This is a selection of books that I’ve returned to time and again to glean something from. If they’re unified by any kind of theme it’s probably my admiration for them, and their capacity to teach me something each time I open them.
The Eisenhorn Trilogy by Dan Abnett
Abnett is one of the best writers currently working. He’s an exemplar of what Rudy Rucker called the “eyeball kick.” Scenes explode in the mind, all in the time it takes to scan an economical arrangement of powerful descriptors.
Abnett’s economy and precision are almost invisible because his work feels less like reading than experiencing. When I’m mired, stuck, exhausted, I only need to read a paragraph or two of his work to refresh my understanding of what good craft looks like.
Eisenhorn follows the career of an Imperial Inquisitor and his cohort, through a baroque and brutal universe. Action, horror, humanity, the occult, madness, and an exploration of what I consider to be possibly the best science fiction setting currently going. It’s fantastic.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
This is one of the books that made me want to be a writer. I wonder how it’d be received by someone picking it up for the first time today but in the mid-Eighties, to a kid in a small town in a small country adrift at the arse end of the world, it was everything. I can pick this up again and almost immediately feel the cool breeze of the hot day in which I first read it. Personal connection aside, though, I love it because of its confidence and economy, and for the give-a-fuck courage with which it evoked the world the author saw, on his own terms.
Saving the world is boring. Bleeding to pay the rent, now that’s interesting.
The Human Province by Elias Canetti
Canetti was the author of Auto da Fé and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Human Province collects the notes, jottings and poetic miscellanea he left in his journals over a thirty-year period. These musings served as a ‘safety valve’ for a mind in danger of being consumed by itself.
“Their freedom and spontaneity, the conviction that they existed only for their own sake and served no purpose, my irresponsibility in never reading them again or changing them in any way. saved me from a fatal paralysis. Gradually, they became an indispensable daily exercise. I felt that a special part of my life went into them.”
The Human Province is a special book. I buy copies for friends who write. For me creativity is the intersection of two or three unrelated things which then alchemize into something entirely new. For that kind of creativity The Human Province is excellent inspiration. Most of the entries are very short, and each one is a high-signal/low-noise opportunity—not to take Canetti’s ideas literally, but to have them spawn entirely new inspirations as one thought or association leads to another. It’s also a lovely book to relax into when your brain is overheated, and you just want to float from one remarkable thing to another though, through it all, you sense the haunted gaze of a man of the 1940s looking to answer the question of himself.
“All the things one has forgotten scream for help in dreams.”
Rock and Hard Places: Travels to Backstages, Frontlines and Assorted Stageshows by Andrew Mueller
I love travel, and Mueller’s approach fits with my own: go places, have no expectations, take notes, let a story find you.
Mueller was a music journalist for all the big magazines through the late Eighties and Nineties. This collects his experiences touring trouble spots, oddball locations and warzones, with rock bands. He is very dry, very likable, very human and really funny. His account of the kids in Sarajevo, descending into basements with their instruments, setting up, knowing that the shelling would begin around sundown, has stayed with me. They gathered, waited, and as the first mortars came in the music kicked off. They’d play all night, never knowing if the roof would cave in, their lives ended.
He’s also someone I read when I forget how to be funny in print.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I haven’t read this in a long time, but I’m including it because I remember it filling me with joy and reducing me to tears. It was an object lesson in what’s possible with a book. I think I must have read it five times.
Top image from first edition of Neuromancer; cover art by James Warhola
Cam Rogers is an author, game writer and narrative designer. He has worked on Quantum Break and has written for The Walking Dead franchise. Neil Gaiman, New York Times bestselling author of American Gods, Sandman and Coraline, calls Rogers “a writer of real assurance and vision.” Born in Australia, he currently lives and works in Helsinki, Finland. His novel Quantum Break: Zero State comes out April 5th from Tor Books.