Regrets on a Literary Journey

Ever since I started proper with this writing business in February last year, I have been exposed to a really, really big world of writing out there. First it was finding the Bolthole. Then came becoming acquaintances with the various writers and editors at Black Library on Facebook. Then came interactions with them on Twitter. And then came the big explosion in November with NaNoWriMo.

In all this, my greatest regret is how much of the literary world I have never really paid any attention to. My reading over the last two decades or so has been rather limited in an objective kind of way. I grew up reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven novels, moved on to The Hardy Boys by the ghostwriter collective Franklin W. Dixon and Nancy Drew by the (once again) ghostwriter collective Carolyn Keene.

And then came Katherine A Applegate with her Animorphs novels and suddenly my world exploded into something much bigger than I could have imagined.

The Encounter was the first of these books about teens who can turn into any animal or human or alien they touch and I was simply blown away. On a deep conscious level, I really felt a bond with Tobias, the one character in the entire series who gives up the most for so little in return and after already having lived a crappy life so far. His story really struck a chord with me. So followed my obsession with Tobias and the rest of the Animorphs gang that went beyond even my Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew obsession.

It all got to the point where I started writing down ideas for my own Animorphs stories. I even have an aborted attempt or two at writing these stories somewhere in the mess I call my room. Reading Animorphs was an inspiration and a journey to some really fantastical stuff.

I continued it all later by delving deep into Frank Herbert’s Dune novels, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Isaac Asimov’s various Robot/Empire/Foundation novels, Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey novels, the Dragonlance novels by Tracy Hickman/Margaret Weiss and others, the excellent Midkemian novels by Raymond E. Feist and the companion Empire trilogy he wrote with Janny Wurts and more. So much more.

In the 4 years of high school, the variety of novels I was reading quintupled three times over. It was a great time for sure.

But then I moved to college and all the reading dropped. Well not all and not for too long. I started picking back up slowly with the various Star Wars novels which I have loved ever since I picked up X-wing: Starfighters of Adumar in the summer of 2001, nearly eleven years ago. I also started getting back into the novels from Feist, having stopped sometime after his Krondor trilogy in high school. This was also when I started to read the Dune prequel/sequel novels written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. They are so damn fantastic.

And then came another explosion, one even bigger and better than before. I reacquainted myself with Black Library on my 20th birthday when a couple friends and I stepped into a Barnes & Nobles for the fun of it. I picked up William ‘Bill’ King’s Space Wolf omnibus and Dan Abnett’s The Founding, the first Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus. I had read a fair bit of the Gaunt novels back in high school and already owned one of the Space Wolf novels, Grey Hunter. Being able to dig back in was surreal and I fell in love with the Warhammer 40,000 setting, becoming completely hooked on them for almost 5 years and on now.

My Black Library collection is quite immense, spanning a wide variety of work from a whole lot of different authors writing about a whole lot of different factions, themes, characters and what not from Warhammer 40,000 with the occasional touch of Warhammer Fantasy mixed in. The books even helped me get into the tabletop game which I enthusiastically played for a close on 2 years before I moved back home to Dubai.

This is all fine and good, I hear you say, but what is the point?

The point is the writing part.

My writing is often woefully ill-informed because I haven’t been really exposed to a truly wide variety of SF/F fiction out there. I keep coming across authors and series and publishers I have never heard of before and who my friends almost swear by. One of the more “popular” cases of this: Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggins novels, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Erikson’s Malazan, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail (I love his Star Wars work), Robin Hobb’s various trilogies, Paul Kemp’s Erevis Cale, all the Forgotten Realms novels from Wizards of the Coast, Jack Vance, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt and more, so much more. The list really is endless.

I mean where do these recommendations end!

But anyway, the point is that even though I’ve read what I would consider a lot of different SF/F novels, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I am woefully misinformed about what is currently out there and what I can explore. And this affects my writing because often I’m trying to emulate the few writers I’ve read and loved. That just won’t do because I’m struggling to find my own niche. And this is in regards to my narratives, my characters, my style and so on.

It also gets a little depressing now and then which really bugs the hell out of me.

Now I’m sure you are asking yourself how the hell does he plan to fix it and why should you care.

