Friday, July 14, 2023

The List...College & Beyond Part I

Good lord!  Another long break.  Geez!  Life is crazy.  

In college, I continued with many of my favorite series including Darkover, the Pip & Flinx books, Valdemar and others.  A few of my other favorites included (in no particular order):

The Shannara series by Terry Brooks can be a little controversial.  Most people feel that it's a straight Tolkien rip-off - particularly the first book, Sword of Shannara:

And...they're not wrong...exactly.  My personal feeling is that there's enough difference to make it interesting and, as the series expands, the differences become wide enough to make it worth reading for itself without the Tolkien comparison.  Also, don't go by the recent (and horrible) TV adaptation that just ruined it.  Brooks also does a great job of eventually weaving Shannara together with one of his other series so it's worth reading as well.  My favorite of the entire Shannara series is "The Elf Queen of Shannara".  

His Landover novels are also a fun read:

Next we come to another of my favorite, and very prolific, authors:  Barbara Hambly.  She writes across multiple genres including Sword & Sorcery, Urban Fantasy, Mystery, etc. and is still currently putting out novels.  My earliest introduction to her was the Darwath series:

Blending urban fantasy elements with classic fantasy and a post-apocalyptic setting, Hambly utilizes what is a repeat theme for her - world-hopping between our "Earth" and another, more magical world.

This shows up again in her Windrose Chronicles books - which feature one of my favorite kooky yet brilliant wizard characters of all time, Antryg Windrose:

If you want good ol' Sword & Sorcery, but with a twist, nothing beats the Sun Wolfe/Starhawk books which asks the question "What happens when your everyday mercenary barbarian swordsman is granted magic he neither understands nor wants?"  And don't discount Starhawk - she's not the typical "chick in a fur/chainmail" bikini that is the Sword & Sorcery trope for female warriors.  She's smart, she's deadly and she's an equal (or better) half of the partnership:

On the other hand, if vampires are your thing...Hambly has that covered as well with her Asher/Ysidro series.  No, the vampires don't sparkle...and James Asher brings a touch of Sherlock Holmes/private detective flavor to this of my favorite takes on the vampire trope before it became overdone and everywhere:

I'll talk more about Hambly's other works in an upcoming post, but if you prefer straight up mysteries without the fantasy elements, I highly recommend her Benjamin January books.

I've saved the best for last:  Katherine Kurtz's books.  I first discovered her through her Deryni series which takes place in a meticulously researched and detailed alternate medieval Europe where non-magical humans magically gifted Deryni live side by side and take turns throughout history being in control and persecuting the other race only.  The painful losses suffered on both sides are emotional and gut-wrenching (detailed in the prequel books about Camber of Culdi and particularly in King Javan's Year).  The detailed magical system and religious elements really add to the realism of the world.

Kurtz also furthered my love of Urban Fantasy with her Adept series.  Unfortunately, I've learned that only book 5 is available via Kindle, but you can still get the paperback versions of the others.  I've had to give up on physical book copies as my worsening allergies include dust from book papers as they deteriorate over time.

There's a loosely-related series about the Knights Templar by Kurtz that is also excellent.

Okay, that's it for this installment.  Hopefully, I'll be able to get the next one done more quickly (but no promises).


Friday, October 14, 2022

The List...High School Years Part II

Ooops...that took longer to get back to than I thought.  I've been gradually cataloging books and rummaging through my memory to put these lists together and have updated some of the prior entries with things I'd forgotten about when I posted originally so...worth checking out the earlier posts for the new info.

Okay, so...more high school.  While I continued to read in my favorite series by Norton, McCaffrey, Valdemar & others, I was also getting into some of the earlier sci-fi/fantasy that influenced these amazing writers.  Examples include the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, anything by Leigh Brackett and the Jirel of Joiry series by the amazing C.L. Moore - one of the true female pioneers of the genre.

I went through a major King Arthur phase which included MZB's Mists of Avalon as well as the wonderful series by Mary Stewart that focuses on Merlin's point of view:

Another work that I don't believe is as well known, but which I thoroughly enjoyed is Gillian Bradshaw's Hawk of May.  Rather than following the more well-known characters like Arthur, Merlin or Lancelot (although they are all there), this series focuses on Gwalchmai, more familiar to us as Sir Gawaine.

