The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Fiction We Loved as Children and Teenagers

The response to my last post reviewing the Roman Republic Mystery series SPQR, made me think a post on fiction I’ve loved would be appropriate. After some writing, I decided to limit it to books and series I loved before I left high school to keep the word count down to something reasonable.

I make no particular claim that any of these books have any literary merit, only that that I loved them when I read them. Please add your own fiction loves, especially from when you were young, in the comments. Any comments not on the topic of fiction will be removed as I see them.

Patricia McKillip – The Riddle Master of Hed trilogy

In grades six and seven I loved the first two novels of this trilogy, The Riddle Master of Hed, and Heir of Sea and Fire, like crazy. I read each multiple times. Like no one else I’ve read since, McKillip got the feel of magic and myth right. Her world is lyrical and her magic is magical, not technology in drag.

I’ve read them every decade since, and they hold up. McKillip went on to write a lot of books. In some the prose becomes too dense for me, and I feel these are the best she ever wrote, though it may just be a case of imprinting. Nonetheless, highly recommended.

Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Darkover Series

Bradley became famous outside science fiction with The Mists of Avalon, which is actually where I stopped reading her, and post-death some nasty sexual allegations have come out. All that said, her Darkover series, about a lost colony world being rediscovered by more technologically advanced Terrans made a huge impression on me.

It’s an excellent meditation on colonialism and what happens when a more technologically advanced civilization effects a less advanced one with cultural institutions and traditions that aren’t always inferior. It has psionics and some aliens which shift genders and it’s full of 70s era feminism, and it all winds up feeling both heavy and adventurous, because Bradley could tell an adventure story too when she wanted to.

I read these novels when I was ten to 12 years old, and I haven’t read them since, but they made a huge impression on me at the time.

Harper Hall Trilogy, Anne McCaffery

The first two books in particular imprinted me: DragonSong and DragonSinger, about Menolly, a young girl growing up in a sea-hold where girls weren’t supposed to do music. In the second book Menolly makes it to Harper Hall, where music is allowed, but where the first girl Harper is not looked on favorably by all.

These books are both coming of age novels to the tee, that’s what they do, and they may do it better than any other books I’ve read. Menolly is relatable, and the supporting characters shine.

Great for kids and teenagers, but I think adults can still enjoy them.

Desmond Bagley novels. Bagley was a thriller writer who died in the early 80s. His novels were bestsellers, but he’s forgotten now. Not all of his novels are good. I would avoid Juggernaut, Wyatt’s Hurricane, Bahama Crisis, Windfall, and maybe Flyaway.

Flyaway’s not a good novel, but it is a good paean to the North African desert. The protagonist isn’t very interesting, but the real central character, the desert, is.

Bagley is sexist by today’s standards, but not those of the 1950s through the 1970s.

But Bagley has that magical alchemy that allows first person narrative to work. His characters are people one wants to spend time with. They aren’t interesting or complicated, but they are people who are easy to like.

God Stalk, P C Hodgell

If I had a favorite book as a teenager, this was it, hands down. I probably read it 25 times before I left high school. A partially amnesiac heroine winds up in a city with thousands of Gods where the most powerful institution is the thieves guild. A monotheist herself, the existence of so many gods challenges her faith, and the book chronicles her both becoming a thief, and trying to understand the nature of divinity.

This was a fun, fun, book, but it was also philosophical, character-driven in the best way, and so on. I’ve read it since and enjoyed it, but it does have some coming of age vibe.

Dick Francis Novels

So, Dick Francis only ever really had one protagonist despite their differing names, and in certain senses only ever wrote one novel, just over and over again. They’re all first person, the protagonist is always calm, insightful, capable and inhumanly impossible to push around.

But, if you like that person and that novel, Francis mixes it up enough to make it fun to read over and over again, and Francis was a very good writer. Comfort food books, despite being mysteries often involving death.

White Wing, Gordon Kendall

You’ll probably have trouble finding this one. It’s about a galaxy where Earth was destroyed by alien invaders, and some of the remaining humans fight as mercenaries for a group of worlds opposing those invaders. It’s a book about alienation and about family. It is, in fact, the first book I ever read about polyamory, the White Wing’s squads also being families with more than two adults in them, but I didn’t know what polyamory was, nor care.

Good plot, good characters, good world building (not technologically realistic, but culturally so) and quite heart warming, since it’s really about a family healing its wounds and coming together. Oh, and space fighters with BattleStar Galactica/Star Wars-style battles.

