Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Book Titles

April 1st, 2011

In my Interwebs reading this morning I somehow wound up here at Mulholland Books reading a post on book titles in the crime and suspense genre–which is just a little odd since I pretty much never read in this genre.

It’s a good post though, with a good point. Titles matter! A lot. Book covers and book titles are two hugely challenging aspects of successful fiction that I figure I’ll always be struggling to get right.

One of the greatest titles in the science fiction genre has to be Neuromancer. When I’m trying to title a book, I’ll usually go through a phase of “What can I do that’s sort of awesome like Neuromancer…?” Then I’ll give it up and move on to something inferior.

Dune is also a great one-word title of course, and I’ll confess a soft spot for my own Vast.

I’ve also got a soft spot for long, poetic titles. One of my favorites is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–and I’ve never even read the book! Gregory Benford’s Galactic Center books are another great example, with In the Ocean of Night, Across the Sea of Suns, and one of my favorite sf books of all time, Great Sky River. Because of Greg I usually go through a phase in the titling process where I’ll comb through quotes from classical plays and poetry, before giving up and moving on to something inferior.

My own titles I see as generally serviceable, except for The Bohr Maker, which I think is terrible. (The original publisher came up with this. It wasn’t me! Although my working title was worse.)

If I remember correctly, Deception Well, Skye Object 3270a, Limit of Vision (of course), The Wild, and possibly Memory were named early in the writing process.

Everything else came late and some, like Vast, involved lots of debate.

What are some of your favorite titles–in any genre?

Posted on: Friday, April 1st, 2011 at 1:26 pm
Categories: Publishing, Reading.

7 Responses to “Book Titles”

  1. Ted Lemon Says:

    The Ocean of Years. Against The Fall Of Night. All The Myriad Ways. A Rose For Ecclesiastes. The Ophiuchi Hotline. Bob’s Big Adventure. (okay, I made that last one up…)

    Memory was a good title. Deception Well sounds good in principle too, but I haven’t read it yet.

  2. Roy Sablosky Says:

    One of my favorite titles is also one of my favorite books: Timothy Ferris’s peerless history of astronomy, “Coming of Age in the Milky Way”. Another win-win volume is David Lindley’s effervescent introduction to quantum mechanics, “Where Does the Weirdness Go?” And I just remembered “The Fabric of Reality” (now that’s a killer title!) by physicist David Deutsch.

    One of my favorite science-fiction books has a terrible moniker: Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep”. And then there’s Linda Nagata’s “Vast”, which sensible people regard as practically perfect in every way — including the title.

  3. Linda Says:

    Ah ha, Ted, you like the poetic names too! I never seem to be able to come up with beautiful titles like that though.

    Roy, I was running potential titles by some writer friends, and finally worked up my nerve and said “How about ‘Vast’?” And someone said “If you don’t use that title, I will.” So I did.

    “Coming of Age in the Milky Way” is a great title. My own astronomy reference has the rather quirky title “The Guide to The Galaxy” (sans hitchhiker).

  4. Eddie Says:

    HYPERION and ENDYMION. Maybe too unique and weird.

    DROOD by Dan Simmons. I read the unfinished work of Dickens years before this book came out. The title immediately made me want to read it, and the book was more than perfect after reading it because of the title.

    DECEPTION WELL sounds intriguing as a title, which I will be reading soon. VAST sounds like one of those Koontz books (INTENSITY, RELENTLESS, VELOCITY, BREATHLESS) that pull you in despite being only one word and have something to live up to because of that word, and manages to do so.

    THE COLLAPSIUM by Wil McCarthy makes me think of SF that changes you forever because of the secrets within.

    THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS….always thought that was a funny title.

    THE WELL OF ASCENSION by Brandon Sanderson (the title doesn’t make sense! until you read it)

    A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (poetic, but the books in the series are more mundane)

    SWORD OF TRUTH (OK, I’m a sucker for epic fantasy that involves truth and justice)

    SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD by Robert McCammon

    Luckily I don’t choose what to read based on titles, else I may not be reading the CROWN OF STARS series right now.

  5. Linda Says:

    HYPERION and ENDYMION–yes! Thumbs up on those. Titles like THE WELL OF ASCENSION just sort of pass right over me, so I guess I will just have to read the book.

    That’s an interesting point on CROWN OF STARS and I think you’re right. It’s such a good series, but that title doesn’t work very well for me either. I confess, though, that I really like the rather quirky title PRINCE OF DOGS from one of the books in the series. 🙂

  6. Glen Kilpatrick Says:

    It’s _very_ hard for me to separate the titles from the goodies. But I’ll try for just some titles (all but for one only a few feet away). alphabetized by author, and focus on (possibly misleading) reactions to the title only:

    _A Million Open Doors_ — talk about a sense of wonder, from Word Four.
    _Strength of Stones_ — compared to us, perhaps?
    “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” — definitely not Kansas, Toto.
    _The Hero with a Thousand Faces_ — OK, this one is non-fiction, but doesn’t it draw you in?
    _On the Rim of the Mandala_ — you’d think religious, or at least spiritual, and lo, there is a “stealth” spiritual component that sneaks up on me.
    _Dance Hall of the Dead_ — is this where the author thinks we go?
    “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” — ??? but definitely looks enthralling, where-ever we’re going.
    _Vast_ — such a small word for how huge the canvas behind.
    _Memory_ — yes, this one must be like the previous, understated.

    Linda, I _like_ your short titles; it’s as if you had a point source of light, and the small title standing close, but casting a shadow that gets bigger and bigger and…, with a story that has depth and power and characters and all manner of “worlds of wonder” within the darkness, just waiting to be discovered by the reader.

    “The Soft Weapon” — just with the title, I want to know more.
    “Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance” — compulsion, power, something here subtly unfamiliar on a deep level.
    “The Barbie Murders” — definitely unfamiliar (and how many “Barbies” are there anyway?).
    “The Phantom of Kansas” — perhaps this is Kansas, Toto – oh wait, not any Kansas I’ve ever seen.
    “The Persistence of Vision” — where does the memory of the flame go, when you blow out the candle?
    _Something Under the Bed is Drooling_ — HAHaha, for children of all ages!
    “The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth” — I feel fear.
    _Bring me the Head of Prince Charming_ — but laughter here.
    “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” — I already love the woodcuts, my blood was up for days anticipating this one.

    So I started this reply thinking recitation of favorites, but have come to see that titles are more magical than that. The better ones just don’t summarize, they _seduce_. And with restrospection (“Reverse-angle on the viewer, Mister”) they take on entirely new meanings.

  7. Linda Says:

    You are brightening up my afternoon! What a fascinating list and so full of creativity. And then that last–“Reverse-angle on the viewer, Mister” Yes, what we take out of it says a lot about who we are.

    Thank you!