Punky’s Miscellany Week Four: “The time has come”, the Punky said, “to talk of other things”.

So, after last week’s rather heavy topic, here’s the post I had initially intended to do in Week Two…

I recently reread two books I last read in my mid teens, Magician and A Darkness at Sethanon (both by Raymond E. Feist). They are respectively the first and third books in Feist’s bestselling Riftwar Saga, the trilogy that launched his Riftwar Cycle of 20-odd high fantasy novels, which will conclude with the publication of Jimmy and the Crawler and Magician’s End this year.

Now, when I read Feist’s work in my teens I loved the Riftwar Saga and some of the other books, notably Krondor: The Betrayal (Volume One of the Riftwar Legacy trilogy), and A Darkness at Sethanon was my favourite in the entire cycle. Unfortunately, after that the rot set in pretty quickly.

Taking the books in reading order (rather than publication order, this is what the series looks like:

  • The Riftwar Saga – The First Riftwar. The Kingdom of the Isles must deal with enemies from within and without, including an alien invasion, a mad monarch, a dark-elf uprising and the return of an ancient evil force.
    • Magician – the western Kingdom is invaded by the Tsuranni, a pseudo-oriental empire from the planet Kelewan.
    • Silverthorn – a princess is accidentally poisoned on her wedding day by the dark forces who seek the death of her fiance.
    • A Darkness at Sethanon – Murmandamus, a legendary Moredhel (dark-elf) chieftain returns from the dead to lead his people against The Kingdom of the Isles.
  • The Empire Trilogy – co-written with Janny Wurts and set on Kelewan, this series overlaps with the events of The Riftwar Saga.
    • Daughter of the Empire – Mara of the Acoma must lead her followers through terror and peril while surviving the ruthless political Game of the Council.
    • Servant of the Empire – After buying a group of Midkemian prisoners-of-war, Mara discovers one of them is a noble, who reveals himself as a great asset in regards to the Game of the Council.
    • Mistress of the Empire – After rising to power Mara of the Acoma must now face the power of the brotherhood of assassins, the spies of rival houses and the might of the Assembly, who see her as a threat to their power.
  • Legends of the Riftwar – Set during the events of Magician, Feist co-wrote these three books with other authors he was friends with, effectively giving them a chance to “play with his toys”.
    • Honored Enemy – During the first Riftwar, a group of Midkemian soldiers and Tsurani form an uneasy alliance to survive a moredhel assault. Co-written with William R. Forstchen.
    • Murder in La Mut – Three mercenaries deal with a conspiracy in a town on the front lines of The First Riftwar. Co-written with Joel Rosenberg.
    • Jimmy the Hand – The titular boy thief gets mixed up in a conflict with a mad nobleman and his pet magician. Co-written with S. M. Stirling.
  • The Riftwar Legacy – set ten years after A Darkness at Sethanon.
    • Krondor: The Betrayal – a dark elf chieftain joins the side of the humans to warn them of the rise of a new Moredhel chieftain who has united the clans by claiming that Murmandamus is still alive. The novelisation of the first Riftwar video game (Betrayal at Krondor), which made its events canon.
    • Krondor: The Assassins – Another manifestation of the Guild of Death is dealt with.
    • Krondor: Tear of the Gods – The titular artifact is captured by the villains for evil ends and the heroes must retrieve it. The Novelization for the second Riftwar video game (Return to Krondor), which was not nearly as well received as the first.
    • There were another two books planned, Krondor: The Crawler and Krondor: The Dark Mage. Reportedly, they have been put on-hold due to rights issues involving the original games. Instead, this year will see the Riftwar Legacy finish as a quartet with Jimmy and the Crawler.
  • Krondor’s Sons – Two books centering upon the adventures of Prince Arutha’s sons. Covers a period of time 20-30 years after the end of the First Riftwar.
    • Prince of the Blood – Two spoiled princes become heroes in a foreign land.
    • The King’s Buccaneer – The sons of the Riftwar’s heroes must deal with a new menace from across the western seas.
  • The Serpentwar Saga – The Second Riftwar. Midkemia is invaded by lizard-men, fleeing a demon invasion of their home-world. Begins nearly 50 years after A Darkness at Sethanon, 20 years after The King’s Buccaneer.
    • Shadow of a Dark Queen – A dark queen is gathering armies across the Western Sea. Desperate men of the Kingdom of the Isles are sent on a suicidal mission to confront this evil.
    • Rise of a Merchant Prince – Newly pardoned for his crimes, a young man begins his quest to become a rich trader in the capital city of Krondor. Notable for the central role of high finance.
      • At the time it was refreshing to see an epic fantasy novel try and explain how its society worked aside from all the war and sorcery. How successful it was is subject to debate.
    • Rage of a Demon King – The Emerald Queen’s army – and the demonic power behind it – moves upon The Kingdom of the Isles.
    • Shards of a Broken Crown – The Kingdom forces struggle to oust the forces of two nations that now lay siege to the ruins of their capitol.
  • Conclave of Shadows – Set 30 years after Shards of a Broken Crown, this book shows us the work that has gone into establishing a group capable of fighting the various dark forces seeking the destruction of Midkemia, through the eyes of one young man who is recruited into the Conclave.
    • Talon of the Silver Hawk – A young barbarian, the last survivor of his destroyed clan, is adopted into The Conclave of Shadows and slowly molded into an agent for their use.
    • King of Foxes – Now in the service of the man responsible for killing his clan, Talon of the Silver Hawk (aka Talwin Hawkins) must play a dangerous game in order to get his revenge and serve the interests of The Conclave of Shadows.
    • Exile’s Return – Exiled to a foreign land, Duke Kaspar suddenly finds himself in possession of a device which could spell doom for Midkemia.
  • Darkwar Saga – The Third Riftwar. Details the Conclave of Shadows’ efforts to stop an invasion by The Dasati; a race from a parallel plane, ruled by evil and destructive forces.
    • Flight of the Nighthawks – A new evil threatens Midkemia, its web stretching from the deepest criminal underworld all the way up to the highest seats of power in ancient Kesh.
    • Into a Dark Realm – Chaos threatens to overwhelm two worlds as the most dangerous force ever encountered threatens to invade Midkemia, while the most treacherous magician in history – the madman Leso Varen – begins to wreak havoc on the world of Kelewan.
    • Wrath of a Mad God – The Darkwar has fallen upon the worlds of Kelewan and Midkemia; a time of heroes, trials and destruction. Following their dangerous mission to the realm of the alien Dasati, Magnus and the other members of the Conclave must now find a way to use what they discovered to help save their own people from the Wrath of a Mad God.
  • Demonwar Saga – The Fourth Riftwar. Details the invasion of Midkemia by a group of war-like world-conquering elves, who may have inadvertently brought the demonic forces they were fleeing with them, as they came to Midkemia.
    • Rides a Dread Legion – The taredhel (star elves) return to their native homeworld of Midkemia, ready for conquest despite the demonic threat that nips at their heels.
    • At the Gates of Darkness – In the face of the demonic threat and the questions it poses, the Conclave find themselves on a perilous search for some much-needed answers even as their enemy forces them to take action.
  • Chaoswar Saga – The Fifth Riftwar.
    • A Kingdom Besieged – The Empire of Kesh moves to invade The Kingdom of the Isles as The Conclave of Shadows and their allies investigate the disappearance of their spies, discovering that enemies long thought dead have returned.
    • A Crown Imperiled– As The Conclave of Shadows seek the homeland of the Pantathian serpent priests, three Kingdom princes try to slow the Keshian invasion and prevent a new civil war.
    • Magicians End – Not yet released. Expected in 2013.