The Girl from the Emeraline Island, Robert S. Blum

Yet another coming of age novel with a female protagonist. This is set in a post-apocalyptic earth, and the Emeraline Isle is dotted with shrine schools which only boys are allowed to go to. The protagonist, of course, has disguised herself as a boy and gone to shrine schools. The book starts as she is discovered.

The rest develops more or less as you would expect, but for some reason this book made a huge mark on me when I read it. It ends well, resolving what needed to be resolved while not destroying the integrity of its world. Sometimes you can win, and the world doesn’t change, or even accept you, and that’s not exactly ok, but it is what it is.

Witch World Series, Andre Norton

Norton was one of the most prolific science fiction and fantasy novelists to ever write and her books show it, they are very uneven, and they aren’t always good.

That said, I read almost everything she wrote, and enjoyed even the bad ones. Her main creation was the “Witch World,” a world with powerful magic, mostly forgotten by mortals, and a multitude of odd races including old ones now long gone.

The Witch World had a feeling common in fantasy at one time (Moorcock had it also) of layering of history that goes back and back and back into myth and legend, with old artifacts and lost gods and cities and secrets and lore that no one could know entirely, with eldritch powers that one could approach but never entirely understand.

Magic was not always reliable or to be trusted; it certainly wasn’t always understood. It was mysterious and sometimes fickle and could be very dangerous to those who approached it without care.

It is this feeling that drew me to the Witch World novels. They don’t feel like modern Americans (or 60s Americans) plunked down in a fantasy world, and the fantasy world doesn’t feel like ours but with magic.

I can’t recommend these novels as highly as some of the others in this post, but I can still recommend them. Start with Witch World or with The Crystal Gryphon and go from there.

Concluding Remarks

I read a ton when I was younger. I know that as of age ten I was reading in excess of ten books a week, because the library lending limit was six, we went once a week, but I also took books out of the school library.

In my teen years, when on holiday, I’d read two or three books a day. In some ways, much of my life can be characterized as reading books with some other stuff happening between books. I always had a book with me, and I was always reading, even in class, to the annoyance of many teachers (but most let it lie since I could answer their questions when called on).

Because they weren’t fiction, I didn’t include the following books above, but in grade 4, I discovered mythology and read every myth I could find, which meant Greco Roman and some Norse. Bullfinch’s mythology, of course, but others. It’s possible that that reading mattered more to me than anything I’ve read before or since.

Because I read so much, I read everything. I remember a series of “nurse novels” from the 60s which I loved, for example, though I don’t remember the names. I read all the SciFi standards like Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke, as well as many who are long forgotten now like E. E. Doc Smith (better than he reads, because most of the stereotypes he wallows in weren’t stereotypes when he invented them.)

And since my father preferred thrillers I read those too, as a way of getting around that pesky library borrowing limit, which is how I discovered Bagley and Francis, among others.

I read books for escape, no question. To this day I’ve little interest in books that are about wallowing in despair or existential angst and so on; if I want to wallow in that I can read the news or walk down the street. I spent a fair bit of time in places like Bangladesh and Calcutta, I don’t want to spend my free time wallowing in elegantly written middens, I’ve seen the real thing more than I wanted to and I can have an existential moment any time I want to and many I don’t.

One thing I regret about computers it that I read less books, fiction and non fiction. But  lately, that’s changed, as I got an e-reader and it turned out to be book-crack because of how easy and convenient it is.

And that has pleased me. I’ve gone back and re-read a lot of older novels, some I haven’t read in decades, and also read new stuff. And I like that, and as I knew was true, it turns out to be a lot more fun than hanging out on the internet.

Let us know what books you loved when you were young below in the comments.

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  1. V. Arnold

    Oh mercy; I’ve not heard of one of your titles; but then, I’m much older; probably more than 20 years.
    For me, an avid young reader (5-16 y), the Tom Swift series; the All About book series; the World Book Encyclopedia; the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia; and science fiction; Assimov, Clark, and authors long forgotten.
    I like this thread Ian, thanks, takes me back a bit…

  2. robotpliers

    The Tripods series was always a favorite:

  3. Rik

    Of the books I read as a teen – by Tolkien, Tanith Lee and Frank Herbert – I haven’t re-read anything in ages. ‘Riddle Master of Hed’ certainly made an impression; most of the other authors I only by name.

    What I am re-reading, from time to time, is the ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ series. Anything else, say, Justin Cronin or Tad Williams, whenever I feel the urge.

