Frodo may have lived, but fantasy was effectively dead
March 19, 2015 1:48 AM   Subscribe

The Sword of Shannara, the debut novel from American novelist Terry Brooks’, was released in 1977 into an SF literary ecosystem that looks very different than it does today: there was no Harry Potter, no Game of Thrones, and Peter Jackson was only just discovering Tolkien’s work as a pubescent teen. Readers were still riding Science Fiction’s new wave, and Fantasy looked like little more than a fading fad in the barren landscape left behind by Frodo’s departure to the Undying Lands.
Aidan Moher thinks Terry Brooks saved epic fantasy.
posted by MartinWisse (169 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good article. I loved these books in grade school.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:03 AM on March 19, 2015


I have never been able to read any of Brooks, because when you tell me there's a story written in the 70s with the name "Shannara" in the title, my head flashes to doofy white guys in shaggy hair and flares twirling their arms and cooing out "sha-na-na-na!" on some TV sound-stage.

It's as if someone told me there was a sci-fi story called, I dunno, "Electrons of Bogadoo" written in the 80s. I'd be unable to get Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo's poster out of my head.

So I have no idea how good this story is. I pick it up and go "ugh, how tacky and 70s" and I'll never know if it actually is or if my expectations have been unduly poisoned through cultural reference.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is an interesting article, and I totally grok what he's saying about Brooks... only I feel the same way about the "Garfunkel" of the duo whom he mentions many times, but never really discusses... Stephen R. Donaldson.

Donaldson completely saved fantasy for me. I read the first n Shannara books, I can't remember, I think the one after Elfstones, I was just done. Don't even remember why at this point -- I haven't reread any of the books since then. Maybe I should?

But Thomas Covenant. Self-loathing, outcast, diligent, honorable, horrible, blind, broken, rapist Thomas Covenant... Oh, how those books sang a song to me my soul could not help but dance to!

I really don't want to start a discussion here about the problems with the Chronicles. I was just so inspired to encounter a fantasy series where the main character's dilemma was his suspension of disbelief in a fantasy setting, because that was in the late 70s and remains a problem of mine -- finding fiction compelling enough to get lost in.

That simple plot device allowed me to delve deeply into The Land and try to solve the riddle of it as Covenant was struggling with it. I identified with this protagonist (anti-hero, most definitely) as he failed to fully immerse in his miraculous surroundings while at the same time being educated about them and starting to trust them even against his own better judgement. I felt that, as I had felt with so many other stories before, but the journey deeper inward carried me along until I gave myself over and discovered that... FUCK YES! I really loved fantasy novels!

I consumed a giant number of them after that, reading because a major pastime for me for many decades. (I don't read many books anymore but when I do, I make sure I've picked a good one.) And from reading fantasy came reading crime fiction and historical fiction and then non-fiction and then weird postmodern meta- books, and so much more... Up until then I'd been reading Hardy Boys and Danny Dunn and such. I'd read The Hobbit... But never LOTR (too hard for a 10 year old)... but man, Covenant broke it all open for me when I found those books.

So, yeah, I get it. Brooks / Donaldson -- I totally see why they are two sides of the same coin in this author's mind, and I totally get why he liked Brooks better. I just... liked Donaldson better.

(I re-read his stuff all the time, and just listened to everything he wrote as audiobooks, which is a fairly exhausting thing to do, because a lot of really horrible things, physical and emotional, happen to people in his books. Sheesh! Funny how much more awful things can be when you hear them than when you read them...)
posted by hippybear at 2:37 AM on March 19, 2015 [32 favorites]


It seems so weird to me that modern fantasy is so defined by Harry Potter, which isn't second world (it's more like 1.5th world); it's a boarding school story with fantasy and mystery elements woven into it. I know that it really opened a lot of doors for fantasy and YA, especially with writing longer books for kids, but it's such a strange book to be defining what we think of as "fantasy" because it's such a mashup. (This isn't a criticism, although I have a lot of criticisms of Harry Potter. I think that the genre-mashup style of it gave a lot of different people different entry points and is part of what made it so popular.)

Obviously there's no way to tell, but I'm guessing from the fact that Dungeons and Dragons first came out just a bit before Terry Brooks' first novel means that there still was some thirst for fantasy content; we probably would've ended up with a lot more people getting their intros to fantasy from TSR-produced books in the eighties.
posted by NoraReed at 2:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


Harry Potter has probably generated billions of dollars in revenues by now, so it's no surprise it's defined a generation of fantasy- and that's not entirely cynical about writers, there's also the simple fact that if your work is Potteresque, publishers are more likely to get dollar signs in their eyes and publish your work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:57 AM on March 19, 2015


Kirth Gerson thinks that Aidan Moher either is deliberately ignoring the huge fantasy output and influence of Jack Vance because acknowledging it would undermine his thesis, or he needs to read more. If I ever read anything by Terry Brooks, it left so little impression that I don't remember doing so. Going by what's in this article, I'm not likely to pick him up.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:10 AM on March 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


There isn't really much that's Potteresque, though, at least not on the scale that there are things that are, say, Twilightesque or Hunger Gamesesque.
posted by NoraReed at 3:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I still remember scenes from the first book, Sword of Shanarra, this many years later. I have skimmed it recently, and found traces of the Suck Fairy, but at the time I didn't have many other options. Quag Keep by Andre Norton?

I read Vance later, but Brooks definitely fixated me on fantasy after Tolkein roused my interest.

Mind you, I blame Brooks for the tradition of slack, doughy fantasy series that came after him, like the Belgariad or Raymond Feist's stuff, that should have been a trilogy at the most.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:22 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


There isn't really much that's Potteresque,

Magical schools - they seem to be the lingering #1 Must Have from Harry Potter. Even "grown up" fantasy like Grossman's Magicians or Rothfuss's Name of the Wind can't get away from goddamn magical schools.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Michael Moorcock saved fantasy. Ursula Le Guin saved fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons saved fantasy. Ray Harryhausen saved fantasy. Diana Wynne Jones saved fantasy. Terry Pratchett saved fantasy. Gene Wolfe saved fantasy. Angela Carter saved fantasy. Robin of Sherwood saved fantasy. The Legend of Zelda saved fantasy.
posted by dng at 3:40 AM on March 19, 2015 [122 favorites]


I do find this take on Brooks weird. I mean, I get it in that he was arguably the first of a "blockbuster" model of fantasy that has gone to prove a very durable marketing and writing vehicle - and they functioned as a gateway drug for many many people in their thirties and forties now...

However, shit, man, there was great fantasy being published all through the sixties and the seventies, and yes, I would call some of it epic.

The Chronicles of Amber, lots of terrible Anne Macaffrey books, Elric of Melnibone, The Broken Sword, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The frigging Earthsea trilogy, and on and on.

I'm sure many might quarrel with the definition of "Epic" here, but that's my whole problem with these question-beggy articles - they define the criteria so narrowly only Brooks, Eddings and Donaldson can meet it.

I feel like Brooks' true singularity - much more so than Donaldson, really - is the way in which the books were marketed and the shameless nature of the pastiche; both things that are a keystone of the modern fantasy publishing world.

I dunno, maybe I'm bias: I have always, will always, love/d sword and sorcery - Leiber and Howard are my great masters - and I read Brooks et al as an ardent young fantasy lover, and only stuck with Eddings, who also got old by about halfway through the second series. (Weirdly, I loved the Dragonlance Books, at least the core ones and the legend of Huma - which though I've not reread I'm sure are at least, if not more, shitty by any reasonable measure).
posted by smoke at 3:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [35 favorites]


I'd add Fritz Leiber to the people dng has listed, too, and otherwise just +1 his comment.
posted by sukeban at 3:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Fantasy wasn't dead in 1977. It was a dozen years after the unlicensed Ace paperbacks had helped catapult The Lord of the Rings to large-scale popularity, a popularity that the legitimate publisher Ballantine reacted to by publishing dozens of new paperback versions of old and new fantasy works in the Adult Fantasy series. At the same time the reprints of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories in paperback form had spurred a rash of "barbarian" fantasy knock-offs, but also a great deal of original sword & sorcery fiction. If you look at Appendix N, the inspirational fiction list from the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide - Vance, Moorcock, Leiber, Norton, Zelazny, Anderson, Lanier and others were part of an active fantasy scene. Celtic fantasy of the sort done by Katherine Kurtz or Evangeline Walton had emerged from the Adult Fantasy line as well.

What Lester Del Rey, who saved Brooks's novel from the slush pile, really did was to change the fantasy publishing game. It went from a genre of short stories (anthologies were popular up to the early '80s) and thin papaerback novels to one of thudding epic doorstops. It became a world of Tolkien knockoffs, and is directly responsible for creating a genre where interminable epics like The Wheel of Time, The Sword of Truth or A Song of Ice and Fire can flourish. (The last being a grimdark parody of fantasy, really.)

I don't think that the genre is better off. I'm a fan of Tolkien, but I find subsequent epic fantasy to be wholly inadequate in quality and greatly inferior to the better fantasy writing that was being done in the period before Brooks. So no, he didn't save fantasy, he was a big part of screwing it up for a long time.
posted by graymouser at 3:48 AM on March 19, 2015 [48 favorites]


I'd be unable to get Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo's poster out of my head.

...I'm not seeing the down side there.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:49 AM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


I quite enjoyed the Thomas Covenant series as a 13 year old, but nowadays, hmmm...

