#10 – Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
#9 – The Island of Doctor Moreau, H. G. Wells
#8 – Spider-Man, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
#7 – Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
#6 – The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
#5 – The Writer’s Art, James Kilpatrick
#4 – Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop I, Barry Longyear
#3 – The God’s Themselves, Isaac Asimov
#2 – Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
#1 – Elric Stories/Eternal Champion, Michael Moorcock
#1 – Elric Stories, and The Eternal Champion Concept by Michael Moorcock
How can you go wrong with stories about a boy and his pet vampiric sword?
Seriously, though, I came to Michael Moorcock’s work in my very early twenties. I made my spending money back then as a life guard, and on very slow days I can remember sitting at the side of the pool and reading the stories of Elric and the rest of the Eternal Champions. Luckily, no one was swimming at those times. I don’t think (grin).
I had read Tolkien and loved it, of course. And I had started to read some other fantasy authors of the time. But Moorcock was something completely different. I didn’t know anything about Moorcock at the time. I didn’t know his politics (which are bent toward the anarchist) or what he thought of anyone or anything. And I wouldn’t have cared if I did. All I knew was that these stories felt really important. They felt more personal than other fantasy works, probably because they spoke of personal accountability and they spoke of how dangerous it is to trust power of any kind.
I should note here that I am a strange person, that I am a walking paradox in many ways.
When I was working full time, for example, I always felt I was a company kinda guy—meaning I understood what the company was trying to do and I bought into it. Yet I also achieved a reputation as someone who could dig into positions that did not always endear me to my bosses. This is because I attempt to side with the individual over the structure—or, rather, that I believe the structure wants to, should, and can accommodate the individual (and the primary reason it does not is because those in charge of the structure are unable to do it due to some personal failing on their own part…this is a subject for many other posts, however, so I’ll leave this here for now).
And, while I am no anarchist, I have always had a skeptic’s heart toward power structures and people who everyone else sees as an expert. I do not, for example, ever feel comfortable with rules of thumb being given as “what you should do.” I am not the average person. My situation is different. I am responsible to understand how the world sits for me, and I am responsible for fixing things I screw up. Or I can chose to live with them. My choice.
Given these things about me, I suppose it’s not too surprising that Elric and the Eternal Champion spoke directly to me in this way. They are full of fickle gods and aggressive politicians. Elric makes decisions, and he makes mistakes, and in the end he lives with them in his own way. Yes, they are overwrought stories at times, and yes, they have melodramatic elements that can feel almost comic-bookish at times (but, given that I loved comic books, this didn’t ever bother me at all). And, yes, they were stylistically rugged at times (*). Very different that way. But the thing that spoke to me was the character of Elric and his struggles against a world that was aligned against him in pretty much every way—a world that heightened his difference, a world that was not really good vs. evil so much as it was about self-interest over right.
(*) My earliest serious attempt at writing fiction was about 35K words of terrible stuff that was an obvious impersonation of Moorcock’s style (hey, you’ve got to start somewhere). Poor Lisa read it and read it and read it again, slowly beating it out of me. Years later, she picked up an Elric book and tried to read it, and immediately knew what I had been doing back then. It was kind of funny at the time. So, yeah, the direct path of influence to my written word was there in those early days. But this is not why I’m listing Moorcock as an influence.
Bottom line, these books changed the way I looked at books.
And what strikes me while looking back at my work in the light of this influence is that the stories of mine that resonate with me the most are those about one character’s struggle against greater powers of the world that are outside their ability to truly grasp or deal with. The stories I find myself unable to shake are those about personal liberty and self-control, and looking at my work, I find a lot of solitary people trying to make sense out of, and deal with, worlds that are too complex for them.
“Primes” (Analog 2014) is like that. “Bugs” and “Following Jules” (Analog 2013), “G-Bomb” (Men Writing SF as Women, 2003), “1 is True” (Asimov’s, 2006), “Operation Hercules” (On Spec, 2013), “The Collector” (Elemental Masters, 2012) … and there are more. Many more.
So, yeah. Given that I’ve rarely written pure fantasy over the past 10-15 years, this may seem like a strange #1. But when I looked at the Elric stuff and thought about what it meant to me, I couldn’t see doing anything else but to put Michael Moorcock and Elric into the #1 slot.