My generation gap is showing
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
When Ursula K Le Guin died in January, I decided to re-read A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA. It had been on my to-read pile for some time, but as I'd already read it many times when I was younger, I didn't give it any urgency. That changed when Le Guin passed, and so for the first time in around 15 years I paid a visit to Earthsea and watched Ged struggle with growing up. I wish I'd done so sooner; re-reading it as an adult gave me a new appreciation for Le Guin, the book itself, and its enormous influence — not just on fantasy in general, which is plain to see, but on my own work.
I don't write a lot of "regular" fantasy, so that influence might not be immediately apparent. But this time around, on almost every other page I read something that made me think, "Oh, yeah... I do that." Magic without stated RPG-style rules; nameless evil shadows; wicked old powerful magics that lie dormant in the earth; sailing beyond the edges of the world; and more. You don't have to look far in my work to see similar concepts, not to mention the over-arching story of Ged's spirit being tainted by darkness because of his own pride, with which he must come to terms before it destroys him. That's... something I use a lot. I was 11 years old when I first read the Earthsea trilogy (in the beautiful hardback editions shown above), and even I hadn't realised quite how influential it's been on my own approach to storytelling.
So it was with great pleasure that this weekend, I took part in an upcoming "Book Club" episode of The Incomparable podcast to talk about Le Guin, focusing on WIZARD and her seminal feminist SF novel THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. If you haven't read them before, I strongly recommend you do — and if you have read them before, go read them again. Yes, Le Guin was an enormous influence on me, but more importantly her work influenced entire genres: SF, fantasy, and even what we now call YA.
To hear me talk more about Le Guin and her work, keep an eye on the Book Club feed: https://www.theincomparable.com/theincomparable/bookclub/
Talking of influences... Interzone #274 is now on sale. Not only does it feature my SF story SOUL MUSIC, but I was also asked to write the guest editorial — and I chose to write a piece about the importance of influences, particularly in genre fiction. They've given me permission to re-post it here.
Do influences really matter? It’s hard to think of a genre that places such an importance on literary influence as science fiction. Fantasy, perhaps, but the perpetual darkness of JRRT’s shadow is so inky-black that only the very brightest lights even trouble its penumbra. By contrast, in SF two short stories and a novella is enough to have someone pointing at another writer and shouting how you influenced them.
No other genre poses the dreaded question, “Who are you influenced by?” quite so readily. Even fellow pulps like crime and romance aren’t as thoroughly referenced.
I’ll be the first to declare mine, though a funny thing I’ve discovered over the years is that to me, they glare like sunlight after an eclipse; whereas to you they might remain forever in darkness lest I point them out.
Within the first half-dozen lines of Soul Music, some will surely be clear. Oh, he’s a Gibson fan; well, who isn’t? But there’s more, of course. A touch of Noon-ish music-obsessed subculture, some parallels to the early cyberpunks, a hint of Effingerian squalor.
But what you (probably) can’t see, because you’re (probably) not inside my mind or (probably) living my life, are the morse-flashes that leave barely an afterimage on the retina. A scene that makes me picture a Michael Whelan painting; a character trait I picked up reading Ursula K Le Guin as a child; an archetype that brings John Brunner to mind. Even fainter are the synaesthesiac glints: a passage that urges me to fire up a Sisters of Mercy playlist, or the moves I stole from an avant-garde violinist I once saw in Brooklyn.
(Then there’s Interzone itself, of course. Greg Egan, Charles Stross, Nicholas Royle, and more — so many writers I discovered within these pages since picking up that first “Now monthly!” issue almost thirty years ago. How could that not affect the way I think about SF, the way I write? How could that not affect how I feel about being published here myself for the first time?)
When all’s said and done, what are we but our influences? You might think that suggestion reductive or fatalistic, but I find the idea liberating, because it counter-intuitively ensures our individuality.
If we’re all influenced by everything that we encounter, then by definition none of us can be influenced by the same things in the same ways. You and I might read the same book, but everything else we’ve consumed up to that point will influence the lens through which we interpret it, and so guarantee our reactions are different; different favourite scenes, different thoughts on its themes… different ways it will influence our own life and work in the future.
Influences matter, and perhaps more than you think. Or less.
Buy Interzone #274, or get it free when you take out a subscription:
SILENCAEON: DEAD CHANNEL PREVIEW 2
A second sneak peek for you all. Coming soon. https://www.dropbox.com/s/tnchzl237xnhbpx/silencaeon-deadchannel-preview2.mp3?dl=0
THURSDAY MARCH 15, i.e. this week, is the new date for the EXPHORIA CODE event in Harrogate, where I'll be reading from the book, talking about writing, answering questions, and generally hanging out. 7pm at Starling Coffee House on Oxford Street — tickets are available from Imagined Things and Destination Venus, or online. https://www.facebook.com/events/181707169090755/
https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/FFLGMH SOCIAL MEDIA
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