Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Joshua Bilmes
In this series, I ask various publishing professionals (including authors, bloggers, editors, agents etc.) to recommend 2-3 authors or books they feel haven’t received the recognition they deserve.
Today’s recommendations are by Joshua Bilmes. Joshua is the president of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which he founded in 1994. He has been a literary agent for over 27 years, having made his professional debut at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency in 1986. His client list includes a large number of SFF authors including Charlaine Harris, Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Moon, and Jim C. Hines. He also blogs about the business, movies, tennis and more.
Here are three authors off of the JABberwocky list with a book or books that I would consider to be under-appreciated at the moment.
- I want to start off by talking about Tanya Huff‘s The Silvered. Tanya’s written a lot of novels, but this is one of her very, very best, and even more than that, it’s something that’s fresh and distinct in a genre that often can’t be called either. It’s got werewolves, but not like what we’re used to. This isn’t a horror novel with a few werewolves threatening human society. It’s not even a werewolf novel set amidst a group of werewolves within the world as we know it. Those would be too easy! And when I say it’s set in an entire werewolf culture created by Tanya herself, that doesn’t mean what you’d think it means from all the other werewolf novels you’ve read. It’s a world where men are from werewolf warrior genes and women are from magery, the men and the women both powerful in their own right and yet mutually dependent on one another. Within that world, the plot itself has lots of things that will be familiar and welcoming to fantasy readers. The ruler of the neighboring kingdom is trying to fulfill a prophecy. The perilous journey that Mirian and Tomas embark on in the novel hearkens back to other work, including the male/female interplay of Sing the Four Quarters (another of Tanya’s very best books) or of the classic quest journey of The Fire’s Stone. At no point can the familiar ingredients be entirely separated from the overall freshness and imaginative conceptualization of the world itself. This is a story that could only be taking place in this book at this time. If you like fantasy, you ought to be reading this novel. If you’re reading this novel, you’ll be recommending it. It almost suffers from “just” being one of the very best novels from an author who’s written so many really good ones.
- Switching gears a bit, the next book I’ll recommend is a nuts-and-bolts piece of science fiction called Infoquake and the other novels in the Jump 225 trilogy by David Louis Edelman. Back before Apple came up with the idea of an app store for the iPhone, David Louis Edelman came up with the idea of an app store for the human mind. Buy enhancements for your eyesight or other intriguing things and plug ‘em in! A lot of the things that came along with the Apple app store were also anticipated by Edelman. The eye focuses on the best-selling apps, so it’s very important to become a best-seller or to be first out with a particular something. Against that backdrop, somebody’s playing around with a very powerful new app, both for what it can do and for the computing power it requires. It’s called Multi-Real, and it’s an app that can run through versions of the future like a chess computer looking at the different outcomes of different moves, and find its way to the future. A lot of people want to own the app, in both senses of the word — as buying it for themselves or being the one it has to be purchased from. People in both business and government. There isn’t a full appreciation of the impact of having this much processing power going to run through so many versions of the future for so many people at the same time. Hence, whomever owns the app has the power to do a lot of danger. These novels are full of action, ideas, political intrigue, and much much more. When Infoquake came out, it got a lot of attention and made a lot of Best-of-Year lists and award ballots. But in the half dozen years since all of that, the series has kind of fallen off the radar, and it shouldn’t. These are books as eerily predictive of technological advancement as William Gibson’s Neuromancer. You should be reading these books now, and people ought to still be reading the Jump 225 trilogy another dozen years from now.
- Finally, if it’s possible to consider an international best-selling author to be under-appreciated, I’d make that case for Peter V. Brett. And it all has to do with his covers. In fact, if you’re ever wondering if covers make a difference, if covers sell books, Peter V. Brett and his Demon Cycle series answer that question. His last book was #3 on the British bestseller lists, #5 on the German lists, and “only” #19 on the US lists, and it’s because of the cover.
Peter wrote this great first novel called The Warded Man (Painted Man in the UK). As a rule, people who pick up the book like it a lot, and they eagerly wait for the author’s next book, and they tell all their friends, and it’s the kind of thing from which bestsellers are made as they’ve been here. But the biggest job a publisher might have is to get people to pick up the book in the first place. In the UK and Germany, the publishers did a really good job of that. If you look at the original hardcover cover for the Del Rey edition in the US, not so much. It was a cover by committee, with a realization that it wasn’t a great fantasy cover, so fantasy ingredients kept being added in, but it never quite worked. Ultimately, the publisher realized this and switched to the better UK covers and/or UK cover artist for the next books in the series, and sales in the US started to pick up a lot when they did so. Strange, isn’t it? The same book, but with a different cover it all of a sudden starts selling like it’s got different words inside! So I don’t have a time machine to go back and put a great cover on the first US edition of The Warded Man. I can’t do that, but I figured I’d use my soap box here to try and make up for it!
But I don’t want to just be talking about a great first novel from commercial terms. And creatively, what makes Peter’s Demon Cycle work? To go full circle some, it’s not dissimilar to what makes Tanya Huff’s The Silvered work so well. He’s got a lot of ingredients from other great fantasy series. Good magic system and kick-ass good fight scenes and epic scope and rich world-building. But a lot of fantasy writers who usually have that are doing it within the very familiar same-old same-old fantasy worlds that we’ve been in. The demon magic in Peter’s universe isn’t that same-old. More important, the magic has real implications for how people act in the world itself, so when you’re spending time in the world you know you’re spending time in Peter’s world, and not in Tolkien’s. Pretty much all of these things could be said of Tanya Huff’s The Silvered as well. Tanya and Peter are very different authors. Tanya’s a little more the romanticist as you think of it in a romance novel, while Peter is maybe a little more the capital “R” Romanticist. What both share is the ability to deliver the things readers want in unexpected, fresh and inspiring ways. The Silvered should be talked about as much as Peter V. Brett.
Stay tuned for the next post where we learn whom Violette Malan thinks we should be reading more of!
Filed under: Recommended Reading by Professionals
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