My 5 Favorite Authors
I’ve read more SFF books than I can count in my lifetime (I started in elementary school, checking books out 10-12 at a time from my local library and speeding through them in two week spurts). While many of those books are lost to my subconscious, I discovered several authors in those early years who I loved so much that I ended up reading almost everything they released.
These authors are listed in alphabetical order, since I have no ranking, specifically. They’re all authors I love, and authors who I feel influenced my own writing and taught me how to be a better SFF writer.
I read The Sword of Shannara after reading The Lord of the Rings, so while I certainly saw the similarities, I still enjoyed it enough to try the next book. Elfstones of Shannara blew me away when I first read it, and the ending (melancholy at best) sticks with me as one of my favorite book endings of all time. I devoured everything Brooks wrote (my current favorite is the books in the Word and Void series) and if I owe anything to his writing, it’s the idea that no victory should come without great cost.
Orson Scott Card
I got started with Ender’s Game, and as a huge gamer myself, I tore through Ender’s thrilling adventures in Battle School and totally did not see the twist ending coming (and when I did, it blew my teenage mind). I also loved that Card made the universe of his book so rich, and that so many characters that seemed tangential in the original book had whole plot arcs and conflicts going on behind the scenes. While Bean is the best example of this, I also greatly enjoyed seeing what Ender’s siblings, Valentine and Peter, were up to while Ender was in Battle School. So if I took anything from Card’s work, it’s that even characters who aren’t on the page must have their own goals and struggles, even if we don’t see them.
C. J. Cherryh
My first exposure to gritty, grounded SFF came from C.J. Cherryh’s The Morgaine Cycle, which, as far as I’m concerned, was grimdark before grimdark was a word. Her characters were fascinating, powerful, flawed, and vulnerable, and their story always remained grounded despite Morgaine having a sword that could literally devour people’s souls. Over the course of her books, both Morgaine and Vanye became some of my favorite characters ever, and if I Cherryh taught me anything, it’s that any “superpower” a character possessed should always have a compelling reason not to use it.
Though most of what I read from Douglas Hill was his “young adult”, I consider his books suitable for any age and some of best action-packed, tension-filled SFF books I’ve ever read. His Young Legionary series was epic and introduced me to Keill Randor, one of the most badass characters my young mind had ever come across. Keill was like Buck Rogers crossed with Jason Bourne, and Hill’s books have literally no filler. The “cold open” of his first book, Galactic Warlord, is one of my favorite openings to any book I have ever read. So, if I learned anything from Hill, it was how to keep a story moving at a fast clip.
While I got started with Mike’s Battletech books (some of the best “game” fiction I’ve read) I eventually branched out to read everything he’d written, including his X-Wing books and his Fortress Draconis series. Stackpole’s strength was always in his ensemble casts – his books always featured a number of characters who were all skilled, fascinating, and weak in their own ways. The way they played off each other in dialogue, action, and advancing the narrative always kept me hooked from cover to cover.
If Stackpole taught me anything about writing, it’s that you don’t need to make any character less interesting or compelling to make your “hero” more compelling. A cast of compelling characters is always going to be more interesting than a single badass surrounded by weak supporting folks, especially if you can find ways to put your main protagonist in conflict with his or her best friends.