Friday, August 29, 2014

Underappreciated Authors

Friday, August 29, 2014
Once again, I'm riffing off of a SF Signal Mind Meld.  This one asks the question "Which genre author, living or dead, do you think deserves more attention?"

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer, even though the answer entirely depends on the respondent's preferences and perspective. But perspective is part of the problem.  I could probably rattle off a handful of names that I would love to see more discussion about, only to find out that they are consistent bestsellers.  This is because I don't know much about how much a particular novel is really selling, relative to the online conversations I see. But even that is a trick, because we only see what the people around us are talking about and we only hear from those voices we seek out. This is a touch obvious and trite, but if we only know what we know, we then have no idea what other conversations are taking place just outside our circles.  There are vibrant conversations taking place about all sorts of awesome books and I have no idea what they are talking about.  This book that I think is wonderful but lament that "nobody" is talking about may be much discussed and may also be selling quite well beyond anything I could have imagined, but here I think that nobody knows about it because my small corner isn't talking about it.

Of course, one could always run with the question from the perspective of "sure, this person sells enough to keep publishing and wins awards, but I want her to outsell Stephen King and Jo Rowling combined."  I'm going to try to not intentionally push in that direction. 

So, let's take what follows with a small grain of salt.  I may have no idea what I'm talking about. 

The first author who comes to mind is Jennifer Pelland.  She is a two time Nebula Award nominee for her short fiction ("Captive Girl" and "Ghosts of New York") and if I had my way she would be a Nebula Award winning author at the very least for "Captive Girl", which I thought was stunning.  Pelland is the author of the excellent novel Machine, published in 2012, and the short story collection Unwelcome Bodies (2008).  Pelland's fiction often deals with issues of body augmentation and image, and does so in an unflinching manner. If anyone is going to flinch, it's likely going to be the reader. She's damn good and I hope that she will be able to publish some stuff soon, because it's been far too long since I've read a new Jennifer Pelland story.  This is, of course, about me.

Another writer who I don't see people talking much about is Greg Keyes.  Keyes was discussed a bit more between 2003 and 2008 when he published his generally excellent Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone fantasy series, but perhaps because his subsequent output has been two Elder Scrolls novels and a prequel to the new Planet of the Apes movies, there hasn't been much buzz.  Keyes is also the author of the fascinating Age of Unreason quartet featuring an alternate history with Ben Franklin and Isaac Newton. That one is worth a look, if you haven't heard of it or read it before.  Start with Newton's Cannon.  I'd love to see a fresh novel or series from him that isn't tie-in work. 

Which, pun intended, ties in very well to Karen Traviss.  Much of Traviss's output has been tie-in fiction, starting with Star Wars and moving on to the Halo universe.  I followed her Star Wars work and thought it was some of the best of the Expanded Universe novels, but because I am less interested in the Halo Universe, I haven't followed her there yet.  I say yet, because knowing how good Traviss has been at everything else she's written, I'd probably be a fool if I didn't give those a crack, too.  If you want some excellent science fiction that isn't tied in to a shared universe of some sort, try her Wess'har Wars beginning with City of Pearl.  Blew me away and I was hooked from the first book of the six volume series.  Traviss does excellent work, period, but because she's been working so much in the Star Wars and Halo settings, I don't see much discussion about her.  She does have a new novel Going Gray just out and I expect it will be fantastic.

I read Imaro from Charles Saunders in 2009 (my review) and loved it.  It is a wonderful sword and sorcery novel set in an alternate Africa, and it is one which I had never previously encountered.  Despite my appreciation for Imaro and despite buying the second volume Imaro Two: The Quest for Cush, I have still only read that first book.  I should remedy this. So should you.  The first two Imaro novels were originally republished by Night Shade in the mid 2000's, but they never published the third volume. Saunders self published the third volume (which did have an original print publication by DAW in the 80's) and he has also self published a fourth volume. On the strength of Imaro alone, Charles Saunders should be much more well known than he is.

Finally, let's talk briefly about Rosemary Kirstein.  I only just discovered Kirstein this year (my review of The Steerswoman) and I'm excited to read more of the Steerswoman novels.  The first was excellent.  Kirstein, of course, is another author has written excellent books but because of sales and publishing, was dropped by her publisher / or didn't have the next book picked up, which is much the same to me.  She has been self publishing her novels and there are currently four of them out, so there are still opportunities to read more.  Back in 2008, Jo Walton put a spotlight on the series, and it's well worth a look.


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