Confessions of a Former Science-Fiction Addict

I have a confession to make. I don’t really read fiction…anymore.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually read a lot of fiction, but perhaps not like most people and definitely not like I used to. It’s not for lack of want, and certainly not for lack of availability. There’s an endless supply of amazing and engaging science-fiction and fantasy out there, so much so it can be hard to settle on something if you have to make a choice.

Like many that are probably reading this, I dove into fiction at a very early age. My first exposures to fantasy were C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander. These authors ignited my young imagination and sent me searching for anything unreal that I could get my hands on. Later I discovered true science-fiction with Asimov and Herbert, and I couldn’t get enough. I joined the science-fiction book club — you know, the one where you get twelve books for a penny and then had to buy something like four at full price in the coming year? Ha! It’s amazing I didn’t single-handedly put them out of business. I devoured those books like a Sandworm devours sand plankton, quitting after I had purchased my quota, only to rejoin and harvest my next dozen books for a penny — over and over and over again.

Moorcock, Zealazny, Powers, Wolfe, Eddings — these guys showed me that science-ficiton and fantasy were entirely undefinable and unlimited. It could be heroic and epic, dark and twisted, sexy and cutting edge, brutal and haunting. There were no boundaries. There was no place you couldn’t go. I’d read every night, usually until four in the morning, turning off my light just long enough to grab a few hours of sleep before class the next day, and I had more than my share of agitated teachers wake me in the middle of class when I tried to grab a few more. But I was an addict, I couldn’t stop.

Then somewhere along the way, I did. Sometime after having my mind blown by Gibson, Chrichton, and Stephenson, I found myself creating stories of my own. All the inspiration I’d derived from years of reading these masters came out in the form of comics and then games. Soon, I found myself in limited supply of two very necessary commodities that you need on hand when you’re about to tuck in with a good book: bandwidth and brain space.

I don’t end up with a lot of downtime in my schedule, and when I do have a spare moment, my grey matter usually feels like room-temperature oatmeal made with too much water. And more often than not, my mush brain is actually due to writing and reading copious amounts of fiction.

I split my day between a lot of different activities, but one of the primary tasks is writing, usually in the form of a screenplay these days. Another thing that occupies a lot of my attention is editorial work. At Privateer, I try to stay heavily involved in the fiction of our worlds and participate in initial story-forming as well as providing feedback on early drafts in an effort to foster an overall cohesive vision for the setting. I’m not alone in this effort as we have a dedicated creative staff, and many eyes pass over each piece of work as it goes through development and evolution, but it can be a lot to keep track of, especially when you start hopping worlds.

Jumping from writing a new screenplay, to giving notes on a WARMACHINE novella, to writing background fiction for LEVEL 7 all in one day can make my head swim. I’ve found that over time, my brain can only hold so many worlds in it, tracking the characters, the story arcs and the details of each setting with any sort of accuracy. The thought of cracking into a novel and inviting a new world into my slowly softening skull is almost terrifying.

But I do! It just has to be a special circumstance. These days, if I read fiction that isn’t related to Privateer, it’s usually because I know the person who penned it. Having a personal attachment to the author always makes the read more exciting to me. There’s something more real and intimate and tangible when I can hear that person’s voice in my head as I read the words.

Occasionally, I have had the honor of reading very early drafts of the work of close friends. One such friend is a writer that I’ve mentioned in the past, the magnificently talented Miles Holmes. Like myself, Miles has somewhat of a dual identity. He enjoys a brilliant career with many accolades in the video game industry, having worked as a lead designer on the acclaimed MASS EFFECT franchise as well as the SONIC CHRONICLES, and was also the senior designer of the outrageous car-combat franchise, FULL AUTO — just to name a few. He’s also got game design credits to his name and even contributed to No Quarter Magazine a few years back. And he’s also a brilliant author of fiction.

While I’m truly not worthy of reading his grocery list, much less his unfinished narrative work-in-progress, Miles and I have become, for lack of a better term, writing buddies. I show him mine, and he shows me his. (I’m talking about our writing!) For me, it’s become somewhat of a dependency. There are two people who I rely on heavily for critical feedback on whatever I’m writing — one is Jason Soles, whom those of you from the WARMACHINE and HORDES community will be quite familiar with, and the other is Mr. Holmes.

Currently, Miles Holmes is crafting an incredible universe of some of the most imaginative and progressive science-fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading. To say that it is epic is an understatement because the amount of time it spans is almost unquantifiable. The scope of his story lines, the way they are interwoven between time periods and distant locations, and the themes that he is fearlessly exploring are both mind bending and utterly engaging.