  4. Mel

    Doc Smith can still be found via

  5. Kris

    I was also a huge fan of the Darkover series and the Harper Hall trilogy. The books that made the biggest impression on me as a teen, though, were Ursula K. LeGuin’s books (The Dispossessed, Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Beginning Place, all the Hainish novels) and Herman Hesse’s (Journey to the East, Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund). In elementary school I liked Susan Cooper’s ‘Dark Is Rising’ series and Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ series. I read through my father’s scifi collection – Isaac Azimov, Arthur C. Clarke, James Blish – and came to love my mother’s favorite mystery author, Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar). Will definitely get Patricia McKillips books based on your description.

  6. V. Arnold

    September 7, 2017
    Hesse is my favorite author; all his writtings; no exceptions…

  7. gnokgnoh

    I was born and raised on a mission in Nigeria until junior year of high school, with a few odd years in Chicago during the Biafra War. I had no access to a library, so I was stuck early on with hand-me-downs from other missionary kids: Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew series and other similar drek.

    But my Dad was an avid reader and brought all of his books with him, so I read what he read, starting very early, before my teens. He loved westerns: Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour; and mystery/spy writers: Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Frederick Forsythe, John LeCarre, Ian Fleming (Bond series), the best being a few Raymond Chandler and PD James. I then discovered his real stuff: Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, James Baldwin (oh my). By my mid-teens, I was reading Dostoevsky, Pushkin, E.L. Doctorow, J.D. Salinger, and Solzhenitsyn. I never read much fantasy or sci-fi. Late teens/early college, I was reading French literature from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

  8. Vonnegut was my favorite then and now. I read a ton of sci-fi and fantasy. Screens have cut my book reading significantly. Bad for enjoyment, as you mentioned. Good for learning/awareness. But I constantly question whether awareness is useful if you’re unable to change things for the better.
    I’m currently reading Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” It’s absolutely gutting. I think I would have read it as a period piece ten years ago. Now the jobs have changed but the brutal efficiency of the oppressive system feels like home.

  9. gnokgnoh

    I also read Vonnegut, Sinclair, Steinbeck, and Penn Warren as a teenager. They left a lasting impression on me.

  10. kalyptein

    Glad to see some love for Patricia McKillip, she seems to be a little known gem. I particularly liked The Book of Atrixe Wolf, and would recommend it up alongside Riddle Master of Hed.

  11. nihil obstet

    Before I left high school? Lots of Victorian novels (Austen and the Brontes, especially). Modern stuff was the kind of thing that made Book of the Month club, and mostly mysteries. I was never very fond of Agatha Christie. I read Ellery Queen, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey. The thriller writer that I was hooked on was Alistair McLean.

  12. Dean Flemming

    When I was a teenager I voraciously read the historical novels my grandmother had: my favorite author was Lawrence Schoonover. Tolkien, Moorcock, Burroughs and Lewis were other staples.

  13. Synoia

    My tastes and Ian”s are similar.

    At school, a boarding school reading was a part of the day, and a large part of English classes.

    In the Mid ’60s I read every Science Fiction Book in our Town Library, Felixstowe, in a Summer vacation. I don’t know how I read, because I don’t really understand how others read.

    It took me years to understand poetry. For me, it has to be read aloud, as it has no rhyme or rhythm when not read aloud. Strange it took so long when we sung hymns twice a day, and hymns are closely related to poetry.

    If it is a complex technical subject requiring complete understanding, I can spend hours on a single page.

    My favorite was Arthur C Clarke.

    Heinlein eventually revolted me. I have not read anything of his since.

    James Herriott’s series of book in rural Yorkshire before WW II is a good. His books written about the period after the war did not strike me so much.

  14. Willy

    Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke… and Vonnegut were pretty good at predicting dystopian futures. I’m hoping somebody can recommend sci-fi authors with more positive views of the future which are still wise and plausible.

    I’m in possession of the Jess Money book (not sci fi) but haven’t had the time to read it yet.

  15. bob mcmanus

    I don’t know if I can remember, or remember the difference between books I read at 8 and at 12. 66 here, for reference, and because:

    Andre Norton, most everything before the Witch World series. Ace doubles in general. But I don’t remember Bradley before the 80s, when I did Darkover. Brunner and Dick, but probably as a teenager.

    Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, “We Were There” series. I just devoured what was around the house, cause there wasn’t much money, parents were busy, and it was a long bikeride to the library.

