Talk To Me Of Totems

It’s like I said: I have work to do, so my posts may be a bit truncated over the next couple weeks.

One “category” of post I plan to do then, during this time, is to talk about those writers that I consider “totems,” meaning, writers who are (er, unknowingly) the writers that shepherd and guide me — they’re the ones that made me want to do what I do, they’re the ones that I turn to in times of uncertainty, they’re the writers I admire most.

These writers, I literally ethered them and brought them to my house. I constantly Rufie them (“Rufie” as a verb — try it, it’s fun!) and duct tape them to chairs behind me in a half-circle. So, whenever I find myself in a trouble spot with writing, I merely need to crane my head over my shoulder and see the pantheon of Household Writer Gods I have collected. I ask them what to do, and they reply: “MMPH! GRRBB.” This is not, as you may expect, “Please call the police,” it is rather, “Chuck, you’re really great, keep on doing what you’re doing, hoss. We love you.”

… okay, no, I didn’t do that.

So don’t send the police to my house. (OR THEY WILL TAKE MY CAPTIVES. What?)

These writers are both the rock that grounds you and the ladder by which you attempt to reach greater heights. These writers are the ones that give you inspiration, confidence, and perhaps even infected you with the madness to want to do what it is you do.

Anyway, today, I’m not going to tell you about my totems.

You’re going to tell me about yours.

Writers and non-writers alike, I want to know: I’m not just asking who you read, but who are your Benevolent Totemic Writer Animals, who lurks among your Authorial Pantheon of Household Pen-Shepherds? What authors comprise whole sections of your shelves, sections that you’ll never excise no matter how much you need to pare down? Give me authors. Give me books. Hell, do you even look at other authors this way? Am I insane? (Yes.) Am I alone in this insanity? (Shit, I hope not.)

And let’s not have any illusions: this is purely selfish. I’m looking for good stuff to read, dontchaknow.

So. Let’s have a conversation.

Talk to me of totems.

Names. Books.

Reasons why.

Get going. Chop-chop. These comments ain’t going to write themselves, people.

57 comments

  • Ray Bradbury. McCammon. Christopher Moore. Terry Pratchett. Stephen King.

    Someone could come into this house with a machete, hacking through my bookshelves, and those would be the shelves that I’d guard with my body.

    Bradbury, McCammon, and King were the ones who gave me the fire when I was in my teens, and Moore and Pratchett gave me a focus for my sense of humor. If that makes sense.

  • Well, I often sacrifice small creatures to Mikhail Bulgakov as a sign of my devotion to his work. The Master and Margarita is why I decided to turn my writing doodles into something more serious.

    Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Ambrose Bierce, and Flannery O’Connor collectively receive a daily thanks and an occasional beating heart.

  • George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire if only it proves that you can have a huge cast and a great story without falling prey to the 1300-page-13-book-series that the juggernaut of fantasy seems to deem necessary. (RIP Jordan. RIP)

    Patricia C. Wrede, Dealing With Dragons. Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles are all good, but DEALING WITH DRAGONS remains my favorite in the series. Sure, they’re written for the Young Adult market, but that doesn’t stop them from being good.

    Laurel K. Hamilton, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. The early books, up to OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY. Once the series became about Anita fucking as many people as she can because of her inherited succubus-like needs, it became less good.

    Stephanie Meyer, PC and Kristen Cast, other teenybopper-market whoremongers. Because if these fuckers can do it, then so can I goddammit.

  • Fritz Leiber. The man wrote every kind of weird tale and a fair few that weren’t, and he did it all with wonder, melancholy and a sincere sentimentality that’s almost impossible to carry off. He was also funny as hell.

    Bryan Fuller. Fuller is the master of strange characters whose lives seem absolutely true. I remember telling Will Hindmarch (who I imagine did not appreciate this much) that if I had my way and the talent, I’d spend my time writing character bios that read like the narration on Pushing Daisies. Before that, Fuller was already a god to me for Dead Like Me and, most especially, Wonderfalls.

    Justin Achilli. Justin can nail a point like no one else. And when he does, it’ll be hilarious, tightly written and it’ll sting.

    The great mob of hacks of the pulp and paperback fantasies. These people did the most valuable thing you can do: write for your audience, and keep fucking writing. Volume is not in itself a good thing, but volume people enjoy is one of the best things to which we can aspire.

