The OF Blog: October 2004

Friday, October 22, 2004

Third Anniversary Blues

So OF turned three today. Posted a bit about it here. Amazing how far things have come in the time since then. Sadly, all things must change when they don't just end. After writing the post and reading some of the comments, I guess I better clarify a bit what I was trying to say there.

Almost since the very beginning, whether it was by design or accident, I somehow ended up being the de facto "leader" of OF. I was the annoying pest who begged for new features and cajoled others into discussing books or recommending excellent obscure works for others. It was a give-and-take situation and for a while, things flourished.

Then things expanded and I just found myself having to spend more and more time doing the not-so-fun work just to keep up a semblence of continual expansion of features and discussion. Something finally had to give and I really believe part of my recent health problems (the hypertension) is due to the stress I was under to oversee all aspects of OF during the few hours off from my two paying jobs.

When I took a couple weeks off to just rest from the tedium of searching the websites for news, articles, and other various "serious" stuff, I realized that I just didn't want to go back to doing all that. Even though I enjoyed interacting with people, I just was becoming more and more frustrated by the thought that too many were just content to sit back and let others, such as myself and Jake, do virtually all the work. I hated that feeling. No, resented would be a better word for that emotion. So I've struggled the past few days trying to decide what my future was going to be.

Since I'm heading back to school next year, at first part-time to renew my TN teaching license and later to earn a MS in Social Work/Counseling, it became crystal clear to me: just withdraw to the shadows. Oh, I'm not leaving completely or anything, but after I complete a few committments I've already made for November, I just plan on doing only a minimal supervisory role at OF. I'll probably just restrict myself to writing more regular Blog entries and maybe the occasional post, but I doubt I'll want to lead any more Book Club discussions or do the other minutiae.

Although I already aluded to this in the linked post, I realized afterwards that a more appropriate place for discussing this would be here rather than in a thread that ostensibly should be devoted to celebrating OF's past, present, and possible future. Sorry that I might have ruined the celebratory impulse there, but c'est la vie, yes?

And for those are reading this, again I just want to say thanks for opportunities I've had to get to know you all better, whether it be OF regulars, other wotmania members, or those reading this blog who know me from other sites. I really have appreciated the exchanges and have learned a lot in the process. Hopefully, the future will continue to bring more interaction and a greater understanding. So again, thanks for all the fish.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Janny Wurts Interview

Thanks again to Ryan of Andor for conducting this. Excellent work.

Dear Ryan -

Here are (belatedly!!!) the answers to your interview. My deepest apologies it has taken so long for my response.

Q: Was their any major influences in your choice of a career as a writer?

My desire to express myself in the widest possible sense - toexplore my own dreams and visions, is the primary driver to my choice to tell stories and paint. I literally read the library as a child - every sort of fiction and author, in all ranges of subject matter. Whatever caught my interest went. Therefore it is difficult to pick out which writers made the deepest impressions....the cream inevitably rises to the top. So the very best of what I read would have challenged me to reach higher and deeper.

Q: Why did you choose to write fantasy of all the genres?

Fantasy, again, allows the widest range of creativity. Any issue can be handled with the gloves off. No limit, no subject that cannot be harnessed, explored, or rearranged. Additionally, it is that very fluidity that makes the genre accessible. People can read and take whatever they value from it. The very best of fantasy can trigger more inspiration, thought, and creativity in return. I think this avenue of discovery provides the most thrilling excitement.

Q: What other hobbies and interests do you pursue that tie into your writing, or feel that influence your writing and style?

I love the outdoors. Keep horses on the property. So riding, sailing, gardening, and occasional visits to the wilderness in between excursions to my fantasy worlds fill my life with activity. I run or walk most every day, and have tons of bird feeders and little patches of garden that are oases for wildlife, which is in abundance in the backyard.

Q: How would you describe to someone who has never read your works what The Wars of Light and Shadow are all about? And any other books you have written.

Well, that is a lengthy question, since each book as its own thrust and direction. My first novel was written as a court intrigue, with the centerline drive to pack as much suspence into each chapter as I could. Therefore, the book reads at lightspeed, with each chapter a cliff hanger. One reader even complained that they began the book in the tub, and couldn't find any stopping point! They climbed out wet and shriveled four hours later. At least Sorcerer's Legacy was a short book!

