There's an interesting review of Heinlein's Stranger in Strange Land on Amazon, it's starts off with something like: not a bad book even if it is badly written. Which, you know, struck me as kinda odd, because how do you make such a statement so unselfconsciously, without any citation or providing any explanation, that is: it's badly written because...
I think it likely the person who wrote that review, was acquiescing to received opinion on Heinlein's merit as a writer, which in case you're not aware can be quite disparaging. Now this is where I have a problem, Heinlein's a pretty decent writer, bordering on brilliant when he's not in pulp mode and although it's been a very long time since I read Stranger in a Strange Land, that particular work is the seminal cross-over from science fiction into mainstream literature. So where does this quite widely held opinion that he's crap come from? Well my answer to that conundrum would be that it's a question of reputation, he's reputed to be a bad author by some quite influential opinion, there's a particular culprit I have in mind as the chief progenitor of that notion. This person would be a pretty decent writer himself, with a large following amongst science fiction readers but he never had the mainstream impact that Heinlein managed to attain. He never wrote the cult work and he didn't achieve Heinlein's broader influence, that incidentally, is not constrained to Stranger... but can be attributed to his work on projects like the film Destination Moon.
So a motive emerges, one that is not particularly edifying, that of professional jealously, which is why I've not identified the author in question. The usual response to that notion is one of incredulity, authors like the person in question are not that petty, they're nobler with lofty ideals. Oh yeah really, well history is not on your side with that argument because the examples of such motivation are numerous; the one I'll cite here is Giovanni Baglione's critique of Caravaggio and the disinformation following from it that still persists today.
So the Dick problem, how is that relevant? Well it refers to Philip K. Dick. Dick has, what I would call, an ascendant reputation. Plaudits abound in relation to Dick and an his works, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Man in the High Castle. The question I ask in this regard is, have you ever tried to read one of those books? If you did, did you think they were well written? Did the pages and pages of bald exposition seem well crafted, what about that omni-cognitive third person narrative, with its flawless insight, did that dazzle you? I'm guessing that you probably haven't read them or at least, like me, you didn't finish them. In truth, Dick is not a particularly engaging author or skilled at rendering narrative. Prose-wise, he's like a lot of folk from his background, centred on stream of consciousness, a consciousness that seems largely spiked by the use of pharmaceuticals. In that regard, he's playing catchup with James Joyce.
Now that doesn't mean Dick is a bad author, it just means he's difficult to read but the question arises, would that guy on Amazon describe a book by Dick as badly written? I'm thinking no he wouldn't, he either couldn't bring himself to highlight the terrible narrative structure, the terrible prose, the awful plodding exposition, or he wouldn't have the critical faculty to make those observations. So what makes a book either well or badly written? Is it the actual words on the page, or the reputation of author? That's not such a facetious question as it might seem because perception is formed by opinion much more than it is by reality in certain circumstances. Personally, it's a question I can't resolve easily, because all creative works reside within their cultural context. It's their relevance to that culture, the recognition of them that derives from that context, that makes a creative work notable.