I always tend to think of Terry Brooks' book as the "Schlong of Shannara." I did like sci fi quite a bit, but fantasy...
posted by Nevin at 4:11 AM on March 19, 2015


Saying Brooks saved epic fantasy is like saying Laurell K. Hamilton saved urban fantasy. Just. No.
posted by Etrigan at 4:18 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


We had to destroy the village epic fantasy in order to save it.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I went from The Hobbit to various Anne McCaffrey books as a youngun in 1980. I loved having so many books in the same universe. Must there be a tedious 5 book long "quest" ?
posted by travertina at 4:42 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is such a silly argument that I am glad previous posters have done the legwork on refuting it.

Authors like Terry Brooks promoted a Styrofoam fantasy model; generic, disposable and harmful to the environment. There are many more interesting authors from that period that are still struggling to emerge from the trash heap.
posted by selfnoise at 4:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


That's funny, I thought the Neo-Cons brought Epic Fantasy back into fashion during the Dubya years.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:51 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can see how someone who started the Shannara books in the 90's (like Moher did) would look back and say "Oh, these things saved Fantasy!." Just look at all the Extruded Fantasy Product that followed in its wake. By the 90's, this was pretty much the only blue print for High Fantasy that publishing would allow. Count me among the people who bear a certain amount of resentment towards Brooks for driving almost all almost all non-Tolkien derived Fantasy from the field in the 80's.

The one thing this article gets right is that Elfstones is a better starting point than Sword. Elfstones was a solid book and began opening the Shannara series to something other than Tolkien Fun Time Adventure Land Amusement Park. As much scorn as Sword rightfully gets, the saving grace of the later Shannara books is they evolve into a much better, original series as Brooks begins to find his own voice.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:52 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Mind you, I blame Brooks for the tradition of slack, doughy fantasy series that came after him

Yeah, Brooks didn't save the village by burning it as much as sort of packing it with mounds of uncooked dough stolen from other, better bakeries. Even as a mid-teen, I only choked through about two of them -- the Shanara books just made me long for the sort of book Brooks was copying in his paint-by-numbers style.

On the other hand, the author makes a good case for how Brooks cemented Epic Fantasy as a publishing genre, which is much more deserved (although not exactly praise).
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:56 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was a fantasy-mad preteen in the late seventies after Tolkien and Basic D&D hit me as a one-two punch. I read The Sword of Shannara then and have scarcely thought of it from that day to this. I did go on to read lots of Vance and McCaffrey and Leiber and Moorcock, though.

Next I hope Moher explains how Herman's Hermits saved the British Invasion.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:12 AM on March 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


This makes no sense. He even mentions that Kurtz, McCaffrey, and Zelazny had already been doing this sort of thing (although he leaves out Patricia McKillip, and Susan Cooper, and Diana Wynne Jones, and L. Sprague De Camp, and Fritz Lieber, and Michael Moorcock, and Jack Vance ...) Fantasy novels were popular enough in the 70's that even parodies of fantasy novels had a market. (Robert Asprin, for example.)

Does he really think none of these writers had a market?
posted by kyrademon at 5:23 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Epic fantasy, kyrademon.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:27 AM on March 19, 2015


None of those writers were putting out books over 300 pages long, much less 726 pages. If you stacked the first three books of the Elric series together, you'd still have a shorter book than The Sword of Shannara.
posted by graymouser at 5:29 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


del Rey’s entire motivation was to create a more marketable version of Tolkien’s story

Yeah, this guy with the funny name had some good ideas, but if I take them all and sort out his dry prose and his unrelatable characters, I reckon I could transform his obscure little text into something really popular.
posted by Segundus at 5:31 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


None of those writers were putting out books over 300 pages long, much less 726 pages. If you stacked the first three books of the Elric series together, you'd still have a shorter book than The Sword of Shannara.

Michael Moorcock made up for this though by releasing approximately 27 books every month.
posted by dng at 5:38 AM on March 19, 2015 [25 favorites]


Epic fantasy, kyrademon.

Definitely. Epic Fantasy is a kind of weird marketing niche, and really has more to do with the rise of the "fantasy trilogy" as a marketing concept (inspired, I think, by the Lord of the Rings, although that's really a three-volume novel rather than a trilogy in the later sense. The Elric books are certainly epic, and the are definitely fantasy, but they aren't Epic Fantasy. Why? That's a little ahrd to say, since Epic Fantasy is a remarkably vague classification, but the Elric stories were mostly written as short stories and assembled into a coherent narrative later (more in keeping with the Pulp stories of Howard, Lieber, and Vance). They are much shorter and more compact narratively as well, and sprawlingness is a central element of Epic Fantasy, reaching it's apex in the Wheel of Time and (possibly) A Song of Ice and Fire, where the series production outlives it's author.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Michael Moorcock made up for this though by releasing approximately 27 books every month.

But this was more a reaction to menacing debt collectors and a need to pay rent than any reaction to Terry Brooks....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:44 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oooh, I forgot A Wizard of Earthsea, and now I feel that I am a bad person. :7( I loved that book as much when I read it the first time as when I re-read it last year.

What ca I say? I was typing over breakfast, before I finished my coffee. Note to self: caffeine > commenting.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:48 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Whoops, also: Robert Silverberg was writing around this time, and his stories of Majipoor were, if perhaps technically science fiction, very much fantasy books. And far superior to Brooks's books, too, I should add.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:50 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just want to jump on the bandwagon here and agree that the Shanarra books didn't save fantasy. What they did do was create the mold that decades of paint by numbers overlong fantasy series continue to follow today (and yes, it's clear that that mold is just a cheap casting of LotR, but Brooks showed authors how to write LotR without being J.R.R.).

Much of today's terrible disposable fantasy can track it's lineage back to Shanarra. But the really good stuff, for the most part, not only skips Brooks, but is only barely influenced by Tolkien.

If we ARE going to talk about Brooks, though, I'd hold that "Magic Kingdom For Sale Sold!" is his far more interesting work.
posted by 256 at 5:54 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


> "None of those writers were putting out books over 300 pages long ..."

Kurtz was.

And Zelazny, Kurtz, McCaffrey, Cooper, Lieber, and Moorcock, at least, were all writing series that stretched to thousands of pages. If you want to argue that Brooks changed the market from tending toward 5-10 little books to being more in favor of 3 big books, I'll accept that, but it doesn't seem like a huge difference.

And some of the authors I mentioned I'll buy as being pulp or what have you rather than Epic, but ... McKillip's Riddle Master series? What about Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series? You'd have to really stretch the definition of Epic Fantasy to argue that there weren't popular examples between Tolkien and Brooks.
posted by kyrademon at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2015


I read that book around the time I had started reading The Hobbit and LotR, but Shanarra felt more accessible in many ways. But clearly both of a type (or even archetype, back before I knew the word), and both with art by the Bros. Hildebrant, which added to the "oh, this is what Fantasy is" expectation I had for a while.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I met Terry Brooks. He said something interesting. He didn't care about awards or acclaim. He just wanted to write books that people would read.

Well, people read his books. (Count me as one of them when I was younger.) He's by no means a great author, but you know, there are a lot worse out there. Hell, these days, they get published!

I just wish the The Sword of Shannara wasn't just a play-by-play retelling of Lord of the Rings.

The position that he saved big-book Fantasy? Hmm. Arguable. But maybe. As mentioned, the evil twin (even came out the same year!) to The Sword of Shannara was Lord Foul's Bane, the first of the Thomas Covenant books.*. Their bastard child was Pawn of Prophecy (1982), the first book of The Belgariad which I rate as a much better book than either of them, and that sort of winking-in-the-background humor led down a path towards Discworld

But, really, there are better candidates. What about, say, The Chronicles of Amber, published from 1970-1982? Or earlier yet, Stormbringer, which led to the Elric series and Swords and Deviltry Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. They didn't have the overriding plot that things like Brooks' and Donaldson's had, but they had much the same world building levels.

And Zelazny's books had that world-arc, though it came later in the series, but really, if I had to make a call about Epics, I'm calling Amber before Shannara.

As to Brooks, read Magic Kingdom For Sale Sold, which is far more interesting that Shannara. IMHO

(On preview, 256 beats me to that last.)



* Couldn't take it. An entire chapter describing a tree is all I remember of the one time I tried to read that. But that's me. You can have your own reasons for never wanting to read that again! And, you know, I didn't know he was still writing those books.
posted by eriko at 6:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Epic" Fantasy also presages the rise of "franchise" movies and endless talk of "IP" and makes me suspect that the central function of all is to string along the reader/viewer endlessly with the idea of a "payoff" when the actual content isn't compelling.
posted by selfnoise at 6:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


As with Hippybear, Donaldson's books resonated much more with me than the Shanarra series (of which I'm not sure if I ever finished the first book or not, it just wasn't very interesting). There were other authors I liked much more, but of those two the styrofoam option was definitely less interesting -- and, I suspect, less problematic and might be readable now, while I doubt I would ever want to reread Donaldson.

That there were better books written at the time isn't the point. It's an argument purely about big, thick epic quest books, which at this point is something I'm thoroughly bored by. It is to Martin's credit that he has largely avoided the quest format in his books (and the parts where he drifts into that are very much the weakest). Also, I have been rereading the series, and it says a lot about how fluffy and anodyne most books in the genre are for people to say Martin's books are "grim dark" -- if all it takes are some swear words, a couple of main characters dying, and a few sexual assaults to warrant that label, that says exactly how constrained the legacy of Terry Brooks and other popular authors has been.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait.