    Mom belonged to the Book of the Month Club, and what she bought were the historical novels: Costain, Taylor Caldwell, Shellenberger, Irving Stone, Uris, Wouk. I think I am forgetting someone.

    When I was about 8 or 9, Mom picked up the complete Britannicas on installment, including the Great Books. This was a major expense and a huge argument with my dad. I would sometimes dip into a Encyclopedia volume at random, or if Tom Swift went to Mongolia. I can’t say I read and understood Hume or Kant, but Sophocles wasn’t so bad. And I knew a lot of names to respect.

    Wuthering Heights. Mom loved it, and splurged on a classy leather illustrated boxed Bronte set. Jane Eyre never grabbed me.

  16. Riding the Torch, Willy, either by Fritz Lieber or Harry Harrison in a Lieber edited anthology (been a long time). We’re never gonna’ find a planet to replace the one we lost. Got a little of everything: The Chip, wagontrain in space, even a dialog twixt a smoke-ring blowing Satan nattily turned out in a chartreuse tuxedo and some wild-haired bearded white guy with pinwheel eyes in a grubby robe.

    Herbert is one who doesn’t get the reading he deserves. With Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein the core of my formative sci-fi reading. The Dossadi Experiment and WorShip series should have as seminal as Dune. And of course Tolkien. That was like a status symbol, everybody who was anybody was reading Tolkien. All of it, at a … let’s call it a boarding school for gifted boys … an act of (we thought) undergroundish rebellion, and solidarity in our solitary plights.

    I learned how to read reading Louis L’Amour.

  17. bob mcmanus

    Oh, might note that I never ever watched television. Two noisy nasty sisters determined what was on, and I developed a taste for baseball on radio. While reading. So talk of Gilligan or Hoss Cartwright goes past me.

  18. You don’t want to know what I read. First all, it was in more than one language…

  19. Ché Pasa

    Childhood reading list?

    New Standard Encyclopedia (1948 edition ) I still have one volume and the bookcase it came with.

    New Century Dictionary (two volume set — thick and heavy — still have them, though one has no binding, and the other is missing pages)

    Didn’t get into fiction until early adolescence, then it was mostly science fiction writers already mentioned. Like others, I dropped Heinlein around age 17.

    Fictional stories in my childhood were mostly those found on the radio, black and white television, and at the movies. Oh, and history as taught in school.

  20. realitychecker

    What? No Edgar Rice Burroughs?????

    (Tarzan, Pellucidar, Mars, Venus, et al.)

  21. mago

    As a teen all SF, also Faulkner, Hemingway Kerouac Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange) Tolkien Vonnegut, most of Kris’ list. God, Hesse, how could I forget? Actually more forgotten than remembered. Thanks for the spur.

  22. subgenius

    Many of the above, plus Lovecraft and John Brunner (sheep look up, stand on Zanzibar, shockwave rider – epic 70s SciFi of a dystopian bent)

  23. I felt compelled to comment. First Ian I am an avid reader of your blog. I see that Vonnegut is mentioned. He and I collaborated on a Requiem Mass called Stones, Time and Elements, a humanistic requiem. Michael Brecker performs on it with the electronic saxophone and did the post production in his studio. It’s on Newport Classic and to date has been in the top 100 CD’s for indie opera/vocal on Amazon worldwide. I knew him personally and wife and spent many moments with him feeding me. I would love to send you Ian the scans of his North American review of how he came to write a requiem and our relationship. Let me know I’ll send.

  24. Hugh

    The enchanting Wind in the Willows that I came across purely by accident as a child. It was beside another book at a small American library in France.

    Among the many titles here, many of which I do not know, Jack Vance wrote a scifi trilogy called Planet of Adventure and a fantasy trilogy called Lyonesse.

    Sometimes a novel just strikes a chord, like Conrad Richter’s Waters of Kronos about a man returning to his lost childhood.

    On a much different note, there was Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

    The Tom Swift series was famous for its wooden style and unintentional hilarity resulting in the Tom Swiftism, “We need to saw it in two,” he said cuttingly. “Oh, it’s just a deer,” he said with a buck toothed grin. “Lock him up in the freezer,” he said coldly. etc.

    I read a lot as a child, but for the life of me, I remember very little in particular of what I read.

