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Old 12-31-2004, 10:19 AM
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Good science fiction and fantasy lit vs. the bad stuff


How do I tell the difference?

(Disclaimer – I do know (somewhat) there is a difference between science fiction and fantasy literatures. I’m just trying to avoid opening two threads on similar subjects [unless I should have?). Are there a lot of crossovers?

After re-re-re-reading LOTR and reawakening the college kid in me, I’ve decided to get back into both genres. Way back when, I read everything from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to authors I can’t remember (prolly crud, since they obviously didn’t seem to make much of an impression).

I don’t want to waste my time with stuff that’s trite, clichéd, “the same stuff I read in the last six books by this author”, suddenly suspends my suspension of disbelief (crashing back to reality).

What makes a book good science fiction or fanatasy?

What should have the “DANGER! WILL ROBINSON!” sticker plastered on the front cover?

So who are the outstanding authors in each field?

Who are the ones whom I should avoid like the Artellian Blue-Spotted Fever (or was it Yellow-Spotted)? Or ought I read them to get an understanding of what foetid compost literature is like?

(Note: I realize there will be ‘differences of opinions’, just like some folks love Mozart’s works and some despise them. Civility, please. Unless it is completely non-sarcastic humorous – I need a good laugh right now. .)
  #2  
Old 12-31-2004, 10:43 AM
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Well, my tastes include Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (both alone and collaboratively, though they're better as a team than solo), Spider Robinson, Lois McMaster Bujold, John Barnes (particularly the Thousand Cultures series, though he's good in his other works too), and Katherine Kurtz. I happen to enjoy Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, though not her other works by and large -- you'll find people who love the "Avalon" and "Atlantis" stuff and despise Darkover, and still others who complain (with some validity) that all her work is hackwork. For interesting philosophical fiction, albeit very much acquired taste, E.R. Eddison's fantasies and Olaf Stapledon and James Blish's SF are very good.

Edgar Pangborn is exceptionally good -- if you can finish a Pangborn story with dry eyes, you're a stronger person than I. H. Beam Piper is also good along much the same lines. And Theodore Sturgeon falls into a very similar category.

I personally dislike the work of Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, but they're very skilled and excellent writers -- it's purely a matter of conflicting tastes.

All the above are "classics" in the field, though some are still writing today. There are quite a few newer writers that have made names for themselves and who are excellent, but I don't have a quick list of them.

Terry Pratchett's work is wittily humorous and has some remarkable social commentary. I understand that Neil Gaiman's work is equally good, though I've personally only read his collaboration with Pratchett, Good Omens (which was excellent).

Anything that contains elves and/or dwarves which was not either written by Tolkien or before LOTR came out is 99% probability a hackwork ripoff of him, and should be avoided.

Before venturing into older SF (pre-1970), get a good anthology and read it cover to cover, making note of which authors you "get into" -- there are some excellent writers (e.g., L. Sprague deCamp, Murray Leinster) from back then, and also some formulaic hacks who nonetheless have their fans.
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Old 12-31-2004, 10:46 AM
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Disclaimer: totally IMHO, your opinions may vary.

First off, to have a good science-fiction / fantasy book, you have to have what makes a book itself great: engaging characters, good pacing, an interesting, suspenseful plot, good description. Your book has to be able to stand on its own merits if the scifi / fantasy elements are removed.

In this specific genre, furthermore, you have to make sure your alternate universe (so to speak) has some level of believability. What makes Tolkien (and his ilk, ie. Guy Gavriel Kay, Phillip Pullman, Ursula K. LeGuin) so great is that they've done the background work on the surroundings of their characters, on their locale's history and features, and that their universe is just detailed enough to draw us in on that level of plausibility. There have to be set rules for this new universe, whether it's on a spaceship or Middle Earth--you can't just randomly smush aliens and elves and time-travel together. And foremost, there has to be creativity--that this world is new, original, unique to the author, not just a copy of some other author's conceptions.

That's my thoughts so far, for what they're worth.
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Old 12-31-2004, 10:54 AM
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I don't read enough fantasy to offer any meaningful recommendations.

On science fiction, I'd recommend David Brin, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Charles Wilson.
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Old 12-31-2004, 10:54 AM
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It seems I have many of the same SF tastes as Polycarp but let me put a second to the works of H. Beam Piper.

I really enjoy alternate time-line or alternate history stories, and he had some good ones. There are his Paratime stories of course. But one story "He Walked Around the Horses" is one of my five favorite short stories ever. Told in a series of letters, the signature on the last letter is a real kicker, if you get the history behind it.

