I’m asked about influences. Always a tricky one. There are so many. Where does one start? Where end?
Every experience over a lifetime will in some way filter into and define the nature of a fiction. Studies we engage in, people we meet, places we visit, myriad books, films, music and so much more shape our experience and remodel our world view, and in the case of an artist or writer, sculpt and frame the final work. But I guess when people pose that question they are really asking about the writers that have provided inspiration. I’ve never thought of myself as a fantasy author per se, more as a writer adopting the fantastic as a vehicle to explore ideas and philosophies. It’s nonetheless probable that this is how I’m perceived by the majority of readers and so it’s largely going to be narrowed down to fantasy and science fiction authors that have had an influence on me.
That still leaves a whole host to attempt to select from. As a youth I was tremendously influenced by science fiction, moreso than fantasy. Indeed, Enchantment’s Reach, firmly set as it is in an imagined world, is rife with science fictional elements. Arthur C Clarke’s observation that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ holds true in Enchantment’s Reach. Urch Malmain’s petulant, pesky sentient portal, Triune’s myriad remote viewing devices, Olmana’s weird rose crystal by which she manipulates Anzejarl … perceived as magic by humans lost in a world they have no capacity to understand, are upon analysis self-evident examples of highly advanced technologies.
So there we have one author whose books I’ve enjoyed and who indirectly influenced my writing. There are many others – too many to muster promptly and easily to mind. A handful that spring immediately to the fore are Mervyn Peake, Philip K Dick, Jack Vance, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein. Nods to each of these are dotted throughout my books. To that shamefully incomplete list I would add John le Carré, Len Deighton and spy fiction in general, including Graham Green, John Buchan and Somerset Maugham. The shadowy world of espionage has at least an implicit presence in my work, and more often than not it’s a major theme. Humankind’s capacity for deception, deceit and self-deceit, the predisposition for projecting our interior darkness onto the ‘outer’ world and thereby perceiving failings in the other, have troubled and intrigued me for as long as I can remember. Early versions of the Chronicles of the Shaman series, and subsequent volumes, riffed cryptically on Ian Fleming’s novels, with a critical, if subtextual examination of the icon that is James Bond and all he represents. Ronbas Dinbig, the Khimmurian spy, reluctant sleuth, merchant-adventurer and sometimes morally compromised Zan-Chassin shamanic sorcerer, emerged in some ways as an attempt to explore and redefine the immensely popular but deeply-flawed character of 007.
For anyone inclined to dig more deeply, there are references to the music world: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Radiohead, to name but a few. Again, allusions are there for the unearthing should you delve hard enough.
And then the classics. Dostoevsky, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Hesse, Kafka, Orwell – oh yes, Orwell! – Borges, the Brontes, Dickens,Thomas Hardy. How often did I skip work for a day or more, stay awake into the small hours being nourished by those works? Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, unique and idiosyncratic, one of America’s greatest; Stoker, Lovecraft, Poe, to each of whom I huddled in sheer elemental terror with torch in hand beneath the bedsheets; Daniel Keyes, whose Flowers for Algernon is luminous, shimmering, heart-breaking, as close to perfect as SF can ever be; Salinger, Huxley, Lessing, Murdoch, Christie, Wheatley, Highsmith, Lewis Carroll, T. H. White… the names and memories pour back into consciousness as I write. And I have not yet touched upon non-fiction: the philosophers, mythologists, anthropologists, consciousness explorers, quantum physicists, esotericists, artists, historians, psychologists etc. that provide the bulk of my reading matter these days.
So it’s an impossible task but in coming days I hope to produce some short essays looking at at least a few of those writers of great fiction from multiple genres whose work has enriched my time on this planet and to whom I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude.
Addendum: it was not lost on me at the time of writing and since that the majority of influences I’ve mentioned are predominantly male and entirely white and Euro-American. This is somewhat less the case in non-fiction and authors I’m currently re-reading such as Merlyn Stone and P.M.H. Atwater but, yes, it’s notable nonetheless. Interesting. In need of attention. To be explored.