Fantasy & Beyond

A Book Forum for Speculative Fiction

Discuss SFF books and authors here.
User avatar
By Hedin
New forum so I figure we should have a place where we could wax poetically about our favorite SFF series or book. And like the favorite (if you want to break up SF from F and do two that would be acceptable), not a bunch of ones you really like, be decisive! Also years of fatherhood has made my memory shot so I have forgotten who has good taste that corresponds exactly to mine likes what at this point in time.

Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

The thing that I always come to with Malazan is the sheer scope of everything. Just taking the main series you're looking at something like 3.3 million words, 400ish POV characters, 700ish named characters, multiple continents and named cities.....its a lot. Characters come and go between books, locations completely shift from book to book, there are dozens of little side plots within the main plot. It should not work, it should be a complete mess. The fact that it does work and does so relatively seamlessly is a testament to Erikson's abilities.

As for what Malazan is about the I'm going to steal from the first reply in this Reddit thread ( ... zan_about/) which is one of the best
descriptions I have come across:
Imagine a massive-scale battle-royale over decades (and aeons) between the Romans, the Turks, the Mongols, emogoth dark elves that are not to be fucked with, a bunch of extremely pissed-off Inuit, Conan's roided-up big brother, undead neanderthal warriors, uber-samurai, gods, elder gods, demigods, usurper gods, alien gods, insane priests, sorcerers, warlocks, shamans, witches, nearly-immortal orcs with the driest imaginable sense of humour, demons, sea monsters, assassins, shapeshifters, a giant-beetle airforce and T-rexes with swords for arms, all competing to see who can fuck each other over the hardest.

A major theme in the book is convergence: power draws the powerful like blood in the water draws ever-bigger fish. You start out with viewpoints from a wide range of conflicts, and watch as they inevitably find themselves on intersecting paths.
That last paragraph describes things pretty well with the overall arc of the story. You start out plopped in the middle of a conflict with very little context and mostly follow a small unit around. There are some players on the side doing their own thing and then they all come together at the end for some fireworks. The next couple of books are set in a completely different area with few of the same characters and builds in the same way. And then things setup in those books with all of those different characters and locations start to come together in a bigger way than before and then it just keeps going from there. Everything just builds on everything else even if it doesn't appear directly linked and when it comes together it just sings.

Over time I think I have kind of narrowed down why the books work for me so well. Yes they have great characters and memorable events but a lot of books I love have those. For me what sets Malazan apart is that the world feels lived in. There is a history and a weight to everything because of that history. I think this is where Erikson's background as an archeologist really is felt in understanding how past cultures leave legacies, both good and bad, behind and how those legacies can impact current cultures and events. So many other series, including series that I really like, feel like their worlds were created as part of a backstory rather than being actual living, breathing worlds where these events happened in.

Also, dinosaurs with swords for arms.

Now a few caveats. Malazan asks a lot from a reader. This isn't something that is easily and breezily read, you can't really skim parts because you will likely miss something and that something may not pop up again for two or three books. The first book you are dropped in the world with little context or understanding about the state of the world or how anything really works, you just build that knowledge as you go along with the series (and even now I don't think I can semi-confidently describe how the magic system works). There are a lot of characters and places to keep track off, you certainly don't need to know who all 700ish named characters are but there is a large amount that you do need to keep up with and you could go several books between apperances. The books are dense and weighty and not for the feint of book reading hearts.

All of that said, if it works for you then it will really work for you. I love my popcorn fiction that just takes me away at times but I also really love being fully immersed and that's what this series does for me. fully immerses me into the world, the characters, the events in a way no other series ever has and would be hard for any future series to top.
ScarletBea, Henry Dale, isos81 and 2 others liked this
User avatar
By Henry Dale
My favourite FF book is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. (is that too obvious?)
It was a toss-up between this and the Howl trilogy (moving castle and such).
Strange and Norrell is an extravagant period piece that can be frightening at first (pagelong footnotes anyone?) but captivates with its mix of alt-history and fairytale that it deftly dances inbetween.

My favourite SF book is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
The myriad of writing styles in the book and the way things tie together is really impressive.
It’s a clever book that's very hard to pin down due to the myriad of different "writers" that end up exploring their own "meaning of life" and also influence one another without always being aware of it.

Both of these books found their way to tv as well with the BBC series for the first and a movie of the second. (definitely check out some of the crazy make up for Cloud Atlas)
Hedin liked this
By Elfy
I’d have to think about series, and is it a completed series? I don’t feel right about putting an unfinished one up there. I’m now going to contradict that by stating that my favourite book of all time, regardless of genre is The Lies of Locke Lamora, but in my defence that can be read as a stand-alone.
User avatar
By isos81
My favorite fantasy series of all time is Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson without a doubt.

