Weekly Musing: Regrettable Reads of 2016

As we come to the close of another year, my thoughts turn to reflections of the year that was. The words I’ve written and books I’ve read dominate my thoughts. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll reveal my lists of best and worst books I read in 2016. Today the focus is on the worst books I read.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: A first contact sci-fi novel from China, it started off okay opening with the events of the China’s Cultural Revolution before fast forwarding to the present. A selection for the book club I’m in, I was excited to read a novel written by a non-American and the novel is well-regarded. But as the book went along and more characters and layers were added, I found myself having a lot of difficulty finishing it. If I wasn’t reading it for book club I would have honestly stopped reading it because it started putting me to sleep.

There are many reasons why I didn’t like The Three-Body Problem. The story is told view several characters’ point of view, but none of these characters are fully developed. It was as if Liu was too focused on making sure the physics and engineering worked that he didn’t have the opportunity to develop the characters. None of them change and are incredibly wooden and one-dimensional.

While the plot itself is intriguing, the way it’s executed is dull. Heavily loaded with a lot of engineering and physics, the author himself is an engineer, much of the book reads more like a textbook rather than a novel. I appreciate Liu’s attention to such details and wanting to put the science into science fiction, but it’s that failure of the fiction component which lost me. Perhaps in the book’s original language the story grabs the reader and some of the magic of was lost in translation. Or perhaps for a liberal arts major this isn’t the book for me.

Data Bank by Tonya Sharp Hyche: Since I’ve previous reviewed this book I’ll not reiterate my reasons why I disliked the book.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy: *INSERT LINKS* Another pick by my book club, this book was one of several post-apocalyptic dystopian novels we read this year. This book, along with the others we read convinced me the post-apocalyptic genre is one I cannot get into at all.

Set approximately 150 to 200 years after an illness and subsequent war wipes out most of the American population, the story primarily follows two characters named after Lewis and Clark. In fact Percy uses Lewis and Clark’s expedition to move our Lewis and Clark from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest to meet with Aaron Burr (the character’s actual name) in the hopes of reuniting the country. The Lewis and Clarke influence is seen not only in the main two character’s names, but also in a Sacajawea type character who is the catalyst for the journey.

But besides clunky puns on famous names and sorta following the famous route, The Dead Lands is as depressing as you can get. The biggest reason why I disliked this book was just how much Percy reminds the reader of how bad everything is. While his prose is strong, the constant reminders become very grating. A little goes a long way. He spends so much time on the physical setting of the world it significantly detracts from the story itself. It takes forever for the Lewis and Clark led group to get to their destination. Once they do, the last quarter of the book is a nonsensical rush job which introduces new characters and a new setting giving the impression the story we’ve been reading for several hundred pages isn’t what this world is about.

The characters, with the exception of a protégé of Lewis and a mechanical owl (don’t ask), are annoying and difficult to like. While I’m the first to admit I’m a giant pessimist, even I had a hard time believing that every single person in the book can be so jaded and hard. Nothing good or positive in this world and all the characters were too cutthroat or weak for my tastes.

The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway: Another book I reviewed this year so instead of re-posting what I’ve said, here’s the link to the review.

 

Out of the fifty plus books I read this year, having a list of four books I couldn’t stand isn’t a bad percentage. The theme I noticed looking over this list for the biggest reason why I didn’t like a book came down to the characters. Again, for me if the characters aren’t interesting then it’s difficult for me to get involved in the story. As a reader I need some kind of emotional attachment to at least one character to make the novel worthwhile.

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