10 SF/F Books That Have Stuck With Gail Carriger

Gentle Reader,

Over on Terrible Minds, Chuck memed a little meme about Ten Books That Have Stuck With Him and I liked it so much I thought I would do the same. He and I disagree on pretty much everything, but then if you read our respective books you might already have guessed that.

Don’t get me wrong, Chuck is a lovely lovely man. But his books scare the cheese right out of me.

10 SFF That Stuck With Me

Now where was I? Oh yes. So I’m not going to jump the bandwagon of classic literature. Yes some of them have stuck with me (e.g. Grapes of Wrath, Tale of Two Cities, The Red and Black, Magic Mountain, Sorrows of Young Werther) but mostly because I loathed them.

I remember in a European Bildungsroman class my professor writing on one of my essays:

“I’m troubled by your anger at these books.”

You know what? I’m still angry at them. And about them. But that’s another blog post.

Quote Reading Gail Carriger reader alcoholic drinker

I interpreted this meme to be asking about the lingerers. The books the stayed in my brain because they infected me with joy. I wanted to pick books I truly loved. Ones that I go back to and reread regularly. Not ones that make me sounds smart.

Not ones that people think ought to be picked.

No. These are the books that are my family.There are classic books that have stuck with me (like Atwood’s Cat’s Eye) because the writing was amazing, but I didn’t actually really like the book much. You can probably tell from my own writing that there are other classic authors that I genuinely love: Austen, Poe, Wodehouse. But they didn’t necessarily stick with me in the way of these 10 books.

What Would Gail read Reading Title

10 Books That Have Stuck With Me

1. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

There is something about the way this book flows that is actually literary magic. It’s about magic, and riddles, and all sort of other legendary things but it’s like fractal mathematics: beautiful, impossible for an ordinary human to understand, and yet hypnotic. Just the opening paragraph is chilling, and thrilling, and all sort of other trilling llls in a row. I can’t describe this book, because its better than that. It’s not funny, or cute, or silly or any of those things. It’s a work of pure lyrical genius. If you haven’t read it yet, shame on you.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip (Author),‎ Gail Carriger (Preface)

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

There are many out there who think The Hero and the Crown the better book, but I read The Blue Sword first and Harry is my one true love. That’s part of it. I always liked the romance line better in The Blue Sword. And there’s something remarkable in that, because for most of this book the two are separated. Yet I believe in their match unquestionably. Alanna was my first girl with a sword and magic, Harry was the first one I felt was like me.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure (The Song of the Lioness Quartet series) by Tamora Pierce

OK all four books in this series really should go together (which makes sense considering she wrote it as one big book). And if you pressure me, I’d say Woman Who Rides Like a Man (#3) is actually my favorite. But I always reread them in order, so I’ve put The First Adventure on this list. Of all the books named here, I can pinpoint the origin of these with the most clarity. I remember being handed the first one by a librarian, and begging my parents to buy it for me when I had to turn it back in. I remember then begging the librarian to tell me the date the next one was expected to release (that was the only way to find out, in those days). I remember the look and location of each new book, in the bookstore, when I went to pick it up. I still have all my first editions. Tamora Pierce is the only author I have ever expressly tried to meet, and she is the only author who’s book I stood in line to have signed. This series actually did change my life.

Gail Tamora & Beyond the Trope Podcasters

4. Howel’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

If you want a character who influenced Alexia, Sophie is probably the most likely choice. Howel’s lingers with me because of the humor, because of the perfectly executed twisting plot, because of the snapping dialog. Diana is possibly the best writer of her generation but because she wrote mainly YA in a time before HP she was disregarded. You want to know what I think a book should be like? Read this one.

5. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye

This book is intended for by far the youngest readership on my list. I’d say mid-grade or younger. This book was my first understanding that fantasy could combine with humor. And the names! The names!

6. By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey

I love a girl with a sword, Harry and Alana certainly have my adoration, but Kero has my respect. She is a genuine bad ass in a way that I find challenging to articulate. Possibly because she is a mercenary?

