“The whole world is turning into scrambled eggs.” Larry marched to the window.
[…] Jimmy pointed out the window. “Do you notice something strange? Several cars have driven off the road and been abandoned there on Pacific Coast Highway and Avocado, causing several fender benders.”
Those are actual quotes from a certain end-times novel from last decade (pages 47 and 48). The Rapture has just happened. And as if it weren’t already difficult to make people vanishing believable (especially if you’re an amillennialist Christian) — “dialogue” like this doesn’t help.
And no, this is not from the Left Behind series. Despite their flaws, they were certainly not like this. Instead I’m quoting from an earlier, more forgettable book called The Third Millennium.
Everyone’s read bad fiction. But I might submit TTM to a competition for the worst.
I don’t even recall when I read it — late 1990s, perhaps? But it was the first truly bad book I had ever read. At that time I had so far avoided truly horrible books, so it was surprising to me that this book could have been published. I’d hardly begun trying to write novels myself, and by then had read very few novels — yet even I knew the absurdity of a line like this:
“Can you believe that we have just lived through the greatest earthquake in history as easily as a robin sitting on her nest in a spring shower?” (page 186)
If you haven’t had enough, I have more. So did the author(s), in two sequels. Yes, I went on to read them. Portraying a literal thousand-year peaceful reign of Christ and Jews on Earth just doesn’t seem realistic when you’re claiming that “McDavid’s” restaurants are plentiful. Only instead of Big Macs and fries, they serve Kosher beef.
… Yeah. I wish I actually had that book so I could quote the part, but I remember it — vividly.
So knowing the first book was not that great, why did I read the sequels?
Easy reason, which I think I can defend: it was a learning experience. As a new writer, I began to wonder why this book was so bad. I knew it was, but what were the reasons? That began a quest not only to find and read good books, and learn (even subconsciously) what makes a gripping, well-written story, but also to read and diagnose the hideously bad books.
Perhaps this is like studying Scripture. It’s far better to read God’s specifically revealed truth and grow that way. But occasionally it may also help to pick up an un-Biblical book (whether it’s by a professing Christian or not) and learn what untruths are out there. Two benefits may result:
- While learning the right ways, you add more-specific knowledge about the wrong ways;
- The right ways — God’s truth — seem all the more glorious by contrast.
Similarly, I may have groaned my way through these three rather awful end-times books, but then had my mourning turn to dancing (and frequent repetition of the most hilarious quotes). But I’ve also learned more about what to avoid in my own fiction-writing. Good books also seem even greater by contrast. And paradoxically one may develop a greater sense of optimism: not in thinking most books are wonderful, but at least in knowing books as bad as this are very rare.
Or perhaps you disagree? For you, perhaps most fiction you’ve read seems to contain quotes and elements that are just as bad as the ones I’ve described?
Again, were I a gambling man I’d still put money on The Third Millennium and its sequels as among of the worst of poor fiction (for reasons that, I’ll argue later, are not entirely the authors’ fault). Perhaps we shouldn’t hear or laugh about bad fiction, if that could turn into an attack-the-author session. But I think one can critique a poor fiction work with affection, and even humor, without also attacking personalities, or disagreeing too vehemently over favorite books.
Meanwhile, over the next several columns, I’ll be sharing at least five lessons I’ve learned from reading bad books — whose errors we may hope never to repeat.
(Next week: how might Big-Name Authors often violate their own vocations?)