Every time I receive one of these Writers Read posts, I feel like I’m looking at a big box of delicious cupcakes. My only challenge? Which book to dig into. Luckily, you can safely read every single one of these books without gaining weight. You may forget to wash dishes and answer email while you’re reading, but that’s not a big deal! Lucky for you, this post arrives just in time for your weekend. Happy Reading!
I have been in love with books my whole life and Ray Bradbury’s short stories were my introduction to Sci-Fi Fantasy. A nine year old girl living on a planet that sees the sun only one day a year, a virtual reality nursery with blood thirsty lions, and golden eyed Martians were things that hooked me into amazing new worlds. Sci-fi Fantasy is a genre that covers a variety of topics and contains numerous sub genres such as speculative fiction, steampunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, high fantasy, and paranormal. I’ve omitted some of the more typical Sci-fi novels and included books I hope will show the wide range of writing in this genre. So here are five of my favorites!
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is a book with good storytelling, writing and characters that will be with you for the rest of your life. This is King Arthur retold from the perspective of the women. There are heroines that take your breath away with both their strength and vulnerability. Adventure, magic, religion, love, power and sacrifice give a whole new life to the old Arthurian story. While a good deal of this genre is geared towards male readers, this is definitely a woman’s book written by an author whose feminist perspective is apparent in her writing. This is a good example of the fantasy novel, though it is sometimes categorized as myth/folklore.
Kraken by China Mieville. In marked contrast to Bradley’s book, Kraken is set in a contemporary but decidedly different London. It is weird, yet a compelling sort of weird. We begin with a cephalopod specialist named Billy Harrow. There is mystery afoot and things take a turn for the bizarre when a man unfolds himself out of a box, grabs Billy by the throat and swallows his friend in a single gulp. There are magical happenings, a talking tattoo, cults, a semi-secret government organization fighting occult cults, and let us not forget the giant squid and the baby gods and the Kraken. Is your head spinning now? It should be. This story is one amazing dive into a whole different world. Mieville is undoubtedly a wordsmith of masterful proportions. Kraken’s tentacles are tangled in a number of sub-genres. It is classic Sci-fi for its heavy science content, but also urban and weird fantasy.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is the kind of circus I always wanted a circus to be. First, there are no clowns. Clowns are evil. (Reference: every single episode of Scooby Doo.) It’s like a story read from the inside of a hall of mirrors. What is real and what is a reflection of real? While there is a romance, this is not a story about two people. It is a story about an entire company of players, the outsiders that follow them and the very circus itself. The most charming character is Le Cirque de Reves. You can smell, taste, feel, walk about her black and white tents and feel the draw of her, wanting to see the amazing clock, to light a candle on the wishing tree, smell a scent from one of the bottles in the Anthologies of Memory, to stand by the amazing bonfire encased in the wrought iron caldron or to be in the field in which the tents magically appear with wonder and hope that childlike belief can grant. This book is definitely magical fantasy and perhaps paranormal fantasy.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. At first I thought this would be a stereotypical adventure: a group meet at a tavern, go out adventuring, slaying dragons, finding gold and rescuing maidens along the way. It is that kind of book. But it isn’t. Kvothe, a simple innkeeper, is retelling the story of his life so there will be an accurate account rather than the heroic or notorious mythology that seems to have grown up around him. But you see he’s not really just some innkeeper. “…let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance…Mine,” Kvothe says. As a child, he meets a man who knows the name of the wind and can call upon it to obey his wishes. Impressed, the boy wants to learn how do this himself. Who wouldn’t? Kvothe’s young life is turned upside down and hurdled headlong into chaos. From an unorthodox yet love-filled childhood, heart-breaking poverty, higher education and varying degrees of high and low adventure, his life unfolds. Oh, and there’s the girl. She proves to be as wild and unpredictable as the wind itself. Throughout the story there is music. His childhood is drenched in it, he spends the darkest times of his life either pouring himself into it or pinning for it like a drug addict weeping for another fix. This novel’s fantastic world-building puts it squarely in the high and epic fantasy categories.
A Game of Thrones: Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. War, battles and intrigue! The honorable and dishonorable! Dysfunctional families and friends to die for! Kings, queens, knights, tavern keepers, prostitutes, warrior girls, bastards, direwolves and crows! Oh yeah, that’s my people! Most of the characters are so nuanced and complex that I am still genuinely uncertain as to whose side they are on. For that matter, I’m not certain whose side I’m on! It is the story of a kingdom that is united but difficulty and unrest still exist in different regions. There is also a faceless looming threat to the north on the other side of a great ice wall. Winter is coming in a land where summers stretch on for decades but so does the time of darkness and cold. This series is unmistakably high fantasy with a detailed and epic-size world-building, spanning not only a vast physical landscape but a sociopolitical and historical one as well. It can also be classified as adventure fantasy.
In all of these books there is something more here than just a good tale well spun because good stories can carry so much truth. For me, the very best stories are ones that make me see things a little differently. They are about us and how we, with all our flaws and gifts, make our way in this broken, frightening, beautiful world. Books in the Sci-fi Fantasy category tell stories about people and their journeys in a way that uses fantastical metaphor for what is familiar in the hopes that through them we will see something amazing in our everyday real world lives as well.
Your turn: What are your favorite science fiction and fantasy reads?
About the author: Rosemary Peek is the pastor of a small semi-rural parish in the Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina and a campus pastor at Western North Carolina University. She is a writer, photographer, and artist who loves the mountains, people, knitting, movies, art, reading and living in the most beautiful place on earth. She blogs at http://www.lifeinamountaintown.com/