Fantasy novel recommendation needed
March 23, 2004 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend fantasy novels for someone who doesn't like fantasy novels (more inside).

I'm generally not into the whole swords-and-scorcery thing. But I somehow picked up George R.R. Martin's first "Ice and Fire" book and got hooked. Now I'm trying to wait for the fourth book in the series, but It's taking him a really long time to finish it.

I'd like to read more fantasy, but most of the books I find are bad Tolkein or Harry Potter rip-offs.

But since I loved the Martin books, I'm guess that my dislike of the genre is based more on lack-of-education than problems with the form itself. I just don't know how to find the good books.

In order for me to like it, a fantasy MUST be well-written. I'm talking about prose style here. I can't stomach hack writing, no matter how good the plot is.

I'm not really into jokey stuff, so I don't respond all that well to Harry Potter. I know that there's a serious side to those books, but they're a little too full of silly names for my taste.

I also don't want to read parody or allegory. I want to be transported to another world -- not reminded of this one is some clever way.

In addition to Martin, I've also read Tolkien, the Philip Pullman books, C.S. Lewis, Watership Down, and most other well-known "classics."

What books am I missing?
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Trust me. Seriously.
posted by vraxoin at 10:18 AM on March 23, 2004

The Tree of Swords and Jewels, C.J. Cherryh; all of the Darkover novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley; the Heralds and Bardic series by Mercedes Lackey (well, pretty much anything by her); Summer Queen and Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge; that should get you started. There are tons more but those are some of my faves. I bet we'll make a fantasy convert out of you yet!
posted by Lynsey at 10:21 AM on March 23, 2004

Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" series.

Emma Bull's "War for the Oaks."
posted by kindall at 10:24 AM on March 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Not exactly sourcerors and hardly any swords, but definately transports you to a different world: Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy.
posted by fvw at 10:27 AM on March 23, 2004

Response by poster: By the way, it DOESN'T have to be wizards and dragons (which is why I included Watership Down on my list of "already read.")

I also loved "Metropolitan" and "City on Fire" by Walter Jon Williams, as-well-as "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman. Those are urban fantasies.

I'm interested in recommendations about any sort of fantastic literature -- as long as it's well-written.
posted by grumblebee at 10:33 AM on March 23, 2004

Mark Helprin's WINTER'S TALE is incredible "fantastic" literature, Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy is an incredible read, and I really liked THE INTUITIONIST as fantastic literature.

(I use the term "fantastic" to refer to those books whose fantasy is so subtle that you don't catch on to the fact that it's fantasy right away.)
posted by silusGROK at 10:33 AM on March 23, 2004

Robin Hobb's stuff is pretty good.
posted by Pockets at 10:35 AM on March 23, 2004

some classics from my elementary school days, which i still read every once in a while are the Chronicles of Prydain. The Black Cauldron, etc....great books. Taran Wanderer, The High King..."juvenile" but great.

If you like the tough guy blood and guts sword opera stuff from the 30' and 40's...and earlier or later...try Robert Howard's Conan novels, Jack Vance, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For sort of D&D flavored fantasy try some of the Dragonlance series. The Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, etc...

Sci-fi fantasy, Dragonriders of Pern is nice.

For some non-fantasy sword stuff, i recommend The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:36 AM on March 23, 2004

Fritz Leiber is inconsistent, but if you're looking for sheer prose style you can't do better.
posted by furiousthought at 10:37 AM on March 23, 2004

Orson Scott Card's "Alvin Maker" series

But stop before it devolves into a clumsy retelling of Mormon stories (not as bad as the Foo of Earth books, but still). The first two or three are safe enough,
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 AM on March 23, 2004

ursula k. le quin. i adored the earthsea trilogy when i was a kid. and the left hand of darkness and dispossed remain two of the best books i've ever read. (those are often considered her "science fiction" like the lathe of heaven, but i think they're more in the fantasy realm). "mythic worlds, lyrical style", compelling characters, interesting stories.

oh, and i really liked dreamsnake by vonda macintyre, i think. weird world, cool chick protagonist. light, fun reading.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:38 AM on March 23, 2004

I second (strongly!) vraxoin's nomination of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun In order: The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, The Citadel of the Autarch. In print in two omnibus volumes: Shadow and Claw and Sword and Citadel, from Tor/Orb. Well written doesn't begin to describe.

