what not to read

Let me say this up front: I have pretty bad taste in fantasy novels. I say this because later on I’m probably going to say something bad about a book you like.

I really like sword-and-sorcery novels and sword-and-planet novels. Some S&S/S&P fiction is well-written; that is, however, not a requirement for me. I like pulp axesploitation Conan and Burroughs pastiches from the 60s and 70s. I will buy almost any book if its cover has a painting of a sweaty barbarian.

Extra points for each of the following:

  • barbarian is being fondled by a woman wearing a gold bikini
  • barbarian is astride a headless snakeman
  • bracers or torques are in evidence
  • barbarian is next to some braziers and/or thrones
  • behind the barbarian: a planet surrounded by stars! Extra points for a rocket ship
  • the barbarian has a super ugly face

I once saw a barbarian novel which met three or four of these criteria, but the illustrator must have been having a bad day or something because barbarian was super skinny and weak. I didn’t buy the book and I still regret it to this day.

I like Gary Gygax’s novels. I have read “Saga of Old City” like, 10 times.

I sometimes like pastiches more than originals because they are less challenging.

Many of the fantasy novels I like are escapist, unreflective power fantasies that unthinkingly support sexist, racist, anti-intellectual assumptions I do not approve of.

That’s where I stand. So when I talk about what I don’t like in fantasy, don’t get insulted; if you have different tastes, you may want to take that as a compliment.

For the most part, I don’t like fantasy that is purportedly comic. Humor is great, but I don’t like reading an entire book that is an extended joke.

“High fantasy” (or whatever it is called; I’m not certain of the exact taxonomy of the type of book I’m thinking of) is a perfectly respectable subgenre, probably more respectable than my sweaty-barbarian subgenre, but I usually don’t like it that much. I’m thinking of books with lots of friends who support each other, lots of dialogue, lots of dragons, lots of elfstones, lots of beautiful and powerful enchantresses, and lots of geography and history to learn. I SHOULD like these books. Taken individually, I like all these things! Somehow, though, I never end up getting very many chapters in.

I don’t really like “urban fantasy”, if that’s the name of the genre where there are werewolves at a rave.

I tend not to like books that were written recently. I believe this is a sign of me getting old.

Recently I’ve been thinking of getting an e-reader, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing e-books and making a list for myself of what authors I’d like to e-read. There are a lot of fantasy authors out there! I don’t want to end up buying books that I won’t end up reading. As I look at titles and excerpts, I’ve discovered that I have a few criteria for instantly rejecting a book. It probably eliminates a lot of gems, but I don’t have time to read every book ever.

Paul’s criteria for rejecting a fantasy novel:

  • pun in the title
  • colon in the title
  • book 1 of this series is by a different author
  • 4 books in the series; each has a different element in the title
  • every noun in the title is from the following list: “blood”, “smoke”, “sword”, “stone”, ashes”, “forest”, “kingdom”, “night”, “heart”, “keeper”, “song,” “wolf”, sea”, “storm”, “shadow”
  • the word “blues” in the title
  • the word “chronicles” in the title
  • the word “Hollywood” is in the title
  • The word “vampire” is in the title (exception: Varney the Vampire)
  • the author has ever written a non-chess book containing the words “Endgame”, “Gambit” or “Checkmate”
  • the author has ever written a movie novelization
  • the author is two authors
  • the book is part of a series, all of whose titles start with the same word
  • in a random excerpt, more than halfway through the book, the main character muses some exposition
  • in a random excerpt, the point of view character is, or has, a dragon
  • in a random excerpt, an alpha-male character has more than 1 moment of self-doubt
  • in a random excerpt, anyone does anything wryly
  • in a random excerpt, both non-italicized and italicized internal monologue
  • sentient cat

Putting it all together, here is the worst case scenario:

“Ashes and Earth: A ‘Knights’ Day for Hollywood Blues”
(book 4 of the Vampire Chronicles)
by Kevin J. Anderson, author of “The Official Chronicles of Riddick Novel” and “Wolfsong: Endgame”. Set in the universe of “Ashes and Fire” by Michael A. Stackpole.

“Thundergrim shook his snout in perplexity. Was this slip of a girl wiser than he? He had, he mused, singlehandedly ended the Empire of the Kandoss, and the great ruby that now nestled beneath his draconic scales had once been the Songcatcher Gem of the King of Twelve Islands. Still, he thought wryly, he had a lot to learn about human women.

5 Responses to “what not to read”

  1. Alison says:

    What if the nouns are abstract? I’m thinking of the Sword of Truth series, which has a lot of titles like, “Stone of Tears”, “Faith of the Fallen” and “Soul of the Fire”, none of which TECHNICALLY meet your fifth criterion, but I feel in spirit they all do.

  2. […] Blog of Holding « what not to read […]

  3. Gunther says:

    “by Kevin J. Anderson” alone is enough of a disqualifier that it doesn’t need the rest.

  4. Posr says:

    Very sound criteria! Sometimes publishers are tricky – I often judge books by their covers, get suckered and then regret my purchase. There is a lesson in there but it is one I’m too dense to learn.

  5. Maurine says:

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