The Measure of My Tales

Facebook is a place that is often overtaken by–as a friend of mine once said–insane, time wasting crap.  Come play this game; look over this list of movies and tell us how many you’ve seen; watch this video of dogs and cats living together and you’ll see something you never expected; find out which murdered character you are from Game of Thrones.  Not to mention the ads I get suggesting that I’ll find happiness with insane racist conservatives who are also cannibals.  Okay, maybe that last is an exaggeration.  Maybe.

There is one thing going around at the moment–no, not that, but if you do have it, medicine will clear it right up–asking people to mention the ten books that have stuck with them.  As in, what did you read and it’s still there rolling about in your head like a ricochet from the novel Firestarter?  I haven’t mentioned anything about this on my wall, because I have to think about what I’ve read.  There are so many tomes I’ve gone through over the decades that picking just ten books out of thin air isn’t easy.  As I told a friend last night, “I think I’ll blog about this,” and wouldn’t you know, here it comes.

One thing, however:  this isn’t going to be just a list of ten books.  There will be ten items, but don’t expect ten books.  Why?  Because I follow my own rules, and it’s my blog, so–slipping on my sunglasses–deal with it.

Here we go:

1.  Earthlight and A Fall of Moondust, both by Arthur C. Clarke.  As I’ve mentioned before, these were the first adult novels I read.  I picked them both up in a two novel omnibus from the local library, and got right into reading.  I was seven, and I was fascinated by what was inside.  The Moon was a real place, there were people there, there were interesting things happening, and you even had ships sinking and people requiring rescue.  This is what got me hooked on reading in general and science fiction in particular, and if you notice an over-abundance of science fiction on this list, blame Arthur.

2.  The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine, by Andrew Cockburn.  The 1980’s were scary times, sometimes even more scary than the 1960’s.  Not only did you have a ton of saber-rattling on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but I was constantly being reminded by people I worked with that the Commies were coming to destroy our way of life, and if we had to go nuclear on their asses, so be it.  Then this book came along and, in a few hundred pages, laid out the case that while the Soviet military was large and impressive, it was pretty much a paper tiger on the verge of falling apart–much like the Soviet Union did a few years after the publication of this book.  It taught me that one should do their research before heading off to state things as absolute–something Facebook Nation would do well to learn.

3.  Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank.  Yeah, lets talk about blowing shit up in a big way, shall we?  This was one of the first nuclear apocalypse novels, and I read though this story maybe a dozen times.  This was the novel that got me thinking about writing big stories, creating world changing events.  I even started planing my own nuclear apocalypse novel not long after one of the readings of his novel, planing out first and second strikes on the U.S. using an old Rand McNally road atlas.  I never wrote that novel, but I was pushed there, and this is the books that made me want to wipe out the world.

4.  The Scream and The Bridge, by John Skipp and Craig Spencer.  Horror doesn’t get any better than this.  Skipp and Spencer grabbed my attention, pushed me through the emotional wringer, and let me know in no uncertain terms, yes, there isn’t such a thing as too much.  While I probably read The Scream a dozen times, I’ve read The Bridge once.  Just once.  Not because it’s a bad novel–oh, no.  I’ve read it once because it’s so damn disturbing that I can’t bear to read it again.  And yet, I can’t forget the story.

5.  Danse Macabre and Different Seasons, by Stephen King.  What have we here?  Non-fiction and fiction together?  Yep, we do.  Danse Macabre is a written history of horror up to that point–1982–and Stephen lays it out for you:  where it came from, how it got to where we are now, and what it did for him.  Different Seasons contains, in my opinion, three of the best stories Stephen has ever written, proven by the fact that they ended up becoming the best film adaptation of all of his stories.  The last story in the collection is also good, but when compared to the other three, it becomes the literary equivalent of, “I’ll just wait over here in the corner.”

6.  At the Mountains of Madness, by H. P. Lovecraft.  I should say “Anything by Lovecraft,” but I need one story, and this really was the one that cemented me as a life-long fan of the crazy old racist.  When I read the description of what was found at the forward camp, I felt the cold, I heard the wind, I saw the way light was warped and tortured by those terrifying mountains of madness.  Even though there has been talk over the years about a movie, it’ll never match the mental images I have of this story.  This was also the story that pushed me into role playing, because the moment I heard there was a Call of Cthulhu game, I was like, gotta have this now.

7.  Watchmen, by Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons, and colorist John Higgins.  This story set the bar for graphic novels, and it’s yet to be topped.  Superheros who were real, an alternate world where we know who killed Kennedy and Nixon remained president for a long time because he won the war in Vietnam, and a naked blue guy who treated time and space like it weren’t no big deal–this is the sort of story that needed a twelve-part HBO mini-series to get right.  Even today, after many readings, I still get chills when I read, “I did it thirty-five minutes ago,” and I’ll get misty eyed when I turn to Episode Twelve and the opening panels before the title, A Stronger, Loving World.  Why?  Because I wish I’d written and drawn that.

8.  The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, by Harlan Ellison.  Come on, as much as I rave about the guy, you knew he was gonna end up on this list.  The two volume collection of the television reviews he did for the Los Angeles Free Press, written between 1969 and 1971, these were the stories that hooked me on Harlan, and taught me that writing should be personal, you should throw your body, mind, and soul into everything you do.  And if you gotta swear in your writing, then piss on it:  swear.  Do it in an entertaining fashion, however, or you’ll come off like a twelve year old with Tourette Syndrome.

9.  Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clark.  Yeah, he’s back, with one of the greatest novels ever written.  Yeah, that sounds like hyperbole, but read it and you’ll see I speak the truth.  Seriously, when someone tells me they’re into science fiction, I ask them how they feel about Childhood’s End.  Most of the time I’ll get, “Huh?” which is disappointing, but it at least gives me the chance to tell that person they have to read it.  If, however, they tell me that didn’t like it–or worse, didn’t get it–eh, I have nothing else to say to said person.  You have no imagination.  You’re talking about the Devil, more or less, coming to Earth to oversee the evolution of humanity into something universe-spanning, which happens in a scene that been ripped off by both V and Independence Day.  This is another of those stories that leaves me in awe and weeping at the same time, because it’s too damn incredible.

10.  The Gaea Trilogy:  Titan, Wizard, Demon, by John Varley.  Every time I start to world building a story, I want it to be as good as the world created in The Gaea Trilogy.  Yes, Cassini has proven there aren’t any living Stanford Toruses in orbit around Saturn, but who cares?  These are an incredible trip into another world, where you have living beings inside another living being who’s pretty much a god that can do anything she likes.  To this day Cirocco Jones and Gaby Plauget remain two of my favorite characters of all time, because they are real, and it’s led me to make my female characters live and breathe the way these two do.


There you have it:  ten books, more or less–mostly more–that have remained with me to this day.  Are there another ten?

I’d be lying if I said no.