You could also try Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:38 AM on March 23, 2004

Haruki Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It's wonderful.
posted by Skot at 10:41 AM on March 23, 2004

They are technically juvenile fiction, but I've had considerable pleasure in reading several of Brian Jaques' Redwall books. Anthropomorphic forest animals might not sound like an indicator of good fantasy, but these are quite enjoyable.
posted by majick at 10:42 AM on March 23, 2004

I second the recommendation for Peake's Gormenghast. Those are some of the best fantasy books ever written, though they are very old by fantasy standards (they're contemporary with Tolkien).

Also, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. This is a fantasy classic, and quite deservedly so. I sometimes spontaenously recall snippets of prose from this one.

And if you've read Adams' Watership Down but not his The Plague Dogs, the latter is worth reading. It's not as good as Watership Down, IMHO, but if you're looking for great prose, it is a must-read.

If you like urban fantasy or magical realism, you might like Pat Murphy's work. She's kind of hit or miss, depending on whether or not you tolerate a touch of whimsy with your fantasy, but for me her books were a huge hit. The City, Not Long After is a good place to start, or perhaps Nadya.
posted by vorfeed at 10:43 AM on March 23, 2004

Roger Zelazny "Chronicles of Amber" series, and most any of Zelazny's books, while probably less fantasy-like, all have a strangeness quality (surrealism) I find titillating.

Stephen King's "Darktower" series. NOT your typical King, not horror. King called it his life's work. It is very surreal.

I 2nd those recommending Darkover and Pern books :-)
posted by Goofyy at 10:44 AM on March 23, 2004

I liked the original Dune series...I suppose it's sci-fi, though.

If you liked American Gods, you will probably enjoy Neverwhere as well -- and Gaiman's short stories, too.

Octavia Butler's Wild Seed is a great read.

Can't speak of China Mieville directly...but based on word of mouth alone I've been pestering my library to get some of his work.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:45 AM on March 23, 2004

Guy Gavriel Kay. Anything and everything he's ever written. Start with the Fionavar Tapestry. It begins like a bad mix of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but then GGK goes and turns all that on its head. My favorite of his books is Tigana, so much so that even thinking about it now makes me want to reread it for the 4th or 5th time (I lost track. And it's been awhile.)

Per lynsey's comment above, let me suggest Mercedes Lackey. Thought I've got disagree that everything written by her's good...imo, her quality went waaaay downhill after the "Winds of..." trilogy. But her early stuff, especially the Heralds and Last-Herald Mage trilogies, are great.

Terry Pratchett. Funny, but also insightful and tightly-written and constructed. My favorite of his is Small Gods, one of the more serious Discworld books.

Since you're after writing and not plot, stay far, far away from Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind.

Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods is a modern classic.

Ellen Kushner's got a sublime little volume called Swordspoint. Probably the best written fantasy novel I've ever read.

There was one Charles de Lint book that I really liked when I read it years ago...what was it...I think Jack of Kinrowen or Memory and Dream.

Oh wow, cool! I just went to Amazon to make sure I was spelling Guy Gavriel Kay's name correctly, and I discovered he has a new book out.

On preview, I second those who recommended Ursula K. LeGuin and Robin Hobb.
posted by jbrjake at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2004

I second Summer Queen and Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge and would add the following:

Anything by Robin McKinley, but especially "Sunshine" and "Deerskin"

Patricia Briggs' stuff - "Dragon bones" and "Hob's Bargain"

"Dhampir" by Barb and JC Hendee

"Waterdance" by Anne Logston

"Earthsea Trilogy" By Ursula Le Guin

"The Beginning Place" by Ursula Le Guin (not unlike the CS Lewis)

PC Hodgell if you can get any of her stuff - she publishes once every 7 years or so.
posted by zia at 10:47 AM on March 23, 2004

I'd recommend Tad William's Otherland series. I had given up on fantasy after reading one too many pale imitations of Lord of the Rings in a row. A friend told me to read this and I got hooked. It's fantasy set in the near future but it's very good.
posted by substrate at 10:48 AM on March 23, 2004

Thumbs up for China Mieville - incredibly vivid, images stick in your mind years later.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:50 AM on March 23, 2004

Ai ai ai. If (as you suggest) prose style matters to you (ie, you like stylists and not just utilitarian writers), my own experience dictates that you should stay far, far away from Card, Cherryh, McCaffrey, Bradley and Lackey. A couple of those fall alongside Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan on my all-time crappy fantasy writers list. On that note, Guy Gavriel Kay was really disappointing: his novels are dressed up pocketbooks, with better bibliographies.

If you want 'literary' fantasy, the Wolfe suggestion is a good one. As fvw and vorfeed suggest, you might also want to explore Mervyn Peake's astonishing Gormenghast trilogy (starting with Titus Groan: it's Dickens meets Carroll meets Mieville). Also, John Gardner's Grendel (a retelling of the Beowulf myth, a brilliant examination of fate, humanity and evil); more Neil Gaiman (often pretty plotty, but he does some beautiful things with language and imagery); Frank Herbert's Dune, if you haven't read it (a truly surprising work of fantasy/scifi, blending Arabic and space culture into something breathtaking, pungent, new. The sequels are awful, however); and, I guess, China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar (brave in setting, fresh in tone, but not quite so elegantly written as I might hope). I also need to put in a plug for my man Salman Rushdie - Haroun and the Sea of Stories is like the Harry Potter for whimsical, wise adults; and his standard magic realism stuff (esp. The Ground Beneath Her Feet) will appeal to a lot of fantasy fans.

Further well-written fantastical stuff: Iain Banks' peculiar, haunting Walking on Glass (dreams, incest, and city-smoke); T.H. White's classic Once and Future King (Arthur and Merlin and angst); Timothy Findley's Pilgrim (shades of Orlando, a [wo]man who lives on and on, from Leonardo da Vinci to sainthood to WWI); and the shifting, lyrical visions of time offered by Alan Lightman in Einstein's Dreams. I'm sure I'll think of more, later... So many wonderful, wonderful novels.
posted by Marquis at 10:52 AM on March 23, 2004

I highly recommend the following:

1. anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. He's the guy who Christopher Tolkien got to help with the Silmarillian and Book of Lost Tales, etc. Start with Tigana. Amazon raters give it 4.5/5 stars.

2. "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" trilogy by Tad Williams. The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewel, To Green Angel Tower. again 4.5/5 stars. My favorite trilogy of all time...tied with LOTR.

3. The Runelords saga by David Farland. 4/5 stars. It's so fucking fantastic (and fast paced! and brutal!) that they're making it into a $75million dollar movie.

I've read book one of Songs of Fire and Ice, along with most mentioned so far (Zelazny, LeGuin, McCaffrey, Gaiman, Card, Williams, Lackey, Cherryh), and I place these three selections that I've mentioned at the top of my list. Lackey's pretty standard stuff...good, but not overly imaginative, IMHO. Vinge is supposed to be pretty damn good, though I haven't ready anything by her that I'm aware of.

But I can't stress these three authors enough.
posted by taumeson at 11:01 AM on March 23, 2004

also, in my humble opinion, the otherland series, by tad williams, BLOOOOOOWWWWWS.

</jon stewart>
posted by taumeson at 11:02 AM on March 23, 2004

Evangeline Walton's series of books based on the Mabinogion (Prince of Annwn, Song of Rhiannon, etc.) are pretty good. Plus, you'll feel like you know something about medieval Welsh literature, without having to read medieval Welsh.
posted by gimonca at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2004

i have to agree that mcCaffrey (the pern books) is not such a great recommendation for someone who's primary interest is the writing. i loved the pern books when i was a preteen but can't stomach them as a grown-up because, like anne rice's books, they strike me as romance novels for people who don't think they want to read a romance novel.

the artist of the missing by paul lafarge might interest you. it's slightly kafkaesque and quite surreal. though it is somewhat metaphorical, i wouldn't say that it's trying to "remind the reader of this world in some clever way".
posted by crush-onastick at 11:03 AM on March 23, 2004

I really enjoy Fred Saberhagen's sword books. The artifacts are interesting for those who are into that, but the choices that characters make with said artifacts are the more interesting part.
posted by weston at 11:16 AM on March 23, 2004

Nothing that hasn't already been said here, but I just wanted to add my voice to those recommending LeGuin's Earthsea series. I read the original trilogy in high school, and then Tehanu when it came out. I very recently realized that she had come out with two more in the series while I wasn't paying attention, and I'm just now finishing up Tales from Earthsea. If it's good prose style you want, LeGuin has it in spades.