Switching over to sci-fi, I discovered the Flinx & Pip series by Alan Dean Foster.  Philip Lynx or "Flinx" as he is known is a galactic orphan with a mysterious past and some strange abilities.  Because of these abilities, he is able to partner up with a deadly creature known as an Alaspinian mini-drag, who he names "Pip".  These books are set in Foster's wider universe known as "The Commonwealth" where humans and the insect-like Thranx have formed a close alliance against the reptilian Aan.  The world-building is strong, Flinx & Pip are really likable characters and even the most insect-averse reader will come to like the Thranx (plus, they smell good!)  It should be noted that the books were not published in the chronological order of the story so readers will have to choose if they want to read in chronological order or publication order.  If you want to start chronologically, then For Love of Mother-Not is the place to begin:

Personally, my favorite in the series is Mid-Flinx.  Pip & Flinx find themselves on a sentient jungle planet where anything you touch may be deadly:

Additional excellent books that take place in the same Humanx Commonwealth universe, but don't feature Pip & Flinx, include Nor Crystal Tears, the Icerigger Trilogy, and Cachalot among many others:

Foster is also well-known for writing the novelizations of many famous sci-fi films including Alien and multiple entries in the Star Wars universe.

But wait!  You only like fantasy, you say?  Foster has you covered with his Spellsinger books which feature the grouchy (and possibly crazy) turtle wizard, Clothahump, the always-up-for-a-good-time otter, Mudge, and a hapless human recruited from Earth for his alleged spell singing abilities...which he has to learn how to use.  If you've ever sat in traffic while mentally matching your Spotify soundtrack to your favorite sword & sorcery scenario - these books are for you!  You'll never listen to "Sloop John B" the same way ever again.

But wait!  You say you only have time for short stories?  Foster has that covered, too!  I am not always a big fan of anthologies but there have been a few exceptions like the MZB's Darkover & Sword & Sorceress anthologies (which I was also reading during this time), but Foster has two of my favorites:

"Why Johnny Can't Speed" is one of my personal faves from this collection - predicts the phenomenon of road rage YEARS ahead of its time.

And then the follow up volume is, of course:

There were so many, many more, but this is where the memory banks are being a bit recalcitrant.  I'll have to come back and update as I remember more.  Next...the college years and beyond.


Monday, May 30, 2022

The List - High School Years Part I

Moving into high school, I was still reading books by some of the authors previously mentioned as they published additional installments of their various series.  High school wasn't as nerve-wracking for me socially, either, so no more hiding in the library.  I moved to just always carrying a novel with me as I could usually squeeze in a few minutes of reading while waiting for a class to start or if I finished a test early, etc.  I did have to pick up the art of using brown paper grocery bags to cover some of the books - cover art back then could be quite lurid.  Let's face it - this genre was still being marketed to men and teenage boys and the art reflected it.  Often, I'd look at the cover after finishing the story and think "this scene/person isn't even in the book!"  I got tired of the odd looks I'd get when people saw some of the anatomically imbalanced characters or weird aliens on the covers.  I also perfected the following conversation:

Other Person:  "What are you reading?"

Me:  "Oh, just a book."

Because, invariably, if I actually answered the question, the other person would get strangely quiet, then sort of mumble "ummm...oh, okay", give me a weird look and then leave.  Example:

Other Person:  "What are you reading?"

Me:  " It's called 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' and it's by Philip K. Dick" 

You see the problem?  (Side note:  This is the book that the movie "Bladerunner" is very loosely based on)

Often later I would catch that person pointing at me while whispering about me to someone else...I'm sure something along the lines of "that girl is reading the weirdest book!"

So, brown paper bag covers and refusing to provide details became de rigueur.  Nowadays, I've been saved all that bother because my books are on the Kindle app on my phone.  No more trying to shove a hardback in my purse (paperbacks were small enough to not be a problem) and no more answering awkward questions!  Although, it probably wouldn't be as much of an issue for me now - I find being over 55 and having gone through menopause means I give zero f***s what anyone thinks 😉

Here are some of the additional authors and series I ran through in high school:

The Xanth series by Piers Anthony

Fair warning - if you loathe puns, this is NOT the series for you.  On the other hand, if puns are your thing - there are 42 books in the series!  No, I'm not kidding.  Now, I stopped reading somewhere about book 10 or so.  The early books (first 3 in particular) are the best AND there are a lot of issues with the female characters and how they are described and dealt with.  These books do NOT stand the test of time, but I did enjoy them at the age of 14.

