So, in case you missed it, yesterday Matt committed the most heinous act of blasphemy ever by anyone, even tangentially, associated with sci-fi. Although he will be forgiven, the Vogons have been notified.
But I do understand where he’s coming from. He fell victim to one of the classic blunders–Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could never have lived up to what it had become in his mind. We’ve all fallen victim to this, and if we’re being honest we’ve all probably done it to other people.
For me, it’s Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I hated this book. A visceral, palpable hatred. But I doubt it has much to do with the story or the writing. No, my ex ruined this book. She was both horrified and excited to find out that I’d never read it. Not only did she run right out and buy a copy for me… she hovered. She asked me, at least twice each day, how much I’d read. Did I get to the part where…? Did I like the part where…? Eventually, I finished the book just to get rid of my literary stalker.
In subsequent years I’ve thought about giving the book another try. This book is nearly universally loved by sci-fi types, so it’s probably safe to assume that I’d like it if I gave it a fair shot. But even the thought of reading it again starts my teeth grinding. And even though, in my head I know that my distaste didn’t stem from a weak story, or bad writing, or over-description, or any of my other pet peeves about writing–even though I know that I dislike the book because of the conditions under which I read it–I know I’ll never revisit it because it already has a negative impression.
It would be easy for me to point out to the formerly good guy, Matt, that much of his impression of the book might have been attributed to having inflated preconceptions about Hitchhiker’s. That part of the magic of the book is how it tends to catch readers off-guard with its silly characters and ridiculous plot. It is making fun of serious sci-fi as much as it’s making fun of society. But by the time Evil Overlord Matt read the book, these weren’t a surprise to him. He expected a funny book. In fact, he probably expected a very funny book.
I guess the moral here is to be careful when making recommendations to your friends. You can easily ruin the very thing you’re trying to sell.
That, and Matt should be punished for his heresy.
So true – the preconceptions will kill you. Nothing makes a book harder to love than “YOU WILL ZOMG LOVE THIS BOOK” hype.
I read Stranger in a Strange Land many years ago. Thought it was OK, but nothing world-shattering.
Funny you should mention “Stranger in a Strange Land”. I was just about to finish my senior year of college when my boss learned I hadn’t read it. It was the old “how can you even THINK to consider yourself a sci-fan if you haven’t read this one?” So, she loaned me (read: forced upon me) her copy. I read it. I nearly threw it out the window before the midway point… the first hundred pages or so were one of the most difficult slogs through a book I’d ever had. Then, somewhere around the middle, it clicked for me and I couldn’t put it down. I really do not know for certain what it was about the book that I didn’t like then suddenly did like and have not attempted to go back and read it.
I do know that Heinlein always seems to give me trouble. I have 4 or 5 of his books which I’m “supposed to love” and I can’t get through them. One of them, I have started and stopped probably 30 times… never getting past the second chapter. Maybe I just don’t like his style.
What it taught me, though, is that it may happen sometimes that an author I put on a pedestal may not hold the same stature for others. In some ways that makes me second guess recommending a book or an author at all… but usually it just makes me ensure that I say “*I* loved this book and I think you will too.” and leave it at that.
It has also made me think about it when one person loves something I wrote and another person doesn’t. Same words will impact different people with different tastes in different ways and that doesn’t detract from what we do as authors.
No wonder sci-fi has its own section in the bookstores – at least it used to, back when there were brick and mortar bookstores….
Sadly, it was often lumped in with Fantasy. Which was really not good for either genre.