  25. FP

    Form the top of my head, here are a few of my favorite as a kid, which most North Americans are not familiar with, I think:

    Karl May: “Winnetou”

    Erich Kästner: “Pünktchen und Anton”

    Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich: “Sons of the Great Bear”

    Astrid Lindgren: “Karlsson on the roof”

    Alexander Belyayev – everything by him

  26. The series beginning with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” When the movie first came out I would not go see it, because I did not want to disrupt the pictures that C.S. Lewis had painted so richly for me so many decades ago. I eventually did see it, and liked it very much, but still prefer the books.

    There was also a science fiction series. “Perelandra” I think?

  27. Some Guy

    At some point in childhood, I learned to look for the books on the library shelves with the Newberry stickers in order to find good ones (the idea of asking the librarian to find them for me was literally unthinkable, instead I just combed through the shelves).

    Found many good ones that way, eagle of the 9th, whisper of glocken, wrinkle in time, bridge to terabithia and so on.

    It’s funny what sticks with you over the years, I think I only read the Witch world novels once (not that I didn’t enjoy them, just never happened to come back to them, I should some day), but there are a couple of moments I’ve never forgotten from the series.

    There’s one (no doubt I will get the details horribly wrong, going on memory from decades back), which more and more strikes me as a vision of our future, there is a hi-tech kobold city that is attacked and overwhelmed by an invasion of a different kind of kobold, these ones lack the technology of the city dwellers, but in one on one combat they are irresistible due to their fierceness, where the city dwellers have come to rely solely on technology and no longer have any capacity in their own person, bereft of their weapons.

    In another, a group of people have a homeland guarded by some sort of magical rock or screening device that prevent entry by anyone who might bring harm to it. The protagonist, having gone forth to do battle in order to do good, find when he returns home that he can no longer enter because of the evil that is now in his heart. Makes me think about the world we live in, and how we are all like that, (or maybe I just speak for myself), damaged by living the way we do such that we can’t be sure of our own ability to do good rather than harm, regardless of our intentions.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing Ian, I’ll have to make a point of tracking down some of the ones you mention in your post.

  28. Some Guy

    Realized I didn’t really answer your question directly- some favourites as a child were Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Enid Blyton, Madeleine L’engle. Adventure, high fantasy, an escape from Mundania*, exactly as you describe it Ian.

    Getting older, into high school, was more into fantasy – Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, etc. with a little bit of sci-fi culled from what my older brother had accumulated over the years (loved Doc Smith’s Lensman series, wasn’t bothered by the stereotypes one bit..) but never got too into SF beyond some of the classics and a few others here and there.

    *Was so clueless about popular culture I read the book version of ‘Total Recall’ (written by Piers Anthony) only realizing much later on that it was a book version of a popular movie (based on an earlier story)…

  29. someofparts

    I had a copy of the Jungle Book with enchanting illustrations. Baloo, the bear, was Mowgli’s teacher. There was one picture of Baloo, pacing back and forth as he explained something. Mowgli was sitting nearby watching and listening while he leaned back against his friend Bagheera, the panther. I used to sit in school and wish I were getting my lessons the way Mowgli did, sitting in the woods with bears and panthers.

  30. Strangefate

    T. H. White’s Once and Future King and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes were hugely important to me while still in school, especially the former with its sad empathetic yet often humorous approach to the Arthurian myth. I also got into Shakespeare fairly young, as well as Malory and Swift and Dickens. Vonnegut, Wodehouse, and Philip K. Dick came slightly after graduation but I read them voraciously once I found them. Hammet as well, mostly just for his style of writing, which was instructive.

  31. Hugh

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

    There is also a whole slew of Jules Verne.

    For not too deep adventure, there are the Riverworld novels by Philip José Farmer.

    As I came around to learning French as an adult, I ended up reading a lot of children’s and young adult literature to fill out my cultural understanding. So Astérix, Tintin, and authors Gaston Leroux (the Rouletabille series), Rosny-Aîné (scifi/fantasy), Jules Verne, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (his pilot novels and Le Petit Prince), Alexandre Dumas (the Musketeer series, the Count of Monte Cristo, etc.)

  32. Hugh

    LOL. As soon as I say no one mentioned Bradbury, strangefate does.

  33. > Summerian?

    Starting in 5th grade. The problem with Cuneiform is it wants to talk about sex – and I had no interest in sex at that point in my life.

  34. > Brunner

    A long-forget great writer.