I realize I did this wrong.

YOU'RE WRONG. YOU'RE WRONG AND YOU'RE ARE A HORRIBLE PERSON AND I'M GOING TO SPEND THE NEXT 11 YEARS OF MY LIFE ON USENET TELLING YOU HOW WRONG YOU ARE.

There. *Now* it's a fannish argument on the Internet. Carry on.
posted by eriko at 6:05 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


The fantasy trilogy thing that's popular now, though not epic fantasy, does almost entirely follow the "one book split into three" annoying trend. Harry Potter -- whatever its other issues -- gave each book its own plot and arc along with the larger series arc. (The Hunger Games did this also. But someone, somewhere, took the wrong idea from these. Notice that until, like, book 6, Harry Potter recapped the basic important plot points in the first chapter of every book.)

A high school classmate of mine tried to lend me the Shannara books, but I never managed to get into them. I did eventually read the Amber books; an ex was a big fan of the Covenant books but (correctly) told me to avoid them (and also WoT). I think
posted by jeather at 6:08 AM on March 19, 2015


First Xanth book came out in 1977. It's 38 years old now which means Piers Anthony wouldn't touch it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:13 AM on March 19, 2015 [46 favorites]


I am, by the way, loosely defining "Epic Fantasy Series" as:

1) A series with a single coherent narrative,
2) Set somewhere that technology is roughly at the level of swords and arrows, or only slightly beyond that,
3) Where there is magic,
4) And the plot includes large-scale stakes (such as events that could affect an entire country, or an entire world), and large-scale scope (such as travel across significant distances)

Strictly applying this definition would leave out some pre-Brooks authors; Amber had guns, Lankhmar, Earthsea, and Elric were series that didn't have a single coherent narrative but were more related stand-alone books, etc.

But there were still a lot of series pre-Brooks that did fit the definition quite well. The Deryni series, the Riddle Master series, the Prydain series. And I think Moorcock is being sold short here; while his earliest work like Elric isn't a narratively cohesive series, by the late 60's and early 70's he was certainly writing them - the Hawkmoon quadrilogy and trilogy, and the two Corum trilogies, are much harder to reject as Epic.
posted by kyrademon at 6:18 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am loving having someone named graymouser in this conversation.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


Terry Brooks saved epic fantasy.

But at what price?
posted by Chrysostom at 6:21 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Basically, what dng said. Growing up in the 70s and 80s it seemed to me anyway that D&D and McCaffery's [sic] SF+dragons Pern epic loomed a lot larger than Shannara. The Narnia series was still popular with young readers while books like The Worst Witch, Watership Down, and The Neverending Story were coming out. And while nominally "science fiction," even the older Dune, Silent Planet, and Wrinkle in Time series had clear mystical/spiritual elements that put a little fantasticky peanut butter into the SF chocolate, and were ubiquitously sold at malls and drugstores in the 70s. Riverworld started in the 70's. Donaldson, given short shrift by Moher was massively popular, in hindsight disturbingly so. Even The Silmarillion itself came out in the same year as The Sword of Shannara, as did A Spell for Chameleon, the first Xanth book. And Stephen King's first Gunslinger novella was out the following year.

I want to throw in a mention of the weird, nigh-forgotten (save for the word "Muggles") The Gammage Cup (The Minnipins in UK) book and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth as books that were important to me as well, even though they don't really factor into any popularity contests.

I read a lot of SF and fantasy growing up and never had any interest in reading the Shannara books. I wouldn't say they weren't important, but I can't help but feel that this author is giving a bit too much weight to his own personal literary voyage.
posted by xigxag at 6:22 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Where does Dune (1965) fit into all this? It seems to me that the first four books hit all the marks he's talking about. His criteria for the main character seem like they were made for Paul Atreides:

Young;
Naive;
Embued with some hidden magic;
Hidden away from the larger world;
Unaware of her inner strength;
Pitched against uncertainty; and
Resistant to being pushed into a larger world conflict.


Is it just that the setting of those books is not on a pseudo-medieval Earth?
posted by Daily Alice at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jeez, now I feel bad for not having a SF/F username. I'm bringing the ratio down!
posted by selfnoise at 6:27 AM on March 19, 2015


Authors like Terry Brooks promoted a Styrofoam fantasy model; generic, disposable and harmful to the environment.

The term I prefer is "extruded fantasy product".


First Xanth book came out in 1977. It's 38 years old now which means Piers Anthony wouldn't touch it.

Goddamn.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I read the shit out Shannara as a kid. I tried re-reading them a few years ago and didn't get very far.

And as far as Tolkien rip-offs go, Brooks' Shannara can't hold a candle to McKiernan's Mithgar books. Shameless.
posted by zakur at 6:40 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just coming here to add C. S. Lewis to the list of authors who published fantasy books that were very popular in the 70s but I see xigxag beat me to it. But even though I loved both The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia, I never could really get into other fantasy writers. I know the aphorism advises against it, but I was turned off by the covers on a lot of the books back then. Books by female authors were often decked out in flowery pastel covers that looked to me like romance novels, and the original covers of the Shanarra books looked to me like they were aimed at a younger reader. I know I missed out on some good reads that way, but so it goes.

It also seems to me that "no epic fantasy" can function much the same as "no true Scotsman."
posted by TedW at 6:43 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow. I had no idea there were so many others of me out there.
posted by Naberius at 6:56 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Brooks' Shannara can't hold a candle to McKiernan's Mithgar books.

Notable mainly, if I am correctly pulling the memory from my dim and misspent youth, for being the only SF books where people relieve themselves from time to time.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:57 AM on March 19, 2015


The fantasy trilogy thing that's popular now, though not epic fantasy, does almost entirely follow the "one book split into three" annoying trend.

It's a little more complicated that that, or at least it was in the 70s, at the rise of the "fantasy trilogy." Usually the first book is somewhat stand-alone, although it hints at a bigger plot. The second and third books roll out the "full story." Off the top of my head, Katherine Kurtz's first Deryni series, Glen Cook's Black Company (although that was 80s), the first Shanara and Covenant series also follow the mold, as do a couple of others that were in my head just before but someone Porlocked me just now.

Contrast that with the Conan and Elric books, which are largely collections of short stories (with the occasional novel or novella), the Earthsea books, which happen to be three but each stand as alone as a serial series could be (and could equally be 2 or 5 or whatever), and Amber, which seems to have run along until Zelazney got tired of writing them and wrapped it up at 5.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:58 AM on March 19, 2015


Brooks and Donaldson occupied a lot of my young reading life too--I'm envious of those of you whose youthful fantasy reading was Moorcock, Leiber, etc. But my love of Brooks et al was real and important to me. After an ill-advised attempt to re-read the Shannara books as an adult, I made the decision to leave them safely untouched and unexamined on the pedestal of nostalgia.

I think my favorite part of the article was this paragraph near the end:

It’s impossible to pinpoint and explain what makes Terry Brooks’ Shannara novels so dear to me for one reason: the magic does not exist in Brooks’ books. It’s not something that I can draw a map to. It’s not an element that I can help a new reader capture. It lives inside me, instead. It’s part of my memories and my nostalgia, it’s part of the wonder that nuzzled into my heart when I was first discovering fantasy. It’s not objective in the least.

That's a great way to put it. I could apply that to a lot of other books, games, and movies from my youth.
posted by Byzantine at 7:01 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


for being the only SF books where people relieve themselves from time to time

Not true! I am pretty sure Philip José Farmer managed to get urination into most of his books, and Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality had (if I remember correctly through the merciful haze of years) three separate descriptions of how odd it would be to be conscious of time running backward while you were defecating. I am reasonably sure that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


If you had sniffed at someone "this isn't fantasy, it's epic fantasy" back then, they would have beat you up even harder. All of that stuff was just classified as "nerd books."

I did not enjoy the Shannara books and never got into them, but then I've always preferred the Hobbit to the trilogy. I can only take so much self-importance.

No love for Lloyd Alexander in this list? The Chronicles of Prydain managed to be epic in scope without being long or boring (as I recall).

Or how about Elfquest? Epic in scope, incredibly involved, definitely fantasy, and fun. And full of pretty pretty elves of both genders.
posted by emjaybee at 7:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Epic fantasy in this case is mostly defined by thick books, dark lords, and plucky young heroes. It's not particularly hard, unless you make it hard with lots of edge cases like all genres have. That combination definitely became popular with The Sword of Shannara. My own preference for sword & sorcery – which lost out to epic fantasy – should be pretty obvious from the username.
posted by graymouser at 7:07 AM on March 19, 2015


(And, just to be eponysterical, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser do relieve themelves in at least one Lankhmar story I can think of.)
posted by graymouser at 7:08 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fantasy Island saved fantasy.
posted by Ratio at 7:10 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a little more complicated that that, or at least it was in the 70s, at the rise of the "fantasy trilogy." Usually the first book is somewhat stand-alone, although it hints at a bigger plot. The second and third books roll out the "full story."

Currently, very few of the fantasy trilogies even do that. They just sort of end about 1/3 (2/3) of the way through the words -- sometimes there's a clearly out of place battle tacked on. I don't particularly like the "first book standaloneish, second book is just the teaser for the last book" set, but it at least is more thoughtful than "one plot, three books".

