Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Books I Have Not Read


The illustrated and boxed two Heritage Press two volume version of War & Peace that were my parent's -- just to show that I could've read this story. Actually Tzarist Russia was a very strange and fascinating place.

Sorry, you’ll have to bear with me for one last navel gazing post. This time about all the books that I haven’t read, plus a few that I have.

I really should mention that these posts are mostly for the benefit of my biographer or a future grad student doing a dissertation on either my art or writing. Since paper letters are rare these days and in any event I’m not much of a correspondent, my blogs and my comments on DeviantArt, hopefully preserved or archived it the Way Back Machine, must serve as original source material for that grad student or biographer. And just in case you’re wondering, I am actually half serious about this.

Anyway, back on topic. The topic on hand is all the books that I haven’t read. Obviously there’s a vast number of them. They fall into three main categories –contemporary popular fiction i.e. bestsellers, non-fiction, and what you could call, important books.

The first category is easy to dispense with – I have read few of the countless bestsellers that have come gone in my life. Of the top of my head, I can think of only two, one is the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the other is… well I can’t think of its name, but it’s set in a boarding school in Ireland, I believe.

While I have read a fair number of non-fiction books, they are mostly older history and military history books. I’ve read books about the city of London, and of England. I’m fascinated by the first years of WWII & the Blitz. Of course I’ve shown you my shelves of nautical books. I have old books of travels in China. But considering that I’ve been reading books for the better part of 60 years, the number of these books is not astoundingly high. In general, I find many non-fiction books to be rather dry. I would much rather learn about, say, the Indian Mutiny by reading a well researched piece of fiction like, Flashman in the Great Game. Or the London Blitz through the eyes of someone who was there, as in The Boy in the Blitz, by Colin Perry, or The Journal London Journal of General Raymond E Lee, than in some sort of official history.

Some of my books on China and Taoism

Important books on serious subjects are not much to my taste. I’m not much of a lad for deep thinking. As an international relations major in college, with a special interest in China and the East I came in contact with the three religions of China, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. It was Taoism that appealed to me. Since that time, I have always considered myself some sort of Taoist. There are many flavors of Taoism, some of them pretty weird, but mine is a philosophical take. I do have a shelf of books on Taoism and Eastern Religion.

The thing is that nothing is really simple. Everything is complicated, once you’ve taken off the cover and peered inside. Some people like taking off the cover and poking about inside, but I’m not one of them. I’m just not that curious about the inner workings of things and people. Rather I prefer to get an intuitive feel for how people and things work and then go with the flow. So when it comes to literary fiction, I’m not much of a lad for stories that delve deeply into how people think and their relationships. Plus, I don’t like dealing with unpleasant people, either in life or in fiction. And it seems that unpleasant people are a staple of literary fiction.

Kipling. Is he forgotten today?

This is not to say that I haven’t read any serious literature. I recall that I was, in high school, made to read Wuthering Heights (Much later in means only Kate Bush!) Giants in the Earth (Look behind the haystack!) and Great Expectations (Pip, Mrs Haversham and the wedding cake, which I actually enjoyed.) I have read other Dickens stories all on my own, so one out of the three isn’t too bad. I have also read a Jane Austen book, I believe it was Pride and Prejudice all on my own as well. Plus I spent part of a summer reading and enjoying War and Peace. Plus some Kipling, R L Stevenson, and I’d like to say that the list goes on, but I’ll not lie to you. If it does, I’ve forgotten them. Does R F Delderfield count?

When Patty Went to College by Jean Webster, 1908 printing. Not great literature, but it was my Grandmother's. She wrote her (maiden) name in it.

So to sum it all up. I’ve got a wall of books, most of which I’ve read. And compared to many people, I’ve read a lot of books, even if most of them aren’t the “right” kind to be considered an intellectual. But being an intellectual wasn’t what I was shooting for as a reader or in life. I read to be informed and entertained on the odd subjects that interest me. Mostly, I read to be carried to places that are impossible to reach any other way.

