Admittedly, I don't read much sci-fi, but I'd read quite a number of Dick's short stories and three (now four) of his novels, and I'd always considered him one of my favorites, maybe second after Wells. But the book I've just read... I mean, it did not have one single redeeming quality. The plot was stupid, but a good author can generally carry a bad plot for at least some distance. The writing was awful. There were so many adverbs and bad dialogue tags that I could barely read a line without groaning. 'Yes,' he decided regretfully, or she reminded him sweetly or he opined vociferously -- stuff like that, I swear to god. And then all these one-word sentences that were supposed to come off as dramatic or jarring or god knows what, but just looked childish. "He looked at her and shuddered. Violently." What the hell is that violently doing out there all by itself? There are places for jarring sentence fragments, but come on. He can't violently AFTER he shudders. What the devil is going on?
And what's even worse is that he keeps sending his characters off into multi-page pseudo-philosophical digressions about topics that have nothing even remotely to do with the story. Topics that contribute nothing to the theme, and don't even help to develop the characters. There was an entire chapter in which an extremely minor character met another character who was never to be seen again, so that they could discuss whether certain sexual practices were disgusting or not. Sexual practices which had nothing to do with anything that happened in the book. And in the middle of their conversations, people would suddenly change their opinions, presumably to give Dick a better platform for making some argument, or telling some random tragic story about a rabbit, that didn't mesh with the characters' original opinions. Jesus god. I have MSTed Mary Sue fics that made more sense.
I just... I don't see how this can be. Flipping back through some of my other Dick novels, I see that he's always been too fond of adverbs and fancy dialogue tags, though I never noticed it before. I know he likes philosophical digressions, but in books like The Man in the High Castle, that was what I liked about him -- he was good at it. I thought. His topics were relevant and interesting. But after the mind-blowing badness of this book I've just read, I'm half wondering whether he was bad all along and just had me fooled somehow. But I can't see how that can be, either. I mean, this book was like... Dean Koontz bad. James Patterson bad. That's how bad it was. There's no way I could have missed that much badness before now.
But neither does it seem possible that a good author could, without some phenomenal effort of deliberate will, succeed in writing at that level of badness.
Anyway, I have now finally picked up American Gods. I've been hesitant to read it, because to be perfectly honest, as much as I loved The Sandman, I haven't yet liked any of Neil Gaiman's novels; but surely nothing Neil Gaiman can write could be much worse than what I just read, even if American Gods does appear to continue in the Neil Gaiman tradition of stopping to explain himself whenever he says anything he worries might be too smart for his audience. At least I can count on him, I think, to go somewhere with his books. Maybe?
Lord, fiction these days! I'm actually starting to miss China Mieville. The guy bored me half to death, but at least his writing was good.
I'm becoming one of those awful pretentious people who won't read anything but "literature," aren't I?