Kevin Hearne – A Real Find
Kevin Hearne – A Real Find avatar

Like many other people, I was getting tired of the run-of-the-mill vampire/werewolf books that seemed to be taking over the fantasy field. Then, based on review by Charles de Lint in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, I decided to try a writer I had never heard of: Kevin Hearne. I was delightfully surprised by this series of novels about the last of the Druids, Atticus O’Sullivan.

Hounded by Kevin HearneIn the first book, Hounded, the reader is introduced to all the vampires, witches, werewolves, gods, and demons anyone could want. The difference here is in the humor, the up-to-date tone, and the likeableness of the characters (especially Atticus’ dog, Oberon). It’s very rare to find a book that is as fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny, and hard-to-put-down as this one.

I was a little worried that Hearne wouldn’t be able to keep up the high quality of the jokes, plots, and characters but that was a needless concern. I have read all of the first four Trapped by Kevin Hearnebooks, one after the other, without losing interest. In fact, I can’t wait for number 5 to be published in Nov. 2012.

I hope Mr. Hearne’s muse isn’t killed by one of the characters in his books (like so many other supernatural beings have been) and that he continues to write for a good, long time.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 7
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 7 avatar

In part 6, we looked at some of those works published in the fantasy boom of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. The popularity of fantasy literature exploded in the second part of the 20th century. Because of this, we won’t be able to include all of the influential or important writers and works in this short history.

The works listed below are just a sampling of the fantasy from the 70s to the 90s. Another post will list some great sources for those of you who are interested in finding out more about the history of fantasy or learning of other books and authors you might want to try reading.

The 70s ushered in a period of growth for fantasy in which many new and different sub-genres began to challenge the sword and sorcery that was the mainstay of fantasy since the publication of Tolkien’s work. It also spawned the creation of multi-volume works to which readers were very willing to become addicted.

The Amber Chronicles by Roger ZelaznyIn 1970, Roger Zelazny published the first of his ten part series, The Chronicles of Amber. Nine Princes in Amber introduced readers to the characters who would carry them to mysterious fantasy worlds. This family saga is Machiavellian, gripping, and fundamentally readable. It captured the imaginations of a wide group of followers who willingly waited for the next installment.

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers AnthonyPiers Anthony started his Xanth series in 1977 with A Spell for Chameleon. Initially, these Xanth books were unusual and creative–always with a new slant on some moral concept. Anthony also pleased his many readers with a plethora of puns. The series continues even today with 35 books in the set as of this writing and at least one more to be published this year.

Robin McKinley's BeautyRobin McKinley was among the first of the modern fantasy writers to rewrite famous fairy tales in novel format. Her first novel, Beauty (1978), retold the story of Beauty and the Beast. The idea of fairy tale rewrites has since become very popular with fantasy readers.

The fantasy explosion continued in the 80s with greats like Terry Pratchett, Charles deLint, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Sheri Tepper. (More about these writers in separate posts to come.) There are several somewhat-lesser-known fantasy writers of the 80s who had a strong influence on the genre.

In 1981, John Crowley wrote one of the first urban fantasies (in which creatures from traditional fantasy worlds invade modern life), Little, Big.

Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s works are, for the most part, lighthearted and funny. Her first novel, Song of Sorcery in 1982, started her humorous twists on traditional fairy tales that she has continued throughout her career.

The Pit Dragon Trilogy by Jane YolenMost of Jane Yolen’s work is aimed at the young adult market, but they are thoroughly enjoyable to adults as well. In 1982, her novel, Dragon’s Blood, was published. This, like much of her later work, is highly original. She has since written many fantasy works, including the award winning rework of Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose, and an Arthurian-based series, The Young Merlin Trilogy.

Mengan Lindholm's Harpy's FlightMegan Lindholm published her first novel, Harpy’s Flight, in 1983.  This was the beginning of a great career for Megan Lindholm, now better known under her other pseudonym, Robin Hobb. She has to date written 26 fantasy novels; 10 as Lindholm and 16 as Robin Hobb. All of these books are worthwhile reading, both for the characters and the creative ideas proposed in the works.

