James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Blog > Post

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

13 Feb, 2024


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Astounded that I had somehow escaped reading Mark Clifton’s They’d Rather Be Right, a supporter commissioned a review.

The Clifton novel is notorious as the worst novel to win a Hugo Award1. Having to read it serves me right for not immediately saying no to the commission.

The commission got me to thinking

about how to best procrastinate reading Clifton’s novel the fact that many SFF books are notorious for being terrible or for being so extraordinarily opaque as to be unreadable2. But is the notoriety deserved? Have these books been slandered? Shouldn’t someone reread these works to see if the works really are as bad or difficult as claimed? Shouldn’t that person be me? Apparently.

Fate sent me a clear yes,” in the form of a used copy of Jean Mark Gawron’s 1978 Algorithm.

Seventeen-year-old me found Algorithm utterly inexplicable. Is Gawron’s work dense and obscure or was I just an ignorant and lazy young idiot? I will find out.

Cower in the face of yet another review project!

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?3, being an ongoing exploration of SFF’s worst and/or most challenging works. I’ve only myself to blame!4

  1. I have not yet read the Clifton, but it would have to be extremely bad to be worse than either The Wanderer or Blackout/All Clear, to name just two Hugo duds I have read.
  2. There is a vast gulf between being terrible and being so ambitious as to defeat my pitiful cognitive resources. I dread tackling Farnham’s Freehold and Gravity’s Rainbow but for entirely different reasons.
  3. Mystery fans will spot the inspiration, the title of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder comedic caper novel. The answer to the title’s question turned out to be a movie adaptation starring Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito.”
  4. A phrase I also considered as a project title until I realized people are probably going to flood my inbox with suggestions — yes, yes, I am aware of Farnham’s Freehold—and they too will bear some blame.

    Certain books will not be considered, such as Eye of Argon (I have better things to do than pick on a kid), anything Laumer wrote after the stroke, and of course I won’t touch Piers Anthony’s Firefly.