So I’ve never read Legends of the Riftwar or Krondor’s Sons and I only got as far as Into a Dark Realm before giving up. Why?

The original trilogy was good. It turned most of the well-worn tropes and expectations of high fantasy upside-down. There is no racial or physiological difference between Light Elves and Dark Elves (Eledhel and Moredhel), the elves and the dwarves don’t hate each other, the orphan boy didn’t turn out to be the illegitimate son of the King, warriors who rushed in blindly against the odds tended to get killed and for the entirety of Magician the enemy was another human civilisation. The Riftwar Saga and the Empire Trilogy included a lot of political intrigue and pseudo-history, and spent time dealing with characters who didn’t wield swords, cast spells or decide policy. A Darkness at Sethanon and Krondor: The Betrayal were more typically ‘fantasy’ in plot (indeed, the latter is pretty much an extended epilogue to the former) but Krondor: The Assassins – and later Rise of A Merchant Prince, Shards of a Broken Crown and Flight of the Nighthawks – also were pretty heavy on intrigue, assassination and spying. Feist – like Terry Pratchett – was refreshingly upfront about subverting his audience’s expectations, often having a naive character assuming things will unfold in a certain way (which is how they would do so in a stereotypical fantasy book) only for something different to happen because this is ‘real life’, so to speak. He also had a pretty damn firm policy of ‘anyone can die’ – codified when the cycle’s only consistent protagonist, Pug, is told halfway through the series that he will live to see everyone he loves die. Indeed, on opening the first chapter of Shadow of a Dark Queen, the reader is informed that a popular and powerful character from the early books has recently died at a ripe old age after falling off a horse (!) while at least three characters’ love interests are killed off (in A Darkness at Sethanon, Krondor: Tear of the Gods and Shadow of a Dark Queen) with the latter two also being raped (one implied, one shown).

