The Influence of Books, Part 6

When I listed favorite authors from my reading past on a scrap of notepaper a few weeks ago, the three names I wrote on the science fiction line were Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Lois McMaster Bujold.  Known for long series, detailed world building, and complex cultures (Bradley’s Darkover, McCaffrey’s Pern, and Bujold’s Barrayar and its neighbors and colonies), these women added human elements that were missing from much of earlier science fiction: strong female characters, romance, even sex.

They aren’t the only women on my SF keeper shelf.  (Another sheet of notepaper here.)  I have single titles by quite a few female writers, and multiple books by C.J. Cherryh, Suzanne Collins, Charlaine Harris (although the Sookie Stackhouse series could be shelved with the mysteries), Elizabeth Moon, Naomi Novik (I’ve been saving the newest Temeraire book as a special treat), Jo Walton, and Connie Willis.  And there are books on my shelves (and on my computer’s hard drive) with one foot in SF and one in romance.  It’s been a long time now, thankfully, since SF took the “No Girls Allowed” sign off the club house door.

I don’t remember if I discovered Bradley or McCaffrey first, but Bradley began writing for the pulp magazines as early as 1949.  She wrote a a good number of series and single title books over the years, but her best known (and by far my favorites) were the Darkover novels, set on a planet colonized and then long forgotten by Terrans.  The series began in 1968, with The Planet Savers, and has continued past Bradley’s death in 1999 with novels written by various authors she mentored.  I’m pretty sure I have them all, although I haven’t read some of the later ones.  (I will never run out of books to read.)  The earliest Darkover novels were short and relatively simple, but they grew longer and far more complex as Bradley developed the culture and mythology of the planet (several of the earliest novels were later revised to fit).  Bradley not only built a world, she populated it with a variety of societies, families, and governments–just like a real planet.

McCaffrey began writing in the 1950s, but didn’t begin publishing novels until 1967.  She wrote a  stand-alone novels and a number of series, but she’s best known for her Dragonriders of Pern stories, which began with a novella in 1967.  Over the years McCafrrey moved up and down the time line from the original trilogy (Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon) to fill in the long history of a planet (like Bradley’s Darkover) colonized by humans and then forgotten, providing a surprisingly scientific explanation for time-travelling, telepathic dragons in the process.  Between my shelves (Keeper and To Be Read), I have all the Pern books, the four-volume Freedom series, and a few more.  McCaffrey began collaborating with her son Todd well before her death last year, and he has continued the Pern series.

Bujold has written two fantasy series, but she is best known for her Vorkosigan Saga novels, beginning in 1986 and happily continuing through the most recent novel, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, published a few weeks ago (the only one I haven’t read).  Most of the novels center around the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, a member of the ruling family of the planet Barrayar, and he’s had more than his share.  Bujold combines elements of military SF, a complex economic system and high technology paired with the almost medieval social structure of Barrayar, romance (that of Miles and his eventual wife Ekaterin, and that of his parents Aral and Cordelia), and mystery.

These three authors have entertained me as a reader and inspired me as a writer.  Writing this makes me want to go back and read all those stories again–if only I had the time.  If you haven’t read them, pick one up and jump in.  You will enjoy the adventure.

 

 

Books, Books, and More Books

The other day when I sent a short piece off to a chapter newsletter, I added this as a bio clip:

Kay Hudson continues to amass books of all descriptions on her book shelves and her Kindle, and continues to wonder when she’ll have time to read them all.  Meanwhile she blogs about buying, reading and writing books at kayhudson.com.

I do blog about other things, cats and cameras and that kitchen sink someone left on my driveway last year (wish I’d had a camera that day), but I keep coming back to books.  And I keep buying more of them.

I have a stack of them here on the table, new ones I haven’t found a spot for on the To Be Read shelves yet.  Two weekends ago I stopped at Half-Price Books.  Something had reminded me of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle books, which I loved as a child, and I popped into the children’s section to look.  No Lofting back there, but on my return to the front of the store I managed to buy four books:  A novel by Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed), two of the Pern books written jointly by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey (Dragon’s Fire and Dragon Harper), and a 1984 paperback printing of Anne McCaffrey’s early novel Restoree, which wasn’t there the last time I looked.  How could anyone who writes romance and grew up on science fiction resist a cover blurb like this: In another body on another world, Sara risked her life for a man of power and for an alien dream!