I have had the undeserved privilege of reading his work in raw form as it develops into the final incarnation that he releases to the world. I also enjoy a rare vantage point in that he’s given me insight as to where he’s headed with this enormous project that readers will be forced to learn of only as he is wiling to measure out his mystery. But this foresight makes his work no less enthralling, in fact quite the opposite, and this has actually caused me a bit of a problem. You see, we bare our still baking work to each other under the pretext of providing constructive criticism in an effort to hone our craft and produce the best product possible. However, I have become so deeply engaged in the universe Miles has created that I now find myself reading for pleasure instead of doing my duty and offering intelligent feedback. I have been transformed from a useful colleague into a rabid fan, eagerly awaiting the next installment of his ever expanding saga.

And as I realize this metamorphosis in my perspective on his work, I am forced to confront another truth: the addict is not dead. He’s alive and well and craves science-fiction and fantasy, hungry to devour them both one world at a time.

Miles has set up a fantastic site at INFINITYGATE.COM where you can check out his short stories with which he’s laying a foundation for a much larger, jaw-dropping effort just past the visible horizon. I urge you to go there now, strap into your seat, and hang on for the ride because this one is gonna be going places and you don’t want to be left behind!

I’m also interested in what you’re reading. What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for people with a limited amount of time? I’ve got a plane ride to Lock & Load in a couple weeks, and I might just take a new world with me. I need to feed the beast.


22 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Science-Fiction Addict

  1. There is a fantastic, very prolific writer in John Ringo. While he has a veritable mountain of writing, most of them stand alone in their own time. I do recommend, however, March Upcountry, March To the Sea, March to the Stars, and We Few. I balked at it, as its Looks like a typical “coming of age” story, but its much, much more than that. Look him up!
    also: Lovecraft. Short Stories, nothing more than a touch over 100 pages, but all very intriguing stuff.

    See you at Lock and Load!

  2. I think John Scalzi would be right up your alley, Matt, especially his “Old Man’s War” trilogy. Breezy writing, quick to get through, but smart, engaging and well-written.

    • I gotta agree with Lexington on this one Matt! I just finished reading Old Man’s War…it felt like Heinlein himself had written it using John as a “ghost writer”…he he he. Oh, and of course…thank you again for the incredible vote of confidence your blog provided!

      • If you liked the first one, just wait ’till you get to “Ghost Brigades” and “The Last Colony.” 🙂

  3. This must be incredibly difficult to keep things straight. Being in tech I have found that my brain is constantly being beat up by new releases and various nuances of things I have never done in this one specific way. However a few things have grabbed me aside from the Warmachine and Hordes story lines.

    First is the addiction I have had a few years. The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin is a favorite. I suspect you may have already read some of this as many people have for many years. Complex plots and a very adult understanding of power really can help pique one’s imagination. If you haven’t read this, the first book is A Game of Thrones. Remember, Winter is Coming.

    The second is The Tales of the Otori by Leanne Hearn. This is a Mythical Asiatic tale of historic style (similar for how George R. R. Martin’s series is historical in style compared to Medieval Europe). This series has a lot of the seething emotion under the surface within a Chinese/Japanese flavored Culture. Knowing you’ve done art within the setting of Rokugan makes me think you may have some love for this style yourself. To begin this series start with Across the Nightingale Floor.

    The third set that I think of is The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik. In a Napoleonic era, the navies are the back bone of the war between England and France. However if the Navy is the backbone, then the sword arm is the Aerial Corps! Teams of men bond with and mount great dragons and take them on bombing raids against the navies of the world. This tale also has a historical flair in the style of delivery (are you detecting a pattern?). I dare you to try to imagine William Laurence as anyone but Russel Crow (that you Master and Commander!). To start this series pick up His Majesty’s Dragon.

    I really enjoyed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I have a hard time describing it’s tone but its the kind of book we sci-fi/fantasy fans would read transitioning from a more children’s perspective to a more adult perspective. I really see it as a journey towards the loss of one’s innocence.

    The last book I’ve read in the last few years really worth note is The Machine Man by Max Barry. Few authors have the capability to make me both sympathetic towards some one, while also despising them on such a core and primal level that I cannot reconcile the two. Take a man who feels like an outsider, who through an accident gains a prosthetic, and then have him decide he can built a better one. What if he has somewhat of an obsessive personality and gains that focus on his prosthetic? This is the book you get.

    • Thanks for all the awesome recommendations!