In fact, those last two deaths are part of the problem. As the series progressed (and the overarching plot had been planned out to begin with) it degenerated pretty rapidly into stereotypical fantasy. Lots of swords, magic, sex, demons, violence against women and children just to show how evil the bad guys are and bad guys who all serve and/or are manipulated by a mad chaos/death god who basically wants to destroy everything. It occasionally showed flashes of the old brilliance: the Conclave of Shadows books included a baddie who wasn’t serving the mad god and who switched sides, Rise of a Merchant Prince was an entire novel devoted to a young veteran who becomes a rich merchant (in subsequent books, people read his memoirs and assume that he can’t have been as important as he claims simply because he was involved in a bunch of top secret black ops missions and became so inconceivably rich he single-handedly funded the defence of the Kingdom in the following two books), Flight of the Nighthawks had some interesting stuff on what happens when the ‘good guys’ use torture and Wrath of a Mad God apparently had Pug destroy an entire world to save the multiverse. Unfortunately, however, it became everything I hate about fantasy, those reasons why I read only certain authors. So I gave up on it at the age of 16 and it was with some trepidation that I returned to the original trilogy.

It’s actually quite good, perhaps even better than I remember it because I didn’t recognise all Feist’s ironic nods to tradition and subversions of his readers’ expectations back then when I was less widely-read in the genre. There are well-drawn, sympathetic characters (both protagonists and antagonists) and a convincing world with a convincing history that is revealed slowly and carefully, so that there are no clunky, LOTR-style infodumps (and I say that as someone who likes LOTR). I won’t read much beyond the original trilogy though!

So, has anyone else read these books? Or has anyone had similar experiences with series that jumped the shark or rediscovered favourites?

Debate, discuss… oh, you get the picture!

93 thoughts on “Punky’s Miscellany Week Four: “The time has come”, the Punky said, “to talk of other things”.

  1. Hiya son – i’m off to work in a few so will catch up with the post when i get back. But do you know how to use the “more” button, so you can cut the post off after a paragraph or so, and get that “continue reading” link?

  2. Time and again, we see the obsession of fantasy writers (and a fair number of SF writers, to be fair) to keep plugging on with the seventeenth volume of the original trilogy (and no fantasy novel ever seems to stand alone any more) until the shark has long since died of boredom. Classic example for me was Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, where the rot was already setting in from Vol.III of the original trilogy, and an interestingly dark take on the Narnia trope of ordinary human getting whisked away into fantasy world where they’re Special became ever more mannered and annoying. Equally poor were Isaac Asimov’s extensions of the original Foundation books – but more interesting, as he was ever more concerned to row back on the thoroughly Marxist theories of historical development he’d started with.

  3. Oh crikey, I don’t even think I can face reading your synopses, let alone the novels. Never heard of them, I’m afraid, though I did go through a teen phase of reading fantasy stuff (I don’t mean that as condescendingly as it sounds!): the Shannara books of Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, some Ursula le Guin…

    The series of teen books I have recently revisited (and loved as much as at my original reading) is the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. Just brilliant use of Arthurian legend, etc, to tell an involving tale of kids whose lives you (or I) could relate to. I also retried various Alan Garners (Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Moon of Gomrath), vaguely remembering them to be similar and knowing that he had just belatedly published a third in the trilogy (aimed at adults this time). These I was disappointed by on a return read. You win some, you lose some…

    • Agree about the brilliance of Susan Cooper, and likewise found Garner’s Weirdstone a bit disappointing on second reading (apart from the scary bit in the mines that always stokes my claustrophobia) – but Elidor is still wonderful and still one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, simply for the juxtaposition of the uncanny and the utterly banal.

