As a teenager, I loved fantasy books - Lord of the Rings, Conan, Michal Moorcock's series on Elric, The Worm Ouroboros, Julian May's Many-Coloured Land Series (whatever that was officially called - all four hefty books), and the painful but wonderful Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The books that I found most remarkable though were the Fritz Leiber tales of Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. They were (and still are) astonishing. There were six books, and while most were collections of short stories (all about the two protagonists and the world they lived in), one of the books was a novel, and others were a mix of stories and novella's. I loved the way Leiber just wrote the story, whatever its length. These were characters unlike any I had read about in other fantasy books. They were real people, flawed, remarkably funny, living in a place where politics and social standing really mattered, and where bravely won treasures were easily lost in bars or to corrupt jewellers. There was something amazingly human about these characters, and I wasn't surprised later to discover that they had been written over a period of fifty years, as they showed such a deep knowledge about how life functioned, and were written by someone with tremendous observational skills, and a love of life.
I had moved past my fantasy phase and was reading more broadly in my late twenties, when I discovered from an old school friend (thanks Simon!) that Leiber had published one final book, the seventh in the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series, that dealt with what happens when heroes grow old. I was desperate to read it. Unfortunately, it was only available in America (pre-Amazon days), and even there it was not so easy to find. In April 1994 I got married in Hawaii, and some family came to the wedding/holiday. My parents were there, and they stopped over in San Francisco on the way home, just a couple of days before my wife and I did the same on our return leg to England. On our arrival at the San Francisco hotel there was a chilled bottle of champagne (the joys of being newly weds :), and a small brown parcel. I opened it to find the 'missing' Fritz Leiber book, which my father had scoured the local bookshops for - and no doubt enjoyed this greatly, as he was a huge bibliophile. It was one of the best gifts I've ever been given. The thought, time, and love that had gone into finding that book and arranging for it to be waiting for me spoke volumes about my father, and my mother's patience too. It was also a great book. Who can forget a short story where the two characters argue about why their partners names always start with the same first letter? (And you realising, that they are correct, and you've never noticed it before in all those other books...)
There is something joyous about finding a new book by one of your favourite authors - especially when you think they may have died, or stopped writing altogether. The pleasure of turning that first page, and settling into that author's world is spell-binding. Like the feeling you get, if you're old enough to have got married in the nineties, when you sit down in the cinema to see the 'new' Star Wars movie. Trepidation mixed with excitement - will it live up to the high standard of your memory?
This post was inspired by Steven Millhauser. He is one of my all-time favourite writers, and certainly in my top three in the short story category. Hell, he may easily be my number one - it's so hard to choose. Yesterday, I discovered he had a new collection of tales out. I began reading them today. I've tried emulating his writing style, but I simply can't. He's unique, and a genius. One day, I'd love to use one of his stories for our Story of the month, but I need to get around to writing to him, and I'l get passed off to a publisher or an agent, and they'll want money, and I'll tell them I haven't got any, and that InkTears is free because we want to encourage people to love short fiction, and I'll tell them that everyone who reads his story will immediately go out and buy all of his books, and then they won't believe me, and they'll think I'm crazy, so they'll stop replying to my emails, because who wants to get stalked by a mad website guy, heh?
You'd better just go and buy one of his books instead. Any of them will do, they're all fabulous. Start with a short story collection though, because that's what we're all about here (although his novels are also great). Or you could spend an hour or so in a book shop and try and find your favourite author, who perhaps hasn't died yet after all, and may have snuck out a new book that will bring you transcendental pleasure. Enjoy.