  • Rusty, I’m just not that familiar with Bryan Fuller, though I hear good things. If Pushing Daisies were on Netflix instant view, for example, I’d probably catch up with it.

    I thought I didn’t have a book in the house that qualified, because I’m actively demystifying my relationship with physical objects, but I thought of one beyond Gibson’s Neuromancer that is absolutely the home to some sort of household spirit:

    David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Hell of a book.

  • Richard Matheson
    Stephen King
    Robert McCammon
    Joyce Carol Oates
    Clive Barker
    Stephen Dobyns

    To me, Matheson is the master of writing scenes that can suck you in and leave you breathless. What Dreams May Come is one of THOSE novels for me. I keep coming back to it and wearing out copies. It’s Dante’s Inferno for the 20th century.

    King is… well, King. I keep On Writing at my side. I’m one of the few people I know that love King’s work of the last 10 or so years even more than his earlier stuff. His voice has gotten stronger. He also writes great characters.

    I’m so glad McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird got to see the light of day. As a reader, I feel that I got to watch McCammon learn how to write (I first discovered him with Swan Song and then picked up all of his earlier works). He was pigeonholed into the horror genre when he was capable of writing so much more than that. Boy’s Life is another of THOSE novels for me. Night Calls the Green Falcon and Blue World are excellent shorter works.

    Joyce Carol Oates can write just about anything. She is just an incredible storyteller.

    The Barker novels that are totemic to me are The Great and Secret Show and Everville. He has also written some good short fiction. Cabal is an excellent novella.

    Dobyns has probably had the least popular success of the bunch, but he is a fantastic writer and The Church of Dead Girls is an excellent novel.

    On the individual works side of things, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury and A Painted House by John Grisham come to mind.

    For Non-fiction, I find Malcolm Gladwell is totemic for me.

    For oral storytelling, it’s Ira Glass.

    Those are the ones that immediately jump to mind.

  • Heinlein, Zahn and Shakespeare are what pulled me into the business of writing.

    Tolkein, Lews and Howard propelled me towards fantasy.

    Niven occasionally teases me with a sci-fi idea.

    Harry Harrison reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

    And what Maggie said about those whoremonger types.

  • Whew! I think I may be the first person to mention Neil Gaiman, my “accidental favorite author.” (Because years ago, when I was in high school and it was cool to have a favorite color, author, band, etc., I decided not to have a favorite anything. There’s too much stuff to love, for so many different reasons. But Gaiman is accidentally my favorite author. So there.)

    “The Black Gryphon” and “Magic’s Pawn” by Mercedes Lackey immediately come to mind. I know there are others in my eclectic pantheon, as well, but my brain’s asleep and it’s a struggle to think right now.

    Of course, being a chaote, I sometimes pick and choose my totems at will, depending on the situation. Writing a Harlequin paranormal romance? I pick up one book from my shelf that really impressed me, and another I almost trashed. The good one inspires me to greatness. The trashy one reassures me that I’m probably good enough to be published. ;)

  • I could go on and on here, but I’ll try to keep it short:

    Alan Moore, the Magus of comics. Do I really need to explain this?

    Grant Morrison, the Punk Chaos Magician to Alan Moore’s hippy hermeticism. You have read All-Star Superman, right? Why not?

    Robert Anton Wilson, ’cause his insanity is saner than the contemporary world’s insane normality. He’s good for more than a few Aha! moments.

    Who else? Ursula K. Le Guin, Lord Dunsany, John D. MacDonald (all writers must read a few Travis McGee stories just to see how we will never be that good with wry, sardonic dialogue), and of course, Ray Bradbury. And just to show how really old school I am, I can’t leave out Tolkien. I adore The Silmarillion, the book many find unreadable but which I think is one of the most powerful attempts by anyone to write Biblically about a fabricated world. And how can I leave out Gene Wolfe, whose Book of the New Sun is monumental in its subtlety?

    And I can’t leave out Jung. He’s mostly non-fiction, but with the release of The Red Book, we can finally read his autobiographical magical realist epic.

    • Hot damn, I love the spread of works you people consider totemic. Very exciting.

      @Russell: I like that you introduce a television writer into the mix. Fuller is a storyteller, no doubt, and a great one. Wonderfalls is… I mean, really, it’s one of Those Perfect Shows.

      @Darren: You’re preaching to the choir on McCammon. McCammon’s one of my totems, probably chief amongst all of them (if you haven’t seen my posts on him, feel free to search them out).

