My young adult series, Worldweavers, about Thea Winthrop, a teen who can do no magic in a magical world, was first published by HarperCollins in the heady days when every publisher was hoping to find their own Harry Potter.
My trilogy was no ripoff. Thea is as American as Harry is British and the world of my series is totally my own, invoking both modern computers and Native American gods. But, of course, Harry Potter is the elephant in the living room and I was delighted when the series got excellent reviews, some of them invoking that magic comparison
Originally published as a trilogy by HarperCollins, all three books appeared in hardcover editions and then two (#1 and #2) in paperback – but due to a slew of circumstances the books did not get the push or the attention that might have assured a bigger slate of sales. In the end, when the rights of the three original Worldweavers rights reverted to me, I took them to Sky Warrior Publishing and they are now being repackaged and reissued as brand-new editions, initially in ebook format to be followed at a later stage by a paperback edition. The first book in the series, Gift of the Unmage, has just been released in its e-book format, available for an assortment of reading platfoms. The new cover is gorgeous.
The second book, Spellspam, and the third, Cybermage, will follow soon.
And here is the scoop.
There is a final and concluding installment to Thea Winthrop’s story which is coming out exclusively from Sky Warrior when the whole original series has been re-released. “Dawn of Magic” will follow the story arc from the original series, bringing Thea’s story to a thoroughly exciting finale. So, if you know and love these stories, or are just finding them for the first time now, there is that to look forward to. Watch this space.
Oh, a few of those magical reviews:
“Although it will appeal to those who love Harry, there is much more in store for readers who discover, along with Thea, the ordinary magic in the world around them.” Teri S. Lesesne said in a starred Voya review for the first in the series.
“For readers suffering withdrawal (from) Harry Potter, this new series might just suffice,” said a Voya review for the second book.
“…it’s too simplistic to compare this book to (Harry). There’s much more here, including elements of Native American culture and ancient mythology. Thea might be time-traveling and struggling with magic to face nefarious forces, but her situation rings universal for teens struggling to come to terms with their identity.” – Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast.
“This book does remind me of Harry Potter….a highly imaginative story and I really loved it,” said Susan Rappaport of the Rutherford Public Library
What comes first, the plot, the idea behind the plot, the problem, the setting, the character?? Which is the most important, the most essential, tool?
For me, it starts with CHARACTER. When asked how I ‘create’ my own characters, my answer has always been that I don’t; I meet them fully formed, complete with the problems they carry. They step out of the woodwork and essentially grab my hand, shake it firmly, tell me their name and rank, and then march me smartly to the first writing platform available and demand I take dictation.
This is partly why I never have real problems with a character’s individual voice, or at the very least, the only times I do so occur when I try to make the character do or say something that that particular character does not want to do or say, or in other words try to make the character act against itself.
So long as I listen, and obey the instructions I am given, my characters tend to assume a certain three-dimensional reality, at least to me, and I very much hope to my readers. Wearing my reader hat, I have met other characters like these, characters who were so vivid and so alive that it remains impossible for me to think that they have never existed.
As it happens, I have a couple of perfect characters in hand – NOT mine – to begin to explain this phenomenon. I’ve been re-watching Babylon 5 in its entirety and no matter what ELSE the show was about, in the broader sense of the story arc, it crystallises as the story of two exceptional characters and their relationship.
G’Kar and Londo Mollari.
Both of them began almost two-dimensional cartoons — Mollari as the effete buffoon courtier, G’kar as the blinkered and violent thug whose first instinct was to whack something. There was an early scene between the two of them, in the cartoon days, bickering while they are waiting for an elevator, and getting so carried away at trading insults that the elevator arrives and leaves before they quite realize it and then they look at each other and blurt, in comically identical outrage, “LOOK what you made me do!”
But they didn’t stay caricatures.
Their choices began to take them in unexpected directions. Londo, who is essentially all heart, someone passionate about things and letting all those passions hang out, ANSWERS the question that the Shadows put to him, the inspired “What do you want” question which goes on to define so many of the B5 characters.
Londo’s passionate response is that he wants to see his people, the proud Centauri, up “where they belong”, as the Lords of the Galaxy. And he is given that, in spades. But he gradually comes to know the cost of the thing he was given.
I will never forget the appalled dawning understanding of it written on his face as he stands at the window of a Centauri warship watching the destruction of the Narn homeworld – something he never wanted, that he himself would never have condoned, but that he is nonetheless in a very real sense utterly and personally responsible for. He then finds himself forced to defend all of it when his people are brought up to face the consequences of it all. He cannot step up to accept his own guilt because doing so would admit guilt by the Centauri and he will not do that to his race.
