Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Jack L. Chalker

More Authors and Books for My “Best of Fantasy” List

with 15 comments

Folks, I wrote a blog two days ago about the very odd and unrepresentative “50 Best Fantasy Books” list from Esquire magazine. Those fifty books were closer to “50 Best Right Now” than anything else, but even there, I didn’t find most of them to be of lasting interest.

While there’s one or two I would still like to read, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve tried at least six of the novels I didn’t think were among the “50 Best Fantasy Books” of all time. (No, I won’t tell you which ones.)

Also, every list is subjective, and every list is going to leave someone out who deserves to be there.

That said, I had some more thoughts, and wanted to put them down. (If you haven’t yet read my earlier blog, here’s the link to it.)

The first author that came to mind when I woke up yesterday that I’d forgotten to add was Elizabeth Moon. Her writing is stellar, and her first three books about Paksenarrion, had she written nothing else, would’ve been more than enough to put her on this list.

The next one I forgot to add was Jack L. Chalker, who wrote Midnight at the Well of Souls and The Return of Nathan Brazil, among others. He also wrote a stellar short story called “Dance Band on the Titanic” that I urge you to read, if you haven’t already. (I didn’t find a link to it on Amazon, but it is available in public libraries as “Dance Band on the Titanic and Other Stories.”)

I mentioned Jack Vance in my comments underneath my previous blog, but I wanted to talk a bit more about him here. Vance was a prolific storyteller in the “Grand Old Man” mode. His first novel, The Dying Earth, was considered ground-breaking in its time. But the easiest way to get to know Jack Vance’s work is with The Jack Vance Treasury, which collects a number of his stories and is a good representation of what he was about as a writer.

The one thing I’d like modern readers to keep aware of is this: Vance was a product of his time. This means he didn’t have as many women in these stories, and most of the women who you will meet there are not protagonists or antagonists, but rather meant as set pieces to better limn the background for the purposes of authenticity.

Anyway, I had mentioned Clifford Simak at some point when I was discussing this with my friends (I still can’t get over how deeply unrepresentative that Esquire list was for the history of SF&F; it’s almost as if they wanted to say that SF&F started last year, and here are the books that appealed to them). Simak was an enormously talented writer, and he wrote several books and oodles of short stories that still speak to me today. The book I liked the most when I was younger was City, about a race of canines telling stories about their forefathers, known as “men.” I also like his short stories, and have been intrigued by another of his novels, Time is the Simplest Thing, about a telepath on the run from corruption and greed (among other things).

Then there is C.M. Kornbluth, who also was not mentioned by Esquire. Kornbluth is one of the most iconic and quirky writers SF&F has ever had, and if you ever read any stories by him, even if co-authored with someone else like Judith Merril or Frederik Pohl, you’ll most likely remember them. They are full of imagery that sticks with you long after the reading is done.

My recommendation is to take a look at this short story collection, edited by Pohl, as it should give you a good idea what Kornbluth was all about.

I’d mentioned David Weber and David Drake yesterday in my comments, and wanted to add them to the list.

Weber hasn’t written a ton of fantasy, but what he has written is excellent. (My late husband loved Weber’s writing, including the long-running Honor Harrington series, which is space opera at its best.) Weber’s War Gods series starts with Oath of Swords (which is absolutely free; you can’t do better than that), and will introduce you to Bahzell, a most unusual warrior who keeps getting into scrapes and is a gruff man with a good heart who’s been badly misunderstood by most (including himself) for years.

As for Drake, he has a wonderful book called Old Nathan (which again is absolutely free) which is about a man who’s both woodsman and wizard, defending humanity as best he might during a series of travails that both horrify and delight. Drake is better known for “Hammer’s Slammers” and the space opera series about Lt. Leary (who, of course, grows in rank and abilities, as good officers do in real life). Drake is every bit as good of a writer of fantasy as he is of space opera and science fiction, and I think you’ll enjoy his writing.

At any rate, these are the authors that came to mind that needed to be added. There are more that I want to talk about, including Sharon Shinn, Leigh Brackett (a pioneer of SF&F, and one of the first women writers of same), additional books by Rosemary Edghill and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel I want you to take a gander at…so, I’m going to list some of the books of these folks below, in the hopes that you’ll find yourself a new favorite author or three.

Sharon Shinn’s books include Archangel, The Shape-Changer’s Wife, and Jenna Starborn. Everything I’ve read by her — and I’ve tried to read it all — is worthy, interesting, and moving.

Rosemary Edghill’s classic Hellflower (first book in the Hellflower trilogy) has recently been reissued as an ebook. While it’s not fantasy — it is SF — it deserves to be on this list as it’s something I picked up as soon as it was back out and available. (Now I’m savoring it, like fine wine.) Everything about this book screams of authenticity, and if you don’t take to the heroine Butterfly (short for Butterflies-Are-Free-Peace-Sincere), I’ll be astonished.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has six novels out. Three are in the Night Calls series (I mentioned Night Calls yesterday), while three are in the Chronicles of Nuala space opera/SF/spiritual series. The first book of the latter is Fires of Nuala, and I urge you to read it.

Kimbriel’s work in the Nuala series reminded me of Dune by Frank Herbert. (Yes, that’s another novel that should be on that Esquire list but wasn’t.) It is complex, multi-layered, and very well thought-out.

Leigh Brackett was one of SF&F’s pioneers, as I said before, and was so prescient she wrote a book about a post-nuclear holocaust America in 1955. This book is called The Long Tomorrow.

And I just thought of another fine writer not mentioned by Esquire, that being C.J. Cherryh. I read Downbelow Station when I was a teenager and enjoyed it so much I looked up everything else Ms. Cherryh had available at the time. Over the years, whenever I’ve seen her books (in the library, or when I’ve had enough money to buy one), I’ve done my best to pick them up, read, and recommend to others.

That brings me to another writer I absolutely adore, Janet Kagan. Ms. Kagan put out two original novels, Hellspark and Mirabile, and one Star Trek novel (Uhura’s Song) along with a number of short stories. Hellspark is notable because it discusses kinesiology as well as verbal tics/styles (to speak another language well, you must know how people who speak that language move). Uhura’s Song is just plain fun (and is only ninety-nine cents right now).

That brings to mind another writer that I very much appreciate, that being John M. Ford. The Dragon Waiting was perhaps his best-known book, but I learned about him mostly because I read The Final Reflection (along with Uhura’s Song and Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally and The Wounded Sky, those being excellent representations of SF in their own right).

And speaking of Ms. Duane, what on Earth was Esquire about to leave her out of the mix for classic fantasy? Her Door into Fire and Door into Shadow featured LGBTQ protagonists at a time most people didn’t want to talk about it, with well-defined characters, deadly and difficult situations, and much derring-do done quite well. But most people know her more for the Young Wizards series, which starts with So You Want to Be a Wizard.

My favorite book of hers is called Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses. It’s a great book about various Earths, justice, humanity in all its forms, and peace.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll think of some more writers after I finish this blog, but these additions should keep you interested. (I hope?)

Let me know who else I forgot, and I’ll do my best to add to the list in another blog.