      @Will: I’m definitely into the “demystification of objects” notion — this is less about the objects and more about the stories and experiences with those objects. We all have those works and authors who are in some way formative, right? Essential Works For Our Being? That’s what I’m talking about. Stuff that, were you to pull apart the meat and the fabric that comprise Who You Are, you’d find these works and authors stitched in amongst the rest of your flesh.

      @Maggie: I’m surprised you include Martin as someone who proves you can do fantasy without it being an Epic Series because… isn’t that an epic series? Like, isn’t a Storm of Swords about 1300 pages? Not a knock against him as a totemic author — I’m a huge fan of Martin’s WILD CARDS series (though the quality there was a precipitous drop) as the series progressed.

      — c.

  • @Will
    “Rusty, I’m just not that familiar with Bryan Fuller, though I hear good things. If Pushing Daisies were on Netflix instant view, for example, I’d probably catch up with it.”

    I only mention the conversation because I think you were worried I was going to turn in something I thought was funny for a book that was serious business. :)

  • Oh, and @Julie — yours is closest to mine, honestly. McCammon and Moore, definitely. King, almost. Bradbury is… an elder figure, though one that I don’t necessarily “go to” as much as I should.

    Denton, Lansdale, too.

    I may actually have to start with Bradley Denton when I go with my own recommendations, because I feel he’s the one the fewest people have probably read.

    — c.

  • @Chuck
    “I like that you introduce a television writer into the mix. Fuller is a storyteller, no doubt, and a great one. Wonderfalls is… I mean, really, it’s one of Those Perfect Shows.”

    To be honest, I’ve found that studying television writing does more for my prose than studying prose writers.

    And Wonderfalls… is.

    @Will

    The coffin hotel sex scene from the beginning of Neuromancer is Every Scene I Want to Write.

    • @Russell:

      My prose was greatly improved (er, in my own mind, at least) only after I started working on scripts for film and television.

      Were I to do a class on Storytelling In Television, I’d definitely incorporate Wonderfalls. Also: The Wire.

      — c.

  • Matt Ruff’s FOOL ON THE HILL: http://www.bymattruff.com/foolhill.html

    I own a beat-up, second-hand paperback that my wife got him to autograph for our anniversary years ago; two copies of the trade paperback (one for lending); and a coveted 1st-edition hardcover that I tracked down in December, at a bookstore in Ithaca, where the story takes place.

    Besides being a great read, it’s the book that most reminds me of the power of storytelling and why I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

    • @Guy:

      Would you believe I’ve seen that book in the wild? Almost picked it up, but never did.

      It does tell me that you’ll definitely dig the Bradley Denton vibe, though.

      — c.

  • Writers that shaped my desire to write?

    1) Douglas Adams: Taught me that you can tell an awesome story, while not taking it completely seriously.
    2) Stephen King: The book I taught myself to read with was Cujo. I was living in my stepfather’s semi truck with my mother and him. She had a bunch of novels in the back. That’s how I learned to read. Also: On Writing. Duh.
    3) William Gibson: He changed the way I think. He made me imagine, in the way most people seem to say Tolkien, Star Trek, or other stuff like that did.

    There’s my holy trinity of Good Art.

  • Lois McMaster Bujold, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, Tad Williams, Piers Anthony.

    I just finished re-experiencing Bujold’s Vorkosigan series via audiobook (the narrator, Grover Gardner, is, incidentally, amazingly perfect) and she is definitely my go-to writer for inspirational awesomeness. She creates characters that you wish you could hang out with in real life, her plots are intricate and exciting, and the writing is smart and funny and serious and makes you think and care and occasionally writhe with concern for these characters you have come to love. Her best books IMO are the Vorkosigan series (read in order of internal chronology, not pub date!) and the Curse of Chalion trilogy.

    Stephen King was one of my early favorite writers. His best books are still among my very favorites, and somehow the fact that he has also written some books that I hated (Hello, Tommyknockers) is strangely comforting – I like knowing that a writer can be inconsistently awesome without losing reader loyalty overall.

    I agree that it’s maybe too early to say GRRM won’t go the way of Robert Jordan, since Ice and Fire is already more than twice as long as he’d originally planned… but on the other hand, the books are excellent, and additional excellent books = not such a bad thing.

