Recently I had reason to answer the question “When did you start reading science fiction?” (11, Out of their Minds, Clifford Simak, which yes was not strictly SF but was something close.)
And I realized, thinking back how much of an imprint writers leave on you. Not even their ideas and stories (Clifford Simak’s idea of politics and economics was very much New Deal and by the time I was fourteen made me squirmy) but their mood, the way they use words, the sense of the place.
I was amused when one of you said that when she read Agatha Christie, she heard the same voice as my blogs. It is true I read a mountain of Christie growing up (it was one of those opportunity things. A friend collected the nice hard cover volumes. I borrowed the nice hardcover volumes, with no need to scrounge through Alfarrabios to find the next Christie I wanted to read) but I read her in Portuguese translation.
Sure, I’ve re-read her (and even listened to her. For some reason, through a concatenation of happenstance, I apparently MUST listen to her Mr. Quin stories while cleaning house for the holidays.) now in English, but the early imprint of the voice should not have taken in translation.
Except there are things that carry. There is a mood to both Simak and Heinlein that carries through translations.
Simak gave me my first appreciation of the slow draw in sf/f, where you’re in the real world, you’re in the real world and suddenly — blink — you’re not. You’re somewhere else with completely different rules, and you got there in such a slow and plausible way, you barely noticed.
Heinlein is more of the “drop you in deep water” type, but what drew me about his stories was the way they flew. Without losing you, he took you through a completely different world. His characters were never the kind that were “fated” to do this or that, either. Sure, they’re called hypercompetent, but that’s not actually the way it worked. It’s more that they become hypercompetent. There is a certain “sure, I can do that” when faced with a challenge, even when they struggle and beat their heads against the wall on it. They just don’t give up. Even if the task crushes them.
This is actually a flavor I note in a lot of veterans of WWII. There is hell to cross, and hell we can do it! seems to be the attitude of most of it.
It’s a wonderful antidote for the negative feelings of depression.
Heinlein probably left the deepest imprint upon my personality, but I doubt he did on my writing. Sure, there’s some of it, sometimes, when I’m flying high and feeling good. But I tend to be dragged down by an over-cerebral, literary training, which loads passages with freighted words instead of movement.
And some of my writing is more, I know, reflective of Simak. Not because I learned it from him, but because I suspect our personalities work similarly.
I knew clear nothing about the US (I didn’t know if Wisconsin was a state or a city or a region) but his descriptions of rural Wisconsin resounded with me, because I grew up in a rural area, and though they can be very different, they tend to have a similar “feel” worldwide.
Which brings us to the other early imprint: Giovanni Guarescchi’s Don Camillo. Did it leave anything in my writing style? Eh. A way to be gentle with characters I think. And to appreciate the humanity of even characters you don’t like very much.
Sure, yes, I know what I said over at MGC about not investing so much in your villain that you make the story grey. But the thing is that there are “minor villains” say, obstacles, more than villains, who you almost need to humanize to make them stand in contrast with your real villain. Take the Daring Finds mysteries (I wonder if I should change the name of the series to just Dyce Dare, because that seems to be how people actually LOOK for it.) There is the murderer and I’m sorry, murderers are unredeemable. But then there are suspects who lie to her for their own reasons, and people who are just pains. Those, the book benefits from humanizing. Be kind to your secondary characters. Make them unexpectedly (sometimes) good people whatever their problems. It adds a dimmension to the book.
Other imprints, probably buried deep come from reading all of my dad’s books, including Rex Stout and Earle Stanley Gardner and the Saint books and a whole lot of fictionalized WWII stories, which were mostly written by Brazilians or other Europeans.
How much of it comes out? How much am I still drawn to? Are there books I loved I now hate?
Well, Simak’s ideas of economics and social organization and also how most people/the world works in general grate more now, because they run so counter mine. (It was a different time.) But I can still get drawn in into the gentle touch of his writing, on the micro scale.
Sure he was a man of his time on economics and politics, but individuals? those he knew, and he made live on the page: obsessive stamp collectors. The Civil War Veteran who runs Way Station. The wild girl of the hills who might be mentally disabled, or just off. They all come to life and make you care, and their lives are entirely plausible.
And I find myself writing short stories in his vein now and then. (The alien hunting story in I THINK Things from Space.)
Sure, no one would trace Dyce Dare to Miss Marple without thinking, but the imprint is there. Yeah, people do trace Athena to Heinlein, and there is a touch of that, though he might be horrified by it, for all I know, because Athena has a good dose of Heyer too. Now I think about it, my shifter series has a good thumb print of Simak. And Guarescchi runs through all of it reminding me to keep them people. Just people. Yeah, with dark notes, but also a note of grace.
Which brings us to… Is there anything authentically Sarah there?
I don’t know. These aren’t people I add CONSCIOUSLY you see, they’re just the early fingerprints upon my mind, the things that made me fall in love with reading.
Perhaps the rather odd amalgam of writers, which is not exactly a matter of choice — it depended greatly on what was available at the time. For instance I did not read Heyer till my thirties, because as far as I know it wasn’t available in Portugal/Portuguese when I was a kid, and I might not have tried her anyway, having acquired an early prejudice against romance (most of the available WAS wretched.) — but is a matter of choice, also. I sampled dad’s Westerns, but never liked them enough to remember the author name. These writers excited my imagination enough that I spent my scant money on them, looked for them, and actively wanted to read more people like them.
Perhaps the imprints they made, swirled and amalgamated and made to coexist (sometimes uneasily)in myself are what makes me me.
Humans are apes. Social apes. Creatures of the band. We learn, we imitate, and we pass on our thoughts and our ways, our habits and our manners.
Perhaps all I am is a lucky ape, living in a time when I could pick who would influence me not just from a small area, not just from the time I chanced to be alive in, but from the wide world and the riches of civilization and time.
That in itself is a fantasy story, I think, at least for most of our ancestors.
And for that I’m grateful.