    • Ha! I’ve just started re-reading “Over Sea Under Stone”, as young Munday has run out of books (he’s in hospital so I read to him quite a lot) – how coincidental! Haven’t got very far yet but I know I enjoyed them about 43 years ago … (it says 5/- on the cover)!

  4. Good grief !
    I can’t really look a goblin in the face these days. LOTR was the benchmark for “intellectual” when I was at school ( the really “clever” kids tried to translate the runes on the cover etc) and it kind of put me off.
    I did read quite a lot of Pratchett’s stuff but felt a sense of diminishing returns. The later ( apres Mort) books were better written but I think the early ones had better ideas and characters.

    But then again what do I know.
    Just wait for my novel, working title “A horse called ” Lasagne “. Bound to be a winner.

  5. ‘Fraid i could never get into any kind of fantasy, try as i did (not terribly hard, but a college try anyway.) Tried to read The Hobbit like 3 times because i had friends that loved it. Never had a desire for Harry Potter. Ann Rice vampires, couldn’t get into it. Having said that, dunno if Game of Thrones is fantasy or not, but seeing some clips made me wish i had a TV.

    So do i read anything at all, you may ask? Yeah, international crime fiction. I’m a noir fan. Not a fan of thrillers, but just love first rate crime fiction. I think Chinny may be a fan too, and maybe Ms. Mena. Think TY is at least a Rebus fan. Anyone else?

    What i’ve reread since teenhood – LeCarre’s Smiley series. Still the gold standard for spy stuff, doesn’t get much better. Problem is, he’s been writing the same book over and over again ever since. And not as well, by a long shot.

    • Ms Mena is indeed a fan. Chandler, Hammet and Ed McBain’s 18th Precinct series are tops. Proper old schoolie type formula; straight up, non-sentimental, sharp dialogue and convincing characters. Not a fan of fantasy, unless of the sexual, but I haven’t come across anything up my alley (oo er) in that genre yet. I have quite a few made-up ones in my mind library tho. Maybe I’ll write them down one day.

    • I like the crime fiction too, amylee. And some of the less prurient/exploitive true crime. Rebus, of course. There’s an Irish writer in similar vein someone recommended but I can’t remember who it was. (I remember the recommender, just not the author and have so far been too embarassed to ask because I made a point of saying I’d write it down so as not to forget.)

      James Lee Burke did a very good Louisianna-based series that’s hard boiled and has some music tips in it.

      And the nordic writers tend to be darkish. (I have a l;ot of respect for their crime solvers given how little daylight they have to find clues in)

  6. Hi AIP ! ! !

    It is an interesting post.

    I have never been attracted to fantasy genre, not even the Twilight series which is very much a favourite with many girls.

    I do read a lot and do not really have a favourite genre but I do like a little romance in my stories ♥

    Actually I think the most important part of a book is the characters in it as after all the plots are normally quite similar –

    girl meets guy –

    girl falls in love with guy –

    guy has accident and will never play the piano again –

    girl stands by him –

    guy has new operation in USA paid for by old uncle who was originally against him play the piano because he wanted him to join the family business –

    Girl and guy live happily ever after ♥

    But if the character is sympathetic and believable then I am happy to go on the journey with them ! ! !

    Do you know kurt Vonnegut ? ? ? I studied him at university and he has a nice nice ideas about this.

    • Oh yes I think Vonnegut is great! I read the story shapes thing in his book A Man Without A Country. I love his graph for Kafka!

      And don’t mention the T-word! Someday I will do a post on why Twilight isn’t just badly-written, it’s also harmful…

  7. Pingback: 15 Books (shamelessly pinched from Hubby) « Rafferty's Rules

  8. Weirdly, yesterday I picked up The Magician by Feist from the library for my husband to read. I read quite a lot of fantasy, but get outraged by the treatment/social position of women in quite a lot of them, the clichés and the poor writing. Thus I tend to favour female authors, like Juliet E McKenna, Gwyneth Jones, Robin Hobb, Lynn Flewelling and Tanith Lee.

    I have read many of The Wheel of Time books, but really wish I hadn’t.

  9. I do wish I could get into fantasy books ‘cos it all looks like good fun and I’m sure they are all multi-layered and full of ‘deeper’ stuff, but I just find it all so SILLY! ….all those dragons and talking trees just seem so childish (which is pretty rich coming from a man who lists the House Party trilogy as some of the finest films ever made!). I know that fiction is for escapism, but my (probably very narrow-minded) brain just can’t get over the fact it’s not real and will never happen.

