Sunday, May 3, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (L)

I actually thought I'd find a few L's, and I guess 5 is a few, but I just thought there would be more. One of them is so obscure that I can't even find a picture.

Ursula Le Guin is one of the most highly respected figures in the world of science fiction and fantasy. She has won multiple awards for her fiction and when she speaks the rest of the literary world listens.

She's written from the age of 11, but didn't start to be published until the early '60's. A lot of her work prior to that point was rejected by publishers as it seemed inaccessible. Her novels alone have won 5 Locus awards, 4 Nebulas, 2 Hugos and 1 World Fantasy Award (I am tempted to put a partridge in a pear tree there just for fun).

She's won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, been inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and is a Grand Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Fantasy lovers the world over know her for The Earthsea quartet. Beginning in 1968 with A Wizard of Earthsea and finishing in 1990 with Tehanu (which won both a Locus and a Nebula).

Her writing has influenced writers from Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell to Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks. She herself was influenced by J.R.R Tolkien and Phillip K. Dick (who actually attended her high school and was in the same class, although they did not know each other) and classic authors like Leo Tolstoy, the Bronte sisters, Virginia Woolf and children's authors such as Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling.

I'm not even going to attempt to try and list her library of work, it would take forever, but she has written with equal acclaim across the spectrum of science fiction and fantasy, and will be forever remembered for her contribution not just to SFF, but to literature in general.

I fell in love with A Wizard of Earthsea when I was still in primary school. We had a copy of it in our class library (as opposed to the larger school library) and the cover with an image of a person turning into a bird intrigued me. I read it and adored it. I got less out of the two sequels (The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore), but I think a lot of that can be attributed to my age at the time and lack of understanding of the deeper themes that both books explored. I have reread them since and gained a greater appreciation, but I still prefer the opening book. It just has something that was new a different to everything else I had encountered before. I think it paved the way for me to explore books that didn't just tell a story, they tried to educate the reader, engage them to make them think and created a world that was so unlike the one in which we live. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to truly understand the genre and find out why it speaks to so many readers.

Further and related reading: once you've read A Wizard of Earthsea you will want to follow Ged and find out more about his world and his art, and the best place to do that is with the two sequels; The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore. There is a fourth book (it's a quartet after all), Tehanu, but that came out in 1990 (The Farthest Shore was published in 1972) and the intervening years have made it a very different book from it's predecessors, which I still regard as a trilogy. There's also a collection of short stories Tales of Earthsea. A 'fifth' book in the 'quartet' The Other Wind came out in 2001 and won the 2002 World Fantasy Award. It's a sequel to Tehanu and also relates to one of the stories in Tales of Earthsea.

I personally find J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series to have strong influences from A Wizard of Earthsea. I don't think I'd ever seen a proper school for magic until I read A Wizard of Earthsea. Rowling took that concept, married it with any 'girls own' school book you care to mention and created Hogwarts. Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind also owes a great deal to A Wizard of Earthsea. I actually quite often call the book A Wizard of Earthsea meets Harry Potter. Lev Grossman's The Magicians is another book that explores the idea of learning magic in a school environment. None of them however explore the other themes in the way that Le Guin did in A Wizard of Earthsea, which is still ground breaking in many ways.

C. S Lewis - November 29, 1898 - November 22, 1963. Not many people don't recognise the name C.S Lewis, and he along with his friend and colleague J.R.R Tolkien is one of the biggest names in fantasy.

Like Tolkien, Lewis served in WW1 and upon his return from active duty commenced a position at Oxford University. He and Tolkien both worked in the English faculty at the school, and they were also both members of the writing group called The Inklings.

He's best known for his Narnia Chronicles, which was a fantasy written for children, that was very heavy on the Christian allegory (Lewis was raised in the Church of Ireland, but became disillusioned with religion and was briefly an atheist in his mid teens. He returned to the church in the 1920's and eventually became a very committed Anglican from 1931 onwards), however he also wrote a science fiction series, The Space Trilogy. He also wrote a number of scholarly articles on Medieval and Renaissance Literature and wrote about his faith.

In recent times he has been labeled a Christian apologist, but remains one of the most widely read British authors of all time, and was ranked 11th in a 2008 list of the 50 greatest British authors since 1945 by The Times.

I don't think this list would be complete without The Chronicles of Narnia. For the time they were written in a very odd fashion. Lewis did not write them linearly at all. There's still debate even now over what the correct reading order should. Published order versus chronological. I originally read them all out of order, I started with Voyage of the Dawntreader (3rd published book), and then read the others as I found them. If read chronologically they start with The Magician's Nephew and end with The Last Battle, if read in published order they begin with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and finish with The Last Battle. Over the course of their seven books, they tell the story of the world of Narnia from it's birth in The Magician's Nephew to it's end in The Last Battle. It's also the story of Aslan (God) and to a lesser extent that of the Pevensie children, who initially rediscover the world via a portal in a old wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and those who carry the torch once the Pevensies become 'too old' to believe and move on. One of the books The Horse and His Boy, takes place entirely on Narnia and doesn't feature any of the Earthly protagonists, the Pevensie's are seen from afar, as it takes place during the reign over Narnia and both begins and ends during the final chapter of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Because time passes differently in Narnia (years here are centuries there) reading the books in any order can be a little bit mind bending. I felt Lewis really let his imagination run wild in these and if you can ignore the Christian allegory they are a lot of fun. One of Lewis' influences as a child were the stories by Beatrix Potter, and there are plenty of anthropomorphic animals in Narnia, from Aslan the giant lion to Reepicheep the valiant mouse duellist. They make quite an enjoyable fairytale if approached correctly, and they do over the course of their 7 books tell a very complete story. They tend to be a lot of readers entry to epic fantasy. There was an attempt to film the series, which started with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005 and finished with The Voyage of the Dawntreader in 2010. I believe there were plans to film all of the books, but the films were never as successful as anticipated, and eventually the idea was wound up. I think when they got to titles like The Horse and His Boy and The Magician's Nephew they would have run into chronological issues in any case, as they seemed to be making the films in publication order.

Further and related reading: Lewis wrote science fiction, scholarly work and Christian work, but nothing else quite like Narnia. There have been a number of biographies written about him, at least one by close friend Roger Lancelyn Green (I best remember Green for his adaptations and collections of classic myths and legends). A screenplay called Shadowlands about his relationship with Joy Davidman Gresham was made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as Gresham.

Authors influenced by, or who remind me of Lewis' work are legion. Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series, Harry Potter again, The Magicians by Lev Grossman again, his fictional world of Fillory may as well have been called Narnia. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series was influenced by Lewis in that it is highly critical of what Lewis did with Narnia, one of the central characters also comes from Oxford, but in an alternate Earth.

Norman Lindsay - February 22, 1879 - November 21, 1969. Norman Lindsay is probably better known as an artist than a writer, but entire generations of Australian kids have grown up with his classic The Magic Pudding.

Norman Lindsay worked across the artistic mediums. He drew, painted, etched, sketched, cartooned and sculpted. He was quite well known for his nudes and became rather controversial because of it. A feature film called Sirens and starring supermodel Elle McPherson came out in 1994, and was a highly fictionalised version of Lindsay's life at the time and the controversy that surrounded his lifestyle and work.

He wrote more than one novel, but he will always be remembered for his irreverent and very Australian fairy tale The Magic Pudding, he also illustrated it himself, and the drawings do add to the story.

The book is also subtitled The Adventures of Bunyip Bluegum. Bunyip Bluegum is an adventurous young koala, who fed up with his father's habit of not shaving his whiskers and letting them get everywhere, leaves his tree and goes out to seek his fortune on the road. He meets up with two sailors, Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff (a penguin), who are in possession of a magical pudding called Albert. What makes Albert magical is not only the fact that he sprouts legs and arms, and wears his bowl as a hat and that he can talk (he's frightfully rude), but that no matter how often he's eaten (he can be a steak and kidney pudding and then turn into a plum pudding for dessert) there's always more than enough to go around and he never runs out. This makes him not only magical, but valuable and Bunyip, Bill and Sam are having to continuously fight off attempts from a couple of 'pudding thieves' (a possum and a wombat) to steal him, mind you Albert can stand up for himself too.

The book is divided into slices and it's wonderful fun, filled with odd concepts, poems, adventure and magic. It's so very Australian, and could only have been written by an Australian. It's been one of my favourites from the time I first read it as a child, right up to now.

Further and related reading: Lindsay only wrote the one genuine children's book that I am aware of, and this is it. I'm going to really only talk about Australian works here that I find similar, and that were either influenced by or influenced The Magic Pudding. Mae Gibbs was an Australian author and illustrator, she's known for her drawings and stories of the gumnut babies Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. The stories came out mostly after The Magic Pudding, but the drawings came out just before, and their Australianess may have influenced Lindsay a little. There's no magic in the stories (other than the anthropomorphic Australian animals), but the mischievous koala Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall may have drawn her inspiration for the character from Bunyip Bluegum. I Can Jump Puddles author Alan Marshall clearly drew on The Magic Pudding for his own Australian fairytale Whispering in the Wind and I can even see the influence of Lindsay's story in the work of Mem 'Possum Magic' Fox.