Well, the simple answer is that I need help. Basically, that’s what I’m asking here. What it says on the cover there, nothing more.

If you have been following my blog then you know that I am on a drive to read 200 novels, novellas etc and listen to audio dramas as well. The help I need from you, my readers, is to give me recommendations. And good ones at that. This 2012 Reading Challenge of mine is about expanding my reading horizons so that my writing is more modern and that I can draw on a much wider variety of influences for my creative writing. At the moment, I draw too much on a select few works, usually Feist’s various Midkemia novels.

As you know from my 2012 Most Anticipated post, there are a lot of novels I’m looking forward to this year. It is by no means a definitive list of course and things could change between now and the end of the year, so that’s where your recommendations are going to come in handy for me.

Feel free to suggest anything in the Science-Fiction and Fantasy genres. Just not too much Young Adult fiction because I’m only dipping into it as an experiment this year and don’t want a backlog of recommendations for it. Same goes for Urban Fantasy, regrettably. I am usually particular about what I like and what I don’t as you can see from all my reviews and my current reading list, so try not to go overboard with anything. Mainstream SF/F is what I love and adore and for now, I am going to absolutely stick to that preference, barring the upcoming titles from Angry Robot Books’ YA imprint Strange Chemistry and a few choice novels from Orbit Books, Pyr and Tor.

If you really need a guide as to what you should be recommending me, just take a look at my Author Blogroll on the home page. That should provide ample indication of stuff that I’m already into and that I’m looking to get into. So just have it.

In the end, I’ll say that I really regret not having properly explored the SF/F world earlier. There are so many things I’ve missed out on over the years and playing catch-up is a real pain. But I’ve given to understand that this is a writer’s life because if you are not reading, then you are not writing what you should be. Not my words, but a piece of advice I found on Twitter a while back and one that I intend to take to the heart. It is a sentiment that I can totally agree with and get behind.

So yeah, really looking forward to see what you people come up with. You can send me your recommendations via Twitter – @abhinavjain87 –  via the hashtag #2012ReadingChallenge or by email to with the subject line: 2012 Reading Challenge or just leave your recommendations here in the comments section.

At the end of every month, I’ll post the recommendations I get on the blog as a sort of monthly feature and as I move through those recommendations, I’ll post my thoughts as well.

Go crazy!

Posted on February 29, 2012, in 2012 Reading Challenge, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Hmm, a few hot picks off the top of my head;

    Altered Carbon (plus sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies)
    Richard Morgan
    If you want to read sci-fi with a distinctly hardboiled detective/noir style – or just good sci-fi in general, I’d highly recommend this trilogy. Very well done indeed, great novels.

    The Lies of Locke Lamora (plus sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies, with another due out soon AFAIK)
    Scott Lynch
    Very nice fantasy this – the usual orphan thief/Oliver kind of thing, but very well done. Likeable main character, very readable and entertaining stuff, plenty clever schemes, etc. Light fantasy setting – some interesting background quirks, but generally lighter on the wizards/elves/dwarves kind of stuff than the likes of Feist or Tolkein.

    Peter F Hamiliton (just about everything he’s written, I started with this one I think; )
    Fantastic space opera stuff here from a UK author, real epics. Very modern feeling sci-fi (tech-wise and such), though following classic space opera themes – ensemble casts, very large-scale action, galaxy-spanning stuff. There’s a great feel to his material that I’ve never really been able to put my finger on – a cheerful exuberance maybe, in terms of how he lays the tech and the action on thick, though still playing it straight. His worlds aren’t Star Trek utopias by any means, but there’s real positivity there in terms of the level of tech and progress, the pro-activeness of most of the characters and organisations, something like that.

    The Painted Man (plus sequel The Desert Spear, more to follow AFAIK)
    Peter V Brett
    Very readable and entertaining this, likeable hero, fairly original idea (very nasty demons come out of the ground at night to terrorise/kill folks and have to be kept back by wards, young chap has enough of hiding and goes Chuck Norris on the bastards, more or less).