I have read these books:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Writers Talking About Writing

If you have any interest in indie publishing -- either in doing it, or just want a peek inside of it, there is a website for you:  Writers Supporting Writers. You can find it here: Writers Supporting Writers. On the site indie writers post essays and talk on Youtube videos, discussing their experiences in indie publishing. I have posted several pieces on various aspects of writing on it, as well -- if you can't get enough of my rambling on this blog. Look in and comment!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Reading Beyond SF


In a number of my previous posts I recounted some of the reasons how I have managed not to read so many of the classic speculative fiction novels. There is, however, one more reason, and that is that my reading of SF fell by the wayside; I graduated from college and set out to make a living in the real world.

I simply no longer had the time or easy access to bookstores both new & used. Early on I had several jobs and moved about for a time, acquiring a wife and then children. We ended up in a small town with the major mall bookstores an hour away. In those olden days before the internet, I would only come across new SF books on the shelves of our local small town library or on those of a larger, small city library ten miles away. And by that time many of the authors were new and unfamiliar, plus, I still had to watch my pennies so I didn't buy books on a whim -- new mass market paperbacks were no longer fifty cents. Looking at my SF shelves, I don’t think I bought even one new SF book in the 1980’s.

However, I did not stop reading. Rather my interests expanded into other genres.

For some years I was into old mysteries, including Dorothy L Sayers’s Peter Wimsey novels, Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan, John Mortimer’s Rumpole of the Bailey, Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee, and a host of other old mysteries.

And then I discovered the adventure stories from the Victorian period up to the first half of the last century. They ranged from Anthony Hope’s The Prison of Zenda, to H Rider Haggard’s African tales, to John Buchan’s Richard Hannay stories, and all his rest as well. I tracked down to read many of Compton Mackenzie’s humorous Scottish stories including Monarch of the Glen, Whiskey Galore, and the like.

I’ve already talked about the sea stories of Guy Gilpatric, W Clark Russell, and C J Cutcliffe Hyne that I loved.

And them, there were all the odd little byways that interested me. For example, I enjoyed all of Miss Read’s (Mrs Dora Saint) stories I could find about life in the village of Fairacre and other small English towns. I also read a number of Scottish author D E Stevenson’s “light romantic novels” as well. I’d pick up any Nevil Shute book I’d run across. I have four of Jean Shepherd’s (In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) books. I own and have read a number of Booth Tarkington novels. And I’ve already mentioned my large collection of Joseph Lincoln novels. In short, I found that life was too short to spend reading just SF.

While I did buy some  new books, more and more of the books I picked up were second hand books. While on vacation I would seek out second hand bookstores to explore. However, the highlight of my book buying year was  the great, but late, Bethesda Fair. Bethesda was a local charity that each September would stage a giant rummage sale that filled up all the buildings of  the fairgrounds with a treasure trove of junk for a week. I'd be at the doors of the book building on the first day waiting for the sales to begin. I bought many’a book at the Bethesda Fair. Most were not SF.

Still, I always considered myself a science fiction fan. Almost everything I ever attempted to write was science fiction. 

However, when looking back over all the books that I’ve read and enjoyed over the years, there is no mystery as to why my books are written in a very old fashioned style of story telling. I learned to write by reading. And my reading informed my writing.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Reading for Writing


The wonderfully evocative covers (save one)

As I promised in a recent post, a chance discovery of a new writer (for me) in a new genre, sometime just after my college years, changed the way I enjoyed reading. The genre was private eye fiction, and the writer was Raymond Chandler. I have no recollection of how I came to read Chandler. Perhaps it was that Humphrey Bogart played the detective hero Philip Marlowe in an adoption of his novel The Big Sleep. I was a big Humphrey Bogart fan. Or it may’ve been the Ballentine Book covers of the early 1970’s edition that enticed me to pick one up off the book rack and give it a try. In any event, I picked one up and read it – and proceeded to search out the nine, and eventually ten Chandler books Ballentine published around that time.