While that issue runs through all of his books to a certain extent, I find it less obvious/bothersome in his other series and think they've stood the test of time better than the Xanth books.  Also, they finished at a rational point (because no one needs 42 books of ANYTHING).  I loved the Incarnations of Immortality series (major archetypes such as Death, Time, Nature, etc. are embodied in actual people.  The first book centers around the archetype of Death and, in my opinion, is the best of series.  The Time installment gets a bit hard to follow (as is almost always the case with any time-travel story). 

I also really enjoyed The Apprentice Adept series.  Based on a a mix of two worlds - one tech-based (Proton) and one fantasy-based (Phaze) - that mirror each other.  This book also (rather eerily accurately to my mind) predicted the rise of reality-type competition shows with a social media following.  I haven't re-read them in a long time - I'd be interested to see if they still hold up.

Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey

Another series that I was really fond of in high school, but which also has not stood the test of time as well as I had hoped when I recently re-read them (or maybe just needs to be re-categorized as YA which, as I've mentioned, was not so much of a thing back in the pre-Harry Potter era) are the Valdemar books by Mercedes Lackey.  It's not true across the board of the entire series.  While all the books take place in the same "world", there are "mini" series within the whole scheme that are usually 2-3 book arcs following a particular set of characters and/or time of history in the world.  The initial series that starts with Arrows of the Queen has a very young protagonist, which is likely a big part of the reason that I don't still connect with them as strongly. 

I think the Vows & Honor (Tarma/Kethry) duology likely holds up better due to more serious subject matter and slightly older characters:

The Last Herald Mage series is some of her best work, but it can be a rough read (tears! many, many tears!).  It probably also remains the most timely given the focus on an LGBTQ character.  Gender-related issues and characters with different sexual identities crop up throughout Lackey's books to varying degrees so the advertent reader will want to judge their own tolerance levels (or the levels of those they might recommend the books to) judiciously:

If you like Valdemar as a world, but non-human characters are more appealing to you, then you can get your fill in the Mage Wars series (although I always think of it as the Gryphon series):

It probably seems like I was doing nothing but reading Mercedes Lackey during this time, but she had so many good books!  Her Diana Tregarde books were my first intro to Urban Fantasy along with the Bedlam's Bards series.  The Bardic Voices (not to be confused with the previously mentioned series - they are not related) were also great - music is definitely magic!  Some of the later Valdemar books (starting around the Mage Winds series and later) slowly lost me and I haven't read any of the Collegium or Herald Spy series, but I did pick up the two most recent books having to do with the original founding of Valdemar and quite enjoyed them - they seem to be back closer to what I liked about the earlier books with slightly older protagonists and not so YA-seeming.

Amber by Roger Zelazny

It was also about this time that I discovered the amazing Roger Zelazny.  He had a number of stand-alone books and volumes of short stories that I'll focus on in a later entry dedicated specifically to those non-series items.  Let's talk Amber!  From the moment the amnesiac Prince Corwin (as we later learn) wakes up on Earth in a "sanitarium", I was hooked!  Part detective noir, part multi-plane fantasy, part political/dynastic struggle, these books have something for everyone!  This series is a "Game of Thrones" with much more creativity and fantasy elements thrown in as everyone jockeys for power and your best friend (or brother) today could be your worst enemy tomorrow (and vice versa).

And if 5 Corwin books weren't enough time in Amber (and they weren't), you get the bonus series about Corwin's son, Merlin (no, not that Merlin)

I remember these books so fondly that even writing about them now is inspiring me to do a re-read!

Stay tuned for Part II of my high school era series list!


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Life List...The Early Years

The following are not necessarily in any order (i.e. I didn't list them with "most favorite" first, etc.).  If there's any order at all, it might be chronological based on when I discovered them?  Maybe?  This is starting about mid-late elementary-school age-ish (8-11 or so) as, once I blasted through Tolkien & Lewis, I was jones-ing to get my hands on my next fix.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg:  While not Fantasy in the strictest sense, this story of young children running away and hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art always had that "fantasy" feel to me as it was such an unlikely scenario - especially considering how long the get away with it.  This was another in the long line of "mom made me read all the Newberry/Caldecott award winners" whenever we checked books out from the library.  This charming story was one of those where mom got it right.

Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien is the basis for the Disney film "The Secret of NIMH" and is yet another Newberry award-winner (mom strikes again).  Charming talking animals story with lots of fun and adventure!

I will give a special shout out to my 3rd grade teacher who, whenever it was rainy day schedule or he just didn't feel like teaching, he would get out this old Madeira wine jug (not a tall bottle - the short, fat, round kind) that had different colors of candle wax dripped all down the side from the various candles he'd used in it over the years.  He'd turn off all the lights, light the candle that was in the wine jug's opening and read out loud to us.  James and the Giant Peach was a favorite and no one can convince me that life-size, talking insects living inside a giant peach flown around by seagulls is NOT fantasy.

Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle:  

A series featuring a Newberry award-winner (my mother was obsessed with ensuring I read every Newberry book as a kid...sometimes with great results...and sometimes not so great).  The first two books are the best IMO.  I identified with the social outcast Meg who even the school administrators didn't care for.  Proginoskes, the Cherubim, from Book 2 is one of my favorite characters of all time.  I loved these books so much that I paid a high school friend of mine who was quite the artist to paint a re-creation of one of the book covers for me.  It's still hanging in my room at my parents' house.  Do not waste time on the movie version of "Wrinkle".  Yet another adaptation gone wrong.

The Tripods series by John Christopher is a sci-fi trilogy about aliens who take over Earth by controlling the thoughts of all adults.  At the beginning of adolescence, each person undergoes a "capping" ceremony where the aliens implant a device in their heads that renders them incapable of independent, anti-alien thought.  Only the children retain freedom of thought, but they've been taught to revere and look forward to the "capping" ceremony.  The main character finds out what happens when the "capping" is unsuccessful and allows him to retain his own identity and thoughts.  I loved these stories, but did always feel there was a certain light horror element and the idea of losing control of my free will always creeped me out.

This book I believe I discovered through the several-times-per-year Scholastic flyer we would get at school where we could pick out and order our own books.  I LOVED book delivery day - it was awesome to come into class expecting to do fractions or whatever and get a fresh new stack of amazing books.  The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron is kid-friendly sci-fi at its best.  Who hasn't tried to build a spaceship in their backyard?  While most of us probably used leftover cardboard boxes, etc. Chuck & David manage something that actually works and takes them on multiple adventures to the planet Bastridium.

Somewhere in this period I came across Andre Norton's Magic Sequence (part of that "free reading" I was allowed to do when I tested out of the school reading program) which I loved and there will always be a special place in my heart for Steel Magic in particular.  A mix of Welsh/Arthurian fantasy elements and some world-gate-jumping similar to her adult Witch World novels was irresistible to me and it always made me look at stainless steel utensils in a different way when I set the table.  

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.  

This is a 5-book series and the first book (and probably the weakest IMO) is Over Sea, Under Stone.  Book 2 gives the series its name and please, please, please do not judge the books by the HORRIBLE movie adaptation that was attempted a few years ago.  It's my favorite book in the series, but Book 4, The Grey King won the Newberry Award (mom strikes again!) and is also excellent as is Book 5, Silver on the Tree.  Originally, I would say the series was published as children's books (hence the award), but that was back when "Young Adult" (YA) was not really an established sub-genre the way it is now in the post-Harry Potter world.  Don't let that put you off - I re-read it every few years and I maintain that it still holds up although in a different way than it did when I was 12.  The author masterfully incorporates elements of Welsh and Arthurian mythology as well as some darker elements (I always had a hard time walking home alone from school after I read this book)!