  35. As a child I read a lot. We had a tiny library in our small town near Chicago, so we would go every Saturday morning and get books for the week and then go to the Bakery for a donut. What I remember most is reading all of the “Oz” books; All of A.A. Milne. My favorites were “House at Pooh Corner” and “Now we are Six”. Traveling salesman sold my Dad “Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia” and I think I read every page. My Dad also bought a pictorial history of the Civil War and I read and reread that. . My father learned to fly and so I read books on Lindbergh. Oh, my Mother had her old copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which scared me over and over again especially the Ice Queen.
    Did read Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. Not my favorites. By high school I was reading the classics, all of Jane Austen, Brontes, Dickens. Agatha Christie for fun and a lot of history books for school and because I liked them.
    My mother was a movie buff and her sisters had run off to Hollywood, so we watched a ton of movies from the 1930s. She knew all the supporting players. And there were an amazing number of strong female role models in these movies. The women like Roz Russell, Kate Hepburn, Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, really rocked. For a few years there was a very subversive TV show on called “Andy’s Gang” starring Andy Divine and with an big evil Frog named “Froggie the Gremlin”. Each week Froggie would make an adult look like a big boob. And then jump up and down and say after doing something really bad like making the chef pour spaghetti on his head, “I promise to be good, I will, I will, I will. Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
    To this day when I create a bit of mischief, I am channeling my inner Froggie.
    Other TV shows were “Sky King”, “Sea Hunt”, ” Flash Gordon” with the evil Emperor Ming and lots of Westerns.

  36. Yes, yes yes, but, sex with gods!

    On the undercurrent of disdain for Heinlein running through this thread: occasionally the topic of digital natives v digital immigrants comes up and how I, regardless of thirty years of computing an immigrant, made that transition as opposed to my son, a native who has never not had access to some form of digitized information. To most students references to old scifi floats right past them, but I none-the-less tell them about Podykn (sp)? from Mars (of Mars?) and how during a long transit twixt Venus and Mars the kids sat down to their personal computers and scrolled through>/i> their schoolwork. Literally one of the first things I thought of when I first sat down to a computer. He was quite prophetic, all the moreso If This Goes On.

    Now that we’re remembering, Jose’ Phillip Farmer.

  37. Olivier

    Could the “nurse novels” have been by Frank G. Slaughter?

  38. Z

    I’ve read a bunch of Vonnegut as an adult – they are short books with short chapters and easy to read at work – and I think he is horribly overrated. The only book I’ve enjoyed of his was Mother Night, which was a very good book. The Sirens of Titan, Hocus Pocus, Timequake, Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5 – I thought they were all garbage. I have Breakfast of Champions to read yet and that will be it for reading Vonnegut.

    To each his own though …


  39. Hugh

    Early Heinlein was often a fun read. My favorite was Double Star, about an actor hired to impersonate an assassinated President. There was also Have Space Suit—Will Travel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Citizen of the Galaxy. There were some others but I don’t remember them well. Later Heinlein was pretty unreadable. He was something of a fascist which starts coming out in Starship Troopers and his polyamory stuff got in the way of his storytelling.

    Another French writer was Maurice Leblanc who did the Arsène Lupin series.

  40. subgenius


    Yeah, Brunner was pretty influential – not least the invention of the concept of an internet worm, pre-internet, in shockwave rider.

    I still dream of living in Precipice. Hearing Aid is a proto WikiLeaks…

  41. Oh boy. Where to begin. My tastes overlap with Ian’s quite a bit, but here’s some distinguishing features of my youthful reading:

    My parents read to me every day as a small child, and I imbibed Aesop’s fables and the Arabian nights. They also attempted to inflict Dickens on me in an effort to instill an early appreciation for the classics, but I think I was too young for it because it put me off that sort of thing until high school, when I rediscovered an appreciation for it. However, Greek and Roman mythology, at least child-sanitized versions of it, went over very well indeed.

    Naturally, see my name, I read a lot of Tolkien, but LotR and the Hobbit are not my favorites. I instead devoured the Silmarillion and most of the “draft” and derivative works by Tolkien from that, in a near-obsessive effort to understand how Tolkien conceived of the Valar-Mortal relationship, which intrigued me greatly.

    I also consumed all of Narnia, which put me off when I understood what C.S. Lewis was arguing — but that didn’t stop me from reading the stuff repeatedly over and over again, especially since I found the contrast with Tolkien far more humane understanding of the universe irresistible.

