Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : #7 - November 2002

From time to time, I talk to the friendly guys at Dymocks about genre authors that I would recommend for them to stock on their shelves. They are always very helpful, and have managed to source a number of excellent books for me over the last year or so. It got me thinking about the authors who are not regularly imported into New Zealand by the major distributors and therefore do not normally appear on the shelves. I was quickly able to come up with a list of names that I have had trouble sourcing locally in the past. A rather disturbingly long list in fact.

None of the authors listed below are minor or obscure players in the field. They are all well established and regarded authors internationally - most of them have won significant awards. Apart from the difficulty I have finding them locally, the only thing they have in common is that none of them write mass market tree killer, swords and sorcery type fantasy series. Something which may well explain their non-presence.

I regard John Varley as pretty much the best writer in the field. During the Ď80s he was the hottest writer around - at least as reckoned by other writers. He won a whole bunch of awards and had his work picked up for a couple of movies. Since then his production has dropped way down which is a tragedy. But this makes his work even more important because of its scarcity.

Nancy Kress writes work around the areas of biotech and genetic engineering. Her work is topical and well executed. Some of her work has been sighted on the local shelves, but not often.

Alan Robson has recently written about the delights to be found in the work of John Shirley. Over the years I have had to really struggle to get hold of his work which spans the range from cyberpunk to horror. But the struggle is worth it as he is a writer of the highest caliber.

Bruce Sterling comes from much the same place as Shirley. He is very well known as a collaborator with William Gibson and in his own right. In fact, as time has gone on, Sterling starts to assume the mantle of being the really important one in that partnership as he is certainly the better writer. About half of his work makes it to the local stores without prompting while the other half needs to be sourced from elsewhere.

On the subject of authors who came out of the early days of Cyberpunk, Rudy Rucker should also be included in the fold of important writers in that area. He isnít as good as he thinks he is, but is still well worth reading if you are inclined to the cyber sub-genre. Some of his pop science work does make it onto the shelves, but his SF is rarely sighted.

Patricia Anthony has written a good number of SF novels with some of the best crafted characters you are likely to see in the field. Interestingly, I have been able to pick up some of her work secondhand, yet have had a hard time getting anything new, apart from her "literary" novel Flanders.

Walter Jon Williams is one of my favourite authors. He writes a variety of hard SF and quite whimsical humorous pieces and has recently branched into the near future thriller area as well. There was a period when his novels were being imported, but that appears to have stopped.

For a change of pace, try to pick up the fantasy work of Sean Stewart. A Canadian, he writes modern fantasies of true strangeness and deep human emotion. His magical environments are not quite like anything else I have read.

Donít mistake Richard Paul Russo with the literary writer of the same name (but without the "Paul"). The one with the middle name writes hard SF and future crime stories which are well paced and well thought out.

If time travel is your thing then check out Kage Baker. Her short fiction has been gracing the pages of the magazines, but her enormously well received novels donít seem to make the trip across the Pacific except the ones that Dymocks have brought in recently.

Charles Sheffield*** is one of the most solid of the "old school" style of hard SF writers. He writes in a manner that would be quite normal for the Ď50s. Normal that is for a very very good author of the Ď50s. Look to get a good enjoyable old fashioned SF yarn from Sheffield, but with up to date science.

You might expect something similar from Robert J Sawyer, although the writing isnít quite as good or the science quite as hard. However, he does manage to build his characters better than most "old school" writers would ever do.

Lucius Shepard seems like a horror writer who somehow managed to end up writing a brand of jungle warfare SF. His writing manages to always have an edge of menace. A collection of his short stories made it into the country a couple of years back. If you can still find it, it would serve as an introduction.

I'm not sure if Kim Newman belongs in this list as his work has been available from time to time. However there are a number of gaps in my collection of his work which I have had to fill from overseas. Newman's writing is an off beat horror which delights on pop culture and literary reference.

The work of Gene Wolfe is available on the local shelves. But only a few volumes of his earlier work in the various "masterwork" series. While many of the volumes in these series do not merit the title, Wolfe is certainly a master of the field. Why then is his most recent work so hard to track down? His fantastic settings, bizarre characters and wonderful use of language are too good to be ignored.

***Footnote: Since writing this article, I have found that Charles Sheffield died of brain cancer on the 2nd of November at the age of 67. Science Fiction has lost an important contributor who will be missed.