    I haven’t kept up with Tad Williams’ more recent work, but I reread Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn every so often, and I am completely in love with Tailchaser’s Song. Williams is another writer I discovered as a younger reader and he helped shape my idea of what makes good fantasy good fantasy.

    And Piers Anthony… I hesitate to recommend him in any kind of across-the-board kind of way, but he was my very first favorite author, and his early Xanth and Adept books got me through some tough middle-school and high school times, and despite the fact that there’s a lot of gratuitous sexual content and an overall sexist attitude toward women in his books, somehow he also created characters that helped shape what my younger self believed made someone a good person and a good friend, and l will always love him for that.

    • Stephen King was one of my early favorite writers. His best books are still among my very favorites, and somehow the fact that he has also written some books that I hated (Hello, Tommyknockers) is strangely comforting – I like knowing that a writer can be inconsistently awesome without losing reader loyalty overall.

      This, this, definitely this.

      Jordan, man, Robert Jordan started so strong. And then each book just… well. By the end, it was like a prolapsed anus, swollen and rubbery, far too large and turgid for its own good.

      I love that this thread features a ton of stuff I’ve never read.

      On the subject of fantasy, anybody who hasn’t read anything by Robin Hobb is, in my mind, doing themselves a grave disservice. The Assassin’s trilogy — her first — blows me away still.

      — c.

  • Isaac Asimov, who got me into science fiction as a teen. His plots are so delightfully cerebral, though I don’t recall ever being impressed by his prose.

    H.P. Lovecraft, whose work stands up surprisingly well. No one creates a sense of protracted, creeping dread like HPL.

    Neil Stephenson, though I haven’t read his recent works and I actually prefer “The Diamond Age” to “Snow Crash,” if only by a slim margin.

    As far as totemic books go, I have a special love for the “Age of Unreason” and “Cold Fire Trilogy” books. They’re both masterful blends of sci-fi and fantasy.

    My personal totems of screenwriting have got to be Jonathan Nolan (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight) and Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom), though I’ve sacrificed more than a few white bulls to the exec. produces of Lost.

  • @Michelle:

    Thanks for reminding me! Tad Williams’ OTHERLAND series. Because OMFG GOOD STORY.

    @Chuck:

    On the surface, they’re the same thing. A dozen PoVs, hundreds of characters, a lengthy story yadda yadda yadda. But the difference is, Martin’s books don’t FEEL like they’re 1200 or whatever pages long. He keeps his story relatively concise and along the main track. There are side stories and character arcs and all that good stuff, but the “optional goals” portion of the manuscript never take over and force the words to meander off down a track no one wants to read about. Jordan’s books, especially the later ones, you really felt every. fucking. page. When subplots and miniquests become such that they’re bogging the story down (and feeling like artificial speedbumps placed for the sole purpose of getting in another book or five), you really need to re-evaluate the direction you’re novel’s heading.

  • Also. Lisanne Norman’s SHOLAN ALLIANCE series. It’s fantasy passing itself off as sci-fi, and it’s nummy.

    And I recommend to everyone Arthur C. Clarke’s CRADLE. Best story I’ve ever read by him. And given that he wrote the Space Oddessy series, that’s really saying something.

    • @Maggie:

      A good point re: something like CRADLE (which I haven’t read), in that it shows that sometimes it’s not the author’s body of work, but only a single work in the author’s canon.

      Someone referenced Neal Stephenson earlier, and I love, love, love Snow Crash. Read it many times. His other works? Not so much. Didn’t like Diamond Age at all, and couldn’t crack Cryptonomicon. (Again, YMMV; I’m not saying anybody shouldn’t like or love those, they just weren’t for me at the time.)

      — c.

  • Ed Greenwood: everything Elminster related. I love the caracter.
    Stephen King: I’m currently reading the Dark Tower Saga. It’s just awesome. I haven’t read anything else from him though.

    May Shelly: Yes, I am one of the few (in my corner of the world at least) who have read Frankenstein. Got I loved it. It was way better then the classical “big zombie” monster that we see in the movies.

    Edgar Allan Poe: Mask of the Red Death is one of my favorite, but there is something about his writing style that I just love.

    Patrick Senecal: He’s from Quebec and only write in French. As far as I know, his books aren’t translated in English yet. And this is sad. He is know to be Quebec’s Stephen King… but I find them different in the style of writing. That guy updated Alice in Wonderland in such a way that you can see parts of the originals, but it is still a book of his own.