7. Taming the Forest King by Claudia J. Edwards

Yet another version of the woman with the sword. But this one is different. This one involves empires and pacification and politics and one marvelous love triangle. Edwards is one of those lost authors, but I will always be grateful she at least wrote this one book.

8. Daughter of the Empire (series) by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

And finally a warrior whose weapon is her mind. This series opened my mind to the idea that fantasy in a non-medieval setting could be amazing. The characters are pure genius, the politics and manipulation are beautifully rendered, and the fact that Mara loves, and loves deeply, and sacrifices repeatedly is so poignant. I can think back on scenes in these books and they will make me cry just remembering. That’s a powerful story.

9. Local Custom by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

This was my introduction to space opera. (OK so after Lackey and McCaffery this was my introduction.) Brilliant story of a relationship struggling with the complex interactions between cultures, academia, language, love, and manipulation. The authors outright admit to this being their most romantic book, I wish they would write more like it because it is my favorite Liaden Universe offering.

10. Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Of all the books on this list this is the one I’m most likely to say influenced my own writing. This may be near perfect gaslight fantasy, but it’s hard for me to separate my critical thoughts on S&C from my emotional feelings. Shortly after reading this book I went to live in England with my Grandparents for a while and my best friend and I started our own letter game. It may be the first time I actually wrote. No. I mean wrote WROTE.

You can take this list as Gail’s 10 Desert Island books. Or Gail’s Top Ten Books to Read in Genre if you want to understand her as a person (although not necessarily as an author). I would not call these, necessarily, the 10 books that have influenced me the most. More these are the ones that I can still see, and replay in my head, as clearly now as the day after I closed the last page for the first time. These are books that gave me Book Withdrawal Syndrome hard core (that sad apathy after reading something wonderful yet now knowing you will never get to do it again). They are mainly from a formative time in my youth. My taste has altered since then. There are more recent books that certainly stick with me. But these are the Important Ones.

You can see from the list that I didn’t get into military space opera and sci-fi until after my genre tastes were birthed. There are many of those that certainly stick with me: the Valor series, the Mage Wars, and the Freedom series spring to mind. But I don’t reach for those in time of distress like I do the 10 books named above.

I don’t think I will ever choose any of these for the book group read along. I just don’t know if I could stand to look at them as a critic. I know they have flaws, but I would rather choose not to see them and just love them forever with my child’s brain rather than try to poke at them later in life.

Just typing the above paragraph makes me think…

Perhaps there are books out there that we, as readers, don’t have to say anything about. Perhaps it’s OK just to enjoy them and not criticize. And it’s OK to allow yourself to do it. In this age when number and type of online reviews can make or break an author’s career you’ll see many of us begging for reviews. Self included. But I think, for some books, the highest mark of enjoyment is possibly no review at all. Just hugging it (metaphorically) close to one’s psyche like a healing balm.

In conclusion: I’m so rereading The Servant of the Empire series during the holiday season.

P.S. Honorable mention to two of my favorite alt history books Mara, Daughter of the Nile and Last of the Wine.

{What is Gail’s Book Group reading for September? Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey}


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  1. Beth aka Scifibookcat said:

    Even within the narrow confines of Scifi/Fantasy I had trouble picking ten SERIES, let alone ten books. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many times I’ve re-read these books but more than ten for most of them and more than twenty for the McCaffrey and Pierce books. And these are just the favorites. There are many other series by these and other authors that I’ve reread many times.

    Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern-1st trilogy and Harper Hall trilogy,
    Petaybee series and Talent trilogy.
    Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar Series (companions!)-all but esp. Vows and Honor trilogy and new Collegium sub-series, her SERRAted Edge series (elves, bards and racing cars) and Diana Tregarde trilogy.

    Jody Lynn Nye’s Mythology series (elves living under a library in the Midwest)

    Robert Lynn Asprin’s Phule’s Company series (hysterical adventures in the Space Legion, with butler)

    Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy (like Sherlock Holmes but with magic)

    Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books but esp. Beka Cooper sub-series

    By the way, I can’t believe I’ve found someone else who read and loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile. I think mine was a retired library book but I loved it and it was my first real exposure to an historical book set in an exotic land.

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