I’ve been reading SFF for most of my life and during that time, I’ve read a lot of books. I have loved a lot of books. However, I’m not the same person I was when I first read them and the problems in the books far outweigh any warm and fuzzy nostalgia feelings I might have. a
So without further ado, here are five books I used to love but am never going to read again.
To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Robert A. Heinlein
Or as I like to call it: “The one where Lazarus Long travels back in time to fuck his mom.” This book is gross on multiple levels, but the single grossest one is its endorsement of incest between parents and children. Most between fathers and daughters. I tried to reread it a few years back and couldn’t.
Incarnations of Immortality, Piers Anthony
I’m cheating here—this is a series, not just a book. I read these an awful lot and last reread them in my mid-twenties and all I can really remember now is that all the young women were various shades of blonde denoted by varietal honeys (like one was “clover-honey blonde” and I can’t remember the other) and I got so confused by the relationships between all the characters that I drew a family tree and IT WAS A CIRCLE.
Spellsinger, Alan Dean Foster
Talking animals! A dreamy and vaguely hippie-ish guy named Jon-Tom! Magic spells that are cast via song…and I am pretty sure that these haven’t aged particularly well and yet: I can never hear “Sloop John B” without thinking of that time Jon-Tom needed a boat and conjured one up with this song and was a colossal mistake that was. I think there was a lot of puking. Anyhow, I suspect that these are books that I’ve simply outgrown. And I’m not so sure about Jon-Tom entering into a cross-species relationship with his otter sidekick, either.
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
I first read this book at the behest of a guy I was dating in the early 90’s who ultimately ended up ghosting on me. This was a book that was near and dear to his heart and I admit that I liked it well enough to go out and pick up Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide. And then I learned what Card thought about queer people and I found that upsetting, to say the least. Then I started seeing some interesting criticism of the book that really dug into some themes that always made me uneasy, viz: the casual way the text deals with Ender Wiggin being a murderous little git. (Also the whole fighting a war through a video game reminds me a lot of The Last Starfighter—and yet they couldn’t have been inspired by each other as they came out at essentially the same time.)
The Dark Elf Trilogy, R.A. Salvatore
I know, I know—another series. I was obsessed with these books—I found Drizzt’s manpain to be utterly delicious. Like the Anthony and Foster books, I can’t remember much about the plot of the book but there are some details that stick in my memory—the way Drizzt is persistently misunderstood, his magical cat companion, and did I mention the manpain? (I see that there are 30 books in this series now. I only read the first six. That was enough for a lifetime.)
And before anyone complains that the only books on my list are those by men, here’s a short bonus list of books by women:
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
I remember checking these out from my school library in 7 th or 8 th grade—I think The White Dragon was the first one I read, to be honest, but I chose Dragonflight because it’s the first one in the series. There are things I love about this series: that it’s secretly science fiction, the dragons, the telepathy. Things I don’t love: strictly enforced gender roles, dubcon and rape, and the cartoonish nature of many of the villains. My memories of the early books are also, to be blunt, tainted by the books written by Todd McCaffrey, in which there were a lot of problems around consent and coherence.
Brisingamen, Diana L. Paxson
I used to volunteer at my local library in the summers and one year, I befriended a girl who was into the SCA. I remember going to some party at her house and one of her older SCA friends recommending this book to me—this would have been around 1990. It was quite a quest to get the book—it was out of print but when I finally did get a copy via interlibrary loan, I loved it. It’s an urban fantasy—probably the very first one I ever read—but I suspect that if I were to read it now, I’d find it unbearably awkward. I’m thinking about the bad poetry and the goddess-fueled sex and my squick-o-meter is basically in the danger zone.
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
As my best friend put it: “The only book I’ve ever read where the pagans were crueler than the Christians”—in response to a scene where a character is tortured to death (I think, it’s been a while). I recognize that this book was important to a lot of people, but I’m glad that this is the only Bradley novel I ever read, as her entire oeuvre has been tainted by the fact that Marion Zimmer Bradley was a terrible human being who not only facilitated her husband’s sexual abuse of children, but who abused her own children as well.
I hate to sound so negative about a lot of the books I read and reread when I was younger, but I really didn’t have access to a wide variety of books. The local library was quite small at the time and my school libraries weren’t particularly well-stocked either. The one book store in town was very, very small and I rarely found anything there that interested me and trips to B. Dalton and Waldenbooks were few and far between and trips to Borders rarer still. I mean, I used to read Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Of my own free will. That’s how starved for reading material I was at times.
I started reading more widely once I went away to college. My best friend introduced me to Charles de Lint’s books and while those are books that I’ve outgrown, I don’t feel the same degree of skin-crawling revulsion that I do for most of the books on this list.
I don’t have a problem with having gotten to a point in my life where I can reflect on the books that were important to me in the past, acknowledge that, and then move on. To be quite honest, I feel a little bit of pity for people who are either unable or unwilling to engage in that sort of assessment of their childhood reading.