Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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At tor.com, this post from James Davis Nicholl: Five SFF Books Driven By Terrible Choices and Appalling Judgment

Did anybody else experience a visceral revulsion at this post title? I nearly recoiled physically. It would be fun to come up with a Top Five List for categories of novels I would least like to read, but certainly on that list would be Novels Driven By Terrible Choices and Appalling Judgment.

I started to say, I wouldn’t read a book like that if you paid me, but of course I would. You’d just have to pay me a pretty large fee.

Let me see what’s on this list, just out of horrified curiosity …

Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth — haven’t read it.

Stray Souls by Kate Griffin — haven’t read it.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay — oh, yes, I read that one. And instantly gave it away. I was like, IF ONLY I HAD KNOWN. I did finish it, because GGK is such a great writer, but I will certainly never, ever want to re-read this book.

The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn — I started this one, even though I knew it was a tragedy. It’s the one where the author supposedly modeled the sixteen characters on the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types, an interesting enough idea that I thought maybe I would like to try this book. But I disliked all the characters I met in the first several chapters and gave up.

Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle — I read that long ago, never re-read it, and remember nothing about it at all. I expect now I know why I never went back to it.

Great cover art. I bet that’s Michael Whelan … yep.

If anybody has a candidate for novels where the plot is driven by bad judgment, feel free to share it in the comments so I can avoid that book forever.

However, for fun, let me try to come up with a list of five types of books that make me want to run screaming:

1. Novels Driven by Terrible Choices and Appalling Judgment

2. Novels Driven by the Protagonist’s Stupid and Emotional Impulsivity. That is, any time the protagonist thinks anything like, “Of course this was a terrible risk, but I just couldn’t help myself, I had to see him one more time,” I’m done. In fact, if the protagonist acts this way, no matter what’s she’s thinking, I’m done.

There was a contemporary YA novel … I can’t recall the title just now … anyway, the main problem was that the female lead was seventeen and she fell in mutual love with the male lead, who was, I don’t know, twenty-two or -three or something and a teacher at her high school. ALL THE ANGST. I went through the whole story, which was well-written, thinking, For heavens sake, is it so hard to wait for your birthday and/or the end of the school year? What is with you people? Get a grip! Waiting like three months to see each other romantically is not that hard!

3. Novels Driven by the Protagonists Not Talking to Each Other. I detest situations where everything could perfectly well work out for everyone if only the characters would TALK to each other. If I find myself yelling, JUST TELL HER THE TRUTH at the book, I’m done.

I’m sure there are lots of examples. I have dim memories that Steven Brust’s To Reign in Hell was like this. That would explain why I only ever read it once.

4. Novels Driven by Events Where the Protagonist is Just Along for the Ride. Sometimes the protagonist just seems very passive. Terrible and important events happen all around the protagonist, who is tossed hither and yon by the vagaries of fate without standing up and taking charge. Or even attempting to stand up and take action. Maybe right at the end the protagonist might do something, but I get tired of passive or ineffectual protagonists way before that and will probably DNF the book.

One example of this category is Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. Now, Marillier is a great writer, like GGK, and I normally love her books, like GGK, but this one is an exception. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a fairy tale I particularly like, but this is perhaps my least favorite version. The protagonist in Wildwood Dancing is almost unbearably ineffectual. She keeps seeing stuff going wrong and all she does is hover around the edges of the action, wringing her hands. It is the protagonist’s JOB to DO SOMETHING, preferably something clever and effective. This protagonist just could not cope.

5. Your Category Here

That was four categories. I’m having trouble coming up with another. What is another broad category of novels you just cannot stand?

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11 Comments No, thanks

  1. Craig N.

    I would have thought your fifth category would be Novels In Which the Villain Wins and Makes Everything Worse. Since that’s a type of book that’s been brought up here before.

  2. Pete Mack

    Golden Witchbreed is indeed centered on absolutely catastrophic decision-making by the lead character, who has an idea fix about technology, rather like The Ugly American does about anti-Communism. And yeah, I only read it once, but once is enough for a good cautionary tale: indeed, I remember the plot quite well.

    SPOILERS:
    Post-technological society with religious order that keeps technology primitive. Protagonist is anthropologist who wants to ‘help’ and fights the church. Throwback to old ruling caste appears on the stage and encourages anthro to bring in tech to help. Everyone else warns her that the ruling caste was a disaster–on the scale of the old sorcerers from Sharing Knife. She chooses to befriend the golden witchbreed, thinking that the warnings were just old prejudice. Ultimate catastrophe ensues.

  3. Evelyn M. Hill

    One possible candidate for the last category would be Novels With No Sympathetic Characters. It’s been a long time since I read Lord of the Flies and since no one is forcing me at gunpoint to re-read it I’m not going to go back and check, but that novel comes to mind.
    Oh, and His Dark Materials was another one, at least to me.

  4. Elaine T

    How about novels where the protaganist flatly refuses to learn better? Usually seen in series.

    Craig, yes, that category is definitely high on my list.

  5. Mary Catelli

    I hate all times when characters act stupidly. Even if it’s entirely in character for them.

  6. Hanneke

    I should bookmark this page to refer back to for all the books I really don’t want to read; our categories in this are much the same.

    Off topic, in fact completely the opposite of this topic (for me): there’s a new Penric and Desdemona novella out, Masquerade in Lodi. It fits earlier in the timeline, after Penric and the fox, set shortly after Penric gave up his career as a magical physician to become more of a scribe/translator. The setting is rather reminiscent of Venice.

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