The Wrong Book at the Wrong Time

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The Wrong Book at the Wrong Time

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Edited: Mar 8, 2010, 5:53pm

(Or maybe that should be called "The Right Book at the Wrong Time"...)

GwenH brought up a topic in the March 2010 SF Reading that interested me enough to spin it off: I'm willing to entertain the idea that it's the wrong book at the wrong time.

Which books have you started, decided were boring, stupid, unfunny, etc. and then set aside, only to pick them up much later and enjoy them?

To start off, I can think of at least one: West of Eden by Harry Harrison

I tried to pick it up when my brother had just read it, back in middle school most likely. I got bored pretty quickly, just couldn't see the point of the whole thing. Ten or 15 years later I tried it again and tore through the entire trilogy.

Sometimes it's strange to see how our tastes change over time, especially from child to adult.

Mar 8, 2010, 6:07pm

The drowned world by Jim G Ballard. I thought it was incredibly boring and self-centred piece of fiction when I was 16, even more so than his short stories. But recently I rediscovered the stories and that prompted me to give a longer piece of his a try. I'm surprised at how much more I enjoy it now.

Edited: Mar 8, 2010, 6:10pm

I did this with Crystal Rain took 3 months off. Since then have purchased the second book.

Edited: Mar 8, 2010, 6:15pm

Of course, if I had named this thread properly as "The Right Book at the Wrong Time", the corollary might be "The Wrong Book at the Right Time." These would be books you really enjoyed when you first read them, but years later you re-read them and can't figure out exactly what you saw in them.

Sometimes (especially in SF), this is due to simple changes in technology, scientific theory and world events making the original seem dated and foolish. But not always, as some 50s/60s/70s SF I've read today has still been quite enjoyable today even though their vision of THE WORLD OF TOMORROW! isn't anywhere near reality. Hell, 2001 is still good even though the eponymous date is completely unrealistic.

ETA: And, of course, plenty of them are just because you're not thirteen anymore. ;)

Mar 8, 2010, 6:14pm

I can think of a few of the young-childhood variety, and a lot of the very-early childhood variety (ie., books I was afraid of somehow, and now thing are wonderful). I'm trying really hard to think of something similar during adulthood, though.

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 8:42am

I'll add my example from the other thread to this one:

I can remember not being able to get into The Left Hand of Darkness when I first tried it and later liking it a lot.

I can't remember exactly what the issue was, but I just couldn't concentrate on the book. A few years later I picked it up and enjoyed the story as well as the writing style. I remember LeGuin doing a lot with the use of color words to create scenes and tones.

Mar 8, 2010, 6:33pm

I hated The Singer of All Songs when I read it in 7th grade; loved it, and read the rest of the trilogy, when I was in 8th.

Mar 8, 2010, 8:03pm

I tried A Canticle for Leibowitz a couple of times, but just couldn't get into it. The next time everything fell into place and I enjoyed the book.

Mar 8, 2010, 9:52pm

I have tried to read The Eighty Minute Hour several times but the last time was several years ago now. It says it's a space opera and I like space opera, but could not get into this book at all.

Maybe now is a good time for another attempt. I'll keep you all informed.

Mar 9, 2010, 1:36am

8> Speaking of which, I was assigned A Canticle of Leibowitz at a summer honors program (aka nerd camp) in high school. I never picked up the book the entire time I was there, preferring to socialize and just generally revel in being in the company of a bunch of smarty pants. Then after I went back home, I picked up the book and ran through it in a matter of days.

Mar 9, 2010, 5:44am

Well, last year I tried to read Dune , and hated it! I thought it was the book but the thing is I was heavily into space opera and this Dune read like a fantasy novel-a genre I'm not that keen on, so I huffed and puffed and then put the book on bookmooch! Now I realise I should have hung onto it to read at a later time when I'm maybe in the right frame of mind!
(I have tried to read a Frank Hernbert novel before and found it incredibly hard going,couldnt get my head round what was going on so that may have flavoured my decision to stop reading Dune!)

Mar 9, 2010, 6:30am

The first time I tried reading Dune it resisted me (I was sixteen) but a couple of years later I read it and enjoyed it a lot. Titus Groan didn't work for me in my teens, but I loved it twenty years later.

Mar 9, 2010, 6:39am

#11 Take a deep breath and try Dune again. Force yourself if you have to. Then stop. You don't have to read any of the sequels (you can if you want to, but you don't have to).

