Fantasy recs for an SF reader

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Kanly, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. Kanly

    Kanly Well-Known Member

    I've seen a few discussions where mostly fantasy readers ask for science fiction recommendations, but I've never seen the opposite. As someone who prefers SF and can't get into fantasy, what would you recommend?

    I can't get into dragons, elves and dwarves. Unless the dragon is genetically engineered, and the elves and dwarves are splinterings of humanity through long term genetic drift and products of different gravity wells.

    I can deal with magic, but I tried reading a book some years ago where the magic system had so many rules and was almost like a scientific system that I gave up. In that case, I'd rather just read sci-fi.

    Fantasy books I've tried reading:

    The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan - couldn't finish, just too boring and cliche with annoying characters.

    The Blade itself by Joe Abercrombie - finished the first book, but no interest to continue, only character I liked was the torturer, but even he started getting a little annoying by the end. There was some decent dialogue but very little plot.

    Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence - sheesh, even though it was a short book, I couldn't finish it. This one actually interested me most because it seemed like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story when the clues of the previous civilization started popping up, but that 14 year old murdering and raping character just put me off. Actually, everything about this book made me feel yuck.

    Storm Front by Jim Butcher - snoozefest, except for the pizza loving fairies.

    A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin - I don't get why this is so popular. Starts off with incest and continues with rapes and violence around a medieval story of court politics. Finished the first book, but didn't want to continue. I did like the mystery of what was beyond the Wall.

    I tried a few more, but I think these were the main ones that were recommended most often. And please, no magic schools or wizards in training. I hate magic schools. I think my problem with fantasy is that I just don't get that sense-of-wonder that I get from reading Clarke or Reynolds or Bester or other good SF authors. I like all kinds of science fiction, but I think I enjoy hard sci-fi the most.

    Fantasy that I remember reading and liking as a teenager: some Tolkien, Elric, Conan, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, some Emma Bull, The Princess Bride and a some more that I can't remember.
  2. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I've got innumerable recommendations so these are the cream of the crop (summaries are too time consuming so look them up my title):

    Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott
    Riyria Revelations series by Michael Sullivan
    Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance
    Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon
    The Macht Trilogy by Paul Kearney
    Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks

    My list over at the fantasy side that was off the top of my head:
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  3. Droniac

    Droniac New Member

    It's odd that you point out that you can't get into dragons, elves, dwarves and magic schools... yet the stuff you list that you enjoyed as a teenager are all High/Epic Fantasy or Swords & Sorcery.
    The sub-genres that tend to feature staple fantasy races, dragons, straightforward themes (good vs evil, save the world), and lots of unexplained magic.

    The reason people recommended those five books to you is because they're popular books in sub-genres that are popular now, or were recently.
    Three out of those five books you read are 'grimdark' fantasy, which is a sub-genre (of sorts) that's in many ways the opposite of the type of fantasy you seem to prefer.
    Those books tend to emphasize plausible settings and personalities, with frequently unlikable characters (often anti-heroes) and lots and lots of war, brutality and politics.
    To be fair, I actually liked The Blade Itself, Game of Thrones and Prince of Thorns. The other two I haven't read.

    Still, I think I see what makes you dislike these kinds of books, so instead you might try...
    • Bitterwood (Dragon Age #1) by James Maxey.
      No, these aren't the books based on the video games, but an entirely different series. I'm certain you will enjoy these books, because they're post-apocalyptic science-fantasy. It has a strong plot and features a fair few unexpected discoveries. It also definitely has those epic-fantasy themes going. The lead character is an anti-hero, but not altogether unlikable. Yes it, obviously, features dragons, but I'm certain that won't be a problem in this case. They're not at all Tolkien-esque dragons anyway.
    • Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1) by Jim Butcher.
      You'll probably like the characters more, it has more of that sense of wonder and mystery, it has more of those themes of the books you liked as a teenager, and while the magic system is structured and explained it's not the primary focus.
    • The Painted Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett.
      This probably captures some of that sense of wonder you get from exploratory sci-fi. In a post-apocalyptic world where humans can do little more than hide behind walls shielded with magic that even its wielders barely understand... someone inevitably decides to go kick some demon ass and see what's out there. it does have a structured magic system that is something of a focus.
    • A Cavern of Black Ice (Sword of Shadows #1) by J.V. Jones.
      Slightly risky, because this has heavy grimdark influences while also being decidedly epic- & high-fantasy in terms of themes and style. Scenes of brutality are definitely present in force, but it's also a plot-driven affair with big mysteries (see Game of Thrones' beyond-the-wall mystery) with far less politics and a much more straightforward epic-fantasy save-the-world slant.
    Also, you probably don't want to read the Night Angel trilogy, much as it pains me to say it because those are great books.
    Its lead character is an anti-hero assassin, who does assassin-y things, and it has no element of exploratory wonder whatsoever.
    For similar reasons, I doubt you'd enjoy the Riyria Revelations (the blurb says it all: "no ancient evils or grand destinies, just a couple of bad guys trying to survive a frame job").
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Welcome to the forum, @Droniac!

    Droniac is don't seem to like 'grimdark' fantasy, which is a flavour that has permeated the fantasy genre over the last decade plus, and which has increasingly tended to fetishise (and make more mundane or normalise) brutality in action, attitude and philosophy. The excuse is to highlight realism by taking the worst aspects of life - the sordid, the grim, the amoral, the violent - and completely blur the line between right action and not. Like all things, it can be done well. But when it also becomes a regularly featured characteristic of fantasy fiction and audiences become desensitised to its many overtly shocking elements, then you will always find attempts to push the boundary to be able to provide readers ever newer, stronger grimdark highs. This can potentially devolve into caricature.

    Since you liked the premise of Lawrence's Broken Empire trilogy even if you couldn't finish it, then you should check out Matthew Stover's Heroes Die. It's underpinnings are SFnal, but the majority of the story is set in a bona fide fantasy setting. Don't be put off by the horrendous cover; it's actually a very fun and action-packed story while also being decently thoughtful (the SF bit). It starts in a strictly hierarchical future dystopia, where the hierarchy is based on one's vocation. The protagonist is an 'actor', but how the audience experiences his 'acting' is very interesting and the implications/repercussions makes for a solid narrative. I picked it up at a bookstore, took one look at the cover and almost put it immediately down. But the back cover description did pique my interest, and now I'm very glad I re-considered. Very fun.

    And have you read anything by David Gemmell? If you liked the sword-and-sorcery tales of Elric, Conan and Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser, you will most likely enjoy Gemmell's heroic fiction. Gemmell can be a little dark, and just about all his stories have this skein of melancholy running through them. But there is nothing truly grimdark about the majority of his stories, yet they do contain some elements lending it the 'psychological realism' that grimdark attempts to exaggerate in a specific manner. The primary difference is that the majority of Gemmell's characters are heroic, and they all struggle with right action and ethical conundrums without exhibiting many of the pointed amoral and anti-hero characteristics in which grimdark tends to revel. But that's again not strictly true since Gemmell does also write anti-hero characters, and there is blurred ground. Gemmell is a fantastic story-teller and his novels read very, very fast.
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  5. irrlicht

    irrlicht Regular Member

    I tried to post this in my silly Android app before and nothing happened. So apologies if I crop up twice here.
    Not sure if that counts as Fantasy, but among the more wonderful stories I've read is Lovecraft's Dream Cycle. All the not-really-horror short stories of his leading up to The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath are quite a great read. They were collected in an anthology by... Tor books? a while back.

    Another book that really touched me is Clive Barker's Imajica, if that counts as Fantasy. Not a fan of Clive Barker's work otherwise, but Imajica is sublime. That book really stayed with me.
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  6. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    And since you mentioned you had liked some of Emma Bull's stuff, then maybe you might want to try some more urban fantasy? How about Martin Millar's The Good Fairies of New York? It was a very quick read, a little brash, and lots of fun. You did say you liked those pizza-loving fairies from Butcher's book...
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  7. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Great recommendations!
    I also tried and gave up on Mark Lawrence, Jim Butcher, Joe Abercrombie and B. Sanderson. I don't dislike Grimdark per se but, as Boreas mentioned, it is not always done well. I found some of these authors delivering very mediocre stories. Rubbing on your face the grim and the dark in a very exagerated and forceful way, turning the characters and their actions into badly drawn comic actors.
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  8. Kanly

    Kanly Well-Known Member

    Thank you for all the recs! I'll be looking all of them up. The only author I already know pretty well is Jack Vance 'cause I've read all his Dying Earth books. I've heard of Clive Barker, Elizabeth Moon and David Gemmell, but I've read nothing by any of them. Lovecraft I know mostly from Cthulhu memes.
  9. Kanly

    Kanly Well-Known Member

    Yeah I know it's weird that I liked Tolkien with all his elves, dwarves, dragons and other creatures when I was young. and don't really like the thought of them anymore. I guess tastes change. And I haven't tried reading Tolkien again, so I don't know how I'd find it now.