I haven't reread Lloyd Alexander or Susan Cooper, but I guess they are aimed at too young an audience?
posted by jeather at 7:11 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


No love for Lloyd Alexander in this list? The Chronicles of Prydain managed to be epic in scope without being long or boring (as I recall).

Alexander got stuck in the "YA" ghetto before it was cool to be there. Also, his books are short! But yeah, definitely a good author.
posted by selfnoise at 7:12 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I loved Brooks when I was younger. Though, admittedly, I started with The Heritage of Shannara quadlogy (tm) which I loved then and still love now. I didn't go back and read the original trilogy until much later and found it so strangely derivative that it felt like it was written by a different author.

I guess you can write this off as rah-rah-fanboy-rah-rah-ness if you'd like, but I still find the Heritage series to be wonderful and a far greater departure from what came before (and Dragon-lancy crud that was occurring simultaneously) than people seem to want to give it credit for. The tragedy in The Druid of Shannara was the first education of my young self about what tragedy could be. And him tipping his hand about the sci-fi underpinnings of the world still makes me smile.

To say that any one author "saved" anything is pretty silly but I don't know that all the scorn heaped his way is entirely justified. Probably just has more to do with which flavor of cool-aid you drank first.
posted by ghostiger at 7:18 AM on March 19, 2015


Yeah, I've been reading Chronicles of Prydain to my kids, and they love them, but...they just seem okay-ish to me. They get better as they go along, but The Book of Three, in particular, is rather thin, and frequently mentions something that sounds interesting, but then never follows up on it.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:18 AM on March 19, 2015


If Brooks saved epic fantasy, it was on the backs of the Brother's Hildebrandt
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Currently, very few of the fantasy trilogies even do that.

Entirely possible, but it was a very notable feature of the genre in the 70s and 80s. I kind of suspected that it was done that way so that, if the first book sold poorly, the publisher could just drop the idea. The concept seems to have blurred and been mostly lost now (and I don't think anyone mourns it), in favor mostly of open ended series (with even things like the Wheel of Time being only notionally a bounded story).

My award for the weirdest fantasy trilogy goes to Alan Garner's Alderley books, starting with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960), which fits uncomfortably in the "children have an adventure" genre, although it packs more epic into its relatively meager page count than most trilogies manage in 1800 pages. It's followed by The Moon of Gomrath (1963), a far weirder, darker, and sadder book, and finally concluded in Boneland (2012), which is odd, tragic, and hopeful by turns, a rather John Crowley-like closure that wraps up the YA series for the adults who loved it as children.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:29 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


If only you could like a thing. But you like a thing different from a thing I like.

Sadly, this is the Internet, and these two cannot co-exist.
posted by Fizz at 7:50 AM on March 19, 2015


I was born in 1983 and started reading Tolkien around 1990. When I first sat down to read the Sword of Shanarrah about a year later, I have to admit I put it down in frustration about 75% percent of the way through. I'm sure I have changed things in my memory since then, but I remember at the time feeling like it was a cheap copy-paste of LotR with place and character names substituted for new ones. Essentially same plot, etc. Someone please correct my 8 year old brain if it is wrong.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


We, the readers, saved fantasy!
posted by Renoroc at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure I have changed things in my memory since then, but I remember at the time feeling like it was a cheap copy-paste of LotR with place and character names substituted for new ones. Essentially same plot, etc. Someone please correct my 8 year old brain if it is wrong.

It definitely is but if you set the book down and avoided his other series, you did yourself a great disservice. A few books later with 'Heritage of Shannara', Brooks found his own voice, his own ideas and the series took off. There are some lovely stories and tales that are waiting for you if you ever care enough to dip your toe back into his world.
posted by Fizz at 8:08 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember signing a petition to get The Sword of Shannara onto our approved reading list for Grade 11 English. It worked.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:15 AM on March 19, 2015


I'm pretty sure it was this jeweled sword I pulled from the dragon's stone heart that saved fantasy. Not sure if it was worth it. Sure, the light show was fantastic and it was great to see that motley band of outsiders I had recruited get their hearts' desire, but then the Devas of the Light appeared with a crown in hand chanting something about the Elf Queen reborn and gave me zero chance to back out of the job application process before they dunked me in the Font of Becoming.

So I hope you enjoy your fantasy books - I don't get much time to read them anymore. My days are spent having my now luxurious long hair braided by pixie handmaidens and listening to gnomes argue about taxation.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


I was born in 1969, and got exposed to D&D and Tolkien at the same time, by a bunch of older gamers. First time I came across Shanara was in the comic book form. I remember coming up to the older geeks with "Hey guys, check this out…"

*GLANCE*

"Eh, it's a rip off of Tolkien. There's better out there."

Bam. Done.

Never read another word from Brooks, spiraled off into Moorcock & Zelazny et al, and spent the 80s quietly sneering at the proles reading the watered down pablum.

I was a fantasy hipster.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:21 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


That D&D reading list upthread set me on the path to this book, from 1973.

Per Hiero Desteen was a priest, a telepath -- and a highly trained killer. Together with his great riding moose and the young bear who was his friend, he was on an extraordinary mission. For this was five thousand years after the holocaust known as The Death. Now the evil Brotherhood of the Unclean was waging all-out war against the few remnants of normal humanity, determined to wipe out all traces of its emerging civilization. Hiero's task was to bring back a lost secret of the ancients that might save the humans. But his path lay through the very heart of the territory ruled by the Unclean and their hordes of mutated, intelligent, savage beast followers. And the Unclean were waiting for him!

Hell to the yeah.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:22 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Renoroc: "We, the readers, saved fantasy!"

The fantasy was inside us, all along.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:28 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


The fantasy is coming from inside the house!!!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:36 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


No love for Lloyd Alexander in this list? The Chronicles of Prydain managed to be epic in scope without being long or boring (as I recall).

They manage to also pull off another trick -- epic in scope while reminding the reader that the small scale of everyday lives matters.

One of the ways you can tell whether or not something is simply a power fantasy or escapist is that the characters involved don't have to make any choices that might really cost them something or change them.

The Prydain Chronicles have enough choices with costs scattered throughout its 5 books, but they end with a doozie: the protagonists having vanquished evil incarnate... and then two of them giving up sailing off into what's more or less heaven because they realize there's many smaller practical needs in the world that they'd noticed along the way and felt committed to attend to. This commitment itself defines them as worthy of leadership, and a royal figure reminds them that while they've vanquished capital-E Evil, little-e evil remains in people's hearts and suffering in the world and that isn't something you fight with epic clashes, mustered armies, and enchantment. It's a perfect bridge for re-framing the reader out of the conflicts in that world and into the more pedestrian but important conflicts they'll find in their own.
posted by weston at 8:44 AM on March 19, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also, I would (today) totally read a post apocalyptic epic about the quest for the Sword of Sha-Na-Na

Think about the fellowship that would come from that:
-A tall man in black, basso profondo Voice, as leader/guide
-A trio of dancer/warriors in gold lamé
-A motley collection of troubadour/thugs in colorful, archaic dress from a forgotten age, from th forgotten land of Bruk-Lyn

"But I don't want to hand-jive!"
"You were BORN to hand-jive! It is your destiny!"

Their visit to the Witch Doctor, their confrontation w the Duke of Earl.

Speak the word of "Glory", and enter.
[Bow-Zur tries several languages' word for Glory, gates remain closed]
"Ah, so stupid. The ancients meant The glory that was… Grease!"
[gates creak open]
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:52 AM on March 19, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think one could only claim that Brooks saved epic fantasy in the 70s if you discovered it all much later and are picking from what you saw on the shelves at the time. There were stll plenty of folks writing fantasy at the time, many of whom have been mentioned here already. I'd also like to remind you of two writers that don't get much credit here but were quite popular at the time: Anne McCaffrey and Ursula Le Guin. They both won Hugos and this nerdy high school kid sold a lot of both of their books at the mall WaldenBooks in the late 70s.
posted by Lame_username at 8:58 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have fond memories of reading Sword of Shannara, triggered by the Hildebrandt illustrations in the FA. (I even had a copy of the Hildebrandt Tolkien calendar for some years.)

But I was also reading Tolkien, Kurtz, Norton, McCaffrey, McKillip, LeGuin, Cherryh, MZB, Zelazny, old Conan novels, and anything else I could get my hands on in the late 1970s. By the time the later Shannara novels came out, I bounced off them.

I recall trying to read the second one, thought it was a direct retread of the first one (which I had always known was a direct retread of LotR), and dropped it halfway through. Brooks just never had much impact on me compared to the other writers listed above.

I do think one's reaction to Brooks depends heavily on one's age, and what one had access to at the time.

But also: Brooks is fundamentally accessible. He's not a difficult writer to follow, the books have nice shiny covers that clearly indicate the content, and nobody ever assigns the Shannara novels for English class. It's Tolkein, but the Fun Parts Edition (tm William Goldman). Which is why, I think, Brooks became an entry-way into fantasy for a lot of people who wouldn't have otherwise picked up Riddlemaster of Hed or Deryni Rising.

Basically, it's all marketing. Which we knew.
posted by suelac at 9:09 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't know that all the scorn heaped his way is entirely justified.