One of my other five favorite stories is by Spider Robinson, an author also mentioned by Polycarp. "True Minds" It's about the real meaning of love, and what lengths someone will go to to make their loved one happy. I once had the opportunity to have Robinson sign my battered copy of Melancholy Elephants, the collection in which that story appears, and he told me, and wrote in the book, that nobody had ever told him they like that story.
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Old 12-31-2004, 11:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baker
One of my other five favorite stories is by Spider Robinson, an author also mentioned by Polycarp. "True Minds" It's about the real meaning of love, and what lengths someone will go to to make their loved one happy. I once had the opportunity to have Robinson sign my battered copy of Melancholy Elephants, the collection in which that story appears, and he told me, and wrote in the book, that nobody had ever told him they like that story.
...which, given his anecdote about having Heinlein sign his copy of 6XH and mentioning "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants," must have totally made his day! Great story!
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Old 12-31-2004, 12:02 PM
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I'm a pretty brutal critic of Fantasy, Tolkien being my first and only true love in that regard. For me to enjoy fantasy the author has to go somewhere *different*. That was the original idea of Fantasy, you know, before everyone decided that ripping off LOTR was a hell of a lot easier. So, some of my favorite authors within Fantasy are:
- China Mieville -- his book The Scar is out in mass-market paperback now, the rest of his books, King Rat, Perdido Street Station and Iron Council are only in trade paperback or hardcover... gritty, dark, freaky, alternaworlds.
- Juliet Marillier --Sevenwaters Trilogy but especially Daughter of the Forest.. Irish myth & folktales
- Jacqueline Carey -- Kushiel's Dart, etc... spying, politics, S&M
- J. Gregory Keyes (AKA Greg Keyes) -- Age of Unreason series -- what if Alchemy and not physics was the correct theory? Benjamin Franklin stars as the foxy action hero! Newton's Cannon is the first in the series.

The worst offenders in the Tolkien rip-off department are Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks. At least Terry Brooks isn't ashamed to admit it. Speaking of ashamed, Anne McCaffrey has been phoning it in for years, stay far, far away. (ok, I have to stop, I'm rambling)

Generally speaking, Baen as a publisher tends to be a little cheesy over-the-top (the cover art they use should be a big hint), Tor is more intellectual and they give new authors a shot, I don't think they pay much cause often if a new author has a sucessful book with them, the next one often comes out from.... Del Rey, which doesn't take risks, they are more commercial and work with established, sucessful authors for the most part (hint: commercially sucessful does not automatically equal "good," but it can). Ace & Roc generally are on the pulpier side, but their mass-market themed anthologies can be good (look out for the good editors, like Gardner Dozois). HarperCollins publishes Terry Pratchett in the US, for which I thank them, but they aren't too active with SF/F in general.

As always, YMMV.
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Old 12-31-2004, 12:15 PM
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You know what might help the OP? A list of award-winning SF/Fantasy books. I know the Hugos and the Nebulas are the "biggies" for SF (one decided by fans, the other by writers); I'm not sure what the fantasy equivalent is. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than I could find a link to such things?
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Old 12-31-2004, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by screech-owl
So who are the outstanding authors in each field?
I need a good laugh right now
Here are a few suggestions for authors/works that would most (I think) would agree with (or at least not violently disagree):

Kim Stanley Robinson - Red Mars, et. al.

Roger Zelazny - Lord of Light, Doorways in the Sand, My Name is Legion
he can be good for a few laughs, sometimes

Ursula LeGuin - The Dispossessed

Gene Wolfe - Shadow of the Torturer

Jack Vance - The Dying Earth, Eyes of the Overworld, Lyonesse
also good for some laughs, sometimes, but more of an acquired taste

Robert Silverberg - Tom O'Bedlam, Hot Sky at Midnight

Larry Niven - Ringworld's his famous work, but I rather liked his SF detective stories.

House on the Borderland (Hodgson; yeah, it's early 20th c. horror, but it's tinged with SF/F and it's good)

I guess this list tends toward the more literary, higher quality writing end of the spectrum.
--

Neil Gaiman's graphic novels (i.e., The Sandman series) far outclass his regular novels (which are still decent), but this may be a minority opinion.
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Old 12-31-2004, 12:38 PM
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Onto this list I'll tack on Orson Scott Card (specifically Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Ender's Shadow), and Robin Hobb.

I just finished reading Hobb's third trillogy, and she managed to do something that I've never seen done: three sequential Trillogies that are internally consistent, yet tell a greater story - and it's all well planned out. Details that seem insignificant in her first series are developed at length in her third, and a throway line in book 4 may be the pivotal point of book 7.

She's what I would call a dark writer - lots of really bad stuff happens to her characters, but she fits the bills that Kytheria mentioned: " engaging characters, good pacing, an interesting, suspenseful plot, good description. Your book has to be able to stand on its own merits if the scifi / fantasy elements are removed. "

F.Y.I.: Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest are the the books of the first series. Sound's cheesy but they absolutely aren't.
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Old 12-31-2004, 01:21 PM
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try this site.