Part 8 will be our final chapter in this history. We’ll look at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st and summarize how fantasy has developed since its inception up to this point.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Rosemary Sutcliff–Reteller of Tales
Rosemary Sutcliff–Reteller of Tales avatar

Rosemary Sutcliff is a well-known writer of new versions of old tales for children and young adults. She has worked with many of the traditional stories from England and Ireland, including Beowulf, Tristan and Iseult, the Grail Legend, and Finn MacCool. She also retells stories from antiquity, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, and has written historical novels of ancient Rome and of early England.

The Sword and the Circle by Rosemary SutcliffIn The Sword and the Circle, one of her Arthurian books, she addresses works from the King Arthur romances, drawing from several different sources. She tells of the origin of Merlin taken from Prophecies of Merlin by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1135). She retells some of the Arthurian stories from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur including Arthur pulling the sword from the stone to become king, Arthur acquiring Excalibur (a different sword from the one in the stone) and the Round Table, the coming of Lancelot and his love for the queen, and the lesser known story of Beaumains, the Kitchen Knight.

Some of the tales included here are loosely connected to the Arthurian legends. Sutcliff retells the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from the 14th century romance by and anonymous author and includes the story of Gawain and the Loathely Lady taken from a variety of sources. The story of Tristan and Iseult is included in a shortened version based also on a variety of sources. Geraint and Enid, probably based on the tale of Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes, is also retold here.

This book is a good introduction to a variety of stories from the Arthurian for anyone interested in the legends. Even after reading virtually hundreds of stories based on Arthur and his knights, this rendition was still worth my time.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 6
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 6 avatar

In part 5, we looked at the fantasy of the 20th century until the beginning of World War II. Not much noteworthy fantasy was published during the war, but some great works appeared shortly thereafter. In this part, we’ll look at some of those works published in the fantasy boom of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

In 1941, Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp published the popular Incomplete Enchanter, a series of humorous novellas based on travel to various mythological or Well of the Unicorn by Fletcher Prattfictional locations. In 1948, Fletcher Pratt published his first solo novel, The Well of the Unicorn, in which he created a fantasy world based on medieval Denmark but developed into a world all its own.

Fritz Leiber published one of the first urban fantasies, Conjure Wife, in 1943. Ray Bradbury published his first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, in 1947. Alexander M. Phillip’s unfortunately forgotten fantasy classic, The Mislaid Charm, was also published in 1947.

Shortly after the end of World War II in 1945, in a break from his otherwise mainstream fiction, George Orwell published Animal Farm, an anti-Stalinist allegory. This fantasy is a satirical look at corruption and greed. This work helped to bring fantasy to readers who probably wouldn’t have read anything in the genre.

In the 1950s, several writers left their mark on the children and young adult market for fantasy. C. S. Lewis published his Christian parable fantasy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and later expanded it into the Chronicles of Narnia series. Although this series is written for children, it is quite sophisticated in its approach and philosophy. It is still widely read today and has been popularized in both a cartoon version made in 1979 and in a feature film made in 2005.

Charlotte's Web by E. B. WhiteCharlotte’s Web is E. B. White’s delightful tale of the friendship between a spider and a pig. The book is original in both its characters and in its approach to nature.

J. R. R. Tolkien published the three books of The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954-55. They were well received but did not become best sellers until 1966 when they were published by Ballantine in paperback editions. This trilogy (tetralogy if you include the earlier title, The Hobbit) has become the gold standard by which all other heroic fantasy is judged.

Although Ray Bradbury is generally thought of as a science fiction writer, he established himself irrevocably in the world of fantasy in 1957 with his publication of Dandelion Wine, a collection of short stories about a series of magical events meant to evoke the mysteries of childhood.

The highly original work, A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, is the story of aPeter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place homeless man living in a cemetery. What makes this unusual is the relationship of this man with the ghosts of the dead. It led the way for many other quiet fantasies based on character rather than heroes and fabulous surroundings.

In 1963, Andre Norton burst onto the fantasy scene with her novel, Witch World, a world where witches are real (but not evil) magic workers. This was the start of a series of many works that take place in Norton’s witch universe. Norton was a prolific writer with well over 100 books to her credit.