Why? Simply put, it was the way Chandler wrote. He could not only bring characters to life on the page, but southern California of the late 30’s and 40’s with a mix of neon and grime. In all my previous reading I had never encountered an author who could draw on so much of the English language and use it in his “hard boiled” dialogue. Somehow lyric descriptions of place and time, riddled with original similes could still sound hard boiled. His Los Angeles and Bay City were as alien to me as any SF world – brought to life with such vigor and wit. And the character of Philip Marlowe was also so vividly brought to life – a hard boiled private detective with the eyes of a poet. A man of principles as well as action. While Chandler was an American, and he was writing American detective fiction, he had received a classical British education at Dulwich College and I very much believe that this education had a great influence on his writing.

In reading the books of Raymond Chandler I discovered that there was more to a story than the story. I found delight in the way Chandler put words together. This delight in playfully putting words together has stayed with me all these years. I care less about the story than the words used to convey it.

In my mind, the Penguin books with covers by "Ionicus" bring to life the classic Wodehouse world.

And around the same time, I discovered another writer who delighted me in much the same way – his creative use of the English language in an entirely different genre. Like Chandler, P G Wodehouse had graduated from Dulwich College a few years before Chandler. Wodehouse’s comic stories, particularly, the Bertie Wooster & Jeeves stories, are in my opinion some of the best written fiction in the English language. They may not plumb the depths of the human experience, but for putting words together to create characters, scenes, and stories, I doubt that there are many better. Wodehouse produced more than 90 books 40 plays and 200 short stories and other writing in his life time. The quality of his work varied, and many books had similar plots, but at his best, his lighthearted stories could not be topped.

More covers by Ionicus

Between Chandler and Wodehouse, I discovered the joy of playing with words to produce clever, witty writing that made any story a delight to read, and reread again and again. Nothing I had read in SF up to that date could equal the pure delight in reading produced by those two writers. As we discovered in my last post, I may not have been reading the best SF could offer, still, I doubt that many SF authors, at least up to the 1970’s could’ve offered the level of pure writing than what these two authors produced.

This is not to say that SF doesn’t have its literary writers. Gene Wolfe is often mentioned as a writer of such dense and beautiful words that may people read his books just for his writing, though the denseness of his writing can make the stories very hard to understand. I am sure that there are other SF writers which readers can put forward as excellent wordsmiths as well. Jasper Fforde and Jonathan L Howard are the two contemporary writers whose style matches my taste -- witty, clever, and laced with humor.

And still more Ionicus covers

Reading Chandler and Wodehouse changed the way I read books. Even today, plot takes a distance third or fourth place, after writing, characters, and perhaps setting as well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A Night on Isvalar


A Night on Isvalar, a 26,200 word novella, is now available as an Amazon ebook for $.99 and on Kindle Unlimited where it can be read for free. The story began its life as the first story in my “The Starfaring Life” serial in Amazon’s Vella service. After 30 days Amazon allows complete stories on Vella to be published as books, and I am taking them up on that.

This will be an Amazon exclusive story for now. I’ve been tempted to release one of my books as an Amazon exclusive to see what, if any, traction it might generate in the Kindle Unlimited program, but I never could bring myself to do that. This story, however, being more or less an Amazon exclusive already, makes it an easy choice for that experiment. I keep my expectations low, so I am not easily disappointed, so this, like the Vella experiment is mostly an exercise in free promotion for my other books. The Vella program, to date, has produced nothing for me in the way of anything, so the bar is low. And, just so you know, its $.99 price is about half of what anyone would pay to read the same story on Vella as a serial, as those readers pay a penny per 100 words rounded down, so they would end up paying nearly $2.00.

Here is the blurb for A Night on Isvalar:

It was supposed to be a quiet night. It was anything but.

Riel Dunbar grew up and sailed out of the little moon of Isvalar, the interstellar port of Aeroday, for many years. But the restless life of a starfarer took him away for decades. Chance had now brought him home with a promised long leave ashore. But it was not to be. He found that he had only a few hours to spend on Isvalar.