The Cycle of Fire trilogy was a coming of age fantasy about three children, and entails them taking responsibility, or not, for their choices.

Master of Whitestorm explored the psyche of a mercenary and his inner drives, more episodic in nature. As one reads the events of his life in sequence, it becomes apparent that his inward drives do not match his outward appearances. His true nature threatens to become his nemesis.

The Empire series with Raymond Feist involved a woman fighting for her family name and the survival of her children overturning her entire culture.

Wars of Light and Shadows is an in depth exploration of compassionate understanding involving many layers and depths - done with enough scope that a reader will see a different reflection, depending on their angle of view. And that angle will change and shift, as perspectives grow, insights are unveiled, or the reader themself changes what they value or suppose upon the outcome.

To Ride Hell's Chasm is a tale of a kingdom set into peril that examines the moral stance of the warrior - and the conflict that arises between duty to society and duty to self. This one spans the gamut, opening as a mystery and court intrigue, and opening into a full scale, hard edged action adventure. About the most sheer fun I've had writing a novel, start to finish!

Q: Could you tell us about your published material and how you would rank these internally?

There is really no ranking involved. Each story was driven by a different core idea. Obviously the Wars of Light and Shadow has the most invested in it. For my take, each book was written direct from the heart. It had my whole attention for the span it required, and the one in front of me is always the one of primary importance.

Q: You have described the Wars of Light and Shadow as your life's work before. Do you have any plans after it has finished?

Yes! There's a file box stuffed with ideas in full outline, and several "story notes" files on my hard drive. Plenty of material there, it's a matter of what will catch my eye, my mind, my heart, in the moment as it arrives.

Q: Have you ever been approached by any game or motion picture production companies regarding The Wars of Light and Shadow? If not, would it appeal to you?

Not so far - the idea of a motion picture of any idea would be an outright thrill. I think that Hell's Chasm is best suited to the stunning action sequences and special effects available today, and it's straight shot story line and great supporting character roles would lend themselves to a film format. James Cameron is my dream director for that project.

I don't know who could encompass the depth and scope of Wars of Light and Shadows on film. To capture the essence of its ideas would be a monumental undertaking, to say the least! Creatively, the possibilities are endless, and we just don't know what the entertainment industry will do in the future. Who would have imagined the scope and caliber of what film is doing today, even ten years ago! Film is getting more and more like visioning -- more and more, captures the flavor of painted imagery, except that it moves and speaks. I think these times are tremendously exciting, for the advances happening, it seems, daily.

Q: Have you ever found out anything about your stolen artwork?

Not so far, though I expect we will. Too many fans are aware of our work, and the website is global. Hard as it is to hide information, I imagine the works will turn up one day.

Q: While on the subject of art, what stage of writing the book do you draw the cover art? I've noticed that the UK and US releases of Perilís Gate had different covers, do you
generally draw different covers for different countries?

The cover art is usually done long in advance of the release date - six to nine months, to allow for the image to be included in the catalog and available to distribution. Ideally, this part happens when I am finished the draft of a manuscript, even if before I've done final polishing and turn-in. Sometimes I've had to stop writing to create the art - always a tough moment, putting down the pen of an in progress work and shifting over into drawing mode. The areas of creativity take two entirely different modes of thought. Therefore, except for playing with the odd pencil drawing or two in a sketchbook I keep, I usually do one or the other exclusively. Whichever deadline is foremost gets the heat.

With regard to the different treatments, HarperCollins in Great Britain prefers landscape, and now, graphic based covers. The US books flourish best with portraits. I don't mind what sort of art treatment a book gets - just so it reflects the mood and flavor of the story. I've done all three approaches.

Q: About how long does it take you to paint what will become
cover art?

Cover paintings take approximately one month to six weeks, depending on size, complexity, and subject matter. This means working every day, from the starting sketches, to the finished oil painting.

Q: Do you, or will you ever do the cover art for books other
then those you write? If you have what titles does your artwork grace?