    A very important part of my childhood reading was also Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. It’s a precursor to the whole Harry Potter subgenre, but it’s IMO far superior, because it is subtle. The protagonist Will Stanton enters the world of magic at the age of 11, but unlike Harry Potter, Will’s world of magic is completely coextensive with the real world, and in fact is deeply embedded in customs, habits, and folklore, and yet seamless and fully bound across the world. The third book, The Grey King, I found particularly haunting — the battleground for the fundamental nature of the universe happens to be slow-burning feud among Welsh farming families.

    And yes, I read Darkover and similar writing. Great stuff even though in hindsight I see the overall creepiness that was lurking behind the whole thing.

    This is a great topic and I could go on. We should revisit this some time.

  42. MojaveWolf

    In the 8th grade, read “The Plague Dogs”, which possibly by virtue of being first remains my favorite Richard Adams book despite my love of Watership Down and Shardik, and pretty much always shows up whenever I post a list of favorite novels. Not really a children’s book, just a great novel period. (and, obviously, yay Watership Down! and Shardik)

    Seconding the McKillip and Norton as favorite adolescent discoveries. The Riddle of Stars trilogy still shows up sometimes when I decide to make a favorite fiction list, and not just as a favorite childhood read. Truly wonderful book. McKillip as as good a writer as I’ve ever seen for creating atmosphere and mood, and has a love of wild places and wild things and an ability to describe them (albeit she’s describing fictional creatures and settings) that’s every bit as good as Abbey or Muir or Emerson. She sort of captures the ineffable transcendence of nature and life and simply being alive really, really well.

    One of my favorite fantasy writers, and really deserves a far wider readership than she’s had, tho I will agree w/you that these books are my favorites of hers (I think also her first, and written while she was still in her teens?). Also excellent by her from my teen years–The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

    & I too loved the Witch World novels, tho my first Witch World novel was actually The Jargoon Pard, which was a fairly late addition–I read it without knowing what the Witch World was and it stands up very well on its own, tho in some ways it could be read as a decades-later sequel to Year of the Unicorn. It has everything you describe so well about the original Witch World novels in spades.

    My first Andre Norton novel, which was also possibly the first fantasy novel that strongly imprinted on me not by Susan Cooper, was something I checked out of my sixth grade library called “Here Abide Monsters”, which was a mixture of fantasy and science fiction with the fantasy strongly predominating.

    Other early things I read around that time which I don’t read so much anymore but still have a soft spot in my heart and might still be enjoyable for adult first time readers–Susan Cooper–The Dark is Rising, second and arguably best in the series of the same name (the other “best” out of those would be The Grey King)

    Tons of animal fiction books–practically everything by Jim Kjelgaard, starting w/Irish Red and eventually encompassing everything of his, I think. Also about a couple of dozen Black Stallion and related works by Walter Farley. And something called “The Wolf King” that made huge impression on me, and of course Jack London (and then London’s non-animal focused work as well). The all rather heart-breaking (I mean, wow, heart breaking, all of them) Julie of the Wolves, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Algonquin (and omg looking back that ending upset and infuriated me at the time and iirc would infuriate me more now humans suck; I mean, humans suck in Julie of the Wolves too but Algonquin was sort of endorsing the particular suckage–I think; I haven’t read this in many decades; it was otherwise a very good book tho, again iirc)

    I think I started my mythology-binging in the second grade, or thereabouts, also Norse and Greco-Roman; read TONS of mythology and history–loved history!–and science all the way through elementary school (at that age, scientist of some sort, veterinarian, jockey/horse trainer and writer were my career aspirations; I got too big to be a jockey and I didn’t think I could cope w/putting animals to sleep, so there went being a vet; writing stuck and science might’ve but for my 8th and 9th grade science teachers–my 8th grade teacher had a personal hatred of the existence of the middle school starting a “gifted class” for people who tested for high IQs and took it out on those of us who were in it and made life generally hellish; my 9th grade Advanced Biology teacher both thought 9th graders shouldn’t be allowed to take the class and took it out on the sudden influx of us in my class and was a creationist who refused to teach evolution except to tell us that he thought it was wrong and if we wanted to learn about it tough and would send people to the principle for arguing w/him about practically anything; those two effectively put me off any science related career path forever)

    Pre-adolescent childhood– Escape from Witch Mountain; Loved most of the classics that are now marketed as children’s books; my thriller interests were more movie-inspired–I read the (very different from the film!) James Bond books, in which he wasn’t particularly likable a lot of the time iirc, and several of the Matt Helm titles, despite my extreme disappointment that the character was nothing like Dean Martin’s Matt Helm in the movies (my second grade self discovered these on tv in the hospital getting my tonsils out. Also an early love of horror, from Halloween themed kids books to books about the movie monsters I loved watching (and all the overlap tween classics for kids and horror/sf) to Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery to a few other anthologies I can’t remember.

