True nature of science fiction and fantasy books revealed through photoshopped covers

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81 Responses to “True nature of science fiction and fantasy books revealed through photoshopped covers”

  1. mkultra says:

    When I was young (long time ago), I really loved the SRD series… it took me many years to realize that just because I enjoyed it at the time didn’t mean that it was “good” or well-written in any sense of the word.

    Of course, no mention of SRD is complete without mention of Nick Lowe’s treatise on the competitive sport of “Clench Racing.” (published in Ansible, way back in ’86.)

  2. Ignatz says:

    @Personman: May I add to that list one R.A. Lafferty? His short stories are absolutely gorgeous, and they ride the line between fantasy and SF. Alas that he’s hard to find these days. Add Michael Moorcock to that list as well. (And do not condemn SRD completely before reading The Mordant’s Need books. They’re much better all around.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Site got sunk by traffic, pure and simple. Am finding new hosting provider ASAP.

    –MGK

  4. george57l says:

    #10 – Speculative fiction, eh? As opposed to true fiction? Good grief!

    #27 – exactly!

  5. nigelstwin says:

    @4 Interesting. I’m slogging through the first book in the Covenant series because I bought it several years ago at the behest of someone else — someone who said it was the best fantasy, evar and it’s hard to read. I figure it’s cause I’m not 16 anymore.

  6. MichaelRN says:

    I’ll see your SRD and raise you a Terry Goodkind.

  7. Beard of Bees says:

    Raymond E Feist.

    I am not answering #42.

  8. mkultra says:

    @ #1: I agree with you: you are being quite pedantic. The main problem with separating fantasy and science fiction from each other is that you just end up with a massive plurality of books that don’t fit clearly or comfortably in either genre.

    Similarly, many authors have a body of work that sways and weaves from one side of this arbitrary line in the sand to the other (sometimes within the same series), making a mockery of any attempt to classify them at all. Try it with Charlie Stross, Robert Charles Wilson or Connie Willis. It’s just not feasible.

    I personally prefer the–vastly more inclusive–term “speculative fiction.” (wiki it if you are confused)

    Even more annoying to my mind is moving the (clearly) genre novels out of the genre ghetto and into the mainstream literature section, but only if the author has previously received some degree of renown in literary circles. Poppycock.

    In the press, rarely a week goes by without some moron imposing their clichéd limitations on the genre by proclaiming that this film or that novel (despite all appearances) “isn’t really science fiction, because it isn’t about rayguns and intelligent talking squid in space, but instead is really about PEOPLE and RELATIONSHIPS.” Give me a break.

  9. Neill S Mitchell Esq. says:

    Is the source of all this available to view yet!

    I am keen to see the rest.

  10. Xopher says:

    I guess I have trouble with books that completely lack characters I wouldn’t cheerfully shove in front of a bus. Not Lord Foul’s Bane; that one just has an asshole rapist leper hero, which is also enough to make me not read that writer ever again.

    But I’m afraid Perdido Street Station left me cold for that reason. None of the characters is anything other than a venial, selfish wretch—except the ones who are actually EVIL, which doesn’t really help matters any. I mean, there isn’t even a Likeable Rogue in that bunch.

    I hated Seinfeld, too, just so you know.

  11. belldl says:

    I’m surprised at all the people disliking SRD/Covenant – the ‘Land’ and people in it aren’t the same old Tolkien rehashed, it felt fresh after a steady diet of Shannara, Jordan, Eddings et al.

    And from the comments it sounds like most people who didn’t like it, didn’t like it because the main character is complicated – a screwed up guy who wants to do something good and make up for his mistakes? Is that a dealbreaker for SF/F genre readers?

  12. dfletcher says:

    WARNING SPOILERS.

    Wow I’m amazed at the reactions to Donaldson’s series. I’m actually rereading the whole series now. I’m almost done with “The Power That Preserves.”

    The scene where Trell starts his own Ritual of Desecration is just great. When Mhoram manages to stop the in-progress inferno, and during this learns secrets of power in the land – this scene sends chills down my spine.

    I really like his land. Yes Covenant’s an ass and very crazy. SRD goes through great lengths to show that his leprosy has made him the half-man that he is. The story is not good because of Covenant. It’s good because of all the other characters, especially the Stonedowner family that Covenant destroyed on his first visit.

    The enemies are pretty cool. Giant-ravers, illearth creatures, urviles, even Foul himself… it’s nice to have enemies other than the standard “dragon vs good guy.”

    SRD was trying to make an anti-hero. In these days of the ubiquitous “Hollywood happy ending”, I found this to be a somewhat refreshing change.

  13. doggscube says:

    I loved the Thomas Covenant series in high school and again in college (meaning last read a little over 10 years ago). I’ve tried twice now to read Runes of the Earth, and it was just awful. I’m scared to try the first two series again.

