Isaac R. Fellman is an archivist in Northern California. He writes sharp, painterly science fiction and fantasy about his various preoccupations: art history, extreme survival, toxic love, queer identity, and terrible moral choices. Most of his protagonists are great at exactly one thing and are continually prevented from doing it. The Breath of the Sun is his debut novel. He does not climb mountains.
Today he shares his 6 books with us....
I'm rereading Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I did a Twitter riff the other day about Books I Loved (i.e. "I loved reading this, but I won't be going back") vs. Books I Love (i.e. "A part of my brain is always running a simulation of this"). That's what got me on this train. Brideshead Revisited is a Book I Love, with a bit of a Book I Hate tacked on in the second half. By the final chapters, the author and I are on completely separate tracks -- Waugh thinks it's a book about a man finding God, and I think it's a book about the corrosive power of the closet -- but before that, I think we both agree that it's about family, in the same way that The Lion in Winter is about family. I've never scammed a friend into loaning me his car and driven out to the countryside to drink rare wine with my Oxford lover, but I've definitely met many versions of the Flytes, with their competitive and unnerving charm.
The Hchom Book by Marian Churchland. It's hard to explain Hchom, an art blog about obsessive wanting (the perfect wedge of bread, the perfect knife, the perfect gender, the perfect piece of quartz) -- it captures what's gorgeous and painful about wanting, in a cranky, unpretentious way. I am an archivist, and a librarian by training, and so I tend to be very picky about which books I buy, but I have to have The Hchom Book the day it comes out. I want it!
The Great Gatsby. The other week I was on a bus and started tearing through the sizeable academic canon of queer readings of Gatsby, and now I'm so ready to reread it -- the only reason I started with Brideshead is that Brideshead had to go back to the library sooner. I reread Gatsby every few years, it's my lifelong template for structural perfection, and I will defend it against all comers.
I'm cheating a little, because I didn't finish it the first time, but Elif Batuman's The Possessed. I bounced right off of this in my twenties, when it first came out -- bounced so hard that I was flailing off the walls for days. I was violently allergic to Batuman's literary persona. Then, this year, I ran across a section online and read it without noting the author's name. I loved it. It was so funny and wry and changeable, with something nervous and morally serious visible underneath like raw canvas. I realized that everything I'd thought I hated about this author was just envy, which my mind had translated badly into various languages. Batuman is real and important. Try to catch one of her readings if you can, and stay for the Q&A.
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles. This has been a hard one, because there were books that obsessed me more, and there are prose writers who've influenced me more, but Bradbury (with his DON'T THINK sign over the typewriter) taught me that there's no contradiction between writing SFF and writing adventurous prose. They're both different ways of exploring the Mars inside of us, the pearlescent alien worlds that we make when we're irritated. I reread this a few years ago, and it didn't hold up for me, but matches are single-use too, and they start the biggest fires.
It's called The Breath of the Sun. (The title has been used before; I didn't check, and this fact has killed me.) It's awesome because it evokes mountains very well, and because it's surprisingly funny for a book about constructed religions, and because it gets away with a weird structure that keeps switching back on itself. It's got women who are done being young, and women who are scientists, and women who are queer, and women who are terrible friends, and women who exist only in footnotes. If I were reading it as a stranger, that's what I'd notice.
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.
Note: This post has been updated as of 11 October 2019 to amend the author's name and pronouns. The original post was written referring to Rachel Fellman, which was the name used by the author at the time of writing.