To draw a contrast, the Harry Potter books are entertaining enough as stories, but I feel enriched after reading LeGuin.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:20 AM on March 23, 2004

How about Little, Big by John Crowley. It's a fantastically well-written (but flowery) modern fantasy tale, with more interesting language on one page than in any whole Robert Jordan book.
posted by xil at 11:21 AM on March 23, 2004

I haven't got around to ordering them yet, because they're a bit rare, but several prolific fantasy readers whose opinions I respect, when asked a similar question, have told me to check out Stephen Erikson's Malazan Books of the Fallen.
posted by jammer at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2004

I endorse the above endorsements of Book of the New Sun. Also the works of Roger Zelazny (specifically Amber and Lord of Light). Those guys are on when it comes to prose.
posted by evinrude at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2004

I really loved Dan Simmons' Hyperion books. They are science fiction rather than fantasy, but utterly compelling and interesting nonetheless. I found myself crying over parts of the last two books. I didn't enjoy any of his other stuff though. Hollow Man seemed like a bad Stephen King ripoff.
posted by littlegirlblue at 11:24 AM on March 23, 2004

John Crowley's Little, Big is a completely original take on the "fairy tale" -- it's unlike anything else I've ever read. Beautiful stuff. [on preview, xil beat me to it...]

On the kiddie-book end of the scale, but still quite well-written and original, is Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series. I still reread and enjoy those every now and then (though admittedly that may be because I discovered them at the right age.)

Doris Lessing wrote a series of unusual, science-fiction-ish novels; more political allegory than sci-fi, and not to everyone's taste -- but definitely not the usual warmed-over Tolkien schtick. Seems to be out of print now, but if you can find Shikasta in a used book store, give it a try.

(I second what Marquis' said about Cherryh, McCaffrey and Bradley, in spades. Hackity hack hack hacks; they're exactly the sort of writers responsible for the genre's stereotype.)
posted by ook at 11:40 AM on March 23, 2004

Response by poster: I should have specified: I don't prefer "stylists" to "utilitarian" writers (actually, I prefer utilitarian). I just prefer good writing to bad.

To me, good means evocative (i.e. sharp, striking images) and clear. No cliches.
posted by grumblebee at 11:51 AM on March 23, 2004

Many good suggestions here (Wolfe, Peake, Le Guin, and Zelazny can stand with the best anywhere, really).

I tend toward the stylists (Wolfe, Peake and Zelazny) but all of the following are quite accessible. Some I haven't seen mentioned:

Steven Brust: anything really. His Draegera books are snarky, passionate, and wonderful, but Agyar is still his best.

Emma Bull: War for the Oaks, Bone Dance

Peter Beagle: The Last Unicorn, A Fine and Private Place

John Crowley: Little, Big is his most famous novel, but anything by him is worth a look

James Morrow: Towing Jehovah and sequels are absurd, incredible novels. God is dead, what next?

Jonathan Carrol: Outside the Dog Museum and The Land of Laughs are two of his best. Gets far less attention than he should.

I'll stop here. Check out Kate Nepveu's Outside of a Dog booklog for more.
posted by bonehead at 11:55 AM on March 23, 2004

I'll have to chime in for Little Big, it's one of those epic stories that follows a set of characters throughout several generations. It's based in this world, with a bit of the supernatural tossed in. A lot of complex family relationships and an interesting house at the centerpiece. Some characters are imbued with supernatural abilities and some are less. It gives nods of the head towards the odd fairy picture hoax/story and many other true pieces of history. It's sort of magical realism in the vein of Gabriel Garcia Marquez [100 Years of Solitude] and Isabel Allende, with equally good writing. Crowley also has another set of books, a trilogy: Aegypt, Love and Sleep and Daemonomania. I've read the first two and they are turned-in-on-themselves stories within stories that take as their jumping off point the question "What if there were more than one history of the world...?" and go from there. Crowley has written earlier more fantasy oriented books, but I think these four are easily his best.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on March 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

I always find it strange how vehemently opposed to Robert Jordan so many people are, based solely on what they see as boring language. I can see the point of that, to some extent, but I also don't think that well-crafted stories necessarily need flowery prose. Now, if you think the stories are boring, that's another matter entirely (and one I don't really care to debate, given the nature of taste). I'm an English major and I certainly enjoy a well-crafted sentence or a colourful image, but I also enjoy literature that has been written without this sort of thing (Kurt Vonnegut usually straightforward as far as word choice goes, as is Ernest Hemmingway, to give a couple examples).

I simply wouldn't recommend Jordan's series because it's long, and if you haven't started it yet, it's not something to get into while you wait for another book to be released.

