Today’s post is a bit on the light side, but I’ve had a few requests for this, so here goes: my favorite science-fiction and fantasy series. Oh, and there’s actually 26, plus some at the end I haven’t read yet but want to. I’ve only put a brief blurb for each, or this would take 400 pages, but don’t worry, I’ll review most of these in the future. And sorry if I left X series you love off, I’m sure it’s fantastic, but I own too many books to go thoroughly through them all.
- Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
Game of Thrones is a masterpiece of genre-defying. If you read this in reverse order, you’ll know that I said that most fantasy is derivative of Tolkien to some degree. Well, Game of Thrones is one of the series that doesn’t stand a chance of having that accusation placed. Gritty? Check. Humans only? Sort of. Fantasy almost doesn’t feel like the right genre for Game of Thrones. I think the right genre is medieval politics with a dash of ‘man, life really sucks’.
- Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan
Everything LotR wanted to do: establish a mythos and a history and build a huge world, Robert Jordan has done a hundred fold, and with a better writing style, to boot (although it falters around books 9-11). LotR follows more PoVs than you’ll ever be able to keep track of, names every character and expects you to remember them when they return, and is all-around THE example for all-encompassing world-building. This series is SO EPIC that I made my first post on Fistful of Wits about it.
- Stormlight Archives – Brandon Sanderson
1 book out and it gets my #3 slot. I can’t begin to express how much this book is the beginning of an epic series. The first book is well over a thousand pages, and there are a supposed 9 more coming. So all of you who just got over your epic fantasy addiction when you wrapped up Wheel of Time? Let’s get ready for some more pain and suffering as we wait painstakingly for a series to finish before the author dies.
- Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
Dude. It’s LotR. I only didn’t put this in the #1 spot so I wouldn’t be accused of being old-fashioned and biased. Everything most fantasy series have done since? Copied from LotR. Elves? Dwarves? All given vastly diferent representations in TOlkien than in previous literature, and it influences all fantasy that will follow. World of Warcraft might as well be called ‘World of We-All-Really-Wanted-To-Play-A-LotR-Fanfic’. If you’re reading non-gritty fantasy with non-human races? It probably has Tolkienian influences.
- Runelords – David Farland
I almost put this above LotR. The magic system is a fascinating metaphor for the feudal system, and the series plays very well, until the author either ran out of ideas or decided on a new direction, and it derails a bit (book 4 or 5).
- Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn is a pretty cool trilogy with an extra random book and two more trilogies planned. Basically bad shit has happened to the world, with a tyrant Emperor and maybe a tyrant God, and somebody’s got to overthrow them. As with all Brandon Sanderson, expect a Deus ex Machina ending.
- Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss
Only two books and I’m hooked. The premise isn’t all that interesting: boy goes off to magician college and becomes the most badassingest boy ever to study magic. The character is one giant Gary Stu who will irritate you consistently, and the world is populated with characters who are made more annoying to make it easy for you to side with him. He’s then given unstoppable obstacles and tricks his way around all of them in a way that is explained away by his being the most connivingest boy ever to connive. His character motivations all go on the backburner constantly, until they come up suddenly and they are EVERYTHING to him. And yet none of that matters because Patrick Rothfuss has a writing style that sucks you in and won’t let go.
- Saga of Recluse – L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Every time I lend the first 4 books of this series to a friend, they come back a week later and say “MORE”. You will get more of the same, unfortunately, as there are really only 3 or 4 plots that L.E. Modesitt uses in this series. His books tend to stress balance, rather than good and evil, and feature interesting combinations of magic and technology.
- Codex Alara – Jim Butcher
I hate Jim Butcher. DESPISE him. I think his pulpy writing style lacks substance, and I always feel like I’ve just wasted time reading his books. And yet I couldn’t help myself with these books. The premise of the series? He contested he could make anything interesting, and the challenge presented was to combine ‘lost legion of Rome’ with ‘Pokemon’. Somehow, he delivers.
- Coldfire Trilogy – C.S. Friedman
Friedman presents an incredible view of a type of magic that is very unique and a history that is very interesting, along with a surprisingly diverse cast of characters. Her views on magic have influenced my own writing more than any other author.
- Oath of Empire – Thomas Harlan
This is your typical ‘ancient Roman epic with magic thrown in for good measure’. If by typical, you mean fantastic.
- Night Angel Trilogy – Brent Weeks
Boy trains to become assassin to get revenge and finds himself part of so much more.
