M.C. Planck joins SciFiChick.com today in honor of his latest release, Black Harvest (out tomorrow), and to offer a tribute to author Dave Duncan.
AN UNDER-APPRECIATED AUTHOR
Dave Duncan recently passed away, at the ripe old age of 85 and just days after he’d finished his last manuscript. This was a loss to the SF&F literary world, and also to me personally. Dave gave me a very nice quote for my first novel, The Kassa Gambit, after having declined to give me a quote on an early version of my fantasy epic Sword of the Bright Lady. He had complained that Sword of the Bright Lady was much too slow, and of course, as a veteran and talented author, he was completely correct. I cut out a third of the novel and promptly sold the series to Pyr. His one sentence of advice was worth more than gold to an unknown and beginning writer who had emailed him out of the blue, and yet still less cherished than his praise.
So I’d like to spend this space talking about my favourite books of his and why you should read them even though you’ve probably never heard of them. I think they deserve a lot more exposure than they’ve received, and I think you’ll like them if you give them a try.
This SF novel exhibits Duncan’s fantastic talent for convention-wrecking at its best. He takes every standard trope of “young hero saves the world from space invaders” stories and flips them so hard they shatter. I can’t even describe the plot without spoiling it a dozen times (except to say I borrowed a few parts for The Kassa Gambit – it’s okay, Dave had so much going on in this book no one will even notice). Along the way he creates a completely believable futuristic society, hard-science beam weapons, intensely sympathetic characters, and powerful moral dilemmas.
Reaver Road & The Hunter’s Haunt
These two short fantasy novels are framed by Omar, trader of tales, perhaps a god or perhaps just a wandering orator, sticking his nose into terribly interesting situations. They also almost made me give up writing, as Dave’s command of voice is so accomplished that I worried I could never reach such a bar. The Hunter’s Haunt alternates chapters as stories told by different characters, and each one is distinct and compelling. It’s one thing to get a line of dialogue right and sell a scene; Dave does it for whole chapters at a time, for half a dozen different voices, while carrying off a plot so tight it’s water-proof.
The Seventh Sword
A story about a modern engineer who goes to a fantasy world at the behest of a god and winds up changing the world at sword-point. This is literally the plot of Sword of the Bright Lady, and yet Dave’s book couldn’t be more different than mine (and everyone else who has written this genre). For one thing, he put his engineer on the other side – against the guys making gunpowder. It is also a world with distinct ranks – a common feature of fantasy games though very rare in fantasy novels – and yet again completely different than how I handled it. I will always be amazed that we could both write a fantasy series whose plot and most unique feature could be described in exactly the same words and yet create such totally different stories. But I suspect a lot of authors feel the same way, especially after reading Hero!
A Man of his Word & A Handful of Men
Stable-boy falls in love with princess. A story we’ve all heard before, but again Dave sets it in a world that looks like a fantasy game but feels like a real place, with characters that are living people instead of archetypes. The best thing about this series is there are eight thick book’s worth, so you don’t have to come up for air for a good long time. The magic system is also unique, fascinating, and deeper than expected.
The King’s Blades & The King’s Daggers
These are a series of short fantasy novels set in the same world. Again Dave has taken a classic trope – knights sworn to serve their king – and turned it over to discover the often horrifying moving parts underneath, like flipping a shiny beetle on its back only to be faced with a multitude of hairy clawed legs. I think The King’s Daggers stories are supposed to be YA, but Dave was simply incapable of writing without addressing adult responsibilities and concerns. My nephews loved them anyway.
Dave wrote sixty novels before the end (doubly impressive considering he only started when he was 50). These are my favourites; I hope you find some of your own.
About the Author:
M.C. Planck is the author of the science fiction novel The Kassa Gambit, and the World of Prime fantasy series of novels.
After a nearly-transient childhood, Mike hitchhiked across the country and ran out of money in Arizona. So he stayed there for thirty years, raising dogs, getting a degree in philosophy, and founding a scientific instrument company. Having read virtually everything by the old masters of SF&F, he decided he was ready to write. A decade later, he was actually ready and relieved to find that writing novels is easier than writing software, as a single punctuation error won’t cause your audience to explode and die. When he ran out of dogs, he moved to Australia to raise his daughter with kangaroos.