We asked our respondents about must-buy authors
This is what they said…
For the sake of this Mind Meld, I’m going to pretend that I’m filthy, dirty rich and can afford to buy ALL THE THINGS.
Here we go:
On the urban fantasy front: Alex Bledsoe, Stephen Blackmoore, and ML Brennan.
Bledsoe has yet to disappoint me, and I am absolutely in love with his Tufa series. He makes the music come alive through his prose, and the characters are beautifully drawn. With a deft touch, he shows rural life in all its complexity.
On Blackmoore and Brennan, I would have both of these authors on my pull list for the same reasons. Their books contain the two things I adore: witty, dark characters and fast-paced adventures. Both authors have wonderful pacing and know just when and how deeply to subvert a trope. I think they’re evil twins who were separated at birth.
Graphic novels: Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga series, and Hub’s Okko series. Saga is just plain fun. Okko has ninjas, samurai, ghosts, and demons and is just marvelously drawn and wondrously told. I’ve loved all the cycles published so far.
Fantasy: Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Patricia McKillip, Courtney Schafer, and Mazarkis Williams. Abercrombie and Lawrence write the kind of darker epic fantasy that I love. I shouldn’t have to justify Patricia McKillip to anyone, but if you love dark fairy tales told in beautiful prose, McKillip is your author. Schafer’s work is for when I’m in the mood for a lighter tale. Williams’ prose style and storytelling makes me think of Eastern literature.
Horror: I saved the best for last. My pull list includes: Christopher Buehlman, Sarah Pinborough, Andrew Pyper, and Robert McCammon. I know Tanith Lee died this spring, but she has always been on my pull list and always will be: first out of respect for her great body of work, and second, because I hope that more of her stories will be found and published.
My buy-on-sight list of F & SF authors starts with Lois McMaster Bujold. I came to her writing somewhat late, about eight years ago, starting with what is still my favourite LMB, The Curse of Chalion, falling in love with Cazaril and LMB’s writing at the same time. Her characterisation is superb. I read her whole backlist in a delightful reading binge, starting with her early fantasies. I was unsure as to whether I would like the Vorkosigan cycle (other people’s descriptions of Miles didn’t really do the character justice) but Warrior’s Apprentice changed my mind in an instant. I recall Patricia Wrede recommending Miles Vorkosigan when we met at a Milford Conference way back in the late 90s. I should have taken her advice then! Having discovered Miles I read my way through the Vorkosiverse in internal-chronology order, and will buy any new Bujold on the day of publication. The Vorkosigan books have the added advantage of unexpected moments of laugh-out-loud humour to offset the gut-gripping dramatic tension.
Patricia Briggs is next on my list. I’ve read all her books and buy the Mercy Thompson and subsequent spin-off books as they are published. I love Mercy’s character and voice. I debated whether to include Terry Pratchett, because I have all his Discworld books, but I admit to not having bought his Long Earth books, due to time constraints. I have already pre-ordered the last Tiffany Aching book, of course. My favourite Pratchett character is Vimes and my favourite book remains Night Watch, a reminder that Terry was not just a joke teller, but also a master of dramatic tension. RIP, Sir Terry. Karen Traviss, who is a friend from way back, is also on my list. I’ve bought Going Grey, her new near-future thriller, though I haven’t had time to read it yet. I loved her own Wess’har (City of Pearl) books and her Star Wars Republic Commando sequence in which her characterisation is masterful. In the first, Hard Contact, she takes five clone soldiers (the guys in white armour) who’ve all been raised in the same way. They look alike and sound alike, yet within half a page she has five distinct individuals.Tanya Huff has been on my buy-immediately list since my SF-reading friend in Toronto took me to Bakka-Phoenix books in 1994 and recommended the Four Quarters novels. Before I left for home I bought all Tanya’s backlist (pre ebooks). It cost me a small, fortune in excess baggage to get them back to England. They were, of course, worth it.
More recently I’ve added Scott Lynch to my list. His Locke Lamora books are addictive and he’s adept at revealing just a little more information about Locke with each book while holding enough back to make you ache for the next one. Nice technique, Scott. It works! I also love Joe Abercrombie’s books, both the new YA ones beginning with Half a King, and the big door-stop ones full of blood, guts and (what clinches it for me) wry humour of the blackest kind. Lisa Shearin is also great-galloping-fun and I bought her Raine Benares books, starting with Magic Lost, Trouble Found, as they came out and swallowed them whole.
