Tanith Lee, who died on Sunday, was one of the most prolific and influential authors of fantasy and horror. Everyone seems to know her for something different. Some people are obsessed with The Silver Metal Lover, while others devoured her fantasy series. And then there are the Blake’s 7 episodes. She left a huge bounty.
Top image: The Birthgrave, British cover
Lee wrote dozens of novels, and hundreds of short stories, in her incredible career. This 2010 article from the Guardian singles out a few of her most important works: The Dragon Hoard, a Conan the Barbarian-esque adventure with beautiful prose and swashbuckling adventures. Death’s Master, about a “leopard queen” who makes a deal with Death’s Master to bear a son. And The Birthgrave, her first published novel for adults, about a woman who wakes up in a volcano with amnesia.
But there are so many Tanith Lee novels, and so many memorable stories, that Lee has multiple separate fandoms. She wrote trilogies and series including The Wars of Vis, Tales From The Flat Earth, The Secret Books of Paradys, and many others.
The Silver Metal Lover is one of her books that made the most profound impression on me, and on a number of other readers. The tale of a beautiful android and a human woman, it was one of the formative works about falling in love with artificial sentience, and it spawned a couple of sequels.
Lee won a World Fantasy Award, a Lambda Literary Award and a British Fantasy Award. She also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Awards, was named a World Horror Grandmaster and won the Bram Stoker lifetime achievement award. She also garnered many other nominations, including two Nebula nominations.
Former Weird Tales co-editor Darrell Schweitzer wrote some years ago that “Two special issues of Weird Tales have been devoted to [Lee], which is only appropriate since it seemed to me when I was co-editor of that magazine that her work expressed the Weird Tales aesthetic more perfectly than that of any other living writer.”
But for many British SF fans, she might also be best known for writing two episodes of Blake’s 7, the classic British space opera about a crew of anti-heroes, “Sarcophagus” and “Sand.” The former episode, in particular, does a great job of exploring the dynamic amongst the Liberator crew, using strange dream sequences that actually work to ramp up the tension. Lee also wrote a novel, Kill The Dead, which is widely believed to be a thinly disguised Blake’s 7 novel. (It definitely includes versions of Avon and Vila.)
In her later years, Lee was very vocal about the fact that publishers were no longer interested in her work, but this didn’t stop her from writing. She told Realms of Fantasy:
[M]ost of the so-called big publishers are unwilling even to look at a proposal. They aren’t interested in seeing anything from me, not even those houses I’ve worked with for many years. Where any slight interest in my turning in a book exists, I find I must work inside certain defined formulae. And to me that’s one of the arch inspiration-stranglers. I have at this time no new book, adult or Y.A, either out or due to come out, let alone any contract to produce a book for any of the main companies. And besides that only a couple of things are scheduled to appear from small, if reputable and elegant houses.
I must add, that doesn’t stop me actually writing. Writing is one of the most important things in my life. I have, so far, a cupboard stocked with 3 completed never published novels – contemporary, horror, 2 short (original) story collections, and proposals for 4 books, 2 of them adult fantasies. I’m just now finishing another novel.
I can’t find the source of it, but a number of media outlets are reporting that her final online posting was:
Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.
Lee left such a huge number of funny, thrilling, adventurous books, you could spend months reading her work and just scratch the surface. For an author who refused to give up writing, there could be no better tribute than to do just that. [via The Guardian and Locus]
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