Reading Lists

My Favorite Authors and Why I Love Their Work

Glen Cook’s publisher has started labeling him the grandfather of Grimdark with his last book launch, but he’s much more accomplished than The Black Company. I believe his standalone novel The Tower of Fear is an amazingly well-told tale, and The Dread Empire series sets a relentless pace I have yet to experience by another author. I’m also a fan of his Garrett P.I. series, which I’ve read several times enjoying his noir humor.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit remains my favorite novel and was my original favorite back in third grade. A friend recommended The Fellowship of the Ring, but all they had was The Two Towers which I somehow managed to enjoy even out of order. I did eventually get to read the three novels, all before getting my hands on The Hobbit. Since that first read, I’ve read The Hobbit more times than any other book, the last two rounds to my daughter. She now owns her own copy.

It’s difficult to believe he published the novel 80 years ago. Both the story and his writing remain engaging, and my gold standard for including wonder in my own work. If I can ever bring such joy to anyone who read my stories, I’ll consider myself accomplished.

Steven Brust is a wizard of a storyteller. Vlad Taltos is one of my favorite characters and the Khaavren Romances are beyond my ability to describe adequately. Just go read them. Now. And then check out “The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature.”

Martha Wells’s Death of the Necromancer is an amazing historical fantasy, and horror to boot. She has two novels and a trilogy set in the world of Ile-Rien, including Element of Fire and the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy. It’s also worth tracking down “The Potter’s Daughter,” a short-story featuring the excellent character Kade Carrion. These works parallel four centuries from the 17th to 20th. I maintain hope Martha will circle back to Kade in a future work.

Anne McCaffrey changed my view of fantasy. Instead of swords and magic and inhumane villains, her stories focused on personal struggles within an alien, if human, society. Her Harper Hall trilogy was the first series I read to my daughter and she loved them (once the fire lizards made their appearance). Every child should experience these stories in which a mistreated girl masters skills long denied women in her society.

Andrzej Sapkowski is the marvel who gave us Geralt, the Witcher. Sapkowski’s use of traditional fairy tales as a backdrop for his kick-ass character makes for a fun read. Everyone should read the translations of his short stories for lessons on “making big things small and small things big.”

David Gemmell wrote more than thirty fantasy novels. His Drenai series are listed among the classics and were a great read as a teen, but felt flat and uninspired when I reread them as an adult. What I respect most about his bibliography is the Rigante series, published toward the end of his life. The contrast between his earliest works and these later works should be an inspiration to all writers.

Will McIntosh is the only author on this list I’ve met. I interviewed him for a project after reading Soft Apocalypse and his Hugo Award-winning short story “Bridesicle,”* which he developed into Love Minus Eighty (overdue for a movie deal, IMHO).

Will is a smooth writer with a solid lock on humanity. When I asked him how he envisions his characters in future settings, he explained his background as a sociologist provides a solid understanding of how humans are wired to respond to stimuli. As a result, his characters respond realistically rather than falling into science fiction tropes.

*When I interviewed Will, I mentioned his short story was on a site that might not be legit. At the time, he said to link to it because the story was no longer on the site of the magazine who purchased it. I’m including a link here until another is available. Also, the story is available as an audio recording.

William Gibson created the Cyberpunk genre with his early visions of our future (and he got a lot right). His ideas stoked my interest in science fiction with his rich focus on our looming cultural shifts. His most recent novel, The Peripheral, proves his value as a modern oracle. Gibson processes our current trends so clearly and his ability to parse modern events into forecasts is nothing short of genius. If you aren’t familiar with his work, The Peripheral gives us a view at life after the Jackpot (which has become part of the zeitgeist as climate change gains steam). It’s a brilliant and timely insight. Expect sleepless nights while reading.

Katherine Kurtz Her Deryni series was my first experience with historical fantasy. Up to that point, my interest in history was mostly about architecture and fighting. Kurtz really delved into the interplay of royalty and the church. By making the protagonists heretics in the eyes of the church, yet devout in their faith, she created a gripping story. While I did not keep up with the novels past the first pause, the original novels are slim and fast-moving. Well worth reading for the nuance she brings to those early ideas.

Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber are genre-breaking classics. I don’t know of any other series like what he created. Read the Corwin books for the ongoing first-person structure and stream-of-consciousness planning. Rereading Corwin’s walking through shadow, experiencing his use of color and texture, really helped with my current project. Sometimes we get lucky and chance upon exactly what we need right when we need it.

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Bridesicle by Will McIntosh (Amy H. Sturgis)