First, an observation: sometimes the seemingly random order which one reads books can reveal connections that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. With that in mind, here's James Ellroy, author of the superlative crime novel L.A. Confidential:
I read Dashiell Hammett at the downtown library. I read Ross Macdonald by flashlight in the parks. I read meretricious crime writers all over L.A. I read Jolting Joe Wambaugh in jail and out. The New Centurions/The Blue Knight/The Onion Field/The Choirboys -- visionary work by a cop. L.A. revised. Authoritarianism dissected. Authority sanely lauded over chaos. A counter-counterculture view of 1960 up. Absurdism sans leftist drill. A horrible compassion and indictment of moral default. Wambaugh burned through me. Wambaugh made me dredge abstractions and spin epigrams. Wambaugh made me think what it all meant. Wambaugh sang me a swan song. Wambaugh changed me forever. Here's how I know that: He made me ashamed of my life.
As a young man Ellroy was, um. Best let him describe it:
The blur heightened. School became a nonendurable drag. I was seventeen. I was white. "Free" would make it the trifecta. I stepped up my Nazi antics. I got suspended from class for a week. My dad started calling me "you kraut c[family blog]r." I painted swastikas the dog's dish. My dad wore a Jewish beanie to torment me. I returned to school. I juiced the escape process. The Folk Song Club met. I regaled and disrupted with a pro-Nazi tune and a chorus of the "Horst Wessel Lied." They expelled me. It was midweek in mid-March of 1965. I walked south on Fairfax. I've got the details memorized.Ellroy went downhill from there. "I was Don DeLillo's Lee Harvey Oswald writ pit-faced and tall." He's not kidding. I recently read Theodore Judson's Fitzpatrick's War, and have been pushing it on some (not all) of my science fiction reading friends. It's military science fiction, and uses nearly every single cliche of that subgenre adroitly; but I believe it was written to make one ashamed of military science fiction. Judson follows the consequences of every cliche to their natural, evil conclusion, and does it in a nearly perfect deadpan. It's a tour de force. Which cliches did Judson use? I assembled a partial list elsewhere:
... devices that prevent electricity from being used, feudalism, dirigibles, the Alexander legend, Eurabia, the cult of 'hard men', wog-stomping, gook-killing, the John Campbell-Leo Strauss types who Know Better, the flip dismissal of all the social sciences except History, and even the freaking Union Jack.And I shouldn't forget Judson's pisstakes on Joseph Campbell and his philosophy, or on the sexually aggressive annoying always-right red-headed woman (usually associated with Robert Heinlein, but hardly unique to him). Here's a quote from a character in Fitzpatrick's War who Knows Better:
"It says in the Bible, Sir Robert, 'I shall bring on you everlasting disgrace and everlasting shame which will never be forgotten.' ... Tell me, do you believe there is such a thing as everlasting shame?"Everlasting shame? For non-genre readers, y'all should know that the rehabilitation of the SS is perfectly acceptable within the military science fiction genre. To an outside observer, however, the genre might as well be in a militia compound somewhere... which is one of Judson's points. Judson is a solid writer. I've just read his first novel, Tom Wedderburn's Life, which strikes many of the same notes of character, but in a twentieth-century Wyoming setting. (D and C, I'm sending it to Yerevan in the next box. You'll like.) It's very strong, and I really wonder why he had to publish it the way he did. (Actually, I don't wonder too much; I've heard enough stories from friends in publishing to see how good books can fall through the cracks, even without dysfunctional editors or agents.) My hope is, Judson will be to someone that Wambaugh was to Ellroy. Some poor sod who reads nothing but Extruded MilSF Product, perhaps. Perhaps that's Judson's hope too. Let me conclude with Ellroy's benediction:
I changed my life. I credit Almighty God with the save. [he's not kidding. -- CY] I disowned profligacy. I sought righteousness. I swooned to write books. Literature is a deep calling. I knew it at the depth of my shame. It's been good -- and it's nowhere near over. Now I learn from my words on the page. I dig the mystical aspect. My weird shit is out in the spiritus mundi -- particles popping in air. There's a kid or some kids somehwere. I'll never know them. They're particle-puzzle-cubing right now. They might be mini-misanthropes from Moosefart, Montana. They might be demi-dystopians from Dogdick, Delaware. They dig my demonic dramas. The metaphysic maims them. They grasp at the gravity. They'll duke it out with their demons. They'll serve up a surfeit of survival skills. They won't be chronologically crucified. They'll shore up my shit. They'll radically revise it. They'll pass it along.