I was at World Fantasy Convention in Calgary over the weekend. At the mass signing that always happens on the Friday of WFC, I sat next to Cecelia Holland.
Now, for those of you who say, "Who the hell is Cecelia Holland?" the answer is that she is the finest writer of historical novels working in
English today. She may be the finest in any language, but I consider myself competent to judge only in the tongue that Shakespeare spake. My competence comes
from having read virtually every CH novel since THE FIREDRAKE 1966, and from having read a lot of other historical novelists, including some in translation, to
Anticipating another question -- "What the hell has a historical novelist got to do with rasfw?" -- I should mention that she has now done a
series of four historical-slipstream novels for Tor (THE SOUL THIEF, WITCHES' KITCHEN, THE SERPENT DREAMER, and VARANGER) which are set in Viking-era
British Isles, Denmark, Vinland and the northern fringes of the Byzantine Empire. They are slipstream in the sense that because people of the time believed in
things like second sight, therefore second sight works in their world.
The thing that I have always prized about Cecelia Holland's work, aside from the muscular clarity of her prose, is that she always manages to put me
into the world-view of the time and place she's writing about (and she writes about many different times and places). The novelist L.P. Hartley is famous
for the opening line of The Go-Between -- "The past is another country; they do things differently there." -- and Holland gets that right, every
time. She doesn't offer up modern westerners dressed up in medieval garb. Her Norman knights and Viking raiders and California Gold Rushers see their
worlds the way people of those times and places did.
So a Holland novel is a sojourn in an alien culture that she seamlessly wraps around you, so that you start to think and feel the way the denizens of those
"other countries" must have done.
Given the excellence of her work over four decades of sustained output, I was therefore gobsmacked to hear her editor at Tor say that Holland is not selling
well. Hence this post.