    Eddy Webb: I only know his Whitechapel work but hell, this is good. The idea, the mood… everything is as near as perfect as it can be. I hope I can read more of his stuff.

    Chuck Wendig: Yes, your are one of those authors that I like to read. Sadly, I only know your work from White Wolf and what you write here, but I like it. I like the crude (is this the right word?) way of saying things. I love that.

  • Roger Zelazny wrote Unicorn Variations, which showed me the inner workings of our mystery and set my feet on the path. (I’ve written about it before, but suspect it’s rude to self-link out.)

    Also Sean Stewart, Tim Powers, John Crowley, Tim Pratt. These are the ones who take the gritty, dirty mundane world as it is and show me where the doors are that intersect with magical places. If you’re familiar with the work I do, then this obsession of mine should come as no surprise. ^_^

    Funny, the dislike of Diamond Age. It’s by far my favorite Stephenson work, and that of many of my friends.

    • @Andrea: Tim Power totally amazes. I also just picked up some Tim Pratt for Kindle app. On Diamond Age, again, my inability to get into it is not an indication of lack of quality or anything; I have peculiar and particular tastes in reading, and if something just doesn’t click with me, it can end up more a frustration to read than a pleasure. I just couldn’t connect with that book. And it’s not rude to link out — please do!

      @Shadow Freak: I appreciate the kind words, obviously, but I don’t feel I deserve to be on anyone’s “totem” list. :)

      — c.

  • I’m drawn to iconoclasts.
    Hunter S. Thompson, Harlan Ellison, Douglas Adams, Aleister Crowley, Heinlen, Spider Robinson, People who taught me the value of subversion
    I also admire William Gibson for his particularly zen-like method of suggesting an entire sub-culture by describing a single image.
    I also dig Stephenson who is like the James Michener of Genre Fiction.
    I also like Andrew Vachss. His books are the grittiest crime fiction i have ever found anywhere.

  • Hmmm. OK, I’ll bite.
    Agatha Christie — that woman could write. She had brilliance and consistency over like fifty novels. It’s amazing. And I have the memory of a goldfish, so every time I pick up one of her novels again I’m surprised.
    Terry Pratchett — He manages to be very very funny without really mocking anyone. He treats all of his characters with respect, especially the antagonists.
    Robert Parker — Dude knew his world-building techniques cold (better than a lot of fantasy writers), was damned funny, and he wrote Potshot.
    Douglas Adams — His sense of humor had a huge influence on my own growing up. And that story about the packet of biscuits still cracks me up.

    One of the major threads there is writing a serial protagonist I think very highly of: Poirot, Vimes, Spenser. (Maybe Arthur Dent.)

  • Raymond Chandler, Dashiell hammett, Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard, Dennis Lehane, Declan Hughes, and early Robert B. Parker.

    A few more are getting there: Robert Crais, Sean Chercover, Scott Phillips, John McFetridge, Adrian McKinty.

  • Kind of funny your blog mentions a reading list. I just sent you an email about Judith Spencers supposed true biography of a Satanic Cult entitled Satan’s High Priest. If you haven’t read it, you will find it disturbing to say the least. I never finished it because it just bothered me too much.

    Other than that I read a mix of Sci-fi and fantasy inlcuding Terry Brookes , H.P. Lovecraft, and Rob Sawyer. Besides Lovecraft I haven’t gotten too much into horror besides some short stories.

  • My Zelazny post was here: http://www.deusexmachinatio.com/2009/02/heroes-week-roger-zelazny.html

    I do understand about great works that just don’t work for you, though. The Song of Ice and Fire fits into that category for me. I admire the writing and the plotting and the fandom like blazes, but the actual material is too upsetting for me to read. One must be aware of one’s tolerances.

    I’ve actually been branching out a lot in the last few months. Lots of Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie. About to read the original Dracula, I think. Much as I love my genre fiction ghetto, I think I can learn a lot more by venturing outside, if only to different genre ghettos.

    • @Andrea:

      Every writer should definitely go outside their comfort zone and read widely: romance, classics, paranormal, YA, whatever. I need to do more of it. I’m good with classics, though even there I could read more. I’m a huge Joyce fan, I really love Chaucer, TS Eliot. Austen has yet to get me going, but I love either Bronte.

