Breakfast in the Ruins by Barry N. Malzberg (2007, Baen)
Many books have been written about the writing process. I have found this to be the most insightful. This is effectively two books in one; it contains the full text of his 1982 work, The Engines of the Night, and adds an equal quantity of new material.
The book is a compilation of various essays Malzberg has written through the years, all focused on various elements of the writing process. It incorporates everything from book reviews through ruminations about the final days of Cornell Woolrich. Particular attention is granted to his love/hate relationship with science fiction, the field with which the author is most associated.
Malzberg is often brutally honest, and he is a particularly harsh critic of both himself and his readers. Throughout the pages one is reminded of a fundamental contradiction successful authors experience: their readers demand familiarity and change simultaneously, urging authors to blaze new paths and then castigating or jettisoning them when it happens.
It’s not an upbeat book. It strips away all glamour from the profession of author and exposes the core. For people curious about the concerns of a writer, though, it’s indispensable.
The Dying Earth by Jack Vance (1950, Hillman)
This novel by Vance merging fantasy with science fiction is set during the final days before the sun extinguishes. In the distant future, Earth is still controlled by men but science has progressed to the point where it is indistinguishable from magic. The science has then been lost to history, resulting in a fantasy world.
The writing is reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith at his best – obscure and fabulous prose that immediately calls to mind other lands and times due to its inherent poetry.
The novel follows a series of interconnected stories, each of which reveals a bit more of the complex world Vance created. Demons, wizards and curses are common, and there are elements of traditional fables within the distinct character arcs. It’s difficult to determine the border where simple fantasy and metaphor merges.
The result should satisfy both the reader looking for a little fantasy adventure and one looking for a philosophical piece, and it has little in the way of controversial subject matter.