Tentacle-Quiveringly, Schnarfingly Bad Science Fiction: A Reviewer’s Perspective By AJ Kirby

Today I have the privilege of welcoming A J Kirby, aka Andy, to talk about bad scifi.

Andy is a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and The Short Review. He has also published several novels and dozens of short stories. Check out my last post for my 5 star review of Kirby’s “The Black Book.”

Forgive me if I sound too much like a fanboy, but Dean Giles’ Alien Apocalypse series is a fantastic example of everything that’s right in science fiction. Which is why I’m so happy that I’ve been asked to appear as a guest on his new blog.

I know I’m paraphrasing, but the possibilities of great sci-fi are endless. It’s a genre which knows no boundaries, either for reader or writer. It can literally act as a beam-me up device, carrying you up to the stars. But at the same time, the best sci-fi is like holding up a kinda warped mirror to contemporary society. It allows us to look at ourselves through a slightly different lens. Observe our faults, our foibles, our frustrations.

When sci-fi is good, it is very very good.

But when it is bad, it is horrid.

For my sins, I’m a fiction reviewer. I count the New York Journal of Books and The Short Review on my CV. I love reading, so being sent free books is no hassle.

Most of the time. Sometimes, it can be a real ball-ache. Because I’m primarily a genre fiction reviewer, I’m sent a lot of science fiction to read and review. And, amongst the wonder stuff, there’s also quite a lot of dross, I’m afraid. Which is why Dean Giles’ work came as such a breath of fresh air. Before reading Dean’s latest work, I’d been ploughing through a turgid, almost impenetrable 600 page ‘epic’, which, I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t even finish.

So when Dean asked me to guest on his blog, I thought I’d write a few tips and hints for any wannabe science fiction writers out there from a reviewer’s perspective. Of course, if you can’t be bothered to read through my turgid ‘epic’ bullet-point list below, then just read Dean’s Genesis story. For everything that’s good about that story, the realistic ‘science-bits’, the character development, the story arc etc. assume there is a story out there that’s done the complete opposite. And I’ve had to read it, so you don’t have to.

Here’s my list of what constitutes bad sci-fi:

–          Stories which are obvious rip-offs. Of characters – Han Goalo – and storylines – a space opera set in a universe where’s there’s this magical thing called the Strength, you say?

–          Stories with no obvious character development. Black and white ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Unfortunately, this is quite a regular occurrence in science fiction. We’re looking for shading here, people!

–          Stories in which there is no conceivable ‘goal’. The type which make the reader shrug. So what you’ve written a lovely description of a planet you’ve just dreamed up. What’s going to happen?

–          Stories in which the aliens are all human-shaped. Give me moss! Give me a different kind of life-form. Surprise me!

–          Stories in which the aliens (or humans) all have unpronounceable/ unreadable names. Qzgrtxxxx duels to the death with Hjtfdygs, does he/ she? I don’t care, you’re duelling with my brain making me read that drivel. Yes I appreciate your carefully constructed aliens are very different from humans and have complex language structures, but you don’t have to be so literal!

–          Stories in which it is quite clear the sci-fi dimension is only added to the story in order to facilitate the writer’s ‘hero’ being able to shag some imaginary, top-heavy goddess. Unfortunately, I’ve had to read quite a number of these cringeworthy, wish-fulfilment fantasies in my time.

–          Stories in which the technology is over-explained. I don’t want to read the instruction manual as to how your amazing material-gobbling processor works. Show me.

–          Covers. More and more I judge books by their covers. I have to. And the science fiction genre has suffered some covers which are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. Give me something simple. Classic design work. Don’t over-complicate. Don’t show off you’ve just worked out how to use word/ clip Art on your PC.

This is only a very brief list, and I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you. And you might think I’m being picky, but when you consider how many books I actually have to review on a weekly basis, and that feeling of deflation I get when I see yet another story from the same contrived mould, then you’ll understand.

You don’t? Well, read my short story The Black Book. It’s all about a reviewer driven mad by the sheer weight of books he has to review. It’s available from the TWB Press website here: http://www.twbpress.com/theblackbook.html

AJ Kirby is the award-winning author of five novels (Paint this Town Red, 2012; Perfect World, 2011; Bully, 2009; The Magpie Trap, 2008; When Elephants Walk through the Gorbals, 2007), two collections of short stories (The Art of Ventriloquism, a collection of crime shorts, 2012, and Mix Tape 2010), one novella (Call of the Sea, 2010), one novelette (The Black Book, 2011) and over forty short stories. He is also a sportswriter for the Professional Footballers’ Association and a reviewer for The Short Review and The New York Journal of Books. AJ Kirby lives in Leeds, UK.













Leave a comment


  1. Thanks, Dean, for allowing me to put my feet up and make myself at home on your blog. Well done on the marathon too!

  2. My pleasure! and you’re welcome back any time. I love the post. I have to agree with you about the human shaped aliens. If you’re going to write SF you’d do well to dig deep into your imagination and dream up a mind-warping, inconceivable, incredibly odd thing. Rather than a slightly taller humanoid with long ears… doesn’t cut it for me either.

  1. Tentacle-Quiveringly, Schnarfingly Bad Science Fiction: A Reviewer’s Perspective By AJ Kirby « paintthistownred

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