      But thank the gods for HBO or I would have completely missed out on Martin’s contributions to fantasy!

  4. Matt, you should come visit us in Houston, this August. I think some of these insights would make for a great interactive Q&A, especially since we’ll be running 30+ tables, 24 hours a day, from Thursday the 9th through Sunday the 12th.

    Ever attend conventions as a guest speaker?

    • Hi George,
      I travel a lot right now so I rarely do guest appearances. Your event sounds fantastic, though. August is taken up with Gen Con for me, but keep us posted on your event!

  5. If you haven’t read it yet, I would highly recommend Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. There are only 2 books out so far, but it’s turning into a great fantasy series.

  6. You should read The Knife of Necer Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It is genuinely moving and the way he builds the world in the opening chapters is fantastic.

    It’s part one of the Chaos Walking series, and I’ve to recommend to someone and not hear that they loved it.

    Absolutely one of my favourite books I’ve ever read.

  7. I would like to recommend Gorden Dahlqvist’s “The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters.” It has the same kind of steam meets magic weirdness that you’d find in the Iron Kingdoms, but approaches it from an entirely different perspective. Also, it was a recommendation from Neal Stephenson, which has to count for a lot!

    China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station” is likewise another steampunk melting pot where cogs and magic meet, but with a goodly dose of dystopia to round out the mix. Although I personally find the conclusion to not be up to the standard of the rest of the book, it’s definatly worth investing the time in.

    Another of my favourite authors is Iain M Banks. The Culture is a very fascinating and cool place to explore, both well imagined and written. “The Player of Games” will appeal to anyone who appreciates Wargames in general and also “Excession” is one damned fine read. It’s also very, very interesting the way he writes about morality and immorality in a sci-fi setting. I also have utterly no idea what his detractors on the amazon reviews are on about!

    Other than that, our tastes seem to very similar so I’ll hold off on mentioning anything you already did!

  8. It’s nice to see Gibson on that mind blowing list.. his recent current-age, less cyber punk stuff is the last I’ve really sat down and read… I regret it sometimes, as I “have too much else going on” these past years and don’t make myself read. I rarely even watch anime anymore, because I’m usually multitasking and therefor can’t read the subtitles. Between gaming, painting and blogging (with movies / tv in the background) I just don’t have the time. Which is kinda sad. I used to devour books. Dragon Lance, Star Wars, even the Hardy Boys… had’m all. Now if I’m taking some down-time it’s on amusing websites to try and relax the mind from the stresses of work.

  9. I rarely find the time to read for fun at the moment due to the fact that I read history books for about 6 hours a day for my Ph.D. and that burns me out. In what time I do make for personal reading I’ve been reading Jack Vance’s Dying Earth books. Despite the influence of the Dying Earth series, perhaps most famously in the form of the Vancian magic system of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve met very few people who have actually read the stories. Those people are missing out on a fantasy setting unlike any other. Vance combines elements of classic sword and sorcery fantasy with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic themes in a unique and exciting blend.
    While not quite fantasy the Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard are definitely worth a read if you haven’t yet. I prefer Solomon to Conan although I really like them both.

  10. Right now I am on anime. I would recomend Elfen Lied and Steins Gate. That being said I would LOVE Warmachine anime. It could be epic, bringing ‘jacks to life… Fap…

  11. For Science Fiction I love books by David Weber, especially the Honor Harrington series and it’s offshoots.

    For Fantasy, anything adult by Brandon Sanderson. Elantris was interesting and The Way of Kings was amazing–though it’s the first book of what promises to be an epic series and who knows when the next book will come (or when the series will end). He’s innovative with his magic systems, coming up with things I’ve never read or thought of (like ingesting metals and then burning them as magical power–Mystborn series).

  12. Another self indulgent moment of reading is Steve Perry’s Matadora series or David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of books. They maybe rather shallow, but they are like good fair food, they never are forgotten.

  13. A screenplay! Please tell me this is warmahordes related!?

    I’m a fan of terry pratchett’s discworld series, well written, great characters, pretty much all the books can be read as standalones or in sequence, and it puts a different spin on fantasy.

  14. I’ve only recently started reading books seriously but I would reccomend “the last wish”. You probably have heard of “The witcher”. Well this is the book it was based on. It is short(about 150 pages) so it shouldn’t take too much of your buisy sceduale. Not a sci-fi but a book worth reading

  15. With all that is on your plate…I shudder to recommend George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones for your reading pleasure. It is quite possibly the most epic series I have ever read and is what you should be experiencing instead of its much watered down version on HBO.

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