James P Blaylock is one of the finest writers of ‘American magical realism’ (a genre which he virtually invented single-handedly), and is noted for a distinctive, humorous style, as well as being one of the pioneers of the steampunk sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. The diversity of his writing is impressive, as I’ll go on to hopefully illustrate, but the best words to use to describe a typical Blaylock novel include ‘thoughtful’, ‘moving’, ‘unsettling’ and, of course, ‘unique’. Blaylock lives in California, which provides the setting for much of his work – including the fine novels Land of Dreams, The Last Coin, The Paper Grail, Night Relics, The Rainy Season and Winter Tides – all highly recommended. Notwithstanding the title of this post, although he is the author of several steampunk novels, Blaylock’s output is by no means limited to this sub-genre and he has also written straight fantasy, children’s fiction and short stories published in a variety of magazines and small press editions. As mentioned above, many of Blaylock’s books can specifically be termed magic realism - a genre where magical elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. He and his friends, fellow steampunk luminaries Tim Powers and K W Jeter were mentored by none other than Philip K Dick himself and it is arguable that Blaylock has already left behind a body of work that is comparable to Dick’s in its quality and influence.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an award-winning author who has written fiction in many genres – including science fiction, horror, romance and mystery as well as what she is best known for, fantasy. As if that weren’t enough, she has also found time to edit a number of genre magazines. With all of this on her plate, it constantly surprises me to see that she is able to produce original, inventive and thought-provoking short stories and novels. Take one of her most famous efforts, Hitler’s Angel, which tells the story of Annie, a young American student in the 1970s investigating the death of Hitler’s niece Geli Raubal, who was famously found dead of a gunshot wound in 1931. Although at the time Geli’s death was ruled suicide, the suspicion of murder has always remained and Annie finds and interviews the retired detective in Munich who led the original investigation in the 1930s. Slowly but surely, in a tale often told in flashback by the detective, layer upon layer of mystery surrounding Geli’s death is lifted and the horrifying truth is revealed. I’ve often thought that Hitler’s Angel might make a terrific film, not least because of Rusch’s startling ability to create pictures with her prose and this is a common feature of much of her writing. Continue reading