Do not, under any circumstances, read any of the follow-ups by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson. Whores, the pair of them!

Yes, I know I've catalogued some of those works. I do own them and I have read them. Learn from my mistakes.

One winter soon, it will be cold enough....

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 7:09am

>13 justjim:, I probably will re read Dune but it will be a while yet, my TBR pile is immense! As for his son Brian I really enjoyed his book Sidney's comet and its follow up The Garbage Chronicles, great fun!

Mar 9, 2010, 7:28am

I invoke Ian!

Edited: Mar 9, 2010, 7:32am

To be fair, if there's a talentless hack in the Brian Herbert / Kevin J Anderson partnership, it's not Brian Herbert. Having said that, he's not a patch on his old dad. sf_addict, you really need to give Frank Herbert a proper go. I can recommend The Santaroga Barrier, or one of his short story collections.

Mar 9, 2010, 7:44am

But ian, maybe i just prefer Brian to Frank!

Mar 9, 2010, 7:53am

You can't know that until you read Frank, though...

Mar 9, 2010, 9:34am

>18 iansales:
Well I've tried to,twice! Dune was at least readable-that other novel I tried of his was totally uncomprehhendible!

Mar 9, 2010, 10:00am

What was the other one?

Mar 10, 2010, 7:45am

can't remember ian-I did mention it on the chrons a while ago-I think the cover had an eye on it

Mar 10, 2010, 9:35am

Who's eye was it? Sorry, was it "The Eyes of Heisenberg"

Mar 10, 2010, 10:41am

I tried reading 1984 around the age of 13. I was looking for adventure and found it to be slow going and too drab for my tastes. I only finished about a quarter of it. When I gave it another try about 6 years later I was able to appreciate it much more.

Mar 10, 2010, 10:55am

>22 ringman:, doesnt ring a bell. Its a well known work of his I think. Either way it was very difficult to read- I had no idea what was going on! something to do with a frog like alien? It was a long time ago.

Mar 10, 2010, 10:58am

That sounds like either Whipping Star or The Dosadi Experiment.

Mar 10, 2010, 11:06am

Ah, i think its The Dosadi Experiment

Mar 10, 2010, 2:28pm

The frogs certainly sound like Gowachin. The eye on the cover doesn't match though. My copy of Whipping Star had a woman in a very short skirt and a whip on it. For some reason I still remember it after all these years.

Edited: Mar 10, 2010, 3:17pm

>27 justifiedsinner:,forget the eye,that was another Herbert book my sister had,a story collection called The Eye I think(I've been looking on Fantastic Fiction to try and jog my memory)
She had a few Herbert books years ago (including a Jesus trilogy?). I tried to read one,probably The Dosadi Experiment and failed epicly!

Mar 10, 2010, 3:32pm

Edited: Mar 10, 2010, 4:24pm

Not a book, but an author.

For years I simply could not comprehend what anyone else saw in Harlan Ellison.

Then I suffered through one of the most toxic relationships a person could experience. In my early 20's I dated and became engaged to a girl who was a raging alcoholic. In my nievte', I was by no means prepared for the dysfunctional way she engaged other people, particularly those closest to her.

The angst of that relationship gave me an appreciation for Ellison's works.

Mar 10, 2010, 5:23pm

I can't see why Ellison is so lauded. The man is also a complete tool.

Edited: Mar 10, 2010, 6:33pm

All this talk of Ellison reminds me of a story told of him by Asimov. Ellison and Asimov were at some party and Ellison goes up to this girl. Ellison is quite short and when he says to her, "Hi,what would you say to a little f**k?" the girl replies "I'd say Get lost, little f**k!"
That made me laugh when I read it on one of Asimov's memoirs!

Mar 10, 2010, 8:33pm


Yeah. One has to wonder how he bluffed all those fans and fellow writers into giving him ten "and a half" Hugos, four Nebulas, eighteen Locus Poll awards, six Bram Stokers and one Bradbury award.

He is certainly an acerbic character, but through his efforts numerous writers have enjoyed far better treatment from the television industry, and respect for their craft at the hands of Producers who had in the past, considered them mere appendages to any film effort.

Mar 10, 2010, 8:43pm

I've had this experience with a few books. Most notably I felt I should read Little, Big, but couldn't get farther than a few chapters before basically getting confused with the story. A few months later I started again and the same thing happened. At my third attempt I just couldn't put it down.

