Canopus Award Nominee (2015)
Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2015),
Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee for Longlist (2015)
Not all books are winners. Not even all award nominated books are winners.
So, it’s time for another round-up of the books I tried, but couldn’t finish.
Other Systems is the second book that’s been up for the Canopus Award (focusing on books that feature interstellar travel) that I had trouble with. The other one, Creative Fire, was also not the winner, but which has, in my opinion, a similar problem.
It’s just not well written.
I’m not talking about a Big Idea that sucks. I mean, like, on a line-by-line level. The sentences were clunky and sometimes hard to parse.
On the other hand, I seem to be the only one complaining about this. I don’t know if you do this, but sometimes when I hit a snag in a book, particularly a book that has gotten a lot of accolades, I’ll check out what other people are thinking about it on Goodreads. You know, just to double-check: am I way off base? Being weirdly sensitive?
Apparently, I am.
So, if you’re one of those readers who can devour books at lightspeed, you might not notice. I will also note, however, that that was not my only problem. There’s family that gets introduced early on, a spacefaring group of post-humans that I found creepy–and who smoke an awful lot for the future (and in an enclosed spaceship. Ugh.) The dad of this family is like the worst patriarch, he’s weirdly involved in the goings-on of his children’s sex lives, while also saying crap like, “I hope you punished your brother” to an elder sibling in command of a ship.
Now, to be fair, it’s possible that I’m not supposed to like these characters, but in the absence of any other viable options, it made investing in the story difficult. There is another family, back on Earth, and I found them…slightly more likeable, though I spent all the time we were with Abby wondering if I was supposed to imagine her as Asian, and if so, what variety, since her culture seemed to touch on some stereotypes of obedience and deference–but since this was the future I was more willing to roll with the idea that maybe it was all the things all at once.
And, this was my impression before things turned significantly darker. No spoiling, but could’ve used a trigger warning is all I’m saying.
So, I quit.
Speaking of too dark for me, The Shore by Sara Taylor starts out really hardcore in the abuse department. Even so, I was invested in the first set of characters we were introduced to, and then the narrative just leaves them. Basically, the story follows a place–this particular bunch of islands in Chesapeake Bay– through time, though not chronologically. And, kind of everybody involved on the islands has a crappy life. Cursed, even. Ugly. Dark.
The writing, on the other hand, is quite good.
But that kind of made it worse?
Because then it was like “oh, very compelling, ah, I feel the weight of the humid air, I can smell the… OHGODWHATWHY!!??”
Then, you can’t unsee and all the horror is rattling around your brain in High-Def surround-sound.
The Shore is another one of those books that gets the label “ambitious,” which I’ve personally decided is it’s own kind warning beacon.
Again, this is possibly a personal problem, but I have a hard time investing when everything is terribly bleak. I got into an argument about my review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and basically had to admit that I’m not always fond of stories that mimic Real Life™. Yeah, okay, you can argue that good literature explores all the crappy things happening to crappy people. That’s totally the way things really are; I can’t argue with that. But, I don’t particularly want that much real in my science fiction and fantasy. In science fiction and fantasy, what I want is extraordinary people who do amazing, hopeful things.
Probably this is why I’d previously retreated into manga and anime. There’s nothing like a shounen hero to deliver the extraordinary. Shounen heroes and Marvel superheroes.
Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I’m going to go rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy.