Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Mark L. Van Name

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 Mark L. Van Name. The CEO of a marketing and technology assessment firm, Mark L. Van Name has written five Jon & Lobo SF novels (One Jump Ahead, Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back), numerous short stories, and edited three anthologies. He’s also a spoken word artist.



I debated for some time whether to use this opportunity to try to highlight forgotten gems or focus on new writers deserving of your time, but in the end I surrendered to my feelings and decided to highlight three writers whose work I am passionate about.

  1. Though he’s a New York Times bestselling writer whose works have won a slew of mystery awards, James Lee Burke is still not only underappreciated, but also underappreciated as a fantasist. His Dave Robicheaux series stands as one of the greatest achievements in series fiction and indeed in all of fiction. Though the books sit in the mystery sections of bookstores, Robicheaux’s views of the world and of time itself carry a distinctly fantastic tone, with the dead and the living sharing our existence, only the sheerest of curtains separating them. The books’ settings, particularly those in Louisiana, are at once both perfectly realized renderings of our very real world and landscapes as alien to most of us as the surface of any distant planet. His prose is a joy to read and lyrical beyond the abilities of all but the very best of us. You cannot go wrong reading any of these novels, though as you might expect I recommend starting with the first, The Neon Rain.
  2. Alfred Bester is a giant in our field, a man whose influence is hard to overstate and whose best works in the 1950s set a standard that few have surpassed. Ignore his comeback fiction and focus on his output from the fifties, and you will see a body of work that is stunning in its intensity and range—and that still holds up superbly, though much fiction from that period does not. His two major SF novels, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, are amazing works that repay repeated re-reading. His short pieces from that decade are also consistently strong and often amazing. I’m not one of those people who believe there is anything we all must do to claim to be SF fans; if you think you are, you are. I do, though, feel that if you consider yourself any sort of fantasy or SF fan, there’s a good chance you’ll be glad you gave Bester your time.
  3. My understanding is that his works sell far better in the UK than in the US, and I admit to having no idea how well he does in Canada, but even if he’s topping the bestseller lists everywhere and lighting cigars with hundred-pound notes, Nick Harkaway deserves more success. His two novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, are amazing achievements, singular books unlike each other and distinctly different from anything else you’re likely to have read. I won’t try to summarize them, because no summary will do justice to either; I simply encourage you to give them a go. I will warn that for some readers I know, Harkaway’s work took a while to stick, but I believe you’ll find they are worth that initial investment. (I did not have that problem with either book; each charmed me right from the get-go.) Spend some time in one of Harkaway’s worlds, and our own reality will, when you return to it, vibrate with just that little bit of oddness that is part of the hangover we experience when we return from the very best fantasies.

Stay tuned for the next post where we get more reading recommendations!

If you’re a book professional and you’d like to participate in this column, email jessica at jessica.strider [at] gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Recommended Reading by Professionals…with Mark L. Van Name”

  1. Can’t go wrong with either James Lee Burke or Alfred Bester. The Stars My Destination is a book I’ve read at least 4 or 5 times. His collected short fiction is also very good.
    Never read Harkaway yet. Will add him to my TBR list. By the way, he is the son of John Le Carre.

  2. I’ve learned 3 things about Nick Harkaway this week:

    1. I should not keep his books lingering in the to-read pile much longer;
    2. With apologies to GRRM, “the seed is strong”
    3. He has a new book, “Tigerman”, coming in May (UK) and July (US)

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