If you love rich, lush writing, the kind of prose that makes you slow down as your eyes cross the page so you don’t miss a syllable, then you know that the world lost a gem yesterday, when Tanith Lee passed. The author of 90 books and 300 short stories, Lee received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Awards (and was the first woman to win a British Fantasy Award for best novel), as well as numerous other award nominations. I count 19 of her novels on my shelf, probably the most of any author outside of a series.
If you’re not familiar with Tanith Lee, you should read some of her work. Assuming, of course, you can find her books.
In the late 70s and the 80s, Lee was at the top of the chain. She wrote well, she wrote a lot, she sold a lot. But by the 90s, her visibility was fading fast. Between 1975 and 1988, she had fourteen major award nominations, and four wins. Since then, four nominations, plus the lifetime achievement recognitions. Had she stopped writing? No. Had she stopped writing well? I sincerely doubt it.
In 1998, she gave an interview in Locus in which she said, ”If anyone ever wonders why there’s nothing coming from me, it’s not my fault. I’m doing the work. No, I haven’t deteriorated or gone insane. Suddenly, I just can’t get anything into print. And apparently I’m not alone in this. …” Unfortunately, things never got better, and you can’t find her books in retail stores today.
How is this possible? She wrote 90 novels. She had 10 World Fantasy Award nominations (two wins), six British Fantasy Award nominations (two wins), and two Nebula Nominations. She had a Lifetime Achievement Award from World Fantasy. And yet, she couldn’t get a major American publisher to touch her.
There are those who are calling for the overhaul or even elimination of the Hugo awards because they don’t represent the popular F/SF of yesteryear. But apparently even the popular fantasy of yesteryear wasn’t good enough to keep an award-winning novelist in the public eye–or on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. I have written before of the growing similarity between books and television, the concentration on a few sub-genres, the unwillingness to take risks, but I can see now that I have been well behind the curve: Good fiction has been undervalued for years, and now, there’s going to be that much less of it to go around.