The Big 3 or How I Spent 7th Grade Lunch Periods Hiding in the Library.  My junior high had this weird rotating schedule where every week, your class schedule changed and it impacted which Snack & Lunch periods you went to.  For example, week 1 you would attend class periods 1-7 in that order.  Week 2 you would attend 2-6, and 7 last.  The physical location of whatever classroom you were in during the 3rd and 5th slots of the day would determine if you went to Snack 1 or Snack 2 or Lunch 1 or Lunch 2 (1 being before the relevant period and 2 being after).  So, if, say, ALL YOUR FRIENDS had a different class than you did, you often wound up on different lunch periods (I'm going to ignore snack time for now as this is already confusing enough and snack time was short enough that I could usually avoid any problems).  It's probably apparent from my reading list that I was...persona non grata at my school.  Not well liked.  Hated and bullied in some cases.  What?  An honors-student nerd who reads sci-fi/fantasy was bullied in Junior High?  I know, show me your shocked face and I'll show you mine.  Anyway, I did have a small core group of...hmmm...friends is likely too strong a that let me eat with them and didn't harass me.  However, when our schedules didn't sync up, it was a whole 'nother story - until I figured out I could spend my entire lunch period in the library.  Technically, we weren't allowed to do this, but being a canny nerd-girl, I figured out how to slip in after the librarian left for lunch so she didn't see me.  Now, a REALLY smart girl would have used this extra time to get caught up on the math assignment she'd blown off the night before, but...math.  Ewww.  'nuff said.  

Then one day I found it...emergency shelter...also known as the sci-fi/fantasy library shelf.  And there they were:  

The Witch World series by Andre Norton.

Norton is a true master of the sci fi/fantasy genre and also one of its most prolific.  In the Witch World books, she manages to weave together elements of high fantasy such as an ancient land drenched in magic (much of it best left alone if you know what's good for you), fantastic creatures, Arthurian elements (the Siege Perilous), world gates, and sci-fi elements like the villainous Kolder.  The geography is varied as well as the stories bounce from WW II-era Earth to Estcarp, Karsten, Alizon, Gorm, High Hallack/the Dales and finally to forgotten Escore.  There are even hints that this is an apocalyptic scenario where ancient Adepts unleashed powers of magic and science to devastating effect and then gated themselves away leaving the rest of the populace to pick up the pieces.  The early books, written solely by Norton, are my favorites - especially Year of the Unicorn.  The later books were often collaborations with other authors and, while still good reads, did not have quite the same quality level as the early books.  There is one exception:  The Key of the Keplian which remains one of my favorite re-reads to this day.

Multiple series by Anne McCaffrey.

Of course, she's best known for the Dragonriders of Pern books and that's where I started as well. Lessa of Pern was one of my earliest intros to a strong female protagonist.  Besides, who wouldn't want to ride a magnificent golden queen dragon like Ramoth?  While the series starts out firmly in the fantasy realm with telepathic dragons and their riders, later books bring in some sci fi elements as the people of Pern discover more about their lost history and the origin of the dragons.  And I maintain that nobody does dragons as well as McCaffrey (with the possible exception of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik which I'll review in a later section as it's a more modern series).  Again, as with the Witch World books, I find the earlier ones are the best and the later ones (some of which were written with or by her son) are not as compelling.  

Also like Norton, she was prolific and wrote multiple series that leaned into different areas of the genre.  The Talents series (To Ride Pegasus is Book 1) tracks humanity's discovery of and gradual acceptance/use of telepathic/telekinetic powers.

The Brain/Brawn (The Ship Who Sang is Book 1) series is one of the earliest examples of a protagonist with profound disabilities and cyberpunk elements.  

The Crystal Singer series asks the question "how far will you go when the lifelong goal you've dreamed of and trained for suddenly becomes impossible".  All lean more into the sci-fi or sci-fantasy and all feature strong female characters.  

I first came across the origin stories for most of these series in her anthology of short stores called Get Off the Unicorn and recommend it as a great introduction to her writing and worlds.   

The Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

This is another series that straddles the line of sci-fantasy as the telepathically powerful (yet declining) Darkovan society comes up against the more technologically advanced (yet not any smarter for all that tech) Terran Empire.  Strong female characters are often featured although arguably her most memorable characters, Lew Alton and Regis Hastur, are both male.  Many of the books deal with the ethics of genetic engineering as well.  The Bloody Sun, Winds of Darkover, and Stormqueen remain some of my all-time favorites.  I'm aware that this author has become a controversial figure in recent years as allegations related to her personal life have come to light.  I have chosen to remember the enjoyment these books brought to a lonely, depressed kid hiding in a library and leave the rest to each individual to research and determine their own personal choices regarding separating reaction to an author vs. reaction to their work.

With the discovery of the above three authors, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  I mean magic, gates, dragons, psychic powers, space expansion, aliens, all there for me to peruse at my leisure via these 3 series (and sneak into math class later so I didn't have to pay attention to algebra).  

