My Influences Part 1: Robert E. Vardeman

Lately I've been thinking about who has influenced me as a writer and what I learned from them.  I might touch on personal influences later, but for now, I want to stick with literary influences.  I can always branch out later.

Robert E. Vardeman is a science fiction and fantasy author.  He's always been interesting to me because I read a lot of his books when I was growing up, and he's had a successful writing career by any measurement.  He's written over fifty (some sources say a hundred?) novels and been nominated for a Hugo award.  The thing is, I've never met anyone (in real life) that's heard of the guy.  Whenever I mention him, I just get bewildered stares. 

The first novel I ever read by him was The Glass Warrior, a novel I found on my uncle's bookshelf. It features a pair of thieves (I could write an entire book on why so many protagonists are thieves with a heart of gold) who meet a beautiful and mysterious warrior with glass weapons and a quest to save the world. 

Now, I'm not going to pretend this stuff is great literary fiction in the tradition of Shakespeare and Chaucer.  It isn't, and thankfully, it doesn't try to be.  It's pure pulp fantasy with an entertaining story, plenty of action, and, now that I think about it, the first time I ever read a book where the characters had sex.  It was just boot scenes and nothing graphic, but to my child/adolescent mind, it seemed pretty risque.

The thing that Vardeman taught me is the value of telling an entertaining story, preferably as quickly as possible.  Get in, tell the story you want to tell, get out.  Of course there's a place in fiction for social commentary, education, raising public awareness and all that, but Vardeman's work helps me remember that first and foremost, fiction should be entertaining.   A good page-turner has a lot of value in its own right; it doesn't need to be anything more. 

I read plenty of his books over the years - The Cenotaph Road series, The Keys to Paradise,  War of Powers, and more - and they all followed pretty much the same style:  Introduce the plucky heroes, introduce a sinister villain, and let them duke it out in spectacular fashion.  It's just plain enjoyable to read. 

Lucky for you, you can find his books pretty cheap online these days.  When I first read him, it was in the days before the internet, where finding out of print fantasy and science fiction was tough enough, and finding the specific book you were looking for was nigh impossible.  I scoured used book stores for years for his stuff, finding books in a series out of order, and reading them as I got them because it was the only option. 

It was still worth it.