Or, An Audiobook Narrator Learns You Can Never Judge A Book By Its Cover, But It’s Possible To Judge One By Its Title
Years ago, there was this awesome science fiction bookstore in Santa Monica, A Change of Hobbit. The lady who ran it was pretty surly… she proclaimed herself “The Hobbitch” and it was pretty close to accurate… but man, did she have a jaw-dropping inventory of books. It was always the highlight of my week to head in there and browse. Through her shelves I discovered David Brin, Guy Gavriel Kay and Gene Wolfe, and it was between the stacks in that store that I personally met the man…Keep Reading
Years ago, there was this awesome science fiction bookstore in Santa Monica, A Change of Hobbit. The lady who ran it was pretty surly… she proclaimed herself “The Hobbitch” and it was pretty close to accurate… but man, did she have a jaw-dropping inventory of books. It was always the highlight of my week to head in there and browse. Through her shelves I discovered David Brin, Guy Gavriel Kay and Gene Wolfe, and it was between the stacks in that store that I personally met the man who made me love to read, Roger Zelazny. It was an amazing place, and even now when I drive by their old location, it pains me that they’re not here anymore.
Alas, the day came in the early ’90s when they had to shut their doors. Before I knew it, their amazing selection was rapidly dwindling away to nothing because of an “Everything Must Go” sale. I went in there on one of their last days in business and took a look around. Pretty sparse. There were huge gaps on the shelves, so any hope I’d had of finding titles by my favorite authors pretty much went out the window; it was only the more obscure books that they had at this point, a bunch of stuff by guys I’d never heard of. Yet I told myself this was a good thing: I didn’t want to get into any reading ruts, and the idea of being exposed to new, great authors was exciting.
But how do you know which authors are great when you’ve never heard of any of them…?
I decided to just play the association game. If a title struck me for whatever obscure reason, I’d give it a try. And that’s actually how I discovered Dave Wolverton for the first time that day: I saw a copy of ON MY WAY TO PARADISE, and it had the most amazing cover quote by an author I’d ever seen, this one by Orson Scott Card, an author I’ve always been passionate about. Card praised Wolverton relentlessly, saying he was an author to be reckoned with, and given what a huge fan I’ve always been of Card’s work, I knew my chances of enjoying an author that HE enjoyed so much was pretty high. The association game was a pretty safe bet in this case, but I wasn’t satisfied to take only one new book home that day; at the very least I needed two. I started casting my eyes around for another one, any one, any title that seemed to speak to me for whatever ephemeral, even ambiguous reason.
And then I saw it: SWORD OF THE LAMB by M.K. Wren.
I came really close to never picking this book up that day. Frankly, the cover was awful, and despite the old cliché, I really WANTED to judge this book by its cover, that’s how bad it was. But the subtitle of the book hit me: Book One of THE PHOENIX LEGACY. See, the X-Men had long been my favorite comic book, andPhoenix was my favorite X-Man. Seeing as how I was playing the association game, well, how could I turn down an association like that?
Seriously, that’s the only reason I bought it: cuz it had a similar name to a favorite comic book character of mine. Don’t I sound highbrow?
Thing is, there were two other books right next to it, volumes two and three of this same PHOENIX LEGACY. Shouldn’t I pick up those other ones…? I thought to myself.
Nah. How do I know I’ll even like volume one?
I was an idiot.
How so? Cuz about six months later I finally picked up SWORD OF THE LAMB, and was blown away. I loved it right from the beginning – I loved its format, I loved its pathos, I loved its political intrigue, and more than anything else, I loved its characters. The relationship between the two central characters, Alexand DeKoven Woolf and his brother Richard, is one of the greatest I’ve ever read. It is amazingly well-executed, rich in detail and nuance, and unashamedly sentimental. I fell into this book so quickly, so completely, that I was about ten pages away from the end before I realized what a dilemma I faced.
See, I was dying to start the next part, but I hadn’t bought either of the next two volumes. How was I going to learn what happened next?
