Posts Tagged ‘tanith lee’

If there’s anything we can count on in today’s world, it is that if you dare to put any sort of opinion forward on the Internet, a million people will attack you for it. Amazon apparently feels it is big enough to stand the hit, and it is publishing various lists of 100 Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime, categorized by genre. Today it’s science fiction and fantasy’s turn. Well, to take my inspiration from the Bard (who better?), I come not to praise Amazon nor to bury them. I just want to nit-pick a little bit.

First, in a flurry of self-congratulation, I have to admit that I’ve read–or tried to read–a good number of the recommended books already. (Okay, 37.) Although “tried to read” is a more accurate description in several cases, I count them. Intent is important, and in almost none of those cases did I simply give up for lack of time. No, it was nearly uniformly for lack of interest. And therein lies the nit-pick.

Now, I am not going to say that every one of those books I failed to finish was bad and doesn’t belong on the list. Most of the time, they simply weren’t my cup of tea. And a couple were just too damned long. There are only so many hours in a day. I mean, I read A Song of Ice and Fire, but I gave up in the third book because the story’s just too complicated and I haven’t the time–nor can I remember each book for five years until the next comes out. But a few of these titles…yes, one or two I simply cannot hold with. And while I realize they have their defenders (I’ve had the arguments), and they certainly have the sales, I would not have put them on this list.

Three books stand out for me: Pawn of Prophecy, Perdido Street Station, and Guilty Pleasures.

I didn’t hate The Belgariad. I read the first five Eddings books straight through. They were entertaining. They just weren’t award-worthy. I thought they were derivative, stereotyped, and thoroughly run-of-the-mill. It’s on this list because it sells, and Amazon is a book-seller.

Perdido Street Station is hailed everywhere I look as a transcendent work of art, a masterpiece. Me? I finished the book, looked at the cover, and asked: “What was the point of that?” It might belong on this list, but I wouldn’t put it there.

I loved Guilty Pleasures. I bought it when it first came out, and read the next half-dozen or so like clockwork. I got some signed. Then I stopped. The story veered way off in the wrong direction, and the last I heard, it was a parody of its former self. More to the point, though, there’s nothing ground-breaking or life-changing about that first book. Again, it’s there because it sells.

Bonus title: Why The Curse of Chalon? Why not one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels? Not a quibble, just a question.

What would I have picked? Why, I thought you’d never ask. Off the top of my head…

Telempath, by Spider Robinson. Blew my mind. A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s been in print for over a century for a reason. And for heaven’s sake, any of a dozen novels by Tanith Lee. They’re like Pringles, except that you can’t read more than one without a break, because they are so rich.

So, there. Only three or four disagreements out of a hundred. Who says you can’t be reasonable on the Internet? Now, if you wanted to rate all the Godzilla movies…



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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.


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