Hi. In case the heading didn't give it away, this is the place where I recommend to you various books that I think well worth reading. It will be updated irregularly, whenever I come across a particularly fine one. To start with at least it will probably be updated every week, as I have somewhat of a backlog of good books.
However, if you are looking for a list of fantasy similar to the Wheel of Time, I'm afraid you're likely to be disappointed. I have fairly diverse reading tastes, and although most of my favourites contain an element of fantasy, not all do. Not all are even fiction.
In that category are Diane Ackerman's two books A Natural History of the Senses and A Natural History of Love, both of which can be described as science writing by a distinguished poet, or perhaps the poetic prose of a scientist. I'm not really sure how you would classify them, but both are more than well worth reading.
For a more conventional fantasy, try Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. I only recently read it, and in style it seems similar to Tolkien, and dissimilar to Jordan, in that the language used is at least as important as the plot. If you've read The Lord of the Rings, you'll probably know what I mean. And while on the subject I also recommend any or all of the work of J.R.R Tolkien, not only The Lord of the Rings but also The Hobbit and the Silmarillion - the latter is in parts hard to get through but consistently good.
Last on the list for this week is Earth, by David Brin. As with many of Brin's stories and novels, this is science fiction that is right on the verge of becoming fantasy, set on an Earth fifty years in the future. I cannot recommend it too highly.
Check this page again next week for more recommendations.
Top recommendation for this week is Plainsong by Deborah Graben, a sweet, enchanting, entertaining novel about the Second Coming (but not as we know it). You don't have to be an agnostic (as I am) to enjoy it, although very strict Christians may find it disturbing. I would definitely put this near the top of my list of great books.
Second - well, we might as well get the controversy over in one week, so I further recommend Rachel Pollack's Godmother Night. If you love love stories, read this. If you insist the lovers be heterosexual, stay away.
And third, going from the sublime to the ridiculous, any of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, in particular The Last Continent which makes fun of all things Australian (which might be why I like it so much. Are you reading this, Dark Blight?).
This week's favourite: The Bicentennial Man by Isaac Asimov, the story of a robot's quest to become human. And, for that matter, anything else by Asimov, a writer of spectacular science fiction (also mystery, fantasy and scientific non-fiction).
Note: I made a mistake on this
one. Actually, The Bicentennial Man is Asimov's
short story; the novel is a collaboration by Asimov and
Silverberg, and titled The Positronic Man.
This week, up on recommendation are two New Zealand novels. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, and the award-winning The Bone People by Keri Hulme. The second is fairly controversial (so we didn't get it all over in one week after all) - some people love it, others think it stinks. Obviously, I'm in the first group. Read it and see what you think. A warning, though, non-Kiwi readers may find parts of both these books incomprehensible.
This week's listing is definitely mixed. First is one that I only recently read, The Changewinds by Jack Chalker. It was previously published in three parts, titled When the Changewinds Blow, Riders of the Winds and War of the Maelstrom. It's an excellent example of the 'normal people dropped into fantasy world' scenario and unlike many books, manages to be engrossing even after several readings. However, as with Godmother Night, homophobes stay well away.
Next we have a political novel. Exodus by Leon Uris is about the founding of the state of Israel.
Third, if you're as sceptical as I am about 'ancient astronaut' stories, Carl Sagan's Broca's Brain contains a wonderful explanation of why anyone who isn't, should be.
And fourth, I'm going to indulge in a temporary regression to childhood to recommend the ever-popular Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. And for that matter, any and all of Montgomery's other books (in particular, Kilmeny of the Orchard is one I've always loved).
Well, what do you know? Another mixed listing.
First up is Isaac Asimov's two-volume autobiography, In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. I don't tend to read autobiographies, but these are both fascinating and extremely funny.
Continuing on the subject of funny, try some of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels. They get overly cute at times but are still extremely entertaining reads. Offhand I'd recommend Harpy Thyme and Roc and a Hard Place, mainly because the demoness Metria is my favourite character.
Finally a serious fantasy: David Gemmell's Dark Moon.
Let's vary things this week. Instead of books, I'll recommend you some of my favourite movies.
Pretty Woman, and the recently-released Runaway Bride, both of which star Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. All three of the original Star Wars movies - I haven't seen The Phantom Menace yet, so I can't tell you how good it is. The Mask of Zorro. Hook. Heavenly Creatures. Three Shakespeare remakes - Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew. As far as the last one goes, I don't particularly like the original play, but the film has some good moments, and Liz Taylor as Katharina reminds me irresistably of Nynaeve.
And finally George of the Jungle, which is very, very silly and very, very, very funny.
Enjoy them. Next week we're back to books.
I forgot to list a classic among the movies last week, so here it is now - Grease.
As for books, Stardance is a science-fiction novel by Spider and Jeanne Robinson. Spider? I don't know, I just read the book. The original Stardance was a novella that I read some time back, which at some point was apparently expanded into a novel. I found it in a second-hand bookshop on Friday, a wonderful place with books stacked everywhere and armchairs over in a corner to settle down in, and I sat right down there and read it from beginning to end. If you enjoy SF, it's definitely worth reading.
Then how about Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint, which like all his other books I've read is a truly magical fantasy. Or Margaret Mahy's young-adult book The Changeover.
Or why not stretch your brains and wonder about human origins and behaviour with a few of the best science popularisations? Jared Diamond - Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee. Carl Sagan - The Dragons of Eden. And Elaine Morgan - The Descent of Woman.
Want some more brain-stretching? Then how about settling down with a good book by Richard Dawkins, such as The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker or Climbing Mount Improbable. Warning: These books are damned good, but they are not casual reading. Don't pick one up unless you're prepared to do some thinking.
For a laugh every minute (more often if you're a fast reader) it's hard to go past Douglas Adams' trilogy in four parts, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish. While I haven't read it yet, I've seen a fifth book in the stores titled Mostly Harmless. (Adams may be stretching the definition of a trilogy with five books, but he doesn't come near Piers Anthony. Who has a new Xanth book out, by the way, Zombie Lover.)
Maybe you want to come down to earth for a while - so try Rosamund Pilcher's award-winning The Shell Seekers.
Latest recommendation: guys, and especially girls, read Natalie Angier's Woman: An Intimate Geography. And anyone, Richard Dawkins' latest, Unweaving the Rainbow.
All right, all right! I promise: no more science books. For a while, anyway. Instead, have a look at A.A. Attanasio's Last Legends of Earth - science fiction, but with a fantasy air to it. Or another of Rosamund Pilcher's books, Coming Home. Or with a similar title, Always Coming Home by Ursula LeGuin - or anything else of hers for that matter.
I wonder - could you define a fantasy reader as someone who never really grew up? I know that I still love reading children's and young-adult books (I'm eighteen) and a good fantasy has most of the elements of a good fairy tale.
Yes, I read children's books. Yes, I also read evolutionary biology. Did you see that comment at the top of the page about diverse reading tastes?
So in this Peter-Pan spirit, I'd like to point out that some of the best stories around are those written for children. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be a fact. I already mentioned L. M. Montgomery as a favourite author, although hers aren't strictly for children (Anne of Green Gables was, for instance, and Emily of New Moon, but later books show Anne and Emily as adults. Did I mention Kilmeny of the Orchard? I did? Good.)
I also mentioned The Changeover - add to that any of Margaret Mahy's other stories. Some are young-adult and some are for children, but all are amazing. And C.S. Lewis' Narnia books are famous. Justifiably, may I add. I adored Narnia when I was little - I still love it. Then you have Susan Cooper's excellent The Dark Is Rising series - E. Nesbit and The Enchanted Castle, among others - Louise Lawrence and Andra, among others - Louise Cooper and the Indigo series. Actually, I'm not so sure Indigo really count as children's books, but they were in the young-adult section of my library so... Noel Streatfield. Remember Ballet Shoes? She also wrote Curtain Up, White Boots, Thursday's Child (as in 'has far to go') and at least one more that I don't know the name of. It's been a while since I read some of these. (Note that the Streatfield books are not fantasy, though.)
So when I have children, I know the nursery bookshelves will be full from the start. So what about the books they pick out, you ask? Well, I guess we'll just have to build more shelves...
One book that I forgot to mention in the last update is among the most famous, Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. Read. Enjoy. Be astounded.
And then, moving from children's to adult's fantasy, I'd like to recommend one I just read, The Golden Key, a collaboration between Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Robertson and Kate Elliott. Courtly intrigue, art that lives and a woman imprisoned inside a painting. Set plenty of time aside to read this one.