    I remember my (older) brother was really into Harry Potter when it first came out. Of course I took the piss out of him for it, then I asked seriously what the appeal was and he said it was because “you never know, it could be real”. I accepted his answer as I hadn’t read/seen any HP at that point. When I saw the first film with all the Quidditch and secret wizard towns and all that bollocks, I was just incredulous that a grown man could seriously think that any of it was at all possible!

    • I think that people Punky’s age grew up with Harry Potter though, it’s probably totally ingrained. Never say never, you may be reading them to the Panther cub some day! I think if i had started to read them when i was a pre-teen or something, i probably would have loved them. Still could never get into the Hobbit though. Made it through a few chapters eah time i tried, and was like, wtf?

      • Tolkein was well-read in my high school. Every generation seems to have it’s equivalent. (Dare I suggest reading fantasy – which i’ve never connected with, full disclosure and all that – is, ahem, Hobbitual?)

      • We have a module on my MA that’s shared between the MA History, the MA History of Art and Architecture and the MA History of the Family. The entire purpose of this module is to have us all present on our theses (boring as hell… I did mine two weeks ago – week two of the semester – and now I have to sit through the rest of the semester with no marks going for anything I do because I’ve already completed ALL THE MODULE’S ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS!) Anyway, last week one of the Art & Architecture girls did her’s, and it’s on the influence the medieval architecture in Edinburgh had on the aesthetic of Harry Potter. She began by stating that the books have bee enormously influential, so the most senior lecturer in the department, great-nephew of Ireland’s only famous civil servant – who worked for the British administration, the Free State and the nascent Republic and helped handle the transfer – Oxford-educated, friends with Richard J. Evans, worked in Berlin teaching German history, founded UL’s History department, asked her how on earth she thought Potter was influential. To demonstrate his point, he turned to the rest of us and asked for everyone who had read it to raise their hand. Every person in the room did so.

        He was pretty damn surprised…

        @tinny – Har, har, har…

        @amylee – The Hobbit is actually pretty weak and childish compared to LOTR, let alone more modern ‘literary’ fantasy like Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series

      • Punky –

        I’ve just never been much for any sort of fantasy or sci fi genre type books. Or vampires, or anything featuring children or elves or tolls or whatever. King Arthur type stuff is about as close as i get to it i think. I think GoT looks interesting to me because a) i like the intrigue and backstabbing part of it and b) i think the whole show looks like an excuse to show porn on tv 🙂

        I do love good historical fiction.

      • No i haven’t, and i’ve heard that he’s excellent. I guess what keeps me from starting them is that i’m just not all that into nautical stuff. I’ve read a few of Bernard Cornwell’s , but got bored after a few. Although i do love his series in King Alfred’s time (guilty pleasure).

      • @amylee: at the risk of reopening earlier debates about feminism, I would caution that Game of Thrones has a seriously unpleasant misogynistic undercurrent. Defenders have argued that this is a reasonable reflection of the probable status of women in a violent pre-modern society (i.e. rape, marital abuse, more rape, at best getting passed around as object), but that doesn’t mean the author has to delight in it so much. I’ve boycotted the entire enterprise since failing to finish the first volume through sheer revulsion.

      • Aba –

        Didn’t know it was a book series, it was clips from the tv series that i’ve seen. But i believe you based on those – lotta sex scenes, and it doesn’t seem to be the ladies who are getting pleasured in any of them either.

        What looked interesting to me though was it just looked like a lot of political type machinations for a fight for the throne – sort of like English history but a lot earlier in time.

      • Oh, I’d certainly concede that he does the nasty politics stuff well, and the battle scenes, and compared with a lot of Boys’ Own Fantasy books there are actually some interesting and almost rounded female characters, albeit in very traditional roles. But it’s as if, at best, they are made into rounded characters for the shock value and emotional pay-off when awful things get done to them.

      • My girls grew up with Harry Potter (books & films). I enjoyed both too, but found Daniel Radcliffe uncharismatic & unsympathetic in the title role.

        The Hobbit film was ruined by that ridiculous beshitted Radagast & his rabbit sleigh and that endless CGI video game of a battle in a mine where a film scene was supposed to be. There’s only so far you can suspend disbelief – even with Fantasy.