Next, I'll move into the series I discovered during my high school years.  I moved on from hiding in the library and learned to just carry a book in my back pack at all times.


Monday, May 16, 2022

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Life List...The Caveats


CAVEAT #1:  I'm not putting J.R.R. Tolkien's works on this list.  I'll pause while people recover from passing out/having aneurysms/looking for weapons, etc.  The reason is...they kinda go without saying, right?  Also, they're my gateway drug books.  I've probably mentioned somewhere in the deepest, darkest earliest of my several years of blog posts that I stole borrowed a copy of The Hobbit off my Dad's nightstand (because he was taking too long to finish it) when I was 8 years old...and I never looked back.  It's not an exaggeration to say that book and The Lord of the Rings changed my life.  And yes, I still know how to write in Elvish.  Peter Jackson did a pretty darned good job with the film adaptations (although I still don't care for the casting choices for Arwen and, to a lesser extent, Galadriel).  I'm looking forward to Amazon's new "Rings of Power" series and hoping they don't screw up The Silmarillion too badly.

CAVEAT #2:  Same goes for C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.  Again, the film adaptations don't do the books any favors, but they are a cut above most others.  Strangely, I picked up The Silver Chair as my first intro to the series and didn't care for it (still maintain that's the weakest book).  In fact, I almost didn't read the rest of the books, but thank goodness, I did.  It wasn't until I went back and read them in order that I really fell in love.  Also, Reepicheep rules!

CAVEAT #3:  This list is for series.  No standalone books - maybe I'll make a separate list for those.

CAVEAT #4:  I'm going to loosely organize the list in chronological order based on the period of my life where I discovered the books - not necessarily anything to do with when they were published although there will likely be SOME similarity there.  

CAVEAT #5:  If you're looking for hard sci-fi recommendations, this is probably not the list for you.  While I've read some, they tend to not be my favorite books or have much impact on me.  100 pages of technical detail of how circuit A fits into capacitor B because dilithium crystals and half-integer spin equals space travel is more likely to make me fall asleep or throw the book across the room in frustration.  I prefer my technology like my cars and my computers - I know enough to turn them on and get them to run, but I couldn't build one from scratch or perform anything other than VERY basic diagnostics (yep - that tire appears to be flat).  Forget repairs - that's what AAA and Geek Squad are for.  Although, a story about a tow-rocket operator in space might be kind of interesting...something along the lines of "Highway Through Hell", but in space with aliens and stuff.

CAVEAT #6:  This list is already spawning a couple of corollary lists - one for standalone books that I loved, but that weren't series and one for books that I either flat out hated or at least was underwhelmed by (that everyone else seems to be raving about).

Okay, next entry will start the actual list.  I felt like I had to get a lot of this set up off my mind first to clear the decks and get the old memory banks warmed up (getting harder all the time - I am definitely remembering a couple of stories that have no title or author attached to them or even enough detail for me to search for them...which is kinda sad).


Friday, May 13, 2022

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Life List...Background

BACKGROUND:  There are those (I don't understand them, but it appears they exist) who don't "get" sci fi/fantasy.  Or maybe they want to dip a toe in, but aren't sure where to start.  So, I thought it might be helpful to talk about a few factors I think might've influenced my addiction interest in these genres.  

  • Constantly moving and/or unusual environments:  When I was young (ages 0-5), my father was an officer on a nuclear submarine.  So, as navy families do, we moved.  A lot.  That meant constantly adapting to new places, people, food, music, etc.  I see parallels with sci fi planetary colonists, etc.  The last place we were stationed was Hawaii.  I'm not talking downtown Waikiki with its tourist traps and high-rise hotels.  We were in the boondocks (if an island can be said to have boondocks) and it was the late 60's.  TV was limited to "Felix the Cat", we were dependent on the timely arrival of supply ships, and we weren't exactly a welcome addition to the neighborhood.  Dad would be gone 3 months at a time on the sub.  I was 3-5 and my brother was 0-3.  Mom was alone with us.  There was quite a lot of crime (some serious).  At the same time, we were surrounded by tropical plants and animals and I only had to duck my head under the water to see a completely different world via the coral reefs.  If all that didn't leave me wide open for tag lines like "...explore strange new worlds..." and all the wonders and dangers attendant thereto, then nothing would.
  • History:  Mom's side of the family lived in Santa Fe, NM.  We visited a lot and my grandmother (a teacher) exposed me to a lot of the art, culture and history of the Southwest.  She gave me a whole set of books with each book devoted to a different Native American tribe and what their daily life was like from how they built their homes to how they dressed and what food they hunted or planted.  I have no idea who the author was, but I loved those books and read them until they fell apart.  My recollection is they were quite detailed and while I'm sure they wouldn't hold up to today's standards, I can still remember (among other things) the descriptions of how to use all the parts of a buffalo or how to carry a water jug up the side of a pueblo.  I especially loved descriptions of beading and decorations on clothing - probably why I got into beading and jewelry-making later in life.  We took many side trips around the Southwest to places like Bandelier and Silverton.  
  • Mysteries, Westerns & other Sub-genres:  Early on, many of the sub-genres shared various tropes like the mysterious stranger with no past, etc.  While I was never a huge straight-up mystery fan, I do like the formula and if you mix it with fantasy goodness...well, yumm!  In addition to spending a lot of my childhood in the Southwest, I had other Western influences in my life.  I met Western author Louis L'Amour on the train to Silverton.  I read some of his books and Dad and I always bonded over movies like "The Magnificent Seven" (original only...sorry Chris Pratt) and "The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly" (nothing better than vintage Clint Eastwood).  Like most girls at the time, I couldn't get enough of the "Little House on the Prairie" books.  While they aren't fantasy themselves, to a 20th century girl, they smacked of time travel or settling on another world and trying to survive.  In fact, I'm sure there's a whole host of sci-fi books that could be re-titled "Little House on the 7th Alien Moon" or whatever.
  • Archaeology & Marine Biology:  Give me a good episode of "Wild Kingdom" or a Jacques Cousteau film any day.  The home we moved to in California (after Hawaii) where I grew up was on a pre-historic reef.  I used to hunt for fossils and shark's teeth.  Dragons, anyone?  Ancient civilizations?  Ancient aliens?  Other worlds?  You see where I'm going with this...
  • Weekend Movies:  I remember a whole series of movies both in the theater and on the Channel 5 Family Film Festival with what, for the time, were probably cutting edge special effects, but now, they'd be laughed at.  Still, "Sinbad the Sailor", 'The Thief of Baghdad", etc. certainly impacted me and don't even get me started on the rich vein of the darker/horror side of things that was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and the movies she intro'd (in a great programming move, she was on right after Family Film Festival)
  • Reading in General:  I'm a voracious reader.  Always have been.  Mom taught me to read above my grade level well before even kindergarten and by 5th grade, I'd tested out of the entire rest of the elementary school reading program and the teachers didn't know what to do with me so I was put on "free" reading.  Translation: go read whatever the f*** you want because you're already reading above the teacher's level, too, and we want you to go away and stop bothering us, you freakish little girl."  I immersed myself in a lot of mythology - when I ran out of Greek & Roman, I moved on to Welsh, Arthurian, Norse, etc.  I will give a special shout out to my 3rd grade teacher who, whenever it was rainy day schedule or he just didn't feel like teaching, he would get out this old Madeira wine jug (not a tall bottle - the short, fat, round kind) that had different colors of candle wax dripped all down the side from the various candles he'd used in it over the years.  He'd turn off all the lights, light the candle and read out loud to us.  
Now, this is not to say that you need all or, indeed, any of the above to enjoy sci-fi/fantasy.  I'm just saying that some of this kind of stuff might make you more open to it and/or make the first foray easier.  For example, you don't need to care about art, culture, architecture, history or even speak French to enjoy visiting Paris. might have a deeper, more profound level of enjoyment if you also had an appreciation of any of those things (or maybe just drank a lot of wine...)  Now, imagine how much you'd get out of the trip if you liked all that crap AND spoke the language...just a thought.

However, let's say you've never touched sci-fi/fantasy, you don't speak the lingo, you can't tell the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars and you're not familiar with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.  What do you do?  Have an open mind.  Suspend your disbelief at least a little bit.  Try a bit of everything (hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, space opera, high fantasy, urban fantasy, fantasy/romance, grim/dark, even horror if that's the kind of thing you think might appeal to you) until you see what fits. It's kinda like trying on shoes...or being Goldilocks.  Which reminds me...if you know your Brothers Grimm or your Hans Christian Anderson, you'll have a leg up.  And, please...appreciate the Disney versions (if you must), but don't rely on them.  Although, I do have a soft spot for "Maleficent" - that was pretty well done.

