- by Gitabushi
I consider myself fairly well-read, at least when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
This is because I was a voracious reader living in a small town, and I read every SF&F book the town and school libraries had. Being a small town, they didn’t have much that was new.
But since I read so much, I don’t always know remember who/what I read. Being young and foolish, I didn’t bother to take the time to check publication dates, or try to fit the books and stories I read into the context of the time in which they were written.
But then in the 80s, I started babysitting, getting a decent allowance from chores, and working part time, and I put the money I earned into books.
I got a sense of who the main authors were, and explored most of them. Sometimes I encountered a story I didn’t like, and if I encountered two from the same author, that would burn the author in my estimation, and I’d rarely give them a second chance.
But there were often strange gaps. Jack Vance and Damon Knight were both considered Grandmasters, but none of the libraries I had access to had any of their books, and so I never read either one, until PCBushi recommended Vance to me.
Because I was both a voracious and precocious reader, I started young, with The Lord of the Rings at age 9, Robert A. Heinlein at age 10, Herbert’s Dune at age 13. Some books I just really didn’t understand. I tried the Lord of the Rings at age 9 after a teacher read The Hobbit to us, but not knowing what I was doing, I grabbed and started with The Two Towers. I finished it, but I had no idea what was going on. I picked it up again at age 14 and read it in order, and loved it. I tried C. J. Cherryh a few times at age 17 or 19, and just didn’t like her. When she came out with Lions…. In…..Space…. when I was about 20 (the Chanur series), I gave it a try and liked it. But it wasn’t until I turned 26 that I actually really understood her writing, and she became my favorite.
Looking back, there was one author I tried in my early 20s: C. S. Friedman. Not sure why she felt the need to hide her female name, because there were plenty of famous female authors by 1986, when her first novel was published.
But her stories were complex and perhaps a little beyond me at the time, like Cherryh.
I started with the Coldfire Trilogy. I enjoyed it, but my girlfriend loved it. She fell in love with the main character, who I thought was cool, but not especially lovable. But trying to understand what she loved about the main character helped me understand a little better what women want from/like in men. The trilogy is a fascinating construction of a Catholic-like religion battling demon-like aliens. The main character is absolutely a Knight Templar type, or could be seen as a D&D-style Paladin.
Look at this picture. Isn’t this guy a bad-ass? Don’t you want to read this book now?
It’s been so long, I barely remember the story. What I remember is the heartbreaking love story, where the main character falls in love with a woman, and she loves him back…then her memories are stripped. He goes to extreme lengths to try to accomplish the return of her memories, but without her memories of their time together, she no longer loves him and falls for someone else. It was well done, as I recall.
I enjoyed the books enough to purchase and read In Conquest Born. It, too, was a complex book. It has a little twist to it, though, not mentioned in the wikipedia page, that I don’t want to spoil for you, if you ever find it and read it.
I never found any of her other books, and had pretty much forgotten about her, until seeing C. L. Moore mentioned a few times in the past year stimulated my memory to the point where I had to figure out who C. S. Friedman was. I even went so far as to write a tweet asking my SF&F peeps if they knew who the author was when I remembered “Friedman” and was able to do a quick search.
[Man, you younger kids have no idea what life was like before the internet, when it was difficult to find a song you heard on the radio, or a book you once read, or even the back catalog of your favorite band.]
Glancing through the books she’s written since, she is still writing complex stories with some pathos, although she is nowhere near as prolific as many of her contemporaries.
Have any of you heard of her or read her? Honestly, the Coldfire Trilogy and In Conquest Born were good enough, I’m really surprised she isn’t mentioned more often as one of the greats.
I think I’m going to have to purchase and re-read her books (further delaying my slow-motion rampage through Edgar Rice Burroughs back-catalog). I think with the added maturity of 20+ years, I should appreciate her books more. Or perhaps discover that they aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember.