Influences, and the Books That Mattered

If you write, you read. A lot. I’m sure there’s someone out there who violates that tenet, but I have no idea who that may be. What I got to thinking about – or at least wanting to spout off about – was what people read.

Now, by definition, a blog is not really an interactive forum. Oh, comments can be a conversation (I take part as a “commenter” on a few blogs myself), but the primary message is a one-way street. That means this gets to be a soliloquy on what I read. Which is as it should be…what I read is the only thing that matters in the universe!

Ahem…

For me, there are several different “kinds” of reading…and, yes, I can complicate anything. Want to hear my recipe for scrambled eggs? It takes an hour and a half…

Can you tell I’m neither serious nor focused today? Yep…I’m writing in the brewery. My liver forgives me so you have to as well.

At any rate, reading “types”: pleasure, education, research and…umm…other.

I have three books going at any given time, generally covering three of those four options (and, no, other is not as dirty as it sounds). As of today, I am reading Alison Weir’s Henry VIII for education, James Corey’s Leviathan Wakes for a combination of pleasure and research (on how other sci-fi writers write), and Tomas Asbridge’s The Greatest Knight in the other category…in this case for some some low-intensity thought-provocation for some fantasy stuff I want to (eventually) write.

What really got me started on this post, however, was looking back at the books & series that “started it all”. The more intellectual and more current influences are a subject for later.  For now the focus is on what started the love of reading…and, more importantly, the love of story-telling. That’s what we are: story-tellers. A thousand years ago we would have sung our songs by the hearth, but today we write…or sing, or paint, or make movies.

So what started that love of stories in my little corner of the universe? Fantasy. Yep, my roots are in fantasy…and my heart as well. The sci-fi I’ve been working on is, first and foremost, because of the characters involved. The two characters you know – or should know, anyway: Connor and Oz*. The loudest of all the ghosts, and the ones that took over – and still have control of – my imagination and my brain.

*On a side note: one of my beta readers is still mad at me for the end of Wrath & Tears:
“How are you going to work Oz into the sequel?” he asked.
“Err, he’s dead,” I answered.
“Fuck you.”

It’s a glamorous life, I tell you.

Crap…SQUIRREL!

Okay, back to the very first series I remember reading:

Chronicles of Narnia & Lord of the Rings – c’mon, who didn’t start with these two first?!
Chronicles of Prydain – you don’t hear much about these anymore, but I loved ’em as a kid
Chronicles of Amber – the last of the four I got into, but the first “grown-up” books I read (in the 6th grade)…it also kicked-off my fascination with Zelazny, and my obsession to read everything he ever wrote

Now, as for sci-fi…that came a couple of years later, but the early influences still stand out in my mind (these aren’t really in order as I don’t actually remember the order I read them in. Shit, I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast!):

Downbelow Station – CJ Cherryh could write a menu and I’d read it…
Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuin. ‘Nuff said.
War With the Newts – a bit off the beaten track but stay with me on this one: we had a family friend who was an English Prof specializing in sci-fi at UofM, and he gave this to me to read – it was, and still is, a lesson that you can write a story that says something
The Hyperion series – original and strong at a time when a lot of the sci-fi coming out was pure schlock
The Forever War – oh yeah…more learning about the fact that a story isn’t necessarily about what it is about
Phillip K. Dick – just anything, and everything. Sci-fi wouldn’t exist in Hollywood if it weren’t for him…aren’t something like 99% of sci-fi movies based on his stories?

On the other hand, the older I get (and the more experienced) the more I find that not all the books I loved twenty or thirty years ago still rise to the same level. Stuff like Mote in God’s Eye, the Foundation series…writers like Heinlein and Benford (an old professor of mine back at UCI!!) and Niven are still very good and enjoyable, but they no longer stick with me in the way they once did.

On that note, I do want to give very serious Honorable Mentions to two fantasy series/writers that each had their flaws, but still did stuff that made a huge difference to me (and that I still enjoy):

The Belgariad by David Eddings – no, it’s not War & Peace, but Christ Almighty did he and Leigh (his wife and writing partner) create characters that quickly earned a place in your heart – for a light, easy read to get someone started in fantasy you cannot go wrong here (I still love an early description of Garion as a “sandy-haired cloud of doom”)

And…okay…I’ll talk about the 800-pound gorilla*: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I love this series. I love the characters…I love the vibrancy…I love the sheer insanity of the detail…but for the love all that’s holy, that man needed someone to stand athwart the subplots and yell “No more!”  I might be a wordy bastard, but Jordan had entire books in this series that could (and arguably should) have been cut completely.

*No, really, if you get the whole thing in hardcover it literally weighs like 800 pounds!

Okay…speaking of wordy…that’s enough for now. I was going to touch on literature and history and modern stuff but, well, I’m at 1,000 words already. We’ll save the rest, I think, for another day…

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