Warning: The guy behind it has attitude to spare.
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Old 12-31-2004, 01:26 PM
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I recently decided that Life Was Too Short, and started reading all the Hugo novels. All the ones that I'd already read before were good, so it seemed like the list was probably a smart way to find great books, and I wasn't wrong. Some of them started out kind of slow, or just didn't seem very good but they all redeemed themselves, in a big way, and I haven't regretted picking up any of them.
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Old 12-31-2004, 01:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kythereia
First off, to have a good science-fiction / fantasy book, you have to have what makes a book itself great: engaging characters, good pacing, an interesting, suspenseful plot, good description. Your book has to be able to stand on its own merits if the scifi / fantasy elements are removed.
I think I have to disagree with this, to some extent.

A lot of the classic SF writers are, or were, ideas writers. Asimov, Clarke and Niven spring to mind, for example. None of them write strong, engaging characters (Niven is probably the best of the three I mentioned, but he's still not great), and their pacing is often pretty bad. But they can spellbind with ideas and imagination.

Hell, Clarke wrote several novels in which almost nothing happened. (For example, Imperial Earth or Rendezvous with Rama.) They were terrific all the same.

That said, at the other end of the spectrum ...

Guy Gavriel Kay.

And if you're looking for strong, powerful fantasy, you could do worse than check out Charles de Lint. (Except his early stuff, which was very ... generic.)
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Old 12-31-2004, 01:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp
I personally dislike the work of Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, but they're very skilled and excellent writers -- it's purely a matter of conflicting tastes.
I enjoy Ellison and my Father like LeGuin, but I haven't read any hers.

Otherwise a good list.

(Dammit, Poly, the more posts of your I read, the more I'm annoyed I didn't know you my 20 some odd years in NC.)
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Old 12-31-2004, 01:58 PM
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Nobody's mentioned Ray Bradbury yet?

I like nearly all of his works, except a few of them where he resurrects the old literary authors and have them complain about how they're unappreciated. He comes off as slightly preachy in a few others, too, especially the "religion in space" ones. But overall, I think he's awesome and a must-read.
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Old 12-31-2004, 02:09 PM
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The works of Stanislaw Lem are a good read, especially Solaris and The Cyberiad.

Frank Herbert is known mainly for Dune, but he wrote some very good other novels, especially The White Plague.
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Old 12-31-2004, 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Larry Borgia
try this site.

Warning: The guy behind it has attitude to spare.
He also doesn't seem to care much for actual science fiction; Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein are not even listed. One star for Silverberg and Zelazny?

For the OP: I'll second the mentions of Bujold and Haldeman. Try some John Brunner if you can find it - Stand on Zanzibar is a good one. Card's science fiction is generally excellent. His fantasy is wildly uneven - Hart's Hope and Enchantment are both good.

I also like the idea of going through the award winners. You'll find authors you particularly like and that will open up whole new vistas to your reading.
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Old 12-31-2004, 02:32 PM
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For authors still releasing new material, I'm rarely disappointed with the 3 Bs - David Brin (especially his Uplift Saga series), Greg Bear, and Gregory Benford.

And while he may be too gory for some, I've enjoyed S. M. Stirling's Conquistador and the series about the pocket of 21st century America that gets relocated to the time of Alexander (it starts with Island in the Sea of Time.)
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Old 12-31-2004, 02:48 PM
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Little Nemo suggested George R. R. Martin for SF -- his fantasy is fine too.

I'd add Dan Simmons for the Hyperion Cantos books and Ilium.

Ditto Gene Wolfe, Guy Gavriel Kay, Theodore Sturgeon, and Philip Pullman.
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Old 12-31-2004, 03:18 PM
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Originally Posted by screech-owl
What should have the “DANGER! WILL ROBINSON!” sticker plastered on the front cover?
Whatever you do , DO NOT READ THE EYE OF ARAGON. Unless you don't value your sanity.
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Old 12-31-2004, 03:38 PM
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Originally Posted by RandomLetters
Whatever you do , DO NOT READ THE EYE OF ARAGON. Unless you don't value your sanity.
Thanks. Give me a link and then expect me not to open it?

My eyes are bleeding.
My left arm is wrenching itself off at the shoulder.
My brain is trying to escape out my right nostril in panic.
The rest of my body is too stunned to move.

The editor in me is pleading "Let me work on it. I can make it better. Please let me have a chance, I know it can be salvaged."

Sanity walked out the door before section 2.

Sigh. I did ask for 'Warning' stuff. That's it. The next link you send me, I am going to read it only while I am blindfolded.

screech (just call me Pandora) -owl


By the way folks, I appreciate all of the information, opinions, and suggestions. Keep 'em coming. I'm printing this out and hitting the library and bookstores over the next few days.
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Old 12-31-2004, 04:58 PM
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Keep 'em coming. I'm printing this out and hitting the library and bookstores over the next few days.
You want more? You need a laugh? OK ... technically this is a fantasy graphic novel or comic book collection, but do not dismiss it.

Swords of Cerebus
High Society
Church and State I
Church and State II

Author Dave Sim. Start with either of the first two. If you like them, you may want to stop (yes, stop) after C & S II.

