Fantasy in The New Yorker!?!

Hard to believe, I know, but there is a fantasy piece in The New Yorker. In The Book Bench, the magazine's online blog from The New Yorker Books Department, the article is titled "Seven Essential Fantasy Reads: Going to Second Base."

Here's an extract:

I’ve read a few best-selling fantasy series—Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, Twilight, Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Dark Is Rising—but I would never describe myself as an aficionado. First because all these books are on about a fourth-grade reading level, and second because I read them for their best-sellerness, not their fantasy-ness (to stay in the loop, I tell myself). I doubted whether the genre had more to offer adults—literary adults, adults who enjoy reading bonafide novels. If you happen to be a fantasy aficionado, you are no doubt shaking your head at the ignorance of that statement, as my friend Hugh Lippincott did recently. Hugh is a graduate student in physics at Yale, (hopefully) in the final year of a Ph.D. He spends his days searching for dark matter—I’m not sure what happens when he finds some—and his nights, apparently, reading fantasy books. He is also the author of the blog Physics for Mom, a guide to what he does written for the scientifically impaired.

I asked Hugh what he would recommend for someone like me—a beginning fantasy reader ready to graduate to more serious (but not too serious) fare. Here are his picks, complete with explanations of their greatness. He sent them to me with the reassurance that “there is no shame in being a real fantasy reader.” Thanks, Hugh.

It's a relatively good list for someone wishing to get a little more into the genre, though I don't agree with all the selections. . .

It will annoy Mystar and long-time fans of the Yeard, but as a Lemming of Discord I feel the need to give props to Hugh for his summary of the Sword of Truth:

Sadly, Goodkind did so well on this completely self-contained fantasy that he wrote ten sequels, each one worse than the one before and more prone to excruciatingly long Ayn Randian monologues from the main characters (needless to say, I read them all). Read this book, and then pretend the others don’t exist.

Kudos to Hugh for recommending Guy Gavriel Kay and Steven Erikson, both of whom have yet to make it big in the USA.:-) Maybe seeing their names in The New Yorker will help them get better sales!

Check it out and see if you agree with Hugh's suggestions, and feel free to submit your own list in the comment section.

18 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Hmm, seven for beginners, eh? Let's see:

1. I'll keep the GGK rec.
2. I'll keep the MST rec.
3. I'll keep the Hobb rec.
4. A Game of Thrones & all ASOIAF
5. Book of the New Sun
6. the whole Riddlemaster
7. First Law

sorry, had to use series as singles

Unknown said...

I find it interesting that he threw in Gardens of the Moon in a list for beginners. It is one of my two favorite series openers but definitely not for someone relatively new to the Genre. I respectfully disagree on Book of the New Sun for the same reason. It is a great read but not so much for beginners at fantasy. Anyway, here are my seven:

1. I'll steal ASOIAF from above
2. Try Eye of the World and read the whole WoT series if desired
3. Death's Gate Cycle
4. Neverwhere
5. Riftwar Saga
6. Dark Tower Series
7. Belgariad... very easy reading (young adult) I know but some of the most entertaining characters in all fantasy

Unknown said...

It's not a list for beginners. It's for those taking the next step.
For me:
1 Georeg RR Martin - ASoIsF series
2 Steven Erikson - Malazan Series
3 Joe Abercrombie - First Law series
4 Rothfuss - Name of the Wind
5 GGK - Tigana
6 Bakker - Prince of Nothing
7 McKillip - Riddle Master

Those are all great books/ series that need to be read.

Cecrow said...

I would have wished the New Yorker to recommend the literary works that would best defend us as a genre, given that magazine's upper class readership. Gene Wolfe, Ursula LeGuin, Jack Vance etc. might impress this crowd the most. Guy Gavriel Kay is a good one for the list, from that perspective, and I'm glad to see Tad Williams recognized although I don't care for the description of his work which I think undersells its quality.

Steve MC said...

It's a decent enough list, and I loved the Goodkind slam, but I would've liked a more informed opinion.

Like when he says, "for some reason eighty per cent of fantasy comes in trilogy form. I suppose Tolkein decreed that three books was just the right amount for a fantasy series, and everyone has been following suit."

Not only did he spell Tolkien's name wrong, but he's wrong on the history as well. Here's how GRRM explained it in an interview:

"Tolkien's book was so big they divided it into three. That was the publisher's decision, not his. He always intended ‘Lord of the Rings' to be a single book, regarded as a single novel. They divided it into three, and that was a commercial publishing decision. As a result of the success of the series, it sort of set the template."

Here's the interview:

Adam Skinner said...

Epic fail for missing ASOIAF and (let's face it) WoT.

Penis Pump said...

I'd recommend Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn (at least the first book) to new readers. It's fast-paced, easy to get into, and anyone can love it.

machinery said...

I never liked these "reading fantasy from outside" kind of talk.
the way he treats fantasy "4th grade reading material, is hot I treat mainstream.
so i'm not impressed with this list, or this article at all.

m.q.zed said...

Joe Abercrombie! How could they forget him! Finishing Best Served Cold now and I must say that is even a better read than the first law series.

RobB said...

What is making it big? Granted I don't think Kay or Erikson have hit NY Times bestseller lists, but they have both hit genre bestseller lists in the US so they aren't unknown.

The groundswell for Erikson builds here with each book. More and more people with whom I speak in person are reading the books.

oshvat said...

What about Glen Cook, I have read all but the last 2 Black Company, and have been thinking of buying the collected Dread Empire. Without these two series we would most likely not have half of the ones mentioned.

ashesfromthesky said...

Tad Williams? Surely he jests. Unimpressive list.

Where the hell is Michael Moorcock?

R. Scott Bakker definitely. The second and third books of the Prince of Nothing trilogy kind of tarnished the literary wizardry of the first, but The Judging Eye renewed my faith.

Steven Erikson definitely.

Gene Wolfe can write, but seems to constantly stray into authorial self indulgence. Ditto Guy Gavriel Kay.

Dunsany and Peake are conspicuously absent.

George Martin is highly overrated.

Acacia impressed me recently as well.

Adam Whitehead said...

It's a bizarre list. Assuming epic fantasy only, I'd say

1) GGK
2) Maybe keep the MST rec. It's a fairly standard series but not unenjoyable.
3) Magician by Feist. Much stronger than Brooks' Shannara novels and much more inventive and fitting as a 'debut' epic fantasy novel. Plus it's stand-alone. If you need to put a typical 1980s MOR fantasy on there, I'd choose Magician over Brooks or Eddings every time.
4) A Game of Thrones. Seriously, leaving this off in favour of Wizards' First Rule is the equivalent of leaving The Godfather II off a Best Movie List in favour of Scary Movie 3.
5) Book of the New Sun.
6) Maybe something for younger readers? Earthsea or His Dark Materials perhaps.
7) One of the newcomers. Name of the Wind is acceptable, but Lies of Locke Lamora might be more fitting as a stand-alone or The Blade Itself for an already-completed series.

For the much broader church of fantasy, then the list is really inadequate. GoT can stay on there to represent the epic and Wolfe's New Sun, but Peake, Vance and Gaiman's Sandman series can be fitted on there, maybe some Zelazny as well. To round off, I'm not sure. Holdstock's Mythago Wood? Or maybe some Pratchett.

GP said...

I always recommend the Halfblood Chronicles by Andre Norton as a starter to my friends. It has elves and dragons, plus it isn't too dense and goes a little further than wizards and magic (e.g., Harry Potter).

After that, I'd probably recommend GRRM, Hobb, MST, etc.

Nate said...

Props to Adam for the "Epic fail" - nice pun.

The list is pretty poor. If you're going to put Gene Wolfe in (which you should), Book of the New Sun is pretty dense for starters. I'd say There Are Doors is an easier, er, gateway to Wolfe.

I'd a little dismayed that Tolkien gets dismissed as "fourth-grade reading level" and Sword of Truth gets recommended as "adult".

I think Erikson is vastly overrated as well. His work is way too emo.

CyndiF said...