Too Many Magicians by Randall GarrettRandall Garrett wrote a cross-genre novel in 1966 called Too Many Magicians about a detective and his assistant who solve magical crimes in a world reminiscent of that of the earthly Sherlock Holmes. It’s a good novel in both genres.

In 1968, Ursula le Guin, already established as a  science fiction writer, tried her hand very successfully at fantasy with The Wizard of Earthsea. This was later developed into a series of four novelsA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin concerning the perils of misusing knowledge.

Both the audience and the types of fantasy changed somewhat during the last part of the twentieth century. In part 7, we’ll discuss some of the most popular and influential works leading up to the twenty-first century.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Stirling’s Change
Stirling’s Change avatar

The Change series by S. M. Stirling is a great example of a series that holds your interest through compelling characters and situations. The series is based on the premise that a disaster strikes the Earth in the form of a disturbance that happens in a flash of light which instantaneously shuts down all electric power and reduces the efficiency of steam power and gunpowder making them almost useless. No explanation is given for this anomaly. The reader soon begins to suspect that this is not really a science fiction, alternate reality tale, but much more a blend of science fiction and fantasy that is not often found in the speculative fiction genre.

Dies The Fire by S. m. StirlingThe series started with a trilogy: Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, and A Meeting at Corvallis. These first three books established four main societies that arise in, of all places, Oregon.  The primary group consists of the Mackenzies: neo-Wiccans who go back to clan life and the Old Religion (paganism). The other groups range from the Portland Protective Association, a bunch of medieval re-enactors who become “might makes right” rulers to a pack of academics in Corvallis who can’t do anything without a committee, to the Bearkillers, a quasi-military group including some Tolkienites who follow the Middle Earth books religiously. We also run across religious groups, cowboy bosses, and wandering bands of cannibals and looters.

The series continues with (so far) five more books: The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, The High King of Montival, and, the latest (2011), The Tears The Sunrise Lands by S. M. Stirlingof the Sun. Knowing that he had a good thing going and probably getting caught up in his story and great characters himself, Stirling continued the series with Rudi Mackenzie, sometimes known as Artos,  travelling across the entire US to find the mysterious Sword of the Lady. On this trip, we see other types of societies that have grown up after The Change: a Buddhist group in Montana, a neo-USA group in Idaho, Mormons near Utah, and the Sioux in Wyoming. There are others as he moves East, each showing the strengths and weaknesses of a way of life.

All of this makes a fascinating story with strange, but realistically human, characters and The Tears of the Sun by S. M. Stirlinglots of action as the groups come into conflict. Stirling’s descriptions of the land, of sensory details like food and music, and of his characters are all written with loving care that draws the reader into his strange but believable world.

As you may have noted if you read my review of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, I won’t stick with a series unless it really holds my attention. Stirling’s series has done that so far (I’m in the middle of book 6) despite the inevitable repetition of terms like “feet drumming the ground” when a person has been violently killed, “clothyard shafts” when referring to the arrows of the Mackenzie clan, and despite a great deal of violence. Part of the secret of keeping readers interested lies in making each book a story all its own with a beginning, a middle, and—most importantly—an end. Skilled writers like Stirling know how to end a story without ending a series and always leave their readers wanting more.

2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 5
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 5 avatar

In part 4, we looked at the fantasy of the nineteenth century. This section of the short history of fantasy covers the period from the beginnings of the 20th century until the beginning of World War II.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank BaumIn the 20th century, fantasy thrived and produced some of the greatest works in the genre. L. Frank Baum started the century off right with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900 (the eve of the 20th century). The book was extremely popular and was followed by many more Oz books as well as other works of fantasy and collections of fairy tales.

Lord Dunsany was first published in 1905 with The Gods of Pegana, a work that foreshadowed much of his later work and also influenced many other writers like H.P. Lovecraft (first published 1917), A. Merritt (The Moon Pool – 1918) and E. R. Eddison (first published 1922). These writers are similar in that they use antiquated, stilted prose to suggest archaic, outré, and weird circumstances and supernatural characters.

