Just a day after I was nominated in Liebster Award Blog Hop, I’ve been sneakily tagged by Myk Pilgrim from Little Plastic Castle who challenged me to reveal ten most formative books. Books that shaped the Melfka I am now.
Digging into the depths of my past might be traumatic for the onlookers, so you keep reading on your own responsibility. But if you’re brave enough (or just curious which peculiar and unexpected books I listed), keep reading!
“Bajarka opowiada” – a collection by Maria Niklewiczowa
The title would roughly translate as “Of the Storyteller’s Tales” and was a thick hard cover book full of “tales from many places across the world”. First my mom would read them to me, but as I learned to read very early, I’d spend hours re-reading these stories, set in different places, different cultures. One of my favorites was Czech “The Alabaster Hand” and I can still remember most of the story now, nearly thirty years later, but there were many more. Stories like Chinese “Of the Shepherd and Magical Weaver”, Japanese “Baskets from the Sparrow’s House” or Hungarian “Iron Laczy” are still clear in my memory. I think this book not only fed my ever-hungry imagination, but also made me curious about other cultures and their stories.
I could list here tales of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, as I read them multiple times too, but it’s “Bajarka opowiada” that have always been my most favorite of them all.
Karl May – Wild West series
A German writer, who haven’t set foot in US until much later, writing thrilling stories of cowboys and Indians? Might sound odd, but he brought the Wild West into my Polish reality, and I spent hours reading about adventures of Apache warrior Winnetou and his white blood brother, Old Shatterhand. A 10 year old girl didn’t care much about how close to reality these stories were: Indians and cowboys were supposed to be exciting, not realistic! And believe me, they were. I spent countless days daydreaming about my own adventures with the books’ main characters.
Ken Follet – “Lie Down with Lions”
Quite early I started peeking at my parents’ book collection (I probably shouldn’t mention that before doing so I devoured my grandmother’s collection of German romance novels…), that not only had some classic literature (in which I was, of course, totally uninterested), but also thrillers and action-filled books by such authors as Alistair MacLean and Ken Follet. I think I liked Alistair MacLean’s novels more, but it was Follet’s “Lie Down with Lions” that I can still recall, because of its setting in Afghanistan and because… it had sex scenes in it. It was quite a crash-course with reality for 12 year old (or maybe a bit less) girl, who until then read mostly fairy tales and adventure novels. It also makes me giggle remembering that one time in a library. I picked some young adult spy book to read, and the librarian told me “Oh, you won’t like it, it’s for older teenagers.” so I put the book away. Judging from time’s perspective, I’d probably enjoy that book a lot, but maybe it’s good the librarian didn’t know what I was reading at home at the time.
Rober E. Howard – “The fire of Asshurbannipal”
First real “fantasy” book I’ve ever read. I picked it off the shelf in the library, as there was nothing else that sparked my interest. I expected “The fire of Asshurpannipal” to be an adventure story set in Africa, and instead I found myself reading about something that couldn’t possibly real, as the book balanced between adventure, fantasy and lovecraftian horror. I was shocked (how can one write something that’s untrue and is not a fairy tale?), scared (there was death and it often was gruesome too) and… enchanted. Years of reading the fairy tales and mythology stories brought fruition: I wanted more, and happily left the children section of the library to poke around the new found “science-fiction and fantasy” bookshelves.
Mercedes Lackey – Heralds of Valdemar series
It had everything a teenage girl and a fantasy-fan-in-making could dream off. A girl with unique gift, white horses (no unicorns though) and a lot of emotional relationships (both friendship and love), with some intrigue, danger and nail-biting scenes. What also charmed me in these stories (and I’ve read a lot more than just “Heralds of Valdemar”) was their mood – the focus on friendship and on hope, so one could always count on some sort of a happy ending coming.
Robert E. Howard – Conan series
I think I got curious about it because of a review I’ve read of a video game set in Conan’s world (I haven’t seen the movie until years later). It was in the times of Atari and Amiga, and I never got to play the game, having the wrong platform at home, but the story mentioned in the review got me curious about the books, and in the end I’ve read quite a few in the series, both by Robert E. Howard and others writers who continued his work. I still have a bit of sentiment towards them, and even though I had nothing against Conan himself, I was secretly rooting for his main opponent, Thoth-Amon, to win. Or maybe to have a change of heart and become the “good guy”. And I probably shouldn’t mention that the only fan-fiction I’ve ever wrote was set in Hyperborea…
Andrzej Sapkowski – “Sword of Destiny” (Witcher series)
In my early teenage years I was already reading fantasy, but I mostly stuck to the Western authors (and in 90s in Poland there was plenty of foreign authors to pick from), but I steered clear of Polish authors, as most of them wrote science-fiction, with the focus on the “science” part. But that “Sword of Destiny” on the library’s shelf looked so promising… I eyed the Polish surname suspiciously, but in the end I gave in. And thus I introduced myself to the Witcher series (starting it a bit silly, from the second book) which has become one of the most re-read series of my youth. Sadly, I read “Lord of the Rings” after this one, so Tolkien never had so much impact on me (though I really did like “Silmarillion”).
Mike Resnick – “A Miracle of Rare Design”
As I mentioned above, I didn’t read much of science-fiction in my youth, but the Polish title book sounded quite poetic (it could be translated as “Misty Horizon” and had nothing to do with the story), so I gave it a go. I discovered a book talking about how it is when you can’t find your place, when you feel like you don’t belong anywhere, which fitted in well with all the doubts about life and themselves I think every teenager has. This is the book I borrowed from the library, and then bought my own copy of it, and the only book I’ve ever “damaged” by writing on it: with silver pen I underlined a quote from it that at the time explained the world and life to me.
Barry B. Longyear – “Enemy Mine”
A novella I came across reading Polish biggest (and longest-publishing) speculative fiction magazine, “Nowa Fantastyka”. A mesmerizing story of a human pilot stranded on a planet with an alien, with an enemy. The story of how the two relate and need to work together to survive is a beautiful one. And I admit, one of the few that made me cry.
Dan Simmons – “Hyperion”
I didn’t really want to read this book. I was sure I wouldn’t like it. After all, it was science-fiction. But the speculative fiction section in my library was running out of fantasy I haven’t read yet (save few titles I didn’t feel like reading), and the back cover description seemed very interesting. Six pilgrims, each with their own tale, traveling to a place where only one could survive… I admit that when I first read it, I skipped some of the pilgrims tales, but I couldn’t put the book down. As I read, the seemingly unconnected stories of each of the pilgrim, became more and more interwoven, forcing me to go back to the tales I skipped. I’ve re-read the book (and its sequels) many times, enjoying it more and more with each approach.
It took me several years to get a grip of my own copy (the book was out of print back then and highly sought after), and it wouldn’t have been without help of my dear friend, who bought it in secret and gave it to me for my birthday. Now I own beautiful, hardcover copy of the new edition of “Hyperion” that, funny enough, I also received for my birthday (in which my other friend wrote “I wish you will write a book like this one day”), but I still can’t bring myself to donate the old edition to the library.
And… that’s it!
No, not really. I could probably add a dozen more books here (did I mention my granny’s German romances?), but I tried to pick the most distinct ones. Milestones, one would say. You can see how with the years passing I’ve been going deeper and deeper into speculative fiction, which is the genre I’ve been reading the most for the past 15 years or so.
It’s been interesting to look back and I have to admit, that I’d love to read all these books again – even if they’re not on the highest bookshelf of the literature, they are on my memory bookshelf.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.