The adventures of the world-famous, Cerebus, the aardvark.

I accidentally discovered High Society years ago, and read it (~500 pages) in one sitting. Had to constantly suppress laughter, as I was reading it in the library.
  #23  
Old 12-31-2004, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by This Year's Model
He also doesn't seem to care much for actual science fiction; Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein are not even listed. One star for Silverberg and Zelazny?
It appears to me more that he cares very much for style, literary prose that is highly individualistic. Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein would all rank below zero on such a scale. Silverberg and Zelazny are harder to explain, but neither had the idiosyncratic or immediately distinctive prose of some of his higher ranked writers, like Gene Wolfe, Cordwainer Smith, Steven Millhauser, or Jorge Luis Borges.

If you read the way that Kythereia evidently reads, or I do today, idea fiction is almost as intolerable as "The Eye or Argon." Each one leaves out half of what makes fiction worthwhile. I've read all of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein (at least up until their dotage) and I gag on their writing when I try to reread it. Ray Bradbury, OTOH, holds up beautifully, because he knew how to write and how to make his style drive the points behind his stories.

However, if I'm going to give recommendations, I'll do as I always do. Forget the list of favorite writers from the past. Search out the good books that are being published today and create your own lists of favorites.

The best place to start for this is with the Locus Awards. Locus is sort of the trade magazine of science fiction and each year it asks its readership to nominate and vote on the best Novel (usually split into SF, fantasy/horror, and first novel), short fiction, anthology, collection, nonfiction book, art book, publisher, magazine, and artist of the year. Each book category winds up with 10 to 30 titles, making it the longest and best chosen list of who's done good over the past year.

The 2004 list will be available early in the new year, but go through the previous years' lists and you won't be disappointed.
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Old 12-31-2004, 05:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kythereia
Your book has to be able to stand on its own merits if the scifi / fantasy elements are removed.
Yeah, MacSpon, I 'd at this statement too. It makes it sound as though good SF/fantasy is just a good non-SF/fantasy story with a rocket ship or a dragon thrown in. If you can remove the SF/fantasy elements and it still holds up, is it really good SF/fantasy?

Maybe it would be fairer to say that there are many factors which go to make up good SF/fantasy, and that these include, but are not limited to, those which make for good fiction in general.
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Old 12-31-2004, 05:44 PM
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Originally Posted by lost in the post
Neil Gaiman's graphic novels (i.e., The Sandman series) far outclass his regular novels (which are still decent), but this may be a minority opinion.
I agree. His comics and short fiction are great. I've yet to actually make it through any of his novels. Although I gave Neverwhere a good run. I haven't seen/heard anything he's done for TV/Radio yet, but I suspect it would be in the same group as the comics and short stories. (Murder Mysteries, which is great, has appeared in all 3 formats - short story, radio play, and comic book.)
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Old 12-31-2004, 09:08 PM
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Just to briefly continue the hijack, the only Neil Gaiman stuff I've read are Good Omens and American Gods. Both come highly recommended from this die-hard Pratchett nut.
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Old 12-31-2004, 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by screech-owl
After re-re-re-reading LOTR and reawakening the college kid in me, I’ve decided to get back into both genres.

So who are the outstanding authors in each field?
You could do worse than going back to read some of the early SF biggies.
A E van Vogt; Slan, The War Against the Rull.
Jack Williamson; any of his early pulp collections, the legion series.
Fredric Brown; the man's a killer with very short stories. His long ones abound with nice qurks.
Each of these authors could a)write well and b) put out original stories before the SF genre started to go all fossiliferous.
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Old 01-01-2005, 12:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink
Yeah, MacSpon, I 'd at this statement too. It makes it sound as though good SF/fantasy is just a good non-SF/fantasy story with a rocket ship or a dragon thrown in. If you can remove the SF/fantasy elements and it still holds up, is it really good SF/fantasy?

Maybe it would be fairer to say that there are many factors which go to make up good SF/fantasy, and that these include, but are not limited to, those which make for good fiction in general.
I read her statement as saying that readers should not have to make compromises - or worse, excuses - about the quality of a work just because it's genre fiction. That's exactly what sf readers did for a very long time - "it's the literature of ideas" - and why genre became so looked down upon.

You should not be able to abstract the f&sf element from a book and still have a complete novel: that element should be implicitly woven throughout the fabric of the work and not be extricable without having the rest collapse. But there is no good reason for not insisting on the values of good writing just because something is genre. On the contrary. Superb sf has all the qualities of good fiction plus the ideas, speculations, worlds, cultures, and examination of what it means to be human that only sf can truly provide.

Only a few of the greats can do this with any regularity, so most of the rest is compromised to some extent. But this is also true of mainstream fiction, and sf is closer now to having the great stuff in the same proportion as mainstream than it has since it became a separate genre in the post-Gernsback era.
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Old 01-01-2005, 01:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Larry Borgia
try this site.