  14. palad says:

    @43 Bazzargh

    2 of 4, I believe. I seem to recall that the Last Chronicles will be a four-book span (quadrilogy? quadrology?) instead of a trilogy.

    I read the Thomas Covenant books in high school, and regularly go back to them now. I enjoy Donaldson’s use of language, and I love the philosophical, moral, and/or ethical musings he writes about. Covenant is definitely not a likable guy, and Linden Avery (the other main character) has character flaws that render her in a similar way, but there’s something refreshing about that. No matter how flawed the characters may be, they reflect something ultimately human, and I connect to them in a way few other writers can evoke.

  15. technogeek says:

    My reaction to the Thomas Covenant series was summed up by the section where, if I remember correctly, he tells us that giants tell the most boring stories of any race … then proceeds to tell us one.

    To steal a phrase from Barry Hughart (who, admittedly, was describing another book), Covenant is the sort of character who should have been either beheaded or castrated, both ends being equally objectionable.

    I think Donaldson’s literary ambitions ran away with him, and folks mistook his decision to please himself rather than anyone else for artistic merit. Artistic _integrity_ I’ll grant, but in the end that doesn’t mean the experiment was successful. He did create an interesting world, but not interesting enough to put up with Covenant’s company; in the end, his whining and misbehavior was more boring than the world was interesting.

    De gustibus, of course. If it works for you, great; maybe you’re seeing something I’m not. For me, this was a book to dispose of — and that’s almost unheard of; books that come into my house are almost never permitted to leave.

  16. Alpinwolf says:

    @#9, with everyone panning SRD, I must conclude that you see Goodkind in an unfavorable light?

    Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the works of SR Donaldson. But I’ve quite enjoyed Goodkind. Is he Teh Awesome? Well, not penultimate, but not horrid. I’m reminded of that idiom “One man’s trash….”

    I’ll happily accede that Goodkind could have his characters ramble for days in a redundant monologue, but that aside I found his storylines (occasionally retellings) enthralling and sometimes provocative. I found good and bad, great and ugly, in all the books of the Sword of Truth series, but they kept me reading.

    I like Robert Jordan as well, but he has had two entire tomes of the Wheel of Time wherein nothing has really transpired.

    The Sword of Shannara was evidently nutritionally deficient, as everything was “lean”. Several people, a couple swords, the trees of a certain forest, goblins in general, wolves, elves, the grass, a rope, the economy of one city-state… The rocks too, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m still devouring, >1-dz. books later.

    Pros and cons abound, but I have a hard time conceiving of how Goodkind could be judged terrible.

    I wager one would be hard pressed in this community to find detractors of Asimov, Gaiman, and Clarke, who are all high on my list. But I’m sure they exist. Dan Brown, on the other hand…. I should have just stopped at the movie version.

    One serious oddity I’ve encountered, literarily, is in a work of Thomas Pynchon: Mason & Dixon. I studied land surveying for a time, and my very literary (and published) mom bought me M&D for Solstice one year, as Mason and Dixon were surveyors (for those happening not to know), and she thought I might enjoy that period demi-history.

    I was unable, after three hours and four ibuprofen, to complete the second page. I still have no idea what it said. I think maybe someone was at dinner. When my lives-in-books mom gave it a go, she got three pages into it and apologized for her choice of gift. Of course she didn’t have to do, it was a well-meant gift, and surely something by Pynchon was going to be great…. Perhaps the content was marvelous, but we both found it unreadable. Literally.

    Anyways, genius does not guarantee clarity, and bestseller status does not guarantee quality, but I would caution against global categorizations. I bet there are other fans of Goodkind around here too.

    As an astute friend of mine once put it: “All generalizations are Bad.”

  17. Flying Orca says:

    Nice to see Steve Brust and Steve “Erikson” getting the nod here – my two favourite fantasy writers, along with Charles de Lint. I was lucky enough to have one of the Malazan books dedicated to me… :D

  18. mycophage says:

    Crap, the site’s been boingboinged — can’t get through!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Forget BoingBoinged, Websense is blocking this site for “Adult Content.” Stupid.

  20. ThreeFJeff says:

    @Alpinwolf, Gaiman is unimpeachable. I’ve never encountered a thing of his that was not wonderful.

    For Asimov, you will never find anyone dis his whole corpus, but I’ve heard criticism of some of his early work (eg, the first couple books in the Foundation series). Mind you, I love the Foundation series, and Asimov in general, but the first three Foundation books are easily his weakest (although they are also his earliest, and in many ways excusable).

    I’ve met people who out-and-out dislike Clarke. I don’t understand it–I love Clarke, but there is some group of geeks and sci-fi lovers who dislike his work.

    You mentioned the Wheel of Time. I don’t mean to disrespect the dead, but that series is a complete hackjob. Jordan’s only saving grace is the actual construction of his prose–it is quick and easy to read. One might even confuse this with “good”. His male characters are one dimensional, and he has one female character with different names–oh, and this one female character archetype is a completely hollow, rancid bitch.

    I got six books in and realized the only two characters I didn’t abjectly hate never got any face time. His world is confusingly large. Normally, I can keep track of the details in a series without any problem, but I found I actually needed the extensive glossaries included at the end of his books (I invoke the Fiction Rule of Thumb). To top it off, he has two tomes where nothing happens (as noted above). For RJ, that’s 1500-2000 pages of NOTHING. SIX INCHES OF SHELF SPACE WHERE NOTHING HAPPENS.

    So, I raise y’all a Robert Jordan (and hope MGK can get new hosting for his site posthaste).

  21. yendi says:

    Looks like the site has been BoingBoinged. Anyone know an alternate url?

    Donaldson, btw, was one of the awful writers highlighted at this year’s Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition at Readercon. There’s no question that his prose belonged there.

  22. Anonymous says:

    It’s suspended, but I’m sure it’ll be back soon.

    As for good fantasy writers please please please stay away from Goodkind, Jordan, Brooks (PLEASE!), Donaldson or Eddings unless you want to remind yourself of what you thought was “INCREDIBLE” at the age of 15.

    Look for some of the new authors doing incredible new things with the genre. Martin, Erickson, Abercrombie and the like. New ideas, compelling stories.

  23. ubernym says:

    I’m curious what boingers think of McCarthy’s The Road?

    It’s the first of his books that I read, and while I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as sci-fi or speculative fiction. True enough that it deals with a speculative post-apoc world, and it’s also true that post-apoc stories are usually considered sci-fi… but The Road genuinely DID seem to focus on people and relationships. Or rather, it focused entirely on a father and a son and the conflicts of hope and perserverance in a dying world. It could have easily been set during th Black Plague or some other great catastrophe in history, and then we’d want to classify it as historical fiction.

    I bet if I went to Barnes and Noble, The Road would not be shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy section, but in the high-falutin Literature section. Is that wrong? Are we being a bit pretentious be labeling John Crowley as Literature but Neil Gaiman as Fantasy?

    I learned about genre in second grade, and I still don’t know anything about them. It seems to me a necessary tool for marketing purposes, but if I ran a bookstore I’d be sorely tempted to either separate books only as fiction or non-fiction or go the extreme opposite and have sections like “Books About Spies” and “Books About Rugged Men and Horses” and “Books about Icky Things Which are Actually Metaphors of the Human Condition” and “Books to Impress that Hottie Who Sits Next to You on the Bus and Wears Retro-Cool Sunglasses.”

  24. StrawberryFrog says:

    Looks interesting, pity that it died under the load.

    Stephen R. Donaldson’s writing annoyed me, he’d use the word “Excruciate” every hundred pages or so, e.g. “The pain excruciated Thomas”. It was like stubbing a toe each time.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Like many others, I was unable to get through the Thomas Covenant books. Just horrible stuff. I wish Jordan’s Wheel of Time was also so obviously terrible. It’s at least as bad, it just takes a little longer to get the lid off the trash can. I think I managed to get through 5 books before I gave up in disgust. Can you believe “Artur Pendraeg”? What a hack!

    Someone else mentioned Laurel Hamilton. Her first few Anita Blake books were really entertaining, but they soon became repetitious. And yes, she must be getting some. Talk about horizontal monster mash. Not safe for kids! Ursula Leguin’s EarthSea was terrific. I liked McCaffrey, and I still am fascinated with Harry Potter, even at 42 years of age. I guess CS Lewis is relatively safe, like Tolkien? Can’t really bash those two.

  26. Banksynergy says:

    My favourite one is the one that’s all like:

    “This Account Has Been Suspended
    Please contact the billing/support department as soon as possible.”

    …yeeeah.

  27. Daemon says:

    Well, at least nobody has been singing the praises of the Gor series so far…

    What about other epic fantasy series? David Edding’s Belgariad/Mallorean? Or Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow & Thorn?

    #10 – Actually, I sort of dislike the term “speculative fiction” as it’s pretty hard to find fiction of any sort that isn’t speculative.

  28. Pipenta says:

    When I tried to read the first Thomas Covenant book, I was working as a rape crisis advocate. I didn’t finish it. It made me feel kind ill and there was nothing in it that gave me any reason to continue reading.

    That is not to say I won’t read any story with a rapist as a main character. I couldn’t put Lolita down and there’s a main character who is truly a monster. But comparing those too books is like comparing a stale cellophane-wrapped processed cheese sandwich from a vending machine to fine dining.

