Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fantasy Favorites

By Sharon Lathan

I have long since accepted the twist of fate that brought me to the world of romance and have learned to laugh at the irony that this life-long reader of fantasy and sci-fi is now writing sappy stories of happily-ever-after! Vague twinges of guilt remain when folks mention popular romance authors with an awed respect that I could only honestly muster if suddenly face-to-face with JRR Tolkien or Isaac Asimov, but gradually I am being educated. Still, I can’t deny that when I curl up with a good book, I grab for something more in the sword-and-sorcery genre – after I finish reading all of the Casablanca novels that is. To honor my first love - and figuring some of you weirdoes who write about sexy alien-cats, vampire and witch affairs, and time traveling dragons might just know a little about what I am saying – I shall pay homage to my fav fantasy writers.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Yep, the grandpa and master of all modern fantasy. No debate. I read The Hobbit when I was 12 and never looked back. I fell in love with fantasy while trekking through Middle Earth with Bilbo and those dwarves, and have read everything Tolkien wrote more times than I can count. And don’t even get me started on my obsession with the movies! Truly scary stuff and my house eerily resembles an LOTR shrine. Tolkien created the most amazing fantasy world with history, poetry, characters, and mythology that is beyond compare.

David Eddings: After the good Professor, Eddings’ world and characters are the best around, IMHO. The 10 novels that comprise The Belgariad and The Mallorean are a sumptuous treat. The world is wildly diverse, the magic unique, the wealth of characters phenomenal, the mythology complex, the quests exciting, and the reigning sorcerer (Belgarath) one of the best ever created. Yes, he gives Gandalf a run for his money! Serious story, but also extremely humorous and entertaining. A must-read for anyone who loves fantasy.

Anne McCaffrey: Her Pern series seems to be never-ending, but her created dragons are the very best. The later novels gradually mix in larger and larger doses of sci-fi to the pure fantasy of the original books, but everything written is great. Start with Dragonflight, then Dragonquest, and then The White Dragon. Plus, tinges of romance in these books with more than a few folks gettin’ lucky!

Mary Stewart: Right after I read The Hobbit my sister turned me on to what would become a long passionate affair with all things Arthurian. Over time I would read dozens of novels about those chivalrous knights of merry old England with Merlin the Wizard pulling the strings, including Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Mallory. But, Stewart’s version – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment – remain my favorites.

Raymond Feist: Begin with The Riftwar Saga trilogy and move on from there. All of them are fabulous and it is a huge saga that is still ongoing. Another terrific wizard, Pug/Milambar, and a well-developed world. In fact, two worlds as we are dealing with rifts between universes here. Honorable mention to Feist’s only non-Midkemia novel, Faerie Tale – you will never think of fairies in the same way!

Terry Brooks: Between the Shannara books (including the Word & Void series) and the Landover series, Brooks will keep one busy for years. All are truly excellent, even if the first Shannara (The Sword of...) treads a bit close to Tolkien’s heels.

Barbara Hambly: Way too many to mention, but some of the best time-travel/multi-universe stuff out there. Tends to be very dark, but really great. Along with the requisite wizards and warriors, she also writes vampires and dragons. Frequently blends sci-fi and modern technology in with her fantasy in unique ways, and has even contributed to the Star Wars and Star Trek mythos.

Terry Pratchett: Insane! His Discworld is the oddest place ever envisioned and inhabited with the most bizarre collection of misfits created. I challenge you not to laugh, and to not fall in love with Death. Can’t happen.

More-than-honorable mentions: Terry Goodkind, JK Rowling, Stephen King (the Gunslinger series), Robin Hobb, Katherine Kurtz, and Fred Saberhagen. Anybody else read fantasy or sci-fi? Who are your favorite writers?


  1. Sharon, I don't think you're alone in your love for sci-fi and fantasy. Can't wait to see what Cheryl has to say about this one! My tastes for sci-fi tend to run a little toward the harder science side: I read the likes of Ray Bradbury, Arthur c. Clarke, Carl Sagan, and Frank Herbert. However I am familiar with most of the books on your list and agree with you that it's a tremendously fun genre with a lot of appeal.

  2. I love hearing how people came to "our" world of Romance - welcome Sharon!

  3. Never read a sci fi in my life, Sharon. Sorry. I'm a romance weirdo right down to the soles of my feet!

  4. Christina, I almost added Herbert's "Dune" to my list but since that is more sci-fi with fantasy elements, I resisted! But I do love that series. I read a few Bradbury's in my high school years, but the more mainstream sci-fi is not as much of a love. I too am looking forward to Cheryl's thoughts!