      And actually, I *did* try reading Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) some years ago, and couldn’t get into it. Just wasn’t in the mood at the time. I may try again someday given the good response it generally gets.

      And my thoughts on Lovecraft are actually that, as an idea man, he was awesome — genre-setting, even. But as a writer? Ooof. Him and Tolkien, man, I can’t read either of them. I’m guilty of having little patience. :)

      — c.

  • Hunter S. Thompson: Crazy. Brilliant. I like the combination. His writing always had a great flow to it.

    Chuck Palahniuk: The guy puts a lot of legwork into his books. He pops up whenever I want to be lazy.

    Albert Camus: My god, The Stranger blew my mind when I read it in high school. We’d hadn’t read a damn thing worth the book rental to that point. Nothing with any edge, just conservative vomit. I couldn’t believe the piece of literature in my hands. That’s the moment I knew novels and fiction could be more than another task at school. It could be interesting. So, i have to ask each time I sit down to work, “Would this grab your attention like Camus did?”

  • In case these didn’t get mentioned yet:

    Neil Gaiman, AMERICAN GODS and NEVERWHERE. No bookshelf should be considered complete without them.

    Raymond Feist, FAERIE TALE. You want some inspiration for Changeling: the Lost? This book’s all about that.

    • I’ve owned FAERIE TALE for like, 18 years, and I’ve never read it. Weird.

      Gaiman’s two, though, yep. Loved ‘em both. AMERICAN GODS kind of… wanders? And the payoff wasn’t quite feeling right? Still love the book though. Haven’t read the sequel.

      — c.

  • @Chuck

    I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of Robin Hobb as well. But isn’t “Robin Hobb” a surname for a man? I could be wrong. . . .

    My tastes, as far as my icons go, are different from my wife’s, so if I were to talk about the authors that are big in my “household” I’d have to talk about the ones where our tastes meet. Probably the top of the list would be the travel writing of Paul Theroux (in particular, Dark Star Safari (about Africa) and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star). Fiction would probably be Joseph Conrad and some of Cormac McCarthy’s work; Margaret Atwood too. For crime fiction, Jim Thompson would be the guy. We both have really enjoyed Christa Faust (Hoodtown FTW!) and Megan Abbott’s work as well.

    If I’m talking about just myself, we would need a couple sixers and some peanuts to get to them all. But Robert E. Howard is what got me excited about books, and continues to do so.

    • @Chris:

      Robin Hobb is actually Meghan Lindholm (sp?) — ’tis a she.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Hobb

      Correction: Margaret Odgen.

      Well, okay, then. Still a “she,” though. :)

      Joseph Conrad definitely a big win for me. Nostromo is actually my favorite (and yes, I originally was attracted to it due to the allusion in ALIEN, shut up).

      I’ve never read Atwood, and I continually feel like I need to rectify this.

      I also have never read Jodi Picoult.

      Y’know, as a sidenote.

      Why does Robert Howard get you geeked? What about his work?

      — c.

  • This may be heretical to say, and I DO like his work, but I’ve begun to think of Neil Gaiman as just a wee bit overrated. Yes, he’s a good writer. But he ain’t the be-all, end-all writer that so many make him out to be. Seems like a swell enough guy, though. I’ll be very curious to read his nonfiction stuff he has in the pipeline.

    • @Chris:

      I like Gaiman just fine, and think he’s done some truly exemplary work.

      Thing is, he gets the kind of Geek Hype that, say, Joss Whedon gets. It’s deserved some of the time. It’s not deserved all of the time. IMHO, YMMV, ASAP, FYI, NASA, etc.

      — c.

  • I’m glad to know Robin Hobb is a woman. That is what I thought, then someone told me I was wrong. I’m glad to be wrong in this instance!

    Howard was the writer who first grabbed me when I was much younger. I find when I read his real stories — not the ones others (L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, etc.) have appropriated, are still just tight and dark in ways I find thrilling, and I enjoy that. I also admire his work ethic, and how prolific he was.

    It’s sad that we’ll never know how good of a writer he might have become. No, all of his writing isn’t top shelf. But when he’s on, he’s friggin’ on. Great characters, great imagination, and, at times, fantastic prose.

  • Speaking of Gaiman, I adore the collaboration he did with Terry Prachett: Good Omens. Just a book I could read. I could sit down and read it. No need to stretch the mind, just dig right in.