      • @Aba and amylee – Feist does the political intrigue better than Martin and with less awfulness towards women. Particularly in the earlier books, he proved that it was easy to show the subjugation of most women in a militaristic, quasi-Medieval patriarchy without resorting to brutality and endless rape scenes, which – as far as I’m concerned – means that any post-1984 writer of high fantasy does the violence against women thing not because there’s no other way to make the point but because they WANT to and/or because it sells.

  10. Amylee Is ‘Forbrydelsen’ (The Killing) a book, coz I bet it would make a good one. Can you recommend any other Danish/Scandinavian writers btw?

    Oh and as for adults reading Harry Potter . . . get a f*cking grip! I ain’t a lit snob, but that just bugs me, when there’s so much more adult material out there. Leave them for the kids to read! My son’s read em all (he’s just turned 11) and that’s about right me thinks.

      • awesome! will get to the tune! (I always think that hot butter on breakfast toast means a little morning oral sex, but maybe that’s just my dirty mind.)

        Scandi writers –

        My favorites are the Maj Sjowell / Per Wahloo Martin Beck series. Also Karin Fossum, Arnaldur Indridason, Jo Nesbo, and Henning Mankell is big – i think you had the Wallender series with Kenneth Branagh over there. There are tons more too, but those are the main ones i remember and try to keep up with.


    • I used to work with a girl getting her masters in literature, and all she wanted to do was crawl under the covers with the latest Harry Potter. So i sort of get the escape thing. For me it was LeCarre and spy stories i ccrawled under the covers with in college (this was during the cold war, there was no shortage of those).

  11. When I was at school, back in the mists of time etc. etc, it was de rigeur to read LOTR, but I never managed to finish it – partly because it was far too long and partly because quite a lot of the pages fell out when I used it as a pillow on the Plymouth to Roscoff ferry (I had to sleep on deck as I felt too seasick inside). I enjoyed the film(s), but that probably had more to do with Vigo Mortenstern (or whatever his name is) than JRR Tolkein. Sigh.

  12. AIP. Love the post, much more my topic than last weeks!

    Shame that you don’t like Robert Jordan. I am currently reading the final book in the WOT saga. Yes it is a saga and like many of these epic fantasy series follows much the same storyline: A nobody becomes the hero destined to save the world, lots of travelling, split up from companions, get back together, lots of battles, tasks all leading up to Light banishing Dark forever, or until the next time!

    Hate to say it but very little compares with LOTR but then you could easily say that was heavily influenced by the Greek dramas.

    Have you tried Terry Goodkind – Sword of Truth. Don’t bother with the awful USA TV series that was based on the first book. This is an 11 book saga!

    Whilst it does follow well trod story lines there are some original plot lines and Book 6 ( Faith of the Fallen) is very much a nod to Communist ideals and one of the latter books has a very good ‘American Football’ match in which the hero plays a major part.

    As an alternative try Trudi Canavan – The Black Magician trilogy. This had a degree of originality and as a first attempt incredibly well written and enjoyable. Unfortunately she lost the plot after this and became a slave to the commercial treadmill to write book after book to satisfy the publishers. Sadly very disappointing.

    Another classic series and IMHO quite original is J V Jones The Book of Words this is also a trilogy.

    It seems that many an author embarks with best intentions but unfortunately become victims of their own initial success and try to develop very thin plot lines much to the readers disappointment.

    It seems that anything beyond a trilogy sees the author labour under the misguided belief the public want 15 instalments whereas the reality is the reader lost interest halfway through book 4!

    • I think I’ve seen some of Canavam’s books in shops and they seemed kinda interesting, I’ll give them a look!

      To be honest I don’t read much fantasy/magic realism/sci-fi/horror. I have a limited number of authors I like:

      Terry Pratchett
      Ursula K. LeGuin
      Neil Gaiman
      Catherynne M. Valente
      China Miéville
      Philip Pullman
      Philip Reeve
      Mervyn Peake
      J.R.R. Tolkien
      Kim Stanley Robinson
      Greg Bear
      J.K. Rowling
      H.G. Wells
      Jules Verne
      Kurt Vonnegut
      Italo Calvino
      Jorge Luis Borges
      Isabel Allende
      M.R. James
      Lewis Carrol

      …and then there are a few people who I read infrequently, like Feist, C.S. Lewis and a few Steampunk writers. A lot of fantasy pisses me off for being badly-written and/or Extruded Fantasy Product and/or politically/ethically abhorrent. Plus as someone who double-majored in English Lit. and History I fell I should be reading more widely!