    Midshipman’s Hope (and several sequels)
    This is great stuff – CS Forester’s Hornblower moved into space, effectively. Takes the “sapce navy” thing to the edge; full-on Royal Navy from the 1800’s kind of setup, obsession with discipline, rigid tradition, honour, rank etc. Very readable stuff.

    The Way of Shadows (and two sequels)
    Brent Weeks
    This trilogy is probably tending towards YA, but I found it quite readable and entertaining. Pretty standard idea – battered orphan apprenticed to master assassin, becomes ultimate killer, assorted conspiracies and such. Generic-sounding, but it’s quite well done and readable, nice characterisation if I recall.

    That’s all I have time to get down for now, may come back with some more later on.


  2. Hiya bro. We’re quite heavily acquainted, so i feel it’s safe for me to suggest to you something a bit ‘outside’ your realm. It’s probably a stretch for you, but i seriously want you to consider this wonderful literary masterpiece. “The Examination” by Malcolm Bosse. Bosse passed away in 2002, but this literary epic that he left for us will ring in my skull forever. It’s not Sci-fi, it’s not Fantasy. But it’s a book i’ll never forget. It’s not long either. 200 some odd pages. It’s a story about two brothers who go on a journey together. I’ve read it about 11 times over and always pull something new from it.

    Outside again from scifi-fantasy… if you’re looking to improve your writing, you may as well learn it from the master. “On Writing” by Stephen King is a must read for you. I learned more from that book, than i did from all the years i studied Creative Writing in college…

    your friend,



    • Rob Sanders did a blogpost about King’s book which turned out to be quite a good commentary on how some of the things that King says work and don’t. Will be referring to it quite a lot this year 🙂


    • Second that – read “On Writing” a few months back, very nice. King’s usual easy-going style, plenty of good tips and observations in there (also bio bits, it’s half memoir, half writing guide).


  3. A few more spring to mind:

    Starship Troopers (etc etc)
    Robert Heinlein
    Yep, classic stuff, a lot of military sci-fi traces its roots to this chap. Highly recommended, especially if you want more oldschool sci-fi. In the more YA line (he wrote quite a few of those too) I read “Time For The Stars” many years ago as a kid, recall being well inspired by it.

    A Game of Thrones (plus sequels)
    George RR Martin
    Yes, these are every bit as good as they’re hyped up to be. Very well written fantasy – gritty, shades of grey abound, much plotting and politicking, plenty of action too, with very little of the elves/dwarves/pointy hat stuff of other fantasy. Well worth reading.

    The Forever War
    Joe Haldeman
    In a similar vein to Starship Troopers (it came later and is obviously inspired by it), this is another classic of military sci-fi. The author served in Vietnam, and the book obviously draws parallels with his experiences of that conflict. Time dilation is used to good effect – you go to a distant war, and come back a very long time later (relative) to find everything has changed – obvious Vietnam allegories there. Great stuff.

    The Name of the Wind (plus The Wise Man’s Fear)
    Patrick Rothfuss
    Again, very hyped, but very very good. The story (via a frame story) of the early days of Kvothe, a legendary hero rather highly regarded by both himself and others. Very readable stuff – likeable hero, great pacing, as compelling as it is long.

    Old Man’s War
    John Scalzi
    More military sci-fi here, not as famous as Haldeman and Heinlein, but quite good. Interesting premise – folks that are close to dying of old age on Earth can volunteer to be rebooted, so to speak, as young soldiers to go off and fight off-planet (which is kept cut off from Earth). Well written, interesting twist on the usual young-man-goes-to-boot-camp military sci-fi thing.

    The Black Company (plus several sequels, below is an omnibus)
    Glen Cook
    Interesting fantasy this. The adventures of a company of mercenaries, as recounted by their archivist/medic. Quite shades-of-grey, pretty bleak – there isn’t much in the way of good guys here, but they’re not that bad either. Unusual writing style – very sparse, not much description, uses simple nouns as place-names (e.g. cities include Tome, Charm, Frost, Juniper, etc) and nicknames for almost all characters. Polar opposite of meandering drawn-out epics like Jordan’s, for instance. Wouldn’t have thought I’d like it, but strangely compelling stuff, finished all three of those first books.