Hard to believe it, but I still haven't recommended one of my favourites. So allow me to remedy that situation right now! Here's to Neal Stephenson and The Diamond Age, a wonderful book set in the far future that falls somewhere between science fiction and fantasy.
And here's to David Brin, the only other author I've read who succeeds in achieving that merge. While I've already mentioned Earth, two of his short story collections, Crystalspheres and Otherness, are also worthy of note. Crystalspheres is full of astonishingly good fiction, particularly the title story. Otherness contains not only fiction but several essays on the human mind and need for fantasy.
Note: Another mistake, sorry. The
Crystal Spheres is the first story in the collection,
but the book itself is in fact The River Of Time.
Here are the first recommendations of the new millennium; none of them, for once, being fantasy. Bryce Courtenay's spectacular The Power Of One and Tandia; also about life in South Africa, James Michener's The Covenant. More of Michener: Caravans, Chesapeake and Texas.
And two that I've read only in condensed Reader's Digest versions, but would like to find the unabridged editions someday: A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins and Does She Know She's There? by Nicola Schaefer. Both, as it happens, are true stories.
One more; Alex Haley's Roots, the story of a black slave family in the USA and the author's search for his roots.
My, oh my...
I thought I'd read fantasy, but now I've read fantasy. That is to say, I have finally gotten around to reading George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire series and was, to say the least, extremely impressed.
I'd already read his novella, The Hedge Knight, in Legends and thought it was good but not great. The first two books in the series, A Game Of Thrones and A Clash Of Kings, are great. Martin is certainly a writer of the highest degree. I guess now I'm left waiting for two series to continue...
Recommendations for today, Arthur C. Clarke's The Hammer of God and Richter 10.
And also another movie classic: The Princess Bride! While I've heard plenty about it and read plenty of signature quotes from it, it was only yesterday I actually saw it. I'm still on the lookout for the book - unfortunately, it appears that so are a lot of other people, as all the libraries I've checked have it out on loan.
Ever read (or seen if you're lucky) Lysistrata? Way back in BC, a Greek playwright wrote a comedy about a woman who ended a war by launching a sex strike until the men all came to their senses.
The story's been updated. Anne O. Faulk's Holding Out is funny, witty and dead serious - all at once. A line from its heroine, Lauren Fontaine:
They say that some people are born great, some people achieve greatness and some people have greatness thrust upon them. I am clearly in the third category, and at this point I'd like to thrust it right back.
Even if, like me, you read mostly fantasy, take some time out to read Holding Out. It is truly a fantastic book.
I'd like to join in with Jordan in recommending a book I've been looking for a while and only found this week, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. The cover proclaims it "A brief history of everybody for the last 30 000 years," which is pretty much accurate. It goes into the puzzle of why technology developed at such different rates in different parts of the world, and does it very well too.
How about settling down for the weekend with some of Margaret Mahy's fiction - yes, I know I already mentioned her awhile ago with the children's-book entry, but I'm mentioning her again. Her books and stories are, technically speaking, written for children and young teenagers, but that shouldn't stop adults from enjoying them. I didn't keep to children's stories when I was a child, so why should I keep to grown-up stories now?
The Tricksters is one I recently reread - poetic, dreamy, mysterious - and that struck a lot of chords. To be honest, the young heroine - Ariadne or Harry for short - reminded me a great deal of myself. The Catalogue of the Universe is not only a great book but has a great name - and many of her short stories have that same otherworldly, poetic quality. On the other hand, some, and one or two of the books, are just - well, crazy. A wild adventure through an unlikely universe. Mahy, I would say, is possibly the best children's author I know of.
Allow me to introduce Neil Gaiman. And specifically his recent Stardust - an eclectic, enchanting treatment of traditional 'quest' fantasy with a perfect balance of sentiment and satire, and a satisfyingly happy ending. A star falls - and a tale begins.
Selection of the week (and possibly the century): The Princess Bride.
Or to use its full title, The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, the "Good Parts" version abridged by William Goldman. But The Princess Bride saves time, and since it is highly dubious that S. Morgenstern or the original manuscript ever existed, 'by William Goldman' will do.
The movie, which more people are familiar with, is a distinctly dumbed-down version of the book. Oh, the movie's clever and funny and romantic - but the book, dear reader, is a masterpiece. All the history, the politics, the satire behind the romance, that could never be caught on film.
To tantalise those of you that haven't into reading the book, here are a few of my favourite lines, in no particular order.
"I'm not left-handed either."
At 8:23 there seemed every chance of a lasting
alliance starting between Florin and Guilder.
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
"Only a genius could have deduced as much."
She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years. She didn't seem to care.
Read and enjoy.
Recommendations for this week: The Land that Time Forgot, The People that Time Forgot and Out of Time's Abyss, three linked novellas by Edgar Rice Burroughs about three men's adventures in the mysterious land of Caspak. Old but good.
Just released is David and Leigh Eddings' latest work, The Redemption of Althalus. Satisfyingly thick, if you want something to lose yourself in; unfortunately, correspondingly heavy if you have to carry it around. OK, that's quantity; now let's talk quality.
Redemption includes certain ingredients familiar to readers of other Eddings fantasies; a lovable thief, a small girl with a talent for making speeches, a talkative deity, couples pairing off every way you look and a number of habitually drunken soldiers. It does not, however, have a blue rock.
Of course, as with every other Eddings book, it also includes sly wit, endearing characters and the best dialogue of any fantasy author, so let's not mock too early. It's been said that the Eddings' are great writers with only one plot, and it's true that the books repeat a lot, but Redemption, while clearly identifiable as one, is quite distinct in plot from the other Eddings stories. And the best so far, I think.
Overall, The Redemption of Althalus is definitely a book I'd recommend to fantasy readers. Don't be put off by the serious title; it's tongue in cheek, and the book has moments of absolute hilarity.
"Once upon a time, there was Discworld. There is still an adequate supply."
"Adequate" is possibly an understatement. The numbers of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are skyrocketing, and, unlike most other authors who get that high, Pratchett appears to be immune to the dread of Continuing Series Syndrome. CSS, for the unfamiliar, is what makes people look at the latest book in a series, groan and say "Doesn't he know when to stop?" This is a response I have never seen to a Discworld book.
So, what is Discworld? It is a world in the shape of a disc, carried on the back of four giant elephants, standing on the shell of a turtle ten thousand miles long, swimming through space. By this point, you have probably managed to work out that these books are comedy, or rather comic fantasy
They are. Specifically the wittiest, wickedest, silliest, sharpest, least respectful and most impertinent variety of comic fantasy I've seen out there, and I've seen a few. A comparison? Hmm - well, many of those who visit this site regularly go into hysterics, or tell me they do, over each new episode of my Long Live Insanity. Think of LLI as the centuries-younger sibling toddling around wide-eyed after Discworld, and that may give you a general idea. The best way of getting the idea, however, is probably reading the books. Any of them or all of them, since all are at the top of the scale.
Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana is one of the better fantasies I've read in the last month or so. He has the skill to make you empathise with two opposing sides in a conflict, something not too many authors manage. And the ending - I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say the ending is one of the most tantalising, it-isn't-all-wrapped-up ones I've ever seen. And no, as far as I know there is no sequel. Sadist.
For more fantasy, I recommend Katherine Kerr's Deverry series. The books juxtapose stories in distinct timeframes, linked by the constant reincarnation of the same characters. Set in a world based on ancient Britain, they're well worth reading.
For children of all ages (sorry - unavoidable cliche) the latest trend is of course J K Rowling and the Harry Potter books. And, unusually, in this particular instance I agree with the latest trend. Do read them, they're a great deal of fun. And despite protests by schools and churches, I can honestly report that I feel no more evil than before after reading these supposedly satanic books. If anyone complains about them on such grounds, you may with a clear conscience laugh them out of court.
For somewhat older readers, I've recently discovered Larry Niven through a collection of his short stories and essays. The book is N-Space, and the stories I particularly recommend are: Convergent Series; The Fourth Profession; Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex; Inconstant Moon; What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers? and Cloak of Anarchy (especially the author's introduction. Have you ever tried duelling with champagne bottles?)
Gone a while, but here I am back again.
In the continuing discovery of Larry Niven's work, Ringworld and its sequel The Ringworld Engineers are definitely worth reading, as is a book from a separate universe, The Mote in God's Eye.
Switching from science fiction to fantasy, Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy (Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness) are dark, disturbing to some, but quite delicious. Every character is magical, not all are human and many aren't even alive. These books contain a great deal of sex and violence and could very easily offend, with far more justification than for Harry Potter, those of strict Christian belief.
And from fantasy to science non-fiction, Steven Pinker's How The Mind Works is a fascinating and illuminating discussion of human psychology.