But it's low-hanging fruit. So I thought I'd try something a bit different: a bottom ten.
In no particular order – at least so far – here are ten novels I really wish that I'd never read. A nice trip to the dentist would have been more fun and more rewarding. All of them came highly recommended by someone, as far as I can recall, and some by lots of people.
1. Little, Big – John Crowley. A dreadfully tedious modern fairytale, where every time the author managed to arouse some small degree of interest in a character, he promptly shifted the timeline of the narrative a few decades forward, so they became an old person pottering around in the background. It took me nine months to struggle through this and I read dozens of other, more enjoyable books in between; every few chapters, I couldn't face any more, so went and read something fun instead. Came with about six pages of plaudits in the front: a warning sign. The only one that was accurate was (I think) Katharine Kurtz, who marvelled at it as a tightrope act, never quite tumbling into Twee. It's true, but at least a bit of twee is fun sometimes. Gaiman can warm your heart this way if he pleases, for instance.
2. Light – M John Harrison. I've met Mike Harrison, briefly. He is a charming, witty and very cool chap. His prose, too, is witty and stylish. The trouble is, that is all there is to it; it's hollow, there are no interesting or sympathetic characters, no real story, no interesting settings or scenery or ideas or anything. Nothing to give a damn about. I really disliked the Viriconium stories, way back when, but this was meant to be a triumphant return and proper space opera. It's neither.
3. Appleseed – John Clute. I am not an admirer of Mr Clute's criticism, which I find impenetrable, a morass of obscure verbiage and pretentiousness. The purpose of writing, I feel, is to communicate, and Clute is very very bad at this. But I thought it would be interesting to see what he produced when writing fiction instead. I wish I hadn't. It's dull, uneventful, its meaning as ever hidden behind a chiaroscuro of lexicographical pyrotechnics; I was unable to muster any interest in any part of the story or its cast, and the attempt at an impressive Big (possibly-)Dumb Object wasn't. I should have heeded the warning sign in the front of this one, too: a definition of a couple of the really obscure words. I think "azelujaria" was one. I'd rather Sonnets from the Portuguese than vocabulary from it, thanks.
(Aside: the good Appleseed is the one by Masamune Shirow, which I highly recommend.)
4. Vast – Linda Nagata. Strange semi-mystical saga in a big weird alien spaceship. Feels like waking from an anæsthetic, when you're all groggy, nothing makes sense and you can't quite think straight no matter how hard you try. Nothing in the book ever comes clear – it's all weird and spacey and floaty without managing the leap into the mythical or mystical. Immensely frustrating.
5. The Aleutian Trilogy – Gwyneth Jones (counting as one). I have said terrible things about Ms Jones' books, writing intemperately and badly in a mate's blog. Alas, I got quoted. Misery and infamy and shame. I should have tried much harder to express what I didn't like, but I find it very hard to do so. I dislike the biologically-nonsensical, implausible alien biology; if one can't do this convincingly, don't do it, don't just witter. I disliked the aliens too, a bunch of whiny mopey emo-kid ingenues with the power of gods. Despicable. I was irritated that they appear so human-like for no good reason I could discern other than making them interact better with humans. I found the story and actions and characters all hateful. Settings were well-placed, but the stuff I'd find interesting was off in the background, and in the foreground was hundreds of pages of moping. Gah.
6. Climbing Olympus – Kevin J Anderson. A recommendation from a friend and I shall never forgive him. “Anderson is good when he's writing his own original stuff,” he protested. NO. HE. ISN'T. This book was absolutely unutterable crap from beginning to end with added bad-horror-writer nasty bits thrown in.
7. The Garbage Chronicles – Brian Herbert. Never was a book more aptly titled. Elder son of the sainted Frank of that ilk, Herbert Jr can only have got published because of the family connections. He couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. Unspeakably dreadful. The only way this guy could write any worse was paired up with some other talentless hack... Oh, wait...
8. White Mars – Roger Penrose & Brian Aldiss. I adore most of Aldiss' work; he was the first big-name writer I ever met at a convention and he - and also his late wife, who introduced me to him – are absolutely lovely, charming people. Penrose is more famous for The Emperor's New Mind, which is waiting in my epic to-be-read pile. (I blame Bookmooch.) I already know I don't agree with its central concept, though. But I got the book new, from and signed for me by Brian himself. So I hated myself for hating it, but I found it trite, implausible, contrived and awkward as hell. A massive disappointment.
9. Artemis Fowl & Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident - Eoin Colfer. When I heard that Mr Colfer had got the contract to write a sequel to the Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy books, I was deeply concerned, so I decided to sample his earlier stuff. (Even though I dislike juveniles as a rule and did even when I was a kid.) I was right to be afraid. I really really Did Not Get On with these books. Apart from the irritating protagonist and his clichéd accomplices, I found the whole thing stereotypical and dull. But worst of all, Colfer tries to write magic in a sciency, science-fictiony sort of way, and he can't do it. It's as bad as that awful line about “doing the Kessel run in less than six parsecs”, betraying utter illiteracy in the terms or the vocabulary – Colfer does not understand the language of science at all, so he tries to ape it and fails very badly. Hugely irritating, utterly without interest or any redeeming features.
10. Mortal Mask – Steven Marley. A kind gift when in hospital, from a long-ago girlfriend, who said she loved these books and thought I might. I'm afraid not. I found this first one immensely irritating with its not-very-well-done incomprehensible Chinese mythology and its directionless plot centred around an utterly-unsympathetic lead character who I just wanted to meet an end. Preferably nasty and very soon. Tedious and uninspiring.
In more recent years, I've largely stopped trying to finish books that I am really seriously disliking, so there are a whole bunch that I just gave up on. As such, I can't really pass judgement. I might go back for another crack at them some day, but for now – meh.
1. The Third Policeman – Flann O'Brien. Started out fun then just became random.
2. City of the Iron Fish – Simon Ings. Started because I'd enjoyed Headlong so much, ironically.
3. The Night Mayor – Jack Yeovil. Like the (real) author, like his short fiction and journalism, but I could not wade through the mass of reference upon reference in this. It's no fun if you can't get them, so it is an error, I feel, to rely upon them totally.
4. Bold as Love – Gwyneth Jones. Its praises were sung at me but I wouldn't buy it so a friend gave it to me. Dear gods, as if there weren't enough tree-huggers and stereotypes in the world already. Ack.
5. The Far Side of the World – Patrick O'Brian. Failed at about page 3, a good half a dozen times. Mind you, it's worse than that sounds – I am not sure I've made it into the second actual sentence yet.
6. Dying of the Light – George R R Martin. I really love a lot of this chap's work, but he is astonishingly diverse and I just could not get into this book.
7. And Another Thing – Eoin Colfer. As a serious Douglas Adams fan, I feared the worst of an authorised sequel. I had been far, far too optimistic.
8. Canal Dreams – Iain Banks. I adore his SF, but his mainstream stuff leaves me cold. This one, on the other hand, left me stricken. Both dull and rather unpleasant, which is a neat trick in an awful sort of way.
9. Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail – Hunter S Thompson. OK, so, not technically a novel, but still. I much enjoyed Hells Angels and his shorter writing, but I neither know nor care about US politics, especially not that occurring before I was 5. Grindingly dull, yet bafflingly fêted; I don't get the book or the response to the book.
10. Illuminatus! - Robert Shea & Robert Anson Wilson. The really weird thing is, I love this book, but every one of the two or three times I read it, by half- to three-quarters of the way through the third volume, I just can't take any more and give up. Very strange. One day I will get there and I am sure it'll all be worth it.