“So who are your influences?”
As writers, that’s something we’re supposed to be prepared to answer, right? Who do we compare ourselves with? We’re supposed to have a thirty-second elevator pitch of our novel along the lines of “It’s Arthur C Clarke meets George R R Martin, in space,” or “James S A Corey (both of them) and Joe Abercrombie meet for drinks with Olen Steinhauer and Andy Weir on the deck of the Millennium Falcon, and John Scalzi and Ann Leckie drop in unannounced, before they all head off to a party in honor of Iain M Banks, Ursula K LeGuin, and Philip K Dick, where they run into Hugh Howie and N K Jemisin overlooking scale models of Serenity, Nostromo, Discovery, and Just Read the Instructions, while Richard K Morgan plots how to blow the whole thing up.”
Hey, way to name drop, eh? But what if our work is nothing like any of that?
Well, realistically, it probably is something like some of that, because we all have influences, no matter how original we think we are or try to be. Most brilliant (or at least successful) ideas usually come about as the result of a mashup of two previously unrelated but independently brilliant ideas already out there. Or, so Hollywood would have us believe, but I suspect there’s a certain truth to it, else it wouldn’t be the meme that it is, right?
So who are your influences?
Well, I can rightly say that all the names I dropped above fit that category, as do quite a few others.
Wait, Olen Steinhauer? Doesn’t he write… well, contemporary espionage thrillers?
Why yes, yes he does. And very good ones, too. What’s your point?
And you mentioned several fantasy authors in there!
Yeah, so? My point is that I don’t limit myself to a single genre of reading, and neither should you. Also, within a given genre, like science fiction, I don’t limit myself to a single subgenre, either. I love a good cyberpunk noir thriller just as much as a sprawling far future space opera. I love ultra-realistic hard science fiction at least as much as no-holds-barred space fantasy (or science fantasy, or… future fantasy? Anything where little consideration to the laws of physics is given, how about that?). I love a good fantasy western (I’m looking at you, Red Country) just as much as a good science fiction western (Firefly). Or historical fantasy (Guy Gavriel Kay) as much as gritty grimdark fantasy (Abercrombie and Martin), or even the old-fashioned high fantasy (Tolkien). And yes, I’m aware I mixed my media a bit in there.
I grew up on the works of JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Stephen R Donaldson, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, and others. Then along came Len Deighton, Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum, Daniel Silva, Tom Clancy, and others of similar ilk.
Then one day I took a chance on an interesting looking book, something about seasons that can last for years, called A Game of Thrones. After that, I started devouring George R R Martin and his “gritty realism” version of fantasy. And on the science fiction side of things, I picked up a thick book about an interstellar civilization called Matter, and suddenly I was reading everything of Iain M Banks’ Culture series that I could get my hands on (though I recommend you start with Consider Phlebas).
Charles Stross rekindled my love of space-faring robots in his ode to Asimov and Heinlein, Saturn’s Children. Patrick Rothfuss reintroduced me to high fantasy and a more grown-up version of a school for wizards with The Name of the Wind. Olen Steinhauer made sure I didn’t forget about spies and intrigue with The Tourist. And Guy Gavriel Kay proved that history could be more fantastic than you ever would believe in The Last Light of the Sun.
Joe Abercrombie took “grimdark” fantasy to another notch — with a side of humor — in The Blade Itself, and James S A Corey brought spacefaring societies back down to a Solar System scale with a side of massive political intrigue in Leviathan Wakes. When I ran out of Culture novels to read (well, almost — I just picked up Inversions), I discovered Peter F Hamilton in The Reality Dysfunction, and then I took a chance on John Scalzi with The Collapsing Empire. I loved that one so much that I ran out and bought all the rest of his books immediately, and they are sitting there, right now, on my to-read table, waiting for me.
Andy Weir put the science back into space fiction with The Martian, and Hugh Howie added new twists to post-apocalyptic survival with Wool, and then again with Sand.
Richard K Morgan reintroduced the cyberpunk noir detective thriller, with shades of Bladerunner, in Altered Carbon, and once again, here was another author of whom I immediately read everything I could find.
Genevieve Cogman took me on a lighter-hearted — well, mostly lighter-hearted — journey across parallel worlds with The Invisible Library, which definitely seems to have some influence from Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber in it, but with an obvious love for books thrown in. There’s a name for this subgenre, books about books, but at the moment it’s escaping me. If you know it, put it in the comments!
But while on the subject of books about books, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Carlos Ruiz Zafron’s The Shadow of the Wind. Even in translation, this novel has some of the most beautiful language I’ve encountered.
Ok, I’ve rambled for nearly a thousand words and said nearly nothing. Let’s get down to brass tacks. What are my influences specifically for The Silence of Ancient Light?
What do you think? And, who are your influences?
header image credit: user:kellepics / pixabay.com