Warning: The guy behind it has attitude to spare.
Y'know, you could definitely do worse than go according to that list. I'll also recommend the classic Ballantine Adult Fantasy series (edited by Lin Carter in the late 60s/early 70s--Carter was an awful writer, but a damn good anthologist). If you're looking for more recently-issued reprints, try checking out the stuff in the Fantasy Masterworks series. For good pulp SF reprints, check out the stuff put out by NESFA Press.

Here are some author names, several of which have already been mentioned. Let me know if you want the names of specific books...

Lord Dunsany (IMO, the best fantasy writer ever)
Arthur Machen (weird fiction--Chaosium has reprinted some of his work)
Algernon Blackwood (weird fiction--IMO did two of the best horror stories ever)
Philip Wylie (did the classic "When Worlds Collide" disaster novel, as well as "Gladiator", which was the inspiration for Superman)
Clark Ashton Smith (weird fiction)
H. P. Lovecraft (weird fiction)
Richard Paul Russo (SF)
Tim Powers (gonzo historical fantasy)
James P. Blaylock (several varieties of fantasy)
Alfred Bester (two classic SF novels, ignore his other stuff)
Francis Stevens (horror/adventure stories)
William Morris (fantasy; keep a good dictionary handy)
Cordwainer Smith (one of the all-time best SF writers)
E. Hoffman Price (weird fiction)
Murray Leinster (SF)
Fredric Brown (cynical SF; also known for mysteries)
Eric Frank Russell (SF)
C. M. Kornbluth (SF)
Henry Kuttner (SF)
David H. Keller (weird fiction)
L. Ron Hubbard (no, really! I actually like the "Ole Doc Methusela" stories, "Slaves of Sleep", and "Typewriter in the Sky". Awful writer, but a good storyteller)
Many Wade Wellman (weird fiction)
Arthur Conan Doyle (weird fiction)
Robert E. Howard (the Conan stories are better than you think they'll be; plus other good weird fiction; plus "A Gent from Bear Creek" is a total hoot)
William Hope Hodgson (weird fiction)
Henry S. Whitehead (weird fiction)
M. P. Shiel (weird fiction)
Karl Edward Wagner (dark fantasy)
Fritz Leiber (coined the term "swords and sorcery"; the first several Fafhrd & Grey Mouser books are classic; also did good weird fiction)
Ted Sturgeon (SF)
Ernest Bramah (the "Kai Lung" books are delightful)
James Branch Cabell (literary fantasy)
Jack Vance (the "Dying Earth" fantasy stories)
Michael Shea (the Nifft fantasy stories)
Stanley G. Weinbaum (SF)
H. Rider Haggard (lost-world fantasy)
A. Merritt (lost-world fantasy)
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edwin Lester Arnold (inspired Burroughs)
Leslie Barringer (fantasy)
Lafcadio Hearn (weird fiction)
John Collier (weird fiction)
Neal Stephenson (I've only read "Snow Crash")
William Gibson (the guy who everybody thinks invented cyberpunk)
K. W. Jeter (the guy who actually invented cyberpunk--see the book "Dr. Adder")
P. K. Dick (gonzo SF)
Ambrose Bierce (weird fiction)
Jeffrey Ford (fantasy)
Charles G. Finney (fantasy)
Italo Calvino (fantasy)
Jorge Luis Borges (fantasy)
I suppose I might as well add Gabriel Garcia Marquez, even though I don't like his stuff very much (magic realism)
Robert W. Chambers (weird fiction)
Guy de Maupassant (weird fiction)
The team of L. Sprauge de Camp & Fletcher Pratt (fantasy)
Hope Mirrlees (fantasy)
Peter S. Beagle (fantasy)
C. L. Moore (weird fiction & pulp SF)
Charles L. Harness (SF)
Gene Wolfe (SF & fantasy)
David Drake (military SF)
Francis Marion Crawford (weird fiction)
Dan Simmons (SF)
Mervyn Peake (fantasy)
Leigh Brackett (weird fiction & pulp SF)
Harry Harrison (SF)
George MacDonald (religious fantasy)
C. S. Lewis (religious fantasy & SF)
Tolkien (duh)
James H. Schmitz (SF)
John Steakley (SF)
Thorne Smith (fantasy)
Larry Niven (SF)
James White (SF)
The team of Niven & Pournelle (SF)
Fred Pohl (SF)
Evangeline Walton (fantasy)
  #30  
Old 01-01-2005, 01:17 AM
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Dangit, I forgot E. R. Eddison and Michael Moorcock (plus a bunch of others, have no doubt about that)
  #31  
Old 01-01-2005, 09:36 AM
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Of course, when evaluating Science Fiction, one must remember Sturgeon's Law, first publicly aired in 1953 by its creator, science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, and is recounted on this site:

Quote:
Originally Posted by science fiction writer James Gunn
The general thrust of Ted's remarks was that science fiction was the only genre that was evaluated by its worst examples rather than its best. "When people talk about the mystery novel," Ted said, as I remember, "they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say there's The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it 'that Buck Rogers stuff,' and they say 'ninety percent of science fiction is crud.' Well, they're right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud(my emphasis - this is the Law - s), and it's the ten percent that isn't crud that is important. and the ten percent of science fiction that isn't crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere.
  #32  
Old 01-01-2005, 10:18 AM
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I thought it would be dishonest if I didn't come in and plug the writer I got my handle from: Robin McKinley. I love her writing. She's mostly done rewrites of fairy tales, plus some original fantasy. I recommend Deerskin, Rose Daughter, and Spindle's End. They're remakes of Donkeyskin, Beauty ad the Beast, and Briar Rose. My screen name is from Deerskin. I also have a cat named Aerin-sol, Lady Dragonkiller. We're rabid McKinleyites in the Lissar household.

I really like Le Guin, too, although I've only read her Earthsea novels, The Telling, and the short story collection The Birthday of the World. I also love her essays on writing.

Also a strong recommendation for Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, and Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. All of those are technically children's books. They're also fantastic.

Robert Jordan should either be forced to get a real editor, or to spend several hours locked in a room with some of his characters.
  #33  
Old 01-01-2005, 10:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by screech-owl
Thanks. Give me a link and then expect me not to open it?

My eyes are bleeding.
My left arm is wrenching itself off at the shoulder.
My brain is trying to escape out my right nostril in panic.
The rest of my body is too stunned to move.

The editor in me is pleading "Let me work on it. I can make it better. Please let me have a chance, I know it can be salvaged."

Sanity walked out the door before section 2.

Sigh. I did ask for 'Warning' stuff. That's it. The next link you send me, I am going to read it only while I am blindfolded.

screech (just call me Pandora) -owl
Here's a slightly... ahem... enhanced version of The Eye of Argon. It's a definite improvement on the original. Not that that's hard or anything.
  #34  
Old 01-01-2005, 02:07 PM
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Neil Gaiman's graphic novels (i.e., The Sandman series) far outclass his regular novels (which are still decent), but this may be a minority opinion.
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Originally Posted by Tengu
I agree. (Gaiman's) comics and short fiction are great. I've yet to actually make it through any of his novels. Although I gave Neverwhere a good run. ... Murder Mysteries, which is great, has appeared in all 3 formats - short story, radio play, and comic book.
Quote:
Originally Posted by rjung
Just to briefly continue the hijack, the only Neil Gaiman stuff I've read are Good Omens and American Gods. Both come highly recommended from this die-hard Pratchett nut.
Doesn't seem like a hijack -- that's what the OP, Screech, was looking for -- recommendations.

---

Another Reason to read Gaiman's novels:

I mentioned Gaiman's novels, despite thinking them only decent overall, because of his broad appeal. American Gods, for example, got hyped quite a bit, and reached a wider, more mainstream, mostly appreciative audience.

And that audience includes, um, some of the literary chicks. So if you're a single guy, who digs literary chicks ....

Not sure if there's Cliff Notes for Gaiman.

Oh, while I'm here, I'd second HH's recommendation of Italo Calvino, and Borges ... they fall into the literary category. (And you'll find them in the "Literature" section of the bookstore.) Dunsany can be good for reading out loud, under certain circumstances.
  #35  
Old 01-01-2005, 02:30 PM
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Boy, you folks are thorough. I'll be busy for awhile.

I appreciate all of the effort. I want to keep up my end of the conversation without folks around me falling on the floor laughing hysterically or verbally patting me on the head ("there, there....."). Like talking to a bunch of Cordon Bleu graduates and mentioning I found a nice little Italian restaurant called Olive Garden.

Okay, further discussion, if I may.

What is it about Piers Anthony's works that some people hate so much and others worship as one step below Shakespeare? I've browsed through a couple of his books, read the 1st of the "Incarnations" (liked it), read the 1st of the Xanth (s'okay, kinda fell asleep through #2 and never got beyond that), and went on to other stuff. Is he of the hack school, or am I just not getting something about his work? This is an honest question - I know some people who absolutely adore his work, but other who would remove all traces of him from the bookshelves. Comments?
  #36  
Old 01-01-2005, 02:38 PM
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What is it about Piers Anthony's works that some people hate so much and others worship as one step below Shakespeare?
You'll find that with almost any author, although I notice that it tends to happen more often with fantasy/sf authors than say crime novelists.

Also, I'd like to second the anthology reading. I saved myself a lot of time that way. To be sure though it's a better indication of what someone was like at that point in their career - some will get better and some get more bloated, but I think it's a valid indicator of whether or not you like the general style and sensibilities of a given author.
  #37  
Old 01-01-2005, 04:16 PM
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I'll add that I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere not too long ago and quite liked it; it struck me as The Real Deal and one of the better fantasies I've read recently. Gaiman created a fantasy world that felt real and non-cliched. And he wrote a story that was, simultaneously, both creepy and menacing and nightmarish, and genuinely funny. Not an easy thing to pull off. I must look into his other works.