    StarFist: First to Fight (plus numerous sequels)
    David Sherman and Dan Cragg
    This is straightforward military sci-fi, as are its numerous sequels in the same vein. It is written by ex-military folks, and that shows – very much a regular infantryman/Marine’s experience here. Not quite in the same league as the other stuff I’ve posted, but certainly good light reading if you want more military sci-fi.

    Wizard’s First Rule (plus the first few sequels)
    Terry Goodkind
    I read this series (up to a point) a good few years ago, and recall them being very readable and entertaining. At least for the first four or five – check the Amazon reviews, but I recall it goes off the rails towards the end, turns into a thinly-veiled diatribe against communism (seriously) versus personal freedom and what not. Early books I remember fondly though, nice (semi) light fantasy, decently written.

    Ender’s Game
    Orson Scott Card
    I think you already mentioned this as being on your intended list, just to confirm, it is indeed great, compelling stuff.

    and last but definitely not least;

    The Anvil of Ice (plus a few sequels)
    Michael Scott Rohan
    Might be a bit more obscure, this, but truly great stuff. Read these as a kid, and then again a few years ago. Fantasy, set in a vaguely Norse themed world under siege by the Ice (yep, that is capitalised and they’re more than just the glaciers of a looming ice age). This one is all about the smithcraft – that’s how the magic system works, and the main character grows to become a smith. The writing style is great – very readable, but a nice saga-like style, good language above most fantasy authors. Great imagery, generally very good books, fond memories of these ones.

    Must turn these lists into a blog post myself in fact, quite a lot to recommend, now that I see them here 🙂


    • Great recommendations! I do have Game of Thrones but haven’t really read much of it I’m afraid. I think I’m about halfway through, not sure. I kinda lost interest there after a while. Ender’s Game is definitely on my list and I’ve heard a lot of things about Rothfuss and Scalzi so will see about them.


  4. Paul Allan Colbourne

    David Gemmell’s “Legend” is fantastic, truely fantastic. It inspired my first piece of fantasy fiction. Made me laugh and cry.

    Clive Barker’s stuff straddles the border of fantasy and horror. I recommend “Weaveworld” and his Arabat series, but really all of his stuff is fantastic. I read Weaveworld once a year. It is spectacular.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” was my first encounter with serious SF, and it still remains one of my favourite books.

    The Han Solo Adventures (Han Solo at Stars’ End / Han Solo’s Revenge / Han Solo and the Lost Legacy) by Brian Daley is first class Star Wars fiction. It was a big part of my school holidays and visiting my grandparents.


    • I love Clarke’s Odyssey novels. HAL will always be one of the coolest computer entities ever! I’ve read the Han Solo Adventures, they are indeed quite good.


  5. My own tastes in SF/F tend to gravitate towards older stuff, so I would heartily recommend anything by Heinlein (except for his 80s novels, which were… a bit too pretentious for my liking), Alfred Bester (particularly “Stars My Destination” and “The Demolished Man”), Arthur Clarke’s “Childhood’s End”, Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels (and numerous others by him too – they were a massive influence on Warhammer and WH40K-verses, and would greatly appeal to fans of the settings; I particularly like the Corum series), and perhaps John Wyndham’s “Day of the Triffids” (a bit pulpy, but I like old-school post-apocalyptic stuff).

    Also, check out Dan Simmons – I have “Hyperion” and its sequels on my to-read list, but “Ilium” and “Olympos” (the latter being a sequel to the former) are top-notch, intelligently written science fiction. If you are into more military science fiction and can overlook often heavy-handed political bent of some authors (i.e. Tom Cratman – honestly, his politics are a major deterrent to me, and the reason I would rather stay with more apolitical authors who do not try to hammer their vision of How Things Should Be with every line, especially when some of the worst offenders do so to the point of alienating much of their potential readership base), Baen Books (publisher) has quite a few enjoyable titles. The Belisarius series published by them were particularly enjoyable, especially since the series stayed pretty much apolitical all the way through. I am not that familiar with D&D setting, but did read a couple of novels set therein, and Salvatore’s “Homeland” was actually quite good, at times almost reminiscent of Michael Moorcock in depiction of antiheroes.


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