Usually I apply a 50-page rule pretty strictly. That is, when I start to read a new book I read the first 50 pages in one sitting. If the book does not appeal to me by then, I put it away. Also at that point I usually try to get an idea about the structure of the whole book, by looking in the index, if there is one, or just flicking through it, if I didn't before I started reading, so that I will have a vague idea of the structure of the book before continuing.

I have a few books put away that didn't cut it the first time, but that I feel I should give another go at some point, including The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and probably a few others, sometimes making a few notes about my first attempt here in LT.

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 3:01am

#33 Well, sf fans think 'Nightfall' is the best sf story that never won an award, and that the Foundation trilogy is a classic. So it doesn't surprise me that the minority who vote for awards would accept Ellison's own opinion of himself.

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 5:24am

>35 iansales:,Ian,you too don't rate the Foundation series? For me its a classic example of social rather than science fiction,just not exciting enough.

Mar 11, 2010, 5:40am

I think it's badly written, has aged badly, and has one good idea in it which Asimov batters to death. Um, much like all of Asimov's fiction, in fact...

Mar 11, 2010, 7:03am

Ah but his Robot stories are superb!

Mar 11, 2010, 7:05am

Nope. None of his fiction is any good.

Mar 11, 2010, 7:10am

I'd widen that just a little. I think his mysteries were worthwhile. Shorts like the Black Widowers* and the robot mysteries like The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun.

*Not necessarily SF, some were a little, some not so much.

Mar 11, 2010, 7:22am

I remember one of those Black Widowers stories. It all hinged on the fact that someone had misparsed 1:50 on a digital clock as half past one. - i.e, 1.5. What rubbish.

Asimov was a great populariser of science. Although I've not read them, I do wonder how useful his books on the Bible, Shakespeare and other non-scientific subjects were. His fiction was uniformly simplistic, poorly written, and showed very little invention beyond the central premise. It amazes me that he become one of the Big Three. Probably because he was so prolific...

Mar 11, 2010, 7:45am

Well, there were Bradbury, Clarke, and Dick; and someone had to fill A.

Mar 11, 2010, 7:47am

Perhaps I should also add that I also think van Vogt was a terrible writer... but I really like his books. They're completely bonkers, whereas Asimov was just dull.

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 7:56am of those Black Widowers stories. ...

That's not like you, Ian. Picking one detail from one story and panning the entire oeuvre. At the time it was written how common would digital clocks have been anyway?

They did all depend upon the 'competent man' waiter (I've misremembered his name†), but some of them were quite clever.

On another tack, the man did like his puns. The punchline of one of his short shorts‡ was "A star-mangled spanner." Not a capital crime, not for a first offence anyway.

† (wait for it) Henry
‡ (wait for it) Oops, that was Neutron Tide by Clarke! Who'd've thunk it?

Mar 11, 2010, 7:59am

>43 iansales:
When reading (at least Swedish) pulp mags from the 40s and 50s*, one realises how enormously popular Van Vogt once was. When genre SF was introduced in Sweden in the 50s, he was hailed as the foremost proponent of SF and a reason to review SF in the major newspapers. It's amazing really, considering how clunkily he wrote. But as you say, he was full of wonderful ideas.

* See (in Swedish only)

Mar 11, 2010, 8:03am

I mentioned one of his Black Widowers stories - that doesn't mean I only read one of them. But that particular gem has stuck in my mind because it's such a feeble "solution" to the story's mystery. The comparative rarity of digital clocks - a debatable point - doesn't wash anyway, given that written times - as in railway timetables, etc. - were not done as little clock faces...

Mar 11, 2010, 8:32am

...that doesn't mean I only read one of them. ...

I didn't say or mean to suggest that.

written times ... were not done as little clock faces...

Good point.

Mar 11, 2010, 8:41am

Sadly, I read a great deal of Asimov when I was a callow youth. And Heinlein. They were very popular during the 1970s. So many of the authors I read then, I now find unreadable and wonder why I read so many of their books and stories...

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 8:51am

***Which books have you started, decided were boring, stupid, unfunny, etc. and then set aside, only to pick them up much later and enjoy them?***

None. That might be because once I've decided a book is boring, stupid, or tasteless, I never give it a second chance... well almost never.

