Of the twenty-eight books I finished last year, two were not of the sci-fi/fantasy realms. I’m trying to round out my reading a little more this year and so far have only read eight. Yep, I’m a big fan of SF/F. Before I knew of genres, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle captured my young imagination with talking animals and tesseracts. In high school, a friend hooked me on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. A few years later, another friend introduced me to the Valdemar series, which began as short stories in Sword and Sorceress III and IV when nobody but MZB was willing to take a chance on Mercedes Lackey. All of their works are old companions, still ready for an adventure at the drop of a pin. Since then, I’ve read a lot more SF/F.
When it comes to science-fiction I’m not so into the high tech genres. Rather, I enjoy those that use the universe, time, and technology as ways to explore the infinite possibilities, society, “humanity”, and limitless other topics they bring to mind and the discussions that can follow. I’m not as picky, so to speak, in regard to fantasy. Give me good, entertaining imps and fae, magii, Arthurian lore, urban fantasy, whatever, I’m pretty content. To the fans raving about Twilight, sorry, I’ll pass on the bloodsucking teenage baseball players. Like with most things, SF/F spans the tastes and it can merely be a matter of finding what one likes. For the sake of not being too repetitious, here are some of the authors and books that I’ve really enjoyed but haven’t written about (too much):
Steven Barnes: Lion’s Blood is a brilliant piece of alternate history where Islamic Africa is the main power and caucasians, mainly the Irish, are enslaved. After being sold, Aidan becomes unlikely friends with Kai, the plantation owner’s youngest son. It’s a book about life, beliefs, choices, love, and freedom that I’ve been meaning to re-read, but first need to get back for the fourth or fifth time. Co-written with Larry Niven, “The Locusts” is a phenomenal short story where the future of human life and humanity as we know it is questioned. I read it in 1980 Annual World’s Best SF by DAW Books, but it may be available elsewhere.
Peter Beagle: Perhaps his most well-known tale is that of the Last Unicorn, which was made into an animated film, also written by him. The movie has been a favorite since 1982 so I was thrilled to read about the Unicorn that teams up with Schmendrick the Magician and Molly, a bandit leader’s wife, to find out what happened to the other unicorns. The book is better and it continues past the film. Beagle’s first novel, written at the age of 19, A Fine and Private Place centers around a mausoleum where a recluse who speaks with the dead is offered a chance at happiness. It’s wit, charm, sadness, and beauty make it a fine and memorable piece, and definitely worth revisiting. I read both novels and two shorter pieces in the Fantasy Worlds of Peter S. Beagle, which is an excellent introduction to his storytelling and writing. Now if I could just find and hear some of his filk (what’s that?) and folk music…
Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 seem to be a regular part of high school’s curriculum and both are on my re-read list. The first is an episodic anthology about mankind and the future. A commentary about American society, Fahrenheit 451 is about knowledge gained without truly learning. In a dystopian society critical thought from reading is illegal and books are burned for the good of humanity. It was written during the Cold War when McCarthyism and censorship were around every corner. Because it couldn’t possibly be real, speculative fiction was practically the only way to slip through the cracks.
Marion Zimmer Bradley: Where do I begin? The Darkover series that started in the fifties? Her retelling of Arthurian lore in Mists of Avalon which was published in ’79, but grew in popularity in the nineties? The Sword and Sorceress anthologies that started in ’84 and featured unknown writers? Her other novels, series, anthologies, and contributions to the literary and SF/F communities? She co-founded the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism, whose members are often seen at Rennaissance Faires and conventions. Although MZB’s passing in ’99 was a great loss and a blow to many, her works continue thanks to those who carry the torches.
DAW Books: Since its founding in 1971 by Donald and Elsie Wollheim, DAW has published over a thousand sci-fi and fantasy books. Thanks to this privately owned company, numerous authors such as Mercedes Lackey, Tad Williams, and Tanith Lee were discovered by the masses. It has also published works by Ursula Le Guin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and a long list of others. Notably, DAW is also the first publisher to be devoted to those realms and it truly strives for quality not quantity.
Robert Heinlein: The six stories within 6 x H were my introduction to Heinlein in ’96. Although the title escaped me its contents did not and, after almost a decade, I finally revisited them. The most memorable was “the Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” in which Hoag continuously finds red residue under his fingernails, but has no recollection of how it happens. He hires detectives who lead him to an unexpected discovery. “And He Built a Crooked House” is about an architect who builds a house based on the principles of a tesseract. During an earthquake it collapses into four dimensions. Stranger in a Strange Land has been repeatedly recommended to me, and I will get to it eventually. I also have Starship Troopers and a few of Heinlein’s other books waiting in line.
Charles de Lint: So far I have only read two works by this storyweaver whose words and imagery come alive, but more are in the queue. In Memory and Dream, under a troll-like master’s guidance a painter’s other-worldy creatures become more than just oils on canvas. This urban fantasy-thriller is about the relationship between an artist and their art, art in general, and internal and external power. In his short “Ten for the Devil”, Staley and her fiddle make powerful soul-speaking music. Thanks to a blues musician and jumping the groove Staley just might out wit the devil that came a calling. I found this little treasure in Ravens in the Library, which I might add, is a limited publishing and a fantastic addition to anyone’s shelf.
Rod Serling: Although I previously mentioned Serling and his stories from the Twilight Zone, they’re worth doing so again. The show that he started was an avenue for commentary during McCarthyism and even Ray Bradbury had a few things to say. If you like the show, I’m pretty sure you’ll like New Stories from the Twilight Zone and Serling’s other books from that grey area that lies between science and superstition. His writing is witty, insightful, and frequently, too close to home.
That’s the short list of writers whose science-fiction and fantasy stood out through the years. Authors and their books I’ve reviewed or talked a lot about can be found on my reading list. There are still heaps of SF/F I have yet to explore; Isaac Asimov being at the head of the queue. After watching Dune and Children of Dune this week, I’d like to read the series more than before, but am hesitant. Frank Herbert’s writing doesn’t grab me, there are other series I’d like to finish before getting involved with another, plus numerous other books to read. I’m considering skipping the first three books covered by the movies and going right to God Emperor of Dune. Then should I feel like it, I’ll go back to book one.
Which sci-fi/fantasy books and authors have really stood out in your mind and why? Do you even like SF/F? Why or why not?
These ramblings brought on by a case of BTT:
Sci-fi author Sharon Lee has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day. As she puts it:
A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate?