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04 November 2010 @ 08:42 am
15 Authors  
I got tagged on Facebook again. This one was surprisingly hard and I ended up prowling around the house looking at our bookshelves and going "Doh! Rosemary Sutcliff". Anyway the task is to name fifteen authors under the rather vague criteria of `will always stay with you'.

1. Jane Austen

I was introduced to Jane Austen at school where we were forced to read Northanger Abbey which I continue to think an odd choice of introductory work. It isn't Austen's best novel, it's heroine is, on the whole, rather sillier than many of Austen's others and therefore, I would have thought rather less attractive to modern teenage girls. At time (the 1980s) the literary satire on gothic novels which is at the heart of Northanger Abbey was rather lost on a modern audience, although I wonder if the new market for Young Adult Urban Fantasy with brooding vampires may have made it more approachable. Luckily for me Northanger Abbey was packaged in the same volume as Persuasion which I was forced to read out of desperate bordom one wet break and I rapidly read my way through the rest of Austen's output thereafter.

2. Iain M. Banks

I'm not really a Banks afficionado. I've read most, but not all, of his Culture novels and a handful of his others. However I think it's hard to deny his place in modern (British at least) science fiction. The thoughtfulness of his writing and the clear eye with which he presents the flaws in his left-wing utopia sets a standard few other SF writers reach. I think his writing is sometimes a bit sprawling and self-indulgent when I tend to prefer stories which are lean and tight. I think that may be why I don't love his work as much as I might but I don't forget his books once I've read them which is why he's making this list.

3. Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte makes the list entirely for Jane Eyre (another book we were forced to read at school, but I'd got wise by that time and sneakily read ahead so the dull grind of reading in turns in class didn't destory the effect). I've never really been able to get into her other works for some reason but I loved Jane Eyre with a passion in my teens and remain fond of it.

4. Malcolm Hulke

It is traditional, in Who circles at least, to list Terrance Dicks at this point. Modern Who fandom has re-evaluated his work and tends to place an emphasis on the simplicity of his writing as a prose-standard for children's authors. I'm not so sure. Dicks has never pretended to have been doing much more with most of his Who output that taking scripts and putting "he said" at the end of each line of dialogue. It is also hard to overlook the... wierdness... of his later book Warmonger in which Peri is threatened with gang rape and feigns a venereal disease in order to escape - all this presented as an equivalent capture-escape style sequence to running down a corridor away from a Dalek.

So I'm picking Malcolm Hulke instead. He only novelised a few Who scripts, mostly his own, but he imbued them with a thoughtfulness and a clear agenda. Where possible he fleshed out characters and themes and provided something that was both accessible and meaty. I would consider his output a much better template for good children's writing, than the good-natured hackery of much of Dicks' work. His agenda was, it has to be said, left-wing, anti-military and environmentalist which, of course, runs the risk of causing offense where Dicks' writing (at least) is pretty much the definition of inoffensive.

5. Phyllis Ann Karr

I've only read The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr which I love for the way it presents something clearly in the genre of the detective novel (lots of assessing of evidence and interviewing of witnesses) but which is operating in the magical world of Malory's Morte d'Arthur. Writing this list has made me look her up on Wikipedia and I think I may make an effort to obtain more of her stuff.

6. C. S. Lewis

I'm not sure I need to write anything here do I? While I can see people (e.g. Pullman) have problems with the overt Christian allegory, not to mention `The problem of Susan', I think it's hard to deny how influential Lewis was on both myself and middle-class (at least) children in the generations around mine. He set a standard for children's fantasy which few other books I've read (and I'll admit I'm not really abreast of the modern output) have reached. I certainly prefer the lyrical world of Narnia to the, in many ways, more prosaic world of Hogwart's.

7. Sara Paretsky

I devoured Sara Paretsky's V.I.Warshawski novels when I first discovered them. I had actually somehow got the impression that she had stopped writing which, I discover from a quick perusal of Wikipedia, is not the case (more books for the Christmas List, I guess). I can see why many people find V.I. a difficult and irritating character but I've always loved her precisely for her stubborn determination and refusal to give in or compromise in any way - not an easy person to live with, but fascinating and vivid to read about.

8. Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett writes good jokes. Even on his off-days when he's letting a certain tendency to preach get in the way of telling his stories, his jokes are generally better than those of lesser authors. When I was younger I slightly resented the fact that the person who got to save the day was Vimes, not Carrot or was Granny Weatherwax, not Magrat. Now I appreciate the way that Pratchett choses his heroes in defiance of convention and because of the have qualities beyond youth, good looks and an easygoing manner. I think he's an author you actually appreciate more as you get older, and his jokes even bear re-reading which is a high achievement.

9. Ian Rankin

I always get a powerful sense of place when I read one of Rankin's Rebus novels and, in a way, that is what I value in them most. In some ways that is strange, since the Rebus stories generally inhabit the more run-down and crime-ridden parts of Edinburgh where my experience was in the genteel tenements of Marchmont (which is, of course, where Rebus actually lives). Edinburgh is a city that is more divided than many and the well-off really aren't confronted with the more desperate areas at all. The stories themselves I often find a little too dependent on coincidence for my liking.

10. Dorothy L. Sayers

I was introduced to Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsy stories through the 1980s BBC adaptations of the Harriet Vane trilogy, staring Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge. Everysooften I get into discussions with people over whether Harriet Vane is a Mary Sue, the conclusion is that she isn't really but would certainly qualify given all the other characters out there that get accused of Mary Sueism. I'm not really familiar with the history of Sayers' writing but I've always been struck by the way the traditional `love at first sight' framework of Strong Poison is challenged and undercut in the later books until Wimsey, himself, is forced to admit that his affection for Harriet there was shallow and trivial.

11. Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is an odd writer. He writes with great verve and his interests: cryptography, cyperpunk, history of ideas, intersect very well with my own. I've loved pretty much everything of his that I've read even though his stories do have a tendency to fall apart a bit at the end. I've seen him described as misogynist and while I think he can be accused of trivialising sexual violence, and does have some female characters who don't ring true (at least to me), he also creates more vivid and interesting female characters, with their own agency, than I've found typical in a lot of science fiction.

12. Mary Stewart

I've lost touch a bit with modern Arthurian literature but the seventies and eighties saw a number of multi-volume tomes, enabled by the post-Tolkein fantasy boom I guess, which tackled the myths. I'm not sure if Mary Stewart's The Hollow Hills etc. are the best of these (that accolade, depending upon your tolerance for early 80s Californian new-ageism, probably goes to either Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon or Gillian Bradshaw's Down the Long Wind) but Mary Stewart's were the first I came across and they drew my interests to the Arthurian legends in a way that other encounters had not.

13. Rosemary Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff was writing Young Adult fiction long before the term was invented (or at least long before I heard it uttered). Looking at the sort of stories and TV shows I really love, and the sort of stories I often write (or, you know, attempt to), I think she may be the most influential writer on this list. Her tales of, predominantly, Roman Britain mixed a strong sense of place and landscape with an often a subtle hint of magic and strangeness in stories where there were rarely out-and-out villains to be defeated.

14. J. R. R. Tolkien

I doubt I will say anything here that anyone on my flist who actually likes Tolkein wouldn't. Tolkein set the standard for fantasy world-building and created the template for at least a couple of decades of fantasy fiction. I guess I may be unusual in having rapidly decided I had no time for any of the derivative works and, to this day, I remain rather under-read in terms of fantasy fiction, at least compared to many people I know.

15. Jeff VanderMeer

I wanted to put an author I had come across recently on this list and that proved something of a challenge since it can be hard to tell if you will remember something in five or ten years' time. It ended up as a toss up between Jeff VanderMeer for his Ambergris stories and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. Both are world-building tour de force but in the end I plumped for VanderMeer. The Lies of Locke Lamora is basically a caper story translated to a fantasy setting while Ambergris is altogether something stranger and more alien. A human city which, for all it's age, squats like a temporary structure over the world of the fungal gray caps whose agenda, methods and strength are unknown and possibly unknowable.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/24799.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on November 4th, 2010 11:28 am (UTC)
And your tags mean I don't even have to go behind the cut to find out who your favourite authors are ... ;-)