I stayed out of bookstores for the next week or two, but that didn’t stop me from placing an order with the Science Fiction Book Club: Third Grave Dead Ahead, the latest from 2009 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® winner Darynda Jones (I recently finished First Grave on the Right, Darynda’s GH winner, and I have Second Grave on the Left on the Read Soon stack; Fourth Grave is due in the fall); Naomi Novik’s Crucible of Gold, the latest in her Temeraire series, a reading experience that deserves a report of its own; and, because they were offering a third book for $2, Dragonheart, by Todd McCaffrey.

Meanwhile, on my Kindle, I added Ghosty Men, the story of the Collyer Brothers, New York City’s most famous hoarders, by Franz Lidz.  That one was one of Amazon’s daily specials, which I succumb to every couple of weeks.  I also bought Finding Her Son, by Robin Perini, seven time Golden Heart finalist and 2011 GH winner.  And then one day after the fourth or fifth time I’d seen the trailer for the film John Carter (which, sadly, isn’t getting very good reviews, and shouldn’t they have shoehorned “of Mars” into the title?), I got to thinking about all the Edgar Rice Burroughs adventures I enjoyed long ago.   All of them are now long in the public domain, and available in multiple (and therefore confusing) Kindle editions.  I never did download the Barsoom stories (one of these days), but I could not resist my favorite of Burroughs’ tales, The Land That Time Forgot, all three of the short novels in one edition.  This is a truly insane story of evolution in action from one end of a lost island to the other, with, if I recall correctly, a German WWI era U-boat thrown in for good measure (and extra villains).  I’m looking forward to revisiting that one.

This past Saturday, after the West Houston RWA meeting, a group of us went to lunch and to a booksigning at Barnes & Noble, where I bought Austentatious, a new book by fellow Houston Bay Area RWA member Alyssa Goodnight.  While I was there I also snagged Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte, by Diane Kelly, who also was a Golden Heart winner in 2009.  This is her second book; the third will be out later this year.

I’m going to put all these books on the shelf and try to behave for a while, really I am.  No book buying this weekend.  I’ll be back soon with a “recently read” report–if I can stay awake.

Farewell to Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 85. I learned of her death from Laurie Green at Spacefreighters Lounge, in a posting aptly titled “When Dragons Cry.”  McCaffrey wrote many books spread over several series and stand-alones, but she is best known for her tales of the Dragonriders of Pern.  When  I checked my Keeper Shelf, I found fifteen Pern books (one is a three-in-one). 

The first two books in the Pern series, Dragonflight and Dragonquest, were published in paperback in 1968 and 1971. I had pretty well worn out my copies by the time they were republished in hardcover in 1978 and 1979, after the hardcover edition of the third volume, The White Dragon, hit the New York Times bestseller list in the summer of 1978. I rarely bought hardcover books in those days, but I had to have those, even at the princely sum of $8.95 each.  I read the others as they came out, through The Skies of Pern (2001).

Beginning with Dragon’s Kin (2003), which I found on my To Be Read Shelf, McCaffrey shared the Pern universe with her son Todd.  Seven or eight more books have been published, either as collaborations or by Todd McCaffrey alone.  Somehow I’ve gotten behind on those, a case of so many books, so little time.

I’ve never liked the questions “Who are your favorite authors?” or “What authors have influenced you?”, but Anne McCaffrey would rank high on either scale.  She was the mistress of the planetary romance, my favorite variety of science fiction, she was a pioneer (New York Times bestseller, Hugo and Nebula Awards), and she was a woman who didn’t hide behind her initials or a pen name as so many female SF writers before her did.

The other day I stopped by Half-Price Books to look for some of McCaffrey’s early books, many of which I remember fondly.  I found Decision at Doona (1969), Dinosaur Planet (1978), and Dinosaur Planet Survivors (1984).   I didn’t find Restoree (1967), which I believe was her first novel (she’d already written quite a few stories and novellas, some of which later became novels), but I’m going to keep an eye out for it (there’s always Alibris.com).  I do have the four books in McCaffrey’s Freedom series on the shelf, and a few more.  I read many of her other books along the way, but my library has had to be thinned out every so often:  more books than shelf space, a perennial problem.

While I was at it, I picked up the first of Todd McCaffrey’s solo novels, Dragonsblood.  I’m sad to say farewell to Anne McCaffrey, but so glad to know that the story of Pern will continue.

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