We see him developing, in the aftermath, and grappling with the consequences of the choices that he has made – right until the final choice that he makes, at the end, when he willingly surrenders his body and his soul – his self – to a Drakh Keeper parasite in order to keep his world and its people ‘safe.’
In one of his last moments of freedom, he tells G’kar that once he had all the choices in the world and no power and now, now that he is about to become Emperor, he has all the power he could ever want and no choices at all.
Mollari is the martyr. In a powerful moment when the parasite takes control of
him we see none of it except his hand, lax by his side, suddenly clenching into a fist – and we know that the Mollari we have known is now gone and in his place is a puppet who will dance to a tune others command. It is a decision he made in order to preserve what is left of that thing he so passionately believes in, the Centauri place in the universe, their pride, and in this instance their very continued existence.
He does what he must, and in this moment he earns our most profound pity as well as our deepest respect. It’s a long way from the original caricature.
G’Kar’s journey is an even greater one. If Mollari is all heart, G’Kar is the soul, the spirit. His passions are no less deep, and certainly no less volatile, than Mollari’s – but they are the crucible in which his ultimate nobility is forged, in fire and in pain.
It seems, with G’Kar, that the more he loses, the more he gains in return, the more he grows, the more he becomes a towering figure who is a true leader, and perhaps even a true saint. He is occasionally portrayed as brash, sometimes even buffoonish, but underneath it all is a kind of iron nobility and the closer we come to the core of him the more we learn of what he truly is.
In a moment at which I always weep, just before Mollari is about to go off and surrender himself to his fate, he goes to say farewell to his old enemy and his old friend, G’Kar. And as he is about to leave, G’Kar calls him by name and as Mollari pauses by the door, G’Kar says to him that too much has passed between their races – “My people,” he says, ” can never forgive your people. But I…can forgive you.”
And Mollari’s face changes, just for a moment, as the two old foes clasp hands and exchange a last long look – because here, maybe, lies a glimmer of that salvation that Mollari has sought for so long and has almost – almost – given up on finding.
When I heard that the actor who had portrayed G’Kar in the series had died, I wept – I felt as though I had lost a brother. But it was not the actor whom I was mourning, may those he loved and left behind forgive me for that – it was G’Kar. The indomitable. The irascible. The funny, the tragic, the wounded, the triumphant, the glorious, the inspired. The character who never really existed, who could not exist, and yet who was as real to me as though I had grown up in his physical shadow. There was a video made in his memory, and I watch it and weep, even today.
Such can be the impact of character on someone who is immersed in that character’s story.
I remember my own characters who came to me and let me tell their stories:
Anghara Kir Hama, heroine of my “Changer of days” fantasies, who was such a pivotal character for me that I have borne some form of her name as my online identity for as long as I’ve had a presence on the Internet.
The girls who strolled onto the stage as the eight main protagonists of “Secrets of Jin Shei” – the poet, the healer, the gypsy, the warrior, the alchemist, the sage, the rebel leader, and the Empress who dreamed of immortality and nearly destroyed them all.
Or the one who followed them, the many-times-granddaugther of my little poet from the first book, and the other characters who shared her story in “Embers of Heaven”.
My girl-mage, Thea, from the Worldweavers trilogy, and the people who helped shape her world.
The five people who make their choices on the eve of the projected end of the world in “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”.
I didn’t create any of those people. They had stories they wanted told. They came, they introduced themselves to me, and they began to talk. It was all I could do to keep writing fast enough to keep up, sometimes.
For me, that is what it comes down to. It’s a question of character, in a HUGE and important way, and it’s the character who drives the story arc forward. The arc that Londo Mollari took to its extreme – the arc of going from the beginning, where you have all the choices in the world, to the end, where all the choices you have made have herded you into a place where there is only one way forward, only one thing left to do, and there are no choices left other than that one. For better or for worse.
A story is simply and solely an account of the winnowing of those choices – and the writer can only hope that the character who is making them will be strong enough to pull in the reader right along, strong enough to trigger strong emotions, because those emotions will serve to make that reader remember that character – remember some of that character’s lines of dialogue, even, verbatim sometimes – long after they have closed the book of that character’s story.
Because they live on, in our memories. All the characters who once walked down the roads in that strange country in our mind’s eye, and let us follow them on their journeys. It is the privilege of the writer to create characters like that, the ones who live long after a particular snatch of their story which the reader might be privileged to directly know is done and dusted. It is the privilege of the reader to find such characters, and to treasure them, to keep them alive, to keep them immortal, to shield them from the fading and the oblivion which comes with the passing of the years.
I hope that some of my own characters will live on, in YOU, the readers. It is only then that my work here will be done.
(See my books here)
I’m not sure if this was something that is hard-wired in us or if it is something that we have acquired along the evolutionary path but we seem to have a need to CLASSIFY something when we meet it. Including books.
If you walk into any given bookstore you will find things shelved and classified according to rigorous criteria. Cookbooks, hither, not to be confused with memoirs, there, or history, over there. There is entire section called FICTION which now has to be chopped and sorted into its own little sub-boxes. Mysteries. Romance. Science fiction and Fantasy.
And then you hit the sub-boxes– what KIND of fantasy? Is it historical fantasy (with hints about a real historical era)? Is it urban fantasy (gritty city streets with a chick with a kickass butt on the cover)? Is it high fantasy (a dragon on the cover)?
My novels have had their share of labels. “Secrets of Jin Shei” – by virtue of being carried by eight female protagonists – has been called feminist fantasy. “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, has been called religious fantasy, although I myself would struggle to find anything overtly religious in it.
There’s a new kid on the block, now. An article on io9.com calls it “backdoor fantasy”. Here’s what they mean by that: “What characterizes a backdoor fantasy is that it uses all the tricks and tropes of a fantasy story without ever actually showing us anything that can’t be explained by science.”
This sounds rather like what I so often write.
The io9 article uses “Among Others”, Jo Walton’s Nebula- and World Fantasy Award-winning novel, as a possible flagship for the new moniker. “…(it) is a perfect example. In it, we encounter familiar fantasy ideas: there is more to the world than meets the eye; evil is a part of nature; we can control reality with our minds. And yet Walton’s protagonist could easily be spinning a fantasy story in her head to escape the horrors of her home life. The fantasy in Among Others may, in other words, be a fantasy.”
If you haven’t read that book, go read it. I’ll wait. Seriously. But here’s the thing about that book, for me. Walton’s heroine… was kind of… ME. Okay, I didn’t have a vanished twin, or a witchy mother, or an estranged dad who sent me off to a posh boarding school… but the boarding school, and the escape into books, that was my own life, and at much the same age as the heroine of this book.
I daresay that this particular back door is hardly likely to be there for other readers who haven’t shared my own particular life and times and experiences. The point, however, is that the magic in these cases might just lie in that kernel of pure recognition – something that leaps from the page at you and catches you by the throat and screams, YOU KNOW ME! YOU LIVED ME!
I touched that, for at least some of the readers of “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”. I know I did because readers and reviewers have spoken of a feeling that they got from the book, a feeling of being able to identify with the place in which the novel is set, with the circumstances in which it takes place, with the relationships of once-friends who were being picked up after years of hiatus. Phrases like “it feels like you had just sat down for a cup of coffee with some old friends”, “it seemed as if I had been to this particular café before”, “I kind of knew the people in this book, because they were me, they were my friends” – these things recur, in reviews, in feedback from readers.
The only magic in this book is the faintest sprinkling of fairy dust – there is a character who is a being manifestly supernatural in form, a creature who refers to himself as “the Messenger” although never specifying from whom, someone that the readers have identified as variously an angel or a sprite of some sort – someone through whom the power to make a choice is transferred to a human soul. And it is in that choice that the magic lies.
I write about people. I write about what makes people change. And what makes people change are answers to two polar-opposite questions: What makes you happy; What do you fear. The first will make you run towards something; the second, away. But both will MOVE you, and once you are in motion you cannot help but encounter choices.
The io9 people go on to say, “This strand in fantasy writing is exploding right now. The more we suck information out of light waves and glowing boxes, the more we are slain by invisible assassins called viruses, the more obvious it becomes that we are living in what feels like a fantasy. Just because your world has been transfigured by science doesn’t mean your imagination will stop seeing terrible sorcery in it.”
I say, amen. There is just so much magic in our world, the “real” world, which we are so often too busy to stop and appreciate. Let me give you some examples from a real life. Mine.
The first one concerns a skating pond in the woods behind one of the world’s great hotels in Banff. This is one of those unreal hotels build in the shape and form of a castle, situated amongst tall firs, and I was there one cold, cold winter. You could rent a pair of skates and then go down a winding stair into the woods to a frozen pond, I got skates, went down the stair – and somehow, in the midst of a busy and bustling holiday season, I found myself alone on the pond, which was gloriously and completely empty of any other soul except me.
There were Christmas fairy lights in the trees surrounding the pond, and they twinkled on the snow around me. The trees stood like silent white sentinels in the dark, and in the night sky above the stars were bright and sharp like shards. I put my skates on, and stepped on the pond and started skating, alone in the night, the swish of skate blades on ice, multicoloured shadows falling about my feet. And I felt like weeping with a holy joy because I felt as though I could pass right through this unreal scene and step – or skate – into a whole other world which trembled just there, just in the corner of my eye, just out of reach.
This moment had magic in it. True magic. Real magic. MY magic.
And yet in the hotel just up the slope, beyond the trees, women in off-the-shoulder gowns sat sipping chocolate martinis at polished wooden counters in bars, or couples laughed at one another over dinner tables set with white linen and heavy silverware, or danced to music with a disco beat – a different world.
The second example is a long way from that night, a bright day in the Florida Keys. I’m kneeling on a low wooden platform next to a pool with two dolphins, a mother and son I had just spent a half hour swimming with. I was holding out kippers the trainers had given me. The son was still very much a “child” in every sense – exuberant and playful, pushy and completely and passionately free with his emotions. Instead of coming for his treat, this baby dolphin came swimming full-tilt at the jetty, leaped out of the water completely, and tucked himself under my arm. Our eyes met, and I swear he smiled. And then, with one flip of that powerful tail, he had reversed himself and had slid back into the water.
A dolphin HUGGED me. A little piece of magic, right there. Right in my arms.
The third one. A letter arrives at my house one day. From NASA. FROM *NASA*.
They are producing a commemorative poster for the Mercury 13, the women who trained in the early astronaut program in NASA back when women basically had no chance of ever getting into space. They had stepped up anyway, because they refused to relinquish the dream of the stars or the idea that those stars belonged to them just as much as to men. NASA wants to know whether I would grant them permission to use an excerpt from one of my poems on that poster.
I cried. I was so humbled, so proud, so full of feelings I cannot begin to describe to you.
Like the Mercury 13 themselves, I would never myself float out there amongst the stars – but my words are there now, for keeps, on a poster which commemorates women reaching for that impossible dream. That is a piece of magic that I treasure, a very real piece of magic, something that I am reminded of every time I walk past the wall in my house on which a framed copy of that poster hangs.
I will find some little piece of magic to build into my next story, too, and the next, and the one after that. If that is what they want to call it, a back-door fantasy, I’ll take it. But I’ll keep on opening those back doors. There is too much joy and beauty and sadness and glory and pure humanity behind them to leave them closed, and people need to be reminded – always, and constantly – that the magic is there for the taking, just by reaching out and touching it.
Open the back door. Step into magic. It is waiting.
Alexander Triads #7 “A Sense of Love”, is now available here
It contains the story which won the BBC short story competition a handful of years ago, a story which garnered me one of the greatest writing compliments I ever got.
Love does not live in the rational world, and is not constrained by the laws of logic.You cannot stand apart from it and analyze it from a safe distance so that you do not get hurt by its sharp edges. Love lives in the heart, and in the senses, and it is impossible to completely experience it without closing your eyes and stepping inside it and letting it close above your head like an ocean. What does it feel like when you are surrounded by the senses that you have freed? How would love taste? How would it feel to the touch? What are the sounds that it whispers into your ear?
Step inside these stories. Begin to glimpse an answer.
I tripped over a few things concerning one of my older books, “Secrets of Jin Shei”. The first was this delightful review, in lively Portuguese, from a Brazilian reader.[SinglePic not found]Click for Brazilian video review
I understand maybe one word in ten but the sheer flow of enthusiasm gives me joy. And when I tossed it out for the collective wisdom of the Internet to see if anyone spoke Portuguese well enough to give me the gist of what she is saying, a friend of a friend came up with this:
“The girl talks about the book. Gives a description of what the story is about. She liked it a lot. She loved the dynamics of the relationships between the women, the drama of women and their lives. The reviewer loves novels regarding strong women. She loves the history that was incorporated in the book and the lives that these women have. Anyone who loves a book regarding strong women will love this book. She found it very refreshing and was able to get lost in the book. She highly recommends this book. Now I want to read this book. lol”
I also didn’t quite realise that people continued posting their reviews to Goodreads long after the original publication date of the novel. There were some surprisingly heartwarming bits in there. Witness this one, from just over a year ago:
Feb 17, 2012
Tonya rated it 4 of 5 stars
It was the recommendation on the front that intrigued me when i
purchased this book. “This evocative novel is sure to be popular with
fans of Amy Tan, Gail Tsukiyama, and eve Marion Zimmer Bradley.” I
bought it because I was very skeptical that writer could be herald as
a combination of these three authors. I stand corrected.
A book filled with love, tragedy, suspense, and a little magic; I
devoured every page. As I read I was reminded of all the jin-she I
have in my life. All women from different backgrounds that fate moved
our paths to cross and we soon walked them together.
Very well written and spellbinding mastery of imagery that I have not
seen in written word in quite some time, this book is one I most
highly recommend. Gave four stars because I would have liked more at
the end. And I do hope there is a sequel out there somewhere, if not
already written, but being written. These women left a legacy filled
with unanswered questions that, as the reader, you either want to see
the continuation. Or maybe we are to imagine them ourselves.
Or this one, of similar vintage, although my copy-and-paste didn’t seem to capture the actual date for reproduction here:
E_bookpushers rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: historical, own-it
Alexander has a way of ripping my heart out with her writing. I can’t
read her often because I get so invested in her characters and they
experience such hardship. Unlike a romance that I know will have a HEA
these characters usually don’t have a HEA. Some of them live, some of
them die and they are all permanently changed from their experiences.
The chain that brought this entire book together was that of a
friendship/sisterhood so unbreakable that it changed history in more
ways then one for the characters. The thought of such a bond and how
it is innocent at first but then could become heavy and painful as
people change from what they could have become to what they became.
I want to go back and read the first duology I read by her and then
dive into her world weavers series but I need some recovery
I am so absolutely delighted that this story is still out there, still being read, still being loved. Delighted, and amazed, and yes, grateful. And if you have an opinion on it which you haven’t shared, please, please, please do – there are lots of places – Goodreads, Librarything, Amazon, my website, my blog, my Facebook fan page (which is here, for those who haven’t found and/or “liked” it yet. This author is always more than happy to hear from you.
The Taste Of English Tea Blog sometimes pairs teas with books. Some time ago they paired my novel, “The Secrets of Jin-Shei,” with Oolong Orange Blossom Tea. Here is an excerpt from the delightful pairing.
Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea that is only partly fermented, giving it an in-between character that lacks the bitterness and body of black tea, yet is richer and rounder than a conventional green. English Tea Store’s Oolong Orange Blossom Estate Tea is a particularly satisfying rendition of this Far East treat, with the gentle addition of the essence of orange blossoms.
In The Secrets of Jin-Shei, a novel by Alma Alexander, we are swept into the mythical Chinese kingdom of Linh-an, steeped in tradition and culture, that beckons us to pause, and to breathe in deeply. In the novel, we learn of the covert written language jin-ashu, the woman’s tongue, taught for generations from mother to daughter to allow a woman to reveal the dreams and desires deeply held in her heart. It is through these words that sister-bonds are formed. And it is through this language, as the heady perfume of sweet tomorrows, that vows are made. In that way, the jin-shei is a promise.
Be patient in brewing Oolong Orange Blossom Tea, to give it the time it needs to unfurl into the richness of its character. And there’s no need to sweeten; it brings its own honeyed aftertaste. As well, give The Secrets of Jin-Shei time to reveal the depths of its characters and the fulfillment of its own sweet promise.
As tea-and-novel companions, Oolong Orange Blossom Tea and The Secrets of Jin-Shei are a most honorable match.
From the official blog of The English Tea Store here
I recently came across some fan art for “The Secrets of Jin-shei”, at Deviant Art, by an artist who goes by the name of sivvus (site here)
Here’s one of the paintings:
Gorgeous. And so I dropped the artist an email to say thank you. And got the further gift of being told that she was amazed and delighted to have heard from ME, and how much she loved that book.
It isn’t every day that you handed both a compliment and a gift like that. Please do go swing by her site and take a look at some of her other stuff – she has some artwork for sale, too! – but in the meantime, feast your eyes on the image she did for my beloved characters.
My thanks. My grateful thanks. I will always be astonished and delighted to have readers respond to the children of my heart in this wise.
I know, I know. Picking your favorite book feels like picking your favorite child. You love them all. But give it a try.
Here are mine, in generally random order. (Some of the items on the list are technically cheats, because they are trilogies or series in their own right.)
1. “Tigana”, Guy Gavriel Kay
This simply one of the best books I have ever read, period, EVER. And the reasons why boil down to two reasons.
One, the characters. This is a book full of characters who are solid, three-dimensional, who carry grudges and vows and honour and pain, and who *change* with all of these things in play. Kay understands what makes people change, and this is huge, HUGE, and it plays an enormous part in this book. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys” here, not exclusively, everybody does things for what appear to be good and valid reasons to THEM, and the reader, even if not expected to approve those reasons, is invited to understand them. This matters enormously.
Perhaps the best exemplar of this is Dianora. This is a woman who puts into play a horrendously complicated and meticulously planned chain of events whose ultimate outcome entails her taking revenge for the death of her country and her family at the hands of a great enemy… and is then hamstrung by something so unexpected, so completely inescapable, that it nearly grinds her into glass dust. Oh, if you haven’t read this book, if you are a reader looking for an experience of a lifetime, if you are a writer who wants to know how to make a character immortal, go read “Tigana”, just for Dianora. Trust me on this.
Two… and this is deeply personal for me … I don’t know how someone like Guy Gavriel Kay, who comes from the kind of calm, civilised, privileged background that he does, who is polite and Canadian, knows what it feels like to lose your country, and your soul. But he does. HE DOES. And he tells that story in “Tigana”. It reaches deep inside of me and wrings my heart until it screams. This, my friends, is the best kind of fantasy. This is the kind of fantasy that is TRUE.
2. “Lord of the Rings”, J R R Tolkien
I read and enjoyed “The Hobbit”, initially, but it was a light and almost fluffy kind of book. It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of the first book in the LOTR trilogy that I really felt like I had come home. Things… things… clicked for me. I drank it in, in great gulping draughts, and the potion changed me dramatically.
I became a fantasy writer because of this book, probably. Oh, there were other reasons – but this one, this one gelled it, cemented it.
Here was a world that HAD BEEN CREATED WHOLLY AND COMPLETELY FROM THE WRITER’S OWN VISION AND IMAGINATION. It had been done – I held the evidence in my hands, in my heart, in my head. It could be done again. By me. And once I had that bit between my teeth there was no stopping me at all.
3. The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny
The first five books, really. The second five, well, I read them, I liked them well enough, but it was the first five that grabbed me and held me. Again, for several reasons.
One, there was the seamlessness of the whole thing. THESE FIVE VOLUMES WERE A PERFECT CIRCLE. Book Five ended where Book One begins, but because of all the stuff that you’d just read in between that beginning and that end the beginning now gained a WHOLE NEW PERSPECTIVE, and it just demanded that you pick the first book up again and begin from the beginning. And this could go on forever. It was the freaking Worm Ouroboros in literary form, and I was smitten smitten smitten smitten.
Two, well, the COMPLEXITY of it all. I have never really liked “simple” books, they merely end up being predictable and annoying. The imagination and the ideas behind these books lodged somewhere deep into my creative soul and I have never been free of them since. I owe Roger Zelazny for that, a huge debt.
4. “Dune”, Frank Herbert
Once again, complexity… but I have a deeply ambivalent relationship with these books. I loved the first one, the original Dune, because of the depth of the worldbuilding, because of the organic way that the story and the milieu fitted together – it all made sense, it was connected, it was soul-stirring.
And then the books kind of began a slow slide, and that has never stopped, only became steeper when Frank stopped writing the Dune books and the franchise was taken over by the heirs who really should have known better. Some horses, when they die, are truly dead, and should be beaten no longer – and this one is mere articulated bones, by now.
5. “Fool on the Hill”, Matt Ruff
So okay, I”ll save the last for a shout out to a writer who has since become a friend. But his inclusion in this list is by no means any kind of literary “nepotism”, and is not influenced in the least by the fact that I very much like the person behind the story here.
The story, itself, is important. And I dived into it and sank without a trace.
A three-fold narrative that involved events as they unfolded in the “human” stratum of Cornell University, with real humans, interleaved by the story set in the animal underbelly of Cornell and involved a Dog Convocation and a story set amongst the Cornell Fae. And they all get tied together by an overlay of the trope of a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand typewriters to produce a Story, and the ghostly Founder of Cornell wandering about talking to $Deity$ and discussing everything in a kind of delightful Greek Chorus – dear, GOD, this was just plain briliant stuff.
Matt Ruff has since proved that he was no flash in the pan – if you want to see the more mature edition of the novelist who produced “Fool on the Hill” I highly recommend “Set This House in Order”, which isn’t on this list only because it has only five spots to fill.
Want to play? I would love to know what your choices are.