Every once in a while, I meet someone who changes my life. The fact that many of these people are dead at the time of meeting has, if anything, improved our relationships. Here’s the first installation of my collection of shades, authors whose work and ideas shape my own.
Sir Terry Pratchett (d. 2015) Unleashed the Discworld novels. His writing style is inimitable and addictive – the only writer who literally never has a dull moment in his work. Even the punctuation has personality. His use of allusions, wordplay, references, world building and narrative commentary shows what you can do with fearless narration; he has one of the most distinctive third-person omniscient narrative voices ever. I’m on my tenth re-reading of some of his work and I still discover new references and jokes. Did I mention it’s make-your-airplane-row-uncomfortable hilarious?
Ray Bradbury (d. 2012) There’s a certain breed of writer who could have only evolved in the early-to-mid twentieth century. Technology and psychology both played a crucial role in their style, voice, and subject – particularly the cross-pollination of these two fields sparked by industrialization and two world wars. In Bradbury’s case, his writing was birthed by his love of the emerging genre of the fantastic, science fiction, and christened by the Entertainment Trinity of radio, television, and film. His descriptive language is some of the best. Unusual metaphors and strong, atmospheric scenes play across your consciousness like shots from a film, with a deep attention to detail wrapped in language you can never forget.
R. Buckminster Fuller (d. 1983) The ultimate twentieth century renaissance man, a jack-of-all-trades become social-technological visionary. His writing style varies but always incorporates a stream-of-consciousness current, sweeping you along on his ego until you’re convinced of his plans for Spaceship Earth. He invents words to convey meaning (e.g. Dymaxion, ephemeralization, synergetic, tensegrity) – and, despite your initial disbelief, three weeks later you find yourself proselytizing the term’s use for something that would have taken a paragraph to otherwise detail. Essential when you need language to upend the status quo.
Victor Papanek (d. 1998) Yes, there’s a pattern of technologically-influenced social visionaries here. Papanek’s work is a bit more grounded than Fuller’s. He’s blunt, acerbic, and fed up with a social order in which technology is thoughtlessly deployed for materialistic rather than humanistic ends. If you want to take apart the system with dryly ruthless commentary and put it back together with socially-responsible design, his ideas and writing is well worth consulting.