And let me just mention one more author that I don't think has been mentioned yet in this thread: Lloyd Alexander. Though it's been a while since I've read them, and though they're for kids, his five-volume Chronicles of Prydain is one of the first works that would spring to mind if I were asked to recommend something that had the same kind of appeal as Tolkien without being a Tolkien rip-off.
  #38  
Old 01-01-2005, 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Chairman Pow
- some will get better and some get more bloated, but I think it's a valid indicator of whether or not you like the general style and sensibilities of a given author.
Long about the eigth or ninth Xanth novel, I got frustrated. I took one of Anthony's books, and tore it into teeny tiny shreds, then threw the shreds all over my living room. I was finding them for months afterward, tucked behind cushions, and communing with dust bunnys in seldom visited corners. Every scrap I found, no matter how small, had the word Xanth imprinted on it. That's bloat.
  #39  
Old 01-01-2005, 05:56 PM
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Originally Posted by screech-owl
What is it about Piers Anthony's works that some people hate so much and others worship as one step below Shakespeare? Comments?
Why the love for Piers Anthony?

For a short answer, I'd say:
(1) teen appeal
(2) good trash
(3) Harry Potter

Why the hate? Same answers.

---

To, expand a bit …
Teen appeal -- an early exposure to SF/F. The writing is accessible to an early teen. Perfectly clear and easy to follow. The stories unfold well. Things keep happening, the plot keeps moving. The characters are sympathetic, and have plenty of obstacles to overcome. The teen reader can follow the stream of consciousness, rooting for the hero. For further teen appeal, the obstacles are not only physical, but moral, ethical, even spiritual, and the hero tries to do the right thing. There's love and sex, but not enough to get the books banned from junior high school libraries. And Anthony can be pretty imaginative, and humorous, too. Those Xanth stories, I think, had lots of clever cutesy magical stuff, just like Harry Potter, except probably better.

(And I'm sure there are, similarly, Harry Potter haters out there, but they keep quiet, because they don't want to get clubbed in the head by Potter fans wielding HP #5? 6? 7?, which, at 9 zillion pages, is lethal.)

People read some Piers Anthony as teens, enjoy it immensely; and there some stay, while the more literary ones move on, and never go back. But who knows, maybe future generations will consider Shakespeare second only to Piers Anthony.

My two-word summary of his body of work, as I know it, would be good trash, and I'd mean that as a compliment. Note: I read only a small fraction of his output, and I think I missed his "bloat" years. That might be bad trash. But I bet some of those stories could be turned into good movies.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lissla Lissar
I really like Le Guin, too... love her essays on writing.
There is one essay where LeGuin approves of trash, of garbage, saying that sh-- is good fertilizer. And then, in contrast, heartily condemns faked-up artificial "plastic" stories, targeting Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (I'm not sure how'd she categorize Piers Anthony.) She also lavishes much love on Tolkien, Vance, and Dunsany for their language, and the speech of their characters. Like in Tolkien, not only is so-and-so the noble high king of wherever, a figure out of legend, in a mythic world, in an epic story, but he talks like it, too. And then she sort of disses Katherine Kurtz as an opposite example.

LeGuin -- seldom a dull moment, intellectually.
  #40  
Old 01-01-2005, 07:23 PM
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I'm just going to pipe in here that I recently read Gateway by Frederik Pohl, and that was awesome.

...And I'm reading Gaiman's American Gods now, and it's pretty good. I think it's a lot like his graphic novels. I'm entertained by it, and that's good enough for me.

ZJ
  #41  
Old 01-01-2005, 07:56 PM
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I liked American Gods - to an extent. The setup was awesome, the execution was brilliant, till the last third of the book. Then it just.. well fell apart for me. About the same way I felt when I first read Dean Koontz, the book being Strangers.
I tend to disagree with what people have said about Bob Heinlein. Even though his writing isn't Nobel Prize worthy, I find his prose to be effective, a little terse, but not all that bad. I can read Asimoc and Clarke for the ideas, but they don't hold up too well for re-reading. Heinlein does, which I think is a mark saying that he was achieving literature - somewhat.

There are a lot of rabid Pratchett fans here, me being one of them. While it's not fantasy in the traditional sense, it certainly is literature, at least post Small Gods. And while his latest outing was a bit of a let down, Night Watch was so good, it's made my top five list of all time. In fact, as I'm between books right now, and I got inspired by writing this, I'm gonna re-read it for the fourth time, starting tonight.