    Catbeller, fantasizing about rape is probably often a little creepy, but a conscious dream about rape is much creepier. In a dream, you do not control the reactions of the person you are violating. You are getting off on the abuse, on hurting them. It is nothing like BDSM, in which the parties are consenting. There is no safeword. It is creepy. It put the hair up on the back of my neck. But I’m thinking you are a male, so the reality in which you live is very different than than mine.

    Neither Covenant nor his victim were real. They were both fantasies. It is interesting that your empathy is only for the rapist, while mine is only for his victim.

    As far as fantasy goes, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll take “Perdido Street Station” over all the rest of it.

  29. Professor Pan says:

    Count me as a fan of the Covenant trilogies. I even re-read them as an adult (in my thirties) and still greatly enjoyed them. Though at times I wanted to slap Leper-man in the face and scream, “It’s real, you stupid fuck! Quit your unbeliever bullshit!” the underlying ethos/philosophy of the Land and the superb supporting characters (Foamfollower, anyone?) made up for the book’s flaws. And Lord Foul was one mean mofo, with a bit more complexity than the average dark lord.

    That said, I tried reading the first book of the new chronicles and barely made it through twenty pages.

    Something has either gone terribly wrong with Donaldson or his current editor should be fired. I’m talking basic paragraph structure here — I couldn’t tell who was talking to whom because of the fragmented and illogical paragraph breaks. It was an utter mess, and I can’t imagine anyone but the most fanatical fans trudging through it.

    I still consider the original trilogy to be top-shelf fantasy, along with Tolkien and Pullman. There’s very little fantasy, particularly high fantasy, that I can stomach, but even beyond the nostalgia factor, I think Donaldson pulled it off.

  30. ncm says:

    I will take the opportunity to complain here about Mercedes Lackey.

    Furthermore, let us excoriate Jack McDevitt, e.g. the first line from Chindi: “The Benjamin … was at the extreme limit of its survey territory”.

  31. toxonix says:

    SRD’s stories ARE Tolkien rip-offs, and probably the worst ones. I feel sorry for people who identify with Covenant. He had no redeeming qualities. Persistent whining self loathing guilt. I think the stories would be bearable if he was constantly trying to commit suicide, but failing.

    #58:
    McCarthy is definately literature. He may be the best writer of literature that I’ve ever read. I usually have to stop reading to absorb just how well his prose is crafted.

  32. nanuq says:

    There are fantasy series and then there are fantasy series. Either they take you into a faraway land modeled on Middle Earth (or medieval Europe) or they inject fantasy elements into our mundane reality. After a while, they all end up looking alike to me.

  33. Blaatann says:

    I’m pretty amazed no one has mentioned George R.R. Martin. He writes the books Jordan wishes he was capable of. Personally I had given up on fantasy until I read the books written so far in the A song of Ice and Fire series.

    And, I never finished the second Covenant book. There are too many assholes in the real world turning beautiful things to shit..

  34. Steve Stair says:

    I liked the Covenant series in high school, but then I also read Battlefield Earth in junior high and liked it, so clearly I liked crap.

    I will say this for Donaldson’s Covenant series, it may suck, but it sucks in new ways, as opposed to people like Eddings, whose series suck in the same old ways.

    I was reading a second series by Eddings, and had this uneasy feeling that I had read the series before. I hadn’t, but it was such a retread of his own other series that it felt that way.

    I’ll second the suggestion for China Miéville and Steven Brust.

  35. Roach says:

    #66 – The worst Tolkien rip-off isn’t SRD. It’s Dennis L. McKiernan. Hell, he was even supposedly trying to write a Tolkien “sequel” (as though such was needed) when he wrote the Iron Tower series, which is just a stripped-down (rarely a compliment in my opinion) version of LotR, only without the Ring. But he’s got all the same races, characters, plot events, and the rest. It’s completely ridiculous.

  36. Nix says:

    purplewyrm@#41, it’s not complete without the next line:

    ‘They were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene. They looked horribly like children.’

    (I bought the books but couldn’t get far enough into them to encounter that sentence myself: this comes courtesy of Langford’s immortal _The Dragonhiker’s Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune’s Edge: Odyssey Two_, reprinted in _The Silence of the Langford_, which of course has an introduction by our esteemed moderator.)

  37. Vanderath says:

    The Epic Fantasy Synopsis:

    Aged Wise Man locates heir. Heir destined to defeat Great Evil. Heir gathers like minded folk, usually comprised of one of each nationality or race, and one or more people from his home village. Party of Heroes begin to travel through every village on the map, even if the Great Evil lives next door to the Heir.

