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Fantasy isn’t just Fluff and Nonsense

October 16, 2008

I get so tired of reading forums where people claim that they hate reading fantasy books in public because the covers are cheesy or corny. I get even more tired when people make the assumption that fantasy books are merely escapist getaways from reality, more fluff than substance.

So in honor of the fact that I’m about to head out to Con*Stellation this weekend where Diane Duane will be one of the guests of honor, I’m putting together a list of some of my favorite fantasy books which are geared toward people who aren’t afraid of little things like… oh.. physics.

Not that I have anything against the fluffy sorts of fantasy (I love them too). But sometimes you want to read something that reminds you that explaining everything as “it’s *magic*!” is kind of a cop out.

  • The Young Wizards Chronicles by Diane Duane. ( Books in the series include: So You Want to be a Wizard?, Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, A Wizard Abroad, A Wizard’s Dilemma, A Wizard at War). I first picked up these books when I was twelve, in the young adult section of my library, LONG before Harry Potter became the reigning king of kid wizards. Nita and Kit and their friends (and family and pets) hop between alternate universes, fight entropy, talk to stars and whales and trees and faeries and cats and transcendent pigs, and discuss weighty laws of physics and mathematics
  • Chronicles of Chaos by John. C. Wright (Books in the series include: Orphans of Chaos, Fugitives of Chaos, Titans of Chaos). This is a fairly recent series that actually managed to sprain my brain several times while reading and trying to wrap my head around the concepts introduced. It follows the adventures of a group of “students” at a boarding school in England who discover that they are not what they thought they were, and that their teachers are creatures out of myth who are keeping them prisoner. Combining heady doses of greek mythology with particle physics, occult practices, bio-technology and trans-dimensional beings, this series may be difficult to follow sometimes, but it manages to be entertaining as well. The final battle is a little on the unbelievable side, though.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (and follow up books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet). Another series I discovered young, mainly because I think I was assigned to read it. Still a fascinating story that twists fantasy and science fiction together and creates something fascinating and still refreshingly different even today.
  • The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings. High fantasy, yes, but some of the philosophical, sociological, theological, political and hypothetical physics discussed in this book (and several other Eddings books for that matter), put it on my list.
  • IceWind Dale Trilogy, Dark Elf Trilogy, Clerical Quintet by R.A. Salvatore. My husband requested that I add these to the list because, he says “Salvatore took a deep look at the socio-political issues within the Forgotten Realms. That these things don’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not just people running around killing Orcs.”
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Yes, the grand-daddy of all fantasy. Tolkien’s world is so fully realized that at times you feel like you’re reading a history book, not a fictional story at all. With his gift for inventing languages, history, politics, and a good grasp of warfare and mythology, The Lord of the Rings is beyond mere world building.
  • Another of my husband’s picks: The Incarnations of Immortality Series by Piers Anthony. John says: “Although uneven, Piers Anthony’s look at the afterlife took the viewpoint that all of this is a job. That the afterlife needs “people” to take care of the various divisions and departments, and that if they don’t do their jobs right, things go very wrong for their customers, namely “us”. The weakest book of the series is the last, but then again, how do you deal with the succession of Ultimate Deity?”
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Humorous, yes, but this tongue-in-cheek satirical fantasy about the Apocalypse, Anti-Christ, and the war between Up There and Down There really covers a lot of philosophical and theological ground. Hot stuff to handle, but they do it in such a way that it makes you think. The saddest thing I ever saw was when my local library refused to do a book discussion of Good Omens on the grounds that it was “too controversial” and instead chose an insipid Oprah book of the month drama with the intellectual depth of a spoon.
  • Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs (books include: Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed and the upcoming Bone Crossed). Unlike a lot of paranormal/fantasy romance out there, Briggs takes a long hard dive into what makes werewolves, vampires, faeries, witches, and skinwalkers really tick. She delves into politics, the society of creatures that are utterly non-human, as well as the biological issues that surround them.
  • Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffery. I’m not going to get too much into the rest of the series, which started out strong and took a long, steady decline down into boring over time. But this “prequel” of sorts to the rest of the series deals heavily with space travel, bio-engineering, sociological and political issues, geological exploration, and still manages to retain that “fantasy” feel.

There are tons of others, too. With the wealth of intelligently written fantasy books out there I continually find it difficult to believe that people look down their noses at the genre.

And don’t even get me started on what I think of their opinion about the covers.

Comment here and leave some recommendations of books I’ve left out.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2008 8:55 pm

    I never had a lot of interest in reading non-fantasy books after elementary school. I read the usual popular kids books which weren’t fantasy. But almost everything we read in high school and college was boring or depressing.

  2. October 17, 2008 8:58 pm

    I have been a longtime reader of fantasy as well as a fantasy artist for quite some time. I agree with you completely that the fantasy genre gets a bad rap from “intellectual” snobs who dismiss it as being for kids, or not really worthy of any attention.

    What’s funny is that fantasy and sci-fi have very deep roots when it comes to innovation and outside the norm thinking. Some of the greatest minds of our time claim to have drawn great inspiration from reading works from the fantasy or sci-fi genre. I personally know artists (in addition to myself) who were profoundly affected by fantasy art, and that it’s the reason they still do artwork today.

    To all I say keep reading, and let the paranoid or the haters do and think what they may. They don’t know what they are missing.

  3. October 18, 2008 6:43 pm

    This is a really good list! And a good point 🙂

    My favorite on here is probably A Wrinkle in Time. Great series! I read it when I was in 4th grade I believe and it really changed the way I looked at a lot of the books I read thereafter.

  4. October 21, 2008 8:29 pm

    My all time favorite is the Dune series. But also, I love the Piers Anthony Incarnations of Immortality series. The smorgasbord scene stuck with me. I loved how when you looked through the glasses you saw through the lies. I always wanted a pair of those….I’m still looking, maybe one day I will find a pair.

  5. WilliamEpic permalink
    October 25, 2008 4:01 am

    I write so much I don’t keep up with reading. I like your list and intend to use it though. Your art is getting better and better! The guy who composes zillions of sonnets for stories and Epics, I wrote you some time ago and you sent a nice note back. Are you still in Fl?

  6. Pika permalink
    December 2, 2008 9:43 am

    The Drizz’t thing amuses me. My boyf and friends were recently disaparaging us girls’ guilty fondness for the vampire pr0n stuff that is LKH, and contrasted it to “a real, decent fantasy series like Drizz’t”
    Me : Drizzt is a wuss! It took him, like, ten books to get anywhere with Cattie-Brie!
    Him: – He was fighting tons of monster armies!
    Me : – That’s just filler!

    … or, how chicks and blokes don’t read the same story for the same reasons. ^^

    I LOVE the Diane Duane series so. damn. much.

  7. October 4, 2009 8:25 am

    i love fantasy novels, but disappointed that you have not mentioned David Eddings!!! lol
    His Belgariad series was the first of his books that I have read, i have not disliked any of his books yet.

    I am going to have to say that I can not get into Tolkein, i have tried and just can not, i personally find that his descriptions are too flowery and he does not get to the point. But that is just me i guess. I don”t want to offend his fans.

  8. October 6, 2009 9:56 am

    I’ve just read Titans of Chaos by John C. Wright. It’s cool. 🙂

    I like your site header, by the way. I wish I’d know how to create a good header too.

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