  • Oh, and since I’m throwing my geek cred in the outhouse by daring to (mildly) diss Gaiman, I’ll admit to not even having a clue who the fuck Joss Whedon is. I see his name mentioned all the time, but haven’t the faintest idea what he’s written.

  • @Filthy Jess, that book you mention is hands-down my favorite too. I’ve been wanting to re-read it, in fact; was thinking of it last night watching a movie with a character named “Crawley.”

  • If we’re going with Russell’s precedent, by the way, I should add Sorkin’s West Wing, Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Street (boxed set, bitches!), and probably Ryan’s The Shield, as these are the shows that I more or less own everything for and, while I don’t rewatch them endlessly, I look at their boxes and play them back in my head… and aspire.

  • Some of the writers I like are those who expand upon the quintessentially American “salad bowl/melting pot” themes but give them a science-fiction or fantasy twist (think: Civilization). I hold close to my heart the works of Philip José Farmer, first and foremost the World of Tiers series but also the Riverworld one. “Nine Princes in Amber” is PJF’s “Maker of Universes” canvas plus Roger Zelazny’s style.
    These last few months, I have been reading many of Kage Baker’s Company novels and short stories and I find them highly commendable (just do begin with “Celestial Coyote” rather that “In the Garden of Iden”).

  • @Shadow Freak: Uh, wow. Thank you so much. That’s very nice of you to say!

    @Chuck: For me, it’s Raymond Chandler and Douglas Adams. Both had a way of turning a phrase that still leaves me in awe.

  • Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, Jane Yolen. CL Wilson, Madeline L’engle for fantasy. Christopher Moore, Douglas Adams (as mentioned by others).

  • I must emphatically second the rec. on Lois Mcmaster Bujold. The way she handles religion in her writing, particularly in the Chalion trilogy is amazing. I want to be her when I grow up.

    Other people I I love who are more out of the way are:

    Patricia McKillip, especially “The Changeling Sea” and “The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.” her prose is made of poetry, and it works. Her writing is some of the most evocatively beautiful I’ve ever read.

    Dorothy L. Sayers, a contemporary of Lewis and Tolkien, best known for her Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries. I will love her dialogue forever.

    Astrid Lindgren, author of yes, “Pippi Longstocking”, but also “Ronia Robbers Daughter”, and the disturbing “Brothers Lionheart”. I found her as a child, and her work has haunted and inspired me from then until now. Each work of hers is a departure from the last.

  • John Fowles, William Gibson, George Orwell. Orwell was a big influence on making my writing more about actually saying something and less about bragging with my vocabulary. Gibson made me observe the world I live in with new eyes. And Fowles pretty much turned my whole world upside down. When I read The Magus for the first time… oh boy. Now that was a novel.

  • @Chuck “On the subject of fantasy, anybody who hasn’t read anything by Robin Hobb is, in my mind, doing themselves a grave disservice. The Assassin’s trilogy — her first — blows me away still.” Yes! Assassins followed by Liveships trilogy followed by the fool trilogy I’m forgetting the name of. SO GOOD. Although I tried to read the first Soldier Son book after that, and had to give up. But she’s got a new series coming out that looks promsing.

    @Ruth – And yes too on Patricia McKillip!! I love The Changeling Sea especially.

  • About Robin Hobb… Seriously I got through the second book of the assassin’s trilogy and I’ve never read a more depressing book. I loved the first, but the second doesn’t really stand alone. It’s just down, down, down, down. Nothing works for the main char in the second book, everything just gets more and more depressing. But I digress, I’ll read the last one in time.

    And Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, is my favorite book too. Maybe even THE favorite.

    You’ve been neglecting my one favorite author! :O
    Tamora Pierce. Writes fantasy with female main characters. It was her earliest work that got me to love reading and she’s the one that makes me want to write. Her books just gets better and better. I’d recommend the Protector of the Small quartet since it’s one of her later works that’s finished, otherwise Terrier and Bloodhound (two in a trilogy) are awesomely good.

    Did someone say Astrid Lindgren? Man, she’s awesome. (Says the Swede. Astrid is from Sweden too.) Favorite by her? Probably Brothers Lionheart, Ronia Robbers Daughter or Emil in Lönneberga (ehm…how would that have been translated? “Lonneberga”? I don’t know).

    But seriously Tamora Pierce is my drug. I reread her every few months, both new and old books (even if the older is as sharp, they were the ones that got me loving her in the first place).

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