Contemplating new-to-me authors who might well turn into my pull-list authors I would include C.E Murphy, Anne Aguirre, Benedict Jacka, Kevin Hearne, Judith Tarr and Jim Hines. Only lack of time is preventing me from grabbing all of these authors’ backlists. Also I’d like to give a shout out for Genevieve Cogman whose steampunky debut The Invisible Library was intriguing enough to make me look forward to her next one, The Masked City, due in October 2015.
Oh, so many books, so little time. I fit my fiction reading into the time when I’m editing, polishing and proof-reading. I’m a writer because first and foremost I am a reader, but I confess that when I’m deep into writing a first draft of my own I can’t read other people’s fiction. It’s either too close to mine in genre, in which case I worry lest I absorb ideas accidentally, or it’s too far away and therefore distracting. I usually tend to read subject-relevant non-fiction when I’m on a writing binge… and that’s a whole other Mind-Meld topic.
A few years ago something happened to me. Something I had never imagined was even possible. This thing frightened me, it changed my everyday world.
I had trouble reading.
I have been a reader my entire life. Fiction and nonfiction, both. Yet a few years back I couldn’t concentrate on the words. Pages, paragraphs, sentence would slide away from me. Throughout my life I could always find a book to slide into, could always turn to a book for relaxation, for comfort, for entertainment, for education. And now I was finding I could not. I couldn’t make my brain stay with the words.
During this time I found and clung to the few authors whose work I could, for whatever reason, still read. These writers share a quality that I have come to treasure. The quality of sheer readability. The prose is clean and straightforward. The narrative can be complex, but the author is not out to trick the reader. There is no gotcha. Mysteries are explained at the end. Plot threads are woven together crisply and professionally. Characters do things for reasons that are explained to the reader. And those actions, in turn, drive the story in directions that logically follow.
Those writers have won my love and appreciation forever. I pre-order their books as soon as I can.
Seanan McGuire. Mira Grant. T. Kingfisher. Ursula Vernon. Elizabeth Bear. Kerry Greenwood. Those are the authors who got me through the terrible months of not-reading.
Since then, I have been able to read more widely. Yet I find that, for whatever reason, my tolerance for more baroquely-written books is less than it once was. I want the author to show me things and tell me things, not imply things. I want the characters to explain what they think is happening. (They can be liars, or misinformed. That’s fine. But I want them to tell me what they think.) The plot can be complex, with red herrings and dead ends, but I want those labelled. And I want the story to end, with an ending, none of this “YOU decide what really happened!” nonsense.
Writers who do this are a joy and a delight. Peter Clines has made the list recently. As has Naomi Novik and Hugh Howey.
Readability. I treasure this far more than I used to. I love a readable author.
This was a more difficult question than I first thought. Writers that used to be an instant buy for me have moved off my personal pull list. Not through any fault of theirs, but because my taste and focus has shifted. The list has never been very long, and as I discover new writers and new voices, my pull list changes. Those that have held their place for a long, long time have earned the spot again and again.
Rae Carson has a long time place on the list. I’m impatiently waiting for her new book, Walk On Earth A Stranger, to be released. Rae has a way of tackling difficult subjects and reimaging the familiar that very few writers have. Her writing is wondrous and her characters unforgettable.
Elizabeth Bear has been on the list a long time, and I don’t see her dropping off in the foreseeable future. Bear has always been the writer I want to be when I grow up. Her talent continues to deepen and mature, and that belief was cemented with the Eternal Sky series—which left me in tears at the end of the third book—and Karen Memory, which had me grinning like a fool and made me incredibly happy.
Kate Elliott, who proves that not only do women write epic fantasy, they write rich, well crafted and well thought out epic fantasy with amazing characters. I have her The Very Best of Kate Elliott collection sitting on my shelf making big eyes at me right this minute. Her books are an instant buy.
Amanda Downum doesn’t have a lot of books out yet, but each one is a gem. The Drowning City, The Kingdom of Dust, and The Bone Palace were amazing books set in a non-Western world full of ghosts, djinn, ancient vampires and necromancers. Her latest book, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters, is a personal favorite. She tells her stories using beautiful prose and instills each one with a dark vision that wins me over every time.