Thankfully the Hobbitch told me about another science fiction bookstore in LA that day before she closed, and even though they’d been competitors, she urged all of her clients to patronize this other store because it was an independent and deserved our support. So I ran out to this other dealer,Dangerous Visions in Van Nuys, another amazing store that’s sadly gone now, but thankfully, when I checked their shelves under W for Wren, there they were, parts two and three of the Phoenix Legacy. As I pulled them off the shelves, an impulse told me to grab their copy of volume one, as well, even though I already had it. And so began a tradition with me, one I’ll explain in a little bit.
As you might have guessed, I tore through the next two volumes just as quickly as the first, and found myself profoundly moved. THE PHOENIX LEGACY is a huge, sprawling epic of political intrigue in the 33rd Century, in which mankind has witnessed amazing technological advancements, yet its society has devolved into a new kind of feudalism. It’s a tale of class struggles across solar systems, it’s THE WINDS OF WAR set in outer space, it’s A TALE OF TWO CITIES meets DUNE, it’s… it’s its own unique creation, a gem that most people, even most science fiction fans, don’t know about.
I’ve asked myself why this is, why this gem exists in bookstores everywhere but has largely gone ignored, but it defies explanation. Maybe it’s because of those damn covers; they really were bad. (Come to find out those were re-issue covers: the first ones were even WORSE!) But hey, lots of authors have survived bad covers. Look at Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME and SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. Talk about having nothing whatsoever to do with the stories themselves. And that’s not even getting into his earlier books like THE WORTHING CHRONICLE or CAPITOL.
To be honest, in doing some research on M.K. Wren, I may have found the reason some people haven’t heard of her science fiction series: it’s because the majority of the work she’d done previously had been mysteries. Having worked extensively in both bookstores and the publishing industry, I can tell you there’s an inherent distrust of authors who change genres, tons of resistance among fans and publishers alike. Even Stephen King has run into opposition when he wanted to write outside of his own genre. Who knows, maybe people didn’t pay enough attention to THE PHOENIX LEGACY because its author was a transplant to the genre…? It’s just a guess, but it’s as good as any other, I suppose.
Whatever the reason, I can tell you this with absolute conviction: whoever didn’t pay enough attention to this series has suffered for that decision. THE PHOENIX LEGACY is an amazing saga, and people are lessened for not having read it.
Every once in a while, I’ll run across people who’ve not only read it, but their response has been exactly like mine: like me, they’ll pick up stray volumes of the series, any volume they happen across on bookstore shelves, even if they already own a copy. And once they’ve amassed a complete trilogy among these extras, they give them away as gifts. I’ve done that multiple times, and the people I’ve given them to have always loved them. I’ve turned family members onto this series, I’ve turned girlfriends onto it, I once even turned my pastor onto THE PHOENIX LEGACY. Women especially dig it, I think because it’s got a great romance at its heart. Trust me, if you’re looking for good sci-fi, if you’re looking to discover new, great authors, or if you’re looking for a new series, a nice big piece of literature you can really sink your teeth into, then you’ve come to the right place.
Anyway, you’ve heard this often enough from me: I love this book, and I hope you will too! Now it’s time for me to put up or shut up. (Hmmm, a guy who talks for a living, I don’t think shutting up will be much of an option here, so I’ll put up instead.) Here it is, just in time for the holidays. Wanna give that science fiction fan in your life a great new series they’re sure to love? Then start them off with THE PHOENIX LEGACY, available for download right this very minute.
And for those of you who already love this series, you should be aware of a really cool bonus feature I’m proud to be able to present: an in-depth interview with the author, M.K. Wren, her first in years. The interview is scheduled to take place this coming month, so we’ll have it available as a free download soon thereafter. In it, she’ll talk about this trilogy, her other works, and what might be in store for the future of this series. Talking with her on the phone the other day was a real thrill, and she couldn’t have been lovelier. She’s extremely excited to see this series hit audio, so look forward to a fun and lively conversation.
You know, looking back on that last day at A Change of Hobbit, I walked away with two books, by two authors I’d never heard of before, M.K. Wren and Dave Wolverton, and they both wound up being amazing. Man, I was two for two that day! I should’ve grabbed an armful of titles.
And if you’re wondering about the possibility of seeing Mr. Wolverton’s work available on audio from this here website in the not-too-distant future, all I can say is, keep your eyes on this blog.
Thanks for listening,