As for the sci-fi, I believe Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu comes first on my list. Other nominees are Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny and A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter M. Miller Jr.
By HormannAlex
Counting only completed series (because who knows when the next book might ruin everything)

Standalone: The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, by David Gemmell - Episodic storytelling at its finest, and a great origin story for a fantasy great.
Trilogy: Under the Northern Sky, by Leo Carew - The perfect synthesis of history and heroic fantasy, and one of the few original fantasy series that I've enjoyed in the past few years.
Long Series: The Dagger and the Coin, by Daniel Abraham - Everything I look for in a multi-book epic. Traditional fantasy with enough original twists to keep me coming back.

Standalone: The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells - The original, and still the best, alien invasion story
Trilogy: Remembrance of Earth's Past, by Cixin Liu - Some of the most mind-blowing sci fi I've ever encountered.
Series: Foundation, by Isaac Asimov - It's a classic for a reason, and one that still holds up today.
ScarletBea, Hedin liked this
User avatar
By cupiscent
There are so many series that I have really enjoyed, but would I say "favourite"? Hmm. I feel like to get a special mention, the series needs to have solid individual entries, but also overall should do something more. I do not know why I feel this way, but apparently I do. :lol:

I will shout out to the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir, because even if Alecto the Ninth is somehow an absolute mess, the series has done so many interesting things, each book a different flavour of fascinating, the whole thing so entertaining.

Daniel Abraham's Dagger & Coin definitely warrants a mention, for being both massive and yet executed in a very tight, efficient and above-all timely manner. ;)

Just went and stared at my shelves for a while, and I really am a picky person on this. :beaming: See, I wouldn't list Mike Brooks' God-King Chronicles because while the overall series is a great conceit with fantastic worldbuilding, I don't feel the third book closes things off with the same power as the first. (Ditto for NK Jemisin's Broken Earth.) Daniel Polansky's Low Town trilogy has cracking books two and three, but the first one wasn't quite up there. I really enjoy all of Melissa Caruso's books, but the series don't particularly stand out separately from the individual novels.

I will note that I absolutely adored SC Emmett's Hostage of Empire trilogy, all of it, just such a tea-drinking, Chinese-court-drama, wuxia, fantasy of manners good time.
By Elfy
Given it some thought, and this may be influenced by current reading, but I think my favourite fantasy series has to be Discworld. It’s enormous in scope and amount of entries (in excess of 40 entries), as well as influence and how beloved it has become by audiences. I said elsewhere here that it’s like a shared World Series, but it came from the pen of the one author. It turned the microscope on many facets of our society and nailed them. It’s funny and affecting. It has a huge cast of characters, they often intersect and interact, but they’re still in their own stream. Many of them live on in our minds: the Luggage, the Librarian, Rincewind, Vimes and Carrot, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mc Feegle, Death and his offsider the Death of Rats. The list goes on and in. A truly remarkable achievement. Up there with anything that has gone before, and will stand the test of time.
Last edited by Elfy on February 11th, 2024, 09:14, edited 1 time in total.
DragonFlame liked this
By Peat
cupiscent wrote: February 10th, 2024, 22:32
I will note that I absolutely adored SC Emmett's Hostage of Empire trilogy, all of it, just such a tea-drinking, Chinese-court-drama, wuxia, fantasy of manners good time.
Mm-hmm *makes notes*


I will probably make a few posts here but I'm going to start with what is probably in a two-way tie for my absolute favourite fantasy book and that is

Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana

It is, first and foremost, deeply satisfying to read, line to line and scene to scene. Kay writes this wonderfully clear, wryly human prose that brings everything to life in a grand yet puckish way, and the things he chooses to bring to life are grand drama and heartfelt moments.

It is also an incredibly thoughtful and well-crafted book. The central conceit - to rescue a conquered people's cultural identity before magic obliterates it - gives rise to so many themes, so many little touches of world building. I find new things to chew on with every read.

As such, it is wonderful as a fantasy adventure through strange lands, and wonderful as a deep philosophical work about humanity, and the two elements only add to each other.

And emotionally, it hits like a hammer. One of the bittersweetest endings I'll ever read.

There are a few books its equal. None its superior.
Magnus, DragonFlame liked this
User avatar
By lejays17
I’ve been contemplating my answers for this topic, Elfy & I have been chatting about it the last few days. I agree with everything he says about Discworld as a favourite series, and it’s probably equal top for me.

But my other favourite series would be Pern by Anne McCaffrey. Specifically the original trilogy (Flight, Quest & White Dragon), and the first two Harper Hall books (Song & Singer). I mostly enjoy all the others she wrote solo, but not the ones co-written with Todd or solo by him (haven’t read the solo Georgianna one yet).
I really can’t say why they are my favourites- re-reading them now I can see a lot of issues with personal relationships & consent. They take me back to being a young teen & borrowing them from the library & discussing them with friends at school at lunchtime.

Favourite single book is a lot harder. I go through cycles of what I enjoy reading, so it can change from year to year.
My “read every summer” book is ice Station by Matthew Reilly, which is only tangentially related to the SFF topic, so I won’t pick that one.
So after an internal view of the bookshelves, I think the one that fits the topic isThe Eight by Katherine Neville ( tge sequel is complete rubbish, best not go there #$! ).
This is a mix of chess, 70’s oil crisis, French Revolution, Catherine the Great & Immortality. It’s just brilliant.

Honourable mentions:
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Except for Taran Wanderer, I’ve read this series more than I can count. It was my introduction to Welsh mythology, a long time love of mine

Owl Service by Alan Garner. Furthering the Welsh mythology love.
Seaward by Susan Cooper. Not as well-known as the Dark is Rising series (which I also love).
Magnus liked this
User avatar
By Magnus
Picking a single favourite is pretty much impossible, as it's a choice that's so close that it's affected by my mood at the time of writing. I am also quite sure that some books that were my favourites when I read them might not avail themselves as well if I read them today. Similarly, there are probably books that I would enjoy much more if I read them today than when I did.

But I'll pick a few of the titles that have stuck with me through the years. Doubtless, I am forgetting others that have had a profound effect on me. I think the theme will be easy to pick out: books that do things differently; daring to challenge the standard stories, styles, settings, characters, and conventions—but doing so in a way that isn't so far off the charts that they are inaccessible. I think most of the books in this list have been DNF'd by a lot of people who were looking for more of the same. And sure, I sometimes enjoy more of the same—nothing wrong with that—but most of the time I like to be surprised and challenged, or I get bored.

Neverwhere is an old favourite of mine because it's one of the first books that opened my eyes to how it was okay to just do things differently. I've aspired to be a writer for a very long time, and I love it when I read well-received books that makes me go "wait, you can do this?". This is the first time I recall having that experience so strongly. The book was just so utterly different from anything I had read before.

Another book that I tend to mention is The Earthsea Quartet. I remember reading both LeGuin and Gaiman's writing style many years ago and thinking "this is more like what I want to do", having mostly read standard fantasy before that. What I think the two have in common is how simple and straight-forward their language and stories feel, even though there is great depth to them.

LeGuin in particular is a master of this down-to-earth, no-nonsense style and tone that has deep and complicated undercurrents. And the main reason the Quartet makes the list is because of how profoundly different it was when I reread it around fifteen years after my first encounter with it. My new knowledge, life experience, and (dare I say?) wisdom gave the story a completely different light. I could clearly see how the story was influenced by Taoism, of which LeGuin was a student. (Among her impressively broad body of work is a translation of the Tao Te Ching, a core text of Taoism.)

Ged's story with the shadow was a manifestation of the challenges any human must face to become whole: facing your dark side and understanding that it is not a separate entity that can be destroyed or defeated but that must be accepted as a part of yourself. This mirrors my own experiences in personal development over those years between reading and rereading.
I also appreciated Tehanu a lot more the second time, having found it incredibly dull the first time, though I can't articulate as well why. Perhaps it's time for another reread?

The Fifth Season should get an honourable mention, though I agree with cupiscent that as a series, The Broken Earth doesn't quite carry it home. But I still loved it, particularly the first book.

The Children of Time is another book that did something utterly different and pulled it off. The POV choices, the epic scale combined with personal stories, the underlying grand philosophies that are the strength of the SF genre—all executed excellently. The stand-alone sequels are also impressive, but the first book is still the strongest by far, in my opinion.

Perdido Street Station. Oh boy, this one swept me off my feet and crushed some of my negative preconceptions about genre. I think it's a great example of how to introduce the reader to a strange setting. There's no hand-holding; the reader is dropped right into the middle of a truly weird place and left to fend for themselves—or so it feels, yet there's always enough information to allow you to understand the story, even if the setting is confusing at first. I think that separation is the key. I've read a lot of books by Miéville since then, and have found them a mixed bag, but this book and its sequels just did something for me, and it broadened my mind.

Apologies to all the authors and books I snubbed here. I do not apologise, however, for not being able to pick a single favourite. :D

(Edit: Oh, and I will definitely come back to mine this thread for additions to my TBR list!)
Peat, DragonFlame liked this