Robert Jackson Bennett, author of Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, The Troupe, American Elsewhere, and other novels, has been on the pull list for a few years now. I’m a book or two behind at this point, but I will catch up. His books have an undercurrent of humanity, and how fragile we as human beings are, running through them that really really appeals to me. Plus, they might be the weirdest damn books I’ve ever read. In his case, weird is a feature, not a bug. Unique is probably the best word to describe his books.
New writers I’ve added to the pull list:
Fran Wilde asked me to beta read Updraft and the second book in the series, Cloudbound, and now she has to put up with me fangirling her and begging for book three. No spoilers, but you are all going to want these books.
Marie Brennan made her way onto my list with her Lady Trent’s Memoirs series. Dragons—great dragons—and a woman naturalist bucking the norms of her time. What’s not to love?
M.L. Brennan did something I didn’t think possible with her Generation V series: She made me fall deeply in love with urban fantasy again by turning vampire tropes inside out and putting them together in a whole new way. Then she added a smartass kitsune to seal the bargain. I bought the first three books, devoured them, and I’m waiting for the fourth. I’ll read anything Brennan writes.
Stephen Blackmoore is another author who lured me back to urban fantasy with his books Dead Things and Broken Souls. He weaves the mythology of the Southwest, Mexico, and specifically Southern California through his stories about Eric Carter, a man chin deep in ghosts, struggling to hang on to his humanity, and wondering how he ended up married to Santa Muerte, Aztec goddess and patron saint of the dead. Blackmoore brings the L.A. I remember from my childhood alive, yet makes it a new and scary place. Really looking forward to the third book, Hungry Ghosts.
This is a really interesting question for me as it ties into something that I’ve been thinking about recently. When I was younger, this is how I used to read. I would discover a new author or series that I liked and then steadily devour all of their books. My local bookshops and libraries could easily have set up a ‘pull list’ for me. Every time a new Terry Pratchett book came out it was an exciting day. There was no question whether to buy it or not, simply who would read it first, my dad or me. Every Harry Potter book was read and finished on the day it came out. I stormed through A Song of Ice and Fire and bought the new book as soon as it hit the shelf. And there were so many more.
This changed in some ways when I discovered blogging, the exciting whirlwind of new authors, books and blogs and recommendations and Goodreads reading challenges. I had a lot of fun with it, but I did also lose that way that I used to read. And now I want to rediscover this, combining the best of both approaches.
I’m catching up with my pull list again. I’ve finally finished the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding, an absolute favourite. It’ll probably come as no surprise to anyone who’s read it that it’s the author’s talent for creating great characters that has me hooked. They’re so well written; no-one is completely likeable or hateable, and the author shows a deep understanding of each one. Chris Wooding’s stories are exciting, funny, and often surprisingly moving. He’s also one of the few authors that can keep me not only interested but on the edge of my seat in an extended fight scene (again, because they are so character focussed), and who can make me feel genuinely triumphant about a grown man punching a cat.
An author who grabbed me as a young adult was Trudi Canavan, and I raced through first the Black Magician trilogy and then the Age of the Five. I haven’t had a chance to start the Traitor Spy trilogy yet (though they’re sitting on my shelf), so I can’t wait to dive in. Sometimes there are trends in fantasy for more low magic settings, and while I do enjoy those, my main love has always been stories about magic. I consider Trudi Canavan one of the masters of magic. In her books, magic is something powerful but still a little mysterious, and it keeps me coming back for more.
I’m now working my way through Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, something I’ve wanted to do since reading Bitten and being immediately hooked by the voice of the main character. I have to admit, I hadn’t expected a werewolf story to seem so different and compelling. Her writing is exciting and a bit playful, while at the same time there is often a streak of quite macabre horror running through. They’re fun reads, and I’m happy I have plenty more to enjoy.
But it’s not just old favourite authors who I’m looking forward to revisiting. There are new authors making their way onto my ‘pull list’ all the time. After reading the wonderful Split Worlds series, Emma Newman’s books will always be must reads for me. She has such a beautiful way of telling a story, with great attention to detail and character. Emma Newman is another author who gets magic just right. While we’re on the subject of charm and magic, I’ll be seeking out Mary Robinette Kowal’s books in future too. The Glamourist series isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before, combining a historical setting with magic and romance, and a different unique flavour for each story. Then there is Stephanie Burgis, whose Kat Incorrigible series grabbed me instantly. These are such fun children’s books with very memorable characters and a great sense of setting.