I also second the recommendation of Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I have Wind-Up Bird Chronicles on my shelf, as well, but I haven't had time to get to it yet.
posted by The God Complex at 12:20 PM on March 23, 2004

grumblebee, if you're interested, there is a Neverwinter Nights module based on "Ice and Fire" here. If you have NWN, it's very fun to play. Keep in mind, you also have to get the hakpak to play the game.
posted by lotsofno at 12:25 PM on March 23, 2004

I really loved Dan Simmons' Hyperion books...

I'll second that - two of the very few SF books I've ever enjoyed as novels rather than just interesting plots (though I enjoy those at times too..)
posted by jalexei at 12:37 PM on March 23, 2004

I'll second (or third or fourth) the Morrow, Peake, Mieville, and Rushdie (Ground Beneath Her Feet and Haroun especially), and throw in Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Carey (one of my alltime favs)
posted by amberglow at 12:46 PM on March 23, 2004

I want to add to the chorus of people telling you to buy Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun. (The Books of the Long and Short Sun aren't so hot, though--but less than perfect Wolfe is still better than most other F/SF writers working today.)

Tad Williams' Otherland is most excellent. Williams seems to be very ticked off at postmodernists in it: I interpreted it not as a descendant from the Tolkien line of multivolume quest narratives, but as a reaction against books like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Wallace's Infinite Jest. (Don't get me wrong--I love Gravity's Rainbow more than just about any other book I've read, but it was interesting to see Williams' viewpoint and his problems with that novel's particular aesthetic.)

Both Wolfe and Williams are heavily influenced by Jorge Luis Borges--if you haven't read his collection Ficciones, then ignore everything else in this thread and pick that up, because you need to read that in order to consider yourself civilized.

And if you can find them: Zimiamvia, by E. R. Eddison, and Islandia, by Austin Tappan Wright.
posted by Prospero at 12:47 PM on March 23, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you SO much for all the recommendations. In case anyone here is a fan of audio books, I'll throw in that the first three Martin books are all available in this form. I downloaded them from, and I've been listening to them in bed at night (I'm an insomniac). The reader is really good.
posted by grumblebee at 12:50 PM on March 23, 2004

Given your expressed like of the George R. R. Martin "Ice and Fire" books (I too am waiting book four, and annoyed at the time it's taking) - I definitely think you'd enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay. I know he's been mentioned here a couple times, but I think there are good comparisons. Kay often takes real life historical settings from Medieval Europe and tweaks them just a bit, giving them fictional names and just a dash of magic to spice things up. I'd recommend "Tigana" and "The Lions of Al-Rassan" as both excellent for killing time until Martin finishes his next one.

Also, I've not read anything else by her, but Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" is one of my favorite books. Pehaps it's feminist/pagan re-reading of the King Arthur stories seems a bit old hat nowadays, but I still find it quite wonderful. Just stay far, far away from the TV mini-series - it's a travesty that bears very little resemblance to the book.
posted by dnash at 12:57 PM on March 23, 2004

oh, i found a free audiobook source the other day, grumble...the lowest quality versions are free for the download.
posted by amberglow at 12:59 PM on March 23, 2004

Charles de Lint, Elizabeth Hand, and Nalo Hopkinson all manage to combine religion and fantasy (and in the case of Hopkinson, also sci-fi) in a way that I just adore. So look for their books.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:50 PM on March 23, 2004

If you've read Watership Down, have you also tried Shardik? Very different and not a happy book, but first rate. And here's more votes for the Chronicles of Prydain, the Earthsea trilogy, Gardner's Grendel (I vote for that one with both hands and both feet) and Evangeline Walton's Mabinogeon retelling.


Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood
Michael de Larrabeiti, The Borribles
Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Ariosto
posted by jfuller at 1:58 PM on March 23, 2004

Another major I haven't seen mentioned (and I'm stunned that I didn't since he's on my must-buy-on-sight list): Tim Powers.

Powers is sort-of magic realist, sort-of urban fantasy, and just plain fantastic.

Declare is the REAL story of the cold war (complete with fallen angels, djinn and the Baba Yaga).

Last Call is about the scariest poker game ever.

The Stress of Her Regard concerns the consequences of ill-considered marriage proposals.

On Stranger Tides has pirates, zombies, voodoo and puppetry. Pirates! What more reason do you need?

Finally: Christopher Moore: "Island of the Sequined Love Nun" --- has there ever been a better book title? I think not!
posted by bonehead at 2:10 PM on March 23, 2004

I usually don't read fantasy or science-fiction either, but I have to second the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy and the Otherland series by Tad Williams. They're among the books I enjoyed the most, ever.