I got my professional status as an illustrator by painting book covers for wargames and the New York book market. In the eighties, there were numerous titles with my work on them - a string of authors from Lynn Abbey, James Blish, Gary Gygax, Joel Rosenberg, even Norman Spinrad....sf as well as fantasy. I did a few gaming covers for works based on the novels of Carolyn Cherryh. There was a set of trading cards produced that encorporated many of these images. Sometimes a set crops up on e bay, or in a shop that caters to comic collectors.

Q: Are you wary when creating artwork for covers, of influencing the readers opinion to much before they have a chance to form their own ideas/visualisations of the characters inside? Or do you prefer to establish an image straight away?

Due to the constraints of commercial publishing, and the fact that illustrators may or may not take to the heart of an idea - it's hit or miss, in the time they may have to produce a painting - I've always felt that having my own work on the cover gave the potential reader the most accurate shot. Mood, characters, settings, and the emphasis would have my spin on them - a risk, in some ways, since a reader will bring their own spin to what they value and grant attention to in any work of fiction. Though rightfully some readers may prefer their own imaginative take, the one guaranteed advantage to setting my work on the cover - the artist will have their whole attention and full heart brought to bear upon the finished image. The reward of that honesty outweighs the advantages, in my take. The work will outlast me, and there is all the time in the world for another set of visions to springboard off mine, at any given time in the future. The only time you'll get to see through my window, is through my eyes, and that must be accomplished now!

Q: Do you enjoy politics? And if or if not do you allow your
views on the subject to permeate your writing? Or do you take precautions to keep a strict line between your personal views and your writing?

It must be said that I imagine and create first for my own joy. What has meaning for me naturally colors my pen and brush. But ultimately, when another reads or views an image - they make it their own. Since each of us is unique as a human being, with different values and beliefs, the ground will not be the same. Some common threads might share resonance, but I prefer to leave readers free to experience their own values. The imagination made manifest is a springboard for them to express how they feel about any given character or situation. So I feel my personal values have meaning to me, but need not be shared in common with any other voyager through the pages. Each who experiences is free to create their own story out of the words and pictures. And the more the merrier! That is the dance that creativity and individual viewpoint seek to create.

Q: Do you feel it is important to apply less traditional fantasy elements to a story such as politics and intrigue?

Well, politics and intrigues grow up wherever there are groups of humans, striving to achieve the goals they set for themselves. I never liked an orchestra with one instrument, nor a piano that only plays one note at a time. A story that is a full tapestry is the playground I revel in. This does not diminsh any other approach - there are as many reasons for reading as there are literate humans. I like the richness of complexity, as my cup of tea. Traditional or not has very little to do with the excercise of personal taste.

Q: What author(s) do you read? Has any had a profound influence on your style as a writer?

I mentioned previously that I read the library. Now that I spend so much time writing, my reading time is less, so I am more selective. I prefer, naturally, a book with a broad tapestry - and a balance of values, being neither all lightness and air, nor the dark gritty stuff - when I paint, Don and I generally run a book on tape as background, and those titles run the gamut, from mainstream to genre to nonfiction.

Q: Before continuing onto some more plot orientated questions, what tips or advice would you give an aspiring writer or author?

Sing your own song. You are the only one who can do so. Don't let anyone's outside opinion swerve you from taking your own course. The beauty of who you are inside is the most precious thing in the universe and that has to come before anything. Creativity is among the most powerful human virtues, not to be squandered or steered to any other course than the one you see in your heart. Be honest there. Be true to yourself first. Next, practice. Writing in words is a complex craft, involving may layers of perception and skill and awareness. Not to mention, each word is a precision symbol - and no two mean exactly the same thing, despite what you may have been told. It takes YEARS of applied practice to learn to write - because you must think in layers. Talent has nothing to do with the process. Begin where you are, begin shaping an idea, and as you go, you will literally grown the neuronal pathways in your brain to handled the perception involved. This takes TIME, not talent. DESIRE, not genius. You have to learn your craft, and then develop your brain - grow into the task, quite literally. For learning craft, read, and get Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. This is the only book that can teach the CRAFT at nuts and bolts level. Then write, write, write, and read read read. Reading builds your vocabulary, so don't only grab pop culture paperbacks. Use your library, and read titles from times before televison and movies and internet, when people had more developed access to language.

