I don’t know. Probably the worst book I ever read was “Pamela,” by Samuel Richardson, and that was written in 1740. I still don’t know how I stuck with it to the end.
I struggle reading contemporary authors like John Grisham and James Patterson.
Today’s thrillers will spend an entire chapter or two in the twisted, sick minds of the antagonist. Patterson’s Alex Cross novels feature extremely twisted characters. I read the series for awhile and stopped after the 5th book.
I like the classic crime solving novels. Where the protagonist sees a crime scene and pursues the killer. There may be more deaths before he’s caught. I enjoy the process of tracking these people down.
A lot of contemporary authors treat books like television. Where chapters bounce around featuring characters in various locations. Some books may have 8 or 9 characters to keep up with. It gets confusing.
But it’s been that way since the mid 90’s. I’ve found some contemporary authors that I can enjoy.
I recognize the sentiments. However, I also believe the problem for myself is that I spend less effort to find good fiction than I used to, reading reviews and actively seeking out new books. Occasionally I have found contemporary novels which I enjoyed, such as Franzen’s The Corrections or Chus’ Crazy Rich Asians, to name two very different books. I also liked some newer science fiction I read, such as Story of Your LIfe. That shows to me there still is enjoyable writing around. But I admit it seems harder to find it.
I occasionally have a problem enjoying a particular modern book—sometimes because of one or more of the reasons people have mentioned in this thread, sometimes because it just isn’t a very good book or isn’t a very good fit with what I’m in the mood for.
But I have read quite a few modern books, in a variety of genres, that I have enjoyed a great deal.
You may enjoy Redshirts by John Scalzi, if you haven’t already read it. It’s a clever, funny, and fun satire on Star Trek. It won the Hugo Award in 2013.
I also enjoyed Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie, another Hugo winner. It’s thoughtful and complicated, but with a lot of action too. It takes a while at the beginning to figure out what’s going on, though.
Definitely true on both accounts. Both books have a bit of mystery to them, but Redshirts is good popcorn fun: there’s not a lot you gotta keep track of, and the mystery isn’t terribly difficult to figure out. Ancillary Justice demands a lot more from the reader, and if you read it in 15-minute increments before bed, you’re gonna be lost. (or I would, anyway).
For my money the latter is the “better” book: it stuck with me a lot better, was much more satisfying, and is great for someone looking for thoughtful SF. But both books are great at what they do, and I’m glad the bookshelf has room for them both.
Probably not what the OP intended, but my biggest complaint is lack of proper editing. I find far too many modern books with obvious errors, such as in grammar, spelling, and continuity. We should not be regressing in quality control!
And that’s not to mention certain authors who could really used an editor to stand up to the author and force them to really evaulate if the book needs all the bloat. Yes, JK Rowling, I’m talking about you.
I. think this is correct. There has always been poorly written books. In 2021, the poorly written books of 2019 and 2020 are still around, while the poorly written books of 1919 and 1920 are forgotten.
ETA: The increased ease of self publishing may have adjusted the percentages a little, but the overall sentiment still holds.
A comment on this, in that most of these I would find as failure in proofreading, rather than editing. Not quite a nitpick, because I hate (!!!) a common problem with editing - the author gets so popular that they refuse editing and their novels explode into incoherence. I’m going to throw one of my once-favorite modern authors under the bus for this, Neal Stephenson - Snowcrash (1992) is still one of my all-time favorite novels (even if a bit dated as much ‘near future’ scifi can easily become), because it had fun characters, a twisted but at least vaguely plausible world, and while it had a sprawling cast of characters and sub-stories, it all tied back together in 480 pages.
By comparison, I still like his 2015 Novel Seveneves (harder scifi) it has expaned to an 880 page beast, with (IMHO) the story and characters being bogged down in at times excessive detail and description, which while wonderful, do not move the story along. It made me lose track of what was happening and especially towards the end, kept pushing any resolution back. It’s not bad, but a good editor could have persuaded the author to tighten it all up and trim the fat as it were.
Okay, rant off, and it’s not like this doesn’t happen in other creative fields as we all know. Navel gazing musical albums, 2-4 different director’s cut options to show the director’s “true vision”, etc.
Since I’ve given some scifi suggestions, if you want something where the dialogue, descriptions and insanity just make you want to chuckle every few minutes, I’ll throw a suggestions towards nearly anything written by Christopher Moore who writes comic fantasy, set in a slightly more interesting version of our own world. Like any author, some things will click with you better than others, but I always mention Practical Demonkeeping (1992) and A Dirty Job (2006)
See? A good editor would have caught my mistake!
I think the biggest problem with me in finding good new books is that the time I spend in a bookstore has dropped so drastically. I used to spend several hours a week at local bookstores, I knew ahead of time what was coming out in the near future, I knew which days new books came into each store. Now I don’t know any of that.
I don’t know when or why I stopped going, it just kind of happened. So now it’s kind of word of mouth from friends, recommendations from here etc. But even books that people who know you often give bad advice. Just a for instance: I’ve told many people I’d like to find fantasy/sword and sorcery that is like Robert E. Howard wrote back in the early 1900s. But when I check out the suggestions, and these are from people who know who Howard is, I get a bunch of stuff about unicorns and elves and fairies, often in a long series of gigantic books. To me these are in no way like Howard stories other than they are fantasy. To others, it’s all the same stuff.
Good thing I have a lot of unread books, and I mean a lot. I’m not sure, but I think the last time I did a rough count it was over 2,000. I’m mid fifties, I think I could just stop buying now and I’d make it to my death.
H. P. Lovecraft? Edgar Allen Poe? Clark Ashton Smith?
Are those serious suggestions? I don’t think the first two, at least, wrote sword and sorcery.
@mordecaiB, is it fair to assume you know about the Conan stories that were written by other authors after Howard?
Not to mention The Eye of Argon.
Read and have most of them, but I was trying to find modern authors that write in the pulp style. Most of Howard’s work are short stories or novellas. They are mostly action driven but that doesn’t mean they are without a plot. He created an entire world for Conan just based on short stories.
Yes, gave up on them a long time ago. The funny thing is the best non Howard Conan story is the Bjorn Nyborg you mentioned. Last I looked, many years ago, that was still the only thing he wrote. the one I really had hope for back in the day was when I saw Karl Edward Wagner was going to write a Conan story. His Kane character is the closest I’ve ever seen to a Howard Conan story. Like Conan, a good portion of Kane stories are short stories. When I got the book, it was so bad I couldn’t even finish it. Not a bit like Conan or Kane. What-ever-aged me was crushed. If Wagner couldn’t write a Conan story, no one was going to. Didn’t stop me from buying a bunch more. No joy for me.
Well, you got to admit that’s some damn good writing. I read that so long ago I had forgotten all about it. I’m not sure if I should thank you or not.
It does have one little thing that bothers me, I don’t know why since it’s been around forever. A lot of SF or fantasy has the “guess how you pronounce that name” stuff. You know, the names with four apostrophes, three Xs, two Qs and a few dashes.
I don’t know that it’s possible to find modern fantasy/sword and sorcery that isn’t a long novel or even a series. That’s why I suggested some older writers whose works are mostly short stories but have the vague feel of fantasy/sword and sorcery. Can anyone suggest some writers today that have the same feel and length as Robert Howard’s stuff?
My tastes run mainly in SF, Mystery, and Speculative, but I’ve also read Contemporary authors like Chuck Palahniuk, Walker Percy, Charles Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson. I couldn’t get into David Foster Wallace at all though, and he’s regarded as a modern day classic. Same with James Joyce.
@Wendell_Wagner, regarding books that fit the bill of Robert E. Howard: There was the Thieves’ World collections of the 1980’s, where a myriad of SF/fantasy authors contributed short stories set in the city of Sanctuary. Heroes in Hell was written by many of the same authors about historical figures struggling through the afterlife. It started in the late 80’s and came back in the 2010s. Short stories usually wind up in themed collections like these.
There’s also Fritz Leiber, also of Howard’s era, who wrote the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books, if you’re not familiar.
I don’t think that the percentages have changed all that much, it’s just that the absolute numbers have increased for both good and bad. E-publishing has become so easy, that a lot of authors are just spamming out books so fast, you can’t keep up with them. Even a mediocre series can have 6 to 10 books in it, which used to be unusual. And it doesn’t take many “Meh, I’ll give it a try” downloads to make these mediocre series profitable enough to keep going.
So now we have lists of new books that number in the hundreds, maybe even thousands. Finding the good 15 books out of a hundred is much easier than finding the good 150 books out of a thousand, it seems to me.
I know why I spend far less time in bookstores than I used to: It’s because all the bookstores in my area closed.
Not modern stuff, but if you want Conan-like writing you might try Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis stories. They commissioned him to writer “barbarian” stories precisely to fill the gap left by Howard’s suicide. They were unavailable for years, but have been revived recently in reprints and as e-books.
You might also try Catherine L. Moore’s stuff. her Joiry of Jirel is a rare female “barbarian” protagonist. And her other stuff is great, too. (She was married to Kuttner, and they were also collaborators).
In the 1970s through the 2000s there were a lot of "new’ Conan novels by contemporary writers. Their styles were often different that Howard’s, but they were trying to be similar. One of the least satisfying is Harry Turtledove’s Conan of Venarium . I love Turtledove’s other stuff. Besides his alternate history stories, he also wrote fantasy, so I know he can handle the genre, but he obviously feels uncomfortable with Conan, and the fantastic elements seem to be haphazardly thrown in to satisfy the needs of the market.