Inspiring Books

Writer’s first rule: read a lot. And so I have always done – on average 1 book a week in the last few years. I usually devour the books I read quickly.

These days I read mostly genre fiction in my favorite genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. When I look for more books to read I sometimes consult lists other people made of the best books in the genre, like this one:  the 100 best books of scifi and fantasy. Or I check out lists on good reads that contain some of my favorite books or I look what my friends or favorite writers are reading right now. Sometimes I even consider the recommendations my favorite ebook seller is giving me – but usually I am way past those.

When the humblebundle had a bunch of ebooks on sale I grabbed them as fast as I could even if there were only a couple of the books I was interested in. (I just noticed that was not their first book bundle, meh. How could I have missed this.). In that bundle was Spin. Spin won the “Best Novel” Hugo Award in 2006. Usually I would have passed it over in favor of something more epic or more obviously my taste. But since I had it, I started reading and enjoyed the book immensely.

So I thought: hey I should read more of the books that won those awards there must be some real gems among the hugos and nebulas (I just noticed that based on my favorite books, maybe I should also include the Locus awards in my reading lists).

I went through the award winners and looked for interesting books. I noticed two writers I read when I was younger: Jack Vance and Robert Silverberg. So I bought The Last Castle and A Time of Changes.

Both of them only got a 3/5 rating from me. I had no expectation of either story except to read a story people thought worthy of an award. I got that, but I did not get the enjoyment I usually get from reading.

The Last Castle was a bit weird but at least it managed to grab my attention around 50% and I managed to finish it within a week. However, it’s only a novella, something I should have finished in an evening. I found it was a well-written and nicely executed idea, a metaphor. It just did not speak to me. So I found it hard to read.

Then I started the Silverberg. I thought the concept of a society in complete self-denial – so much so that using the word “I” is considered an obscenity – was interesting. Alas it was not interesting enough for me apparently. Again: the book is well-written and the concept perfectly executed. The idea is good. But it took me several weeks to finish reading the book and I was glad once it was over.

Objectively these are both good books and I am sure they deserve the awards they got. Subjectively I had no fun reading them. I forced myself to consume them like I would eat what’s on my plate because I am hungry and do not want to throw out whatever it is even though the taste is bland and uninspiring.

To stay with the food analogy: for me both the stories lacked the salt to make them interesting and worthwhile. Both of them have seen quite a few years so maybe it is their age. The genres do evolve and some books hold up better under the weight of the years than others. Or maybe my tastes are just different.

In between those two I dragged myself through the 6th or 7th installment of a paranormal series (from the 90s!) I’ve been reading and funny enough that book also was quite boring and seemed to drag on forever and I think I am quitting the series (there are 22 books in it!).

So after finishing these three I thought I would go for something quick and easy from my list. Something more modern. So two days ago I got myself Redshirts. I finished yesterday. Redshirts also got awards and recommendations by friends, writers and goodreads. It was a fun read that was over way too fast. It also has an interesting and well-executed concept that had me laughing all the time. For some reason I cannot fathom I could connect to the Andrew Dahl better than to Kinnall Darival  in A Time of Changes. Why? No idea. They aren’t that different in many of their written aspects.

While reading the good-but-not-so-fun books, I did not feel like writing at all. But after finishing Redshirts and getting started on Quantum Thief (looks promising if weird so far) I feel like working on my own stories again.

Some stories just don’t work for me. With genre fiction often it is stuff that is older than 15 or 20 years. Genre fiction doesn’t always hold up well under the weight of years. And both the sci-fi and the fantasy genre have evolved a lot since they first became popular. An award alone a good read does not make.

By Yashima

Writer of code and stories