Last - don't create and destroy in the same moment. If you are drafting, you are creating, therefore, you MUST shut off the critic that says, fix, change, or "that's no good." You draft utterly without censuring, freewheeling along until you see FIRMLY where your idea is going. THEN, when you have a developed compass, you go in and "destroy" - refine and edit to bring out the clarity of your material.

There are extensive notes on my website, under Tips for Writers and Artists ( and further information on handling rejection set down in some of the interview links posted in the Bulletins section.

The next few questions will be over works other than the Wars of Light and Shadow, none of which I have read myself so this section is completely everyone elses.

Q: Regarding your collaboration with Raymond E. Feist, I have not read those books personally but a few fans have, and considering your experience would you ever consider collaborating with another author on a new piece of work? And secondly how did you find the experience?

It was pure collaboration, start to finish. We started with a seed idea Ray had, that was but an opening scene, and the ending scene of Servant - no middle!A barely sketched out setting! All wide open, set on the stage of Tsurannuani's politics. We sat down, created the outlined sequence of events for what became Daughter and Servant in about 4 hours. Then we each grabbed bits we were most interested in, and drafted the first take. Then we exchanged scenes - exchanged them again, stitched into sequence. There is no area where we did not overwrite one another, and thread ideas into continuity - you can't tell who drafted what, anymore. When we'd completed Servant, it was inevitable, given Mara's position, that she would not clash with the ultimate powers in her world. So Mistress was born, and the integration of concepts was just as seamless.

Whenever we had differences, we always came up with a third possibility that was better. One of the alchemical benefits of two minds!

Q: Feist has said (Jimmy the Hand, Afterword), that there are places in the Empire books, where he can't tell you who wrote what. Do you feel the same way?


Q: Who was your favourite character from the Empire series and why?

I think Arakasi, for the reason that his growth was so totally unexpected. Though I should add, with such a vast cast, that choice is not a simple one! Other characters jump in and say "me! Me!" ME!"

One last set of questions and we're onto the Wars of Light and

Q: Will you do more Kelewan stuff?

None planned as of this moment, though past question the readers would like it.

Q: The The Cycle of Fire trilogy ends with a bigger conflict looming ahead. Do you plan on writing further books in the The Cycle of Fire trilogy, sequels and/or prequels?

There is a sequel in full outline in my files. It's quite possible I may draft it in full someday.

Q: Although the cover of Hell's Chasm refers to it as an epic stand alone volume, do you have plans to return to the character of Mykkael in other books? Im asking this because there seems to be a tremendous amount of back story to him, what with his barqui'ino training, rescue of the Efandi princess from Rathtet, his mercenary years, his childhood, and numerous other aspects about him. I would love to know more about him.

I have no plan on the ground to write more about Mykkael - though many readers want his backstory, I feel the man he is in the story is the product of that - and the events are all known outcomes. The untold story is the future one, in my opinion, but unless I have something NEW to say about that character, I feel the existing story adequately does the job.

One thing I have never done is repeat the same ground in the same orientation! Since the mystery of the unknown is what pulls me forward, it's not likely I'll do this. I can't write when I'm bored, and repeating material or ideas from the old angles is worse than gnoshing at old chewing gum!!! The sweetness is in the original journey.

Now onto the subject of the Wars of Light and Shadow.

Firstly I'd like to say once more what a great series the Wars of Light and Shadow is, and thank you for your time in doing this. I for one am thankful as I am sure most at the Other Fantasy section are.

Q: Four heirs went to Dascen Elur, three of the five bloodlines are represented. We know the Havish bloodline was hidden on Athera. Lysaer and Arithon represent three of them. What happened to the fifth?

The fifth died off, a story in itself that I may tell some day. There are more clues available in the FAQ section of my website.

Q: Why didn't Sethvir sense what happened to Cildais when he went
to find the Paravians? Or is this a built in ëflawí in his Earth sense, or can the Paravians choose to circumnavigate it at choice?

This is one of the major mysteries extant in this story, and the volumes to come will answer it quite, quite thoroughly. No spoilers here!

Q: Why do the Fellowship Sorcerors allow the Koriathain to continually meddle in their affairs? Why not explain some of their actions, rather than just ignoring the potentially dangerous women?