It's not that I'm scornful, but I think he has an incomplete grasp of the history of that era. Shannara entirely aside, there was an unending stream of epic or otherwise fantasy available to read throughout the 70's and 80's. From my perspective anyway, at no point was there a period where I felt the genre was slowing to a trickle and needed to be saved. Maybe if you're restricting yourself to J.R.R. Tolkien near clones, it could be argued that Brooks revitalized that genre, but that seems rather like damning with faint praise.
posted by xigxag at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another longtime fantasy reader here but I came to Sword of Shanarra only as an adult, after my mom died and I found her copy of Running with the Demon, the begininning of Brooks' prequel to SoS fantasy series, Word & Void. I loved that series, but reading SoS was like wading through sludge for me, and I just . . . couldn't . . . finish the book. What a disappointment. Now I wish I'd read it as a child or teen.

On the other hand, I'm still not tired of rereading the Narnia series, LOTR, Dune, Wizard of Earthsea, and many more that I think are classics of fantasy.
posted by bearwife at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2015


I liked Brooks better than Tolkien. There. I said it.

I also haven't read anything by him since I was in my teens and I'm kind of afraid to because I don't want my happy memories ruined
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was in my twenties when Shanarra came out and I had already binged on Tolkien, Howard, Zelazney, Moorcock, etc. I only read the first book and yeah, it was definitely LOTR Lite. Never read the rest. But Brooks and Donaldson changed things. Shanarra and Covenant were the first fantasy books I saw on the bestsellers lists (aside from the Silmarillion). Yes there were countless other and better authors working the genre but these were the first to make publishers stand up and think "wait, there's money in this little genre. Dammit, somebody find me some people who write this stuff."

the only SF books where people relieve themselves from time to time

Tyrion Lannister has been known to take a piss from time to time. Or pause to contemplate the content of his father's bowels.
posted by Ber at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2015


Another early Gen-Xer here who got into fantasy early (mom put Tolkien in front of me! and she was not a fantasy hipster or nerd, either.) and was interested in D&D from about 1977 onward, though I didn't get to play it until later because I had girl cooties.

I think any article about epic fantasy and 1977 that doesn't take into account that Star Wars has lasers and spaceships and SFnal trappings but is essentially an epic fantasy on Campbellian principles is failing in its analysis of how pop culture happened in the 70s (and 80s).
posted by immlass at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh God I hated Shannara. Blergh.

There's a pretty straight line, though, from Brooks to Eddings (who wrote the same quintet of doorstoppers twice) to Jordan. And I'd argue there's a similar direct path from Donaldson to Gurm.

And we can't talk about Extruded Fantasy Product without mentioning Weis/Hickman, really. I waffle a lot about where Melanie Rawn goes... she does that thing where she's great at the worldbuilding, but honestly she uses the same five characters over and over and over and over.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2015


I was the right age to be one of the kids targeted by Shanarra, I was ten or twelve when I saw it in paperback (say 79-80?). It was different from the Leiber and Moorcock and Howard and Le Guin and Norton and Vance (I wasn't allowed to read Donaldson). It certainly, even as a pre-teen, felt derivative of Tolkien in way the others weren't.

I think it's very fair to say it paved the way for a formula of writing, explicitly starting the huge tome, never ending series approach that dominated the Fantasy genre all through the 80s. It weren't fantasy if it didn't have elves and dwarves (not dwarfs) and mysterious wizards. Everyone was an archetype. Fantasy meant swords and magic like sciffy meant spaceships and hightech. Brooks and his imitators produced doughy, fast-food writing, easy and quick and engaging, but kind of left me feeling hollow afterwards. Earthsea or the Dying Earth, on the other hand, filled me with speculation and wonder.

It was a breath of fresh air to see the urban fantasy movement take hold. Brust and Bull and de Lint I bought on sight and still do to this day. It wasn't that they were possibly better writers (though I would argue that they were), but that they so convincingly showed that the Formula could be broken, that books didn't need to be huge, to have multiple sequels and there was space for other ideas than plucky youth saves the world with help from trusty elf-dwarf-mage (or thematic equivalent) companions.

Incidentally, it's also the reason I enjoy George Martin so much. He's following the Formula, or at least its forms, so that he can smash it at every opportunity, putting its inherent racism and sexism, its ingrained casual monstrousness on full display.
posted by bonehead at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


BTW, no shaming here for many of the Formula Fantasy stuff. Sometimes you just feel like a hamburger. The problem with the 80s was that was largely all that was on the menu. Things like The Last Unicorn felt few and far between.
posted by bonehead at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "Eddings (who wrote the same quintet of doorstoppers twice)"

Yeah, I still have some residual fondness for Eddings, but the Mallorean is pretty much *exactly* the same events of the Belgariad, just mostly on a different continent.

I also remember Dragon Magazine having a pretty good critique in a review - Eddings wants his characters to have all the trappings of "winning" - kingships and all - but as soon as he wants to get them in a quest plot, all of that gets thrown aside. Realistically, the King of Riva is not going to be able to just faff off on a months-long adventure.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jack Vance 4 Lyfe. All of his main characters are pretty much the same but I never get tired of his descriptive language and examination of culture.

Going to have to re-read Shannara though, I may have under-appreciated it last time.
posted by fraxil at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2015


Yeah, I still have some residual fondness for Eddings, but the Mallorean is pretty much *exactly* the same events of the Belgariad, just mostly on a different continent.

The best bit of sleight-of-hand that he did there was saying so openly, and using "well the mythos of the archetypes coming together over and over until it gets done right" was his excuse. In some ways I'm vaguely surprised they left it at two quintets. Could have easily done a third on the same stupid, boring, irredeemably sexist and racist bedrock. (Won't lie, loved them as a teenager. Started rereading the Belgariad recently and oh my fuck no.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:18 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


A major part of the way the formula worked was the removal of character (or characterization) and replacing them with stereotypes (Eddings called them "archetypes"). Beyond the trappings of the background and the way the business/publishing deals worked, I think that's got to be one of the definitional features of the Formula.

You didn't need to figure out who the characters were, really, you just needed to figure out which archetype they were (young hero, wize mage, rogue with the heart of gold, tragic fighter, etc...), and then they could have adventures! As iconic as comic book heros.

In Vance or Le Guin or later Bull and Brust, character was at least as important as the adventure.
posted by bonehead at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


People never seem to get the remarkable synergy of the book -- and its cover -- with the initial release of Star Wars. Our Hero and his sword in the stone is basically Luke Skywalker, and Small Town Boy Set on His Path to Fate by Mysterious Guy in Robe, etc.

Lester del Rey, as publisher of the long-lead novelization of Star Wars, had read the screenplay and probably screened the rough prints many months before the release of Sword of Shanarra -- not far enough in advance to affect the text of the book, but certainly far in enough to see the marketingchance.

It wasn't at all hard for him to get that Brooks was the horse to ride, although it's pretty incredible to realize the options he had, given that he was almost simultaneously launching the first Donaldson novel, the first Xanth novel, McCaffrey's White Dragon, and the first novel of Kurtz's Culdi trilogy.
posted by MattD at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, to be honest I blame del Rey more than Brooks for the whole thing. Brooks write a derivative fantasy novel, plenty of people have done that. It's Lester del Rey who used it to change the fantasy publishing industry.
posted by graymouser at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the fantasy writer than can write a book. Like, just one book. Not the great lazy sprawling history of an entire world. Not a series that I have to commit the next decade of my life to. Something with a nice tight plot; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just one damn book.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I should just have a macro for this by now: you're looking for Guy Gavriel Kay.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:40 AM on March 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


Pretty much anything by Emma Bull. Bone Dance.

Though her series, not-series, Liavek, a set of shared-world short story collections are like a who's who of 90's fantasy, including Wolfe, Brust, Alan Moore and the late John M. Ford. As important to modern writing as Dangerous Visions was in the 70s, IMO.

Man, there's something I need to reread.
posted by bonehead at 10:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think what I take from this is that Brooks saved fantasy for the author of this piece. For me (as a teen), I read the Shannara series (Sword/Elfstone/Wishsong) and saw them as extruded fantasy product that lifted a lot from LOTR, but still fun.

I also enjoyed Michael Moorcock's work - Elric; the Eternal Champion stuff. I dipped my toes into Anne McCaffery, but it wasn't to my taste. I enjoyed Donaldson's Covenant series (and with the benefit of hindsight I can understand why - having a character who doubted and wouldn't be bound to the noble quest but was a bit more unpredictable was fascinating). I played D&D.

We all found things that kept epic fantasy alive for us at periods of time when we perceived it might be withering away. More recently (recent being 15 plus years ago) I picked up Game of Thrones in a bookstore at a time when I felt fantasy was losing it's grip for me and it re-awoke my interest. We find what we need when we need it, is what I'm guessing I'm saying here, and it might be different for everyone.
posted by nubs at 10:47 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the fantasy writer than can write a book. Like, just one book. Not the great lazy sprawling history of an entire world. Not a series that I have to commit the next decade of my life to. Something with a nice tight plot; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just one damn book

Try Patricia McKillip. Yes, she wrote a trilogy (the Riddlemaster trilogy) and then a couple of duologies. But everything she's written for the last twenty years has been one-off traditional fantasy. It's always beautiful prose, very magical/mystical, and not in any way generic extruded fantasy product.

you're looking for Guy Gavriel Kay

Errh, well. You might be; not me, anymore. I tried rereading Tigana this winter and it was like carving through cement with a butter knife. So ponderous, so portentous, so pretentious. Give me Stephen Brust or Emma Bull or N. K. Jemisin or Deborah Coates, P. C. Hodgell, Violette Malan, or Karen Healey instead.
posted by suelac at 10:47 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was one of those kids who was the right age to start with Sword of Shannannana and for a long time Brooks and his series held a special place even after I moved on. Eventually I tried picking up his newer stuff, the Voyage of the Jerele Shannannannanna, and there was this part that made me put it down where one female character was, "indescribably defiled". I tried the first book of the next series and within the first chapter or two a female main character was "defiled".

I don't know why I was put off more by those instances than the much more explicit stuff in Lord Foul's Bane. Maybe a childhood projection thing.
posted by charred husk at 10:47 AM on March 19, 2015


Having sucked up Tolkien as a teen I was insanely excited when I found out about SoS. Then I tried to read it. Got maybe halfway before I realized that -unlike Andy Dufresne- there was no end to the crap-filled pipe I was crawling through.

Then I found 'The Dancers at the End of Time' and got better.
posted by umberto at 10:49 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only Terry Brooks I ever read was Elfstones, and as a girl, I loved it. Amberle is the real hero of the book -- Wil is in the "hero" role but he's just kind of along for the ride and never really knows what's going on. There are plenty of cliches/stereotypes, etc, but it was one of my favorite books as a kid.
posted by Mallenroh at 10:52 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, folks who are looking for classic old-skool Sword & Sorcery of the Howard Carter/Fritz Leiber type should check out Violette Malan: the Dhulyn & Parno novels are what you want.

The books are about a pair of sworn-partner mercenaries, who travel the world and have adventures in which they serve as soldiers, investigators, and occasionally judges. They deal with dead gods and complicated city-state politics and prejudice and slavery, with lots of fights and betrayals and the occasional love-making. The best thing (IMO) is that Dhulyn is a woman, and not the only female mercenary around, and the books address issues of gender without being particularly hamhanded about it. They are, first and foremost, fun adventures. I really like them, and I am hoping Malan will come along and resolve the frelling cliff-hanger at the end of the 4th volume sooooooon.
posted by suelac at 10:53 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "In some ways I'm vaguely surprised they left it at two quintets. "

Well, there were three more books in the universe - one each about Belgarath and Polgara, and then a kind of Silmarilion-esque thing of "primary texts."
posted by Chrysostom at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2015


Yeah, Tigana is by far his weakest.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:05 AM on March 19, 2015


Well, there were three more books in the universe - one each about Belgarath and Polgara, and then a kind of Silmarilion-esque thing of "primary texts."

Plus the Elenium and Tamuli which follow basically the same formula in a technically but not really that different universe and in two trilogies instead of two quintets. I remember liking them a little more, but that might be because almost all of the characters were adults, so to 11 year old me it felt more mature and cool.
posted by Copronymus at 11:11 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the fantasy writer than can write a book.

Dear fantasy writer,

In the early 20th C, Marcel Proust wrote À la recherche du temps perdu, a masterpiece of literature which spans about 3200 pages in English translation. When your series reaches 3200 pages, you are suggesting that you have more to say than Proust. You may wish to reconsider this position.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


I read Sword of Shannara as a kid and I loved it. As an adult, I know it wouldn't stand up but I don't care. I still remember it as one of my favorite childhood books.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2015


Plus the Elenium and Tamuli which follow basically the same formula in a technically but not really that different universe and in two trilogies instead of two quintets.

I think I finally pulled a Dorothy Parker (did not toss aside lightly; threw with great force) after Elenium. FFS, do you really need another child-god? Flute = Eriond. Argh.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


First Xanth book came out in 1977. It's 38 years old now which means Piers Anthony wouldn't touch it.

But he *could* write a short story about it getting together with Shinn's 20-year old Shape Changer's Wife.
posted by weston at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2015


Didn't the Thieve's World books come out around the same time? I really liked the idea of a Rashoman-style collaboration, but couldn't really get through those either.
posted by umberto at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting for the fantasy writer than can write a book. Like, just one book. Not the great lazy sprawling history of an entire world. Not a series that I have to commit the next decade of my life to. Something with a nice tight plot; a beginning, a middle, and an end. Just one damn book.

that very slim volume is called 'Emphyrio'
posted by dorian at 12:26 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thieves' World worked for the first three, maybe four, volumes. Then it turned into ridiculous soap opera nonsense.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


There were a bunch of shared world series at the time. Thieves World was good for the first few.

Bordertown, Terri Windling's urban fantasy project, attracted many of the same authors who participated in Liavek, and still sort of continues today. Emma Bull even wrote a full novel in that universe, Finder, which is a great entry point IMO.

George Martin headed Wild Cards before he got distracted with his own EFP. Zelazny even wrote some bits, though he was in his "gotta pay the bills" mode at that point. It also has new collabs coming out.
posted by bonehead at 12:40 PM on March 19, 2015


It's been on the blue before I think, but this is a good place to link The Fantasy Novelist's Exam. The authors say that if you answer "yes" to any of the questions you should abandon writing your book (ha!). I love it so much.

The first ten are:

Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?
Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?
How about one that will destroy it?
Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about "The One" who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?
Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?
Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?
Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?


Also #33 is

Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?
posted by freecellwizard at 12:47 PM on March 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


Didn't the Thieve's World books come out around the same time? I really liked the idea of a Rashoman-style collaboration, but couldn't really get through those either.

They started in 1978. On preview, as fffm and bonehead both note, it is diminishing returns. I remember liking the first one quite a bit, the second passably well, and the third and the fourth began to submerge below the sea level of forgettability. To my surprise I see there were an even dozen anthologies plus seven spin-off novels and one or two relaunches. I did not even notice.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:56 PM on March 19, 2015


People never seem to get the remarkable synergy of the book -- and its cover -- with the initial release of Star Wars. Our Hero and his sword in the stone is basically Luke Skywalker, and Small Town Boy Set on His Path to Fate by Mysterious Guy in Robe, etc.

I think that's exactly what prevented me from picking it up, even though I was exactly the target market. I don't think I could have spelled 'derivative' at the time, but it was just trying too had.

I moved down the Waldenbooks aisle to Thieves' World or Dragonriders or something that wasn't saving Epic Fantasy.

And then went to see Star Wars for the twelfth time, which wasn't so much saving Epic Fantasy as reinventing it under a SciFi banner.

How we've yet to get a Pern movie/series, I don't understand.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:58 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: That D&D reading list upthread set me on the path to this book, from 1973.

PAve, I have recommended that book before on MetaFilter. Did you know there's a sequel that's even weirder? You betcha!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:00 PM on March 19, 2015


How we've yet to get a Pern movie/series, I don't understand.

Well...

Teen me is excited. Adult me doesn't want that bizarre homophobe McCaffrey--well, her estate--making another penny.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:04 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm so glad you're all here, maybe you can help resolve a long-raging dispute between ten-year old me, myself, and I:

What, if any, is the correct pronunciation of Allanon? Thanks!
posted by riverlife at 1:08 PM on March 19, 2015


'Dickhead'
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:10 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I knew it!! ;)
posted by riverlife at 1:11 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Errh, well. You might be; not me, anymore. I tried rereading Tigana this winter and it was like carving through cement with a butter knife. So ponderous, so portentous, so pretentious. Give me Stephen Brust or Emma Bull or N. K. Jemisin or Deborah Coates, P. C. Hodgell, Violette Malan, or Karen Healey instead.

That's not really fair, though, since Tigana is Kay's first post-Fionavar novel. It's obviously an early work and not nearly as polished and mature as his latest stuff. It's like judging Bujold based on reading only Barrayar. I love a couple of the writers you mention and Brust is about as good a storyteller as they come but Kay is head and shoulders a better writer than everybody you list. Which isn't to denigrate them, many of those writers are great, but Kay is one of the best living fantasists.
posted by Justinian at 1:17 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also I almost went back and linked to all the times on Metafilter I have written about Brooks and Donaldson being the genesis of the modern fantasy genre while asking "Why didn't anyone think of this before?" but that would be petty, so instead I'll just write this.
posted by Justinian at 1:19 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I just picked up River of Stars a little while ago, and it's incredible to see how much he's matured as a writer. All the common themes are there: looking to the past, recapturing past glory, women who are uninterested in submitting to their socially defined roles, the value of art, the precariousness of all human achievements. The writing, though, is just unbelievably good. Spare, not a single word extra. It's not my favourite of his--that goes to Arbonne, hands down--but it probably is his best writing to date. (I have some concerns that his habit of writing within pseudo-historical contexts has hit some degree of appropriation in this book, though.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:27 PM on March 19, 2015


bizarre homophobe McCaffrey

Not to condone, but she had attitudes very typical of mid 20th Irish Catholicism.

Her gender politics are equally difficult to reconcile now. I keep wanting to give the Harper Hall trilogy (magic school!) to a niece who is mad about dragons, and , but then she'd find the Dragon Riders books and yeah. I don't think she's ready for the full monty of traditional Irish Catholic sexual politics of a woman's duty, and consequent rape scenes presented as the natural order of things.
posted by bonehead at 1:33 PM on March 19, 2015


> Shannara entirely aside, there was an unending stream of epic or otherwise fantasy
> available to read throughout the 70's and 80's.

fully half of which was written by Lin Carter.
posted by jfuller at 1:48 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


fully half of which was written by Lin Carter.

