Have tastes changed so much?

I’ve been trying to read a book called The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It’s part of a large set of 73 that I have published by Gollancz called SF Masterworks. A lot of the books in this set were published originally from the 1950s to the 1980s with a big emphasis on 1960/70s. There are, it has to be said, some real gems in this set. On the other hand, there are some real lemons too. I’m afraid that The Dispossessed probably falls into the lemon category from what I have read.

The book failed to grab me; I did try and persist. Longwinded and without any real point, the first two chapters failed in any way to give me a story or characters that I could latch onto and feel for and get into. Actually, come to think of it, there seemed very little point to what I read. When I first began writing, wordy, self-indulgent stuff was referred to as ‘Purple prose’ and was to be avoided at all cost. Unfortunately, Le Guin didn’t go to that lecture when she wrote this. She isn’t alone though; even Arthur C. Clarke’s early works had a habit of falling into this trap. I am forced to conclude given the rave reviews this book had that tastes have changed, and some books have not aged well.

In some respects, the 1960/70s were the years to be trying to get published if you wrote sci-fi. Stick a rocket on the cover and you could be forgiven for thinking that anything sold in this genre. On the other hand, maybe the glut of boring self-indulgent books of this time were responsible for the decline of sci-fi as big genre for those who came afterwards. Now it is quite hard to get sci-fi published.

Other books in the set have impressed me, and it isn’t all doom and gloom. Flow my tears, the Policeman said by Philip K. Dick is an astounding work, and so were Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, I am Legend by Richard Matheson and Mission of gravity by Hal Clement were all excellent reads. So there were still excellent works in amongst this glut of over written rubbish. What makes me surprised is the fact that some of these bad books won prizes, gathered rave reviews and – above all – are considered masterpieces. I think that tastes have changed an awful lot. Would any of these poor works have been published today if Le Guin had gone to a publisher in 2010 and punted that manuscript around? A part of me thinks probably not.

Still, what do I know? Well, maybe beyond what I like.