A little while ago I made a list of Heavy Hitters: Big names in the SF world that I wanted to try out. I started thinking of that list when I thought about authors I hadn’t read but wanted to, but as the list developed, I realised a lot of those names were authors I’d sampled before, only to bounce off for whatever reason. This got me thinking about the way I approach new authors, and how many chances I give them.
As a general rule, if I enjoy a book, I seek out more books by that author. Some readers have a few must-buy authors, I’ve got a few dozen. If they continually put out good quality books, I’ll keep buying them as near to release date as I find them. This doesn’t always work out for me. I stuck with Elizabeth Moon and David Drake for some time after I stopped enjoying them, but I am unfortunately something of a completion. And when authors put out large volumes of books, I’m more forgiving off the odd less-than-stellar offering. I’m a huge Adrian Tchaikovsky fan, but his last two novels are not, I feel, up to his usual standard. However, his upcoming Shards of Earth looks right up my street, and my enthusiasm has not dimmed. I’ve read just about every piece of fiction Isaac Asimov put out, but if I’d started with The Gods Themselves, I may well have left it at that. As my Dune reread will soon cover, were it not for Kevin J. Anderson’s involvement, I probably would have abandoned Dune after the first book.
Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, and Keith Laumer are all authors I have a mixed history with, but they’re all authors I’ll happily give a second chance to. A few of their books have been enjoyable, others significantly less so. I need more data before I can make a final judgement. In the case of Reynolds and Hamilton, I actively plan to read more of their work over the coming months. Whereas authors like Laumer, Henry Kuttner, and David Weber, I’m more likely to pick up their books second hand or on sale.
I’m not a big believer in ‘mood reading’ – the idea that a book has to find you in the right mood for you to enjoy it. Certainly, my opinions on a book can change over time, but some objective value remains constant, and if I can’t see that on a first reading, I doubt I’ll see it on a second. That being said, there are some authors I have a largely negative experience with that intend to revisit.
The first of these is Neal Asher. he’s one of the bigger names in British Science Fiction, and has a large universe with multiple series in it. All good so far. Several years ago I read Dark Intelligence, and I did not enjoy it. It was grimdark to the max, and relentlessly bleak. I’ve since learned that this may not be the best place to start with his work, and that Asher’s wife passed away as the book was written. All of his work is grimdark, but this may have pushed it too far for my tastes. Knowing this, I’m tempted to give Asher another go. Whether that is a reread of Dark Intelligence or a foray into one of his earlier series, I’m not yet sure.
Frederik Pohl is another author I may reread. Gateway had interesting ideas, but I found it a rather lifeless read overall. With the size of Pohl’s body of work, however, I’m sure there’s something in there that will appeal to me. He’s also an author I’m likely to come across more than once as I delve into the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, which is tailor made for a golden age junkie like myself.
Beyond individual authors, I’ve had a great deal of fortune giving second chances to literary universes. I wondered away from Star Trek novels for many years, but last year I rediscovered them, and now have multiple pages of desired reading in the franchise. So too had I left Warhammer 40,000 behind after an ill-fated attempt to get into wargaming. It was only a chance encounter with Black Library at Sci-Fi Weekender a few years ago that pulled me back in. Now, I feel like I’ve nearly reached my capacity for Space Marines, but there are dozens of interesting books being released every year, and I know I’ll find something there for me. It’s also been a long while since I held a Star Wars book in my hands, but I’m feeling that familiar itch, calling me back in.
If there’s a point to all this, it’s that you shouldn’t give up on a series or author because of one bad book. we all stumble at some point, and almost always pick ourselves back up. That book that’s not to your taste might just be the stepping stone to the best thing you’ve ever read.