Now that nearly every denizen of the internet has shared their 10 books that meant something to them, I’m finally getting to the bandwagon when it’s been stripped and mothballed. But you know, it’s still an interesting meme, so I’m going to take it out for one more spin.
Dragons of Autumn Twilight (The Dragonlance Chronicles) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
I started playing RPGs when I was eight. And around ten or so, I started reading the Dragonlance Chronicles series, quite possibly one of the best-known D&D tie-in series (along with the Dark Elf books).
For me, the Dragonlance Chronicles are the iconic D&D novels. They’re perhaps not the most sophisticated novels, but for a young reader, they had drama, menace, scope, and marvel.
A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
I read this in a freshman SF&F lit class in undergrad, and was one of the first of 4 years world of mind-expanding science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Female Man, Dawn, The Demolished Man, Perdido Street Station, and more.
A Canticle for Liebowitz put science and faith right up next to one another, shows the cyclical nature of history, and took my appreciation of post-apocalyptic narratives back into text after years of Deadlands: Hell on Earth and video games.
A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea series) by Ursula K. LeGuin
While I listened to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings approximately 1 bajillion times as a kid (as in before I was five), A Wizard of Earthsea was the first epic fantasy novel I read on my own. Reading and loving A Wizard of Earthsea was the reason I was unimpressed by Harry Potter until actually getting into the character relationships, since “school for wizards, chosen one badass screws up as a kid and has to fix things” was old hat to me ever since reading this first of the Earthsea series.
Perdido Street Station (aka the Bas-Lag series) by China Mieville
I ended up liking The Scar and Iron Council better than Perdido Street Station, but I read PSS first, so it was the book that cracked open my mind like a psychadelic (having never done psychadelics, I can only imagine). It combined Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Pulp seamlessly, combined radical politics with some of the most innovative worldbuilding and mind-blistering prose I’d ever read, and I was hooked. Without Perdido Street Station, there would be no Shield and Crocus.
Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler
I could easily have listed The Parable of the Sower here, a gutwrenching novel about a slow apocalypse, about the power of community, and one woman’s journey and determination to be the guiding force in her own life rather than letting other people control her.
But Bloodchild and Other Stories is kind of cheating, because it provided multiple touchstones for me as a young writer. In addition to the gorgeous and painful stories “Speech Sounds,” Bloodchild, and “The Book of Martha,” the collection gave me the personal essays “Positive Obsession” and “Furor Scribendi,” which were as close as I’ll ever get to sitting next to the late great Ms. Butler and have her teach me about writing directly. I never got to meet Octavia Butler, but I carry her words and her worlds with me.
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers
Along with The Hero With a Thousand Faces, The Power of Myth put me on the path I’m following today. When I entered undergrad, I was convinced that I’d get a degree in East Asian Languages and Culture, focusing on Japanese, and then I’d go work for a Japanese company or a company that did business with Japan (anime import, etc.)
But after recalling that this Joseph Campbell guy was supposedly important to George Lucas in making Star Wars, I picked up the two books in late September of my freshman year. It’s also worth noting that the September in question was September of 2001, and the whole of the US was in a bit of a tailspin after 9/11, myself included. I liked in NYC for three years as a kid, and I remember the 1991 Trade Center Bombing.
So that month, I was in need of something big, something worldview affirming or challenging. And what I found was Campbell. Looking back as an older scholar, I see that Campbell’s syncretism was not only Euro-centric but reductive, but as a storyteller and young person seeking some meaning, a way to Make a Difference, it was life-changing, possibly moreso than any of the other works on this list.
Chuang Tzu by Chuang Tzu
When I was in college and designed my individualized major, I realized that I could still get an East Asian Studies degree without taking any more classes than the minor (since I’d already done my 2nd year of Japanese).
One of my main areas of focus was classical Chinese history & culture, which lead me to the Chaung Tzu (also romanized Zhuangzi). Many people are familiar with the Lao Tzu, also known as the Tao De Jing. The Chuang Tzu is a more playful and narrative work of what would become the Daoist tradition. The Chuang Tzu tells many stories about change, about dealing with change, embracing change, and in finding a way through the world. The Chuang Tzu, along with other Daoist texts, had a big effect on me in college, in helping me be centered, to roll with the punches, and to be passionate in pursuing my calling for writing.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Zoo City is the first Angry Robot book that I ever read, years before I joined the staff. I’d heard so much praise, even without the Arthur C. Clarke award, that I knew I needed to see what it was all about. Reading the book itself was a revelation, quite literally. It showed me a version of fantasy that I’d never seen for myself before, one that was highly contemporary, subtly futurist, doing the sociological work I usually associated with science fiction, and showed me a part of the world that American literature almost never did, that of economically depressed South Africa. Beukes is a South African writer, and Angry Robot originally a UK publisher, so Zoo City came at me from such distinct and fresh (to me) angles that it was an incredibly powerful read.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The thing about Anansi Boys that I remember most powerfully is the voice. Reading Anansi Boys felt like settling in at home, then getting a ring at the door to have Neil Gaiman himself turn up for tea and then tell me a story. I wrapped the voice of that book around me like a blanket, and was carried along by the skill of a master. Gaiman is, for my money, one of the best live readers in the SF/F genre, and his ability to bring his stories to life through performance is an ongoing inspiration for me, as well as his top notch Storyteller chops, drawing upon traditional oral storytelling traditions (that’s my interpretation, at least). Gaiman is the kind of Capital-S-Storyteller I want to be – finding the right medium and vessel for each story, trying out many different worlds, media, and format, but always focusing on the story, on making each tale emerge through the power of voice and of finely crafted Storytelling.