The question I asked this time:
Some readers are looking for entry points into fantasy and pointing them at a book rich in the conversation and assumed tropes can throw them right out of it again. Other readers want more than a basic experience but are frustrated with novels that retread the same basics over and over.
So I'd like for you to recommend me *two* books:
1. A 101 SFF book that someone who may have seen Lord of the Rings but never cracked open an SFF book might fruitfully read.
2. A 201 SFF book for someone looking for a deeper, richer experience, rewarding their previous reading in genre.
Here are our participants and their answers!
Marissa Lingen writes an alarming number of science fiction and fantasy stories, and now poetry and nonfiction too. You can find her in real life wherever it's cold enough, on twitter @MarissaLingen or on her website at www.marissalingen.com.
Megan E. O'Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She lives in the Bay Area of California, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on. Her fantasy debut, Steal the Sky, won the Gemmell Morningstar Award and her space opera debut, Velocity Weapon is nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. She is represented by Sam Morgan at The Lotts Agency.
A former academic and adjunct, Alix E. Harrow is now a full-time writer living in Kentucky with her husband and their semi-feral toddlers. She is the author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January and Hugo award-winning short fiction. Find her at @AlixEHarrow on Twitter.
You know what everybody loves? Dueling magicians who slowly fall in love within a whimsical and aesthetically pleasing circus! The Night Circus has been a very successful SFF 101 book recommendation for me. The magic is familiar and the world is very nearly our own, and the spirit of yearning and wonder is one that almost every reader knows well. I've also had good luck with Stardust, because all of us have fairy tales baked into our bones.
...But not everybody is prepared to read about a geologically-fractured planet and the hyper-evolved earth-benders who manipulate its surface in service to a totalitarian empire. The Fifth Season is brilliant, already-classic, excruciating, and wonderful--but it doesn't hold your hand as it takes you through a continent's-worth of secondary world history and a heady mix of technology and magic. I also try to reserve all 800 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for 201 readers, because not everybody is up for footnotes about fairy history.
Adri is co-editor here at Nerds of a Feather.
I love how this question is formulated, because it makes one thing clear from the start: very few people coming into SFF books for the first time are entering in a vacuum of previous media. While the literary genre may not have taken over the world, big movie and TV franchises with fantasy trappings are now a major part of the landscape, and any 101 conversation needs to take that into account.
Of course, recommending a book for someone who has seen Lord of the Rings requires understanding if they liked Lord of the Rings or not. I considered breaking the rules of the question to give myself a recommendation for those who do, and a recommendation for those who don't", but I should probably set a good example and do things properly! My 101 book is therefore a pick that I hope will have something for both crowds: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Fans of the fellowship get another close-knit crew, all figuring out their own problems and on a (slightly less epic) quest; those who need to know that it's not all battles and melodrama and highly gender-biased casts get a very different narrative and and aesthetic to the big individualistic epics of film. Plus, in the UK edition at least, it's got a very "crossover"-friendly cover: there's a serif font and everything!
Marina Berlin is a critic, author and poet and who grew up speaking three languages in a coastal city far, far away. Her opinions have been published in IGN, VICE, Los Angeles Review of Books, Strange Horizons and other venues. You can find her work at her website: marinaberlin.org or follow her on Twitter @berlin_marina
Cho's protagonists are Prunella Gentleman, an orphan whose father was a British officer and whose mother was an Indian sorceress, and Zacharias Whyte, a boy born to an African couple who were enslaved by the British, and adopted by the English noble who took him from his parents as an infant. Both Prunella and Zacharias are outsiders in British society, despite growing up steeped in its mores and traditions, and both of them have access to magic, in different ways.
I love the book because of its humor, its global outlook on the 19th century, despite being focused on England, and the gentle, intricate relationships it weaves between its protagonists and their friends, enemies and relatives. On the one hand it's a very easy book for readers new to the genre - it's set in our world, albeit in a different century, the protagonists are humans, and the magical creatures are mostly faeries and dragons, things people with no interest in fantasy are likely vaguely familiar with. On the other hand, it's great for introducing people to genre, it opens so many doors and uses so many tropes, it's a great stepping stone to start from and then move on to other books.
The book is also rewarding because it blends military science fiction with elements of fantasy, including religious worship in a very high-tech environment. It portrays a form of warfare that's based on a calendar that does everything from dictating auspicious dates to determining what defense formation can be used. If you've read a lot of military scifi in English, the book will likely feel fresh and inventive with its tropes, including the protagonist, a high ranking military officer, spending her free time watching TV shows with robots shaped like mythical animals, who gossip about her when she's not looking.
Lisa (she/her) is a thirtysomething lifelong book nerd from Scotland who lives surrounded by SFF books and fueled by tea. She is a co-host of SciFi Month and Wyrd and Wonder, both online celebrations of SF and fantasy respectively. She can be found online at Dear Geek Place, or on Twitter and Instagram as @deargeekplace.