Because I was unable to locate a photograph of A.R Lloyd I'll cover both author and book together. A. R Lloyd's first name is Alan. He publishes his work for children, like Kine, under the name A.R Lloyd and his more serious adult work, mostly historical non fiction is published under the name Alan.

His children's work is like Richard Adams, about animals in the wild. They look, act and behave like wild creatures, but they interact like humans and have human emotions. Kine is about a weasel, which is odd, the only other person I know to feature weasels as heroes was Garry Kilworth. The book is about one magical summer when the boastful, carefree Kine, meets the pretty Kia, has a litter of his own and with his friend weasels, as well as voles and shrews take on and defeat the escaped mink that are trying to take over his forest. It's quite deeply affecting emotionally and I confess that one section moves me to tears. It's part of the Kine saga, which tells other stories, not just Kine's. Kine is also apparently another term to describe a weasel.

Further and related reading: there are the other two Kine books, Witchwood and Dragonpond, I've read both, but only Kine spoke to me that way. Most of Lloyd's 'fantasy' work relates to animals. He's very like Richard Adams, although he clearly chose to use different subjects. Like Garry Kilworth he used weasels as his heroes, although unlike Kilworth's Welkin Weasels, Lloyd's aren't anthropomorphised, they're similar to Kilworth's mice in The House of Tribes in that respect. There's also elements of William Horwood's Duncton Moles.

Scott Lynch is really the odd man out here. He's certainly the youngest on the list and he'd probably be embarrassed to be included in such company as Ursula Le Guin, well that's what happens when your surname starts with L.

Scott Lynch worked as an occasional game developer and mostly as a firefighter and rescue worker when he got the idea for a book that he would come to call The Lies of Locke Lamora. He belonged to a writing group at the time and decided to post his attempts to write an epic fantasy novel on the internet. I think the site was called something like Adventures of a Newbie Writer.

One of the editors at Gollancz (Simon Spanton) was alerted to the existence of the first chapter online by a member of Scott's writing group. He read it, liked it, asked for more and hey presto best seller. Even Scott says that this was a one in a million chance and does not recommend it as a way to try and get published.

The Lies of Locke Lamora met with much hype and acclaim and sold very well. The sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies hit the streets not that long after and also did brisk business. That's when the author hit a roadblock. The publication date for the 3rd instalment in what had come to be known as the Gentleman Bastard series kept getting pushed back and pushed back. Scott's website and blog went silent. Eventually the news broke that the author himself was dealing with depression.

It took some time and plenty of people speculating that it would never happen, but in 2013 the 3rd book in the series; The Republic of Thieves, did come out, and was well received. We're still waiting on the 4th novel, The Thorn of Emberlain, but the most recent news says it will be out sometime in 2015.

Scott maintains a website: (which seems to change at random and on a whim), he also tweets regularly as @scottlynch78 (I'm not sure who the other 77 are, or if that's a birthdate).

I'm not even going to attempt to review this seriously. I can't. My love for this book is ridiculous. I first picked it up after plenty of buzz and seeing that the 2nd book was out, so I wasn't going to be left hanging off the edge of an enormous cliff for years (yes, I am looking at you George R.R Martin!). I started it on the way back to work and by the end of the first page I was totally hooked. The whole thing was like a shot of nitro glycerine to the brain. After finishing it, I closed it, flipped it and reread it again. I can't remember the last time I did that. I've read it something like 15 times. Every time I find something new to discover. My battered old paper back remains one of my most treasured books because I was lucky enough to meet and speak to Scott at Worldcon on 2014 and get him to sign and personalise it. I'd have to say that its my favourite book of all time, regardless of genre.

Further and related reading: unfortunately there's not a lot. The Lies of Locke Lamora is fairly self contained, part of why I broke my rule of not including unfinished series in here, but if you like it, you will want to read on. Red Seas Under Red Skies adds pirates into the mix and the more recent The Republic of Thieves continues the adventures of the world's most likeable conman. Scott has a few short stories out, I can personally recommend A Day in Old Theradane from the Rogues anthology, and while he hasn't stated it, I can see it as being a sort of prehistory to the world in the Gentleman Bastards series. He also has some of a pulp science fiction novel he started serialising as a form of therapy online. The Queen of the Iron Sands, it may still be on his website.

When recommending Scott, people tend to recommend the usual suspects: George R. R Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Pat Rothfuss, etc... I don't think they have anything in common to be honest, other than that they all write epic multi volume fantasy. The city of Villjamur in Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur put me in mind of Lynch's setting of Camorr in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Lynch himself was quite heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber's stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and that's quite obvious when you read them.

Next week onto the M's, that should be fun.

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