Thursday, December 31, 2020

Influential Books And Authors

So there's a thing going around about influential writers, and I thought that I would give it a stab. I was going to write this up as a Facebook post, but it turned out longer than I thought and posting to my mostly unused blog also means that I can share it more places than just Facebook.

Few things have influenced me quite as much as the Beat writers: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Ginsburg and Burroughs were my introduction to queer literature, and Burroughs showed me that SF writing can be a tool to get at political and social issues. Kerouac just opened up the world, and like a modern William Blake his visions illuminated the world.

John Dos Passos was a turn of the (previous) century author who turned me on to experimental writing, and his works are hauntingly modern and presaged the works of J.B. Ballard. Track down a copy of The 42nd Parallel. It is worth it.

With poetry my tastes are often Imagist, but the Romantics can make a strong showing as well. William Blake was an amazing poet, who likely suffered from mental illness, but was a better fantasist than many fantasy writers. T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and "The Lovesong of J. ALfred Prufrock" have influenced my gaming, my design work and even my world view at times. William Carlos Williams would have loved the shortness and precision of Twitter, I think. He was a Doctor who wrote his poetry on the backs of prescription pads in between visits to patients in their homes. "This Is Just To Say" is so much better than "The Red Wheelbarrow." Of course Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton are must read American poets. Other must read American poets include Amiri Baraka, Gregory Corso and Diane Di Prima.

Jorge Borges and Gabriel GarcĂ­a Marquez should be read by everyone, although it might be too soon for a read of Love In The Time of Cholera. Borges' Ficcones is brilliant, and his work as an editor and anthologist brought to my attention a number of writers that I probably would not have otherwise read.

Borges brings me to Michael Moorcock, because Moorcock was a huge fan of his work as well. Stories by Borges would influence a number of Moorcock's works. He is my favorite fantasy author, and probably one of my favorite authors overall. But as much as I enjoy his fantasy writing, he really came alive for me in his later period when he became more of a Romantic writer (in the classic sense), and you started to see more of an influence of writers like Blake, Percy Shelley and Byron on his writing. There was always a pretty strong Byronic influence on Moorcock's writing, though. I don't think that we would have gotten the sundry Eternal Champion characters without Lord Byron. His fingerprints are all over Moorcock's work at all stages of his life. This is also what makes having a grounding in literature so important. Yes, you can read all of the genre classics, but those genre classics were often inspired by more than just other genre writers.

Moorcock was also my passage into the British New Wave of science fiction and fantasy writing. As much as I enjoy cyberpunk literature, the New Wave writers will always have a bigger place in my heart. Plus, without the British New Wave we wouldn't have had cyberpunk anyway. The science fiction establishment was still recovering from the New Wave when cyberpunk came rumbling over the hill in the late 70s and early 80s. I don't think that there is a science fiction writer as good as J.G. Ballard. The movies of Crash and High Rise, while good, don't hold water for the original novels, and works like The Island and The Atrocity Exhibition are ground breaking and mind blowing. Like Burroughs, Ballard's influences would extend out of the worlds of writing and extend into film and music. If you can find a copy of Judith Merrill's England Swings SF anthology, it is well worth getting. Besides the various New Worlds anthologies, it covers a lot of the bright lights of the British New Wave, and writers like Pamela Zoline, Angela Carter (who was really only passing through the New Wave) and John Brunner. John Brunner is probably one of the most influential SF writers that you've never read. Harlan Ellison's groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions also covered the New Wave, and the American Auxiliary of authors like Philip Jose Farmer as well.

Yeah, cyberpunk. Gibson and Sterling and Rucker and Shirley and Shiner are all awesome, but my favorite is still Pat Cadigan's Synners. That and Lewis Shiner's Deserted Cities of the Heart are the literature of the 1980s for me (along side of Brett Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero, as big of a dick as he became).

The trinity of paranormal romance fiction for me are Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series, Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom books and Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson books. If "trinity" meant four, then I would include Gail Carringer's Parasol Protectorate books as well. One thing that geeks really need to get over is the idea that romance books are only for women. If there's one thing that I've faced the most pushback for from nerds over the years, it would be my loving paranormal romance fiction. The genre has become for me what most standard fantasy fiction is for a lot of other gamers and geeks.

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg, and doesn't even go into my love of comic books. Without the influence of comic book super-heroes (and my mom), I wouldn't fight for the causes that I fight for today. We are, each of us, a big tangle of influences. The things that we read. The movies and television shows that we watch. The music that we listen to. All of these are factors that inspire and influence other aspects of our lives.