Yesterday [for some value of today — this is Charlie, and I am once again way behind, and it’s not Sarah’s fault] I (hi guys, this is Sarah) was looking for information on writers of SF/F. Long story short, my novels in science fiction started out having chapter titles from pulp shorts/novels I remembered reading (the trick is they’re sometimes not the English titles, as Portuguese translators changed them.) In the fourth book, now, I’ve run out of easy titles and had a choice of changing the system or finding more titles.
So I was trolling the least savory corners of the net and finding bibliographies. (Well, not the least savory. That would be Dino-on-girl or beastie-on-boy.)
I came across about 20 lists of “the best women writers” and the “best female writers” of science fiction and fantasy. Weirdly, none for men. Geesh, for an oppressed minority, female writers sure get a lot of attention.
I’m not on any of these lists – duh – which brings me to when I was asked to produce a list of “best female writers” of SF and was unable to come up with ten. It’s not that there aren’t ten good female writers, it’s that I don’t READ that way – who does? – and therefore don’t remember my authors that way. And when I asked for help, what I got was “lists of female authors I heard were important because they were the “first” – actually just “the most talked about” or “the first of the right (left) political persuasion” female writer to do/be/whatever.”
Most of the most ballyhooed first or best are demonstrably false, but beyond that this bothered me beneath the skin, as it were, because they weren’t lists of best ANYTHING. They were lists with training wheels.
For instance, my friend Kevin J. Anderson, often jokes by introducing me as “the best Portuguese-born female science fiction writer published originally in America.” (If he just threw in “libertarian” I think he’d have a list of one, if he doesn’t already.) He gets away with this because it’s obviously a joke. I know where I stand. I’m mid-mid to high mid-list. That’s where I belong for now, not in “best” anything. But see, I have plans.
If someone did this seriously it would be the equivalent of telling me “You’re pretty good for a Portuguese chick writing in English as a second language. We don’t think you’ll ever get any further, so we’re pinning a medal on you now.” Do that, in seriousness, and you’ll withdraw a bloody stump. Who are you to patronize me? I might never get any further than I am, but trying is my prerogative. (Oh, and buy my books.)
So I’ve been thinking on this concept of lists and “best” writers, and I discussed it with Charlie. As usual, we are but two minds that fester as a single one. Most of the lists of “bests” go by awards or what someone said was first or important.
That’s, pardon me, the end product of a bovine digestive tract. There’s only one real measure of what is best: “What stays with you.” And there’s only a real measure of what is classic: “What stays with a lot of people.”
So, below is a – non-gender-segregated, because no one gets prizes for having a vagina – list of writers that stayed with me or that I return to time and again. In no particular order, IMHO, YMMV, TANSTAAFL and BBQ also OIMMBLTTA*.
Robert A. Heinlein – Duh. I named my first son after him, not after any other writer. (Beyond the fact that my husband wouldn’t let me name him Clifford, and Ray wasn’t even in the running.) Widely credited as inspiring more scientists than any other science fiction writer. The opinion of which works people like varies, some people (deviationists in the Church of Heinlein, which my fans and I have – ridiculously – been accused of being) excluding the later ones, some the earlier ones. I like them all, but my favorites that get read every year are The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, Puppet Masters and The Door Into Summer. When you talk to someone and they say they no longer read science fiction, they inevitably end with “no one writes like Heinlein anymore.” I concur, though some of us try.
Isaac Asimov – is here because he was prolific and popularized science fiction. I remember him and reading a ton of his books when I was little. What I don’t remember is the books. I remember a short story “Liar“, mostly because I was afraid I was on track to be the female character. [Charlie: I liked Asimov although a lot of his stuff hasn’t worn well for me. But still, the I, Robot stories, and the Lije Bailey books, like The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun, are worth the time.]
Ray Bradbury – Yes, I know. Possibly an acquired taste, but if so, I acquired him. Part of it is that he translates magnificently to Portuguese, but the other part is that he’s just a good writer, period. Unorthodox for Science Fiction, but very good.
The first book I read in English for Americans was Dandelion Wine. I was 14, and I still have the book, with all the difficult words with a translation penciled over it in Portuguese. Towards the end of the book, the “explanation” is in English, as I’d graduated to an English-English dictionary. I bought both my sons’ copies at 12, but they say Bradbury is depressing. Don’t care. Fahrenheit 451 remains and will always be a favorite of mine. [Charlie: Ray was pretty much the first person to encourage my own writing. I’d recommend his later novels, like Death is a Lonely Business and Green Shadows, White Whale, and of course his short stories.]
Clifford Simak – In Portugal he is considered one of the “great three” – Asimov is often dropped from the list – and I used to get up really early to snag a copy of his books when they were released in Portuguese. Portuguese books rarely go back to press, so that was my one and only chance. I love particularly Werewolf Principle and They Walked Like Men. They Walked Like Men used to bother me as I thought it was anti-money. Re-reading it, I realized it was anti-fiat-currency. Fine. I’m okay with that. [Charlie: I’m not a Simak fan for no reason I can explain. But I will note that an awful lot of Simak is now available in Kindle collections, being out of copyright.]
