The List (B-1)

No one can accuse me of undue haste, that’s for certain.  Back to meandering through the List, with the B’s.  (Hey, I can barely keep up with what I’m currently reading, never mind everybody I’m reading.)  It’s funny how many of these folks I have a sort of love-hate relationship with …

They all are:

  • Kage Baker
  • Tom Baker
  • Margaret Ball
  • Nevada Barr
  • Peter S. Beagle
  • Carol Berg
  • Elizabeth Berg
  • Joanne Bertin
  • Katherine Blake
  • Nicholas Blake
  • Nancy Bond
  • Bordertown
  • JS Borthwick
  • Lucy M Boston
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Gillian Bradshaw
  • Lilian Jackson Braun
  • Patricia Briggs
  • Kristen Britain
  • Mary Brown
  • Steven Brust
  • Bill Bryson
  • Fiona Buckley
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Emma Bull
  • Jim Butcher

In reverse order, just because:

I’ve gone on ad nauseam here about Jim Butcher (fantasy); I love Harry Dresden and all his works, long may he stride the streets of fictional Chicago with his duster flaring along behind him.  Calderon I’m not so enamored of, but I’m more than willing to give it a few chances; Harry’s one of my heroes – so I’m with Butcher right up to the brink of disaster.

I first “met” Emma Bull (fantasy) in the shared world anthologies of Liavek, which she edited with her husband Will Shetterly and which I almost uniformly loved.   It took a while to sit down with a book of hers, but when I did get my hands on and dive into War for the Oaks, I loved every page.   That’s all I’ve read by her, one novel and the stories – which means I have some gems to look forward to.   That’s a nice thing.

Lois McMaster Bujold (science fiction/fantasy) is someone I haven’t read much by, but by whom I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read.  I loved The Spirit Ring; I was puzzled by Ethan of Athos because I misunderstood its place in her writing and kept expecting the introduction of Miles Vorkosigan, which never happened.  And it was an unusual book. I found this about Vorkosigan: “The author has stated that the series structure is modeled after the Horatio Hornblower books, documenting the life of a single person.  In themes and echoes, they also reflect Dorothy L. Sayers’ mystery character Lord Peter Wimsey.”   Oh, joy.   That can’t be bad.

Fiona Buckley’s Ursula Blanchard (mystery) is one of those characters who should be ridiculous – a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I who does all sorts of things she should not – but who is provided with a background that quite satisfactorily makes it believable.  The books are set in one of my favorite time periods, of course, which means that as long as they’re done respectfully and well I’m bound to be happy – and I am.  Another of the series that falls into the category of “Haven’t read for a while, need to fairly soon”.

Oh, Bill Bryson (non-fiction). I love Bill Bryson.  I’ve loved him since I read The Mother Tongue, which had me saying “bruddy heyoo” for ages (and now I’ll probably start again).  Wise and silly, sharp and hilarious, what he tells me in his books tends to stay with me longer than anything delivered in a drier and less entertaining manner.  For example, I learned from him that if I am confronted by a black bear in the woods along the Appalachian Trail, I should make a great deal of noise and that will frighten it away – but if I meet up with a brown bear, noise will make it charge and devour me.  Or it could be the other way round.   In any case, unless I’m eaten by a bear of some hue because Bill Bryson steered me wrong, I will read anything he writes.

Steven Brust (fantasy): “Haven’t read for a while, need to fairly soon”.  I had a blast with Vlad Taltos, but there have been more books since last I visited.   I loved The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars (again, it’s been a while – but the Fairy Tale Series has its own place on The List), loved Freedom and Necessity (great titles) …  and, I confess, couldn’t get through The Phoenix Guards. The problem there might have been that I tried reading it in conjunction with The Three Musketeers, and couldn’t finish *that*, and kept looking for direct corollaries and not finding them, and eventually wound up reading something else.  In other words, “It’s not you, it’s me” – and I’ll give it (them) another shot one day soon.

Mary Brown (fantasy) is something of an enigma to me.  I was shocked a few years back to find she’d died; that’s one of the only facts I have about her.  There’s surprisingly little out there on the ‘net about her – although the commonness of her name doesn’t help in the search.  Her dragonne series is, unsurprisingly, “Haven’t read for a while, need to” (henceforth HR&NT); I didn’t like her foray into science fiction nearly as much, but then I cordially despise all things post-apocalyptic.

Kristen Britain (fantasy) made The List a long while back, in the expectation that there would be a long list of books to keep track of.  Unfortunately, there hasn’t been; there are three.  I wonder why.  They’re well-researched, well-written fantasies, though I liked the first one better than the second (and haven’t read the third, have I?), and I always find it a shame that such an author doesn’t write as many books as others I could name, who don’t produce such high quality.  But, as I believe I’ve said before in connexion with Guy Kay, it’s a matter of You Get What You Pay For.

I’m very fond of Patricia Briggs (fantasy).  I first read Hob’s Bargain, a little afraid of the labeling of it as a romantic fantasy – but it was wonderful.  She’s in the cadre of ladies I hold dearest among The List, along with another of the B’s, carol Berg – I discovered them right around the same time, and also Lynn Flewelling.  Three very different writers, all wonderful.  Patricia Briggs – whose books, I feel I should mention, don’t as a rule show up on paperbackswap or in the used book sales or stores, which to me means people get them and keep them – also wrote an extraordinary dragon duology, with an extraordinary hero – I love Hurog – and, of course, Mercedes Thompson.  I rank her pretty darn near Harry Dresden.

Lilian Jackson Braun (mystery) is one of the love-hate authors.  I deride the whole cat-cozy-mystery subgenre, just on general principles; I’m not a cat lover, and I don’t get the abject worship of the creatures in general – or of Siamese cats in particular, which I understand are renowned for pernickitiness.   I love dogs – but I also deride the dog-cozy subgenre, for the record.  Well, no, let me specify: I deride the animal-cozy-when-the-animal-is-without-being-a-police-dog-one-of-the-detectives subgenre.   If I want anthropomorphism, I can put my hands on a dozen good fantasies – I don’t want it blended into a mystery.  My willing suspension of disbelief stretches in different directions for the genres, I guess.  That being said, LJB’s books are rather fun, except when they’re just silly; I quite enjoyed the first one (and so she made The List), but was very disappointed by the goofiness a few books in.  I own quite a few of them thanks to library sales, and maybe one day I’ll even read the rest of them.  They’re not a priority.  The main reason LJB is on the List is to keep track of what I do and don’t have, pure and simple.

Another long-time List member is Gillian Bradshaw; she got there with her Arthurian series, which I found wandering in the library (HR&NT).  They were formative books for me; probably one reason I haven’t been compelled to read them again in recent years is that they meant too much to me, if that makes any sense.  The Arthurian saga is personal to me (if *that* makes any sense).  She’s written a fair amount of historical fantasy – which I’m actually, now that I come to it, not all that sure is actually all fantasy; some of it may be straight historical fiction.  Hm.  Either way, she’s a combination of HR&NT and Gems To Look Forward To.

Marion Zimmer Bradley … Love/hate, I’m afraid.  Or at least Like/Not so much.  I haven’t really read so very much by her; one or two of the Darkover books, long long ago, and The Mists of Avalon, certainly.  Which … I didn’t much care for.  Again, the Arthurian story is personal to me, and this didn’t feel right.  I like the idea of the female point of view for the story – but this was so far to the extreme of feminine … Most of my experience of MZB is through the Sword and Sorceress series, edited by her.  She’s on The List because she’s one of the all-time greats of SciFi/Fantasy, and as a way to keep track of the massive amount of material she produced.  And one of these days I’ll give that work a concerted effort.

Lucy M Boston… Green Knowe.   I was led there by my best enemy from school (once best friend, which is why I listened to anything she said); I’ve read little, plan to read more, and no I don’t care they’re young adult.  I remember a horse named Feste …

JS Borthwick (mystery) … Intelligent, fun; HR&NT.  Er, that’s all I’ve got at the moment.  I won’t give her such short shrift when I read them again – promise.

