Apex Authors: Tobias Buckell shares "Books I Come Back to Again and Again"

by guest author Tobias Buckell

As someone with ADHD I tend to seek out novelty. As a reader, it leads me to wanting new books, and unlike many friends, I find that I don’t re-read books. There are so many, who has the time? Yet, because I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, I did re-read the books I collected a lot, and some of them I still come back to. Here are some of the titles that leap out at me:

1) A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Vernor Vinge’s internet-inspired 90s science fiction novel blew my mind back in high school, and I must have re-read that book multiple dozens of times. Enough so that it barely hung together. I purchased a copy of the same copy with the same art work ten years ago. There’s a phenomenon where sometimes your favorites don’t age well, so I was reluctant to try reading it again. I’ve had a lot of fond memories spoiled by reading books with older eyes, but I found myself just as charmed by the plucky crew of a patched together starship trying to outrun the menace of a galaxy-wide disaster and save the day. This book was a career-defining masterpiece, and I still love cracking it open once every couple years.

2) Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Cherryh’s Alliance-Union novels replicated that tramp steamer in space sort of feel that, as someone who grew up on a boat, I just loved. I don’t know if this one holds up as well for a new generation, but I have a copy of the same SF Book Club edition that I found at a swap shelf in a marina as a teenager. Every time I open it up I fall right back into tales of crews just trying to patch together one last cargo run to pay the rent and repair the ship. Cherryh said in an interview once that she wrote Merchanter’s Luck first, and then the Hugo-winning novel Downbelow Station after to set the stage for Merchant’s Luck. Downbelow Station came out first to readers in the 1980s, and won the Hugo. It always delights me that I read in the order intended, because I didn’t need to read Downbelow Station to fall for Merchanter's Luck. I hear rumors that Hollywood wants more like The Expanse. This wouldn’t be a bad place to start, and I’d be first in line to buy whatever subscription service made the Alliance-Union novels a TV series.

3) Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Octavia’s genius has been recognized widely, but Wild Seed had a big impact on me. I read it during a hurricane by lantern light, and so my memories of it and the experience of reading it always evokes this liminal moment of my life where I didn’t know if we would be homeless by the end of the storm, or harmed by it as the surf rose to batter the house we’d sheltered in. But I’d never seen a person of color and African mythology woven into science fiction or fantasy prior to that. I lived in the Caribbean, but my science fiction mimicked the SF/F I saw. Octavia was one of two authors that made me start wondering if I could bring my Caribbean roots into science fiction. I taught Wild Seed as part of an American fiction course recently, and it was just as intense a read as ever.

4) Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

I don’t like reading retold myth or legend a lot. I don’t know why, it’s a personal failing, I cast no judgement on the practice. I even love doing it as a writer. But whenever I spot, as a reader, the retold myth, I tend to lose interest in the piece. Brains are weird. So when Karen Lord gave me an early copy of Redemption in Indigo to read on a plane flight back from Barbados, I was nervous I’d bounce like I normally did. Instead, the whole flight to Miami passed in a blur as I fell deeply into this book. It’s a retold African myth, and it’s about diaspora, and family, and chaos, and finding yourself, and it’s a book that stands time because it’s always a good read and doesn’t age. I believe this book will be in print for many years.

5) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

This doesn’t feel like a hidden recommendation, but this is a list of books that -I- have read at least twice and I’m trying to be honest here. For many years, I would start the reading year off on my birthday by starting a re-read of The Hobbit and I did that for decades. I used to be able to quote the opening page, but alas, that has long since faded. I preferred the rhythms and pacing of The Hobbit to LOTR, and the more present narrator. As a result, it’s a book I can fall into reading no matter where I open it, and I still will browse sections of it whenever I open it back up.

6) Almost anything by Terry Pratchett

At one point, we had every single one of the Discworld books in our home library. I’ve read and reread so many of the books, they’re my go-to comfort reads, and I’ve kept the last two he wrote in my Kindle library without reading them so that I will always have at least one new Discworld book to read that I’ve never read before in case I have a rough month. Is that weird? I don’t know, but it makes me happy to know I can have that experience still if I want it.