Books have shaped the man I am today. I've learned so much, visited so many wonderful places (both real and imagined), and met a lot of strange and interesting characters along the way. I don't think there's one aspect of my writing today that is not somehow influenced by a great many of the titles from my childhood. Some days I feel as if I'm channeling them all! But there are a few that stick out. I've narrowed them down to 5 books that I will share with you below. These books, more than any other, have had the most profound impact on my development both as a person and a writer. And all for differing reasons.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
My uncle used to subscribe to Reader's Digest, and every month or so a new hardcover novel would arrive at our home in the mail. Beautifully bound and lettered, most of these books were great classics which carried an air of importance about them. Though, at the age of 11, most such titles like Moby Dick or The Virginian were too intimidating for me to try. But the Sherlock Holmes stories were different. Although it was difficult at first to get into the narrative style and syntax of the Victorian-age writing, the larger than life figure of the world's greatest detective took hold of my imagination like no other book could. To this day I still try to emulate Sherlock in my everyday life--observant and keenly interested in everything!
For Love of Mother-Not - by Alan Dean Foster.
My best friend introduced me to the author's works at the beginning of my freshman year in high school. I was 14 at the time and this was my first foray into the sci-fi genre for books. I was initially skeptical of the genre, but Foster's young protagonist quickly drew me in. Not to mention the fantastical descriptions of the sights and sounds that inhabited the sleepy backwater world of Moth, on which an orphaned red-headed boy was taken in by a curmudgeonly old merchant woman named Mother Mastiff and raised as her own. Being an orphan myself, I practically devoured this novel and asked for more. Luckily it belonged to Foster's "Commonwealth" series, and I quickly set out down the path of science fiction fandom that has so steered the course of my adult life. If not for this one book alone, I might never have discovered that sci-fi isn't about flying saucers and alien monsters incubating inside smelly human space miners. A whole new world of sophisticated and possible stories to tell was opened to me!
The Shades - by Betty Brock.
This was my first "big book" for children back in the third grade when I was 8. It was also my first foray into the "fantasy" genre, if you want to classify it as such. The story was about a boy who comes to stay with his eccentric aunt one summer, only to discover a secret world of shadow people living in the gardens behind her house, unseen to the rest of the world. It was this fantastical element that so surprised me back then, as I was initially led to believe that this was going to be a mundane story about a boy learning to be self-reliant and dependable in the face of indifferent parents who had better things to do. To be true, it was some of that. But the Shades and their shadowy intrigues proved far more compelling of a plot device for my young, bored mind. I doubt I've had more fun reading a book even to this day. It opened my eyes to reading as enjoyment, and not just as part of some school assignment. From this moment on, I would seek out and acquire books on my own. A book worm was born!
Dragon's Blood - by Jane Yolen.
Read this book in high school ostensibly for its cover. But what was inside turned out to be even better. Jane Yolen was mainly known for her YA fantasies at the time, but this book had some curious sci-fi sensibilities going for it as well. Which, since I had only just discovered the genre, was right down my alley. It's what originally caught my attention. Although the novel definitely has its fantasy trappings--it's about an orphan boy who seeks fortune through obtaining and training his own pet dragon, after all (and decades before that other series of books and movie)--it took place on a ruthless "outback" colony planet peopled by former prisoners. The world had mechanized transport and space ports. And it also had dragons. Weird! But as I was always a sucker for rags to riches tales--and there was that orphan boy angle again, to boot!--I read this book three times over in back to back sittings. Yeah, I did that. I loved it that much, see? I vowed to someday write a novel with a young teen protagonist that would be just as cool as this book. A promise I'm still keeping today.
Altered Carbon - by Richard K. Morgan.
I've talked about this book often on this blog, I'm sure. And with good reason. Morgan has gone on to write many other books since, of course, but this 2002 debut novel of his is why I'm writing sci-fi today. By the new millennium, I had pretty much given up hope of ever writing in the sci-fi genre. I used to read so many golden age science fiction stories that my style and ideas were as dusty and obsolete as those tales. I felt detached from the genre, with no idea what new stuff was selling these days. And then I saw all the praise this novel was getting in the trade rags. On a hunch, I picked up a copy and settled down for an adventure that would turn my life around forever. All the hard-boiled grittiness, the violence, the dark intrigues and socio-political underpinnings of a future Earth faced with a crisis of the soul . . . all these things and more endeared me to a new class of contemporary sci-fi novels coming out at the time. In Morgan's world, humans were no longer bogged down by the specter of age, disease, and death. Implanted with a "cortical stack" at birth which records all memories and saves them to backup, people were virtually immortal in this time. They could swap bodies at will, effectively extending their consciousness and, therefore, their lives indefinitely. But all things come with a price, as usual. Reading into all this, I was taken over by Morgan's slick use of inferred future technology. But even more so by his fast and loose use of prose which kept a steady, upbeat tempo ticking away as you read along. This stuff was exciting, modern, and so in tune with what I thought I should be writing! Suddenly, I had stories to tell. Suddenly I saw that there was a world out there for the stories I wanted to tell. Suddenly, I wanted to WRITE!
And there you have it. The 5 most important books in my life thus far. Writing this up makes me want to read them all again. Especially the Dragon's Blood trilogy, which I just discovered had a fourth book come out only a few years back. Hmm, I must have missed mention of this somehow. Ack! I must read the first three all over again before purchasing the fourth. So exciting!
How about you? What book has influenced your life in a great and positive way? Tell me in the comments section below. Or, better yet, write your own blog entry on the subject!