Okay, if you've been keeping track at all then you've probably noticed that I'm woefully behind in my promised 'retrospective' postings in support of the Independent Literary Awards. This has been a crazy Spring season for me - some good, some bad - but that's really no excuse. After all, no matter how crappy I'm feeling or how busy my day is, there's still a book or an e-reader (or, more often, both) in my purse.
So, with that in mind, I figured it was time to forget about work for a bit, ignore the phone, and get started in honouring my responsibilities as a voting member (which, I just have to say again, excites me like you cannot believe!) for this year's Speculative Fiction category.
As I suggested back in April, I'd like to pick a sub-genre each month and explore the books and authors who first sparked my literary passions. Since I'm a bit behind, I'm going to go a bit beyond just listing my must-reads and talk about my history with Epic Fantasy.
I came to fantasy rather late, and (like most geeks/geekettes) came to it sideways, through role-playing games. Quite naturally, since I was curious to learn more about the world in which we were playing, I started my epic fantasy adventures with Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles. I absolutely fell in love with the world and the characters, and it's become the de facto standard against which I judge the genre. If you want to thrill me, if you want to win this girl's heart, then you had better give me forests and dragons and wizards and elves, magic and wonder, and romance and humour.
From there, I moved on to Michael Moorock's tales of the Eternal Champion, first with Elric, and then Hawkmoon and Corum, to be followed much later by Erekosë and Von Bek. The Elric stories completely blew me away, being not about some epic hero, but about some sickly, sullen, tortured soul who is haunted by a sentient sword that sucks the souls from its victims. Moonglum remains one of my favourite sidekicks, and Rackhir, the Red Archer sticks with me as well. I definitely preferred Hawkmoon over Corum, but it was Erekosë - the insane hero who is cursed to remember fragments of his incarnation as the other Eternal Champions - who really wowed me.
It was only then, with a few sagas under my belt, that I finally tackled J.R.R. Tolkien`s classic masterpieces The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. There`s not much I can say about these cornerstones of fantasy that hasn`t already been said, but I think I was fortunate not to start with Tolkien. They are amazing stories, and the characters truly stick with you, but they`re also very literate stories. The history does tend to get a bit dry for a younger reader, and there are long stretches where nothing significant happens. That`s part of their charm, absolutely, but I think it might have put me off a bit had it been my first fantasy read. To this day, I can still remember lugging my thick, one-volume paperback of the trilogy from class to class to class, and having the (so-called) cool kids be completely amazed that I could read something so big.
I don`t necessarily remember what I read next, but I do remember being frustrated that there were so few female fantasy authors. My fellow geeks knew of some female authors but, they assured me, none of them were very good. As you can imagine, I totally took that as a challenge. Mercedes Lackey and I got along very well, right from the start, and I soon became fast friends with Melanie Rawn as well. As soon as they found out Mercedes Lackey wrote about a gay wizard, my friends immediately dismissed her as not being worth reading, and I still regret that I didn`t try harder to change their minds. To this day, Vanyel remains one of my absolute favourite heroes.
Fortunately, I did have better luck with the lovely Melanie Rawn, selling my friends on not only the Dragon Prince saga, but the Dragon Star trilogy as well. I even manged to drag one of the boys into the worlds of The Golden Key and Exiles, and while we rarely see each other much anymore, he still makes a point of reminding me that I`m solely responsible for his depression relating to the ongoing wait for subsequent entries in either saga. I haven`t had the chance to share the good news about The Diviner yet, but I`m hoping that might buy me a nice dinner!
I would be sincerely remiss if I didn`t say a few words about the magnificent Raymond E. Feist, and his original Riftwar saga. For some reason, I was prepared not to like these books, probably (in hindsight) as a form of rebellion against my friends and their refusal to entertain Mercedes Lackey. Fortunately, I was a bit more open-minded and a bit more greedy for another series to read, because the adventures of Pug and team rank up there with my favourite fantasy reads. I`ve kind of fallen away from Feist`s continuing side-sagas, but I`m excited to see he`s returned to the core story (and to Pug) with the Darkwar Saga, so I`m hoping to revisit some old friends soon.
Lastly, I have to sneak in a quick mention of John Norman`s Gor saga. These are the books my friends tried to hide from me, to avoid even mentioning (much less talking about) while I was around. They were forbidden and taboo, naughty tales of sex, bondage, and slavery, and they were embarrassed to be seen with them. Much to their chagrin, I loved them so much that I quickly outpaced each of them in the series. The idea of a counter-Earth was quite delightful, and Tarl Cabot was just a hunk of a hero. I loved the stories from the story angle of pulp, Conan-esque fantasy, but I loved them even more from the fantasy angle of the sexuality and submission. I knew it was strange, and I knew it made my friends feel awkward, but something in the stories of the kajira spoke to my very soul.
Well, that`s it for tonight. Once again, a huge thanks goes out to Wallace (from Unputdownables) for allowing me to take part; to the authors who continuously inspire and entertain me; and to you, my fellow readers, for sharing the journey and discovering new reads together.