Thursday, June 27, 2013

Books Report

"All these worlds are yours..."
One must be a reader in order to be a writer. I've heard that over and over and over and it dovetails nicely with how I do things so it's advice I take to heart. Despite there being times in my life when I didn't read so much, I have always read something. As a child and into my mid-20s I read voraciously, devouring a book every three or four days. I've talked about all this before so I won't bore you with the repeated details. It's enough that I'm a reader, right?

So a friend on Facebook mentioned that he recently had listened to John Scalzi's Redshirts and was terribly amused by it. I was aware of the book because I've been reading Scalzi's Whatever blog for several years now, which is also often terribly amusing but also really informative. Especially during his tenure as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Anyway, I was at the library a couple of days after Richard mentions Redshirts and I'm wandering the SF section and there's a copy of the book. I pick it up.

The same week, I'd read an interview with Harlan Ellison again (because Harlan gives great interviews) and he mentioned Clifford D. Simak. There's an author whose name was very familiar but whose work I'd never read. I don't know why, I just hadn't. So I'm at the library, in the SF section, looking at authors whose last name begins with 'S' and there's a Simak book: City.

Maybe all this is subliminal because Man of Steel was coming out and the 'S' is everywhere. Maybe it's just a lucky confluence of whatever. I don't know.

Maybe it's having read Jo Walton's Among Others on the recommendation of another friend (thanks, Ted!) which is a book about a voracious reader devouring classic SF books by people like Simak, Zelazny and a ton of others.

Another friend, Steve, is reading the Hugo and Nebula award winning books as a project. This blows me away because I never would have thought to do that. So I looked at the list of SFWA Grandmasters to see how many of them I've read. Here's the list:

  • Robert Heinlein
  • Jack Williamson
  • Clifford D. Simak
  • L. Sprague de Camp 
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Andre Norton
  • Arthur C. Clarke*
  • Isaac Asimov*
  • Alfred Bester
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Lester Del Rey
  • Frederik Pohl*
  • Damon Knight
  • A.E. Van Vogt
  • Jack Vance
  • Poul Anderson
  • Hal Clement (Harry Stubbs)
  • Brian W. Aldiss
  • Philip Jose Farmer
  • Ursula K. Le Guin* 
  • Robert Silverberg
  • Anne McCaffery
  • Harlan Ellison
  • James Gunn
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Harry Harrison
  • Joe Haldeman*
  • Connie Willis
  • Gene Wolfe
The highlighted names are the authors who I've read at least one book from. Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Moorcock and Harrison are the ones I've read either all or a majority of works from. 15 out of 29 isn't a bad ratio but it seems like I should have read more of these authors, don't you think?  I know I've picked up an Aldiss book or two but never read them, same with Silverberg. I have a book that Gunn edited, and a couple of collections of Wolfe are on my 'to read' shelf.

The asterisk denotes the Grandmasters who've won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for a single work. Clarke, Le Guin and Haldeman have all done it twice. Turns out I've read a number of books that won both awards:

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Among Others by Jo Walton

I have a copy of Paolo Baciagalupi's The Windup Girl also on my 'to read' shelf. So it's not that I don't feel like I've never read any meaningful SF, or great SF authors, but I have to wonder now why I didn't read more. I guess it's probably because I read more than just SF. There's Stephen King, Anne Rice (yeah, even after she got excessive with the Vampire books) and a lot more. Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, some of the classics, various non-fiction things that interested me. Hemingway, Fleming, Dahl, Maugham, Wodehouse, Greene all have places in my heart. 

Writers like Charlie Huston and Lev Grossman fascinate me and I love their books. Huston I read on recommendation from a friend (hi, Jonathan!) and Grossman because I heard him on the radio talking about The Magicians. Then there's other comic book writers like Gaiman who've stepped outside the four-color funnies: Warren Ellis and Mike Carey. And because writing is an art, I have to include Nick Bantock's books, too. Check out the Griffin & Sabine stuff, at a minimum.

So, the lesson I guess in this is to read widely, even within the genre one prefers. That's why I have Simak near at hand right now. I'm learning some things from him that I hadn't known yet about style and sentence structure. Also about what SF looked like more than 60 years ago. 

Thanks to my friends and the books they've recommended, I'm a better writer. Bet they didn't know they were helping me so much.

I liked Redshirts. It was damned funny, maybe the funniest SF I've read since Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I read those books as they came out. I can't write comedy that makes others laugh and I appreciate those who can (like Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books). The inevitable comparison to Galaxy Quest is somehow less than satisfying, though, when one gets to the last third of the book. Scalzi's investigation of the aftereffects of the events of the novel as a writing exercise in point of view is interesting. Separate from the story but not, it made me think about the ramifications of storytelling. So Redshirts isn't just funny, it's thought-provoking in a way I really didn't expect. 

Which is what makes great SF. 

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