    I think it's extremely structured magic that turns me off. I don't mind some rules here and there, but when it gets to including all kinds of conditions and exceptions and loopholes, that's when I lose interest.
  10. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    A few more:

    If you want truly adult fantasy, then pick up Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. Possibly the best fantasy novel (and 'series' with its related sequels) published in the last 30+ years. No structured magic. Instead, truly primal, elemental Jungian archetypes and imagos that spring from both the individual and the collective subconscious of the specific culture the individual belongs to and has grown up in. Takes place right after WWII. Just this one novel itself is pretty much perfect, although the next one published, Lavondyss, is as good or arguably even better.

    For something very light and extremely fun, adventurous sword-and-sorcery, the original King's Blades trilogy by Dave Duncan. Each volume of the trilogy is a self-contained, separate story, and I remember that reading all three provided a clearer picture of certain aspects of the setting through connections that wouldn't have been evident reading any one or two instalments. I started with The Gilded Chain with the very memorable protagonist and master swordsman, Durendal. These are classic adventure tales with travel, action and some magic.

    And since you prefer SF, maybe try reading a fantasy written by one of the major hard SF writers of the genre: Greg Bear's omnibus duology, Songs of Earth and Power. Get the omnibus edition instead of the individual instalments as I know the omnibus contained a revised version of the original texts. I don't know if the revised versions have been put out individually since then. This is a portal fantasy with 'elves', but the most atypical ones ever. The story revolves around music, and when I say music, I mean classical music. This is fantasy with rivets, since Bear's hard-SF-styled flavour permeates the story. I read this 20+ years ago, but it still remains a favourite in my fading memory & far more original than the majority of fantasy I've read since.
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  11. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Oh! Completely forgot about Mythago Woods! Great story and beautifully written. I must read its sequel soon.
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  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've thought about picking these up, but they never seem to be a priority.
    Now these, I really do want to read! But I've been putting off picking them up because Jones still hasn't finished the series. The next book (is it supposed to be the final one?) is still not out and it's been seven years already since the last one!
  13. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Her next book in the series is titled Endlords but no news on when it will drop.
  14. Kanly

    Kanly Well-Known Member

    Thanks again for all the recommendations. I've been checking them out and I've decided to just try out 2 authors for now. I found more suggestions intriguing, but if I buy more I always get overwhelmed. I prefer getting a few, finishing them and then getting more.

    Anyway, I've decided on David Gemmell and Jack Vance. I was also thinking of Clive Barker and the other Jim Butcher series mentioned, but Vance is a safe bet for me since I already know his style and like it, plus it's been more than 10 years since I read his Dying Earth books. I'll keep the Clive Barker and Jim Butcher options for next time.

    The only problem with David Gemmell is that there are too many books! Tons of them. Where the heck do I start? I like the idea of his Jon Shannow books because they also have a post-apocalyptic sci-fi feel to them, but it's a trilogy and I'd prefer a single book. Some of the books in the Drenai series also seem like they might be good, and I'm getting the impression that they aren't really sequels or need to be read in order?
  15. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Good decision to ask, Kanly, because it does matter. This is the official order from the Gemmell Award site. You can read the Rigante books whenever but the Drenai series should be read in his suggested order (before he passed that is). The first two in the Rigante are among the 25 best books I have ever read. Sword in the Storm and Midnight Falcon. Many people start with his most famous, Legend, in the Drenai series but it should be read in order because the hero has already been introduced several books before. You miss his life you read Legend first.
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  16. Safari Bob

    Safari Bob Well-Known Member

    I would recommend The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks.
  17. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    You're the first person I've ever seen recommend this! It gets slated over on the BFB site!
  18. Safari Bob

    Safari Bob Well-Known Member

    I think it is a great book. Plus it has those "..the elves and dwarves are splinterings of humanity through long term genetic drift.." qualities @Kanly is seeking. I think Brooks' problem is that he tried to milk that cow way too many times. For me, he is similar to Raymond E Feist in that regard.
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  19. irrlicht

    irrlicht Regular Member

    Glad to see you found something to read here! I will try some of the recommended books here, too.
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  20. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Actually, the Jon Shannow books are some of his best. And I get the impression that you like the mixed sub-genre of science-fantasy. John Shannow is part post-apocalyptic SF, part fantasy, and part wild west. I say go for it!

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