Sunday, March 8, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (D)

And now we come to the D's. I was able to find 3, although one is a collaborative effort.

I will admit I did cheat a bit here and used two authors. The distinguished looking bearded chap at the top is Lyon Sprague de Camp (generally known as L. Sprague de Camp) November 27, 1907 - November 6, 2000. Below him is a picture of a very young Fletcher Pratt 1897 - 1956.

L. Sprague de Camp is one of the giants of the science fiction and fantasy genre in it's heydays of the 40's and 50's, and was one of the founding members of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers Guild of America. Over a 60 year career he authored over 100 books, including novels, non fiction and biographies of fellow authors. During WW II he served as a researcher at the Philadelphia Naval Yard along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. He moved between genres, and is known as much for his continuation of Robert E. Howard's Conan novels as anything else he wrote over his 6 decade career. Along with his friend Fletcher Pratt, he was also one of the first writers to explore fantasy for it's comic potential with the Harold Shea or Incomplete Enchanter stories. He also wrote novels with his wife Catharine Crook de Camp in the 1960's.

Fletcher Pratt is best known for works on naval history and the Harold Shea stories with L. Sprague de Camp. I'm not sure if this is true, but his obituary listed 'raising marmosets' as one of his hobbies. That just seems like such a fantasy writer thing to do. Wargamers recognise Pratt as one of the first people to set down rules for gaming, especially naval games. He established a literary dining club called The Trapdoor Spiders, as Isaac Asimov later fictionalised the club, its reasonable to assume that he was a member. He is best remembered among readers for the Harold Shea stories, although he did unfortunately pass away before the series reached any great heights in terms of popularity.

The Harold Shea novels and stories, or as they are also known the Incomplete Enchanter, originally appeared as serialisations, and then later as separate novels. It wasn't until 1988's The Complete Compleat Enchanter that they were all collected together. The basic premise is that the brilliant, but eccentric scientist Harold Shea finds a way of transporting himself into the pages of myths and legends, like the Norse Kalevala, Spenser's Faerie Queene and  Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The first of the books (The Incomplete Enchanter) came out in 1941 and the last of the original stories written by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (The Wall of Serpents) was published in 1960, 4 years after Pratt's death. This means that they predate one of the best known and most talented exponents of comic fantasy, Terry Pratchett by more than 40 years. To accompany him on his excursions into parallel worlds of magic and fantasy Harold Shea often has his colleagues Reed Chalmers, Walter Bayard and Vaclav 'Votsy' Polacek either help of hinder him. In later stories they add Belphebe and Florimel of faerie (who later marry Harold and Walter) and Pete Brodsky, a hapless police officer who gets caught up in the lunacy. Most of the humour is derived from 20th century technology and ideas clashing with magic and thinking set centuries earlier. They're quite a wonderful example of how things were done in the days before this had become a subgenre of it's own, although the years that have passed have dated the works quite badly on a number of levels.

Further and related reading: both de Camp and Pratt have extensive back catalogues, although most of it seems to be very different from the light hearted feel and focus of the Harold Shea stories. Following the death of Fletcher Pratt, and the reinvigoration of interest in the stories with the publication of the collection in 1988, de Camp collaborated with Christopher Stasheff (Gramarye) and a number of other authors to produce the anthologies The Enchanter Reborn and The Exotic Enchanter. The idea of people entering fiction is not new and has been explored a number of times over the years, one of the best examples can be found in the works of Jasper Fforde, especially his Thursday Next series. Jim Hines also uses this conceit as part of his Libriomancer series, in which the main character has the ability to draw things out of works of fiction to fill a need he may have at the time.

Michael de Larrabeiti's life prior to writing his children's fantasy series The Borribles reads rather like adventure fiction in itself as some of it included a time travelling with a group of Provencal shepherds on the transhumance herding some 3,000 sheep from their winter to summer pastures. He taught English in Casablanca, and was the photographer on Oxford University's Marco Polo Expedition, which entailed tracing the great explorer's steps on a 4 month trek mounted on a pair of BSA motorcycles.  He also worked as a documentary cameraman and travel guide in Morocco and France. He abandoned his DPhil at Keble College at Oxford to take up full time writing. This culminated in 1976 with the publication of The Borribles, he later wrote two sequels The Borribles Go For Broke and The Borribles Across the Dark Metropolis. He's written a number of other novels since that, but nothing that could be categorised as fantasy and two of them are memoirs. The last published work was Spots of Time: A Memoir in 2007.

The Borribles used the medium of children's literature (although I feel they are better categorised as YA novels) to highlight the British class war. Given that the first book came out in 1976, I feel that they use the pointy eared Borribles, who live on the fringes of society as a sort of punk urban updating of Peter Pan's Lost Boys. The Borribles are runaway children who never get caught by the authorities and live outside of society, they live a hand to mouth existence, and if they stay on the run for long enough their ears become pointed and they never age, going through life as eternal pre teens. They're locked in a battle with human sized rat creatures the Rumbles, themselves a satire on the popular children's favourites The Wombles. This is also combined with a healthy distrust of authority, the worst fate for a Borrible is to be caught, have their ears clipped and go on to live a humdrum existence. The violence and anti establishment message in the books did bother censors and the fact that they were aimed at children and young adults didn't help. I found them a great deal of fun, but they also contained food for thought, and they updated and added some much needed realism into the genre itself. They've been cited as an inspiration for the New Weird movement, but I can't really see that in them personally. I guess it would help if people could actually decide what the New Weird movement really is. The Borribles (and you really should read all 3 books) are one of those cross generational works where both children and adults can read them and find things to appreciate.

