of pages (396). This is pure fun, though I must say if you don’t like cats you may not like it all that well. Midnight Louie encounters an old flame, and we end up with four cats working on the mystery at once.

What’s not to like?

Doing the Opposite

I found this good suggestion at Fresh Fiction the other day.

Now I’m not suggesting that you go out and do the opposite of whatever you’re doing, but I have found over the last couple of years that many of my own problems result from continuing to do the same thing even when it doesn’t actually work.

In the case of Angie Fox, author of the post I cited, it was a matter of doing something nearly the opposite of what she had been. The result is that she has a new book coming out, The Accidental Demon Slayer. I know nothing about it but what she writes, but what’s important for writers is that it is published! For others, there may be some other goal.

Now writing something different isn’t precisely the opposite of writing. But it’s still a big change. It’s a good suggestion!

Book: Victory Conditions

I blogged about a previous volume in this series, Engaging the Enemy, and while I had complaints, I rated it a 4, because I will continue to go out and look for books by this particular author. Elizabeth Moon does good characterizations and her plot lines are generally interesting enough. I do not find her battle scenes all that engaging or well described. If you’re looking for David Weber style battle scenes, these don’t match up.

Nonetheless, as I said last time, I have kept on reading the series, and while Elizabeth Moon is not on my top tier list (gotta have everything they write, NOW!), her name is a pretty good one to get me reading.

[Spoiler alert]

I found the ending of this book a bit anticlimactic. The final battle is not the best of the lot. I could summarize it as “there was a lot of shooting in space and then the good guys won.” The ending seems almost abrupt, one in which we’re told what happens to everyone sort of like those notes just before film credits telling you where each character ended up.

[/spoiler]

OK, so I will grab the next book by Moon anyhow, though this series is finished. I still rate the series a 4, but this final book is, I think, the least engaging of the series.

Book: Hand of Evil

I’m back to J. A. Jance again with this fascinating novel of suspense and mystery. I like Jance’s characters and her ability to keep the suspense going whilst keeping you involved with those characters. The mystery is good, though I guessed most of it a bit too early for my test. I might well credit that to chance, however, because I don’t do that so frequently with her books.

In Hand of Evil, Ali Reynolds finds herself drawn into multiple cases of extreme evil, with one case distracting her from the other. It’s not her intention to get into police business, but she does. Along the way she finds herself falling in love, largely unaware.

This was my first Ali Reynolds book, and I need to go back and read something earlier. I’m also looking forward to the new Joanna Brady mystery, Damage Control, scheduled for August 1, 2008.

Book: Patrimony

This is another Pip & Flinx adventure. I have to confess that while I love Alan Dean Foster, who is one of those authors I look for on most trips to the library and every trip to the bookstore, I am getting a little overdosed on these books. The problem is that we have had too many of them in which Flinx searches for his father, tries to learn about his powers, and deals with headaches. They are beginning to seem a bit repetitive. On to the next item I say!

Well, this book did provide some answers, though I’m not going to say anything to give them away. At the same time, it bears a great deal of similarity to previous books. I wasn’t that excited about the plot itself. I do enjoy Foster’s relaxed way of presenting a new culture, and I enjoyed both planet and culture as described in this particular book. That part will keep me coming back to Flinx and to the Humanx Commonwealth in other forms as well.

I rate this a 3 by itself, but would raise that to a 4 because of its relatives.

Book: Deluge

This is the third volume of the Twins of Petaybee series.

To let you know how I felt about the book, let me quote what I said about Maelstrom, the second in the series:

It is lighter than the Dragonrider series, and I don’t find the cultural background anywhere near as interesting, but the characters are engaging, and the story is fun. That’s a lot to recommend a book, especially since I look for books to read when my mind wants to rest rather than be challenged. I’m glad there are books that fit the bill.

As I read that now, more than a year after I wrote it, I can only nod my head. That is exactly how I felt reading this volume. It’s why I keep on reading authors like McCaffrey. She can’t always be writing Dragonriders books after all, and once one has done a series like that, everything else is going to look just a bit pale beside it. But this whole series is good fun, even though it’s not all that deep.

I intend to keep reading both authors.

Book: Paradise

I’ve been reading a lot of Mike Resnick’s work lately, especially after encountering his short story Kirinyaga, and then the book built from a number of short stories set in that world. He’s always an exceptional storyteller.

With that, I picked up Paradise, currently it appears only available used. I got my copy from my local public library, on which let me make a comment. Support your public library. It’s a wonderful institution.

Now Paradise is not a book with a theme I would normally enjoy. But this book is interesting and thoughtful and provides a variety of characters to love or hate, or more likely feel ambivalent about. (Don’t even think of mentioning the preposition at the end of a sentence!)

The lead character is a writer who writes first about the people who have been involved with the early years of human contact on the planet Peponi, which means Paradise in a local language. One thing leads to another until he finally visits the planet he has been writing about and gets a direct view.

The problems frequently reflect those of colonialism here on earth. I’d like to think we’d have better sense by the time, if ever, that we contact other sentient species on other worlds. Realistically, that’s probably not a very realistic hope. Even more, just what would “better sense” be in this context? There’s a great deal of room for wondering just exactly what each person should have done in this story. Certainly there are many specific things that are either definitely bad or definitely good.

But even assuming that the exploiters could be kept off a world like this, what would happen with the philanthropists? One imagines that perhaps a Star Trek style non-interference directive (obviously better defined and better enforced than in the series) might be the only answer. No two species would actually meet until each had developed a certain level of technology. But thinking about that leads me to many questionable situations as well.

Moralizing aside, or perhaps because of it, I really enjoyed watching the various characters work through their situations. Each is constrained by his or her own background and situation, and often there are not nearly as many choices as the outsider, such as a reader might think.

Now don’t get the idea that this story is made up of philosophizing and moralizing. The story is well told and well worth reading for fun as well as for thinking. Resnick sneaks the thinking into the cracks and you get caught up asking yourself questions, or at least I do, but perhaps I’m strange.

I strongly recommend this book whether you have to order it used or find it at your public library. Get a copy and enjoy!