The Law of the Major Balance honors freedom of choice, and free will. The Fellowship honor that - with one sticky caveat: where the mandate of the dragons drives them, where Paravian survival is in question, they must act. This is a complexity that unveils slowly in the course of the series, and the heart of the paradox that drives the Fellowships motivations. They will allow the Koriathain free will, but up to a point, they cannot. One of the driving axis of their motivation, and one that will unfold in fullest complexity as the story reaches completion.

Q: Some have said the series has grown beyond your original intentions? Is this true? If so does it bother you?

The story has never departed from the original map I set for it, is quite on track with regard to the ideas and their development. It does not sprawl, but deepens with each subsequent volume. It has a distinct destination. Readers may find frustration because they can never "see" where my plots are going.

However, though this series is told in many volumes, none have been created to "extend" what must be said....all take the path predetermined over the course of 30 years of planning. When the series is fully finished, and the complete tapestry in view, it will be quite apparent that every single thing evolved to its correct ending. I can't apologize for the time, or the care, put into making the words take the tale to that point.

All of my other works have "endings" - all loose ends tie up. I will promise no less with this bigger tapestry - it's just - bigger.

Q: Some people have been put off by Curse of the Mistwraith because the prologue gives the impression that there will be 500 years of strife with the hero seeming to 'fail' at the end. I take it that there is more than meets the eye to that prologue? Do you regret having it in the book if it has put people off?

If the prologue puts people off, then it's because they have some sort of preconceived IDEA of their own that makes them turn off. Because as any of my readers will tell you, I always develop and finish a story - and never ever in the predictable fashion! Therefore, any predetermined 'idea' about what you expect from the prologue is not at all likely to have substance. I "put off" person, at this stage, never let themselves enter the stage, never let the story have any chance to touch them. They just settled for what they "thought." And in a free will universe, nobody has to look through a window they "think" might be something they won't enjoy.

Q: The Wise Sage quotes given by Arithon in the trial scene at the beginning of The Curse of the Mistwraith were amazing. Where did the inspiration for these come from? Yourself, or were you inspired by an external source?

My goodness, wise sage quotes happen everywhere there are experienced humans with two bits worth of accumulated wisdom! I can't recall the quotes as stand outs, far less what may have inspired them....if you look at any old wives' saying, or old man's take on life, such pearls abound...and even, if you are a library hound, compiled books of such
things created for speech writers. Yes, I read those too, someplace in the ravenous course of my reading!

Q: What was your inspiration for the Fellowship of Seven? And or how did they come to be?

Inspiration doesn't ever happen as a full blown idea. It begins as a seed. I created the Fellowship as they are, initially, out of Angst. One, too many fantasy books had very very powerful wizards who just mouthed Power and Wisdom but never DID a darn thing. I wanted power that COULD do anything. Had NO LIMIT. Choice alone restrained....a power so fierce in its majesty that it held no bounds - contained by will alone.

Second, I got sick of the stereotypical "one old man wizard" character that could almost be traded off, book to book, as a bare, undifferentiated archetype. I felt, as a lark, if I had SEVEN of these guys, they'd HAVE to be different characters or I could not keep them
straight! So, initially, I said OK, Seven characters. Run with it. And see where THEY lead.

And lead they did! Right off, two decided they were to be discorporate ghosts! And no less powerful for that little caveat!!

Q: What was your inspiration for the Koriathain?

A concept, endemic to our human situation - that "humans" and their survival mean more, and are "paramount" - that the 'greater good' of humanity supercedes all else. The very narrowness of this idea spoke of an old, rigid order of thought. "Institutionalized" service to human culture and well being that devolved until the institution now exists solely to perpetuate itself. Most institutions are founded for worthy causes - but to stay cohesive, sooner or later the cause becomes adulterated into a political animal that serves itself.

Q: On the surface I've noticed a few similarities in Verrain's thoughts that paint his past similar at least on the surface to Dakar's. Is this intentional, or is their more then meets the eye with apprentices to Fellowship sorcerers?

Verrain's background and Dakar's are not one whit the same, although they both liked to party! Verrain did his with an elegant, aristocratic slant. Dakar, though binge rolling in the gutter! Verrain's history is one of the neater threads in the backstory that, one day, I may do a pastiche would intrigue me very much to be able to snatch time to write out, just to play with the richness and vintage flavor of Athera's past.

Q: Of all the characters, the one most noticeably to change throughout the series is Dakar. At first I found him amusing, but his transformation has been heart touching. It is abundantly clear in Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark (I have the paperbacks of the first three books, or four depending if you'd consider Ships as two.) Did Asandir have any hint this would happen to Dakar? Is this one of the reasons he set Arithon to watch over Dakar no matter how it is supposed to be the other way around?

Asandir well know what he was about, in setting those two characters into a locked fate. You will see the scope of his vision come to fruition in Stormed Fortress, next to write.

Q: Regarding the brothers s'Brydion, and the s'Brydion family in general, since they survived the uprising, why have they not sought to restore clan rule to Melhalla?

Because clan rule in Melhalla is very much alive and well! It lies in the hands of the Caithdein of the realm, at this time resident in Atwood. The s'Brydion title is subordinate to her, as mentioned in Ships of Merior, straight out (scene of Arithon's encounter with Lord Erlien s'Taleyn) You will encounter the Lady very soon now - her introductory scenes are already written and set!

Q: Could you clarify Luhaine's interference with Elairaís bond to the Skyron Aquamarine? I understand he interfered somewhat at her consent, but how far did that intervention go? Would the Fellowship interfere further if Arithon, or Elaira were to ask?

The intervention went full course - as far as the longevity binding went. The reason for Luhaine's action was stated in the text....her bond with the Skyron is intact, as must be, since her full consent was given to the Koriani Prime Matriarch, and so recorded.

Anyone may ask a Fellowship Sorcerer. Asking does not mean the Fellowship will respond. Again, this paradox will keep unveiling as the series moves - until you will understand all that it entails. The precepts that can bind free are an unwinding thread through the series. You will have a far better view as you go along - each with more depth and intricacy.

Q: Could you clarify the limitations of Traithe's crippling? What is he capable of, or not capable of? I understand he is not without power, but the lines of what can and cannot be done by him seem rather blurry?

Not blurry one bit. He has "sheared off" bits of himself. They are not accessible, being "cut off" to halt an invasion of free wraiths. His path, and what a healing might entail, will unfold in due time.

In my paradigm for Athera, whole power requires no "place holders" or "symbols" of intent. Broken power must bridge the "gaps" - and there you have the reason why Traithe employs the methodology he uses to access what powers he can, in his current sundered state.

Q: More and more appearances seem to be made by the Paravians as the series goes on, is this due to their readiness to return to the continent? Or is their some other reasoning?

No comment I can possible give will not spoil future story! Some other reasoning will have to do, for now....the question will also be most fully answered, all in its own due time. Believe me, I am excited to get those words down onto the page! They happen, however, one at a time! So I have to wait to show you.

Q: In Peril's Gate I greatly enjoyed the scenes with Davien, he's proven to be one of the most interesting characters I've read about in a long time. Curiosity killed the cat, but I find that I can't seem to get enough of him. Will Davien be a major part in the upcoming books as is implied in the end of Peril's Gate?

Oh brother, you are not kidding! He is a major player in this series - in more ways than you can possibly see! Traitor's Knot will absolutely start developing his part with a vengeance. He could not come in sooner - the "staging" for understanding (or Starting To!!) what he is about had to be very very solidly in place, first. Now his time is come.

Q: Davien figured out how to regain a mortal body, could he, or would he for that matter show Khardamon and Luhaine the method for this? Would the two discorporate sorcerers regain a human body if they knew how? As their current work seems to be taking them into space and what not quite a bit.

Luhaine or Kharadmon could achieve this, themselves, IF they set intent to pursue the means. Each sorcerer has their own area of expertise. Davien's orientation is far more suited to this sort of manifestation. The accomplishment, for him, should be considered a major labor. For Kharadmon and Luhaine, it is not likely to be worth the expenditure of
time. Their driving orientation is not a bit the same.


OK Ryan - here's the lot! I carbonned my website master so that the e mail didn't get lost (there were a lot of questions!) Also, eventually, if you don't mind, I'd like to preserve the material in the FAQ section of my website so that all fans can benefit. This will not happen right away - so that your site has uniqueness at the outset.