Once I did give a book a second chance, but, if possible my opinion of that book changed only for the worse. The first time, I read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, it was assigned for Highschool. I hated it... but because I always did my assigned work, I finished reading the most boring and stupid book I've ever finished. Many years (decades) later, I tried reading it again. If possible, I hated it more the second time around... and no, I couldn't finish it. I think I dropped out somewhere near the halfway point on that second attempt.

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 9:32am

eta: sorry this was for Ian at #48, I must have got distracted somewhere.

Me too. We were younger and the world was a different place.

Mar 11, 2010, 8:54am

Oh come on Ian, Asimov was a literary genius! He could take an idea someone gave him, dash upstairs and come back down with a story! Thats a talent I envy!

Mar 11, 2010, 8:58am

If it had been a good story, it would have been talent.

Mar 11, 2010, 10:59am

Asimov's original Foundation trilogy was written for, and printed in serialized form at a time when SF was considered pretty much the lowest form of literature. By today's standards, it could really use a good editing and be distilled down to a single volume. That, however, does not detract from the many concepts he popularized.

On many occasions Asimov admitted that John Campbell rewrote stories that he published. Young, naive writers, eager to see print would let their work be butchered beyond recognition, as long as they received payment and credit.

It wasn't until the 1960's and the influx of more literary trained writers, that the clodgey, mechanistic style that had been mainstream SF began to be replaced.

Remember, opinions are like...
Everybody has one.

Mar 11, 2010, 11:24am

What..? Livers? Hearts? Brains? Spleens?

Edited: Mar 11, 2010, 12:03pm

"Michael Crichton books"

ETA: Which I find a bit appropriate, considering the actual answer to the old saying and Crichton's later habit of using his novels to harangue lobotomized versions of people he disagreed with...

Mar 11, 2010, 2:55pm

>55 brightcopy: apart from Andromeda Strain and Sphere which are pretty good.

Mar 11, 2010, 8:43pm

I once read Philip K Dick's The man in the high castle when I was 17, and I had to struggle to get through it (fortunately it's a relatively short novel, or I'd have given up). The premise was interesting, but I just couldn't handle all the mysticism and the woozy philosophy-induced decisions that were oh so pregnant with imaginary deeper meaning. In terms of alternate history novels, there are many, many examples out there that simply are much better.

I will probably give PKD a second chance, given his status in the genre, but the few short stories of his I've read since haven't given me much hope. Too much padding, too little content. Too dated, too.

I've come away from Arthur C Clarke with similar experiences: his short stories are ok-ish, but both of the novels by him that I've read (one of them being The hammer of God) put me off him: they were just too badly written for me to appreciate them as novels.

In general, my feelings towards authors of 1960s & 1970s pulp sf that I have read more extensively (Asimov, Van Vogt, plus a few others) are mostly nostalgia mixed with OCD: I might have enjoyed them when I was 14, but now that I realise how clunky they really are I'll only read them in order to have read them, to be familiar with the classics of the genre.

Mar 12, 2010, 3:46am

That pretty much nails it: "nostalgia mixed with OCD". It's that which drives me to read some of the books I read. But sometimes, not even that is enough, and I have no choice but to give up in disgust.

Mar 12, 2010, 10:35am


Have to disagree with you about Sphere. Personally, it's one of the worst books I've ever read (the worst I've encountered was Earthsound). IMHO, had anyone other than Crichton penned it, it would have never been published.

Mar 12, 2010, 3:07pm

#59 So it lives up to the thrill of the movie? :-Þ

Mar 12, 2010, 4:51pm

>59 DBeers:,well I enjoyed Sphere so there :p

Mar 12, 2010, 4:56pm

61> I feel like I should create another account to post this but... I ... *sigh* ... enjoyed it, too.

There, I said it.


In my defense, I read it during spring break while in college; I claim temporary brain damage.

Mar 12, 2010, 5:40pm

#60 The film version captured everything about the book that made it so memorable.

#61 Many people enjoyed the book. As always, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

As an example, I'm a huge fan of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Edited: Mar 13, 2010, 1:51pm


'The One Tree' Nearly killed me.

Actually Dbeers, what's your opinon of Donaldsons Gap books?

I found them far superior to most of his fantasy.

Mar 18, 2010, 12:34pm

>64 cosmicdolphin: I read the second book in the Gap series first, and inhaled the rest of the books in the series as soon as they were published. I think it is Donaldson's best.