    These last sent me to HP Lovecraft in the 6th grade, which aside from giving me occasional nightmares led me to Stephen King, Peter Straub and Ramsey Campbell in high school (I found Anne Rice a little later and I’d put her works in a slightly different vein; other than Interview With The Vampire I wouldn’t even call them horror; they’re more purely celebratory of the supernatural, even its bad parts).

    Read and enjoyed all the Heinlein juveniles, but don’t have the same desire to reread them as an adult. They did help jumpstart my science fiction fondness. Also loved all of Andre Norton’s science fiction I could get my hands on (tho a lot of that–most of it?–blended at least a little w/fantasy and occasionally horror). She was no question a dominant influence on my future tastes.

    Tolkien of course–found the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings in the eighth grade and became genuinely obsessed for a long time, read and loved everything by him.

    Michael Moorcock was a huge one, Harlan Ellison was brilliant sometimes … never got into Asimov that much . . . Clarke was a great writer who I admired but I just didn’t emotionally connect with.

    Roger Zelazny!!! All hail the Chronicles of Amber!!! Most of his other stuff I didn’t read until college, but the first Amber series I read in 9th or tenth grade and then reread multiple times. Great writer, lots of other excellent stuff; my favorite probably This Immortal (other than Amber)

    Doris Piserchia–Spaceling was a hauntingly wonderful science fiction novel from around 9th grade also.

    (A Wrinkle In Time is wonderful but I didn’t read it till college)

    And for a non-spec-fic childhood love–in high school I read and loved Sharon Kay Penman’s historicial novel The Sunne In Splendour, and devoured the short stories of F Scott Fitzgerald.

  43. MojaveWolf

    I think my first comment was too long and went into moderation, sorry! But just wanted to note that despite our very different political beliefs, tons of overlap w/Mandos in the comment right above me, if I ever show up. Including the Silmarillion etc love (tho LOTR was my favorite, tho also loved all the legends in the appendix).

    Really think the Dark is Rising series is VERY different from Harry Potter, tho I love the strong influence from Arthurian legendry, British folk tales and mythology mixed. (which reminds me to add–Manly Wade Wellman; and the Year’s Best Horror Stories collections DAW used to put out).

    And forgot to mention my fondness for Darkover also, w/same disclaimer as others.

    And Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser!!! And Robert E Howard (not just or even primarily Conan; his swashbuckling horror short stories were mostly what I read) and Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane series. (think, supernaturally charged but still basically human version of a Conan/Jaime LannisterTakeshi Kovacs mix roaming thru a world where the Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu mythos still walked–loved those!!!)(or, a grittier, less poetic version of Elric w/out Stormbringer, if you prefer)(or, a slightly darker Corwin of Amber, maybe)

  44. MojaveWolf

    Thank you from this reader to everyone who posted comments! This is all bringing back wonderful memories! Yes to Tanith Lee especially, her Romeo and Juliet retelling “Sung In Shadow” is probably my favorite, edging out Delusion’s Master and the final third of Night’s Master (both part of her Flat Earth series).

    And on a VERY different note, Yes to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

    A lot of the other stuff referenced above I didn’t read till later

  45. Willie

    Wind in the Willows, Alan Garner, the Three Investigators, Willard Price adventure books, Dragonlance Chronicles, Monsterbacks, all the Gollancz yellow books I could read… thanks for this thread Ian. Lots of great books mentioned

  46. Strangefate

    Oh, yes, Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar novels were quite fun. I remember reading those while still in high school thanks to a recent reprinting at the time. Jack Vance is also quite excellent, particularly the Cugel novels.

  47. realitychecker

    Asimov’s concept of psychohistory. Heinlein’s concept of the Fair Witness. Pirsig’s thoughts on where hypotheses come from.

    These get much of the credit (or blame lol) for the way I shaped my own intellectual journey.

    And Edgar Rice Burroughs for my optimistic hopes of what a real hero would do. 🙂

  48. EverythingsJake

    Couldn’t agree more about Patricia McKillip (also reread those books several times) and Anne McCaffrey. I’d add Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” series, at least the first 5 books. There were offbeat but truer in some ways to the archetypal themes for it.

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