      Of course, if we included mythology, the works of Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser (not to mention the Arthurian legendarium: I was introduced to it at a young age with Roger Lancelyn Green’s version, then later T.H. White, Rosmary Sutcliffe – brilliant historical novels for kids too, shame Hollywood destroyed The Eagle of the Ninth – and Malory) then there’s a lot more fantasy I read!

      • The Maj Showell / Per Wahloo crime series is a critique of the welfare state from a socialist perspective (the authors were socialists). It’s a truly excellent series with some great plots (many of which Henning Mankelll ripped off with impunity).

      • Hi Aba. I hadn’t seen that list. Slightly surprised given Mieville’s influences and the fact that the blog is called The Weekly Ansible to see only one LeGuin and no Gaiman. Surely all socialists should read American Gods? (And perhaps Neverwhere). I disagree with his assessment of The Amber Spyglass, or at least with his claim that it’s a weaker book because it has a love plot (and let’s face it, that’s what he’s saying), but coming from the guy who wrote The Scar I guess that’s pretty unsurprising.

        What would I add to his list, apart from the aforementioned Gaiman novels? Not much. LeGuin’s Earthsea books and Always Coming Home. K.S. Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt. Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time. Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet (best critique of capitalism and a society that promotes dog-eat-dog individualism in any YA novel EVER). Some Pratchett, certainly Going Postal and Making Money. Miéville’s own works. Neuromancer by William Gibson. Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine. Maybe some Cat Valente…

        Of course, this all depends on exactly how you define ‘socialist’!

        Oh, are comics allowed? Then all of Frank Miller’s serious work on Batman (Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman: Year One and the (we hope) elaborate practical joke that was All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder ) if only to see how the other side thinks…

        Anything I’ve missed?

      • I think he chose just one book per author – only one Banks, for example – as otherwise I would certainly have expected both The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness.

        Miller, I assume, on the same ‘know thy enemy’ principle that let Mieville to include Ayn Rand? ‘Cos I can’t think of any universe in which his work could conceivably overlap with anything remotely socialist.

        Gaiman: great books, but pretty unpolitical, surely?

        Just to be even more deeply pretentious than usual, I’d add Juli Zeh’s Corpus Delicti, but I have no idea if it’s available in English…

      • Gaiman’s the reason I said it depends on how you define socialism. He’s not political per se, but his books are very in tune with social and economic issues to do with deprivation, alienation, drugs, HIV, LGBTQ rights and so on (especially American Gods and The Sandman, in fact, the latter would actually make a nice comic book counterpoint to Miller turning Batman into a proto-Tea Party loony rightwinger during his run on the title).

  13. Haven’t read Game Of Thrones although am enjoying the series (some unnecessary sex scenes aside) as an epic tragedy.

    Would defend & recommend Stephen Donaldson’s Covenant saga, with a couple of caveats: 1). He likes to torture his characters 2). In preparation for the third arc, he swallowed a whole dictionary. Final installment due in October.

    The fantasy Sci-Fi epic I would wholeheartedly recommend would be Ian Banks’ Culture novels. Haven’t read the latest yet. Each are standalone stories involving a utopian society fascilitated by benevolent artificial intelligence “minds”.


  14. The only thing I don’t like about this series, is that it’s called a series. Wish we had more random posts on things folks are interested in.

  15. Totally unqualified to discuss books as I read about six last year. Before children came along I could read six a week. One of those I did read would have been an Iain M. Banks. Another sci-fi was “The Quantum Thief” by Hannu Rajaniemi, which is ace, but worries me cos it’s the first part of a trilogy. And the other I unreservedly recommend was “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

    Detective stuff: I’m planning to read more Chester Himes. One day I will.. One day!

    • A Rage In Harlem aka For Love Of Imabelle is ace! You may have seen the film with Forest Whittaker and Robin Givens. That’s good too, but the book is better. I need to read more of his Harlem Detective novels. Elmore Leonard, is also top notch, and I like Walter Mosley’s stuff especially White Butterfly.

      • Thanks for the tips. I’ve got Rage in Harlem. Must reread that first.

        The bit about me not reading books is rubbish cos I read six an hour ago: Dog Did It, Ben and the Bear, Betty and the Yeti, The Bugliest Bug, Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book.

        I’m shattered. Goodnight.

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