If you read widely enough—and I bet most of you do—you find genres and styles of books that just don’t work for you. Maybe you really hate the epistolary novel, or can’t stand detective fiction. It’s part of developing your individual taste as a reader: knowing what you don’t like is sometimes as important as knowing what you do. In many cases, you know it right away. Sometimes, though, it creeps up on you. For me, the classic example of this is epic fantasy, or what I used to hear called “sword and sorcery.”
When I was a lad, I dug fiction about anything not found in the regular world, which pointed me to the horror, fantasy and science fiction shelves at the library. I leaned more toward science fiction—and science; I was the only kid I knew who both read and watched Cosmos—but I was always up for some good old-fashioned fantasy. That is, until the summer before I turned 13.
Until then, I was more than happy to wander through the library stacks, grazing on a spot of Asimov here, a bit of Lovecraft there, and whatever else caught my eye. But, that summer brought me a mission. I’d fallen in with some older kids who, like me, were serious readers. Unlike me, they were well-versed in the major fantasy series of the day. I soon realized that not having read these series was something of an impediment to conversation, so I decided to tackle the two that cropped up the most.
The first of these was Lord of the Rings. I’d read The Hobbit already, so I thought I knew what to expect. Man, was I wrong. I expected an adventurous read; what I got was a cross between a linguistics course and a travelogue. Before long, I was forcing myself to read pages of textbook-quality prose so I could earn my way to the good stuff, following Frodo and Sam as they headed to Mordor. As the series went on, I found myself liking Frodo less and Sam more, so by the end, I was rooting for both Frodo and Gollum to take a magma dip. When this didn’t happen, I was disappointed, but hey, at least Sam made himself a good life in the aftermath of Sauron’s fall.
Unfortunately, my disappointment in LotR was a minor downturn in the day compared to what was awaiting me. After I finished Tolkien’s mighty work, I dove straight into the other series my friends were always discussing: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson. At the time, there were only two trilogies to contend with, and as fast as I read, I didn’t think six books would be too big a deal. Ah, how innocent I was.
I’ve never read anything else by Donaldson, so I don’t know how the first six Covenant books stack up against the rest of his oeuvre. I do know those books were my first serious exposure to the anti-hero in literature, and what an introduction. To my 12-year-old sensibilities, Thomas Covenant might as well have been walking around with JACKASS tattooed on his forehead, and his immense unlikability made it very difficult for me to get into the story. More to the point, I found it nearly impossible to believe that anybody would put up with the Herculean levels of crap he put everyone through, and thus, found nothing else in those books remotely credible.
By the time the pissy old leper exited the sixth book, all I could do is grumble, “About time,” and toss the book in the corner. It took me nearly the whole summer to get through the combined nine books, and by the time I was through, you couldn’t pay me to pick up another epic fantasy novel. I still can’t stand that subgenre, although I enjoy urban and humorous fantasy. Give me some Pratchett, Holt, Moore or Butcher, I’m a happy guy. I like Glen Cook’s Garrett series, but I can’t work up the steam to tackle any of the Black Company books. Needless to say, the Wheel of Time series is right out.
Mind you, I’m not necessarily saying this genre sucks. Nor am I saying either LotR or Covenant suck, though I ended up thoroughly despising them both (I thought Donaldson’s writing was very up to snuff, even if his protagonist wasn’t). For me, though, epic fantasy came to encapsulate a collection of annoyances and weak writing traits that I couldn’t stomach, so much so that for a long time, I could only read works that consciously subverted these aspects of the genre I perceived as being crap. Still, though it soured me on the whole genre, that summer turned out to be a valuable experience in shaping my tastes and perceptions as a reader, so it wasn’t a loss. It even helped me prevent that burnout from happening again, when I started getting sick of hard science fiction (after throttling back on the Niven a bit, I was fine).
If you’re still holding on, I’d like to throw open the floodgates and get your input on the question of genres that you’ve burned out on, if any. What have you become sick of in fiction, and why? Let the wild rumpus begin!