I am so torn on Lin Carter. On the one hand I think the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was really important and he helped bring out great editions of some of my favorite authors, particularly Clark Ashton Smith. On the other, his prose was mind-boggling in its thudding awfulness. I think there are interesting ideas in World's End but it's too wooden to read. And both Thongor of Lemuria and Jandar of Callisto sound like they're up my alley but I just can not grit my teeth through a LIn Carter novel when there is only so much time on this Earth.
posted by graymouser at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I totally agree but there are kind of no stakes there, really... I mean nobody reads Lin Carter these days and nobody took any kind of publishing lesson from his writing. OTOH there are over a dozen writers I would probably have never read were it not for the Ballantine series. Back before the internet (and probably even now) finding a way to get work like that back out in the public is just huge.
posted by selfnoise at 2:30 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "When your series reaches 3200 pages, you are suggesting that you have more to say than Proust. You may wish to reconsider this position."

I prefer to use Alexandre Dumas as my yardstick.

I think I can keep myself below his 148,000 pages. If I struggle.
posted by kyrademon at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I prefer to use Alexandre Dumas as my yardstick.

Not entirely fair to measure life output against a single work. I have read a few epic fantasies that felt like 148,000 pages (before I stopped and read something I enjoyed).
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:38 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


A major part of the way the formula worked was the removal of character (or characterization) and replacing them with stereotypes (Eddings called them "archetypes"). Beyond the trappings of the background and the way the business/publishing deals worked, I think that's got to be one of the definitional features of the Formula.

One of the more interesting bits of The Rivan Codex (the book of all his source material) is where he spells out The Formula. He also states that tropes are basically literary crack, which, considering the tarpit that The Website That Shall Not Be Named is, I tend to agree with.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:52 PM on March 19, 2015


Their visit to the Witch Doctor, their confrontation w the Duke of Earl.

Don't forget their unfortunate experience with Love Potion #9 and the epic Chase of Nadine. Then there was the surreal sojourn under the Blue Moon.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:23 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


You're going to make me tell you about Urshurak, aren't you? *sigh*

I admit, I bought this book because Tim and Greg Hildebrandt contributed the artwork. So, really how bad could it be? Answer: really damn bad. Like Plan Nine From Outer Space bad. So bad I actually read the whole thing just to savor how awesomely bad it is. I'll just give you a taste:

TORGON THE DEATH LORD has been waging war against the land of Urshurak for 1000 YEARS! And in all that time, what has he conquered, but this tiny, postage-stamp blot of volcano-blasted wasteland, in an uncomfortable-looking IRON FORTRESS surrounded by his GIANT RAT minions. Dude, your life sort of sucks for a major villain.

It's a poorly-written fanfic decorated by some technically well-done but uninspired artwork.
posted by SPrintF at 5:26 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Happily, I read Ushurak at a time when I was young and my standards were low.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:09 PM on March 19, 2015


GenjiandProust: "Not entirely fair to measure life output against a single work."

All right, but how long is the combined Musketeers saga (The Three Musketeers / Twenty Years After / The Vicomte de Bragelonne)? That's a trilogy so fat the third part is normally three volumes!
posted by Chrysostom at 7:39 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


McCaffrey put some weird sex stuff in the Harper Hall books, too. Menolly's firelizard mating flight was probably my first adolescent steamy scene.

Glad someone mentioned the Hildebrandt bros. I've mentioned before how my dad was friends with them, and we grew up with a huge edition of their Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt. Tolkien and Brooks ran together for me, creating a book much better than what either of them could write.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:51 PM on March 19, 2015


Ooh, and I have a signed copy of Urshurak somewhere! Probably in my mom's attic. Even at 11 I got maybe ten pages in and gave up.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:53 PM on March 19, 2015


TORGON THE DEATH LORD would be a pretty great username, though.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:09 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, I'll start this by admitting I don't know a lot about epic fantasy. I read LOTR in 1968, and then again in '68, and at least once in '69... I finally quit after reading it about the 30th time through.

I read The Sword of Shannara once. It was LOTR with the names changed, tossed into a salad shooter, and poured out. I ignored Mr. Brooks until he wrote Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold, and enjoyed it. I finally decided Terry Brooks knew how to write when I read the novelization of The Phantom Menace. It was a far better book than the movie was a movie.

As has been implied here, but not stated (though I didn't read every response), Shannara was a success because people wanted more Tolkien, and there was no more to be had. Despite all efforts of Ballantine and fellow publishers, there was a serious shortage of Tolkienesque fantasy, and Terry Brooks was the closest thing. He filled a void. Donaldson certainly didn't. I realize that Thomas Covenant was good for many people -- perhaps he was the anti-Tolkien -- but he wasn't for me.

Shannara was successful in keeping the masses mollified until better writers started producing the kind of fantasy the masses wanted. Perhaps we should be grateful for Del Rey and Brooks for doing so.
posted by lhauser at 8:24 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


exactly, Brooks was/is accessible. and I too have a certain fondness for his writing, having been about the right age when his first books were published. but if it's a genesis, it's a real disappointment - subsequent work that may have been informed by his, influenced by, or simply trying to fill the same void - the result being what gets classified as Young Adult these days is not the sharp intelligent work that used to be called YA, but merely Middle Grade at best. I wouldn't even call Brooks YA, honestly. Eddings, Jordan, ..., Rowling? simple and fun to read. also not even close to YA.

Donaldson is definitely not very accessible. even the light Mordant's Need is a little difficult. and both that and Covenant are almost, almost, inappropriate for younger readers, although I think it's exactly the higher level of intelligence that the motivated young readers wanted - i.e. back when YA often meant writing that gave kids credit for wanting to / being able to understand that level of thought, credit for being able to process something edgy, or at least having the desire to try to do so - but that minority was not the void that wanted to be filled.

Ms. Cherryh, the only person who could possibly compete with Vance as my favorite author, is not only mostly-inaccessible, but hard. seriously hard. she does have some delightful, light stuff, but her best works require serious effort to enjoy. even Chanur, a true delight, requires following so many threads of political, socio-economic, anthropological, ..., meaning. likewise Heavy Time / Hellburner. likewise Rusalka, Fortress, ..., ..., ... . again, not what the void wanted. but perfect for serious YA readers.

and when Foreigner came out? I don't think I ever made it past volume 3. it's brilliant but so not easy. it has some light bits, but truly requires a lot of concentration. Cherryh is now up to volume 15, working on 16. none of her writing has ever let me down, and it sounds like there has been no staleness or recycling over the course of so many volumes (and with her mind, I can believe it). but I don't know if I have the energy to start again from book 1 on a series I haven't read in 20 years. and how many more past 16 is she planning?

similarly Brust aka Dumas. I'm currently re-reading Phoenix Guards and 500 Years, and have even already purchased e-books of the first handful of his longer series (which I strongly desired to read when much younger, but couldn't afford to buy, and the libraries infuriatingly only ever have, say, book 4 and book 7. ?!!), currently 14 volumes, planned to go to 19. so, again, I almost dread starting it. which is shameful - his writing is a joy, it's only my laziness causing that hesitation. I'm surprised he was never more popular, with such a great balance of intelligence and accessibility.

contrast older days: when I received my 44+ volumes of the VIE? I think I read the whole thing in no more than a month. (a large fraction of that was re-reading old favorites, although sometimes that ends up being slower rather than faster...)
posted by dorian at 12:15 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


No reason to be intimidated by the Vlad novels. They're all quite short, there's no reason you can't read each one in a day or two. Some are heavier subject matter than others, of course (not sure I could read Teckla again).

There's also three more (fat) books in the Khaavren series, but they're not as good as The Phoenix Guards and 500 Years After. They're kind of interesting for "filling in the background" purposes, but they're not as good as the first two.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:48 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


NoxAeternum: He also states that tropes are basically literary crack, which, considering the tarpit that The Website That Shall Not Be Named is, I tend to agree with.

Nooo, if you want an Eddings drinking game, you have to get this book. You will mentally go "ting!" every time Polgara makes savoury(OMT) STEW.
posted by sukeban at 7:06 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


even the light Mordant's Need is a little difficult

lol. Light? A little difficult? The first book is dense as. Though, granted, a bit more predictable than the Covenant books. Perhaps light in the sense of fewer trips to the dictionary.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:41 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


thanks for the encouragement Chrysostom! and yeah, while I enjoyed those 3 other Dragaera books, they weren't the most memorable, never felt the need to read them again.

fffm - ha, yeah, I guess in my mind/context the only thing I compare it to is being an easier read than Covenant. I do seem to recall 12-year-old-me having to struggle to the extent of having to re-visit it a couple years later.

also, I had totally forgotten... GAP. wow... that was like, Cherryh and Bester wrote some sort of creepy unholy child together. with maybe some help from Wolfe.
posted by dorian at 9:33 AM on March 20, 2015


McCaffrey put some weird sex stuff in the Harper Hall books, too.

Yeah, I'd kind of repressed that memory, but you're bang on. It's a shame though. those books would be crack for my neice(s), but her parents have pretty strict rules on books.

Menolly's firelizard mating flight was probably my first adolescent steamy scene.

Speaking of, Tandith Lee doesn't get nearly enough attention in these sorts of discussions. She's Vance's equal, IMO. Night's Master was probably the weirdest thing I ever found in in the kids section of our local library. Some confused librarian probably thought it was a fairy tale book or something. However to pre-teen me, it was one of the most eye-opening books I'd read. I devoured all of the Tales from the Flat Earth.
posted by bonehead at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ha, I had thought about throwing Tanith Lee out there. The comparison with Vance is great -- her best books are lyrical and her worst have at least a few arresting scenes and images. The Flat Earth books are some of my favorites.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:10 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


speaking of Lee and Vance... highly recommend this wonderfully clever tribute collection of short stories, written by names easily recognized.

sadly I think my childhood library only had one single Tanith Lee book (and yet they had Farmer Giles of Ham, Silmarillion, Númenor, at least 7(but not all 12) of Tales of Middle Earth...?!), and I even more sadly can't even remember what the Lee novel was.

