John Enfield 7 of the Best

John Enfield’s 7 of the Best

Written by John Enfield

When Multiverse asked me for seven science-fiction and fantasy books and/or shows that influence me the most, it boggled my mind.  The only things I actively avoid are romance novels and shows based on musicals.  To narrow it down, I thought of ones that have been so influential on me that they have survived multiple ‘clean sweeps’ for donation or sale and continue to be treasured in my library, yet are not all ‘A-list’creations, perhaps. Like many B-list actors, they are still brilliant, just receive less attention.

Dragonlance: The Lost Histories, Volume V [The Gully Dwarves], written by Dan Parkinson
Out of all of the D&D novels (and I have many of them), I pick this one? Yes, because it’s an incredibly touching and profound, yet genuinely funny and weird tale of redemption.  In it, a dragon is rejected by her evil god, Takisis, and forced to be reborn as a pet of the Aghar.  These gross yet lovable, bumbling, dull-witted Gully Dwarves need a new ‘This Place’ and their good god, Reorx, gradually transforms the evil green dragon, Verden Leafglow, into a neutral bronze dragon, gently coaxing her into becoming their champion.  The way Parkinson portrays Verden’s internal conflict and fascinating character transformation inspires me to try to make my characters, even evil monsters, more complex and worthy of their own story.  Along with the Kender, the Gully Dwarves share the title of the best things ever to come out of Dragonlance. Fun, memorable characters who manage to both make us laugh and to stop and think about things.

THE X-FILES
In September of 1993, I was just starting my sophomore year in college.  I’d gotten over the ‘freshman jitters’ and was now confident that I could relax a bit and still keep my academic scholarships. Now, I needed something worth watching on TV.  Then I heard that the Fox network had this kooky new show about FBI agents who take on unsolved cases that wind up having to do with all sorts of weird urban legends.  I gave it a shot, and have been watching it ever since.  The show, and some of the novels based on it, (Kevin J. Anderson’s Ruins is especially excellent) introduced me to a whole new world of genre blending goodness that influences the way I write. Strong, enigmatic characters and layer upon layer of mysteries that weave through nine years and counting is an accomplishment that I aspire to.

Out of the Silent Planet, written by C.S. Lewis
Yes, the guy who wrote the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ books.  This is something different.  Wonderfully imaginative, strange science fiction from the 1930’s, the Golden Age of sci-fi when science fact hadn’t really started to alter our fantasies of what might be out there in space, anything was still possible. In it, Mr. Ransom discovers there’s much more to the universe than the physical.

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DRAGONSLAYER
There have been many movies about heroes slaying dragons and this is one of them.  I love it because it tells the tale in such a serious and grim tone. All too often, fantasy movies are rather silly, tongue-in-cheek things. This movie showed me that fantasy can be taken as seriously.  Stuff like what is in this movie resembles things going on in my mind when I play D&D.

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The Crimson Chalice, written by Victor Canning
King Arthur’s legends were my introduction to the fantasy genre when I was a kid. I dug through ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ back then. Through perseverance and keeping a dictionary handy, I managed to glean out the exciting exploits of Arthur and his gallant knights from among the archaic prose.  While I did expand my then meager vocabulary, I found it tedious reading at times.  Canning’s retelling is eminently more readable and also introduced me to the idea that maybe myths could be based on real people and actual events of the past.

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The MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 version of FUTURE WAR
Sure, it’s a cheesy, budget movie with laughable special effects and a convoluted plot. But, it got made. The cast and crew really do seem to be doing their very best, no doubt with a tiny budget, to re-enact their favorite scenes from TERMINATOR without triggering a lawsuit from James Cameron. The MST3K crew’s jokes make the unintentional humor even funnier.  This show, and many other B movies like it, encourage me to take my ideas and run with them, regardless of whether I’ll have the budget to make what results from them looked polished or not.

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Starship Titanic, written by Terry Jones
Based on the groundbreaking video game by Douglas Adams, it benefits from the genius of not one, but two of the greatest British comedians of all time. I played the video game version to challenge my mind after a long, hard day of crop scouting (my first ‘real’ job out of college).  It was only slightly easier than Adams’s text-only adventure based on the better known The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy story in that, though it was still mind-numbingly confusing and bizarre, you now had a lovely visual space – a steampunk inspired space ship occupied by malfunctioning robots and an annoying parrot  – to get frustrated in rather than just a black screen with white letters on it staring at you. There were visual clues now to help you figure out the puzzles. The groundbreaking part though, was that instead of clicking on one of a few options of what to do or say (as is the usually the case with point and click adventure games), you could actually type what you wanted to say and hope that the character you are talking to would understand what you are saying. Occasionally, they did and it was glorious when you guessed the right thing to say. In the novel, Jones fleshes out what is hinted at in the game in a way that would cause even the least-avid viewer of MONTY PYTHON shows to giggle while turning the pages.

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