Thursday, January 14, 2010

Underappreciated SF/Fantasy Authors

Yesterday's post regarding Clark Ashton Smith, and his relative obscurity in the minds of the "average" citizen, got my subconscious mind percolating thinking about other authors that I enjoy. These are the kinds of authors for whom I have a deep affection, but that others give me blank stares when I mention their names. I would have left such musings to the backburner of my mind, except for the fact that Jo Walton decided to write a post on that very subject today at the Tor website in a post entitled "Neglected Books and Authors."

Quite a few of Jo's choices would make my list of authors underappreciated by the mainstream SF/Fantasy crowd that attends an event like the San Diego Comic Con. One might argue that same "mainstream" audience's lack of awareness about some of these authors is the real reason that some of the more "arty" SF fans regard the San Diego Comic Con fans with so much venom and disdain. Instead of trying to introduce the Buffy (and Joss Whedon) fan to the works of Barbara Hambly -- particularly Those Who Hunt the Night -- the "arty" SF fan seems content to grumble and moan. I have been a big fan of Hambly's Sun Wolf and Starhawk series that begins with The Ladies of Mandrigyn since I first saw the ominous "shadow hand" book cover of The Dark Hand of Magic. The cover compelled me to buy the book, only to swiftly find out that it was "Book 3" in a series -- so I quickly purchased the other two.

Hambly makes Jo Walton's list, as does John M. Ford who fans of Steve Jackson Games should know as one of the authors of GURPS: Infinte Worlds (along with Kenneth Hite) -- but too few probably made the connection between John M. Ford the gamer and John M. Ford the author of The Dragon Waiting : A Masque of History (Fantasy Masterworks). Heck, the Tor website still describes him as follows, "He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he is currently at work on a novel, "Aspects," a fantasy with steam engines." Ford passed away in 2006.

Those are two on Walton's list who would also make mine. There is one more that we share, Susan Palwick. Before I begin to praise Susan for her writing, which I genuinely adore, I have to point out that she was one of my mentoring professors as an undergraduate at the University of Nevada. She was a wonderful writing teacher and advocate of SF/Fantasy, and is a remarkable writer in the field. I would likely have not read her first novel Flying in Place so early had I not taken a class with her, but I would have certainly read The Necessary Beggar and Shelter close to their release dates even not knowing her. The Necessary Beggar is a wonderful example of what Fantasy can be, a story where the fantastic is introduced into the mundane world and where the consequences of that interaction are explored. It is an excellent novel that grapples with modern politics, without being "on the nose," and timeless philosophic issues. It also has wonderfully engaging prose. It's the kind of book that makes you pause and wonder why more Fantasy doesn't break from the familiar paths. Shelter is similarly engaging in its SF exploration of identity and what constitutes "humanity." In a future where there are artificial intelligences and "digitized individuals," where does society draw the line as to what constitutes a "person." When the book came out, Susan was kind enough to do a lengthy interview with me on my podcast.

There are a few authors that I would add to Walton's list of "neglected" SF/Fantasy authors. Emma Bull, whose Territory is one of my favorite Fantasy novels, is someone who deserves to be far more widely read. She is an author who has two works, including Territory, that should be of particular appeal to fans of the Savage Worlds roleplaying game. Territory could be used as a wonderful campaign map for a Deadlands: Reloaded game, as it perfectly balances magic and the Old West in a powerful tale. If you want your Deadlands games to be more than zombie hunts and "Tremors: The Cowboy Edition," this book is vital. Freedom and Necessity, co-written with Steven Brust, is also excellent and would be useful to any Rippers game master or player. It's depiction of British culture is invaluable to anyone wanting to know how to run "Status" in a Rippers campaign without it seeming capricious. Beyond their use as research materials for role playing games, these two books are extremely well written with engaging narratives.

Given how many people asked me, "Brandon Who?" I think that I should point out that Brandon Sanderson is an imaginative and exciting Fantasy author who is taking Epic Fantasy in new directions. I am almost saddened that he was chosen to finish the Robert Jordan series. It means that it will be a while before I can read more of Brandon's original fiction. His Mistborn trilogy and Elantris are properly lauded by many Fantasy fans, but we need to get them into the hands of the casual fan.

Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy is an entertaining romp and a natural scion of the Sword and Sorcery genre. If you are a fan of the pulp action of Robert E. Howard, then you should be reading this series. The books could probably use a stricter editor for some of the stylistic issues, but the books are entertaining swashbuckling adventures of a kind often looked down upon. If Weeks keeps improving, he will prove to be a worthy successor to David Gemmell -- and that is high praise indeed.

Oh, and if you aren't reading C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, or Manly Wade Wellman then you and I need to have a little talk.

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