Friday, February 20, 2009

Twenty Authors (Part One)

I should mention, if I haven't said it already, how amazing and dynamite the player generated materials have been for the Changeling game. It is a game about dreams and stories and the players there have risen to the occasion.

I'm still working on some emails for the Libri Vidicos game. I had to offer players a session of goob rather than a full narrative session as my throat is still phlegmatic (rw?). I shouted downstairs last night and then couldn't talk in anything louder than a Wince whisper for a few minutes.

My niece is coming over for the weekend-- her brother has tournaments and she wants to escape. I'm hoping we can get in a little session on Sunday of her game (assuming my voice is back by then). Otherwise I plan to use emotional blackmail to get her to play some of my boardgames with me.

My sister-in-law is back from Bali. Chaos precedes her. Delightful. My mother is back from Seattle and the weather has mercifully gotten a little better. She managed to avoid the worst of what was a pretty bad winter (knock on wood). She's planning on moving out to Seattle in June, assuming things don't go badly with her own mother's situation in Kansas.

Wil Wheaton says that Watchmen kicks ass.

*****

Twenty Authors (Part One of Three of an Incidental Series)

I thought I'd do an inventory of some of the authors who I continually go back to-- either rereading or simply thinking about what they wrote. I like to think that these are the authors that really shape my imaginative landscape (of course I might be giving myself a more generous view on that than I ought to).

Howard Waldrop
I'm not a big fan of short stories-- except for horror shorts. I think that's where the horror genre really struts its stuff. Too much horror fiction exhausts itself in the long form and turns either into a thriller or a mystery. Ramsey Campbell's a big example of this for me; I enjoy his short stories but have never been able to really make it through one of his novels.

On the other hand, because I enjoy the world-building aspect of fantasy and sci-fi, I've usually preferred the long form-- novels, novellas, or linked collections. Howard Waldrop is a distinct exception to this for me. He writes amazing short and not so short stories that have bizarre ideas presented in a deep way. His stuff is mostly sci-fi, but not hard...just rich. Mind you, his stuff is usually a little off-kilter. He goes at ideas from a very different direction.

The best example of this, to my mind, is his short story “The Passing of the Western.” The basic premise is an alternative Old West where people with the technology to create rain fought against corporate barons who wanted to control the land and access to water. To tell the story though, he presents interviews and articles that look at Western movies made in the 1930's and 1940's about those mythic stories. So we're looking back at the initial premise through three or four different lenses to get at it. It shouldn't work, but it does.

(Night of the Cooters, Strange Monsters of the Recent Past)

Tanith Lee
I got a geek moment the other day when my sister mentioned Tanith Lee and that their paths had tangential crossed. In my mind, Lee's one of the DAW crew of female writers (along with Clayton, Bradley, and Cherryh) who really helped move fantasy and sci-fi from a boys-only club. Not that they were the first or most important, but all of them moved from working with the established tropes and managed to find their own ground and develop new territories.

I remember the first two books I read of hers: To Kill the Dead and Delusions' Master. The first had some cool stuff and a tragic twist that grabbed me, the second was so dark and strange. She wrote a set of books the Tales of the Flat Earth that were mythic and awful-- a combination of classic fairy tales and high fantasy with a great deal of sexual intrigue and questioning abounding. I'd say you can trace a real line from that work to what Gaiman did with Sandman. I enjoyed many of her books, but at some point it moved to being a little too Anne Rice for my tastes. Still her early stuff (not the earliest which reads like a weird take on Conan) is great. I understand she also has done some recent YA stuff that people like.

(Night's Master, The Birthgrave)

Jo Clayton

I'd say, if I had to pick one author as my favorite, I'd probably pick Jo Clayton. I'm not saying everything she wrote was great but there's more interesting character interactions in one of her books than in entire series by other people. She came out of that pulp sci-fi tradition and her Diadem series ought to be the prime example of how sensibilities change and evolve in fiction over time (the other example ought to be MZ Bradley's Darkover). She has dynamite and rich characters of both genders and some amazingly beautiful ideas.

She's also the master to drawing in your ideas and sympathies and then turning them around. In her Duel of Sorcery series she manages to take characters earlier set up as awful and bad-- I mean really horrible people-- and slowly show their transformation into real people. You still want to hate them, but she explores why they did what they did and how they might come to be-- if not a good person, then a better person. The Skeen books by her have the funniest chapter titles ever and she never stays where you expect her to. I love The Drinker of Souls trilogy because nothing ever happens that I predicted.

(The Soul Drinker trilogy, Duel of Sorcery)

Roger Zelazny
I think it was Ace that had a wonderful series of similarly designed covers for Roger Zelazny's books when I was growing up-- a black background with weird and slightly psychedelic images on the front. These would have been early 1970's editions. I'll admit that's what first got me to read some of his books. There's a lot of Zelazny that's either fluffy or too genre buy-in for my tastes (Coils, Roadmarks, Changeling) but his other stuff blew my mind when I was in middle school.

The Books of Amber (the original five) come off more than a little dated today, but they were pretty amazing at the time. You had high court intrigue, a reasonable blending of sci-fi and fantasy, and a great cast of characters. The books kind of let down at the end, and the follow up series was enjoyable but more than unfinished. Still it fueled a lot of my ideas about fantasy. More important to me was Lord of Light. I got my first taste of the Hindu mythos from that as well as a strange take on Eastern mysticism and theology that stuck with me. I've probably read that book a dozen times. It has scenes that I can't get out of my head.

(Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness)

Grant Morrison
Before he was the “God of All Comics” and the master of the current DC meta-plot, Morrison was just a very strange comic book writer. Strange with a capital “S”. He was really the first, for my money, to bring high weirdness into the comic books. His run on Doom Patrol had amazingly bizarre characters without feeling too out of touch with the readers (with a couple of exceptions). At the same time he wrote Animal Man a run that began conventionally but soon turned into an exercise in meta-fiction, with the hero discovering that he and other people had been extensively retconned. The final issue of Morrison's run on the book had Animal Man actually meeting Morrison. It could have been too precious, but somehow he managed to make it work. It was interesting to see the people how followed him on both of those books try to keep the strangeness up-- but only managed to be offputtingly oddly.

There's some stuff of his I'm not so fond off-- Aztek and Final Crisis, for example. But his recent All-Star Superman series was amazing. And I don't care for Superman...it was just dynamite-- managing to cross the bridge between nostalgia and a real literary experience. I like him when he tackles big projects. The Seven Soldiers series, which had seven connected mini-series plus an opening and closing book, was uneven but remarkable when read together. I loved his take on the X-Men, where his ideas managed to overcome some really bad art in places. I know some people disagree on that count, but those books made me interested in those characters again.

(Seaguy, The Invisibles)

Albert Goldbarth
My favorite poet. I'm not sure I can describe what he does. It is concrete, visceral and full of pop culture references, but everything he does is deeply moving. He's also a remarkable essayist. If you like modern poetry at all, you really ought to try some of his stuff. One of his earlier volumes, Popular Culture, has a poem called “Donald Duck in Danish.” I literally can't get through reading that without crying.

(Arts and Sciences, The Gods)