Thursday, October 17, 2013

20 Obscure SF/F/H Books Recommended by the Pros

Understanding why some SF/F/H novels become massively popular while others languish in obscurity is an exercise in futility. For whatever reason, some books simply never get the right combo of marketing support, reader buzz, and magical-mass-market-mojo to become popular. Other books have moments of critical and popular success only to fade into obscurity over time. It’s no surprise then that there are dozens—if not hundreds or thousands—of SF/F/H gems that are largely unheard of and unread by modern readers. In an effort to unearth some of these gems I invited fourteen authors to recommend their favorite obscure spec-fic novels. Along with my own recommendation, we’ve dug up over twenty novels for readers to go out and discover. Enjoy!

-G. Calcaterra

“The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster
-Recommended by Garrett Calcaterra, author of Dreamwielder

Brave New World, Ninteen Eighty-Four, and Yevgeny Zamyatin's We always get credit for being the grand-daddies of dystopian fiction, but E.M. Forster's novelette “The Machine Stops” predates all of them. First published in 1909, it is a stark warning tale of what could happen when humans become too reliant on technology. It seems more prescient than ever in today's era of dependency on smart phones, GPS navigation, and auto-correct. “The Machine Stops” is not entirely obscure, having been included in Volume 2B of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology (1973), but few people know about it today. Dig up the Hall of Fame anthology, the Penguin collection of Forster's Selected Stories, or find the story free online, thanks to it being in the public domain.

Earth Giant (1961) by Edison Marshall
-Recommended by Howard Andrew Jones, author of the Arabian historical fantasies The Desert of Souls and The Bones of the Old Ones

Not only have I never met anyone who’s read this, I’ve never met anyone who’s even heard of the novel. Labeling Earth Giant fantasy is a little bit of a stretch, for there are only two minor magical moments in the entire book. But then it’s not exactly a straight historical novel, either, as only mythical figures appear within its pages. Instead, it’s the best depiction I’ve ever read of one of mankind’s most famous heroes, Herakles. The stirring exploits depicted within this novel might very well have been those that gave birth to the legends that have come down to us. Sure, the cover of Earth Giant makes it look like one of those 50s/60s historical potboilers where much is promised but very little really happens, but Marshall delivers. Not only are there great story arcs and surprises, but Herakles himself is an incredibly likeable character, far different from his more common brash or even arrogant depictions. Any heroic fantasy lovers really owe it to themselves to track it down.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Orange Book Festival 2013 Recap

Bruce McAllister, Garrett Calcaterra,
Terri Nolan, and James Scott Bell
Book festivals, conferences, and conventions are always a great time, especially when they're in your backyard, and especially-especially when you get to participate in one of the panels. That was the case for me this year at the Big Orange Book Festival. I had the honor of moderating a panel on "Making a Career in Writing" and it was a wonderful experience. The three authors I got to work with were all insightful, informative, and a pleasure to hang out with. They included:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Find Me at the Big Orange Book Festival

If you live in the southern California area, you should come check out the Big Orange Book festival this weekend, located at Chapman University in Orange, California. I will be moderating a panel on Sunday at 12:30 pm called Making a Career in Writing, and the panelists will include an amazing cast of writers:

  • Bruce McAllister—acclaimed SF/F author and writing coach
  • James Scott Bell—suspense/thriller author; author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure; former fiction columnist for Writer's Digest; and author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, written under the pen name K. Bennett
  • Terri Nolan—mystery author, who by some odd coincidence is represented by the same literary agency as me, Kimberly Cameron & Associates

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The History of Modern Fantasy Fiction (Sort of) – Part I

So, I’m teaching a fantasy writing course at the Orange County School of Arts, and it’s…well, pretty freaking fantastic! The students are highly enthusiastic, all are well-read for their age, and we’re having a grand time talking about things like world building, magic, exposition, and whatnot. Because the students are all high schoolers, though, their reading has been focused primarily on contemporary fantasy authors, so I’ve made an effort to expose them to some of the key authors in the evolution of modern fantasy writing. It’s no easy chore to pick only one author a week who represents a transformative moment in the genre, but here’s what we’ve gotten through so far, complete with reading recs and my thoughts.

Origins of Fantasy: Mythology, Legends and pre-20th Century Literature

I have no qualms arguing that fantasy is the oldest genre of storytelling in the history of human civilization. Our earliest ancestors created fantastic tales to explain everything from the creation of Earth to why humans must experience suffering and pain. Fantasy authors have drawn from this well from the start, tapping into archetypes that are culturally, and perhaps even evolutionarily and spiritually, ingrained into us.

The most common inspirations for fantasy authors include Greek and Roman mythology, Norse mythology, Judeo-Christian mythology, Celtic mythology, Arthurian legend, and, to a lesser extent, Eastern mythology and philosophy (Taoism, for example, seems to be a big inspiration for Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series.)

Now, for the sake of defining limits for my class, I somewhat arbitrarily drew the starting cut-off line for “modern fantasy” as