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Broadening Horizons

Posted: Mon Oct 20, 2008 12:10 am
by caliban
Athena has complained that much of American SF/F is narrow in its vision. I broadly agree, at least in that youngish writers often have read only a narrow range of books. (Not always true; one of the younger writers in one of my writing groups today off-handedly cited Plutarch, Julian Jaynes, and Alexander Pope's translation of the Odyssey. Not surprisingly, he's one of the best in the group.) They might read "mainstream" fiction outside of SF/F, but nearly always American, with maybe a smattering of British.

Today, while writing a critique of a fantasy story that was particularly cliched, I thought of drawing up a reading list of books to expand the horizons of the aspiring SF/F writers, mostly through books, fiction and non-fiction, that take them outside their usual spaces. This list should not be exhaustive nor authoritative, but focuses on well-written, readable books that excite the imagination.

Here's my start:

The Harafish, by Naguib Mahfouz (Arabia)
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (Africa)
Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie (India)
Gang Leader for a Day, by Sudhir Venkatesh (Inner-city America)
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford (central asia)
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang (China)

I could go on, but it's a start, and meant to be just a taste. I also know many of you may prefer to substitute other authors here. But I bet, if every aspiring SF/F writer were forced to read these or similar books, we wouldn't be flooded with neo-Victorian fantasy and near-future American.

Share your suggestions.

Posted: Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:48 pm
by Windwalker
Here is my very partial list, all mainstream fiction by contemporary authors. A few (starred) flirt with fantasy and science fiction, but none crosses the line entirely into the speculative domain.

You will notice that several writers on this list are either expatriates or of mixed ancestry. Such nexuses generate some of the best writing.

Later I may post a non-fiction list also... maybe even one of poetry!

Savyon Liebrecht, Apples from the Desert (Israeli)
*Peter Hoeg, Smilla's Sense of Snow (Danish)
*Johanna Sinisalo, Troll (Finnish)
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (Indian)
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (Sri Lankan, lives in Canada)
Heinrich Böll, Billiards at Nine Thirty (German)
Marguerite Yourcenar, Hadrian's Memoirs (French, lived in the US)
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind (Spanish, lives in the US)
Keri Hulme, The Bone People (half-Maori New Zealander)
Yasmin Crowther, The Saffron Kitchen (half-Iranian, lives in the UK)
*Eugenia Fakinou, The Seventh Garment (Greek)
*Louise Erdrich, Tracks (quarter-Ojibwa American)
André Brink, Imaginings of Sand (Afrikaner, South Africa)

Posted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 4:35 pm
by intrigued_scribe
Good suggestions here; I'll definitely have to look into the titles on this list. I read Erdrich's Tracks a handful of years ago and found it to be highly compelling, all the more so for the subtlety of some of its undertones.


Posted: Tue Oct 21, 2008 6:52 pm
by Windwalker
intrigued_scribe wrote:I read Erdrich's Tracks a handful of years ago and found it to be highly compelling, all the more so for the subtlety of some of its undertones.
Heather, if you like Erdrich you will also like Jim Harrison. Especially two connected novels: Dalva and The Way Home. He also wrote the novella Legends of the Fall, which got turned into a decent film. He has a way of creating subtle, elusive magic with a deceptively plain style, and his myths and locations overlap those of Erdrich significantly, although his characters tend to be more cosmopolitan than hers.

Posted: Wed Oct 22, 2008 9:11 pm
by intrigued_scribe
Harrison's work sounds engaging; I'll be sure to look it up, along with the other titles.