Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I Think I Hate My SF Book Club

I've been going to the SF book club at Powell's Book Store in Beaverton, OR for 3 months.  Tonight I've decided that I hate the book club.  Maybe it's because I hadn't eaten since noon.  Maybe it's because I haven't had enough coffee.  Maybe it's because I'm an introverted nerd with confrontation anxiety.  Maybe it's because I thought people in book clubs like books, and literature, and ideas.  

Tonight's book was Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut.  Most of the people in the group hated it.  I mean HATED it.  One person complained that it didn't have a happy ending.  Another complained about the terrible things that happened to the female character.  Another complained it was literature.  

There were a few people in the crowd who argued that it was literature, that it was satire, that Vonnegut was using SF as a way to convey his thoughts about the atrocities of war, the indifference of God, how we accept and are grateful for the inhumane ways we are treated by corporations and the rich and powerful, and ultimately, about the meaning of life.  But people did not want to hear it.  

The two books before were miserable pulp pop crap: "Amped" by David Wilson and "Book of Secrets" by Chris Roberson.  A lot of people loved "Amped".  Why?  Because it was a technical manual with cardboard characters disguised as a nerd revenge fantasy.  People didn't like "Book of Secret" because it wasn't SF, no one said it was because it was a poorly constructed book with a vaguely interesting premise.  

Based on the comments from the club's discussions, I've categorized the club into a couple of categories.  There's the people who like technical manuals that claim to be novels.  There's the people who like space opera, melodramas with a lot of science and cut and dried boundaries between good and evil.  A lot of people like fantasy, but I've gleaned that quite a few limit themselves to the classic paragons like Tolkien and Lewis.  And only a few like literature.

Well, I'm not that person.  First of all, I like a book that's well-written.  I like prose.  I like well-developed characters.  I have some categories I don't care for, but whenever I make a sweeping statement about a subcategory, I can find at least one example to disprove my own bias.  I don't like war books, but I loved "Forever War" by Joe Haldeman. I don't like space opera, but I loved "The Uplift War" by David Brin.  I don't like nanotechnology, but I really liked The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.  I love fantasy, but I despised "The Good Fairies of New York" by Martin Millar (which I never reviewed, but it's the only book I've ever read that I would give NO stars).  And even though I said I like well-written books, I have some guilty pleasures like "Hominids" by Robert J Sawyer.  (And in case you're wondering where the reviews are, I've written them, I just haven't posted them all in an effort not to dump all the reviews on my blog at once).

Okay, I feel a little better having gotten all that out.  I've had a cup of decaf, my pulse has come down, and I'm taking deeper breaths.  

I guess what I'm most sad about is that I thought that in a book club, I'd find a lot of people like me.  I'd find a community of live people with whom I could have healthy discussions about how I feel about a book.  I don't feel that in the book club.  I feel like it's always full on war, and as in the real world, the reasonable voices are drowned.  
Two years ago, I committed myself to the challenge of reading all the Hugo winners.  What I didn't realize when I started this was that it would open me up in some very profound ways.  I've taken the risk to express my opinion by writing reviews.  That was followed by risking going "public" with my opinions, i.e. creating this blog and interacting with the virtual community on World Without Ends.  It's been a journey that I didn't know I would be taking when I first thought "I want to read all the Hugo winners".  And the reward has been that some people read my posts and like what I write.  Sometimes a post gets three hits, sometimes twenty.  What feels good is that I put myself out there.

Going to the book club was another step on that journey.  But it
hasn't turned out the way I thought it would.  I'm angry that it hasn't clicked for me.  I'm angry that it has brought out my flight tendency.  I'm angry that I'm afraid that people won't like what I say.  I'm angry that I often can't get all my thoughts out of my mouth in a clear form.  I'm angry that everyone isn't like me.    

So now what?  I don't know just now.  I thought I was more tolerant of people.  I thought I had developed a thicker skin.  Maybe after a good night's sleep, I'll be able to shake all this off.   Dear reader, if you've made it this far, I'd like to thank you listening to me, for accompanying me on a process I needed to go through, getting it out of my system.  One of my goals with this blog was to write something besides reviews.  Well, I think I've just accomplished that.


  1. Sturgeon's law can be applied to anything, including book clubs. Maybe especially book clubs. I feel pretty lucky in that I like my sci-fi group, most people in it are geeks who are up for an interesting discussion, but I think that's really rare.

    Anyway, your blog is inspiring me to go through all the Hugos too! I also have a tracker running on Worlds Without End, so far I've read 44% of winners. Need to try harder.

    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting! It will have taken me nearly two years to get through all the Hugos once I finish these last two. And I was unemployed through a lot of that time. And that's excluding 5 I previously read. I'll probably re-read those at some point this year so I can review them. Good luck to you in your quest. I'm honored that I can be of inspiration to you. You should checkout The Hugo Endurance Challenge blog. He inspired me to keep going when I was about halfway through.

  2. sometimes the book clubs really suck. Maybe we need to start out own. Love your challenge idea and really admire you for reading all the Hugos.

    1. Thanks for posting, Judi, and for supporting me and my blog. Jacob thought we should start our own club as well. Maybe we should think about this some more...