This is just a working list of some of my favorite and most influence-susceptible pieces of fiction, fantasy, and artwork-in-general. Given that I write plenty of sci-fi and fantasy, myself, and given that you’re here reading about it, this is a good opportunity for you to get to know what inspired me to create some of my own story-lines.
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood: I acknowledge this book with the rest of the Maddaddam trilogy, of course, but it’s O&C that really pulls me into ecstasy. It tells the story of Jimmy, a boy who grows up as the word-and-writ inspired son of some kind of corporate technology guy; his best friend, Crake; his paramour, Oryx; and how Jimmy’s life played out right up until the apocalypse. I would argue that Crake is one of the greatest super-villains in fictional history, and during a really difficult time in my life O&C gave me a great deal of dark comfort. This is my favorite of Atwood’s books (yes, even more valued to me than The Handmaid’s Tale, which I consider part of a Dystopian Literature Trinity that includes Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World), and I don’t want to offer too many spoilers other than to say that it’s fantastic, even if the first book of the trilogy has a bit of a sad ending!
The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy (Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, Magic’s Price), by Mercedes Lackey: Set in Lackey’s fantasy world of Velgarth, in the deep recesses of the Kingdom of Valdemar’s history, the protagonist Vanyel Ashkevron starts off as the rather abused son of a minor nobleman of some sort. Vanyel wishes to be a Bard, but doesn’t have any of the mystical gifts that the Bards, Healers, or Heralds of Valdemar are endowed with. His armsmaster beats him up, his father is openly disdainful of him, and Vanyel doesn’t quite get what he’s done wrong. When he is shipped off to live with his aunt, the renowned Herald-Mage Savil, he meets her young apprentice, Tylendel and suddenly the world makes sense. His father feared he’d have an attraction to men, a forbidden devotation in his neck of the woods (and a story all too familiar to the LGBTQ community, today), and when Vanyel finds his match in Tylendel the only thing that can tear them apart is the rivalry between Tylendel’s family and another. When their love comes to blows with the reality of what Tylendel’s power can do, Vanyel’s own gifts are violently awakened and he is thrust into the position of being a hero even though he appears destined to lose everything. And that’s just the first book.
Dragonlance, primarily by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: Dragonlance is one of the first fantasy world, Dungeons-And-Dragons type of settings I encountered. All due respect to the Forgotten Realms, but Weis and Hickman created the perfect type of character for a skinny, questionably-healthy teenage boy: The arch-wizard Raistlin Majere, corrupted by his exposure to magic that was over his head, contemptuous towards his loving but brutish brother Caramon, and so incredibly powerful he could threaten the Gods themselves despite his body’s incredible fraility and the hacking coughs (all too familiar to an asthmatic like myself) which wracked his body. Honestly? Dragonlance deserves its own cinematic universe, similar to Marvel.
Dystopian Literature In General: As part of my studies in college, I got up-close-and-personal with more Dystopian Literature than you’d probably have expected. From the aforementioned works of Orwell and Huxley to other tales like A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr., I could probably rant-and-rave about these books all in their entirety. In fact, I probably did, when I ran a Youtube channel dedicated to it. However, as this is a list of my literary influences, I think it’s worth noting that I tend to write more hope-filled stories than most of these.
Movies And Television
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009): Of all the cancelled TV serieses I’ve had an affection for, such as Undergrads or Firefly, this is the ‘one that got away,’ to me. Set after the events of the second film installment of the Terminator franchise, this story features Lena Heady as Sarah Connor in a far more contemplative role. Sarah is philosophical, protective, and downright powerful. Thomas Dekker as John Connor is a damn perfect casting, especially coming off of his comparatively small role in Heroes. It takes a while for us to see John as anything more than a teenager suffering through an identity crisis, but in one particular show-down with an antagonist he is truly intimidating, and when he utters the line, “And the same thing would happen to that swat team as happened to your last,” well, you believe him – in large part because of Cameron, the Terminator of ‘we’re not really sure what model you are’ make John sent back in time to protect himself. Played by the incredible Summer Glau, Cameron is portrayed exactly as a cyborg should be, assuming of course that the cyborg in question is capable of questioning its destiny in the world. Honestly, I should give Josh Friedman a guest credit in my novel Protostar: An Automatic Apocalypse for how much this show influenced my thinking on artificial intelligence. Even though a new TSCC series/movie has been ruled out, Friedman is working on the next Terminator project with James Cameron, himself, and it’s not impossible for a novelization-style continuance. (I’m available; I’ll drop anything.)
Game of Thrones: Confession – I’ve read, like, one chapter of the books. I’m pretty much confined to TV. I’m not a big Dany fan (She’s okay), or even a big Jon fan (he’s better), though I love their actors’ talent – Their characters are simply not my cup of tea, necessarily. Me? I’m more an Arya/Cersei (again with Lena Headey, huh?)/Brienne/Hound guy. I’d tell you all about it, but, frankly, you should already know. I probably won’t be much more detailed until the rest of the show has aired, but Sandor has probably the second-best redemption arc I can think of (second only to Vegeta).
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: This show gets me for two reasons. One, the dark humor on display is fantastic, and when the creators tackle social issues they do it on-point; the characters always feel like they’re following their core instincts when they go off on tangents, argue with each other, terrorize their city, and generally fail at succeeding. The irony is that success is the second reason why I love this show; the three who created it (Rob McElhenny, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day) basically just filmed a demo tape in their apartment and sent it in, and boom – instant deal with a TV company. Season one was great, with Kaitlin Olsen’s Deandra occasionally going off the rails, but when season two happened and Danny DeVito showed up? The acting ability on display in this show is fantastic, and it reminds me that small creators can be successful. I have a special place in my heart for the Korman episode (guest-starring Fisher Stevens), given my hyper-local journalism experiences.
Venture Brothers: I wasn’t sure if I should put this with my most influential Anime, or not, but I chose to put it here because it’s an American product. It started off as a good, but not particularly captivating spoof on Johnny Quest, but by the end of Season 2 I was an addict. The show has long hiatuses which are irksome (How long has it been since I was supposed to have released PotK3 and/or Physics Trincarnate? Oh.), but Season 6 was absolutely mind-blowing if not for the fact that I don’t feel like it got a satisfactory end. Trust me, you should watch this.
Anime And Manga
Dragonball: I grew up in the late-90’s/early-00’s, and I have to admit I was as annoyed as possible at the fact that we got to see Goku reach Planet Namek and take Recoome down in, like, one punch, man; then, we’d go back to the start of Dragonball Z. As the internet allowed for information proliferation and ‘Shrine’ sites to my favorite characters (Vegeta, primarily) popped up, I learned a lot of lessons on world-building from Akira Toriyama’s style. Mainly, I learned that he does a lot of world-building on the fly, and he came up with a lot of his best concepts after multiple iterations and/or at the last minute. Dragonball was my initiation into Anime, and I’ve drawn incredible amounts of inspiration from it.
Berserk: Brace yourself, because Berserk is not for children. I won’t go into much detail, but I’ll say this: There’s a storyline where the characters wind up in contact with a historically-accurate representation of the Inquisitorial work of Tomas De Torquemada, and even this living nightmare is rendered disgustingly quaint by The Eclipse and Quilpoth. Kentaro Miura’s art might be the best I’ve ever seen, and there has been a twenty-year-long arc that is finally starting to wrap up as of 3/15/2018. Go figure.
Bleach: Hey! Ever wonder where all of the fancy swordplay in the Pillars Of The Kingdom novels come from? A lot of it is inspired by Tite Kubo’s Bleach. I absolutely loved the notion of a bunch of super-powered mortals invading the realm of the Gods (or, at least, what seemed at the time like Gods); I even loved the idea of the heroes invading a lesser-grade version of hell to do battle with demons. Bleach had its weird difficulties with its plot development, as the Fullbring arc made little positive impact for the series (If that concept had been better explored, say, early in the series, on the other hand…) and the Sternritter/Ywatch arcs were just ill-handled, I still made it a point to read this title every single week.
One Punch Man: Okay, the top-tier animation and manga of the main production run of OPM is stellar, but you know what I really liked? How a random guy who wasn’t very good at art, at all, created a webcomic and built it into such an empire that people postulate only three super-heroes in combat, these days: The nigh-omnipotent Superman, the limit-breaking Goku, and the farcical Saitama. Mob Psycho 100 was fantastic, don’t get me wrong (Reigan rules), but one of my best friends introduced me to the OPM anime and it left me amazed; the original webcomic is a humorous yet captivating plot-line which isn’t gussied up by fancy graphic and awesome art. That is what made OPM such a phenomenon.