    Following the loss of Aged Wise Man, The party is divided, and the majority find themselves embroiled in a great battle. The Heir confronts and defeats the Great Evil, just in time to somehow influence the fate of the rest of the Heroes.

    Divide amongst a minimum of three books, or in the case of the Shannara series, put between one set of covers, but duplicate for a minimum of five sequels…

    Note: this is also the plot of The Matrix trilogy.

  38. Michael A. Banks says:

    Here’s a book whose cover is not Photoshopped:

    Clan of the Dung Sniffers, by Lee Danielle Hubbard (yes)
    http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/clanofthedungsniffers/cds-catalog.html

    Um … is it this kind of shit that gives SF a bad name?
    –Mike

  39. Anonymous says:

    BAD Boing Boing! You eated his page!

  40. happenedtobehere says:

    Eddings’ Belgariad series is the only set of books I’ve kept from all the fantasy and sci-fi I read. Couldn’t bear the Malloreon though, and didn’t get through any of the others.

    It was curious to see how many points from the Belgariad turned up in the Harry Potter series. Orphaned boy who comes into inherited powers at adolescence. Parents killed by dark lord/evil god who young boy ultimately has to confront. Boy has scar that itches in presence of dark lord etc. There are even scenes wehere Garion talks to visions of his murdered parents that are very reminiscent to similar scenes in HP. But then fantasy isn’t known for its originality.

  41. mkultra says:

    From all the comments here in praise of SRD, I can only assume many must be fans of Dr. Ronald Chevalier as well (who seems to have a similar gift for prose)… also very apropos to this discussion because of his lovely book covers. his website

  42. mwisconsin says:

    For all of you who have been burned by too many epic fantasy series’, I implore you to give Steven Erickson’s Malazan novels a try. If you liked Glen Cook’s early Black Company series, this is the series for you…it’s how Cook should have continued writing after the 3rd novel.

  43. rosyatrandom says:

    Ah, yes, I see quite a few recommendations for books I like – someone mentioned Joe Abercrombie, whose First Law trilogy is fantastic. I feel I should give a nod to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books, though, as they are some of the most satisfying reads I’ve had in a long time. And everyone should read Zelazny’s Amber books.

  44. Xopher says:

    The SRD sentence that is, in a sense, canonical: “The horses were almost prostrate upon their feet.”

    SHIT writer. And his hero is a piece of shit too.

  45. Notary Sojac says:

    I read the first Covenant trilogy a couple of years ago, and didn’t mind it all that much, and I’m on the north side of 40.

    Admittedly the writing was turgid in spots, but the plot and characters caught my interest, especially when you compare it to what I’ve seen for the last fifteen years in the (now totally misnamed) Science Fiction Book Club, which features blurbs that I refer to as Fantasy Mad Libs…..

    “Young (male/female name), a (working class job title) of apparent humble birth, discovers that he/she possesses a gift of (type of magical power) and may be heir to the (title of nobility) of (made up placename). But first he/she must seek out the (edged weapon) of (made up name) and use it to overcome the evil (name of fantasy race) led by the dark (title of nobility) (made up name). Volume (integer one through five) of the (made up name) Saga….”

  46. fencepost says:

    Martin is good. You could beat a horse to death with some of his books, but that’s because when he went to write epic fantasy he appears to have gone for EPIC fantasy.

    Eddings was entertaining, but I’d classify it as OK young adult fantasy at this point.

    Laurel Hamilton (in the fantasy elements in the modern world genre) started out as young-adult level fantasy, but I’m glad I’d gotten into her later books *before* someone asked me for recommendations for her kids. In the later books it becomes clear that a) the author is getting some; b) the some that she’s getting is probably well outside the mainstream; c) that children should not read books by authors who wrote them while listening to The Bloodhound Gang (yes, this is true).

    Charles deLint’s books may be boring to some, but they may be the best in the urban fantasy category – he’s not generally taking the whole “great evil must be opposed, and we’re the only fools who haven’t run” approach, just dealing with issues of overlap.

    I never made it through the second SRD book when I was a teen – I’d heard good things, but I just found the main character such an ass that it wasn’t worth my time.

    I read the first few of the Goodkind books, but once it became clear that it was a never-ending series where the author was clearly being paid by the word I lost interest. Much the same with Raymond Feist – I first read Magician as a single-volume softcover from the library before it was split in half for paperback publication and found it very good; the followups were also good but at some point I lost respect – probably with one of the books that read like it was the script for a video game.

    Lackey was fun when I was younger. I’ll still glance at the books at the library, but it’s been a long, long time since I was tempted to buy one.

    And of course, I still enjoy Brust’s books quite a bit.

  47. catbeller says:

    Simple:

    Science Fiction: stories of the possible.
    Fantasy: stories of the impossible.

