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March 8th, 2005, 09:00 PM
On the other boards we talk about what science fiction and fantasy books we like, and what our influences are. I wanted to start a discussion on what books can we as writers learn from. Other books can teach us what to do, and what not to do.

So list the fiction books that you think would be good to read as a writer. And bonus points for non-sci fi/non fantasy! My list is below.

Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson
Lots of great wordplay and imagery, and some flat out amazing writing. But it also shows that flash is not enough.

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
The story of a man’s life told backwards from his death to shortly before his birth. The writing is good too. Two things this book taught me. One, if you are going to use a gimmick, keep the book short; this one does. Two, the gimmick has to be integral to the story. This one definitely is.

The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme
Hard book to find, but worth it. Its short, with interesting points of view, some good word play, and some genuinely funny parts.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
Lots of short, short stories revolving around the central theme of time and the different ways it can flow. Time standing still, or jumping disconnectedly, or eddying like a river. My only regret with this book is that most of the stories revolve around different characters. I think it would have been a great book had it taken one story and examined all the different ways time could run.

A Storm of Swords, by George R R Martin
Shows how to keep lots of balls up in the air as well as pacing and suspense. Martin always ends his chapters with at least a mini cliff hanger, and he does a good job of having some plot lines climaxing while others are only building which keeps the pace going without wearing you out.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
One of the few works deserving the term “Masterpiece”. A set of interconnected short stories about Vietnam. Incredible writing. Poignant and evocative without ever being melodramatic or obvious. Great characters and some really good and subtle writing.


March 9th, 2005, 06:12 AM
They're have been a few threads in the past on this theme and it always proves quite frutiful. One thing which is always neglected though is an appreciation of that related discipline: poetry. If you want to see word-play in use and careful pacing and rythmn of sentances taken to their furthest degree then I at least, think a study of poetry is indespensible. Old classics like Milton and Tennyson may well already be familiar to fantasy readers. As a Scotsman I can't help but mention Sir Walter Scott (especially the Lay of the Last Minstrel) and Robert Burns (for sheer flippancy of word play and deftness of touch). Ezra Pound has also been a strong influence upon me, of late. Of course the beauty of many poems is they are much shorter than novels (obviously with some noteable exceptions) so you can try out a lot of different poets until you find one you like.

On plotting and characterisation play-writes are also worth a writers consideration. Obviously Shakespeare (who also has the virtue of poeticism), but I would also suggest Ibsyn and Bernard Shaw.

As to novelists I try to pick writers suited to the mood of the piece I am writing. Thus Dickens or Trollope really work if you want to do something nineteenth century - but also with a certain ascerbisism (for which see also Pratchett).
A more contemporary and pulpy style is well exhibited by the books published by the Black Library (cf. their website). I have recommended these books on the previous threads and do so once more only because several of their most recent publications have only reaffirmed my confidence.

March 11th, 2005, 08:00 PM
Books; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for the askew world he fashioned, and The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst for the effortlessly twisted language and style (though perhaps not all the graphic screwing!). Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - my favourite first-person novel, ever. Jonathan Livingston Seagul by Richard Bach - needs no explanation I think...

Short Story: Heat by Joyce Carol Oates. A misleading and beautiful narrative.

I'm not so keen on poetry actually. As an English student, it gets shoved down my throat and a lot of the time I don't really chew before I swallow...

Oh, and Jeannette Winterson. Lovely language/imagery, but at what price of meaning? Postmodernism really hacks me off sometimes...thank god for the lack of postmodernism in fantasy!

March 11th, 2005, 08:41 PM
Agreed, regarding Winterson. You can be dazzled by her prose, and yet after reading page after page, you begin to wonder what its all for.

March 12th, 2005, 05:02 AM
For a book that's is both a wonderful read and a shining example of the self mocking, first person narrative that is so popular today read Three men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome.

Also I'd say anything by Daphne du Maurier is an example of how to create a wonderfully haunting setting for a story. Particularly Jamaica Inn...


March 13th, 2005, 05:56 AM
Also I'd say anything by Daphne du Maurier is an example of how to create a wonderfully haunting setting for a story. Particularly Jamaica Inn...

... and Rebecca - this one left a resonance inside me long after the details were forgotten.

ironchef texmex
March 13th, 2005, 10:14 AM
Hmm, let's see. I think I'll break them down by category:

Prose -- I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Pretty Maggy Moneyeyes, Lonleyache. All by Harlan Ellison. For my money nobody bends the language to his will better that Ellison.

Plot -- Legacy of Herot, Niven/Pournelle, Hyperion, Dan Simmons. Two books that used plot devices to create a level of almost shocking intensity.

World Building -- The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard, Foundation, Isaac Asimov, The Scar, China Mieville. Galveston, Sean Stewart, Clans of the Alphane Moon, Phillip K. Dick. A collection of worlds that I wish I'd thought of first. Foundation is a little dated (a galactic empire that runs on nuclear power) but still constitutes a clinic on 'how it's done'. I'm partial to Galveston since the city is one of my favorite weekend getaways. Clans is an amazing concept.

Characterization -- My favorite in this department is actually Flannery O' Connor, but sticking with the spec fiction theme: More than Human, Theodore Sturgeon. Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan, Black Sun Rising, C.S. Friedman. Three of my favorite examples of making characters that are fantastic, yet utterly believable.