The Ones That Stick With Us

There is no reliable connection between a writer’s skill and popularity. I mean, I wish there were; it would make things easier. But just when you’re ready to point to writers like [REDACTED] and say, “See? If you’re popular, you suck,” you run into a Gaiman or a Martin and go, “Uh, well, okay, sometimes they’re popular on account of being really good.” The reverse case requires no special proof: especially with the increase in self-publishing, there is no shortage of writers who richly deserve their obscurity.

But then there are the frustrating cases, the ones where we want to grab the entire reading public by the lapels, shake them, and say, “Why haven’t you read this, you lunatic?” These writers can make us think we’re in a secret cabal, we are the ones who know. When we throw out the names of books or authors to someone we’ve just met at a convention, and the person says, War For the Oaks, our eyes get big, and we squee and say something that comes down to, “Oh, you too are initiated into the Secret?”

I use Emma Bull’s work as an example because her books are a classic case: known to so few it frustrates us. But those few love them with an intensity that seems to make up for the lack of popularity, like there’s some sort of law of Conservation of Squee. No, there is no such law (cf Martin & Gaiman), but it sometimes it seems like it—the fewer who know, the more intense the love and the deeper and more lasting and more powerful the effect.

If there were such a law, it would explain Pamela Dean. Even fewer people have heard of her than of Emma, a fact which constantly makes us grind our teeth (Emma’s teeth included, and yes, Emma, I am revealing things about your teeth), but those few! They meet in secret, and, when no one’s around, they say, “Tam Lin.” “I know! Just…” “Yeah. Wow.” And then they talk about Juniper and Gentian and Rosemary, or The Dubious Hills, or The Secret Country Trilogy, in hushed voices, as if for fear of scaring away the magic.

I am mentioning this now because, thanks to self-publishing, her work is becoming more available. Older, out of print works, and previously unpublished works are or will soon be for sale via print on demand or as e-books.

I am mentioning this because I would like all of you to be a part of the secret cabal whose lives have been changed.

The website is here. Do yourself a favor, and become part of the secret. Maybe it won’t be so secret any more, and we’d all like that very much.

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20 thoughts on “The Ones That Stick With Us”

  1. This thread is now open for people to mention unjustly obscure favorites, right? Glen Cook. My faves were the Starfisher’s Trilogy – a little lighter and campier than some of his others. The Garret, P.I. stories should be jokey throw-aways, but are surprisingly affecting. And of course, the Black Company series (still ongoing?) is masterful.

    Even if he really isn’t that obscure (more Bull than Dean), he isn’t popular enough.

  2. When I downsized, I gave away the vast majority of my books, and have been buying only e-books (exception, I buy both e-book & hardbound for two authors with the letters B & u in their names). Looking over at my much reduced library I am happy to see books by Pamela Dean.

  3. Well. Wikipedia describes Tam Lin as a “fantasy of manners”. Its article on fantasies of manners doesn’t really ring my bell. I enjoyed *watching* Sense and Sensibility but couldn’t get into Austen in writing, sad to say.

    On the other hand, it also says one Stephen Brust has *also* written books that can be classified as fantasies of manners, and I’m pretty sure I’ve devoured all the Brust I’ve been able to get my hands on (sometimes multiple times, if I may abandon my metaphor). (And some other guy named Stross.)

    Back on the first hand, just this evening I finished season 1 of Downton Abbey and enjoyed it a great deal.

    So, Dean: More like Austen or more like Brust?

  4. I saw this post just now. I haven’t read Freedom and Necessity yet, but I intend to.

    I thought of all sorts of jokes I could crack, but humor sometimes gets distorted in an internet setting. Simple note that I chuckled and chortled my way to an In-N-Out before finding myself back here, typing a reply.

  5. Sometimes I feel like fiction reading should be a full time job. Even then, I doubt I’d get through everything good. I’ve added Emma and Pam to my followed authors on Amazon.

    Have we all read the Jean le Flambeur books by Hannu Rajaniemi? I think that is likely the most obscure thing I’ve read (mostly I read anything Amazon recommends to me based on the fact that I read David Drake, Steven Brust, Steven Erikson, Richard K. Morgan, and Glen Cook).

  6. When my family got its first TV, we could know most everything that was on TV. When I started reading SF, I could read it all. But the world (and universe) is sooooo big. The more we see, the more we know we’re missing.

    Even fantasizing about being wealthy – instead of experiencing 1% of what we want to experience, we could experience 2% of what we want to experience.

    I am very ignorant of popular culture of the last 4 decades. It’s not that, say TV is worse than it was when I was young – Sturgeon’s Law indicates that there is far more better stuff. But I can’t experience everything, and TV is not at the top of my list. I think it would be higher if there was less of it – and I could expect my TV experience to be more complete.

    That’s kind of odd. Let’s pretend that I have climbed all but one of the 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado (where I live). My motivation to climb the missing one would be high. It doesn’t make sense, it is unlikely to be as good of a climb as repeating some other mountain, but completing an arbitrary goal still is satisfying.

    But we can’t complete much. We can’t experience even 2 of the trillions of human lives on this planet.

  7. I wish your friends success. I admire people who take events in hand like that and sincerely hope they find their audience.

  8. I b’leve I found Tam Lin through Windling’s Fairy Tale series (… was that what it was called?). I know that’s where I found The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars. I mean, I’d already read Jhereg by then, but…

    I liked J,J,G a lot better than Tam Lin. But maybe I read it at the wrong age. Clearly I need to re-read them both…

    howardbrazee… I did the same thing, and now I feel like I really should have kept my Pamela Dean… :-( Although, hey, it’s a chance to pay her twice…

  9. Anytime I’m in a used bookstore and see a copy of ”War for the Oaks’ or ‘Agyar’ I buy it. I know there’s always going to be someone I meet that haven’t read them and I like to have a copy handy to assist in remedying the situation.

  10. Can I recommend an unkown writer that I think is wonderful. Stephanie Saulter is Jamaican born and lives in London. She has written a trilogy, but so far only two of them “Gem Signs” and “Binary” are available on this side of the pond. Her publisher seems to believe they should be delayed a year, for inexplicable reason. I think the third book is called “Regeneration”. The underlying theme is human genetic modification producing a new slavery.

  11. I’ve given out at least a dozen copies of BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Barry Hughart. Every time I need a warm fuzzy, I just think of the ending of that book.

  12. What I have learnt over the years is that thinks happens by coincidence.
    It was a coincidrnce that I (here in Denmark) met a person that hat some of your books (many years ago).
    I borrowed them, and have been a fan since…..
    So what is the chance that you meet a writer that blows you away?
    Normaly you do not have a chance to meet a good writer across the world…
    And the same is about films…
    You live in one side of the world and have no what so ever chance to know what films that are made all over the world.

    Again coincidence….

  13. Absolutely agree on Pamela Dean. I loved her Secret Country trilogy when I was young. My copy of the first book is quite worn from being read so many times. I agree with the relatively unknown War of the Oaks as well–it took me quite a while of reading urban fantasy genre before happening upon it. Why is that? The quality is so much higher than so much that is out there. And Bridge of Birds–another wonderful unknown. Needless to say, I have paper copies of them all, so I will always be able to re-read. But they were a bit of work to find.

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