Friday, July 27, 2007

Ready any bad books lately?


Over on the SRReader discussion board, someone posted a topic, “The Worst Book You Ever Read” which was interesting to me in a couple of ways. I could write on the worst book I began but was unable to finish, and there is an ever-growing pile of those. As I get older, I am simply less tolerant. Oh, it's selfish, I know, but I have a finite number of years on this planet, and I don’t want to spend many of my precious minutes reading something I don’t like. If I am being paid, such as reading the essays my students write, that’s one thing. But when I am reading for fun, I often set books aside before I finish and look for something that I find more entertaining. However, I have read a few bad books, in their entirety, for various reasons.

The worst book I actually read from cover to cover was Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, a novel required in my freshman English class in undergraduate school. At least I remember it as the worst. Some thirty-three years have passed since I read it; therefore, Joyce’s novel may not have been as bad as I remember, but I still tout it as a fantastic cure for insomnia. I do remember going to sleep almost every time I read a significant portion of that stream-of-consciousness experiment.

Recently, I read one of E. E. “Doc” Smith's classic space operas, which have been rereleased as eBooks, just as a research item. I chose Triplanetary, and it ranks high on the list of worst books that I actually read. One interesting aspect of this yarn was the love story. Our hero, his girl, and his superior officer have been captured and the young lady has been separated from the men. Our hero, Conway Costigan, fears for his lady’s well-being. The dialogue is a bit melodramatic: “We’ll do something,” Costigan declared grimly. “If he makes a pass at her I’ll get him if I have to blow this whole sphere out of space, with us in it!” Nowadays, I think he’d have more to worry about than the villain merely “making a pass” at his lady-friend.

His prose is also dated. For instance, Einstein proposed calling the medium through which light travels in the vacuum of space “ether,” and Smith embraces this term, using it over seventy times. Smith’s climactic space battle scene is filled with lines like this: "Crimson opacity struggled sullenly against violet curtain of annihilation." About a third of this scene was written in passive voice as well.

Still, Triplanetary was an interesting look back at what was SF entertainment in 1934. Obviously, the genre has come a long way from these tales from a by-gone era.

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