31 January 2006 by Published in: writing 1 comment

I was thinking this morning, about something Patrick Nielsen Hayden said at VP (also said in this entry by Elizabeth Bear which I’m linking again because it’s that good): what matters in your writing beyond basic competency is not so much what you do wrong when you write, but what you do right. Often when I review (or just think about) a book, even by an author I love dearly, I take the time to try and be evenhanded, and I spend a lot of time analyzing the bits that don’t work for me, since those are the bits that serve to caution me in my own work. Today, however, I was considering certain author’s gifts (or what I consider their gifts, at any rate), and I thought I would just lay them out here. So, things I admire about currently living, working authors:

  • About Caitlin R. Kiernan: how everything she writes is processed to the nth degree. Nothing is direct or straightforward. Every idea is simmered and touched by other ideas. Chronology and event description are often beneath her, incidental to the inner lives of the characters she writes about. She’s never written a line that was only about one thing, or only had one meaning.
  • About Elizabeth Bear: How she’s not afraid to maim (and sometimes kill) her characters, even the very best ones. Unflinching.
  • About Neil Gaiman: how thoroughly convincing and deft his voices are (both narrative and character voices). Even when plots are thin or reprocessed, when events seem disjointed, when references are more like wholesale reappropriations, the voices of the characters are always pitch perfect.
  • About J.K. Rowling: narrative drive and forward plot momentum. There’s never a good moment to put the book down, until its over.
  • About Gene Wolfe: how he never, ever even for a second lets you get away with being a stupid reader, and rewards you so well for paying attention.
  • About Jeff VanderMeer: the unstinting courage to take huge risks, to do unconventional and strange things with form and structure and narrative, without worrying about whether they’ll work or not. Maybe he does worry (far be it from me to claim knowledge of the author’s emotional state), but that sure doesn’t come across on the page. Also, the richness of his worlds, the depth and breadth of places like Ambergris and Veniss.
  • About Lois McMaster Bujold: Her complete mastery of third person limited POV. It looks effortless and elegant when you read her words, which is the true sign of super proficiency.
  • About Ursula K. LeGuin: How her books speak to you long after you put them down. The density of ideas in each. I read The Dispossessed over two years ago and, as recently as last week, I was still ruminating over some of the political philosophy she wrote about in it. Her ideas remain relevant.
  • About Haruki Murakami: I’ve often seen critics describe prose as luminous, which tends to make me roll my eyes, but Murakami’s actually is. I can’t even describe it, and the fact that I read a translated and therefore lesser version of his words and still feel the glow astonishes me.
  • About Ray Bradbury: His mastery of setting. I know what Mars looks like, what the 1950’s look like, what the veldt looks like, what the carnival looks like, what October looks like, and I know them all because he told me. Also, the way he can go back to the story well, again and again, and keep drawing things up. He still has things to say.
  • About Bruce Sterling: Complexity and extrapolation perfectly intertwined. It’s not layering (which I also admire in authors when I recognize it) so much as imbrication and even though he’s not an author I love, he’s certainly an author I admire.

Doubtless I could go on, and perhaps I shall revisit this at some later date, but for now, that’s a pretty good list.


Tue 31st Jan 2006 at 5:47 pm

What you said about Bradbury made my brain skip a beat. I read "The Veldt" in school, in about seventh grade, and I remember LOVING that story. Just everything about it. It changed what I looked for in fiction from then on (to this day, I want to be given clues to an eventual twist, which is why I love Sheri Tepper). I even talked like those kids for a while ("they’ll be here directly"). I haven’t thought about that story in years, but boy, did I love it.

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress