Sneaking in at the last minute, it’s a shelfie for April! What we have here (in addition to a guardian squid) is a stack of books by women who were directly or indirectly formative on my writing process before THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA was finished. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, just suggestive… it’s what I could easily grab from my paperback shelves in a minute or two. For instance, I forgot to grab anything by Janny Wurts, Melanie Rawn or Margaret Atwood.
Going down the column, we have:
DOOMSDAY BOOK … Connie Willis
THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS … Ursula K. LeGuin
WAR FOR THE OAKS … Emma Bull
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS … Octavia Butler
THE SNOW QUEEN … Joan Vinge
THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD … Patricia McKillip
DOWNBELOW STATION … C.J. Cherryh
THE WALLS OF AIR … Barbara Hambly
RATS AND GARGOYLES … Mary Gentle
BURNING BRIGHT … Melissa Scott
THE POISON MASTER … Liz Williams
THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA … Leigh Brackett
MIRROR DANCE … Lois McMaster Bujold
SWORDSPOINT … Ellen Kushner
I’m not a fan of Willis’ most recent work (I think BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR is unacceptably sloppy) but DOOMSDAY BOOK is a startlingly unflinching examination of scholarship, attachment, and loss. THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is justifiably a legend in its own time; I am also one of those weirdos who actually really likes THE DISPOSSESSED even if the subtitle “an ambiguous utopia” makes me snicker ruefully.
WAR FOR THE OAKS… where to begin? This was the city I dreamed of as a kid, lit up with magic and danger. So many of my theories on fantasy were formulated from awe of this book or in argument with it. That’s the mark of Emma’s greatness— she writes books you can have fabulous arguments with.
PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (and its predecessor PARABLE OF THE SOWER) were essential instruction for me in the art of the slightly unreliable narrator, and in helping me to realize that an author didn’t necessarily have to beam approval at everything a protagonist thought or did. As the years go by, I also find the world events described in these books to be frustratingly less and less implausible.
THE SNOW QUEEN is a big, sprawling, mythically-informed science fiction novel of the sort that’s sadly not seen very often these days.
THE FORGOTTEN BEATS OF ELD is heartbreakingly good, and started teaching me about the eventual relationship I wanted to create for Locke and Sabetha. See also OMBRIA IN SHADOW and the slightly flawed (strange tonal variations) but still rewarding RIDDLE-MASTER sequence. McKillip is a treasure.
DOWNBELOW STATION, my favorite C.J. Cherryh novel (though I’ve many yet to read). Tensely plotted conflict on cultural and character levels, showing off one of the biggest brains in science fiction.
THE WALLS OF AIR (part of the Darwath Trilogy)— interestingly enough, I’m not a complete fanboy of the Darwath books. They have some flaws I find frustrating, but those very flaws were extremely instructive to me, and the good parts are still quite good. Hambly in general is superb… DRAGONSBANE is a stone-cold classic that deserves wider fame, and THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT was the book that got me into vampires in a big way in the early 90s.
RATS AND GARGOYLES— it makes no flippity-fucking sense in the final analysis, but what a glorious, phantasmagorical, mist-drenched occult cityscape it has, and what a pack of brilliantly weird characters running around in it…
BURNING BRIGHT was recommended to me in the 90s by a gaming friend. It was one of the first novels I ever read that attempted to deal in a deep and thoughtful way with the serious gaming mindset, and the art of modeling the world atmospherically/artistically as well as physically. It was also one of the first novels in which I encountered an overtly homonormative society.
THE POISON MASTER’s lush atmosphere really hit me in the last year or so before LIES coalesced from scattered notes into concrete chapters.
Leigh Brackett was the unheralded queen of the field in the early 1940s, a writer with unusually advanced narrative sensibilities that have kept her work much fresher over the decades than some of the museum pieces still nailed to the walls in the Halls of Classic SF. She was a formative practitioner of science fantasy and a deep, sympathetic thinker in an age ruled largely by the facile and the jingoistic.
In the 90s, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga was leaping unstoppably from strength to strength, and I would argue that the MIRROR DANCE / MEMORY duet is still the highest of the sequence’s many high points.
Last but not least, SWORDSPOINT, by that damned Ellen Kushner, who floats on light and shoots genius beams out of her eyes while the rest of us are still fumbling around in the kitchen, wearing no pants, and trying to make coffee. Every field has someone like that. Ellen is ours.
Anyhow, your weekend assignment is to read all of these, and to remember that while a relatively small number of tiny-brained dickheads are making an awful lot of noise lately about how terrible it is that mere wimminses are taken seriously in the SF/F world, that’s because they’re bigots. On the inside, bigots are always frightened, grasping, desperately inadequate little creatures. They make so much noise because they can never feel sufficient in their own skins.
I think I just swooned. Anyway, the sky went dark and Scott Lynch appeared amongst a gang of frolicking putti tossing swords and apples and roses that twined and mingled and resolved themselves into something very nice lying spread out on a table for all to enjoy.