Friday, June 12, 2015

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (S)

I think maybe because I seemed to have so many favourites that started with A and B that I thought other letters would follow suit, so I'm little bit surprised when it doesn't work out that way, so for S I only came up with 2 and a half. I'll explain how the half works later on.

Robert Silverberg is the elder statesman of the SFF world these days and he's been greatly awarded for his craft (although has never won the Hugo for best novel). He looks rather like a distinguished Shakespearean actor, and having been fortunate enough to meet him once and hear him speak a few times, he has the voice to match the image, he also gives some of the funniest speeches at the Hugos.

He's best known and recognised for science fiction, which makes up the vast majority of his extensive catalog, and although his Majipoor series takes place on another planet, so could possibly be classified as planetary romance, most people regard it as fantasy.

In some ways Robert Silverberg is also responsible for giving the world George RR Martin's Dunk and Egg stories. The first of those 'The Hedge Knight' first appeared in the Silverberg edited Legends anthology and the second was in Legends II.  The Legends anthologies were as much as anything the idea behind the recent anthologies Warriors, Dangerous Women and Rogues, edited by George RR Martin and his good friend Gardner Dozois.

Robert Silverberg still regularly appears at conventions and the like, but is not as active or as prolific as before. His last publication was a collection of short fiction in 2014.

A friend loaned me Lord Valentine's Castle when I was a teen and I found it one of the most interesting fantasies I'd ever read. This was adult fantasy that was unlike anything I had encountered before. It takes place on a planet that has apparently been conquered a long time ago by humans and other space faring races. As colonists tend to do they've paid scant regard to the original inhabitants and those chickens are going to go home to roost. It's quite a swashbuckler, too and owes more than a passing nod to things like Sabatini's Scaramouche. The titular character has had his memory wiped and doesn't know that he's supposed to be the ruler of the planet, for much of the book he thinks that he's exactly what he appears to be; an itinerant juggler. It's wonderful melding of science fiction and fantasy, it delves into mind control, the evils of colonisation and imperialism, yet it never flags or preaches and moves along at the sort of clip befitting any good old fashioned adventure story.

Further and related reading: there's Silverberg's back catalog, which just in terms of novels along numbers in excess of 70, before including the Majipoor novels, those number at 8 with the publication of Tales of Majipoor in 2013. Like I said Lord Valentine's Castle at times put me in mind of Scaramouche, which is not fantasy. Valentine is a performer and travels across Majipoor with a troupe of jugglers. That element may have been homaged by Robert Jordan in some of his Wheel of Time novels where a handful of characters take refuge with a travelling show.

The lady above is Caroline Stevermer, and she's my half. Along with fellow writer Patricia C. Wrede

she was responsible for a delightfully daffy little book called Sorcery & Cecelia.

As well as that particular series she's also done a Ruritanian fantasy romance the Galazon series, and done historical work for the young adult market. She doesn't publish a lot, but she does try to change things up frequently.

Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot is the first of the Cecy and Kate books, about a pair of cousins living in an alternate Regency world where magic works. The book began life as a version of the letter game, with the two authors taking on a character and writing letters back and forth as if they were those characters. As a result the book is told in an epistolary form. It's probably aimed at a YA audience, but it is so delightfully done that it's hard for audiences of any age to not get something out of it. Possibly because of this epistolary approach I never found any of the faux Austenish language at all gimmicky or forced, it came across as very natural. There were further books in the series. The sequel was written in the form of the two cousins diaries as they went on the Grand Tour and the 3rd readopted the epistolary approach and included extra viewpoint characters. It's a lovely vision of a world not all that different from our own, and it is a delight to read.

Further and related reading: Caroline Stevermer is quite well regarded for the Galazon series, which is not all that dissimilar in theme to the Cecy and Kate books. Regency themed books with fantasy are all the rage these days and this was one of the first of them. Mary Robinette Kowal has just completed her Glamourist Histories, which are on that theme and one half of Emma Newman's Split Worlds series is set in a world inhabited by faeries who never seem to have progressed past the late 18th century. Susannah Clarke's award winning Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is also set in an alternate Regency England with magic, but I found the language of the time in that forced and gimmicky, which was not the case at any time with the Cecy and Kate books.

Although Jonathan Stroud has been writing work for young adults and younger readers since the mid 90's, he really came to prominence with the publication of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first of his Bartimaeus series in 2003. Two further Bartimaeus books followed that, and then he moved into the world of standalones before returning to add a fourth Bartimaeus book in 2010. His early work as an editor taught him a lot about structure and the industry in general. He's currently working on the Lockwood and Co series, which is a group of horror influenced mysteries aimed at younger readers. That's already had 2 books out and a 3rd is due this year.

The Amulet of Samarkand was an intriguing book. It was aimed at younger readers, but it drew in a wider audience. It too was set in an alternate England where magic worked, the people with the power were magicians. It had two main characters, the young apprentice wizard Nathaniel and the 5,000 year old djinn Bartimaeus, who Nathaniel summons to help him out with his studies. The style is very interesting. It's written in both 3rd and 1st person from two PoV's, all of Nathaniel's chapters are written in 3rd person and Bartimaeus' chapters are in 1st person, which allows the author to use the genie's highly sarcastic and often amusing viewpoint. It was done so seamlessly that I was more than halfway through the book before I even really picked up on it. Nathaniel's story is covered in the first 3 books, which is why they're called a trilogy, and he later wrote a standalone story about Bartimaeus alone before he came into Nathaniel's service. Funny, suspenseful and clever, can't recommend this highly enough.

Further and related reading: there are the other 3 Bartimaeus books, but for some reason the two sequels in the original trilogy never quite hit the heights of the first one for me, and I felt the 4th was an attempt to milk a concept that was largely done and didn't need to be revisited. Aside from the 4 Bartimaeus books Jonathan Stroud has Lockwood and Co (currently up to 3 books) and 17 other books, some aimed at very young readers, and seems to have largely confined himself to the YA and middle grade market since The Amulet of Samarkand. Again parts of this series put me in mind Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell as well as the Cecy and Kate books. The whole idea of using a genie as a major character summons up the Arabian Nights and that in turn made me think of Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis' Rose of the Prophet series.

Next week T and when you use the letter T and fantasy authors in conjunction we all know what that means.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that Regency times seem to lend itself so well to the insertion of magic. The Cecy & Kate books are great, the first is definately the best though.
    The Glamourist Histories are great, and are probably my favourites of the magic Regency stories.