Further and related reading: Michael de Larrabeiti's other works are very different from The Borribles, although some of his writings, especially his memoirs, may give the reader an idea of what formed the concepts behind the creation of the Borribles. The closest idea I can find to the Borribles themselves is in J. M Barrie's Peter and Wendy (the novelisation of the stage play Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up), with the Lost Boys. a group of runaway children who never grow up. I can't remember any of the Lost Boys as having pointed ears, but their leader Peter does, which makes one wonder if Peter Pan was in fact the first ever Borrible. American comics author Jeff Smith includes armies of large human sized ratlike beings in his graphic novel Bone, and they're generally called Rat Creatures, I doubt Smith ever read The Borribles, but they are very reminiscent of the Rumbles. I'd also suggest reading Bone, because it just awesome fun. Think of Lord of the Rings and cross it with some of the Disney cartoons featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy and you'll get some idea of what Bone is like.

Even when I give the name of the man above a lot of people won't recognise it. This is Dave Duncan. He's a Scottish born author, who has made his home in Canada since 1955. Duncan came to writing rather late. He spent 31 years as a geologist in the petroleum industry and published his first fantasy novel (A Rose Red City) in 1986 when he was 53 years old. Since that he's written quite steadily and often switches his focus. The Seventh Sword was a classic tale of someone from our world finding themselves inhabiting the body of a swordsman in a typical fantasy setting. The A Man of his Word series and it's sequel A Handful of Men were both epic fantasies set on the secondary world of Pandemia. The Omar stories are two books which contain a number of tales told by the rascally itinerant story teller Omar, that are rather Arabian Nights in flavour. The Great Game was a trilogy where the action shifted between our world just after the First World War and a secondary world that the hero made his way through. and we're never quite sure which is real and what is the product of the main character's imagination. He did a number of books in the Kings Blades series, which are rather Three Musketeers in both setting and style, this included a trilogy specifically aimed at young adults. These tend to be what most people think of when the name Dave Duncan as a fantasy author is mentioned. He's also dabbled in historical fantasy and written quite a few standalones, as well as science fiction. He has two standalone novels scheduled for release later in 2015.  He's not particularly active on the net, although he is at pains to point out that he is not the baseball player of the same name.

There's plenty to choose from and I have read a fair bit of it, but I always come back to A Man of His Word. I include the picture above to represent it. That's the cover of the series' first book The Magic Casement, and it's by noted cover artist Don Maitz. For some reason it's since been reissued with different covers, I don't know why, because that is one of the best pieces of cover art I've ever seen. I know it's not possible to fall in love with a picture, but the girl on that cover almost does it. I rarely buy books just on the cover, but that is what made me pick up A Man of His Word and consider it. It regularly appears on my recommended list and it's been in my top 10 from the time I first read it. The story is pretty standard fantasy, although it's more of a love story than anything else. It tells the story of the love between Princess Inosolan of Krasnegar and her childhood friend and loyal stableboy Rap, as the two strive to be together and rescue their kingdom from all sorts of forces across Pandemia. Duncan did some really interesting things with this. Pandemia is inhabited by all sorts of mythical races, and he had them correspond in a large part to the cultures the myths come from. The jotuns for instance are large, fair seafaring types who like a drink and a fight, not necessarily in that order. The imps are small, dark and prolific and tend to rule the entire continent of Pandemia in a rather Roman style. The goblins are short, squat green tinged, forest dwelling savages. The djinn are big, bluff loud people, who like beards, have red tinged skin and live in the desert areas of Pandemia, you get the idea. Then there was his wonderful idea of magic being passed on by means of words of power. One word amplifies an existing talent or skill to a high level, two makes the bearer and adept, three a mage and four a sorcerer, five is believed to be impossible. The more people know a word, the less power it has. It's startlingly original and the naming convention of both the books and the chapters was also something different. The names of the books (there are four in the series) all come from the one verse of a Keats poem, and the name of each chapter is also a verse in a poem, which is reproduced at the end of every chapter. An absolute joy to read and deserves to be rated much higher than it actually is.

Further and related reading: Dave Duncan followed A Man of His Word with the A Handful of Men quartet, which was also set in Pandemia and largely followed the next generation from the A Man of His Word quartet. It was entertaining, but to as good as the original in my opinion. There's also the many other books that he's authored. I have read many of them, but haven't been able to find anything that did to me what A Man of His Word did. His magic system is quite original, but simple and I can't really think of anything else quite like it. Possibly Blake Charlton's Spellwright series, which involves the magic contained in writing something down, but A Man of His Word deals with the spoken rather than the written word. There's something of the clearly defined races with various powers and looks as well as geographical locations on the world, which is present in most of David and Leigh Eddings' books, especially The Belgariad and it's various sequels.

And that's the D's. I'm still looking at the E's, but I fear it may be rather slim pickings there.

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