Bordertown is next on the list, one of several shared worlds I’m fond of.  I wonder why those seem to have gone out in the nineties, at latest; they’re a great idea.  When done right, that is, like most things – Star Trek is, at base, a shared world, and … well, I’ve expressed my views on that before.  Bordertown is the place where our world butts up against Faerie, where there’s a rip that
allows *some* passage between the two lands, and which irrevocably alters those living nearby … They call it rock ‘n’ roll fantasy.  It’s marvelous.  There are also a few novels in the storyline, at least one by Emma Bull – I’m getting to that soon.  Very.  (Can I just please quit my job and read full time?  I think I need to.)

Nancy Bond is on The List purely and solely for A String in the Harp.  I’ve read one other book of hers, and iirc it was more teen-angst-y, but String in the Harp is one of my favorite books in the world.  Taliesin … maybe that’s where my fascination with bards was born.  I love that there are consequences to Peter’s use of the harp key he finds – I love that Peter’s a pain in the rump (an adolescent) before and after he finds the key, and all is not prettily resolved at the end of the book; part of the reason he’s such a pita to all and sundry is that his mother has just, suddenly, died – that isn’t something that *can* be resolved, just … lived through – and his father picks up the family and moves them to Wales for a year.  I would have been deliriously happy – but Peter had more of a life than I did at that age.  I saw a review where the setup of the story – what I just wrote, and the fact that some people just discount most of what Peter says because of his general pita-ness – was described as cliched, but I never thought so; I think it’s handled beautifully.  Broken record time: I’ll read more by Nancy Bond one day, and I will reread String in the Harp before too many moons.

(Note to self: a book title which, when plugged into an online search without quotes, does *not* bring up a great many other things before the book comes anywhere near being mentioned is not a bad thing.)

Nicholas Blake (mystery) – Nigel Strangeways.  Quintessentially British mysteries, which fit right into the sweet spot dominated by Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey and especially Dorothy L. Sayers. (“…And especially Thorin.”) Except I don’t think I’ve ever had the least crush on Nigel Strangeways, and I do on Rory Alleyn and Alan Grant, and especially Lord Peter. Well, no, that’s not a crush, it’s love. Great good stuff.

Katherine Blake had, for a long time, just one book by her name: The Interior Life, which … Hey, where did I find The Interior Life? Library sale?  Wherever it was, God bless it, because it’s another of my Most Favored Novel status books.  Sue is an ordinary woman with a hectic, ordinary life – until one day she begins to dream about – or dream herself into – a fantasy world which is unlike anything I can think of.  The whole book is unlike any other I can think of.  This is one of those books which, on the rare occasions I see it at a sale, I have to buy – which isn’t fair to the person coming behind me who might pick it up and fall in love with it, but tough: in the past I’ve taken pleasure in giving away extra copies of my darlings.  (Probably won’t be doing that much anymore.)  Katherine Blake still only has one book by her name – but she has another name by her name: KB is a pseudonym (another pseudonym?) for Dorothy J. Heydt, who has a novel and a fair number of short stories under *her* name.  I was idiotically happy when I discovered this … Point of Honor, the novel, isn’t as dear to me as Interior Life, but it was unique and excellent.  The stories are still in reserve for me.

Joanne Bertin is from Connecticut, which is cool.  She has a still-fledgling series, The Last Dragonlord and Dragon and Phoenix, with a different take on dragons and a nice style … There’s a third book in the works, but apparently not on any schedule as yet.  I remember liking the two that exist, but nothing strong negatively or positively; she’s on The List mainly so I can keep checking for new additions.

Elizabeth Berg is radically different from most of the other B’s – she’s straight fiction, for one thing. I discovered her while working a few hours a week at a now-defunct local used book shop; I read Range of Motion in one sitting and cried all over it, and on The List she went.  She’s good, she’s funny, she’s wise … And, yes, she’s HR&NT. I’ve been picking up the books whenever I’ve seen them, so I’ll be able at some point to settle in for a long stretch of her work sometime when I feel like a break from SF&F or people being killed and the killings investigated.

Carol Berg is amazing.  Not only are her books incredible, unique, brilliant, and among those I’d consider going back into a burning house for, but she’s incredibly accessible.  When I discovered her website, ages back, there was – still is, I think – a contest: email her with name and address to be entered to win a signed copy of whichever book was current.  It seemed a little abrupt to just send an email saying “Pick me! Pick me!”, so I doodled something probably moronic about how wonderful the Rai Kirah trilogy is, how wonderful Seyonne is, what a brilliant concept and why hasn’t anyone ever been smart enough to use slavery like you have … heaven knows what I said; I hope I didn’t gush, though it’s hard to detail how highly I think of these books without being effusive.  Obviously.  In any case, imagine my shock when – she answered.  I wrote to a few writers when I was in my teens and twenties, under the operating instructions that if I enjoyed someone’s work they might enjoy hearing about it.  The only one I ever heard back from bid fair to change my life – so you could have knocked me over with a feather when I got this email from Carol Berg.  And now I’m part of a Yahoo group – a regrettably silent part, but perhaps one day I’ll pipe up more – of which Ms. Berg is a very active participant.  It’s lovely.  I just received one of the latest books, if not the latest – Spirit Lens – so there will, I assume, be much more effusiveness to come.

What a lovely feeling to have a very large pile of books I have very great confidence in waiting to be read.

Peter S. Beagle is another of the Great Ones, a pillar of the fantasy community, about whom, to be frank, I never felt that fondly.  Till I read Tamsin.   Quite a few years ago I dutifully read The Last Unicorn, and A Fine and Private Place, etc., and didn’t warm to them.  When Innkeeper’s Song came out, I bought it (and its stunning cover), and didn’t warm to it too much either.  I read Folk of the Air in there somewhere, and just don’t remember it – which is good, in a way, because after the marvel that was Tamsin I will be doing a Beagle-thon (apart from the everyday beagle-thon that is my life with Daisy), and it will be like reading all of it for the first time.  Seriously, I need to quit, or retire, or something.   So many books… And this is just the B’s.

Margaret Ball (fantasy) is kind of in the Mercedes Lackey league – lighter than most, almost bordering on parody now and then – and the cover art bears that out – but not always, which can be disconcerting.  She’s learned in Renaissance … stuff, and that colors her books, and overall she’s enjoyable.  She’s also co-authored with a number of people, including Anne McCaffrey – how do you get into that club?

Nevada Barr (mystery) is a good solid writer with good solid characters, not stock, and a very unusual heroine leading to very unusual settings: Anna Pigeon is a park ranger, and all of the books take place in or near National Parks.  Good stuff.

Kage Baker (science fiction/fantasy) is one of those writers I love – but don’t read often.  I enjoy her writing, but I’m not driven to get my hands on every single one of her books.  I’ll admit it – I’m a simple soul, and I don’t enjoy high levels of obscurity in my reading.  And I don’t as a rule enjoy reading or watching “trust no one” sorts of stories.  And … I just found out how long it’s been since I checked for new work by her, because I just found out that she’s dead.  Dammit.  She died on January 31, 2010, of uterine cancer.

I hate that this is how I find out about the deaths of some of my favorite people.  I hate that I get ambushed by the news. This is how I found out about David Gemmell, and Lloyd Alexander, and Joan Aiken … These people that I care about are not in the public eye to the extent of, for example, the late Robert Patterson, that their passing makes the nightly news.  Of course, I guess it comes down to the fact that I don’t want to learn this news at all, about any of them.

I haven’t actually read any of Tom Baker‘s books yet (he’s one of those list entries).  But come on.  It’s Tom Baker. *His* passing – long may it be delayed – will certainly make the nightly news – in the UK. Here, not as many people know him, unfortunately.  He may one day be one of those horrible surprises.  Oh, dear, this is growing morbid.

And there’s the B’s.

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