His plan was simple. He’d dine at an old haunt of his youth, and then, after a brief nap, he’d visit the starfarer dives of Isvalar for real spree before sailing. But Riel hadn’t counted on crossing orbits with Cera Marm, the power mate of a rival ship. Somehow he found himself entangled in her plans – plans that included not paying a gambling debt to a very persistent bookie and his hired thugs. Riel’s night on Isvalar turned into a hectic chase and escape across the little moon, with encounters with neuro-blade wielding thugs, a snake obsessed shadow-rat gang, an auton, and the bookie himself. It didn’t end well.

A Night on Isvalar is a 26,200 word novella. A version of this story first appeared in Vella under the title of The Starfaring Life & A Night On Isvalar.

C. Litka writes old fashioned stories with modern sensibilities, humor, and romance. He spins tales of adventure, mystery, and travel set in richly imagined worlds, with casts of colorful, fully realized characters. If you seek an escape from your everyday life, you will find no better company, nor more wonderful worlds to travel and explore, than in the stories of C. Litka.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Beyond SF


In a recent post I talked about having missed reading most of the most famous and important books in SF. In this post I will explore why that might be.

I’ve never been a reader of literary fiction. I am not curious about people or the exploration of the human condition. I try to look on life with as much humor as I can, so that books that take life very seriously or are deeply physiological or philosophical don’t appeal to me. Given my taste in reading, it is not surprising that SFF books like Dune, which take a very serious or philosophical approach to story telling, would not interest me.

Nor am I interested in reading grim, dark, or horror stories. I know a lot of readers enjoy those types of stories, but I’m not one of them. My taste in stories has always leaned towards light, popular literature. All of which might explain why I have read sofew of the most significant SF stories. However, there is one other contributing factor.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wasn’t reading just speculative fiction, in my teen years. Looking back, it is interesting to see what I was reading besides SF, since it foreshadowed the type of stories I would enjoy my entire life, and aspire to write today. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – I read them all – and Sax Rohmer’s stories of Dr Fu Manchu, and to a much lesser extent, some of this other fiction. These were books that my Dad had around the house.

So what were the elements of Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu that informed my reading life? First, they were character focused stories. Sherlock Holmes and Watson, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Dr Petrie and Dr Fu Manchu where central to these stories, not fantastic futures, philosophies or abstract ideas. They were characters that you came to know as people. Compared to many of the cardboard thin characters in many, though not all of the SF books I was reading, these characters were far more nuanced and developed. While they may not have been written on the same level of  the best literary fiction characters, they possessed a certain verve that made them real. Indeed, both Sherlock Holmes and to a lesser extent, Dr Fu Manchu, are far better remembered a century later than most literary fiction characters. In any event, these stories offered characters that I could imagine as real people, not mere plot devices.

Secondly, these writers brought the romance of Victorian and Edwardian London to life in their writings. Conan Doyle accomplished this with all the various characters with their different stations of life and their unique situations that Holmes needed to investigate. Sax Rohmer’s London was a London of hidden mysteries, of the secretive Chinatown of the grimy East End, with the Thames a road of mysteries from exotic lands winding through it. Both writers knew how to create an atmosphere and infused their writing with a true sense of place, perhaps because they were writing about the London and England the knew first hand. But by the time I was reading these stories, time and distance made these versions of London as exotic and remote as any planet in SF. And perhaps because they were writing about their contemporary city, they brought an enhanced authenticity to their Londons that even the wildest imaginations of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs could not bring to their worlds.

Of course one has to put these books in context with the SF I was reading at the time, which where often reprints of stories written in the first half of the century for the pulp magazines of the time. No doubt SF writing has grown and matured since then, but what I was reading was mostly pulp stories – especially since I had no interested in the more literary SF that was coming out in the 1960’s, books like Dune or Stand on Zanzibar, or Babel-17. So when I say that they were written in a style that was several notched above the rather nondescript writing of many of the old space opera and planetary romance stories I enjoyed, I will acknowledge that there may’ve been SF and fantasy books written at that level as well. I just wasn’t reading them.