Burroughs' Tarzan of the ApesIn 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs published his ground-breaking Tarzan of the Apes series, followed not long after in 1917 by his John Carter of Mars series and then by several other wildly popular fantasy series. (Note that even though the John Carter series takes place on Mars, it is not really based on any scientific principles. It is truly a fantasy series, not science fiction.)

James Branch Cabell was a critically acclaimed and popular writer in the early 20th century. In 1919,  he published Jurgen, a satirical fantasy whose popularity was boosted by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice when they called the book Jurgen by James Branch Cabellobscene. This book had a great influence on such future writes as Robert Heinlein and Fritz Leiber.

A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay was one of the first fantasy novels to promote a philosophy and deal with religion and morality. It was a strong influence on both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien later in the century.

Cover of Weird Tales from March 1923In 1923, the growing popularity of fantasy spawned the new pulp magazine, Weird Tales, that published both new works and reprints by such authors as Robert E. Howard, H. G. Wells, and Edmond Hamilton. It also published essays by Harry Houdini debunking some of the charlatans of the time.

Hope Mirrlees' Lud_in_the_MistAnother critically acclaimed book, Lud-in-the-Mist by the almost forgotten author, Hope Mirrlees, was published in 1926. This delightful, unusual, and beautifully written work about the influences of fairyland on our mundane world explores themes of death, consciousness, and the meaning of life without being didactic.

In 1932, the great British novelist, Aldous Huxley, published a now famous and highly praised dystopic novel, Brave New World. This is science fiction at its best, but it was not originally thought of as a part of the genre (probably because of the low reputation of SF at that time and the high reputation of its author).

One of the greatest (and least known) fantasists of the 20th century, Evangeline Walton The Island of the Mighty by Evangeline Waltonpublished her first book, The Virgin and the Swine (later reprinted as The Island of the Mighty), in 1936. This was the first book of a retelling of the stories from the Welsh Mabinogion. Wonderfully retold, this book and the three that follow are essentials in the library of any fantasy lover.

There is little that can be said about J. R. R. Tolkien that hasn’t been said already. If you haven’t read The Hobbit published in 1937 or The Lord of the Rings trilogy (published from 1954 to 1955) start reading NOW. The wonderful films based on these books are not a substitute but an addition to the works. Tolkien was and still is the strongest influence ever to touch the field of fantasy and will probably remain so in the foreseeable future. None of the many imitations of this work even come close.

The Once and Future King by T. H. WhiteThe Arthurian Legend underwent a revival in 1938 with T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. This first book of a tetralogy, The Once and Future King, brought Arthur back to life for many modern readers. It’s still one of the best retellings of the legend and it inspired many other 20th century fantasists to try their hand at relating a new version of the Arthurian story.

Many new sub-genres of fantasy appeared in the last half of the century. Unfortunately, many of the popular works that appeared were merely imitations of earlier great works. We’ll explore these topics in our next chapter.

2011 – 2012, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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The (Extremely Long) Song of Ice and Fire
The (Extremely Long) Song of Ice and Fire avatar

In 1996, I bought and read A Game of Thrones, the first book of the saga by George R. R. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. MartinMartin, The Song of Ice and Fire. It was interesting and had some new ideas and different characters. The center of interest was the Stark family. The characters were well-delineated and strong in this opening foray into a brilliantly-designed fantasy world.

This first novel was followed in 1998 by the second in the set, A Clash of Kings and then in 2000 by A Storm of Swords. So far, so good–an interesting trilogy that was only slightly flawed by the multitude of characters and confusion of loosely interlocking plots. The story held together although it became ponderous and rambling by the end of the third book. Unfortunately (or fortunately A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martindepending on your point of view), most of the plot lines were left hanging so we readers knew we were going to be in for more.

We waited a while for A Feast for Crows in 2005, but it was still possible for me to continue reading without the chore of rereading the previous three books.  This one was even more rambling than the earlier books.