Flat Earth sounds like I need to make it a priority.

Martha Wells does a nice almost Vance+Brust sort of style - Ile-Rien series is not bad, but standalone works like City of Bones are quite lovely.

my thanks to those who mentioned Kurtz; and I'd advocate a few more names yet-unmentioned in this thread: Diane Duane, CS Friedman, Robin Hobb, JV Jones.

and for a not-half-bad huge epic series of fat volumes (like, getting into Jordan-super-size territory - except comprehensible, non-tedious, and pleasantly entertaining), there's always Janny Wurts...
posted by dorian at 12:05 PM on March 20, 2015


Thanks dorian. Had not seen that before.
posted by bonehead at 12:28 PM on March 20, 2015


huh, I really need to look into more of those Dozois/Martin edit/anthologies: Hobb, Lee, and others? for 2 bucks? yes, please.
posted by dorian at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2015


ok, now the Dozois anthologies are going off the rails. but look at the lists of the authors!

Magicats I
Magicats II

also, for the above 2 links: "At the publisher's request, this title is sold without DRM"

/catzone
posted by dorian at 1:13 PM on March 20, 2015


Yeah, City of Bones by Wells was really the kind of book that left me wanting more. Never got into her Ile-Rien stuff.

Fantasy publishing, in a way, has scientifically proven that "leaving them wanting more" is much, much better as a writing philosophy than "keep going until they can't take any more." Sadly the latter is a better money making philosophy.
posted by graymouser at 2:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, City of Bones by Wells was really the kind of book that left me wanting more. Never got into her Ile-Rien stuff

I like Ile-Rien, but I admit the world-buildling in City of Bones was first-rate, and really creative. I've always wanted to see more of that.

I can definitely recommend the Raksura novels (starting with The Cloud Roads), which are unique in that there are no real humans in it, just dozens of different kinds of intelligent beings in a fantasy world. The characters are interesting and the plots are entertaining.
posted by suelac at 2:14 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nthing the Raksura novels; Wells is a very competent fantasist with an excellent grasp on characterisation and her books never outstay their welcomes. I kind of file her alongside early Robin Hobb, before Hobb started getting too "Epic".
posted by smoke at 2:22 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


excellent, I was unaware of the Books of Raksura, and spamazon even has it as a single 3-volume kindle. (and there is a 2nd 'Stories' trilogy on the way? neat.) - thank you.

can anyone please point me at ebooks for Flat Earth, though? I am having a hell of a fail at the intarwebs. (I mean, I know where to "find" them. but I'd rather pay actual monies, even if it's kindle-drm crap. and the one site I found selling epub files, was way-sketchy and very-obviously selling pirated stuff and probably doing bad things to your credit card to boot.)

even tried my local library area-wide system. no Lee in their overdrive/electronics.

trying for actual-books, the libraries here do have plenty of Wolf Star, Wolf Wing, Wolf Toaster, Wolf Air Conditioning Degree In 30 Days!, Wolf 4-Star Restaurant, ... but no Flat Earth.
posted by dorian at 2:58 PM on March 20, 2015


I like Ile-Rien, but I admit the world-buildling in City of Bones was first-rate, and really creative.

My favorite world-builder these days is Sarah Monette. Her "The Doctrine of Labyrinths" quartet (begins with Mélusine; that and The Virtu are one huge-ish novel cut into two with two add-ons) has a bunch of interesting cultures utilizing magic in different ways. The magic is interesting without feeling like it was cribbed from an RPG, and the characters are intereting enough to keep you reading, even when they are not very likable (if you hated Alec in Swordspoint, this is not the series for you. She does a great job providing a lot of rich texture without wasting time explaining background detail or trying to systematize anything that her characters are not organically trying to systematize themselves.

Actually, the Riverside books by Ellen Kushner are worth a read, although there is very little magic in them (if magic is what you want in your fantasy).

Getting away from High (or even high-ish) fantasy, if you haven't read John Crowley's Little, Big, go and do that right now.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:54 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nooo, if you want an Eddings drinking game, you have to get this book. You will mentally go "ting!" every time Polgara makes savoury(OMT) STEW.

I'm pretty sure down that path lies alcohol poisoning.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:02 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


can anyone please point me at ebooks for Flat Earth, though? I am having a hell of a fail at the intarwebs. (I mean, I know where to "find" them.

That makes one of us. I couldn't find any electronic versions at all, legitimate or otherwise. I don't believe they exist.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:01 PM on March 20, 2015


in truth, all I found earlier was:


- illegitimate:

-- a single anemic magnet of ~ 80-odd of her books, but among which was listed Flat Earth volume 4 only. pass.

-- more than a handful of magnets with zero description of contents, just her name; sizes ranging ~400mb-800mb. smart money is on very-badly-scanned-into-PDF. or TIFF or something similarly foolish. bleh.


- legitimate:

-- one of her imprints has/had some bad news (see red text)

-- another taunts us with a "please use this kindle link" for vol.1 - which goes to a different book entirely; plus, all their ebooks can only be sold in UK anyway. hilarious.

(and: fairly sure their link to the wrong book on amazon uk is deliberate.
why do I think this?
a. spamazon us nor uk don't have the ebook no matter how you search for it. although the camel API/DB believes it existed at one time.
2. ...somewhere else... is that exact azw3 of Night's Master (and an epub that had been directly converted from it) - both imprinted 'Immanion Press Kindle Edition 2013'. and the file has her new introduction and the new cover-art by her husband, so, seems legit. well, obvs. except for the ways in which it's not.)

dammit just take my money already.
posted by dorian at 12:10 AM on March 21, 2015


Huh. Mysterious. Amazon now only offers Kindle audio editions of her Flat Earth books.

Of course now I really, really want to read them since basically, I can't. The eBay/Amazon used paper versions I've found cost too much for shipping, and yeah, not finding any ebook versions available. So then I thought well, maybe I'll try her "Birthgrave Trilogy" and found that the first book (originally printed 1975!) won't be available for Kindle until June, 2015, and the second book in September, with no mention of the third book. Bah.

But Monette's "The Doctrine of Labyrinths" looks good, GenjiandProust. I bought Mélusine, and will start after I finish the "Steerswoman" books, recommended in another Mefi thread. All my reading lately has been "Mefi recommends."
posted by taz at 5:03 AM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Monette published The Goblin Emperor last year under the name Katherine Addison; it came out to truly excellent reviews and I wouldn't be shocked if it got nominated for a Hugo.
posted by jeather at 5:12 AM on March 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, I also wanted to say that I endorse GenjiandProust's message, re John Crowley's "Little, Big." I read it a few years ago and totally loved it, and that was *also* a mefi (or metachat) recommends, via mygothlaundry, if I remember correctly.
posted by taz at 7:58 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


there are all 3 Birthgrave volumes floating around in the ether already, also under Immanion imprint. vaguely mysterious, but my guess would be rather more mundane - as in licensing/rights/distribution issues or some such - e.g. their publications were legitimate/sanctioned at one point, but later simply had to be retracted - maybe the rights were bought/moved/passed to some other press.

I too was surprised (at first) by seeing the available audiobooks, but then considered: it's a completely different form of production - in many ways less complicated than typesetting, not to mention a completely separate scheme/set of contracts/rights/distribution etc. etc.

also, that "sketchy" online ebook store I mentioned? Herself, The Personage Cherryh has publicly condemned it as piracy, and not the good kind; she and hundreds of authors have been trying to get it shut down for several years now, and actively encouraging others to do so as well. (the site is easy enough to find, but please don't try, please don't give them your money.)

between Raksura, Night's Master, some questionable new-ish dragon-y series from Hobb, and of course those cat anthologies, and Taltos, looks like I've got an embarrassment-of-more-than-enough-to-read for now. so, again, thank you all for that.
posted by dorian at 8:47 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which "Taltos," Rice or Brust? :)
posted by taz at 8:58 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?

YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH

Fizban was my homeboy.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:26 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> a few more names yet-unmentioned in this thread: Diane Duane, CS Friedman, Robin Hobb,
> JV Jones.

Before Friedman was famous it was my privilege to get invited (once) to play D&D in Celia's Own Dungeon with herself as DM. It was certainly the best-constructed dungeon I ever got to explore. On the off chance (probability = low but faintly still possible) that she ever follows a search engine link to this thread, here's a respectful shoutout for her.

And you thought Athens was only about REM and the B52s and them.


> Getting away from High (or even high-ish) fantasy, if you haven't read John Crowley's
> Little, Big, go and do that right now
.elf
posted by jfuller at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Rice or Brust?

tangentially-funny, given that last night I finally remembered what the poor, lonely, solitary Lee book at my childhood library was - Book of the Damned :)
posted by dorian at 2:34 PM on March 21, 2015


Fizban was my homeboy.
(great, thanks a lot, now I'm going to have to re-read Death Gate as well.)

posted by dorian at 3:06 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I LOVE DEATH GATE ugh now I must as well.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:25 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was so annoyed after reading Sword that I wrote a very long high school book report describing how it it was a blatant ripoff of Lord of the Rings.
posted by salix at 2:02 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


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