  48. Jinglefritz says:

    #18 I ordered one of the godawful Gor books from amazon and now every time I go to my amazon page I am told that I’m probably here to buy one of 15 other books with naked women on the cover. Now my amazon account is nsfw.
    Also the book sucked.

    SRD is Ok if you are 13.

  49. catbeller says:

    Covenant wasn’t a rapist; he was a man in hell who thought he was dreaming, so he went with a bad decision. Do you make moral decisions in dreams?

    Unlike every human in history who dreamed, it turned out that he was in an alternate reality, and had committed rape. Every tragedy he faced sprang from that one, benighted moment. The bastard was fucked every way he turned.

    He wasn’t any better or worse than most of us. He was a sadly realistic person in an unreal world.

  50. wylkyn says:

    Got here too late to see the content, but the “Asshole Leper Hero” cover nearly knocked me out of my chair with laughter.

    I liked the Thomas Covenant series back when I was a teenager. I was fascinated and horrified by his selfish choices, and I think he was really the first antihero I remember reading about, or maybe the most extreme by that age. I recently tried going back and reading the series again, but I can not. I do not like it now. I’m not sure why.

  51. Eustace Tilley says:

    Catbeller, are you comfortable classifying all of Asimov’s robot stories as fantasy? His Three Laws of Robotics are impossible.

    Asimov claims that the Three Laws are “inherent in the positronic brain.” They are so inherent, that even the Solarians, the finest roboticists in the galaxy, are unable to make a positronic brain which would not be bound by the Three Laws.

    This is preposterous.

    The purpose of the Three Laws is to permit Asimov to write short stories which are in essence a variant of Trickster / Devil’s Contract tales; the protagonist gets into scrapes brought on by an interpretation of the literal text of a contract.

    Asimov’s Azazel stories use the same technique, but the character bound by rules is a demon, so Asimov doesn’t need to justify why such a powerful entity should be bound by rules rather than act like Gyges.

  52. Tom says:

    I really enjoyed the first Covenant books when I was a teenager. What I liked was the moral problem of how to act in a world that was arguably unreal (I was a recovering Christian) and I identified strongly with Covenant’s self-loathing and psychological isolation (I was an intellectual teenage boy in a fishing and logging town.)

    The issue people have with Covenant as a rapist seems to me weird, like saying that there’s something wrong with the Conan books because the hero is a murderer (and probably a rapist as well, for all I know–never read those books.) Is Covenant a nasty person? Yeah, that’s the point. And yet flawed as he is he manages to resist Lord Foul, which for a pretty wretched teenager was actually kinda uplifting.

    The second trilogy was terrible, and I have no intention of reading the third. I’m tempted to go back and look at the first and find out how unreadably bad the prose is.

    On Pynchon: I’m currently about a quarter of the way in to “Against the Day”, and finding it delightful, but have never been able to get past the first few pages of “Gravity’s Rainbow.” This is not because I’m a philistine and don’t appreciate art, it’s because what I see Pynchon doing stylistically in the first few pages of “Gravity’s Rainbow” is absolutely brilliant, note-perfect, and grates on my soul like broken glass. There are plenty of reasons to loathe Pynchon, and not all of them are that the person doing the loathing is subliterate.

  53. Anonymous says:

    “Characteristics are limitations.”
    Kenny Werner

  54. Anonymous says:

    i liked the Thomas Covenant Chronicles. the fact that the hero was an unlikeable ass was intentional on the part of the author.

    the Covenant series provided an excellent counterpoint to the Lord of the Rings. to put it simplistically:

    - in TLOR, the fate of the world was given to a hero who was a good person who had to resist evil (he failed, by the way).

    - in Covenant, the fate of the world was given to a hero who was bad (in fact, arguably, evil) who had to find a way to do something good.

    just my two cents. – chudez

  55. Antinous says:

    SRD’s stories ARE Tolkien rip-offs, and probably the worst ones.

    A friend of mine talked me into reading one. It gave me that queasy, disoriented feeling just like the time that I was on a little Greek island and the only English-language book that I could find to read was a Harlequin romance. What do you say to someone who recommends something like that to you: Hey! Great book! Have you had a brain scan lately?

  56. drivers99 says:

    Someone has stated this much better before in an article I read a long time ago, but why do these hosting sites pull your site down as soon as you hit the big time, when what they should be doing is helping you out and proving how awesome they could be? As MGK said above, time to find a new hosting site. So now they’ve lost a customer, and saved $2 (?) of bandwidth.

  57. Ed Bear says:

    Not sure what the hate for SRD is all about – I can’t slog my way through the Covenant books these days, but they were The Greatest Thing Ever when I was 15, and I’m happy enough with what I got from them at the time. An asshole hero in a world full of people doing their best to tolerate him, most of whom fully despise him in their hearts – what 15 year old can’t identify with that shit?

