Thursday, November 06, 2008

Clouds of Authors

Have you seen the Literature Map page?

It's a fun site where you put the name of an author in the box and a "map" of other writers you might like pops up. It resembles a cluster of names swimming around each other like particles in a cloud chamber. The results are intriguing but not perfect. "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" evokes a number of relevant names, e.g., Jean Lorrah and Marion Zimmer Bradley, with at least one absurdity—Jacqueline Susann! (I wish the site had an explanation of how they arrive at their results; if it's there, I didn't see it.) Not surprisingly, my name brings up the reply, "sorry, don't know that one." (Sigh.) On the other hand, it doesn't know Suzy McKee Charnas, S. M. Stirling, or Anthony Hope (author of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA) either, so it's clearly a work in progress.

I wonder how reliable such a mapping of names might be in finding authors a given reader is like to enjoy. Somewhere I read the quote, "People are friends in spots," meaning just because you like two people, that doesn't guarantee they'll like each other. People like books "in spots," too—the "tailored effect” Jacqueline has often explained. There's a review for S. M. Stirling's "Dies the Fire" series on in which the reader, clearly a devoted fan, praises the battle scenes but complains about the books containing too much of that Wiccan stuff and wishes Stirling would relegate such content more to the background. For me, on the contrary, Stirling's alternate histories are fascinating EXCEPT for the fight scenes, which, like every other author's, I perceive as tedious and skim over. What I love those books for is the cultural extrapolation, including all that Wiccan content. Suzy Charnas has written that her post-apocalyptic novel WALK TO THE END OF THE WORLD was partly inspired by THE PRISONER OF ZENDA; one of the principal male characters is based on Rupert, the villain of the "Zenda" duology. I would never have guessed that connection without being told. I'm very fond of that duology, but the villain registers on my awareness only as a foil for the gallantry of Rudolph, the hero. For me, the thematic center of the book lies in Rudolph's ethical dilemma—his love for the queen and his consciousness that he would, in fact, make a better ruler than the real king, opposed to his unbending honor, which won't allow him to usurp the king's place. In the prototypical example of the tailored effect, STAR TREK, consider Spock. Many fans are drawn to this character because of the three-way friendship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. While I value and enjoy that aspect of the series, the main thing about Spock that fascinates me is that he's almost human but not quite, with intriguing more-than-human powers and a skewed perspective on our species, as well as a certain aloofness arising from his mixed heritage, creating a barrier that only a few very special people can penetrate. The same set of factors appeals to me in my favorite vampire fiction. Would anyone be likely to guess those connections and recommend, "If you like the original STAR TREK, you'll like Suzy McKee Charnas' THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY"? Yet, to me, those two works are the "same kind" of story.

For other vampire narratives I perceive as having the same type of appeal, check out my nonfiction book DIFFERENT BLOOD: THE VAMPIRE AS ALIEN from Amber Quill Press (

Margaret L. Carter (

No comments:

Post a Comment