Twelfetide 23:13 afterthoughts

January 6, 2024

At the end of each episode of In Our Time, there is an additional few minutes for podcast listeners which always starts with Melvyn Bragg asking his guests what aspects of the topic they would have liked to cover but were missed. So I thought I would do the same at the end of this series. I’ve also had thoughts about a couple of options for next year so I’ve added that to remind me nearer the time. While I am here thanks for all the comments by email and on social media as I have worked through and to all the Doctor Who fans who told me where I was wrong!

Firstly to the major ommissions, the ones I originally planned to use but then it didn’t pan out. While I mentioned Niel Gaimen in yesterday’s post for Good Omens he deserved an article in his own right for American Gods and its sister novel Anansi Boys along with the Sandman series (brilliantly televised unlike American Gods) and The Ocean at the End of the Road, now translated into a West End play. He also deserves mention for a cameo performance on Big Bang Theory without which we would not have had the character of Denise. Lauren Lapkus stole several episodes with that part. Adrian Tchaikovsky was second up on my original list for this Children of Time series which explores the consequence of intelligence emerging in spiders. octopodes and other creatures. He has a background in zoology and psychology which comes through in this work. I am currently working through his Final Architecture series. He is a prolific writer but without any loss in imagination or quality of writing. I think one of the reasons I didn’t include him was that I couldn’t think of how to talk about the spiders without ruining the book for people who hadn’t read it. Another other major omission was Philip Pullman for the His Dark Materials series which has finally gotten the treatment it deserved in the BBC and HBO series, although I did like the first film but never developed thanks to the religious right lobby. There is an old saying that the only two religions that have jokes about their faith are the Catholics and the Jews; because they know they are right. Losing a sense of humour about your faith is the first sign of a descent into superstition. The sequels to the original three books maintain the quality of the first. It is overall one of the best explorations of Religion but it almost deserves a series in its own right. I did mention him in an earlier post.

We then come to a pair of Comic Writers Robert Rankin and Tom Holt. It turns out Rankin was a guest at my Mother-in-Law’s 90th birthday but no one told me and I am still frustrated at that missed opportunity. Once you have read Rankin you can never drive through Brentwood in west London again without at least thinking if you will meet Jim Pooley and John Omally in the Flying Swan. Brentford turns out to be in a mysterious triangle in which we variously get satanic takeover attempts (barcoding the entire population, and projects to clone Jesus from the Turin Shroud. The serpent which tempted Eve is buried under the local football ground. The titles are to die for, notably The Sprouts of Wrath, East of Ealing, The Brentford Chain Store Massacre and Lord of the Ringroads. Tom Holt is also adept at twisting the familiar for comic purposes. I remember irritating the whole family when his first book Expecting Someone Taller was published, It is a retelling of the Ring Cycle in modern Britain. It is one of those novels that is so clever that you just can’t stop laughing. He went on to give the same treatment to the Flying Dutchman, Beowolf and the Grail Legends. The Management Style of the Supreme Beings should be a part of any leadership course and the JW Wells & Co series has now had its first novel The Portable Door televised and one hopes they will continue with the other five. He also wrote two novels as a sequel to E F Benson’s Lucia series, and he writes very much in that style. He also writes as K J Parker in which capacity he has won two World Fantasy Awards.

Then we get to the also-rans. They were on my list, some for the quality of their writing, some just because they were important to me as I got into the genre. I list them here in alphabetical order:

  • Brian Aldis for the Helliconia series which explores a society with very long seasons – fascinating idea but a turgid read
  • Poul Anderson was one of the early writers in the field and inspired many others, highly prolific, but with mixed quality.  I would pick out the ones that were nominated for Hugos
  • Pers Anthony whose Xanth series which numbers close to 50 is simply just a lot of fun,  undemanding, sometimes funny, sometimes clever with a lot of puns
  • David Brin who I’ve met in the context of Future Studies, love the books but the politics don’t appeal.  The Out of Time series is a good place to start as are the Uplift trilogies
  • Octavia Butler is one of the outstanding authors who almost made the shortlist, always interesting and I haven’t read a bad one,  Bloodchild remains a favourite  and the Xenogenesis trilogy
  • C J Cheryrh for the Alliance-Union universe with Downbelow Station outstanding.  Also Cyteen, The Pride of Chanur, Cookoo’s Egg and The Foreigner series.  An excellent world-builder.  
  • Hal Clement an exemplar of hard science fiction and his best creation was Mission of Gravity which describes a high-gravity civilisation populated by intelligent centipede-like creatures.
  • Hugh Cook almost didn’t make this list. but I got a little addicted to his Chronicles of Darkness series, it got a little tedious to the end and I have two books unread. Others felt the same as the series was cancelled.
  • Philip K Dick was one of the all-time greats who again was on the original shortlist. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep a classic along with Man in a High Castle and Flow My Tears the Policeman Said.  A complex person as well
  • David Edding is just fun, has good storytelling, predictable plots and great characters.  The Belgariad series is where you start and that leads to the Malloreon series,  After that it all tails off a bit
  • Raymond Feist created the Rift War Sagas and others in the world of Midkemia which originated in a Dungeons & Dragons group in San Deigo.  He also got Jenny Wurts started
  • William Gibson created the cyberpunk genre with Neuromancer, first of the dystopic Sprawl trilogy which concluded well with Mona Lisa Overdrive.   He also wrote novels about the current day
  • Simon Hawke noted for the Time Wars series with the Time Police as heroes with the twist of alternative timelines being created.  The Wizard of 4th Street cycle also has some nice twists
  • Robert Holdstock his background in Zoology comes through in Mythagio Wood and its sequels.  Combining myth, fantasy and good science.  His work under pennames is; not worth it
  • Ian Irving is best known for the eleven books in the Three Worlds cycle, a struggle for survival between five species.  The Human Rights Trilogy is an eco-thriller based in the near future.
  • Katherine Kerr for her much loved Deverry series which, with its sequels now runs to 15 volumes, all of which I have, not all of them yet read.  The urban fantasy series The Runemaster also looks good but I haven’t read it yet.
  • Elizabeth Moon is an ex-Marine and a doyen of military science fiction with the space opera The Serrano LegacyThe Speed of Dark explores the world of an Autistic data analyst
  • H Beam Piper a self-educated labourer who created the Little Fuzzy and Paratime stories which are some of the best ones I know on cultural misunderstandings and reflect his interest in semantics
  • Melanie Rawn for her Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies and the yet-to-be-completed Exiles Trilogy all cemented her reputation in Fantasy.  There is some mystery about her current state
  • Robert Silverberg is another one from the early days, rich in imagination the adage write less, write better applies.  The Majipoor Cycle and his retelling of Gilgamesh are all good.
  • Charles Stross is pure hard science fiction and space opera.  The Iron Sunrise books are a good introduction to his work
  • Tad Williams is a master of escapist fantasy and the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn really can’t be beaten in that respect.  The Otherland series is a more serious, dystopia and a good one
  • Jenny Wurts co-authored the Kelewan Saga with Raymond Feist but went on to outdo her mentor with the various arcs of The Wars of Light and Shadow in the Mistwraith universe

Then, just for fun, I asked ChatGPT to give me all the categories for science fiction and fantasy. Fiction was split into Hard Science Fiction, Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Dystopian Fiction, Time Travel and Alternate History. Fantasy into High, Low, Urban, Historical and Dark plus Sword and Sorcery. I think I have covered them all.

Thinking about next year I came up with two possible themes namely (i) adult books I read as a child and (ii) television programmes we watched together as a family when I was growing up. The former would include the John Master’s series about India, Private Angelo, and some serious political work. Interesting to note which were my fathers, which were my mothers and which they both liked. The latter is also interesting as in those days everything had to be negotiated. So to get Star Trek and Monty Python I had to make other concessions. That period was interesting for all British Families however as in the main the whole family watched the same programmes and that had implications for language and much else.

But that is next year, I will probably take tomorrow off and then next week I have serious posts, linked to new work, that I need to focus on.

If you have been, thank you for reading

As an afterthought, I asked ChatGPT the same question again  and got a more interesting list, one that I think is a better summary:

  1. Space Opera: Epic tales set in space, often featuring interstellar conflicts, advanced technology, and large-scale adventures.
  2. Cyberpunk: Dystopian futures with a focus on high-tech, computer hacking, and the blending of human and machine.
  3. Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic:  Stories set in worlds where society has collapsed or faces imminent downfall, exploring survival and societal issues.
  4. Alternate History: Fiction that explores what might have happened if historical events had taken a different course.
  5. Hard Science Fiction:  Emphasis on scientific accuracy and plausible technology, often delving into physics, astronomy, and other scientific principles.
  6. Steampunk: Blends Victorian-era aesthetics with advanced steam-powered technology, creating an alternative historical setting.
  7. Urban Fantasy: Fantasy elements integrated into modern, urban settings, often involving magical creatures or hidden worlds.
  8. High Fantasy:  Set in elaborate fictional worlds with magic, mythical creatures, and epic quests, often featuring medieval-inspired settings.
  9. Satirical Fantasy/Science Fiction:  Works that use humor and satire to comment on societal, political, or genre-related aspects.
  10. Sword and Sorcery: Focuses on action-packed adventures, often involving warriors, magic, and quests.
  11. Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction: Tailored for a younger audience, often featuring coming-of-age stories with fantastical or futuristic elements.
  12. Magical Realism: Blurs the line between reality and fantasy, incorporating magical elements into everyday life without disrupting the narrative flow.

The banner picture is cropped from an original by  Iván Díaz obtained from Unsplash. The opening picture ‘UFO arrivals at Sea’ is an imaginative work used under an Unsplash+ License

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