ARTicle Magazine

This reading life: Ian Tregillis

29 November 2017

American author Ian Tregillis has written two speculative history trilogies: Milkweed Triptych and the Alchemy Wars. He also holds a PhD in physics, and will be part of the Festival's 2018 Writers and Readers line-up in Wellington in March.

Ian

Find out more about Ian at his rather intriguing website.

The first book to capture my imagination was ...

The Tower Treasure, a Hardy Boys mystery story.  My father, who was an extremely avid reader, gave it to me as a gift when I was probably five or six. He'd inscribed it: “May this open the world of books to you.” The gift – and just as much as the book, the inscription – did exactly that. 

The Tower Treasure

The books and/or other writing that saw me through childhood were ...

Not surprisingly, Hardy Boys adventures were my first “get away” reading.  But the books I read over and over again until they fell apart (and kept reading after that) were trivia books.  Just last year I found one tucked away in a corner of the basement: it had a blue cover emblazoned with Know Power! in garish yellow letters. Each page contained a short description or summary of something interesting: a part of the human body, or outer space, or weather ... even strange mysteries like the treasure of Oak Island. I practically had this book memorised at one point, and I sometimes wonder if most of what I know today doesn't come from that book and others like it.

The character in a book I most wanted to be as a child was ...

Strangely, I can't recall ever wishing to be a character in a book. That's a little surprising to me, given how much of my childhood was spent reading.

The book I studied at school that has stayed with me most is ...

Jerzy Kosiński's Being There. As a teenager in high school, I found it “deep”. But now, in middle age, I find my thoughts returning to it again and again. It's an insightful novel and, perhaps tragically, prescient.

Being There

The author I am most likely to binge-read is ...

Terry Pratchett. For decades, I deliberately stayed a book or two behind the current Discworld novel, so that I'd always have something to look forward to.  It seemed the series would never end, and that was so wonderful. Now, of course, it has, but I'm still keeping a few unread Discworld books on the shelf ... Perhaps I'll read them someday. But until I do, the series hasn't really ended. More recently, I discovered the astonishing prose of Raymond Chandler, and devoured the Philip Marlowe novels in short order. (Sadly, there are far fewer of these than Discworld novels.)

“For decades, I deliberately stayed a book or two behind the current Discworld novel, so that I’d always have something to look forward to”

The book I am most likely to press on a friend is ...

In the past few years it's been Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity, a beautiful, heartbreaking tour-de-force, and one of the best books I've read in the past decade.  It's one of those books that's executed so skillfully, functioning on so many levels, that reading it fills me with apathy toward my own writing.

Code Name Verify

The book I most wish someone would write is ...

... the next book I'm preparing to write. For me, writing is the act of telling myself a story.

The book I keep meaning to get around to reading but somehow never do is ...

There are so many (to my shame). Jane Eyre is probably near the top of the list, though.

The book I have reread the most is ...

A two-volume omnibus of Roger Zelazny's (original) Chronicles of Amber: Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon and The Courts of Chaos. My father picked these up at a library sale when I was eight or nine. I was hooked by the Boris Vallejo cover art on the dust jackets, which promised monsters and swashbuckling adventure. But the story is so much more than that. I barely scraped the surface on my first read; I return to it every five or 10 years.

The newspapers, magazines and blogs I cant do without are ...

The state of the world has been so distressing and depressing over the past couple of years that I've largely stopped reading newspapers and magazines. But I particularly enjoy Quanta Magazine and Nautilus.

If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book with me, it would be ...

I assume it would be cheating to say The Idiot's Guide to Rescuing Yourself When Stranded on a Desert Island? How about a very large and waterproof novelty book, one which I might use as a raft?

Bookmark, scrap of paper or turning down the corner of the page?

Bookmark and/or turning down the page corner. But I can't stand using a random scrap of paper. Don't know why, since that's effectively what a paper bookmark is. As a kid I'd cut the corner from an envelope and slip this over the page corner.

The first 50 pages or bust? Or always to the bitter end?

When I was younger, I made a point of always finishing a book, no matter what. Now I'm older and wiser and give every book 100 pages minus my current age in years. I like this metric –  I didn't devise it – because it acknowledges how reading time grows more precious as we grow older.

“When I was younger, I made a point of always finishing a book, no matter what. Now I’m older and wiser I give every book 100 pages minus my current age in years”

The book I am always on the lookout for in secondhand shops is ...

Something that will delight, surprise and enlighten me. Both fiction and non-fiction can do this.

My favourite cinematic adaptation of a book is ...

I think the Nolan brothers did a brilliant job adapting Christopher Priest's excellent novel The Prestige to the silver screen.  I sometimes wonder if there isn't a master class in adapting a work from one medium to another just in that one example. Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose also had a great adapation to the screen. All in my humble opinion, of course.

The Name of the Rose

The character in a book Id most like to meet is ...

Given the state of the world at present, I'd like to meet somebody, anybody, with infectious joy and optimism!

A line of writing I can recite from memory is ...

It is an ancient Mariner / and he stoppeth one of three. / “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye / Now wherefore stopp'st thou me? / The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide / and I am next of kin; / The guests are met, the feast is set: / may'st hear the merry din.”

My favourite 19th-century book is ...

It might be a collection of poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (speaking of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner...)


My favourite 20th-century book is ...

That's constantly changing, of course, depending on so many factors. But if I had to pick a single one right now, I might lean towards Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.

The Long Goodbye

My favourite contemporary writers are ...

That's another constantly shifting list. But at this particular moment, I'd say Elizabeth Wein and Peter F Hamilton.

The book/s currently by the side of my bed is/are ...

  • Elizabeth Wein's The Pearl Thief (a birthday gift from my wife).
  • The High House by James Stoddard and The Taste of Ashes by Howard Browne (a recommendation and gift, respectively, from my friend Howard Andrew Jones, who shares my deep admiration of the works of both Zelazny and Chandler).
  • Impersonations, a novella by Walter Jon Williams set in the universe of his absolutely wonderful Dread Empire's Fall series.
  • The Unknown Man, a comprehensive account of one of Australia's most compelling unsolved murders (the case of the so-called “Somerton Man”, aka the “Tamam Shud” case) written by retired Adelaide police detective GM Feltus, who worked on the case for many years.
  • The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words, edited by Barry Day (a gift from my mother-in-law).
  • Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny. (I started reading this to my wife a while back. In return, she reads me Sherlock Holmes stories. She does better voices than me.)


Find out more about 2018 Writers and Readers at the New Zealand Festival.