Sci Fi That Didn’t Satisfy

20 books I gave up on because I’m: too dumb, too smart, impatient or a squeamish wuss.

Mernie Buchanan
10 min readNov 12, 2023

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drawing by the author

I have an untreated fiction addiction and get high on the ‘what if’ questions and brilliant writing in most of sci fi. Here are the 10% I gave up on before finishing in the past two years because they were:

Too Grim

(If grim is your thing, consider 1–6 as recommendations)

1

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie — This is one of the more high concept and lauded I abandoned. I even tried twice. Characters and settings were simply too dismal, and trudging through a frozen wasteland was better when Ursula Le Guin did it.

I kept hoping for more from the character who used to be a ship. If the author had foreshadowed any hope that anyone might triumph over the evil empire or their own anger and depression, it might have kept me going past the halfway mark. I know a lot of people enjoy bleak. If I could afford a therapist to work through my aversion to bleak maybe I could have got through it.

I prefer to be immersed in the snark of Murderbot, the warmth of the Wayfarer Series or the ludicrous hijinks of Scalzi’s latest. For adventures with a self aware spaceship, I’ll clone another rocket into the Bobiverse.

2

Dune, Children of Dune, etc by Frank Herbert—I loved Dune as a teenager in the 70s and kept going. Over time the Dune universe became an interminable slog. I tried again as an adult, hoping Herbert would redeem what I first loved about this world. He didn’t and now I know why. I want beings (human or not) to be worth caring about. Give me mood arcs that transcend the dismally solemn zone every so often. Please, authors, ease up on hitting readers upside the head over and over with no relief. (Like… I know you’re very thirsty and here’s some water but you can’t drink it. Oops, did it again. Oh, too bad. That one died of thirst too. OH oh. There’s a guy with a sense of humor. Let’s kill him next.)

Recently something on YouTube cracked me up (and cured my decades-long unease about this series). It was an author talk where Becky Chambers said, “If a very special boy on drugs can save the Universe, then it would…

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Mernie Buchanan

Originally from CA & Las Vegas, I now paint and write in Woodstock NY. All images are my original art & photos. Links to more at mernie.com