Anne McCaffrey – okay, fine, she’s not to everyone’s taste, and when I tried to re-read her recently, I couldn’t. But the reason I couldn’t was that so many things kept kicking me out because they’re tired tropes of fantasy. The thing to remember though was that they weren’t, until she made them so. (And also that she was writing science fiction.) I’m going to recommend all the Dragon books through White Dragon. Though my favorite when I first read them was Moretta.
Ursula LeGuin – Why is she beneath Anne McCaffrey? Don’t I know she was way more “relevant.” Well, yes, I do know that. Pfui. She was relevant because at some point she flipped over into female supremacy. She was also, more or less explicitly more left than other women writing at the time. However, recently, when introducing someone to fantasy I recommended the Tombs of Atuan [Earthsea] trilogy. (What do you mean there are four books? Pfui. I can’t hear you!) I remember that one because for a kid who read all sorts of weird religious stuff, it struck a chord.
Then there’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I tried re-reading it recently and couldn’t because the narrative technique is SO seventies. (And the best thing about getting older is that each decade takes me farther away from the seventies.) BUT for better or worse, this is the book that got me into writing. As a biology-geek (in my spare time) I was offended by the design of her hermaphrodites. As a history-geek I was offended by the society derived from it. So I said to myself, I said, “Sarah, you can write hermaphrodites better than that.” I couldn’t. But now I think I can and it’s on the slate for when the other stuff is done. (Could be twenty years, of course.)
[Charlie: I liked LHoD and The Dispossessed. On the other hand, if someone hands you LeGuin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, drop it quickly and wash your hands. And, look, Ursula, if you wanted to call it “poetry inspired by…” then I’d have no trouble, but passing this off as a translation is a travesty.]
Terry Pratchett – Appears this late only because he’s rather recent. His disk world is a creation of genius, which allows him to do anything he wants to, historical or not.
I have a little crush on Captain Vimes, which is shameful for a libertarian. And I think older son IS Captain Carrot.
If you’re reading Pratchett and you think he’s just “funny, ah ah” you’re missing layers and layers of meaning. Pratchett writes characters that LIVE which considering their background is amazing.
He also falls into the category of artists whose art can go against his own explicit beliefs to touch something eternal about the human condition. Highly recommended. I revisit him regularly. Off the top of my head: Night Watch, Witches Abroad, Thief of Time, Small Gods, Monstrous Regiment.
Diana Wynne Jones – Okay, I’m going to admit right now that the woman could never write a satisfying ending and that her last books were… uh… odd. (She died of brain cancer, so I don’t think we can hold it against her.) However, I recommend the Chrestomanci series and also The Merlin Conspiracy.)
Jerry Pournelle – why is he so far down? No reason except I only discovered him when I came to America. Also, that he is a personal friend, and one always feels a little guilty about recommending a personal friend. Read everything he ever wrote, alone or with Larry Niven. Favorites are Footfall and Lucifer’s Hammer.
Jerry has been a great influence on fans – particularly not-on-the-left fans – about ten years younger than I. As big as Heinlein for me and my generation. He was also one of Mr. Heinlein’s protégés and has some great Heinlein stories, if you can sit down with him.
BTW it has reached my ears that he had a stroke this weekend, and I’m praying, so hard. He’s one of my favorite colleagues.
There are a lot of other writers I enjoy and remember, some of them contemporary and my friends, but if I get into that, I’ll be here all day. Quickly: A. E. Van Vogt; Philip Jose Farmer, Larry Correia, Dave Freer, John Ringo, about a million and a half writers whose names refuse to come to mind right now (including some of my own) and a bunch of indies you can find if you follow my blog, or even check out the announcements here regularly.
So, go forth, happy holidays and happy reading.
*Objects in Mirror might be larger than they appear.
Running away leads right back home – or does it?
Sarvet walks with a grinding limp, and her mountain culture keeps girls close to home. Worse, her mother emphasizes all the things Sarvet can’t do. No matter how gutsy her spirit or bold her defiance, staying put means growing weaker. Yet only boys get wanderyars. Lacking their supplies and training, how can Sarvet escape?
Can dreams – even big dreams – and inner certainty transform impossible barricades into a way out?
The 10th Book in the Worlds Apart series finds the badly damaged Pathfinder Ship Pegasus limping into the Eventide system, hoping to make repairs. Instead, they find an undeveloped, backwater colony with limited technology and scant resources. And worse, Eventide has drawn the attention of the Kariad: Alien busybodies who meddle in human civilizations that fail to meet their standards. Commander Keeler has seen other colonies ruined by their misguided social engineering. He makes a wager with the Kariad; if he can fix the civilization on Eventide, the Kariad must never meddle in human affairs again.
In the second half of the twenty-first century, orbital debris takes its first large-scale human casualties from an orbiting tourist habitat. Haunted by visions of destruction, Charlotte Fisher, a young engineer, determines to win a prize offered by a consortium of satellite and orbitat operators for the first successful de-orbiting of space junk. Her employer backs these efforts until the reentry of a piece of debris kills two people, and she and her team are spun off. With limited resources and the unwanted gift of a lawyer who, regardless of his appeal, she doesn’t need, she faces daunting odds.
Major Rahoul P. Khan returns to the 58th Regiment of Foot. The holiday season calls up memories he’d rather have left in Afghanistan. Can the Cat help him keep Christmas?