“…my standard advice to people who want to write fantasy: Stop reading fantasy” – Michael Moorcock.
So I’ve been reading some of the superlative novels of the last fifty years. Books I wouldn’t normally read since they’re not about monsters, spaceships or magic. Here’s what I’ve read so far and the empirical knowledge gained.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved
I wanted to start with a book that is as far from a sci-fi as possible, the flagship of the Oprah Book Club.
Holy Fucking Shit this book intense! Turns out, it’s not that different from what I usually read. This book shows what a damaging experience American slavery was. Most of the characters in this book were driven insane by the experience. It shows that the African-American background is different then other ethnic groups. I have a number of black characters in Seize Him! and a separate novel that’s stewing in the back of my mind. I need to keep Beloved in mind when developing their personalities.
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
My favorite so far. I love Heller’s style. He refers to “the dead man in Yossarian’s tent” every couple of chapters but doesn’t explain who the dead man is, how he died and what he’s doing in Yossarian’s tent until the book is almost over. It’s like the self-referential humor of The Simpsons, except backwards.
I’ll be reading more Heller.
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
I didn’t find this novel as funny as everyone else told me it’d be. Probably because I kept looking for signs of the author’s pending suicide in the narrative and prose.
I don’t think that I learned anything about writing from this book, but it did remind me that you can write a truly great book, but it won’t matter if you don’t get it to market.
Julies Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The only science fiction novel on this list and the dullest book I’ve read in a long time. (I’m also reading the books that inspired The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) It’s about traveling around under the world’s oceans looking at fish and eating them. Yeah, that’s exciting.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake
This one was weird. The original Timequake was giving Vonnegut trouble. He just couldn’t make it work. So he kept the best parts and interlaced them with stories from his life.
This alternation between life and fiction almost puts you in the space Vonnegut was in while he was writing the original Timequake.
I learned that creativity doesn’t have to end in one’s late forties, and that you don’t have to be Jewish to be quippy.
At Xanadu in 2001, I asked Kilgore Trout for his ballpark opinion of John Wilkes Booth. He said Booth's performance in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., on the night of Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when he shot Lincoln and then jumped from a theater box to the stage, breaking his leg, was “the sort of thing which is bound to happen whenever an actor creates his own material.”
I’m about to read an Ian Flemming collection. I think it’ll be an good influence for Seize Him! and I read in the Aleister Crowley biography Do What Thou Wilt that Flemming knew Crowley during WWII and based the bad guy in Casino Royale off of him. Then I’ll move on to other authors with styles that I think I’ll like; Dorothy Parker, Philip K Dick and Ernest Hemingway.