Sunday, May 10, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (M)

I initially thought the M's were going to be disappointing in terms of numbers, but then I had a rush of inspiration and the list climbed rather rapidly. There's also an honourable mention at the end of this one.

Roberta Macavoy, or R. A Macavoy (her middle name is Anne) as she tends to be better known was very popular in the 1980's as a fantasy author. She's best known for Tea with the Black Dragon (her debut), and also the book that enabled her to leave her job as a computer programmer and devote herself to writing full time.

The same year that she published Tea with the Black Dragon she also began a trilogy set in a sort of renaissance Italy, the book was Damiano's Lute and it was followed by Damiano and Raphael.

The Book of Kells followed the Damiano Trilogy and where Damiano was an artist, The Book of Kells was about the famous Irish manuscript. The Book of Kells is a beautifully illuminated manuscript, it's the gospel and Damiano also had strong religious undertones, with the third book being about the archangel Raphael.

There was a big gap in her writing between 1993 and 2005. Her work post 1993 seems to have been aimed at younger readers and she hasn't published anything new since 2011.

I adored the Damiano books when I first read them. I read them before Tea with the Black Dragon, and while that too was an excellent book, I preferred the Damiano ones. The first two books follow the sensitive musician and artist Damiano. He's a real renaissance man, and the books are very much set in Italy during that time, although the reader suspects that the world is not quite real, as not everyone's dog could talk (and a cheeky little thing it is too), nor did they have conversations with their guardian angel, who did turn out to be real and was the focus of the 3rd book. They're a wonderful look at the genre before it became obsessed with assassins and thieves. They make you long for those days back again.

Further and related reading: while Tea with the Black Dragon and it's sequel (Twisting the Rope) are very different to Damiano, they're still well worth reading. I couldn't get into The Book of Kells, something about it just didn't grab me, although thematically it has something in common with the Damiano trilogy and I never tried what Macavoy wrote afterwards.

Religion was a popular topic to write about at the time. Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books deal with this, although I've never actually read them. Clive Barker's Weaveworld deals with fallen angels, and they've become a popular UF protagonist, especially in Tad Williams' recent Bobby Dollar trilogy.

Alan Marshall - May 2, 1904 - January 21, 1984. Australian author Alan Marshall is best known for the autobiographical work I Can Jump Puddles, which was followed by two sequels (This Is the Grass and Mine Own Heart). The first book was highly praised and the entire trilogy was adapted into a 9 part TV series in the 1980's. Those books, especially the first one deal with the author's childhood and how contracting polio affected his life. He also wrote an extensive amount of short stories and tended to write for younger readers. He makes this list because of a marvellous whimsical Australian fairy tale, but his descriptive powers were awe inspiring. I once read a short story of his about 2 young girls and their dog crossing a busy suburban street somewhere in Australia in the 1950's and it remains to this day one of the best short stories I have ever read, despite the subject's seeming mundanity.

This one simply doesn't get enough attention, it's not even that well known in Australia. It's a pure fairy tale, it even has the old young farm boy goes to rescue captured princess trope at it's heart. Accompanying the gallant young Peter on his quest to rescue a princess, kept captive in a tower by a dangerous bunyip (we don't have dragons in Australia, we've got bunyips, they're far more effective), accompanied by his horse that can outrun the rain, a kangaroo that can pull anything she or Peter need out of her pouch and also given occasional help by the wind and the canny old stockman Crooked Mick, who proves to be especially useful during the Lying Contest. It has everything a good fairy tale needs and then some. A true shame that more people don't know about it.

Further and related reading: There are Marshall's many other works. I Can Jump Puddles and it's sequels are easily available and I'm sure there are collections of his short work. The stories which are often about Australia and the bush may contain clues as to the inspiration behind Whispering in the Wind.

It's a fairy tale and there are plenty of those to choose from as well as the many reworkings. It does in some parts remind me of The Magic Pudding, but that's mostly setting and origin. It follows the famous fairy tale trope and for that particular storyline it's hard to go past Alan Dean Foster's novelisation of the first Star Wars film, replace the bunyip with Darth Vader and you're almost there.

A. Lee Martinez struck the jackpot fairly early. His first published novel Gil's All-Fright Diner won awards and became a best seller. Since 2005 he's gone on to publish 9 other novels. He tends to average one a year. He also runs the gamut of fantasy sub genres and has also dabbled in science fiction. Most of his work tends to veer more toward the comedic side of things, and is more urban fantasy than any other sub genre. In this day and age of the sequel and series, Martinez is remarkable in that not one of his novels is a sequel. Gil's All-Fright Diner kind of cries out for one, but thus far the author has resisted the temptation to do it, although he does have a 3-part short story online, however registration to his forum is required to access it. He's also unusual in that his books are relatively short, many authors seem to think more is better, Martinez doesn't. His most recent book Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest (that title gives you some idea of what his work is like, another doozy is Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain) came out in 2013, so he's probably about due for another release.

I just fell in love with this when I first read it. It takes a bunch of UF tropes and has a whole lot of fun with it. I think at the time I said if you think of Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) from the film Tremors and make one of them into a vampire and the other a werewolf then you've got a pretty good idea of what you're in for in Gil's All-Fright Diner. There's an amorous ghost, complete with ghost dog and a teenage mean girl witch who uses the Necronomicon as a grimoire. Seriously how can it miss? I've seen a few try to hit all the bases like this one, but they tend to fail rather spectacularly. There was talk that this was optioned as a movie and the plan was for Dreamworks to do an animated version, but even the author himself said as recently as 2013 that anyone's guess was as good as his regarding the project.

Further and related reading: there are 9 other Martinez books to choose from. They're all entertaining on different levels. The two closest to the feel of Gil's All-Fright Diner are Monster, about a guy who makes his living capturing and getting rid supernatural type infestations, and Divine Misfortune, about a couple who employ their own personal god without reading the small print.

There are plenty of other comedic fantasy writers, but not many do it quite the same way Martinez does. You can't go past Sir Terry Pratchett for comedic fantasy, but he's nothing like Martinez in either concept or execution. I find that Gail Carriger seems to delight in taking aim at the same UF tropes as Martinez does and making them seem very silly, this is particularly evident in her Parasol Protectorate series. It's a little like a collaboration between P. G Wodehouse and Jane Austen, with some steam punk thrown in, because why not? Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International books, while not intentionally funny most of the time, do have some very amusing ideas: gangsta gnomes, trailer park elves. There is however only one A. Lee Martinez.

After years of writing fanfic and attending conventions and making music, Seanan McGuire finally broke through into the world of mass market publishing in 2009 with the publication of Rosemary and Rue, the first book of the October Daye urban fantasy series (that series is now up to it's eighth book The Winter Long, with the 9th, A Rose Red Chain due out in September of 2015). Rosemary and Rue won Seanan the John W. Campbell award for best new writer at the 2010 Worldcon, she was the first urban fantasy writer to do so. In 2010 she put out 3 books, 2 October Daye's and Feed, the first of a zombie apocalypse trilogy (Newsflesh) under the pseudonym of Mira Grant. in 2012 she started a second urban fantasy series (InCryptid) and that is now up to its 4th book, with a 5th due early join 2016. From the time she first published Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire has kept up an insane publishing schedule. She guarantees 3 books a year: one InCryptid, one October Daye and one under the Mira Grant pseudonym. She also puts out a number of short stories, as well as working on music and a podcast. Up until 2014 she did this and held down a full time job. She regularly publishes free fiction on her website (often a story about her superhero Velveteen, two collected books of Velveteen fiction have also been released, or background for the InCryptid series, very occasionally something related to Toby). There have been a couple of standalone short fiction collections: Indexing and Sparrow Hill Road (although Sparrow Hill Road shares a universe with InCryptid). She keeps a very active presence on Twitter and Livejournal and her OCD forces her to attempt to reply to every single comment left there, unless she declares a comment amnesty.

I'm a big fan of McGuire's (did it show?), so I was always going to include her in here, it was just what to include. I do like the Toby Daye's, but they're not quite like the Dresden Files in the way they're constructed, and it's the same with the InCryptid's. I went with Sparrow Hill Road. Rose Marshall began her life as the Pretty Little Dead Girl in a song that Seanan wrote and performed. She then wrote 12 short stories about the dead girl who travelled the highways of the afterlife and guided others to their rest. These were published one a month on the website Edge of Propinquity. I always thought that they'd make a really good book all collected together, obviously so did the Powers that Be at DAW. Sparrow Hill Road is those 12 short stories cleaned up, reordered and given a linking thread, with one added to make it into a baker's dozen, or lucky thirteen. Rose's story is remarkably affecting, she made me laugh and cry, occasionally at the same time. She's the realest ghost I've ever encountered.

Further and related reading: I covered most of what else Seanan has done or does. The InCryptid books are particularly related to Sparrow Hill Road, because they share a universe. None of the InCrytpid family actually feature in Sparrow Hill Road, but they do occasionally mention Rose, who I think the younger members of the family refer to as Aunty Rose.

Ghosts are becoming more popular in fiction these days, but they're still not really making it as major characters in books overall. Gail Carriger includes them peripherally in her books, mostly in the Parasol Protectorate. They featured quite heavily in the Harry Potter books, especially Moaning Myrtle. The only one that made them major characters was the criminally underrated and often forgotten Thorne Smith in his Topper series.

China Mieville burst onto the scene in 1998 with King Rat and was almost immediately anointed the high priest of the New Weird, even if no one seems to be able to quite agree on exactly what New Weird is. I think the title came about with Perdido Street Station. Mieville himself has a stated intention of wanting to write a book in every genre possible, and he's gone a long way to achieving that aim. For that reason you're never quite sure what you're going to get with a Mieville book, although you can guarantee that it probably won't be what you expected. He's quite well beloved of those who nominate and vote for the various SFF awards with Locus' and Hugo's in his trophy cabinet as well as nominations for any genre award you care to name. Mieville is quite well known for his Socialist political views and even ran unsuccessfully for the House of Commons in the British 2001 elections. He's quite active online and keeps up a prolific publishing schedule, although 2016's The Census Taker will be his first published novel since 2012's Railsea.

I attempted to read Embassytown some years ago when it was nominated for the Hugo and it turned into a DNF for me. It wasn't that it was a bad book as such, just that I couldn't connect with it on any level. I was told that it wasn't the best of Mieville's works to begin with, and I eventually found my way to Perdido Street Station. I won't say it's an easy read, because it isn't, but my God it's good. You occasionally hear someone say that their mind is blown by a particular book, it doesn't happen often to me, but Perdido Street Station did that. The depth of imagination and sheer oddness of the world it presents is astonishing. For me it's become one of those must read novels if you're into the genre at all. I don't think you can attempt to have a true understand of what fantasy can do and can be if you've haven't at least attempted to read Perdido Street Station, it is that good. It seems to be the most popular of all Mieville's works and he's released The Scar and The Iron Council, which are part of the Bas-Lag (the setting) series. All his other work is standalone.

Further and related reading: aside from the aforementioned other Bas-Lag books, Mieville has plenty to choose from in his standalone catalog from his debut King Rat which is a kind of urban fantasy in a similar vein to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere to Railsea, a dystopian young adult offering. There's a number of things in between, Un Lun Dun, Kraken, The City and the City and Embassytown. They run the gamut of styles and genres.

I found some of the same elements in Mark Charan Newton's Nights of Villjamur as was in Perdido Street Station, and Mark Charan Newton may have drawn inspiration from Mieville. Up until reading Perdido Street Station I thought that Clive Barker had the creation of an alien world to himself in Weaveworld and then Imajica, Mieville knocks him into a cocked hat. People keep saying they want alien cultures and diversity in their fantasy, they need to try Perdido Street Station.

In 2011 a book called The Night Circus hit the shelves and became an instant world wide best selling success. I'm still not sure if Erin Morgenstern is a pen name or her real name. It just conjures up images of the fictional author of The Princess Bride. Before landing a deal with her current literary agency, Erin Morgenstern and The Night Circus had been rejected by over 30 agencies. It really does make one wonder exactly how much they know, or what they're looking for in an author and a work. To date The Night Circus is Morgenstern's only published novel, although she does write a lot of short work and publishes it online for free. She's also been a participant in National Novel Writing Month since 2003, and what became The Night Circus started as a Nanowrimo project in 2005.

Isn't that an absolutely gorgeous cover? I will admit that the cover was what originally attracted me to this book, it's since been rereleased with something bland and hideous that wouldn't have ever caught my attention, however in the same shop I did see the original cover only it was shelved in the YA section for some reason. After seeing that cover I heard some buzz and eventually picked up and read the book. I was entranced from start to finish. The story moves in and out over the history of an extraordinary magic circus and dips in and out of the lives of it's performers and even it's audience over that period. The descriptions are so good and so real that you're surprised to realise that the things described within it's pages never actually existed. Reading The Night Circus is like having an extraordinarily vivid dream, and there's a tangible sense of loss when you turn the last page and realise that it's time to wake up.

Further and related reading: for more of Erin Morgenstern's work you can try her website which has a lot of her short fiction, although it's not all related to the novel. In fact I think very little of it is.

Despite circuses being so popular in fiction they don't often feature in fantasy. There's Charles Finney's The Circus of Dr Lao, the circus in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn and there were a few books in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series where a group of protagonists joined a travelling show. There's also Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle, where the protagonist travels across his world, masquerading as a juggler with a troupe of performers.

Honourable mention: I'm sure there are people reading this and asking where is George R.R Martin? His name starts with M, doesn't it? Are you some sort of philistine that doesn't like A Song of Ice and Fire? Have you been living under a rock and never heard of Game of Thrones. Well, yes, no and no.

There's George, wearing his trademark sailor's cap, and there's a collection of his phenomenally popular epic fantasy series. I do quite like A Song of Ice and Fire and the HBO show that is based on it. I've been reading it since 1996 when the first book came out. I've gone through all the angst around when the next book in the series is coming out. I have a signed copy of A Dance With Dragons. I met George at Worldcon in 2010 and was lucky enough to have a chat with him. So with all this and obvious affection for him as an author and given that he kind of started the ball rolling with grim dark being on every publisher and agent's wish list, why didn't he get a start on my list?

George didn't just write A Song of Ice and Fire. He's got a body of work behind him before anyone had read the word Westeros. There's the long running shared world series of Wild Cards, which was his brainchild and something that he still edits and occasionally contributes too, and there's his vampire classic Fevre Dream, and his children's story The Ice Dragon. However, while I have my own feelings on those (I've never been able to fathom the appeal of Wild Cards and I liked Fevre Dream, but I didn't love it) I couldn't include him for anything other than A Song of Ice and Fire, and it's not like The Lies Of Locke Lamora, in that it was self contained. A Song of Ice and Fire is one book, broken into however many volumes it takes the author to tell the story, as yet it is incomplete and therefore my opinion of its quality may change. He deserves a mention for what he done for the genre, but I can't put him among the best until he finishes the series and the rest lives up to the first five.

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