In the late spring and through the summer of 2014, I went on an old-timey Grand Tour of Europe. Sort of. A lot of this involved staying in the cheapest hotels we could find, when I wasn’t crashing on the couch of some internet friend I had never met in real life, while my mother wailed in the background, “Be careful! Are you sure they are who they say they are?!”
One of the many highlights of this trip was three weeks in Finland, where:
- Veera and I met in person for the first time,
- We met several more of our other mutual internet friends,
- All seven of us hauled ourselves and our luggage to Finncon, the biggest SFF con in Finland and one of the largest in Europe. (And FREE to boot!)
Finncon! A truly magical weekend! Two of our group’s favorite authors and favorite people (Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear) were guests of the con, and the seven of us went faithfully to every single one of their panels. (Because we’re nerds, okay? You need to know that about us right now. We’re huge motherfucking nerds.) At every single one of Scott’s panels, someone would ask him the same question — “How do you become a better writer?”
The first time someone asked this, I internally rolled my eyes, because I’m an arrogant whippersnapper in addition to being a huge fucking nerd. Are people still asking this at panels? Don’t they know? You practice! Obviously! Obviously you practice! You read books and then you write a lot until you stop sucking so much, and then you write some more! And one day, if you’re really critical and honest with yourself, you might start edging towards “decent”. Tsk! People.
I was so busy thinking this and rolling my eyes that I didn’t actually listen to Scott’s answer. Fortunately for me, he got asked this question at every single panel he was on. Every single fucking one — the gods smiled upon me.
I started actually listening around the third time. I started being interested around the fifth time. I started thinking, “Huh, that’s actually a really great idea, maybe I should do it,” around the seventh time, and “YEAH, I’m gonna do it!” around the ninth. Not only am I an arrogant whippersnapper, but sometimes it takes a bit for me to get something through my idiot skull, what can I say?
Scott’s answer, every single time, was the Epic Reading Project, which I have stolen in its entirety and then elaborated upon. To be a good writer, of course you have to write, but you also have to read, and read voraciously.
Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is because I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” But, of course, you have to climb up first. You have to study the works of those who came before you, and only then can you see further.
Scott’s version of the Epic Reading Project was to read all the novels that have ever won of the five biggest SFF awards: Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Tiptree, and Clarke. The Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Clarke Awards are all given to the best in the scifi/fantasy genre from the previous year. The Tiptree Award has a slightly narrower focus, for it is awarded to a work in the SFF genre that “expands or explores one’s understanding of gender.”
In addition to the core five, I also added the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award and over 120 other recommendations, which did not win any of the above awards, but which are excellent or notable books in their own right.
The total number of books on this list (as of the original writing of this post, April 8th, 2015) is 339. If you’d like to see my progress, or if you’re thinking of doing the Project yourself and would like to save yourself some work and steal my spreadsheet: Look at it here!