- Engineer Trilogy – K.J. Parker
I’ve only read the first one; the character was a bit of a Gary Stu, and the writing style was occasionally dry, but it showed promise, so I’m putting it on here
- Deathstalker – Simon R. Green
I’ve talked at length about Deathstalker, and I think it epitomizes (and parodies) Space Opera to a degree that makes it undeniably the most self-aware science fiction I’ve ever read (something you might miss if you mistake the sheer amount of over-the-top it possess as serious).
- Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Space Opera at its finest, drawing back to historical earth, with Keats as a character. What’s not to like? One of those Sci-Fi novels that says ‘to hell with combat, I want to do exposition and describe a universe’.
- Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
It’s hard for me not to put this at #1. When you think ‘boy growing up to save the world, you tend to think Fantasy, but this sci-fi novel takes a much grittier approach, where ‘growing up’ doesn’t mean ‘getting magical powers and learning to fight’, it means ‘learning the hard facts about life’. The series has some stumbles in later books, but the first two books are just straight up fantastic.
- The Unincorporated Future – Kollin Brothers
I see this book less as sci-fi and more of that weird brand of political fiction that Ayn Rand was trying to write when she projectile vomited her objectivist crap out. Except well written. And interesting. And nuanced. And worth reading.
- Foundation – Isaac Asimov
Sort of a classic of science-fiction.
- Hitchhiker’s Trilogy – Douglas Adams
More on the comedy end of sci-fi, but very enjoyable
- Dune – Frank Herbert
Defined the space opera genre. If every book but he first hadn’t made me want to curl up in a ball and cry from boredom, this series may be hire up.
- Star of the Guardians – Margaret Weis
You know those series’ Deathstalker is parodying? This is one of them. Worth reading just for the context.
- His Dark Materials – Phillip Pullman
I could put this not in Young Adult and it would still stand up with the best sci-fi/fantasy books of all time. A war against god tears the fabric of the universe, sending people into other universes to try and fix the damage that has been done.
- Leviathan – Scott Westerfeld
WWI re-imagined with a technological Austria (walkers and tanks) and a Darwinian UK (genetically modified whale zeppelins)? Try not to like this
- The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
The movie couldn’t even do the sheer emotional impact of this book justice. Expect to cry.
- Redwall – Brian Jacques
Woodland critters with weapons and religion! It’s exciting!
Intending to Read
- The Miles Vorkosigan books – Lois McMaster Bujold
- Felix Castor Novels – Mike Carey
- The Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson
I tried to start these books, but then I went off to college and never got back to it.
- Everything else L.E. Modesitt Jr.
A lot of his series’ are hinted to take place in the same universe, and that attention to detail intrigues me.
- First Law Trilogy – Joe Abercrombie
- Malazan Book of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
I’ve tried to read these like 10 times and failed halfway through book 1 each time. But Henry assures me they’re good. One day. One day.
- The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher
Fine, I’ll read it! I’ve actually read book one, and enjoyed it a lot. But in the same way that one might enjoy eating 5 bags of skittles.
- Sword of Shadows – JV Jones
- Everything by Raymond E. Feist
>>> Everything most fantasy series have done since? Copied from LotR. <<<
Acutally, most major fantasy authors – including Martinm, Feist, Moorcock, Gaiman and Pratchett – say that Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber were more influential. The same is probably true for RPG designs (Leiber lived off payments from the D&D franchise in his later years.) Most readers don't know this because Vance and Leiber are relatively obscure -and very few people who read fantasy know anything about the genre.
But LOTR is "high fantasy" and most modern fantasy is LOW fantasy – which means that you have characters like Tyrion and Bron, who take after Leiber's Mouser and Fafhrd rather than Aragorn and Legolas. And, no, LOTR didn't invent elves or dwarves. Otoh, conventions like the Theives and Assasins Guilds come from Leiber, who D&D character classes existed only so you could player his main pair of characters (hence the Rogue and Barbarian classes), the D&D magic system was from Vance, the first two characters on-stage in teh Discworld books were Leiber homages, Ank Morpork is ruled by a Patrician, etc.
See Martin's Vance homage athology or his recent suggested fantasy reading list, or Feist's and Moorcocks introductions to the recent series of Leiber reprints.
(Seriously: this shouldn't be hard – modern fantasy is full osex, irony, anti-heroes and villains who are still human, and noticeably free of Tom Bombadil clones and people who never have sex…)
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