Edited: Mar 18, 2010, 7:30pm


I enjoyed the Gap series tremendously. My only complaint, was Donaldson's description of a ship undergoing thrust from multiple directions. All his characters felt discrete forces pulling them in those directions. He should have consulted someone regarding vector addition.

On the other hand, by the time I had finished The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order, the fourth book in the series, I wondered how he could possibly tie up all the threads in one more book. I was very satisfied with the result.

IMO, his Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are all the better for him having written the Gap series first.

Mar 18, 2010, 2:33pm

65/66> I've also wondered about the Gap series and have thought of picking it up. To get a better feel of how your recommendations line up with my own, what did you think of the Second Chronicles?

Edited: Mar 18, 2010, 4:54pm


As a teenager I read the first trilogy and enjoyed it. As a (just) adult, I read the second trilogy and enjoyed it not as much. In fact, I don't remember enough about the second trilogy to have a valid opinion/comment. I read the first book of the last trilogy and just managed to finish it. An excerpt from another's review sums my experience, " soon as Linden entered the fantasy world of The Land it was like Dorothy had gone from technicolor to black and white."

Mar 18, 2010, 6:51pm

The classic case of "wrong book, wrong time" for me was Fellowship of the Ring and hence the entire LOTR. I was a pretty hardboiled teenager at the time and none too tolerant of anything I considered "silly". The first line of Fellowship drove me away for over 30 years -- "When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magni- ficence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." Such an odd opening! So unrepresentative of the language and sensibility of the rest.

Edited: Mar 18, 2010, 7:28pm


I'm afraid I'm a bit biased about Donaldson's work. If you read my profile page, you'll note I have him listed as one of my personal favorites. It's been my experience that people either love Donaldson or hate him. I've encountered very few "middle of the roader's", as it were. Note also, that we share some 40 odd books in our respective libraries. So far I've only posted 131 out of the 15,000 odd volumes my wife and I own. But as you and I share 40 of that 131, it's a safe bet our tastes are fairly similar! ;)

That being said, the second trilogy breaks the main rule of the first in spades: Covenant's unbelief was pivotal to the story's resolution, and as such, the entire story had to be in first person (hence the excision of what would later be published as Gilden-fire). Lester Del Rey insisted that in order to maintain the "unbelief" premise, the first trilogy had to be from Covenant's view exclusively.

The introduction of Linden Avery in the Second Chronicles created an entirely new set of problems for Donaldson and his characters. There were many loose ends that he is now exploiting in The Last Chronicles.

Mar 18, 2010, 8:12pm

70> Okay, but what did you think of it? ;)

Basically, I'm looking for your opinions on the strength if it versus the first chronicles, the last chronicles, the gap, etc. And the strength of the first book in it versus the second and third.

Mar 19, 2010, 3:49am

#71 Well, it's been years since I read either of the first two series or the Gap, so I can't give you a point by point analysis of the The Wounded Land etc..

Let me try and explain why I may not be the best person to answer that question in a manner you'll find very satisfying. The Second Chronicles were published during a very turbulent period of my life, and I was grateful for the pure escape it offered me. When I read fiction, I tend not to be to analytical about why I like or dislike a story. If I view a painting or sculpture, I prefer the artist not tell me what she or he was trying to do. The piece either speaks for itself or it doesn't.

Same with prose. I either like a work or I don't. If a writer whom I have followed produces a piece that I don't enjoy, I'll wait for the next and see whether they are treading a path I don't care to follow. If they are, I stop reading them. So far, Donaldson has kept me engaged.

I'm of the opinion that people read for basically two reasons: entertainment or enlightenment. I approach my fiction reading from an entertainment perspective. If a writer starts preaching, I generally put them down. For enlightenment, I prefer non-fiction.

Note that re-reading the entire Covenant series is on my list for later this Fall when Against All Things Ending is scheduled to be released. If you like, at that time I may be able to give you a better answer. I'm a fairly fast reader and will probably go through all nine books in about three weeks.

Mar 19, 2010, 10:37am

72> Fair enough.

The reason I asked was because I very much enjoyed the first chronicles. I read them all back-to-back. Then shortly after, I started on the second chronicles. I found that I could only get part of the way into The Wounded Land before I lost all interest.

I'm hoping it's a classic case of the title of this thread. When cataloging my books for LT, I came this close to putting the second chronicles on the To be withdrawn pile. But at the last moment, I spared them. I'm going to give it another shot one of these days.

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