And then came the long, long wait for A Dance with Dragons (2011). Many of us thought A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martinthis would be the last book, tying together all the loose ends and finishing this saga. This time I must have had a premonition because, instead of buying it, I borrowed a copy from my local library instead of laying out the hefty $35 list price ($21 from Amazon). After about three months on a waiting list, I finally opened the book.

As I started to read, I realized that I didn’t remember much from the earlier works and turned to the back to see if there were any handy clues or reminders. There were–over 50 pages of lists of characters and their relationships. While looking over this list, I realized that most of the characters who remained alive were nasty or greedy or uninteresting. I’ll pass on reading it, at least for now.

In the author’s introduction to the current volume, he mentions the next ( not necessarily last) book, The Winds of Winter. Expected in 2012, this volume should be the end, but I think it will end without me.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Two Fun Fantasies
Two Fun Fantasies avatar

Diana Wynne Jones wrote the delightful Howl’s Moving Castle in 1986. In 2008, she published the equally charming sequel, House of Many Ways. I picked up the second book first, but on learning that it had a predecessor, I decided to get the older book and read it first.

I’m glad I did, not only because the first in the series is required to be able to follow the second but also because both books are really good. The characters are funny and likeable and the stories are interesting and engrossing.

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a young girl who is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman. It is the old woman who has all the adventures and trials while trying to break the curse. Nice premise.

House of Many Ways centers on Charmain Baker, a young girl who House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jonesapparently has no magic. The story is set in the same world as the earlier and some of the characters reappear, but none of the original story is necessary for the enjoyment of this one. Charmain is assigned the task of taking care of the house of a great magician while he is being cared for at the home of the elves. Many adventures ensue.

By the way, Hayao Miyazaki directed an award-winning animated film loosely based on Howl's Moving Castle - The FilmHowl’s Moving Castle, but beware. Although the film is visually captivating, you’ll be amazed at how loosely the book was followed. In fact, it is almost unrecognizable. The plot is very different (centered on the traditional—and overused—good vs. evil theme) and even the characters are rearranged so that good guys become the bad guys and vice versa. I think the book was much more satisfying.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Unfinished Books (first in a series)
Unfinished Books (first in a series) avatar

I used to finish every book once I started it whether I liked it or not. Then, I realized what a waste of time that was when there were so many other books out there waiting to be read. Now I’ll pick up a book that looks interesting or whose author has been recommended and at least give it a try. After 50 pages or so, if it hasn’t caught my interest, I’ll just find something else to read.

The most recent book in my unfinished category is Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton. A Publishers Weekly review said, “Anyone who begins this one…probably won’t be able to put it down.” Wrong!

Pandora's Star by Peter F. HamiltonThis book starts out with the first Mars landing as a prologue and devolves into a complex series of events that seem unrelated to each other. The uninteresting, cardboard characters completely fail capture the interest of the reader. Never once did I care “what happens next.” Besides these shortcomings, the book is full of old tech and convolutions like spies and terrorists that don’t seem to add anything to the plot. Very little new here.

Maybe someone out there can give me a reason to try again or to give Mr. Hamilton another chance with a different book of his. I’m willing to try if I think I’ll discover something.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Norby–The Mixed-up Robot
Norby–The Mixed-up Robot avatar

Janet Asimov (with assistance from her husband, Isaac) wrote a set of delightful novellas about a silly (but loveable and useful) robot named Norby and his human friend and companion, Jeff, a cadet in The Space Academy. They’re perfect for young SF readers and equally entertaining for readers of all ages.

The Norby Chronicles by Janet and Isaac AsimovUnlike the robots created by Isaac alone, Norby is part human robot and part alien robot. Because of this, he doesn’t have to obey the famous three laws of robotics that constrain all human-built robots in the older Isaac Asimov stories. Norby also has some other traits that are uncommon in the other Asimov creations – he’s very emotional and competitive; he forgets things that he should remember; and he is able to do things like travel in time and in hyperspace without knowing how he does it.

Even though Norby may remind you of a certain robot from Star Wars, these books are original and funny. The plots don’t mean much but the silliness is appealing.Norby Through Time and Space by Janet and Isaac Asimov

There are eleven books in the series. All of them are fun and should keep you and your kids entertained for quite some time.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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