And there is, I think, one more feature of these books – they both were British authors. Even back then I found the writing of British authors seemed to be several notches above the writing of most American authors. As a result, I have found, over the years, that British, or British educated writers, are my favorite writers. Not all British writers, of course, and not all my favorites are by British authors, but most of them are. There is something about the way British writers use their language that appeals to me. And there is something about the writing of late Victorian to the first half of the 20th century authors that appeal to me, as well. They knew their language and how to use it evocatively. In my teen years, it was Conan Doyle and Sax Rohmer that carried the banner of wonderful British writers.

The next discovery in the joys of reading and writing was not delivered to me by a British author, but by a British educated American author. But I’ll save that subject for next time.

Monday, August 2, 2021

My Library -- My Old Paperback SF Books


Before going on to talk about the books I was reading besides SF in the 1960's, I thought that I might as well post my complete collection of mass market SF books from not only that era, but from the 70's to 90's as well. I had to reduce two walls of bookshelves into one, and I'm afraid these books were not a priority. As a result, they ended up on the bottom shelves, piled up between the wall and the bookshelf, and then along the top of the bookshelf, where it was just an inch or so too low to stand them up -- a situation far from idea, but necessity must be served. 

Above, my very modest fantasy shelf, and above it, but not shown, is my Garret PI collection and a handful of other Glen Cook books take up a shelf. Books are in no particular order, though I have tried to keep the books of an author together.

Notable on the shelves above is my collection of A Bertram Chandler's  John Grimes series of books. That is one of the few series of stories that I read and enjoyed once again as an adult. The fact is that I missed many of them when they were published, which meant that I had to go back and collect them later. Above this shelf, but not shown, is a whole shelf of Edgar Rice Burroughs books which I featured previous post.

Some books by authors at the end of the alphabet -- Vance and Zelazny each with a series that I do remember something about -- Vance's "Planet of Adventure" series, and Zelazny's first Amber series.

Above, classic SF books here -- my collection of  E E Smith, Arthur C Clarke, and Heinlein books

Now we're going up the side of the bookshelf between the wall and shelving. Odds and ends at the bottom.

James Blish Cities in Flight series stands out here along with a sample of the old stories reprinted in books from Ray Cummings and John W Campbell that were common in this period. Plus the book, The Blind Spot, which I remember as being very unusual, though the story largely escapes my memory

Fletcher Pratt, De Camp, and Paul Anderson books are featured in this photo.

Jack Williamson, Van Gogt, and Jules Verne are the standout authors in this photo, along with two of Charles Fort's books. We've now reached the top of the bookshelves and will slide back along the top.

We also get a glimpse of my collection of The Man From Uncle books, half hidden behind the SF books along the top of the bookshelf.

Most of my Andre Norton Collection. I am amazed at how many books she wrote and I never read -- even during the time I was reading so much SF. I think that after Witch World I fell out of love with Andre Norton, probably because they were less boy's own adventure stories -- the type of stories that appealed to me.

Here we begin to see some of the SF books I picked up likely in the 1990's. I have 8 Honor Harrington books. I stopped reading those after I found myself rooting for the "socialist" Peeps and realized that they would never win.

More Honorvers books, and two Redwall books.

My modest StarWars collection, and the Mageworlds Series from my brief flare of interest in paperback SF books in the mid-1990's.

And finally, the last of my 90's books, what books I have of the Exordium series, and two books of the Deathstalker series. I was finding SF books in general to dark and grim for my taste in this period, so that my interest in SF waned and I stopped dropping by the local bookstore. I also realized that I had way too many books, and that one day I, or my heirs, would have to either move or dispose of, so that I only have acquired a couple dozen books in the last 20 years, and instead relied on the library for my reading pleasure. And I did have to move them, and it was heavy work, indeed.

And with that, we've completed my collection of mass market SF paperbacks. Next post I will talk about the other books I was reading in my teen years and the effects they had on my reading going forward in my life.