    Thanks Judi! And Marie, don't worry. Just remember to say hi for me if you ever run into David Eddings, and I'll be sure to give Nora Roberts a hug for you!!

  5. Sharon--I'm one of the biggest Tolkein geeks you'll ever meet! In college I took a class devoted to reading all of his work. And it is safe to say I have re-read all of it since then :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Great post. I have always love sci fi and fantasy. Recently I have been reading Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. Great characterizations. Andof course I just love world building be it historical or other worlds, past, present or future.

  7. I read Tolkien when I was 12 and loved it, too. I adored The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little Prince but my fantasy/Sci-fi reading never went farther than that.

    The rest of my childhood reading was taken up by my father's books--Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, Jeffry Archer, Wilbur Smith...

    My Dad thought that any reading was good reading. It made no difference what I read, he figured I'd understand what I was meant to understand and skip over everything else which is pretty much how it worked out. However, I still wouldn't put a Sydney Sheldon book in the hands of a third grader - but that's just me.

    I never picked up a romance until about eight years ago. I bought Fast Women by Jennifer Cruise at a Target store. I'll never forget that day. It changed my life. I've become a book-a-day romancaholic. I should join a twelve-step program. I read constantly. For the last 7 years I've waited outside my house morning and afternoon for my daughter's school bus. I live on Main Street and everyone in town passes by. People walk up to me at the grocery store and say, hi - you're the woman who is always reading. You're the book lady. I guess it beats the bag lady.

    Robin :)

  8. Hi Sharon,

    I tend to shy away from fantasy and sci-fi books BUT for some reason, I'll never pass up a good movie. Raised in the 70s, my parents were sci-fi fans so I grew up watching Star Trek and Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica. And I'm a Next Generation fan too. Picard & Data rock!! LOL

    I remember going to the drive-in when I was 11-years-old to see Spielberg's 'Encounter of the Third Kind'.

    I bawled my eyes out over ET.

    Always felt sad at the end of old, black & white vampire 'horror' movies, which probably explains my love for anything paranormal.

    I love movies like Willow, The Princess Bride, Labirynth, Excalibur, LOTR (of course)and the list goes on and on.

  9. OK Danielle, you can be ONE OF the biggest Tolkien freaks I have ever met, but I assure you we are on a equal par! I can say no more or blow my reputation amongst the sisters as a normal person. Shhhh....

    Thanks Michele for the recommendation! I am always looking for new material but hesitate to just pick something up as that does not usually work out so well. Just because a cool dragon or wizard is on the cover does not translate to fine story!

    Thanks for mentioning Narnia, Robin! Another favorite, if light compared to most fantasy. I am a huge fan of Ludlum, Sheldon, et al. Lots in that genre that I have read. I do get on my spy/adventure kicks too, but that is a whole other essay! I totally agree with you about any reading. I figure even if my kids read a comic book or video game (some of them quite complex) it is better than nothing. Glad to know I am not the only one fairly new to romance. And, it is better to be the 'book lady' than the bag, or crazy cat, lady any day!

    Nancy, thanks for bringing up movies! That too would be a whole other essay. I never pass one up, no matter how lame or cheesy.

  10. Great article Sharon! I would say that David Eddings is my favorite in the fantasty world followed close behind by Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan, Katherine Kerr, Ed Greenwood, Elaine Cunningham, R.A. Salvatore and so many more. I tend to like the fantasy and not the sci/fi. Nothing like a good adult fairy tale to take your mind off reality.

    Now with having so many sub genre of the romance world you can easily get just about anything you like. It's really nice to see how much fantasy has wormed it's way into the romance world and I for one hope it keeps going strong. To me romance and fantasy is like having your cake and eating it too.

  11. You didn't mention Robert A. Heinlein.

    I can honestly say his work taught me everything I know about building characters, pacing,and alternating humor and pathos for maximum emotional impact.

    Though he's usually categorized as sci-fi, his Glory Road is as delightful a fantasy as I ever read, and Stranger In A Strange Land, by any other name, would be a paranormal. And while he flings the hard science about, he's not afraid to include a tender love scene.

    Speaking of McCaffrey, her Restoree was the first true science fiction, true romance I ever read. Though bumpy and awkward in places it still succeeded thoroughly on both fronts.