I've never read Terry Brooks and the likes, and considering I think Tolkien is pretty bad literature which doesn't hold up beyond adolescense ( I was totally in love with the books in my teens, but find them unreadable now), I remember a quote, but not who made it, saying Tolkien was such an inspiration to so many eople, a lot of people started writing more of the same stuff, since Tolkien's production was so limited. Since fan fiction and the Net wasn't around back then, it got published, as the publishing houses saw that not only were there people who thought there should be more of the same stuff, there were readers too.

Also, isn't SciFi a sub-genre of Fantasy. The stuff we label Fantasy is really Swords&Sourcery.

Finally, I think that the Riverworld books by Phillip Jose Farmer are intrigueing and well worth reading. A very interesting take on the afterlife.
  #42  
Old 01-01-2005, 08:54 PM
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Lets not forget Robert Silverberg. Most of his novels are great, and his short stories are very good as well. (I see that lost mentioned silverberg, but can't hurt to mention him again.)

Octavia Butler is another great name with some wonderful story telling talent.
Roger Zelazny and Phillip Farmer are two great writers of their times and every story has that vibrance that makes for interesting reading.

What everybody else said too!
  #43  
Old 01-02-2005, 02:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MacSpon
Guy Gavriel Kay.
This guy's writing makes my brain shrivel up in horror.
Quote:
The other smiled at that. "Names matter to you? They should. It is Galadan who has come, and I fear it is the end."
Awkwardly flowery prose of the Barbara Cartland persuasion seems to be a hallmark of modern fantasy fiction.

But there are some that stand out. Kim Stanley Robinson is one of the more accomplished genre writers, and his The Years of Rice and Salt is one of the most original novels of speculative fiction that I have come across. Based on the premise that the bubonic plague wiped out all of Europe in the 14th century, it tells an alternate history of how the world might have developed once the Asian nations were free to take over. Beautifully written in a multitude of literary styles, one for each time period in which the story takes place.

Tim Powers is an extremely accomplished writer who more than makes up for his at times pulpy prose with his preternatural gift for atmosphere and setting; the mythological depth (backed by an enormous amount of theoretical research) and seamless, often surreal world-building comes together in set pieces that just click. His stories also have a deep sense of humour, too. His finest work to date is probably The Anubis Gates, about time travel, body switching, Egyptian magic and Lord Byron. Last Call, The Drawing of the Dark (dark beer, that is), and On Stranger Tides (the best voodoo zombie pirate novel I've read) are classics, too.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is one of the finest science-fiction fantasies ever written, a wonderfully nostalgic and hilariously whacky time-travel trip to Victorian England inspired by Three Men in a Boat. A fresh breath of air in an otherwise all-too-dusty genre.
  #44  
Old 01-02-2005, 02:51 AM
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Originally Posted by gentle
This guy's writing makes my brain shrivel up in horror.
Hey!

Look, Guy Kay readers come in two groups: those who've only read the Fionovar Tapestry, and those who've also read his GOOD books. I suggest you go out and find a copy of The Lions of Al-Rassan to see what I mean.

More of my thoughts on the subject here.
  #45  
Old 01-02-2005, 02:56 AM
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Originally Posted by gentle
Tim Powers is an extremely accomplished writer who more than makes up for his at times pulpy prose with his preternatural gift for atmosphere and setting
Well, except for Forsake the Sky and An Epitaph In Rust, which are pretty much crap. He's actually asked people not to read the latter work.

His other books and short stories are great, though. And try to see him talk in person if you ever get a chance--he's a blast.
  #46  
Old 01-02-2005, 03:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Hunter Hawk
Well, except for Forsake the Sky and An Epitaph In Rust, which are pretty much crap. He's actually asked people not to read the latter work.
Haven't read those, precisely because the consensus seems to be that his earlier (which is what I assume you meant) books are worthless crap.
  #47  
Old 01-02-2005, 03:17 AM
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Originally Posted by gentle
Haven't read those, precisely because the consensus seems to be that his earlier (which is what I assume you meant) books are worthless crap.
Yeah, they're his first two novels. Starting with The Drawing of the Dark, though, his stuff is a lot better. BTW, if you like Powers but haven't read Blaylock yet, you owe it to yourself to do so--they're friends and collaborators.
  #48  
Old 01-02-2005, 03:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Hunter Hawk
Yeah, they're his first two novels. Starting with The Drawing of the Dark, though, his stuff is a lot better. BTW, if you like Powers but haven't read Blaylock yet, you owe it to yourself to do so--they're friends and collaborators.
I tried reading Homunculus, but after a chapter or so I felt like I was being crushed under the heavy prose. It's supposed to be really good, though, so I'll try again some day.
  #49  
Old 01-02-2005, 06:58 AM
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I felt like I was being crushed under the heavy prose.
Blaylock's work is a bit inconsistent that way. Try All the bells of earth, or The last coin.
  #50  
Old 01-02-2005, 07:10 AM
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Blaylock's work is a bit inconsistent that way. Try All the bells of earth, or The last coin.
I will. Thanks.
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