A Life Of Fiction LXVIII
For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Here are a few of my favourite things: This is not a review or a critique of some of my favourite books. I actually do not like criticism of books. Yes, I read the book reviews in the Guardian newspaper every Saturday. But I would never write a review myself. Why should authors write nasty things about other authors? So, below, I will try to describe some of my favourite novels, which you may or may not have read, without being too critical of them.
These are not just favourite books, though, but ones which, in some aspect, have influenced me in my writing. I have already written about some of my influences – Jules Verne, Rider Haggard, H G Wells and RPGs – in A Life Of Fiction XVII, and I have briefly dwelled on some of my horror influences in A Life Of Fiction XIX. In XVIII I listed some of the films which I like, and which may have influenced my writing. In XXX I chatted about the influence of films and TV in general. In XXXVIII I talked about what classics influenced me.
There are still a few novels, though, which either have been an influence in my writing, or which I really love, which I have barely touched on in past blogs. I think that, for the last time for the foreseeable future, I will list some of these novels:
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Have I really not mentioned this Russian magic realist work before? This, I think, is my favourite novel of all time. I understand that the book was also inspiration, in part, for, the Rolling Stones track Sympathy For The Devil.
In the book the Devil comes to Moscow at the height of communism, when people were not even allowed to believe in such things as the Devil; and the devil, not to put it too finely, creates merry hell.
That is not the only strand to the novel. There is a love affair between the Master of the title – a writer languishing in a lunatic asylum – and Margarita. this forms around a third of the book.
There is a third strand to this wonderful book, and that is a retelling of the end of the life of somebody who may (or may not) be Jesus, but as seen through the mind of the Master, creating a tale at odds with the Bible. The three strands are skilfully interwoven together. The reader is never bored when reading this book.
This book is funny, sexy and irreverent, irreligious and soulful. If you consider The Life of Brian to be blasphemous, then don’t check out this novel. Otherwise, there are few people to whom I would not recommend it.
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever; the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, by Stephen Donaldson.
Each of these chronicles is a trilogy of three fantasy novels. The first trilogy comprises the novels Lord Foul’s Bane; The Illearth War; and The Power That Preserves. The second trilogy comprises The Wounded Land; The One Tree; and White Gold Wielder.
In the novels (I will try not to spoil the plot for anybody who wants to read them) a man from our world by the name of Thomas Covenant finds himself drawn into a fantasy world, where he is supposed to save the world from an evil force called Lord Foul. Except that Thomas Covenant, an author, is a leper, and part of his way of dealing with his disease is to be vary careful and rooted in reality. He is supposed to be the saviour of the Land. But he refuses to even believe in its existence. As the novels progress, and he is drawn to love the Land, he has to try to resolve such a dichotomous point of view.
With the exception of The Lord of the Rings trilogy I have not really got into fantasy novels all that much, although I have read quite a few Conan books (some of them in comic book form). Friends have recommended The Wheel of Time series; and A Song of Fire and Ice. If I ever see the first book of those very long series for sale in a charity shop I will certainly pick them up and try them out. But there is far much more badly written fantasy than well-written fantasy, unfortunately, and that, in the past, has given the whole genre a bad name.
Not so with these books. Sometimes they are too verbose. I consider myself to have a very good vocabulary, but I have been forced to get the dictionary to look up words which I did not know. (At least I now know what carious means.)
If you are searching for fantasy novels which are a little different, and you don’t mind that the main protagonist is not really a very nice individual, then I recommend these novels. If, however, you have problems with such concepts as Earthmagic, giants and elemental evil, then you probably should avoid these books.
I have not tried to ape Donaldson’s style of writing, in my own humble offerings. But I wonder if I have been influenced in other ways. After all, in my Briggs and Prenderghast novels, Briggs starts off as being very much a stranger in a strange land. But that is probably as far as I have gone in imitation of these works.
Anything by Clark Ashton Smith. Clark Ashton Smith was a short story writer who was active at the times of the Pulps, most of his stories appearing in the 1930s. He wrote stories of fantasy, horror and weirdness, many of them set in other worlds or fantasy lands. I loved these tales as a teenager, and I still possess Out of Space & Time (volumes 1 & 2); Lost Worlds (volume 1 & 2); Genius Loci; and Tales of Science and Sorcery.
Originally the stories were published in such magazines as Weird Tales, Wonder Stories, Strange Tales and others. These stories are very much of that period, and I understand that, now, they might not be to everybody’s taste. But I have a soft spot for the pulp magazines. They have influenced a lot of modern horror and genre fiction.
Some of his tales also influenced role-playing. there was even a scenario for Dungeons and dragons, called castle Amber, which drew heavily on some of Clark Ashton Smith’s tales.
Stories which, even now, I fondly recall include The Beast of Averoigne; The Colossus of Ylourgne; and The Return of the Sorcerer. What struck me about these tales was not necessarily technical skill, but the wonderful imagination of the author. No one can argue that he did not have a great imagination, and he deserves not to be forgotten.
The Silver Stallion by James Branch Cabell. This is the only book which I have read by James Branch Cabell, and, as it is the second book in a loose trilogy, I should really pick up the other two at some time, I suppose. But this book can be read and enjoyed by itself.
The book is set in the fantasy land of Poictesme, and is very loosely based on medieval France. But France, as far as I know, never had wizards called Miramon, or queens called Zelee.
This is a novel of myth and tale-telling, of grand deeds and ones not so grand, of morality and magic. At times this episodic book, begun in the 1920s, is more than a little odd, certainly for the time that it was written. But I always found it to be entertaining, although a few modern readers, I suppose, may find its writing style a little old-fashioned, in that conversations are sometimes favoured over fantastic action. But it is certainly something which I have no regrets having picked up in a second-hand bookshop for the princely sum of ten pence; and which, after writing the above, I find that I want to read again.
The Infernal Device, by Michael Kurland. This is one of the better non-Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes novels; and, as that list includes such luminaries as August Derleth and Anthony Horovitz, that is saying something.
In this book Holmes and Moriarty find that they are on the same side, for once, as there is a greater evil afoot than the Napoleon of Crime: the evil genius called Trepoff, and his infernal machine of the book’s title.
There are a fair number of non-canonical Sherlock Holmes’s stories, both short stories and novels, by the likes of August Derleth, Anthony Horovitz (both mentioned above), Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Colin Dexter, Adrian Conan Doyle, Stephen King, Kim Newman, Dorothy L Sayers, Fred Saberhagen, and many more. The list is not quite endless, but it is pretty long, and is constantly added to. Even I have written a Sherlock Holmes tale (Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes Novel – studiously ignored by Wikipedia). So why this novel, and not one of the others?
Well, I don’t feel that Kurland pastiches Conan Doyle, but I do feel that he writes as though it is the correct period of time. It does feel like the late nineteenth century.
A Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I think that this will be the last book which I will recommend, as otherwise I will end up filling paragraph after teeming paragraph with books that I like.
This was the first book in the original Earthsea trilogy. The other two books are The Tombs Of Atuan and The Farthest Shore; and these three books are the only Earthsea novels which I have read. I understand that, since The Farthest Shore appeared in 1972, Le Guin has produced Tehanu: The Last Book Of Earthsea; Tales From Earthsea; and The Other Wind. But I have not read these later works.
As with a lot of my favourite works, I first read this book when I was a teenager. The novel is set in a fantasy world, the Earthsea of the title. That realm is an archipelago of islands, ones with names like the Hands, Venway and Far Toly. The book concerns the adventures of the young trainee wizard Sparrowhawk. The novel concerns him trying to deal with an evil creature which he released into this land. It is a long time since I have read this book, and my memory of it is not, perhaps, as great as it once was. But I recall that I loved this book and the other two.
Was this book an influence on any of my work? Well, I liked the idea of a fantasy realm which was an archipelago, and I created such a realm – the Spiral Archipelago – in my Swordsong Trilogy. But I have steered away from directly ripping off such authors as Ursula Le Guin. There is nothing wrong in being influenced by what you have read, though, and being inspired by great fiction. In fact, unless you lock yourself away in a tower with no media, it is probably impossible to avoid being influenced by the books which you have read, and the films which you have seen.
That is it for this post, I guess. Next time I will try and return to discussing the art of writing – if I can think of something new to say on it, that is.