You know how it is at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re all goony and moon-eyed, and everything you see, hear, smell, whatever reminds you of that other person? I think the same thing can be said for writers (and most artists, really) at the beginning of the creative process. I’ve been working on something for the last few days and, I’ll be honest, I’m completely smitten. I love the idea. I love the main characters. I can’t wait until I can spare a few hours and get my sorry ass to the library and do some hardcore research (until then, thank you Wikipedia!).
At times like this, I can’t help but think about some of my favorite authors. I have a lot, I’ll be honest. I love Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Jane Austen. I’ve repeatedly devoured the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Harry, Ron, and Hermione coexist quite nicely on my bookshelf next to Frodo, Sam, and Aragorn. And, I don’t think there’s a detective around who can hold a candle to Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, or Philip Marlowe. But you just don’t get the same giddy anticipatory nerd-gasms from these folks that you get when a contemporary author you love comes out with another book.
So, just because I can, I’m going to share some of my favorite contemporary authors with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pick one of their books up and enjoy them as much as I do. At the very least, you’ll kill a few minutes of your day reading this post.
1. Jim Butcher
I’ve mentioned Jim Butcher before. Several times. He’s just that good! Remember a while back, when I said there isn’t a detective around who could hold a candle to Holmes, Wolfe, and Marlowe? Well, that’s not entirely true. Butcher’s Harry Dresden can. Actually, forget the candle, Dresden could light them all on fire, if he wanted to. Harry’s a wizard and a private detective working in Chicago. He’s pretty hardboiled (in the “I get the stuffing beat out of me by the bad guys for about 250 pages” kind of way), but he’s also the king of the pop culture reference. I confess that I don’t really get the whole Urban Fantasy thing, but I get Dresden. Plus, I’ve met Jim Butcher and he’s a hell of a guy.
2. Steve Berry
Poor Steve. I think he got overshadowed by the colossus that was The Da Vinci Code. I get why. A lot of his books deal with the Catholic Church (and religion, in general). They usually involve decoding various riddles and puzzles handed down through history. But, Berry is a much better writer than Dan Brown (and I like Dan Brown, so I’m not being a dismissive jerk). Plus, it’s easier for me to believe that Berry’s Cotton Malone can run around and dodge bullets and fight crazed zealots because, unlike Brown’s Robert Langdon, Cotton used to work for the U.S. government. He also owns a used book store in Copenhagen and has a photographic memory. How cool is that?
3. Neil Gaiman
I’m going to take for granted that most, if not all, of you at least know who Neil Gaiman is, even if you’ve never read anything he’s written. For my money, Neverwhere is one of the best books ever written. And, if you ever want to see how to portray pagan deities in a modern setting, read American Gods or Anansi Boys. Then there’s Good Omens (which Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett)–think the Book of Revelations as written by Monty Python.
4. James Rollins
I’ve only read Rollins’s Sigma Force novels, but they’re pretty awesome. The basic premise behind them is that there’s a top secret government agency staffed by “soldier scientists”–members of the military who were sent to earn advanced degrees in chemistry, biology, physics, what-have-you. They mission is to protect America’s technological superiority. Frequently that involves investigating things like ancient batteries or anti-matter. Rollins stated that some of his favorite books growing up were Tarzan, Baum’s Oz books, and the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells…and it shows. His Sigma Force books are the literary equivalent of a big summer blockbuster: pure, unadulterated fun.
5. Michael Crichton
In 1992, during Christmas break, I read a little book called Jurassic Park (maybe you’ve heard of it? I think there was a movie or something based on it). That summer, I read pretty much every novel Crichton wrote up until that point–except The Great Train Robbery and Terminal Man, but I’ll get around to them, too. Lucky for me, the nation was caught up in Crichton Fever–which could almost be a plot from one of his books–so his older novels were everywhere (I got mine at the local Pathmark). I credit Crichton for introducing me to the “techno-thriller”, a friendship that continues to this day, much like I credit Caleb Carr’s The Alienist for introducing me to the historical novel. Sure, there have been a few bumps along the way (I’m looking at you, Disclosure), but I’ll still pick up every new novel that has Crichton’s name on it.
6. Stephen King
Thank the gods Uncle Stevie decided to continue publishing books (remember when he said that after he finished up Dark Tower, he’s stop publishing?), otherwise I couldn’t include him on this list. He’s the Master. No doubt about it. He put the “pro” in prolific–I guess he could have put the “fic” in it, too…I’m not sure. Sure, some of his books end a tad abruptly, but I for one always enjoy the journey. Here is a man who loves what he does, and I think it shows. Besides, IT is still the creepiest, most disturbing book I’ve ever read.