If you'd like something a little shorter than those, try The War of the Flowers, Williams' latest novel (one volume, about 700 pages). If you like it, you'll probably love MST and Otherland.
posted by amf at 2:47 PM on March 23, 2004

Michael Chabon's Summerland is an interesting take on the fantasy genre.
posted by kickerofelves at 3:05 PM on March 23, 2004

Jack Vance's "Eyes of the Overworld", "Cugel's Saga" and "The Dying Earth". I hate fantasy, but I love Jack Vance.
posted by interrobang at 4:00 PM on March 23, 2004

Most of my favorite authors have been mentioned, but let me throw in a plug for Lynn Flewelling. She writes fairly typical fantasy, but the storytelling is solid and I like her stuff.

I'm also quite fond of Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. Bujold is more known as a SF author, but the Chalion books are *good*.

Robert Holdstock's Mythago books are interesting, but weird as shit. Stick to the first one, Mythago Wood and you'll be okay. Lavondyss makes no fucking sense as far as I can tell.
posted by eilatan at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2004

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Avram Davidson; if you want good writing, he's your boy. A complete original, funny, eerie, unpredictable, never a dull moment. It's high time for a Davidson revival; act now and you can get in on the ground floor! The Avram Davidson Treasury is an excellent introduction, and The Other Nineteenth Century is just as good. Those are short-story collections; this page has an annotated list of the novels. There's a discussion with lots of quotes to whet your appetite here.

And this thread has made me really, really eager to read The Book of the New Sun.
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on March 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Sarah Canary
Ted Chiang's short story collection
posted by mecran01 at 9:40 PM on March 23, 2004

If I loved "Neverwhere" and "American Gods," what should I read next?
posted by mecran01 at 9:42 PM on March 23, 2004

Roger Zelazny "Chronicles of Amber" series, and most any of Zelazny's books, while probably less fantasy-like, all have a strangeness quality (surrealism) I find titillating.

I LOVED that series. Then some dude from work jacked it from me.

I recommend staying away from some of the more popular artists such as Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks. I've read a good many of their books and they become very monotonous after a while.

Fairly simplistic writing, but I also liked the Dragonlance series which can get quite in depth with some of the main characters due to a large library of Dragonlance books dedicated to some rad characters. As far as pure "magic and swords" stuff goes, "The Legend of Huma" (Dragonlance) got me started on my whole sci-fi binge (its about the only genre I read).
posted by jmd82 at 12:07 AM on March 24, 2004

first of all, borges.

then some sci fi stuff:

sam delaney's dahlgren is great. He does some weird stuff stylistically, which might not be for everybody, but definitely not a hack.

i also like ian banks' culture series(? common setting, but not really a series I guess).
posted by juv3nal at 2:09 AM on March 24, 2004

I'll second Jonathan Carroll. Realistic present-world settings and characters that turn subtly strange about halfway through. All of his books are good; my personal favourites are Voice of Our Shadow and Outside the Dog Museum. It's hard work to keep up with his latest, though, because he gets shunted from publisher to publisher and they often don't know how the hell to market him.
posted by rory at 2:46 AM on March 24, 2004

Not sure what Gene Wolfe would make of "The Book of the New Sun" being described as fantasy. While they can be read that way, there is in fact a science fiction underpinning to almost everything in those books - even the excessively weird parts fit in with certain possible conclusions that could be drawn from being able to work around some well known laws of physics (sorry for the stilted nature of that sentence, but I was straining not to give away too much).
The books are, however, regarded by many as simply the best works of fantasy/sf ever written. Just don't expect to see all the multiple levels and narrative booby-traps on the first reading.

John Crowley is perhaps just as good, but he has had a terrible time keeping his stuff in print. Thankfully, the excellent "Little, Big" has recently been reprinted, and his most recent novel ("The Translator") is still easily available (that's another one that can be read as fantasy, although it can also be read simply as a subtle story about the difficulties of translating one culture to another, especially when both have access to nuclear weapons). The "Aegypt" sequence should run to four books when he finishes it (don't hold your breath, the first book came out in the mid-eighties). Books one and two are, amazingly, out of print and copies sell for quite a lot of money second-hand.

To suggest someone not mentioned so far. The English author Alan Garner has written some of the best fantasy for both children and adults over the last few decades. "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" and it's sequel "The Moon of Gomrath" are tough-minded, action packed and beatifully written. His adult novel "Strandloper" is astonishing and rather difficult to describe. All these might be hard to get hold of in the US though.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:11 AM on March 24, 2004

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