If you asked me to name just one author as my favourite, I probably automatically say Philip Pullman. This isn't necessarily because I think he is the best author in the world, but because he is the author who (unintentionally) has written the books that have given me the most. Oh, I have always loved his turns of phrase, the page-turning intensity of his plots, and his vivid characters, and the themes of his books have spoken to me for close to two decades now, but my love for him goes beyond that. When I read Northern Lights for the first time, it was like a resounding thunderclap, as if I had been given words to explain something I'd never been able to articulate, as if my (twelve-year-old's) worldview had been condensed and distilled into a single novel. And, as the years went by, Philip Pullman's writing gave me a career as a reviewer, my first introduction to online fannish communities, and a vast, international gang of friends who have been there for me through some of the best and some of the worst times of my life.
I adore the writing of Kate Elliott because she writes epic fantasy with an eye, not to 'historical accuracy', but rather to how her imagined worlds function at every level - from the highest branches of the aristocracy to the artisans, farmers and merchants who keep things running. She is one of the rare epic fantasy writers who thinks both on a broad scale (the sweep of politics and history, the repercussions of a small event over a large period of time) and on a smaller, intimate level (the ripples of trauma and repeated mistakes within communities, families, couples). Her worlds feel lived-in in a way that I often feel is missing in more well-known, popular epic fantasy. She's the sort of writer who thinks about how characters pay for their possessions, what sorts of trade sustain large empires and small communities within them, what sort of family structures are common to particular societies - and how much scope is there for her individual characters to push back against various societal constraints. She's also responsible for one of my favourite characters of all time, Mai.
Mai is slightly edged out as my favourite fictional character by two other authors' creations. The first is Noviana Una, from Sophia McDougall's Romanitas trilogy. McDougall is another of my favourite writers, not just because of Una, but because she writes about revolutions in a way that makes my heart sing. Her stories resonate with me, because, at their heart, they are about the dispossessed: escaped slaves, abused women, people marginalised by ethnicity or sexuality finding common cause, realising that they outnumber their oppressors, and, quietly, carefully, on their own terms, making revolution. That the revolution is run out of a never-destroyed Library of Alexandria by Una, an escaped-slave-turned-library-assistant is just the icing on the cake.
Given we're on the topic of dystopias (the world Romanitas is most definitely a dystopia, even if the series is marketed as alternate history), I'll also mention two of my other favourite writers of dystopias: Victor Kelleher and Gillian Rubinstein. These two are Australian writers whose dystopian works were popular during my childhood in the '90s. I've been singing the praises of this genre for a really long time, and it's hard to describe why I think it's so excellent in just a few words. I think I keep returning to these works because they reward rereads (and I have definitely reread them at least a hundred times - not an exaggeration), and they speak to a particularly Australian understanding of postapocalyptic living, to a readership who already has an uneasy relationship with a hostile land and is carrying very specific colonial baggage.
A couple of authors who I appreciate specifically for their beautiful use of language: Ursula Le Guin and Emily St. John Mandel. It's not that these writers aren't telling incredible stories and exploring really complicated ideas: they are. It's just that their words resonate, but in a quiet way, like a stone dropped in still water. I love Le Guin's Earthsea books, particularly the later ones, which I feel helped me understand myself as a woman. I really love what they have to say about the power and magic of ordinary, everyday work - the kind of work that is endless, unacknowledged and unappreciated, but absolutely essential (Monica Furlong is another author who has a lot to say about this particular topic). Neither Le Guin nor St. John Mandel is a comforting writer, but I find myself returning to their books again and again to give myself a sense of hope.
I would be remiss to leave this post without at least mentioning Catherine Jinks, who showed me that you could write powerful, meaningful, thoughtful work that is aimed at teenage readers, upends conventional, popular understanding of historical events, and is utterly hilarious. Jinks also gave me Pagan Kidrouk, my favourite fictional character of all time, someone whose stories I've been reading for more than twenty years, and which are the first books I reach for as comfort reading.
I could go on and on and on here, but I'll stop at this point before things get ridiculous. I think it's fairly clear that I like different authors for different reasons, but it's hard for something to be my favourite unless it provokes a great intensity of emotion - and sustains this intensity of emotion over repeated rereads, over a period of many years. While I can appreciate the craft of writing in an abstract way, I need to be made to feel things, intensely, and think things, intensely, for the writing to make any kind of impression beyond the time spent reading it.
I'm still taking requests for this meme. You can do so here on Dreamwidth or here on Livejournal.
This entry was originally posted at http://dolorosa-12.dreamwidth.org/231331.h