My Favorite Fantasy Novels/Series

January 19th, 2009

I read fantasy and like it. It isn’t always my first choice, but I really love a great fantasy book. While there are some deeply profound and moving fantasy novels, I look to fantasy especially for escapism. I still expect it to be self-consistent but I don’t have to tear my hair out over it the way I do sometimes with science fiction. My dad tends not to like fantasy at all — his ability to suspend disbelief is somewhat limited — although he can be tricked into reading it and liking it sometimes.

It occurred to me that I would be interested in seeing what science fiction fantasy writers like, and on the flip side I’m going to suggest some of my favorites and why I like them. Some warnings and caveats first. I tend not to like many of the big fat fantasies (BFFs), and like but do not love urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Also, because my fantasy reading is more limited, I’m likely missing some books I’d really love. George R. R. Martin is a favorite writer of mine, but I haven’t read his Song of Ice and Fire books. I haven’t read C. S. Lewis. I haven’t read Philip Pullman. Highly praised and purchased writers I’ve read but do not love (detest in just a few cases) include Raymond Feist, Guy Gavriel Kay, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tim Powers, Terry Brooks, and Terry Goodkind. I always meant to read a little Robert Jordan, but that’s apparently impossible so I skipped him.

Here are some fantasy reads I have loved, in no particular order. Some books marketed as horror are going to sneak onto the list, too.

I read and loved the Harry Potter books. Heard of them?

I wrote about Eric Nylund’s forthcoming fantasy Mortal Coils last month. I think it’s going to be a fantastic series. Shades of Harry Potter, as well as one of Gaiman’s best…

American Gods is a great but flawed book in my opinion. I’d have cut the length way down and eased up on the interim sections, for starters. After reading Sandman it wasn’t super original to me, but it was still a great read.

Replay is contemporary fantasy involving time travel of a sort, without explanation. It’s an inspiration for Groundhog Day, a great movie.

Glimpses is another contemporary story of unexplained time travel, about rock music, and more. I remember being blown away by the audacity to write this sort of book and deal with Brian Wilson, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix as characters. It was cool.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a timeless classic and seems so perfect.

Zelazny is one of my favorite science fiction writers, and I enjoy his fantasies as well.

Stephen King is a fine writer, and I very much enjoyed the opening books of his Dark Tower series. I confess I haven’t gotten around to finishing it, but intend to.

Master of the Five Magics isn’t the best fantasy I ever read. It’s rather pedestrian in a lot of ways, but I really respect the hell out of the carefully constructed and logical magic systems here.

I love Glen Cook’s work. It’s sparse. It’s cynical. It’s funny. It’s moving.

Dan Simmons is a favorite writer of mine, and whether he’s writing science fiction, fantasy, or horror, I’ve enjoyed it. Carrion Comfort is a great read.

A similar sort of book is Brian Lumley’s Necroscope, contemporary fantasy bridging into horror and science fiction.

Forgotten Beasts of Eld is another one of those perfect fantasies, like a crystal or a flower. Poetic and magical.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a very recent read, and while I consider superheroes their own genre and this particular book fun but not quite meeting my expectations, I really wanted to include it and recommend you buy it if it all appeals to you.

This is a masterpiece of dark fantasy and I found it by turns magical and chilling.

I had the privilege of listening to Bill Spencer read Zod Wallop in draft form in a workshop and it is a great book. It deserved more attention than it got.

Thomas Covenant. Some people hate it. Some love it. I’m one of the latter. Leper. Outcast. Unclean. Indeed.

Pern. Supposedly Pern is science fiction, but I never saw it. I only read the first three books and liked them well enough, but not well enough to read about the harpers and the drummers and everyone else on Pern.

Based on this list, or based on what you think a hard science guy would like in a fantasy, any suggestions? I have no doubt that when it comes to the fantasy field, there are huge swaths of good books I am ignorant about.


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