This summer, two of my favorite authors died: Ian M. Banks and Elmore Leonard.
I came to Leonard through the movie Get Shorty, based on his book of the same name. Leonard was a master of dialogue, writing in a clean style that left no confusion over which character was speaking. He also advocated simple dialogue tags like “he said” or “she said ” versus more involved tags like “he declared “or “she exclaimed.” It’s a lesson I took to heart, though I admit I can’t resist occasionally embellishing a tag if I think it fits. Leonard also wrote about characters on the outside of society: mobsters, con artists, hit men and the like. Even his lawmen had a rebellious edge to them, as anyone who’s seen the TV series Justified (based on a character in the story “Fire in the Hole”) can tell you. In an Elmore Leonard story, you are guaranteed an interesting character. I recommend reading Get Shorty to get a sense of Leonard’s style.
Ian M. Banks wrote the quintessential philosophical space-opera. His stories involved a utopia called “The Culture” whose citizens were free to pursue whatever interested them while benevolent AIs(Artificial Intelligences) took care of their needs. Of course, a perfect society would make for a boring tale, so it’s not quite that simple. Banks was a master of working on a big scale. Jaw-Dropping, Mind-Boggling, Epic scales that somehow never overshadowed his story’s characters or theme. From Banks, I have tried to emulate his story’s balance between the big idea and the human-level minutiae that make a story meaningful rather than a technology fantasy with tour guides masquerading as characters. I recommend Bank’s Player of Games as the best introduction to the Culture novels.
Now that these two authors are gone, I wonder which of my writing heroes will be next to fall, and who will step in to take their place.