Unlike the previous two lists, this list is presented in ascending order of suckitude:
- The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley
I'm not entirely convinced that this book is objectively bad so much as that I am the absolutely worst possible reader for it. Parts of it are not much more than a thinly disguised travel narrative, in which the narrator, his aunt, and an eccentric priest, tromp around Turkey in the fifties--but I don't like travel writing. Those parts of it that have more than a thin dusting of plot are concerned with one of three issues: the narrator's religious crisis and his aunt's attempts to bring Christianity to the heathens; the position of women in Islamic countries and the narrator's aunt's attempts to better it through missionary work; the narrator's crisis of conscience, brought on by an adulterous (and, as it turns out only a few pages before the novel's end, homosexual) relationship. All of these plotlines assume that the readers have a certain perspective--Christian, colonial, homophobic--that I simply can't sympathize with, and Macauley does absolutely nothing to persuade us that these are the correct opinions to hold (in fact, on occasion her unthinking condescension was almost enough to dissuade me from opinions I do hold--I do agree that the misogyny she describes in Turkey is worse than the Western kind, but her arrogant, wholesale dismissal of Turkish culture made it impossible for me to sympathize with her characters on this point). This may have been an enjoyable book for its time and place, but for me it was nothing more than an unpleasant glimpse of a mindset that I want nothing to do with.
- The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston
Or, what happens when someone with barely a fraction of his talent tries to emulate China Miéville. So, yes, elaborately detailed fantasy world ruled over by a morally ambiguous aristocracy, with lots of gore and gruesomeness thrown in and a main character who is refreshingly irreverent (refreshing, that is, if you haven't read any fantasy over the last five years). But: the writing is barely serviceable. But: the characters are mostly cardboard cutouts, except for the main character and a few of his friends, who are annoying. But: there are maybe 200 pages of plot in a 400 page novel, and that not particularly interesting. But: the worldbuilding here is almost nonexistent, veering wildly between unthinking acceptance of medieval fantasy tropes and supposedly revisionist innovations on same which clash horribly with one another, so that we end up, for example, with a society in which women can rule, own property, and go to battle, but in which it is still a terrible thing to have an illegitimate child. As far as I can tell, there's nothing here but some inventive creation of alien races and situations, and for the life of me I can't understand why this novel and its sequels have been praised so highly.
- Till Human Voices Wake Us by Mark Budz
I have a review of this dull, poorly written, incoherent novel forthcoming and I don't want to step on it too much, so I'll just sum it up with the SMS I sent Strange Horizons reviews editor Niall Harrison several weeks ago: "I just got off a plane to New York. I had to choose between finishing the Budz novel and watching Evan Almighty. It was a tough call."
- Streaking by Brian Stableford
I'm not entirely comfortable with awarding Stableford the year's biggest turkey spot. On the one hand, clearly I did not read a worse novel than Streaking in 2007. This story about a supposedly preternaturally lucky Yorkshire earl whose luck will turn if he doesn't father a child gets everything wrong. The characters are nonexistent, most of them are stupid, and the minor ones are so thoroughly enslaved to the demands of the plot that they might as well be aliens for all that their actions make any sense as examples of human behavior. The dialogue is atrocious, but only slightly better than the narrative voice, and about halfway through the whole story grinds to halt for the sake of interminable discussions of the genetic component of the protagonist's lucky streak. Not, that is, that the plot was worth paying attention to in the first place--for a novel that clearly seeks to emulate the jet-setting hi-jinks of Fleming and his ilk, it is singularly lacking in tension, and most of the protagonist's problems resolve themselves quite neatly without forcing him to lift a finger.
All that said, some novels are so bad that they go through bad and out the other side into delightful camp. Streaking is almost a parody of itself and of the kind of male wish-fulfillment fantasy it so obviously is. After all, how can you hate a novel that gives us such lines as "his former way of life was coming to an irrevocable end, within a maelstrom of possibilities and impossibilities that was dragging him inexorably along into an unanticipatable future," or "The food for thought she had fed him had given him terrible mental indigestion"? This is bad writing brought to the level of an artform.