Four great fantasy and science-fiction books

Lies-of-Locke-Lamora

The follow-up to a previous blog, this article looks at four more examples of exceptional literature, specifically focusing on fantasy and science-fiction:

Magician Raymond E. Feist
At Crydee, Pug, an orphan boy is apprenticed to a master magician. Suddenly the Kingdom is aswarm with alien invaders, destroying the peace of the kingdom. Pug and his friend Tomas are swept up into the conflict, with Pug’s destiny leading him through a rift to a new world.

An epic in every sense of the word, Magician combines excellent storytelling and a variety of strong leading characters in beautifully rich worlds. Of note is the chapter describing Pug’s transformation – one of the best I have ever read. A novel that often falls into the ‘unfilmable’ category, it would however make for an excellent film series.

The Name of the Wind Patrick Rothfuss
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe.

You may have heard of me.

One of the best fantasy-novels written this side of the millennium, it won’t disappoint those looking for something different. Less about politics or the fate of the world (compared to LOTR or ASOIAF), it’s the story of a man recounting his life to-date and the trials and tribulations he has faced. Also worth a mention is the scientific logic given to the novel’s form of magic, sympathy, which was a welcome surprise in an often cliche aspect of fantasy literature. The story continues in The Wise Man’s Fear and the as-yet released The Doors of Stone.

Hyperion Dan Simmons
It is the 29th century and the universe of the Human Hegemony is under threat. Invasion by the warlike Ousters looms, and the mysterious schemes of the secessionist AI TechnoCore bring chaos ever closer.

On the eve of disaster, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set fourth on a final voyage to the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, a lethal creature, part god and part killing machine, whose powers transcend the limits of time and space. The pilgrims have resolved to die before discovering anything less than the secrets of the universe itself.

The lone sci-fi novel in this list and my favourite from this genre. Its strength lies in the underlying threat slowly woven into the story through the tales of the seven central characters. The universe is wonderfully written, without using jargon or over-elaborate semantics and the frame-story setting allows you to learn far more about the characters and their increasingly similar objectives. The story concludes with The Fall of Hyperion.

The Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch
They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he’s part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich – they’re the only ones worth stealing from – but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards.

Fresh and original this novel explores the morally dubious Gentleman’s Bastards as they steal from the rich and give to… themselves. These con artists are deftly described by Scott Lynch with wit, skill and precision. This is very much removed from ‘classic fantasy’ but in numerous positive ways, particularly through the gritty portrayal of the city-state of Camorr and the organised crime that envelopes it. Very different to the norm, but it works exceptionally well. As above, this is part of a larger series well-worth reading.

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Up next for me: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie.

Five examples of great literature – fantasy, alternate history and post-apocalyptic stories

When it comes to literature I will read just about anything. However I have grown to love fantasy, alternate history and apocalypse-based stories. This blog is a selection from the aforementioned categories that really stand out for me. To put a caveat on this list – it isn’t meant to be my top five of all time, but five from these genres that fully deserve the recognition they have received.

I Am Legend Richard Matheson

“The novel charts the every day life of Robert Neville, the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic which resembles vampirism and destroyed mankind.”

A relatively short book by modern standards, it brilliantly portrays Robert Neville’s struggle to maintain a grip on reality as he attempts to simply survive each day and, more importantly, each night. These are depicted in a bleak but engrossing fashion that has inspired two of the most influential men of modern storytelling: author Stephen King and director George A. Romero.

The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham

“Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital to a bitter irony in his situation. Carefully removing his bandages, he realizes that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower.”

As with I Am Legend, a novel also written in the 1950s, Wyndham creates a timeless world, with a wonderful confusion for the reader. Without wishing to spoil too much this book is brilliant at obscuring the true danger to Bill Masen and the people he meets along the way. For further kudos, director Danny Boyle has stated the initial hospital scene inspired Alex Garland to write 28 Days Later.

World War Z Max Brooks

“Following a decade long war against zombies, a UN sanctioned journalist collates the stories of those who survived. From rumours of the outbreak and a global pandemic, to survivalism and the fightback”

Perhaps the least traditional book on this list, as it’s written as if it actually occurred to the author in the from of numerous interviews with survivors. It’s brilliance lies in the drip-feed of information from the differing eyewitness accounts, and the creation of fear and uncertainty in the reader as the stories unfold.

Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin

“The Starks of Winterfell are pulled into the politics of the Seven Kingdoms.  It’s thirteen years after a civil war deposed the Targaryen Dynasty from the Iron Throne, and after years of summer, winter is coming.”

Arguably the long awaited heir to Tolkien’s genius, Martin creates a world and a story unlike any other seen before. If the characters and the locations aren’t enough to satisfy your needs, the numerous interweaving plots will keep you hooked (and guessing) throughout. Nothing is predictable.

Watchmen Alan Moore

“It’s 1985, masked heroes are now outlawed, Watergate never happened, the Doomsday Clock moves ever closer to midnight, and a Comedian is murdered in New York City.”

It’s unique for a graphic novel to typically appear on these types of lists, but Watchmen deserves the recognition. A fantastic alternate reality story, which combines political and socio-economic themes with the engaging characters, and a storyline that appears ever more bleak. A story to behold, even if you aren’t a typical fan of the graphic novel genre.

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