If You Like X You’re Gonna Love Y!
People laugh about the weird offerings that Amazon or other online book venues will list as recommendations. These algorithms are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but in truth, is there any chance that any kind of program is going to predict what I will enjoy, when my tastes are admittedly all over the map? People look at me like I’ve sprouted an accordion out of my nose when I say, oh, that I love Fort Minor’s Remember the Name as well as Shostakovitch’s 11th. Or in the book world, that I include both Middlemarch and Bored of the Rings among my long-time favorites. In both cases for wildly different reasons.
But we keep trying to find, and to recommend, things we like to people we think (or hope) might be receptive. I’ve seen, and loved, blogs that recommend older novels to readers who liked specific popular new ones, as well as the other way around. In the interests of that, I invite readers to offer some “If you like X, then you might try . . .” and give reasons.
In a discussion like this, if the kneejerk “Your taste is in your gymsocks if you like [whoever]” can be avoided, sometimes we can learn something about our own tastes, if not refine our search for new Good Stuff.
I’ll start by noting successful recommendations that I’ve made—no use in reporting non-successes as that can lead too quickly to acrimony, and also, I realize that though I might have had success linking some of these authors, another person probably hit a wall between readers they know. Which leads right back to crazy algorithms.
So. For purposes of discussion, and to keep myself from rambling on for hours, I’m setting the timer for three minutes, and I’m going to free associate as I recall successful recommendations that I’ve made, or were made to me in the form of “Oh if you liked that, then try this!”
I’ve had pretty good success recommending readers who wanted a reading experience similar to Katharine Kerr or Kate Elliott or Robin Hobb to Michelle West, Janny Wurts, Carol Berg, Joshual Palmatier, and Chaz Brenchley. A handful of readers loving the above came back to thank me for recommending Kari Sperring’s first novel. I’ve also had some success linking readers who loved the above and Octavia Butler to Carol Berg, and along another path, to Tiptree, and along a third, to Nalo Hopkinson.
Brandon Sanderson, David Coe, David Farland, have matched up pretty well, and sometimes those readers intersect with Robin Hobb, which has made me wonder if sometimes the readers don’t know there’s an authorial gender divide.
I had a tough time making recommendations to those who’d read and loved Greer Gilman until I suggested John Crowley, Theodora Goss’s short work, as well as that of L. Timmel Duchamp, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. Bingo! Duchamp branched to Carol Emshwiller and Kelly Link, and a couple of times to new writer Sonya Taaffe, and thence to Shweta Narayan.
As for readers who wanted to venture into genre waters after reading Clarke’s novel, my success links were Neal Stevenson, Ian McDonald, and back to Greer Gilman. John Crowley linked successfully to Ian McDonald, and to Thomas Pynchon, but not from Pynchon to McDonald or Crowley. But yes Pynchon to William Gaddis. Weird, that.
Mercedes Lackey and Melanie Rawn have crossed successfully back and forth with Sharon Shinn fans, with a sidestep to Patricia McKillip. Also, which surprised me, the fans of the first two writers in this graph also liked Patricia Wrede, though I’d thought of her as leaning toward the more humorous writers, but that’s really only a couple of her series: Mairelon and the Dragon books. With fans of all of these I’ve had signal success recommending Roberta MacAvoy.
Re cross-genre, I’ve had good luck matching Patricial Wrede’s Mairelon duo and her three books with Caroline Stevermer to those who like Georgette Heyer and Regency romances, but the only success I’ve had with Jane Austen readers (few of the ones I know willing to try fantasy) has been Susanna Clarke’s book—two readers, and a third had already read and loved it. But once I scored by directing a hardline Austen reader to Ellen Kushner. From Kushner I’ve linked with happy results to Emma Bull, and in another direction, P.G. Wodehouse and Rudyard Kipling.
Also outside of the SFF genre, I’ve had good luck with Austen readers by recommending Patrick O’Brian, Dorothy Sayers, and Dorothy Dunnett. Re the latter, I’ve had some luck mentioning Guy Gavriel Kay and Diana Gabaldon, but of whom were heavily influenced by Dunnett, so maybe it’s not surprising there’d be a readership crossover.
Re a certain kind of voice in thumping action fantasy (Zelazny and Jack Vance being two of the older names in this discussion), I’ve had good luck with Patrick Rothfuss grouped with Steven Brust and Scott Lynch, and also Terry Pratchett, but Pratchett, like Lois McMaster Bujold, has reached across a wide range of readers, as has Megan Whalen Turner; the latter is a YA author, and I’ve been avoiding getting into YA here as that would be a whole nother discussion, but I’m keeping Turner there because these have been adult readers I recommended her to successfully.
What about Ursula K. LeGuin? I’d had the best luck recommending Eleanor Arnason, Judith Bear, and Rosemary Kirstein, again whose work is in dialogue with many of Le Guin’s ideas.
There goes the timer, so I will stop here, resisting the impulse to add another 473 names.
How about you? Who’ve you successfully linked for readers?