Magic and Mystery
A friend passed this very old, battered copy of Magic and Mystery in Tibet my way amongst others she was discarding recently. I found it fascinating as an historical artifact and impressive in an intrepid-traveller kind of way.
The author, Alexandra David-Neel, was part of the early Western engagement with Asian religion, along with the theosophists (whom she knew well).
Madness Lies Waiting was conceived, many years ago, as a piece of performance art for a dozen speaking voices, preferably live performers on stage.
At the time (1970s) I was dabbling in poetry (including graphic poetry) and graphic art while studying music composition, particularly the (then) avant-garde represented by Cage, Cardew, and the (then) new resources of electronic music.
Madness Lies Waiting drew on all of these influences. I stopped developing it when I was satisfied with it, which is the only way a creative person will acknowledge a work as ‘finished’, but its anomalous nature condemned it to remain unperformed.
Once upon a time, no-one was considered truly educated unless they knew Shakespeare’s plays. More recently, but still not recently, an influential critic published a really big list of books which he thought were necessary for an understanding of western culture – sorry: Western Culture.
My ambitions are much smaller. All I claim is that anyone who doesn’t know the books on my list has missed key works of fantasy and science fiction, so they have missed some great books and will miss innumerable cultural references.
In the last few weeks I’ve been asked by a couple of lovely people for recommended reading in fantasy and science fiction. My only qualification is that I have read so much in these genres over the last [redacted] decades that I have opinions based on vast experience, but here goes.
A few general points first …
I’m not going to mention a book or series by name unless it’s one I recommend. That saves me from saying “this is a good book” every time and it saves you from even hearing about bad books.
Inline links are (unless otherwise noted) to my own reviews, most of them very short, on this blog or on Green Path.
There’s nothing wrong with escapism but I do prefer fiction which provides insights into ourselves or the way we live. I’ve said elsewhere that SF is brilliant for thought-experiments, but so is fantasy.