  58. Jonathan Badger says:

    I was unable, after three hours and four ibuprofen, to complete the second page. I still have no idea what it said. I think maybe someone was at dinner. When my lives-in-books mom gave it a go, she got three pages into it and apologized for her choice of gift. Of course she didn’t have to do, it was a well-meant gift, and surely something by Pynchon was going to be great…. Perhaps the content was marvelous, but we both found it unreadable. Literally.

    This sort of reaction is why the literary world stereotypes SF readers as illiterate. BTW, Mason & Dixon isn’t even considered particularly challenging Pynchon — not like Gravity’s Rainbow. Have you read Pynchon before? If not, The Crying of Lot 49 is probably the best introduction. Pynchon is challenging but well worth it.

  59. hanov3r says:

    Still no mirror or reinstatement of MGK’s account?

  60. george57l says:

    Let me be the first pedant to say that these all (but one) seem to be fantasy books, not science fiction. Chalk and cheese to some readers. As an author of similar I’d hope you might be a bit more discriminating than 100% of the bookshops I’ve ever visited.

    Never could stand the cloaks and dragons (with added magic and mysticism) type stuff that constitutes most fantasy, personally. So I enjoyed the fun poked in/at these.

    “Science fiction and fantasy”. There’s more sense in putting cookery books in the chemistry section, or romantic fiction in the biology section.

    (Thanks for providing a convenient excuse for getting THAT off my chest!)

  61. Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of Dr Ronald Chevalier, he he:

    http://ronaldchevalier.com/

  62. PurpleWyrm says:

    Nix @ #71, you’re right! How could I forget about the children!?

    I labored my way through both Covenant trilogies in high school because one of my best friends thought (and still thinks) they were awesome. I liked a lot of SRD’s ideas but found his writing style hard work.

    The same friend recently lent me The Runes of the Earth – I haven’t managed to get more than a few pages in.

    SRD’s short stories are generally better, Animal Lover and Reave the Just are still stuck in my head years after I read them. Good ideas but without all the turgid prose (or at least turgid prose in more easily digestible chunks).

  63. Anonymous says:

    This far in and nobody has quoted “There’s a Spaceship on the Cover of My Book?”

    Mercedes Lackey . . . I fell in love with Talia in Arrows of the Queen, then out again with the second book when Valdemar revealed itself to be Generic Fantasyland Where Everybody Talks and Thinks Like Modern Urban Americans. Haven’t found a single novel of hers since that I cared enough about to buy. But her short stories are gems! She wrote two horror stories that literally gave me chills. Her most effective, terrifying monster–one of the scariest I ever read about–is a cardboard box.

    I still love Andre Norton. Yes, her language is weirdly stylized, yes, she uses cliches like sprinkles on donuts, yes, she has suffered from “she did it first but everybody knows the ending now,” but she knows how to work it.

    I also want to recommend Neena Gathering by Valerie Nieman Colander. It’s a girl’s coming of age in a post-apocalyptic North America. Tender, haunting, sometimes terrifying, and ultimately hopeful.

    Jenny Islander

  64. hagbard says:

    Goodkind’s sentences fall with a thud to the floor, even more so than Dan Brown’s.

    If you are tired of the medievalism of most fantasy, try R. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing trilogy.

    Xopher, I don’t think that’s a canonical SRD sentence, because it doesn’t have any words like “nacreous”, “chryselephantine” or “pulchritude”.

  65. Roach says:

    I really liked the Thomas Covenant books. They’re always on my very small list of good fantasy books that aren’t just Tolkien ripoffs (also on the list: Tolkien himself and Gene Wolfe). The end of the last book is particularly magnificent, as is the question of reality vs. fantasy being discussed within a fantasy novel.

    Donaldson does seem to have a weird attraction to rape, though. While I didn’t have really any issues with how it was used in TC, he also has lengthy rape scenes central to the plot in both The Mirror of Her Dreams and The Gap Into Conflict (where it freaked me out and caused me to stop reading both the book and Donaldson, with the exception of a return to the Covenant books now and then).

  66. nosehat says:

    I also enjoyed SRD when I was a young teen, for precisely the reason that some of you say you don’t like him. His anti-hero was someone you really weren’t supposed to like or admire at all, someone you really didn’t want to be. As I recall, TC didn’t like himself either for that matter, and he certainly didn’t want to do what was required of him to save the world he was in. I found this really refreshing as a young teen, a different sort of approach from the other stuff on the book stand. Of course I’d have to reread it if I really wanted to defend it today; I’m sure I would have overlooked clunky writing and poor style at 13. After all, I overlooked clunky writing in Asimov and Farmer and Harrison back then, in favor of their interesting ideas.

    Even as a kid though, I couldn’t stand Goodkind, and I saw absolutely no redeeming qualities at all in Piers Anthony. Surely SRD isn’t as bad as that?

  67. Jay F says:

    OMG, I almost fell out of my chair laughing because I read a few of the Asshole Leper Hero series and man was it crap.

    THANK YOU MGK! It’s funny because it’s true.

  68. nosehat says:

    @ #35 Jonathan Badger:

    Speaking of things not standing the test of time very well, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 blew my mind as a college freshman. I’ve just recently re-read it now 20 years later, and I wonder what I ever saw in it. It’s a lot more aimless than I remember, and kind of flashy at the expense of substance. But that’s just my 2 cents.

  69. kamiikoneko says:

    It makes perfect sense to put cooking books in the chemistry section, btw. Chemistry is at the very heart of cooking, and most of my friends that went to culinary school at Cornell took several food-oriented chemistry classes that, while not OrgoChem or anything, weren’t just the basics. By understanding what’s happening to your food on the molecular level you really boost your ability to master the form.

    Sorry to everyone that wasted their time reading that, haha.

  70. PurpleWyrm says:

    For me the canonical SRD sentence will always be “they were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene”. Even with the help of a dictionary it’s still completely impenetrable.

  71. george57l says:

    Yeah – that juxtaposition wasn’t an accident – I did say MORE sense. (Of course my comparison breaks down with romantic fiction/biology – before anyone else takes me literally)

    Heston Blumenthal rules! The best exponent of cooking as chemistry around at the moment.

  72. Jezrael says:

    And can you believe there’s a SECOND chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I plowed through the entire first chronicles with the delusion that Covenant would actually undergo some kind of character development.

    No such luck.

    Oh, and I see your Eddings and Jordan and raise you
    David Gemmell.

  73. toxonix says:

    SRD is by far the worst author I’ve ever read. The worst. By Far. He writes for the asshole rapist obsessive compulsive leper in all of us?
    I think there may have been an aspect of science fiction to these books. Maybe the part where the asshole rapist leper gets transported into fantasy world at the whim of the author (kind of like the Narnia books).
    That is an appropriate book title.

  74. bwcbwc says:

    Looks like he exceeded his bandwidth quota.

    I never got into Thomas Covenant, but SRD’s other series starting with “The Mirror of Her Dreams” was a bit more readable.

  75. Anonymous says:

    You should check out George R R Martin.

  76. Personman says:

    While the discussion of terrible fantasy is certainly on-topic, I feel that it would be regrettable for this thread to consist of nothing else. I submit as truly excellent fantasy:

    Borges
    LeGuin
    Harrison (M. John, not Harry)
    Peake

    Who else deserves to be on this list?

  77. bazzargh says:

    @Jezrael

    Second? You mean you didn’t notice that the THIRD chronicles are out? (well 2 of the 3 volumes anyway)

    I did read the first two chronicles, but fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, you won’t get fooled again; fool me three times, yo mama so featureless and telic, she’s like lambent gangrene.

  78. Anonymous says:

    I would like to chime in on genre seperation: on one side, generic sword and sorcery, medieval, dragons. Beside this big pile, smaller pile of yummy books!

  79. Neill S Mitchell Esq. says:

    In fear of echoing..

    I read SRD in my youth – Thought it was great.

    Got The Fatal Revenant this year = Turgid. Either he got worse or I got smarter.

    Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow & Thorn is sublime, much less sword and sorcery and more politics of War.

    He also does damn good SF. Otherland. Did it pre-date The Matrix? Still a great story of a VR world, Avitars, and Evil Corporations.

  80. Skep says:

    Darn, slashdotted, er, Boing Boinged, already…

    Mirror anyone? Or did the site get borked by dozens of geeks hosing the entire site to set up mirrors?

  81. Cyanaura says:

    Peoples, peoples, peoples!

    WHERE’S THE MIRROR?

    I haven’t read them since I was a kid, but the Power that Preserves is the first book I read cover to cover in one sitting.

    The books I read were without illustration – I was surprised at how ‘Tolsteinian’ they made the ur-viles look when I looked at an ‘unpublished’ chapter in some anthology.

    In the 20+ years since, only 2 books (of comparable length) have shared that distinction.

    That said, I haven’t re-read that book (or the other 2 for that matter) and this thread has made me wonder how it would hold up…I mean, I loved Piers Anthony – but I wouldn’t reread him except to my children…which means I won’t be reading SRD to my boy – I’d rather let him discover it as a teenager and SRD’s inclusion of rape and leprosy in a book full of otherwise make believe monsters and heroes.

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