Looking in a bit of a different direction, I’m excited about reading more of Joe Abercrombie’s books. Gritty, full of action and bloodshed and people being as nasty to each other as people can be, they have a great undercurrent of humour and some nice twistyturny plotting. I mentioned preferring high magic settings earlier, but one of the big exceptions for me is K. J. Parker. K. J. Parker’s books are clever, surprising and witty, and his world feels so real but also a little different from most other fantasy I’ve read. The books are great for sparking conversation too, which makes them excellent book club choices.
But if I’m in the mood for something with more of a sword-and-sorcery feel, light-hearted but still with high stakes for the characters, then I’m going to look to Jen Williams. Sometimes authors can make it onto my pull list with one book, and The Copper Promise did this for me. Another that managed this was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, a book that surprised me in so many ways. There has been a lot said about this book, of course, but I feel that its genuinely gripping plot and fascinating worldbuilding can’t really be emphasised enough. Both Jen Williams’ The Iron Ghost and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword are waiting on my shelf, calling to me…
There are so many more authors and series I could mention, and some that I haven’t even had a chance to discover yet (Scott Lynch and Patrick Rothfuss are two that spring instantly to mind. This summer, guys, I’m determined!), and, though it might strain my already-sagging bookshelves, I’m hoping that my pull list will only continue to grow.
I love pull lists. It’s like Christmas when I go to the comic book store. Christmas that I have to pay for, naturally, but still. Christmasy.
One of the ways I can tell that a book has me painfully hooked, and that the author has me for life, is when I buy the audiobook to listen to in the car, and when I’m done driving I either grab it from the library or on ebook so I can keep reading. If, for some reason, I buy the book in physical form as well, it’s the trifecta and the author has a permanent place in my mind. So here is the list of those authors I have to read in any form when I can.
Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series got me so excited I will buy anything from her. I still think about Feed and the other books in that universe. I’ve enjoyed NK Jemisin’s worlds in paperback and audio, switching between them, and John Scalzi and Kameron Hurley’s are also found in many places in my home and hard drives.
About the authors whose recent books totally killed me and I’m waiting in a completely non-stalkery-way for whatever they put out next: Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was my favorite book of 2011 and I can’t wait for whatever she publishes next. (I only bought that one once, since Jim Dale’s narration was sublime.) And Station Eleven was the first Emily St. John Mandel book I had ever read, but she’s on my permanent pull list now. I’ll be checking out her back list while I wait for her next book. Station Eleven hit the trifecta as I listened to it, then bought the ebook for when I wasn’t in the car, then grabbed the hardcover as a gift for my mom.
It’s a “grabby hands” feeling, the mad desire to keep reading these books no matter where I am or what I’m doing. If fiction pull lists existed, these authors that make me feel grabby hands would definitely be on them.
I have a confession to make. When it comes to authors, I’m a commitment-phobe. It’s fairly easy to get me to buy one book – a good review, an intriguing concept, a recommendation from a friend. Sometimes I’ll even go to two. But to get me beyond that, to make me auto-by, well, that’s hard. I have no idea why, to tell the truth. Sometimes it’s that an author moves to a sub-genre or style that isn’t quite my thing. Sometimes it’s that the direction they take their plots, or the way their characters evolve doesn’t quite work for me. Sometimes, I love their sf but not their fantasy, or vice versa. Sometimes it’s just drift. It’s rarely the fault of an author: it’s just that there’s something irrational, something indefinable, that happens inside me. I don’t know, exactly, what it is that makes a writer a must-buy: some blend of theme and subject, style and twist and voice and atmosphere. But these must all be there for a writer to make my list, and it’s a fact that my pull-list is short and additions come slowly. Most of my must-buy writers are people I’ve been reading for years: Judith Tarr, Kate Elliott, the late Tanith Lee, Justina Robson, Steven Brust, Nnedi Okorafor. With these writers, and a handful of others, I buy every new book as soon as it appears.
So it terms of recent additions, I find it hard to say. When it comes to writers who debuted this year or last, it’s probably too soon for me to know. But if I can expand ‘recent’ to the last five or six years, then yes, there are a few.