The beginning reader is not the same as the young reader. When I was younger, I loved the Belgariad, the Riftwar, Shannara, the Wheel of Time, etc. I would recommend these to teenagers wholeheartedly. But the author here is asking for fantasy with higher literary merit and the New Yorker list only partly provided that at best.

My list: Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, Joe Abercrombie's First Law series (new but outstanding), Steven R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant (not my favorite, but my husband's), Guy Kay's Tigana, Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (sorry, Pat), Cook's Black Company and (my favorite little-known series) P.C. Hodgell's Dark of the Gods.

Other good ones: Brian Ruckley's novels, Kage Baker (Anvil of the World is fantasy, her others more sci-fi), Doris Egan's Ivory series, Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora, Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth (not so beginner), Neverwhere.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for their recommendations. There are actually some readers out here (e.g. me) who are looking for recommendations of what to read next because we don’t want to read 300 pages just to realize the book is crap or is intended for 12 year olds.

I did a quick-and-dirty tabulation of comments on this blog as well as a few other blogs. Here is what I got leaving out anything will less than 2 recommendations:

•George RR Martin (9 positive recs)
•Joe Abercrombie, First Law Trilogy (7 positive recs)
•Guy Gavriel Kay: *Tigana, *The Lions of Al-Rasson, Sailing to Sarantium, *The Fionavar Tapestry, Lions of Al-Rassan (6 positive recs)
•Patrick Rothfuss, “In the Name of the Wind” (3-book series) (5 positive recs, DofInk)
•Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Apprentice (Trilogy) (a little slow) (6 positive recs, 2 neg, DofInk)
•Tad Williams, Memory Sorrow and Thorn Trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair, (a little slow), (5 positive recs, 2 Neg, 1 ok) Some love it, some hate it
•Greg Keyes (4 positive recs)
•Steven Erikson, “Gardens of the Moon/ Malazan Series” (Dense and confusing), , (4 positive recs, 3 Too Dense)
•Brandon Sanderson, “Mistborn” (3 positive recs)
•Gene Wolf, Book of the New Sun (not easy, bit slow) (3 positive recs)
•Robert Holdstock “Mythago Wood” (3 positive recs)
•Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (2 positive recs) Sandman (2 positive recs)
•Robert Jordon, Wheel of Time (2 positive recs)
•Raymond Feist, Riftwar Saga, (first 4 books only) (2 positive recs)
•Patricia A McKillip, Riddlemaster Trilogy (2 positive recs)
•Glen Cook (2 positive recs)
•Tim Powers, “Anubis Gates” (2 positive recs)
•David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” (2 positive recs)

•Terry Brooks, The Scions of Shannarra, *Elfstones of Shannarra (2nd 4-book series; very traditional fantasy) (4 positive recs, 3 Neg, 1 so-so)
•Terry Goodkind: Wizard’s First Rule (first novel in series only), (2 positive recs, 5 Neg, 1 so-so)

As a personal note, I read a lot of fantasy when I was in middle school. And I just began reading fantasy again as an adult because (1) I saw my step-father reading Robert Jordon, which led me to believe that I could enjoy fantasy as an adult also, and (2) I started reading Martin’s Ice and Fire, and it pulled me in.

Felix said...

I'm amazed that the journalist calls Tolkien 4th grader literature, yet is very impressed by the complexity of Gardens of the Moon. Although Steven Erikson writes about very adult topics and incidents and convulated plots, from a writing-perspective he is pretty simple fair. Someone found his writing too similar to roleplaying games, and I agree that his characterisation and action is very straightforward. So he might be called 6th grader literature, because he is accessible to anyone who knows a little bit about ancient history or myths or games.
I actually think Tolkien's style is more idiosyncratic and therefore more interesting for analysis.

ashesfromthesky wrote:
"Gene Wolfe can write, but seems to constantly stray into authorial self indulgence. Ditto Guy Gavriel Kay."

Really? Guy Gavriel Kay is an exponent of reason in fantasy and Gene Wolfe is extremely considerate about every word he writes, shuns no topic and is also a devoteful catholic. How is there anywhere authorial self indulgence in these two, while in Mervyn Peake there isn't (who wrote even a poem about his authorial arrogance)?