I picked Jen’s debut novel on the basis that someone who has seen The Lord of the Rings and liked it enough to want to find more stories like it, should absolutely try something fresher in the same epic adventure vein. For me, the Copper Cat trilogy absolutely fits that bill. It’s everything an aspiring fantasy nerd could want. It’s entrenched in the tropes comfortably enough to represent the genre well, but unlike Tolkien’s written work, it’s as far from dry as you can get (sorry, Fellowship fans!). And it was among the very first SFF books I read when I was starting out as a blogger, so not only is my personal soft spot for it undeniable, but it leaped immediately to mind when I was considering how to answer this question. I go with my gut a lot of the time, and so here is my 101 offering.
This one also represents a modern genre offering that clearly stands on the shoulders of the classic giants that came before it, but rather than simply leaping off of that foundation, this strange, richly-imagined science-fantasy digs down, getting to know its own soil and coming up with weird and wonderful story gems that make the whole thing feel like an undiscovered country (or planet, if we’re staying properly on-theme here).
It’s Frank Herbert’s Dune for every uppity nerd who ever asked really critical questions about it, who loved its ideas and/or its trappings but wanted more (yes, that’s me, hi how are you). So depending on how deep in love you already are with SFF, it can definitely satisfy that craving for clearer, better storytelling
Melissa Caruso is the author of fantasy novels of intrigue and explosions from Orbit Books, including The Tethered Mage and its sequels; her latest, The Obsidian Tower, launches a new trilogy this June. Find Melissa on Twitter as @melisscaru for tweets about the four classic elements: writing, swordfighting, tea, and pets.
Andrew Hiller stumbled off the road least chosen into the whitewater best avoided. Astride his capsized raft, you can find his books, A Halo of Mushrooms and A Climbing Stock, his radio work, and a couple of Muppet documentaries.
In the end, I realize there is no one right choice, but I discard the Belgariad, Harry Potter, and even Amber.
The first book my students will dig into will be Brian McClellan’s 2017 Epic Fantasy, Sins of Empire. Why? It has echoes of Tolkien with its military strategy, battles, and magical artifacts, but layers in a tale of spies, propaganda, and politics. Even better for my students, Empire features a split narrative.
Why is this important?
If my reader likes adventure tales or superheroes, they have a Hercules of a character in Mad Ben Styke. If they prefer, tales of wiles and wit or to wrestle with racial subjugation and an underground fight for civil rights, then Michel Brevis’ narrative will captivate them. On the other hand, if military strategy is their thing, Lady Flint should more than satisfy. In other words, McClellan’s Gods of Blood and Powder provides a rich buffet. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun.
To follow it up? For SFF 201, I’m picking a book that shows that fantasy is larger than rewashed Tolkienesque quests and battle. I still want a book that’s a ride, fun, and has rich characters. How about a book that marries The Godfather with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ? That’s right, book two is an action intrigue. It’s Fonda Lee’s Jade City.
Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's three month break from computer programming has now lasted seventeen years and counting. He's written more gaming books than he can readily recall, by virtue of the alchemical transformation of tea and guilt into words. He lives in Ireland with his wife, twin sons and a marauding toddler. Find him online at garhanrahan.com or on twitter @mytholder
What makes Die especially interesting is that they’re not in some generic fantasy-land. Much like Ellis’ Planetary uncovered the secret history of comics, Die's realms trace the development of SFF, from the Bronte’s imagined worlds to Tolkien (and, intriguingly, William Gibson), and the characters as are knowingly genre-aware as the canniest reader. Highly recommended.
Keena Roberts wrote a memoir about growing up being chased by lions and now writes queer SFF. She can be found at @roberts_keena on Twitter, tweeting about being chased by lions and queer SFF.
J Kathleen Cheney
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former math teacher who gave up the glory of public school teaching for the chance to write her stories. The Golden City (2013) was the first of her published novels, and if you look real hard on the internet you'll discover she's still writing despite the insanity of our world.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald is a freelance editor and owner of Earl Grey Editing. She lives in Canberra, Australia. An unabashed roleplayer and reader of romance, her weaknesses are books, loose-leaf tea and silly dogs. She tweets @elizabeth_fitz
Camestros Felapton is a blogger and a 2018 Hugo finalist Fanwriter. He and his cat can be found at https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/
Catherine Lundoff is Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, AKA The Publisher, at Queen of Swords Press (www.queenofswordspress.com). She also writes and edits in genres ranging from fantasy to historical fiction and mysteries to horror in her copious free time. The rest of her life is dedicated to doing arcane things with computers and worshipping her cats as they are accustomed to being adored. www.catherinelundoff.net
Thanks for asking me to play along!
Sophia McDougall is the author of the Romanitas trilogy, set in a modern world where the Roman Empire never fell – newly out in the US and Canada. Her two novels for children, Mars Evacuees and Space Hostages, are about girls, boys and fish-shaped robots in outer space.
Julie’s been reading and loving fantasy (and SF) as long as she can remember. Unable to get enough, she started writing her own in 1997, and now has 20 books in print from DAW. Introducing this genre to new readers? One of her greatest joys.
Thank you all!
POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.