  12. Marie!!! YOU LIE!!!!! Unless you never actually read my books. They are scifi! It just doesn't say it on the cover!
    Let's see now, since everyone is dying to hear what I have to say, I will tell you that I have read Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy so many times that I am working on my second copy of each book.
    I was introduced to LOTR by my husband, and I had actors picked out for the roles long before Peter Jackson did! My Faramir was Christopher Reeve and my Gandalf was Gregory Peck, which should give you some clue as to how long ago that was!
    Frank Herbert's Dune series. I've read them all. I absolutely HATED the original film version, but subsequent attempts have been more to my liking. You can see elements of Dune in my next book, Rogue.
    Robert Silverberg is another favorite. If you want a clue as to where some of my irreverent first person narrative comes from, it probably began with that one. That book was the most fun of any I have read in a very long time.
    I read some Philip K. Dick after seeing Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and enjoyed them, too.
    One thing I got into and learned to hate was Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series which went on and on and on...
    Fell in love with Mr. Spock at the age of twelve, and Han Solo a few years later.
    Carl Sagan was another good one. Loved the Cosmos series, but Contact stands out.
    To further illustrate: Dogs with Star Wars names. Horses all with Star Trek or LOTR names...need I continue?

  13. Hi Sharon!

    I love David Eddings! I think he's my favorite fantasy author. After him, LE Modessitt, Anne McCaffery, Tolkien, Jim Butcher (for his Aleria novels), Sharon Shinn, Barbara Hambly, Robin Hobb And Terry Pratchett.

    As for Terry Goodkind, why can't he come up with a plot where Richard and Kahlan are torn apart? Let them be together already! I stopped reading two books ago because of this.

  14. Uh, left out which Silverberg book that was! It was Up the Line, all about the trials and tribulations of recreational time travel. I need to get another copy of that sometime. Mine disappeared a while back.

  15. Oh, so many great responses and new reading ideas! Thanks ladies!!!!

    I love Eddings so much that the very thought of his characters makes me smile. I have a cat named Belgarath and a dog named Silk, if that tells you anything! My son is beginning the series right now it is like starting all over again through his eyes.

    I started Jordan but after the 3rd book when I realized the story was going to keep on forever, I decided to wait until he finished. I am still waiting! Same with Goodkind. He is dragging it on, and I totally agree with you, arkiern, but he does have some of the most original magic I have ever read.

    Mary Margret, I have read a coupld Heinlein, and my sister keeps knocking me over the head for not reading more, so I should get back into his work. I have read some of McCaffrey's non-Pern stuff, but again, pure sci-fi is not as much of a love.

    Cheryl, you and I are so the same!! My sister and I have created casts for LOTR for decades too! Love the two Dune miniseries, and it is where my daughter fell in love with James McAvoy! Thanks for the other recommendations. And, who didn't fall in love with Han Solo? :)

    So many great responses! I was honestly not sure of the interest in this topic, so thanks so much!

  16. All right Sharon and Danielle,
    MOVE OVER and make room for one more Tolkien FANATIC! I read LOTR for the first time when I was 15 and have lost count of how many times I've read it, but I used to have long passages memorized. I have been to the pub in Oxford (The Eagle and Child) where Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings met. I've also visited Tolkien's grave.

    I was scared to DEATH when the Jackson films first came out. I knew it was going to be LURVE or HATE but nothing in between. Thank goodness it was LURVE! My absolute FAVE parts are those with the Riders of Rohan, which Jackson did a superb job of portraying.

    I loved Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy so much that the year "Last Enchantment" came out, I received TWO hard-cover copies as gifts.

    I think I mentioned on previous blogs that the original "Sword of Shannara" first inspired me to start writing. Also loved his Magic Kingdom novels.

    Also liked the original Dune series, and LURVED Katherine Kurtz' original Deryni Chronicles. Alaric Anthony Morgan... *sigh* I could go on, but would rather daydream.

    Thanks for the great post, Sharon!


  17. P.S. Cheryl, I once heard Robert Silverberg speak at a writers conference (he lives in the Bay Area) shortly after "Lord Valentine's Castle" was first released. He is a KICK!

  18. Yes, Cheryl, I DID read your books! LOL! I just thought of them more as romance than sci-fi. Sorry for the mistake! :--)

  19. Marie,
    I guess that's what happens when you write something "different!" Nobody knows WHAT to call it!
    I would LOVE to have been at that conference! I'll bet he was fun. Lord Valentine's Castle was the first book of his that I read, and I read that entire series. Loved it!

  20. Star Trek/Star Wars, LOTR. I have read some super Sci Fi romances, but can't think of the titles or authors's names. Mostly I'm into urban fantasy--paranormal romances. :)