Thanks for bearing with me! And for being such an enthusiast of Athera.

Best as ever - Janny Wurts

Thursday, October 07, 2004


This blog receives hundreds of books each year from publishers across the United States, as well as from British and Canadian publishers. Most of them I do not bother to read. Some I cannot read, since my puppy has shredded the packages in which the books arrive before I can pick them up off of the front porch. Others I do end up reading, but I rarely say more than a sentence or two in a reading journal-like entry. Only a dozen or two books per year out of the hundreds I receive from publishers each year are reviewed in full. Some of those receive positive marks, because I found the stories to be excellent. Others receive mixed or negative comments, because I found structural weaknesses in that book's characterization, prose, and/or plot. In each case, the opinions expressed are mine and not words placed into my mouth by an author, publicist, or any other representative of a publishing firm.

Now that you know this, understand that this disclaimer applies to all reviews, whether or not I actually bought or received the book as a review copy. After all, I cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars shipping the books (read or unread) back to the publishers, thus this disclaimer. Thank you and drive through.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Just How Universal is Speculative Fiction?

For almost as long as I have been a reader, I've enjoyed stories that speculated about what was around the corner or lurking within the innermost recesses of our shared imaginations/nightmares. One of the first books I remember reading was Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and from then on I was hooked. As a young boy growing up, I read graphic novel adaptations of classics such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Three Muskateers, and many other stories of the adventurous and/or fantastic from all corners of the globe.

It wasn't until I was twelve, however, that I was introduced to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, but strangely enough, while I enjoyed his story greatly, I was not inclined to read similar-styled books for another ten years. Instead, I wanted to read imaginative works that explored the human condition and psyche in various ways. I became enamoured with stories such as Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Zola's Germinal and Nana. Even within these psychological/naturalist stories, I sensed a glimpse of the speculative, of the queries for something more than what was at hand.

When I finally did start to read genre fantasy/science fiction late during my grad school days, I read these works as just one more way of addressing human longings rather than as merely escapist pulp fiction or as imitators of a prior masterpiece. However, I couldn't help but notice one other thing lately as I've browsed the various online fantasy/SF communities: the lack of transcultural fantastic literature being discussed.

As some know, I'm drawn to the ways in which various cultures have interacted and repulsed each other over the centuries. It seems strange to me, having read great works of imagination from cultural groups on each of the six permanently inhabited continents that when discussing works of Fantasy or Sci-Fi, almost all of the dialogue concentrates on a very small handful of nations. While I understand that the United States is the publishing capital of the world and that American cultural mores tend to sway global tastes (much to the chagrin of many), it does seem strange that there is very little talk of speculative fiction from places outside North America, Great Britain, and to a lesser extent Scandinavia, Poland, and Russia.

I've had to do quite some digging to find available works from other traditions. One such work, available in English translation, is the collection entitled Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain. Reading these stories, which span a period at least as long as the genesis and heyday of Anglo-American SF, gave a different perspective on the interaction of people with tekne. For fantasy, I read in the original Spanish the works of the Argentine greats, Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and sometime Buenos Aires resident Horacio Quiroga. There's something amazing in these stories, something that makes their relative obscurity in North America all the more saddening, considering American willingness to read and enjoy works by Dumas, Hugo, and Cervantes, just to name a few.

I guess after this rather rambling essay that I better address the readers with a question of my own: What works of literature do you read or know about that aren't from the Anglo-American heritage that you believe would make for excellent additions to a master list of great speculative work? Listed below are some of my recommendations:

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad/One Hundred Years of Solitude
Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciónes
Adolfo Bioy Casares, la invención de morel/The Invention of Morel
Alejo Carpentier, los pasos perdidos/The Lost Steps
Horacio Quiroga, Cuentos de amor, de locura y de muerte/The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories
Oliverio Girondo, The Scarecrow and Other Anomalies (bilingual edition)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince
Shlomo DuNour, Adiel
Italo Calvino, If on winter's night a traveller
Alberto Fuguet, Mala onda/Bad Vibes

Hopefully, there will be some reader comments suggesting more, as any recognition given to deserving works is a very good thing.
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