Stephanie Saulter’s debut novel Gemsigns came out in 2013 and I was hooked from the first page. Her worlds are complex, gritty, resonant and utterly convincing, and her characters never stop surprising me with their depth and their resilience. She blends solid science fiction with powerful themes around the concept of what it means to be human – and what it means to be able and real and to control one’s life. Part techno-thriller, part dystopia, part roller-coaster, her books face up to disturbing truths around how we commodify each other and are not afraid to ask searching questions. All this, plus exemplary pace and action. She’s one of the most interesting new voices in sf and I am eagerly awaiting her next book.
Karen Lord’s first novel, Redemption in Indigo, is one of those books I give as a present , because I think everyone should read it. It’s somewhere between fantasy and magic realism; it’s funny, it’s immersive, it’s charming and it’s thought-provoking. It was, I think, the most original book of 2012 and I had looked forward to more in a similar mode. But her next two books were sf – and proved to be equally engaging and immersive and exciting: she can, it seems, turn her hand to any mode and produce something hugely entertaining and interesting. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The next two writers belong together in my head, because I met their work at the same time (2009) even though one of them had been publishing novels for a couple of years before that: Amanda Downum and Violette Malan. Both began their careers as fantasy novelists, though Downum also writes weird fiction, and Malan is a critic of some note. For me, they are the true heirs to that strand of fantasy that is sometimes called Swords and Sorcery, and in particular to the great Fritz Leiber, who is one of the defining authors within the fantasy genre. I love good Swords and Sorcery, but for most of my life no-one has come anywhere near Leiber for quality and depth and atmosphere. Until I starting reading Downum and Malan. They take the sub-genre in different directions. Downum is gritty and twisty, writing characters who are ambiguous and ambivalent and setting up stakes which become personally painful. Malan is playful and cinematic, with characters who feel like personal friends and a strong sense of swashbuckling excitement. Both write the kind of books that settle down right next to where I live and feel like a neighbouring reality. Downum had a new book out earlier this month: I’m anticipating Malan’s next with enthusiasm and no little impatience.
You know, one of the most unexpected challenges I’ve had as a new author is managing my to-read pile. Now that I know firsthand how tough and vital it is for a debut novelist to get exposure and reviews, I feel supremely guilty about picking up the 15th Harry Dresden book – especially when I could use that time to discover an unheard voice.
With that said, I will always, always make room for Mary Doria Russell and Susanna Clarke. Reading The Sparrow and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was such a revelation: I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was to see sci-fi and fantasy stories populated by mature, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate characters – characters who could walk off the page and into real life, or a history textbook, without looking at all out of place. I love the bigger ideas in these authors’ works, and how they use speculative fiction as a lens to examine facets of the human condition that have haunted us for thousands of years. More than anything, though, I love the relentless, uncompromising, warts-and-all humanity of their characters – and I will absolutely line up to buy anything they write.
Probably the newest author on that very short list of mine is J.Kathleen Cheney, who has singlehandedly ruined everything I thought I knew about what a good heroine should be. Writing a female protagonist who’s not snarky, spunky, ass-kicking, gorgeous, OR devastatingly brilliant is tough enough. Writing one who also doesn’t have any crippling plot-relevant flaws must be even tougher – and yet she nails it! Oriana is plain, quiet, loyal, average, and unambitious – but when her mistress is murdered, she decides there is simply nothing for it but to hitch up her skirts (modestly, of course) and track down whoever did it… somehow. (The fact that she’s also a Portuguese fish-lady only further inflames my sensibilities.) Cheney’s first novel, The Golden City, came out less than two years ago, but I am already a fan for life.
For the last five years or so, I have had four authors…or at least four series…on my automatic purchase list:
Jim Butcher: The first and foremost is Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. Of everything coming out, that is what I enjoy the most. I love Harry’s energy, his drive, his humor, and the delightful, amusing, and sometimes heartrending way things play out in his very harried life.
There was a year, a few years back now, when the only fiction I read all year was a Harry Dresden book.
I have not yet read anything else by Butcher, but I hear good things about his fantasy series and his new steampunk series as well.
J.K. Rowling: I am a huge fan of J. K. Rowling, and not just of Harry Potter. I read Casual Vacancy, which I found hard to bear and nearly put down half way though. But I really enjoy the Comorant Strike mysteries, which she publishes under the name of Richard Galbraith. The Cormorant Strike books are hard hitting—they are occasionally too gross or violent for my taste. But the mysteries are very good, and the main characters are engaging and delightful.
I strongly recommend them!
George R.R. Martin: Up until this point, I have bought the Game of Thrones sequels when they have been printed. But I have only read the first three. I have been holding the rest, thinking I would read them when the series was finished.
However, I’ve heard mixed reviews of the latest book…so now I am waiting to hear more about the sixth book, before I decide whether to keep this series on my absolute “to buy” list.
D. B. Jackson: Finally, the last series I’ve been reading and enjoying is D. B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles. This series is a cross between urban fantasy and a historical. They take place in pre-revolution Boston and star a mild-mannered thieftaker, basically what we would think of as a detective, named Ethan Kaille. The stories are an intriguing mix of mystery, history, and magic. Th American Revolution is slowly growing closer, and I am interested to discover how our hero does as he encounters these well-known historical events.
The most recent addition to my pull list is Martha Wells, specifically because of her Raksura series. Those books are basically my catnip, like she reached deep into my brain, rummaged around and then wrote a thing composed entirely of my most dearly-beloved tropes. Dragony-humany shapeshifters! Magical landscapes! Romance layered through cultural and social politics! Forgotten cities! Polyamory! She could write a hundred books in this setting, and I’d never tire of it. My review of the latest volume will go up at A Dribble of Ink later this month, and at a point in my life where, thanks to depression and time constraints, I’m struggling to read anything that isn’t fanfiction, I still wolfed it down in little more than a day, because I had to know what happened next.
Stalwarts of my historical pull list are Kate Elliott, Katharine Kerr and Robin Hobb, who were my holy trinity of favourite writers as a teenager and have remained so ever since. I feel absurdly lucky that, as an adult, I’ve had occasion to meet or chat with all three of them, and despite the old saw about never meeting your heroes, all that’s done is reaffirm exactly how much I love their writing. These are writers I tend to hoard for a rainy day, when I need to read something I know I’ll love, like snuggling into a warm blanket.
Other authors whose books I buy compulsively include Laini Taylor, Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Elizabeth Bear, Lois McMaster Bujold, Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette and Max Gladstone – if one of your books has ever made me cry, there’s a good chance you’re on the list. I love reading about diverse, original, compelling new worlds, and when I can lay my hands on them, I’m a happy camper.
I have a number of auto-buy authors, even though I do have to confess I’m behind on buying some of their books. Anyone who knows anything about my reading habits will know about my long-standing love for anything written by Mercedes Lackey, who is the only author who practically has a bookcase to herself; I own that many of her books. But in recent years I’ve discovered several new authors that have landed on my auto-buy list.
To start off with the only dude on my list: Daniel Polansky. In my opinion Polansky is one of the most underrated authors out there. His writing is amazing and I love the worlds he builds. His Low Town trilogy is fantastic and has the best ending to a series ever. He is currently writing The Empty Throne series and I can’t wait to read the second book Those Below.
Then there is Sarah Lotz. I first encountered her writing through her short fiction written with Louis Greenberg. I absolutely fell in love with their story “We’ll Always Be Here” from The Lowest Heaven anthology. Sarah published her first solo novel last year, the very successful The Three, which I loved in all of its creepy glory. Her latest, Day Four was just published last month and it’s already waiting on my shelf to be read. Sarah manages to insert so much critical social commentary into her writing without ever coming off preachy and she has such a keen eye for human quirks and flaws.
Another author who I fell in love with after reading her first two novels is Lauren Beukes. Her Zoo City and Moxyland blew me away with their plot, world-building and the fantastic characters. I’ve got both of her last two novels, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, in hardcover. I haven’t read them yet, both because I just want to save them for a rainy day and because I have this weird thing were I prioritise review copies over books I bought myself.
The same thing has happened with N.K. Jemisin’s previous series, the Dreamblood duology. I adored her Inheritance trilogy, which was luscious and smart and wonderful. Jemisin creates wonderful characters that have rough edges, but who are fascinating because of it. Also the characterisation of her trickster god Sieh is a thing of beauty. So when her Dreamblood duology was released I couldn’t wait for it especially as I loved Narcomancer, the short story also set in that world. Her next book, The Fifth Season is out in August and I can’t wait to get my hands on that one, though I should probably catch up on the Dreamblood duology first.
Lastly, but in no way least, is Emma Newman. I adore her Split Worlds universe and series. Reading Emma’s writing just makes me happy. Her writing is light and fun, while at the same time addressing serious issues and themes. She turns a mean phrase and her Gargoyle is just brilliant. I can’t wait for her new novel from Roc, Planetfall, which is also her first SF novel.
My pull list is a weird beast. For a lot of years I wouldn’t even refer to myself as a comic fan because, in my mind, “real” comic fans loved the Big Two’s Cape Operas while I was quite happy to let those stories unfold onscreen with only a passing interest in mythos, backstory and decade-long arcs. But then I realized that the simple act of having a pull list made me a comic fan, regardless of was sitting in the bin.
To be honest, a lot of what I’m currently enraptured with was referred to me by SF/F writers. What better endorsement? My pull list consists of the sharp, kick-you-in-the-gut Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro. I’m also really enjoying Marvel’s charming The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl which is irreverent, witty and pretty damn fun. I was also told by Geekomancy author Mike Underwood that I needed to stop everything and read it RIGHT NOW. While not SF/F, Velvet by Ed Brubaker is fantastic and I’ll be forever indebted to Paul Cornell for turning me on to Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country. (I’m easy for spies and these books make me week in the knees.) Of course Titan’s Doctor Who comics are a must. They’re all fantastic but Nick Abadzis’ Tenth Doctor stories are killing it.
I recently added two upcoming titles: This Damned Band by Paul Cornell and The Sheild by Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig to my pull list. Both titles are by writers I really enjoy. I know Paul will do something amazing with his story of a 70’s era band that discovers it is, literally, worshipping the devil. I’ve heard it described as a cross between Spinal Tap and the Ghostbusters. And I’m really looking forward to Adam and Chuck’s reviving this classic character with a gender flip twist.
Truth be told, I don’t really have a pull list for comics, though I do have artists and series that I love. There are definitely some authors who I read a lot of, but my reading choices tend to be based on specific standalones or series, rather than every book a given author writes. Sometimes, it’s a matter of what I prefer to read at a given time, sometimes it’s something that gets recommended to me so much by people I trust that I decide to give it a whirl, and then I get hooked. I’m also genre agnostic, and my favorites wander around through historicals (Dumas, Farnol), romance (Heyer), mysteries (Peters, Douglas) and even nonfiction (Goldstone), but for the purposes of this Mind Meld, I’ll stick with science fiction and fantasy.
So what makes me pick up an author’s work more than once? Excellent writing for one thing. Characters I can relate to. Interesting world-building. And then, of course, there’s the “fun” factor, which is much more ambiguous. I want a story I can get lost in and savor, and those do not, alas, grow on proverbial trees. One of the side effects of becoming a writer for me has been increased critical reading and an internal editor that’s hard to turn off.
That said, here are a few of the authors whose works I enjoy reading and often, rereading. Lois McMaster Bujold is a perennial favorite of mine because I love Miles and Cordelia. And a bunch of the other characters. I own two signed copies of A Civil Campaign in hardcover (one is a fancy edition from Easton Press) and read it again about once a year or so. I am eagerly awaiting the forthcoming Cordelia novel and I’ve read most of the rest of the books set in the Miles Vorkosigan universe. As for her other books, I really enjoyed the Chalion series, so that too was an automatic go buy a copy when new books came out kind of series for me.
Another author whose work I remain deeply fond of is P.C. Hodgell. Her Chronicles of the Kencyrath series beginning with God Stalk (currently out as The God Stalker Chronicles, which includes the second book, Dark of the Moon) are consistently on my list of all-time favorite fantasy series. The world building is terrific and the protagonist, Jame, is complicated and intriguing. She is a thief, a warrior and something she can’t quite remember that may result in her destroying her world. Hodgell is a terrific writer and I’m eagerly waiting to see how she wraps up the series. And what she comes up with afterwards.
Gail Carriger writes a really fun steampunk yarn. Thus far, I’ve followed her through the Parasol Protectorate, a series set in an alternate Victorian England in which vampires and werewolves have social standing. Carriger has a nice eye for dialogue and a style reminiscent of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, which I also enjoy, She also created one of my favorite gay vampires, the fabulous Lord Akeldama. Having devoured the Parasol Protectorate series and being nearly done with the Finishing School series, I am about to embark upon the Custard Protocol series, new this year.
Writer and editor Nalo Hopkinson is one exception to my series-reading pattern. I read Nalo’s first published novel, Brown Girl in the Ring, and got hooked on her work after that. I really enjoy her world building as well as the way that her books and stories make me think about the world we currently live in. I find her a compelling and memorable storyteller, one whose work I remember years after I read it. She’s also one of the few authors on this list whose novels and short stories I seek out; we aren’t all good at both lengths, but she is a definite exception.
I’ve been a huge Melissa Scott fan since I first discovered her books in the 1980s. I started with the Silence Leigh books, which are science fiction, and the Elizabethan-influenced fantasy Armor of Light (written with Lisa Barnett). From there, I followed her into cyberpunk with works like Trouble and Her Friends and The Jazz, then followed her back to her Astreiant series fantasies, co-written with Lisa Barnett. Scott was one of the first out queer authors that I discovered in science fiction and fantasy and she really inspired me to write more queer characters, as well to see a future that we were part of. I haven’t had a chance to check out her latest series, The Order of the Air, co-written with Jo Graham, but it’s definitely on my To Be Read list.
These are a few of my traditional favorites, but I try and add a few new ones every year. Some authors I’ll be looking for next books from include Robert Jackson Bennett, whose City of Stairs I absolutely loved. Terrific world-building and great characters – this was one of the best books of 2014, in my opinion. Tenea D. Johnson doesn’t get a lot of buzz in the field, even after winning a Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for Smoketown, which is a real shame. Smoketown is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read and Johnson is fine writer; I look forward to more of her work. Amanda Downum’s Necromancer Chronicles books are pretty terrific and filled with memorable characters; I look forward to reading more of her work. Other authors who I plan to read a lot more work by include N.K. Jemison, Sofia Samatar, Cherie Priest, Jim Hines, Ysabeau Wilce, Kari Sperring, Kate Elliott, Genevieve Valentine and the list goes on. I started out suggesting that I have trouble finding books to get lost in and ended with an embarrassment of riches! I look forward to seeing the other suggestions from this Mind Meld and perhaps adding a few more names.
Once, my “pull list” was exactly two authors long; neither of them are still writing. One was Sean Stewart, whose strange and gorgeous literary fantasy novels were critical to my development as a writer. The other was Octavia E. Butler, whose loss I still mourn.
Like many writers and SFF fans, my personal library is rather ridiculously large, and grows a little larger every month. And yet, for all the authors whose work I love and return to, I have a few authors whose work I trust unthinkingly, and will never hesitate to buy.
Robin McKinley – I don’t think I’ll ever love another Robin McKinley book the way I love Sunshine or The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown—books, all, that have helped me survive some of the most difficult emotional times in my life. And that’s okay. I grab each of her books the moment they are released, because, no matter the story, there’s always something there that speaks to me nonetheless.
Guy Gavriel Kay – I came late to the realization that I loved Guy Kay’s work. I’d read The Fionavar Tapestry young, and … well, disliked it intensely. (I blame fatigue with all things Arthurian.) So when I finally read Sailing to Sarantium, which had been given to me years earlier, I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing. Rich, detailed worldbuilding, gorgeous writing, and satisfyingly complex characters.
Michelle Sagara/Michelle West – Despite the difference in tone and style between the two names under which Michelle writes, I buy and devour all her works with equal enthusiasm. Though I enjoy the stories, these are not books that I read for plot; rather, I love her work for the elegance and flow of the writing, for the resonance of the words, and for the small, deeply personal moments in the narratives.
Julie E. Czerneda – If I were trying to list all the things I enjoy about Julie Czerneda’s fiction, it would be a long list indeed. (Biology-based SF! Weird aliens! Drama!) But, truth be told, I return to her stories again and again because of the characters. There is great joy and comfort in finding characters that feel like old, beloved friends—even when you’re meeting them for the first time.
Naomi Novik – A new addition to this list. I enjoyed Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books—especially the first three—but her most recent book, Uprooted, was amazing in a whole different way, capturing the feeling of a great fairy tale while feeling fresh and surprising. (Not to mention that a key emotional relationship in the book was a friendship between two women—something I desperately want to see more of in SFF.) It’s the book that made me say, “Wherever you go, I will follow.”