Updated: Mar 3, 2018
Books and series that have influenced me and my writing.
Every writer is influenced by something or someone else. It's not that originality is impossible, but it has its limits. When we allow others to show us the ropes, it doesn't mean that we'll never cross them, it just means we know where they have been and can decide where we want to go.
These are the works that have influenced me the most as a writer. You'll notice that not all of them are science fiction. Not all of the them are fiction. The art of storytelling transcends these monikers as well as time and culture.
12. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
From my earliest days as an independent reader, I remember these books so vividly. I don't think anything I read previously captured my attention so well as these books. My fifth grade teacher read The Book of Three (book 1 of the series) to us and I immediately jumped into the series. Lloyd Alexander wrote many wonderful adventures and to this day, he is one of my literary heroes. I used this series as the basis of a project in a Young Adult fiction class in college. Yes, technically they are Middle Grade but my professor didn't mind.
The sojourn of Taran, assistant pig-keeper, from orphan boy raised by a enchanter to savior of Prydain is one that epitomizes the hero's journey. Alexander's use of Welsh mythology to give this story a cultural flare is classic.
11. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Obviously better known for the epic Ender's Game series, Card did write a how-to book on writing which I can't deny opened my deluded eyes back in high school. I was so sure I was going to be a writer, even though I had trouble finishing essays and stories for the school newspaper. The idea that writing was hard hadn't yet settled into the part of my brain that deals with reality. Back then, writing was easy; especially when you never worry about grammar, style, voice or even coherence. This book was the first to help me realize that taking myself seriously as a writer meant years of hard work and dedication. While my delusions of grandeur have never quite disappeared, they began to take a back stage place in my mind. I learned that I had a lot of learning to do, before becoming a published author of science fiction.
10. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
What's a murder mystery novel doing on the list? Character development, that's what. The Queen of Mystery created her best characters for this book (in my opinion). They are all horrible people, but they are all such wonderfully flawed humans. You see in them the best and worst of humanity. In the first chapter you see them, one by one, as they travel toward their doom on a mysterious island. You think about how ordinary they all seem. Then as they reveal themselves for the lowly, lecherous, inhumane and cowardly creatures they are, you hate them and yet want them to survive. How can bad people be so good?
9. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My 9th grade English teacher assigned this book and after reading the first three chapters, I thought it was stupid. How wrong I was. I came to see Bradbury's vision of Mars and humanities ability to build and destroy. I was captivated at how well he meshed together the story of man's use and abuse. It's the story of colonialism, a true colonizing, but set with such poignant prose as to make you realize just how stuck to this mentality we, as a race, are. Bradbury was a true artist of the written word.
8. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
"Run Ralph! Run!" Oh, how I hated and loved this book. A good book will always toy with your emotions like this one does. Yes, there is much symbolism and political rhetoric, but it's the emotion that connected me most with this story. First of all, I love survival stories. I love the idea of proving one's self in the wild without the modern amenities. Then, to take the psychology of it into account. As a teacher, this is a fun book to study with students. You watch
their faces as they realize what Ralph, Jack, Piggy, and Simon are descending into, and you can't wait to show them how their own behavior mirrors this. There is no better book, I think, to learn how to write emotional conflict, than this one.
7. The Tripod Series by John Christopher
This sci-fi trilogy tells the story of a group of boys growing up in a dystopian world. It is Earth, but not the Earth we know. This dystopia is set in a future where alien invaders have conquered humanity and made them their slaves. How do you fight back against such a powerful enemy, when they have the ability to control your mind. Lost technology, lost history and a young protagonist who must make hard choices on the path to freedom.
6. Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
Did I mention how I love survival stories? Well imagine surviving on an alien planet, cut off from the rest of humanity. This was another book assigned to me in school, but one I loved from the very start. Heinlien's Rod Walker and my own Rob Engleman have much in common. Intelligent, but lacking in experience. The hard knocks of life experience, coupled with the deadly dangers of an alien planet. There are few story lines that excite me more. Why is this book only 6 on the list? There is so much more to story telling than plot.
5. Falkenberg's Legion by Jerry Pournelle
I love Jerry Pournelle. Rather I love the universe he created and wrote so many stories for. This book is actually a compilation of stories centered on the character of John Christian Falkenberg. He is a charismatic leader, a cunning military mind and a crafty politician. This book and others written by Pournelle, showed me how to create a believable political setting for my stories. Rather than villains who are just evil and do bad things for no apparent reason, show the ambiguity of morality in our morally corrupt reality. Villains don't believe they're evil, they always have motive beyond the lure of ultimate power and domination. They have ideals as morally valid as the heroes. Human heroes are never as morally just and incorruptible as we might want them to be.
4. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Foolish, I may be for placing this book here on the list. Yet, I feel myself justified for it. Ivanhoe wasn't written as a historically accurate fictional account. Even for Scott's own time, when such things weren't really considered, his intentions weren't to show England's 12th century as it really was. Rather Ivanhoe is a look at the aspect of Chivalry and the code of ethics revered in medieval literature. I'm sure even Scott's readers understood that Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a fictional Saxon who defies his father and serves the Norman king Richard I, was as unrealistic as a laser-sword wielding space wizard. Yet Ivanhoe is everything a chivalric knight of the Middle Ages ought to be. It is a view toward what humans should be and how good should triumph over evil, though never without a cost.
3. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This is the best first contact story every written. The Moties are the most alien extra-terrestrials created. So different, yet believable. Not just humans with odd faces and cultures derived from mythology or Earth history.
Set in Pournelle's CoDominium Universe, this story weaves the tales of both humans and aliens together in a tangled web of survival and politics. You truly don't know who to root for.
2. Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
The true tale of a Norwegian anthropologist and his five daring friends who set out onto the Pacific Ocean on a primitive raft. Why? To prove it could be done, of course. Thor tells his story well in this memoir of 101 days at sea. While it never made the scientific community take his theories more seriously, it did show the world that the age of exploration wasn't over. How coincidental that just a few years after this seafaring adventure, man would take their first steps beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere.
For me, this book is also a reference manual on primitive sailing. Neither Thor nor any of his companions were expert sailors. Only one had any real experience at sea, and that was aboard modern ships, not ancient-styled rafts. I remember after reading this the first time, wanting to build a raft of my own and set out on my own adventure. While this desire hasn't come to fruition (dare I say, yet), it is part of the inspiration for writing the seafaring adventures of Rob Engleman and the crew of the Entdecker.
1. King David's Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle
Yes, I realize that this is the third book written (or co-written) by Pournelle on this this list. However, I really love this book. Pournelle has been the biggest influence on me as a writer, at least when it comes to voice and how to portray the primitive with the technologically advanced.
King David's Spaceship, also set in the CoDominium Universe, shows a human culture which has lost their technology during centuries of isolation and warfare. Now, faced with domination by a space-faring human culture, they seek the knowledge of how to build a spaceship. The creation of which will ensure they are treated as equals by their long lost cousins. This is classic sci-fi involving technology, but not making it an integral part of the story.
There you have it. Who knows, but I'll read something new that will influence me in such a way that I'll have to amend this list. In the meantime, tell me some of your big influences.