Next, a few caveats as to why I'm leaving certain things OFF the list...


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Still Not Dead...

 ...and still wanting to revive my blog.  Not sure what happened to my writing voice.  Did the creativity just get siphoned off into other places?  Work?  Getting the kid out of high school and onto college?  Other hobbies (i.e. birding & photography)?  Or did I just run out of things to say for a while?

Still trying to figure that one out, but, for the first time in a very long time (2 years if is accurate), that voice is monologuing in the back of my head again.  I know from a lifetime of experiences this means if I don't write down what it's saying, it won't shut up and let me go to sleep tonight.

So...what brought the voice out of its coma, you ask?  Something that's likely not important to anyone else, but apparently, my inner voice feels quite strongly about it.

It all started a few months ago when my bedroom TV set died.  Now, this may not sound like a big deal, but what you have to know is that this TV set dates back to about 1991.  My brother and I split the cost of purchasing it when we were furnishing our first post-college apartment.  Yes, I lived with my brother...because I am THAT cool!  And, being that old, it pre-dated the Internet, Cell Phones, Smart TVs and streaming services.  Again, check out the coolness factor.

I probably should have replaced it long ago just based on a needed technology update, but it was a really nice Mitsubishi TV with great color/picture and I just didn't get all this "streaming service" stuff anyway (especially since I'm already paying through the nose for cable, but that's another rant blog entry).  Then, a family member gave us an older Smart TV and my son set it up downstairs for his use (it was too small for my bedroom and I didn't want to give up my nice bigger screen Mitsubishi).  So, it's his fault I got dragged into "The Mandalorian" and "Wanda Vision", etc.

When the Mitsu finally died (insert "TAPS" here), I rushed right out and bought myself an brand-spanking-new Smart TV and added a few more streaming services and have been thoroughly enjoying joining the modern age.

Which is how I started looking at YouTube videos on my TV (and yes, I already knew about them from my computer & phone, but didn't use it that often due to the small screen size).  What a difference the big screen made!  Now I can watch the West End Catalina Bald Eagles or the Cornell Labs Feeder cams any time I want!  And because scarily accurate algorithms, YouTube also decided I'm a fantasy/sci fi fan and started throwing me all these recommendations on that topic.

SIDE NOTE:  Okay, yes, creepy, but also, this would've been soooo helpful when I was growing up.  Look...there ARE other people like you who like this stuff and you don't have to put brown paper covers on your books so people at school won't think you're weird.  

Most of them looked too off-topic or rant-y even for me, but there's one guy who does some funny stuff and great reviews of books, TV shows, other media, etc. that I've been quite enjoying.  One of the things he does fairly often is rate/rank his favorites:  series overall, sci fi only, fantasy only, etc.

And here's where my inner voice got a tad annoyed...I mean I get this kid is all of 6 months old (okay, he's 25-ish, but compared to me...he's a baby) and while he does have SOME grasp of the classics, there's so much that is being left out, overlooked, etc. that I can't stand it.  Now, I get it, there's a LOT of material out there now...WAY more than when I was limited to 2 shelves at the old B. Dalton to make my reading picks.  Not only are there all the other media types, but now there's the whole self-publishing trend as well.  It'd be impossible to take a look at everything...or even at most things...especially from prior eras.

SIDE NOTE #2:  I like to think I'm not a snob, but so far, I've been woefully underwhelmed by the self-published items I've tried out.  The one exception (although it's not REALLY an exception because these were well-established authors who were just "between" publishers at the time) are the Lee & Miller books "Fledgling" & "Saltation" which were originally self-pub'd on-line, but have since been picked up by Baen.  However, if anyone has any fabulous recommendation on a self-published sci-fi or fantasy book/series...I'm open.

Anyway, all of this prompted me to think about what MY list(s) would be like.  After all, I've been reading/watching/consuming this stuff since the early 70's...and these kids need to know that "The Wheel of Time" and "A Song of Ice & Fire" (aka "Game of Thrones") are not the be-all and end-all of these genres.

Soooo...I'm puttin' a list together.  One to start, I think, unless it makes more sense to split up the genres but I probably won't know that until after I start building it.

Stay tuned...