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MIND MELD: We’re Glad We Gave These Authors a Second Chance

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Sometimes we read authors that don’t initially click, or we dismiss them after dipping our proverbial toes into their books. Eventually; however, you give them a 2nd (or 3rd) chance and you connect with the author on this second attempt and maybe the author even becomes a favorite.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What authors did you give another shot? What book was it that worked?

 
Here’s what they said:

Jennifer Brozek
Jennifer Brozek is a Hugo Award-nominated editor and an award-winning author. She has worked in the publishing industry since 2004. With the number of different projects she juggles at one time, Jennifer is often considered a Renaissance woman, but prefers to be known as a wordslinger and optimist. Read more about her at her website: www.jenniferbrozek.com or follow her on Twitter at @JenniferBrozek.

Stephen R. Donaldson is my most memorable second chance. Lord Foul’s Bane is the only book I can remember throwing across the room. Later, instead of donating it, I actually tossed it in the trash. To say I hated that book is an understatement. I swore I would never, ever read another book by Stephen R. Donaldson. To the point that I got rid of all of the Donaldson books (given secondhand by my parents) I had in the apartment.

Except one.

Something about the cover of his collection, Daughter of Regals and Other Tales, made me keep it. I don’t know what or why but I put it back on the shelf.

A year or so later, I opened up another box of forgotten books and found his “Mordant’s Need” duology: The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. Again, their covers made me keep them. They also pushed me back to Donaldson’s fiction collection.

That’s when I gave him another shot. I’m glad I did. I was completely enthralled by Daughter of Regals and Other Tales. So much so that I immediately read the “Mordant’s Need” duology. I enjoyed both of them and was glad I’d kept the first.

Since then, I read his “GAP Sequence.” They were entertaining but not like the fiction collection and the Mordant’s Need” duology. I put the “GAP Sequence” into my Little Free Library without a qualm, but I still reread bits of the other three books from time to time.

I still loath Lord Foul’s Bane and all of the “Thomas Covenant” books.

Kate Heartfield
Kate Heartfield is a journalist and fiction writer. Her short stories have appeared recently at Podcastle, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction and elsewhere. Her website is heartfieldfiction.com and she is on Twitter as @kateheartfield, tweeting about comics, books, and the occasional video game.

I think it was 2008 when a writer friend handed me my first Terry Pratchett novel, and I think it was Wyrd Sisters. I read it and enjoyed it well enough, but it didn’t get under my skin. I’m a tough crowd when it comes to humour, and I found Pratchett’s variety pleasant rather than hilarious. I didn’t really clue in, with that first sample, that there was anything underneath the humour. I returned my borrowed copy to my friend and decided Pratchett was a nice light read, but nothing special and overall not really my thing.

Maybe it was a year later, maybe two. I wasn’t feeling well one night and I wanted something light to read, and I’d exhausted my store of favourite mystery writers. I browsed the Pratchett options on my Kindle. Maybe it was Mort, or maybe Small Gods came first. I’m pretty sure it was Mort, though, when I realized Pratchett had got under my skin after all. I Shall Wear Midnight came after that, and by then I was hooked.

My Discworld reading, as you can see, has never been in any kind of order. Over the years, I’ve learned that there are some sets of characters I like better than others. But I’ve also come to appreciate the wise turns of phrase and humane characterization in every book. Quite frequently, with a book like Thud, Monstrous Regiment, Witches Abroad, The Truth or Feet of Clay, I’ll read a line and then spend five minutes staring off into the distance, just thinking. Not so light and silly after all.

Sometimes it takes more than leafing through a book in a store to get a sense of what an author is doing, especially when that author’s style is subtle and gentle. Sometimes it even takes more than one book.

James Aquilone
James Aquilone was raised on Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, sitcoms, and Cap’n Crunch. Now he writes fiction in the speculative vein. His stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, The Best of Galaxy’s Edge 2013-2014, Unidentified Funny Objects 4, and Flash Fiction Online. He lives in Staten Island, New York, but don’t hold that against him. Visit his website at jamesaquilone.com.
You can find him on Twitter as @JamesAquilone.

I hated Clive Barker after reading Books of Blood.

The short story collection (published in the mid ’80s) prompted Stephen King to call the Liverpudlian writer “the future of horror.” But Barker wasn’t in my future.

I found Books of Blood to be too weird, literary, avant-garde, and off-putting. Barker certainly wasn’t like the other horror authors I had been reading at the time, which included Barker’s hype man, Stephen King. Still, I found parts of the collection brilliant, and it was clear Barker was a talented horror writer. He just wasn’t for me, I thought.

That was about 15 years ago. In the ensuing years, I stayed away from the “future of horror” and dismissed fans who said Barker was a genius. Then, about three years ago, as I took my own fiction writing more seriously, I gave him another chance. I think it was after seeing Neil Gaiman praise The Thief of Always or maybe liken it to Coraline, which I loved. For those unfamiliar with The Thief of Always, it’s about a 10-year-old boy named Harvey Swick who runs away from his boring life to live in the Holiday House, an apparent paradise for children where all the seasons are enjoyed in a day, every day. But this is Clive Barker, so there’s a sinister element to the house, in the form of its creator, Mr. Hood.

It’s a fantastic, quick read. Much like Gaiman’s Coraline, The Thief of Always is fun and creepy and perfect. It wasn’t artsy or weird (at least not weird in a bad way). It was a great, straight-forward story. A classic. My hatred (perhaps hatred is too strong a word), my dislike of Barker vanished and I began picking up his others books – The Damnation Game, The Hellbound Heart (which was turned into the movie Hellraiser), and the more recent Mister B. Gone. I loved them all.

Now I want to go back and re-read Books of Blood. But my copy has mysteriously disappeared. Maybe the Thief of Always took it!

Jo Zebedee
Jo Zebedee writes science fiction, either in her fictional world of “Abendau” or on the streets of Belfast. Her debut, Abendau’s Heir, was released in March 2015 from Space Opera specialists Tickety Boo Press. Her second book, Inish Carraig, about an alien invasion of Belfast (the locals aren’t pleased), is just out. More can be found on her website www.jozebedee.com, or she can be followed on Twitter @joz1812

The author I gave a second chance to is now just about my favourite sff author, Lois McMaster Bujold.

When I was at the agent-seeking stage and trying to find a comparitor for my Abendau books, Bujold was recommended to me, and someone loaned me the first two books, Shards of Honour and Barrayar.

I enjoyed aspects of Shards of Honour, but found the romance a little heavy-handed and not quite believeable. However, I liked it enough to read Barrayar, which worked less for me – too much world-building which slowed the pace, I felt – and I set the series down, disappointed.

However! Several people suggested strongly I try the Miles Vorkosigan books before I gave up so when I won a £10 book voucher in a writing competition, I gambled it on the “Young Miles” collection (The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game.)

I was hooked and spent the next four months devouring the series – my win cost me about £50 (memo to self, never exchange for a series again.) I have since gone back and reread the two first books, and enjoyed them a lot more, knowing what the characters will become.

What I like about her writing is the character detail, and that they feel rounded with various shades of grey. Miles would drive me mad if I met him in real life, but in a book his energy drives the story well, and the series grows and matures as he does.

Now that I’ve written this, I suspect (another) reread is in order. My poor To-be-read pile…

Sarah Olsen
Sarah Olsen is a reader who carves out time from books for occasional shifts as a library lady as well as for the needs of two kids, a Sergeant First Class spouse, after-school nephews, and book fairs. (The cats fend for themselves.) She’s been reading science fiction and fantasy for close to four decades, but has no memory for detail, so must reread constantly those books she likes best. This is not as much a hardship as it might sound. You can usually find her around the Straits of Mackinac, occasionally in Minnesota, and often on Twitter @miminnehaha.

In 1987, I was reading Anne McCaffrey and Roger Zelazney and Emma Bull. I was lucky enough to have a library with a science fiction & fantasy section & could find the kind of books I liked without weeding through the “normal” stacks.

So, obviously, Steven Brust was on the shelves I was visiting regularly. Not only was his “Dragaera” series on its third book in four years (which was nowhere near as common in those days as now), but Brust– like Bull– was a local. He was writing the next book mere miles from where I was reading the back cover of Jhereg and putting it back on the shelf.

Why? It could have been that younger me couldn’t identify with an older male protagonist, despite the fact that I enjoyed Nine Princes in Amber around that time. It could have been my rejection of the back-cover blurb’s “assassins” and “sorcerous bargains” (which my friends then would have attributed to my qualities as a ‘good kid,’ but which we recognize now as my commitment to plausible deniability). But probably I opened up to a random passage and read a few lines full of daggers and Hungarian-like names and political intrigue and just went for a Dragonsinger re-read.

I’d like to say maturity made the difference. That I heard the rave reviews and witnessed the fanatical fan-love and decided to give “Dragaera” another chance. But it is not for me to be swayed by popular opinion! For twenty-five years, I continued to pass over Brust’s books.

So, what changed my mind? Audiobooks.

I admit to being a bit of an audiophile, which is ironic: if I only hear something and don’t see it written down, I almost never remember it. Still, it’s true. I love listening to music of many kinds. I spend hours listening to university lectures. I have a separate iPod just for all my podcasts. But it still took me a long time to love audiobooks.

At first, I was listening to the audio version books I already loved, because why risk the big cash on something I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy? But I didn’t enjoy them. Narrators would pronounce things differently than I had in my head. They’d miss an emphasis I was sure the author had intended. The plot would seem less complex, less fascinating than it had upon reading visually. The stories seemed naked.

I am one of those people for whom listening to a book is a much different experience than reading it. It isn’t so much that listening to a narrator simplifies the story for me, but that it brings the main plot lines into focus while rich background details fade… into the background. I blame my terrible auditory memory.

In fact, I learned to love audiobooks and Brust books around the same time. When I joined one of the audiobook services that meant I’d be paying the same flat fee for every book, I got more adventurous. Brust’s Jhereg was one of the first I tried.

And, what do you know? The book is fantastic! The protagonist is a man of heart. The cast of characters is liberal in more ways than one. The rich history of “Dragaera,” the personal story of Vlad Taltos, his connections to the other characters all became clear. The way audiobooks streamlined plots and details in my mind was like looking at one of those Magic Eye books: aha! I see it now!

It’s been much fun to discover a world I’ve heard about for ages. I hope you all can have a similar experience. So, I recommend Steven Brust’s “Dragaera,” books. I recommend audiobooks. I recommend trying new things and trying old things all over again.

.

Erica Whiting
Erica Whiting is a former geologist who also has a degree in Japanese culture and literature. When she’s not working, she can be found at the local bookstore looking for the next world to get sucked into. She is also obsessed with comic books with food themes which you can read about and more at her blog https://chopsticksandpaper.wordpress.com/.

I was in a bookstore trying to find another new author to read when Sharon Shinn’s Archangel came into my view. I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of the angel genre, and I don’t read much fantasy. But I had never heard of Sharon Shinn and wanted to examine further. The summary painted a world on the brink of destruction, predestined love, angels, and how an ancient starship was connected to all three. Okay, I’m not a big fan of angels, or predestined love, but the brink of destruction and ancient spaceships, I was definitely curious.

Unfortunately, the book was not at all what I was expecting. I knew there would be more of a fantasy aspect to this novel before I started reading, but the amount of science fiction was lacking. There was no mention of the ancient starship from the summary. However, much of the book is devoted to understanding Jovah; or Yovah, as called by the Edori, a nomadic group on the planet. Jovah is considered to be all-knowing and all-seeing; is able to control the weather; and who most believe can only be communicated to by oracles or angels. The only exception is during an event called The Gloria; led by the Archangel, leader of the angels, and the Archangel’s spouse. The Gloria is an essential event where citizens of Samaria unite to sing together to show to Jovah that there is harmony on the planet; if not, then Jovah destroys their civilization.

The other mentions of technology were interfaces that were used by the oracles of Samaria to communicate with Jovah; and The Kiss, a small device implanted into Jovah’s worshipers in the arm that is supposed to be used for tracking. The Kiss is also used to let one know they have met their destined lover. The kiss heats up and illuminates in different colors. Both pieces of technology are integral in regards to uniting and progressing the romantic subplot of the two main characters; Gabriel, an angel that is to become the new Archangel; and Rachel, a former slave raised by the Edori. But other than these brief mentions, the book primarily deals with the difficult relationship between Gabriel and Rachel, and how the current archangel is connected to the potential destruction of Samaria

After reading Archangel, I wasn’t initially interested in exploring the other books in the series. I felt a little disappointed because I was hoping there would be more of a science fiction focus than there was in the novel. What decided me in giving her a second chance was when I picked up her second book in the series, Jovah’s Angel. Although the description of the novel indicated the book primarily revolved around the angels and the world of Samaria; Jovah’s Angel is not a direct sequel of the first novel. Instead, taking place 150 years later.

It only took a few chapters for me to become enthralled with the story told in Jovah’s Angel. The story has two main subplots. The first is in regards to the angel’s inability to be heard by Jovah. Because of this, the weather has become uncontrollable. The leaders of Samaria’s various cities are also becoming defiant to the angels, believing that the angels can no longer control the world. The other focus in the story is about Delilah, the former Archangel whose wings became broken during an intense storm. After losing the ability to fly, she can no longer lead the angels. Also brokenhearted by losing her lover in the storm, she starts going down a self-destructive path; disillusioned by life. Alleluia, the new Archangel, and Caleb, an engineer who does not believe in Jovah is a god, are tasked with trying to help Delilah overcome her struggles, and also understanding why Jovah won’t listen to the angel’s prayers.

Jovah’s Angel has more of a balance between the fantasy, and the sci-fi elements. Although more on the fantasy side, you begin to understand why the angels exist, the role of praying to Jovah, who Jovah really is, and the origin of the citizens of Samaria. This book also has more of an industrial revolution feel to it; engineering and technology have advanced in the 150 years since the first book. Some people within Samaria feel that the inability to hear prayers is a curse for becoming technologically advanced. Others, like Caleb, feel that in order for society to move forward, discovery and creation of new technologies are needed.

Sharon Shinn is now one of my favorite authors. After finishing Jovah’s Angel, I quickly devoured the three other books in the “Samaria” Series; The Alleluia Files, Angelica, and Angel-Seeker, among her other novels. Feeling that I unfairly judged Archangel, I actually went back and re-read the novel. It was then I was able to embrace the story more, focusing in on her world building and character building. Although it’s still not my favorite book in the series, it was necessary for getting one captured into the world of Samaria.

Aliette de Bodard
Aliette de Bodard is the author of The House of Shattered Wings (out now from Roc/Gollancz), a dark fantasy set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, where Fallen angels mingle with witches, alchemists and a Vietnamese ex-Immortal. Find her at http://www.aliettedebodard.com, or on twitter as.@aliettedb.

When I was a teenager, I picked up The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, a historical novel that was dense and frustrating–replete with quotes in a plethora of languages, with a multitude of characters who were very hard to like (especially as the author kept head-hopping as this was written in a quasi ominiscient point of view); and, for someone who’d just started to dip her toes into reading in English (instead of my native French), the rich and dense language itself was a major stopping factor, as I fought a rising feeling of panic with every sentence. I’d taken the book on a summer holiday, and didn’t finish it–after all, there were plenty of other books I’d brought that I could read. But I’m stubborn. So, towards the end of the holiday, I rolled up my sleeves, and started the book again–and just let it wash over me. It was a revelation: I didn’t understand every single quotation or reference (and even now I can’t I do. Dunnett was amazingly cultured), but what I did understand was amazing–the tapestry of characters depicted in 16th Century Scotland and France came alive, and the ending with its stressful card game and race to save one man’s life had me riveted. I still reread Dunnett’s Chronicles of Lymond every few years, and they’re among my favorite historical novels.

About Rob H. Bedford (62 Articles)
Rob H. Bedford writes The Completeist Column and curates Mind Melds here at SF Signal. Elsewhere, he is the Lead Book reviewer for SFFWorld, where he is also a Moderator in their discussion forums. In addition to over a decade’s worth of reviews at SFFWorld, his reviews and articles have also appeared at Tor.com and in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book.
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