Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

My reading goals for 2011 were:

1. Find 10-20 good quality science fiction/fantasy novels

2. Make a dent in my list of seminal works to read

The second one was virtually ignored, so let's just forget about that. However, I promised a round-up of SFF Literature and I will deliver, although I think this will continue to be an ongoing project here.

I read 16 SFF titles this year, 17 including Gloriana's Torch, which has a large alternative history element.

Of these, I'm going to designate 6 books/series as part of the elusive category, "Literature." My qualifications for Literature may be slightly or even radically differently from anybody else's, but essentially I look for a distinct and effective writing style that uses language appropriately and creatively, a plot with a distinct structure (beginning, middle, and end, not necessarily in that order but present) that is appropriate to the genre/topic/characters, and characters that feel like real people and who can be understood, identified with and/or emotionally reacted to.

My candidates for SFF Literature are:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (mostly on the merit of the first book, I was satisfied with the third, but the second disappointed me somewhat)

2. The Belgariad by David Eddings (he creates a realistic world and characters while following an almost perfect Hero's Journey)

3. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (He does something different with plot, language, and concept that puts him over the edge, even though some of his characters are lacking)

4. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (this is the gold standard, really. A tightly constructed and creative plot and character that is very interesting and still easy to identify with)

5. Gloriana's Torch by Patricia Finney (Her use of language, world-building, characters are all magnificent, and her plot is interesting if a bit loose)

6. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (her characters are achingly real and her gift with organization is amazing, even if the overall plot arc might lack some panache, the way she does it makes it unique)

That's far from 10-20, but I need a larger reading sample, so again, let's view this as an ongoing project.

Why did, for example, A Song of Ice and Fire, not make the list? George R.R. Martin, once you get past the shock value, isn't really doing anything special or interesting with his inevitably horrifying plotting, and his world-building and even characters pale in comparison to all but one (High Castle) of the books mentioned above. That doesn't mean he's not worth reading. It just means I don't see his books as having the same staying power as some of the ones above.


Marie said...

sounds like a great list. i need to read more scifi. someone gave me the hunger games trilogy for christmas so maybe i'll start with that.

Biblibio said...

Just so you know, I'm ridiculously grateful that you decided to do this project. It's given me the opportunity to look at literature (and sci-fi and fantasy) from very different angles... and it's excellent. While I may not agree with you on all definitions and choices (I hated The Time Traveler's Wife on so many levels...), I've read at least a dozen books in the past year that absolutely qualify as science fiction and fantasy literature, as well as a few others that I think qualify as just good SFF (and may lack a little to make them outright literature). The project marches on!

Carl V. said...

Loved both The Time Traveler's Wife and The Name of the Wind.

Based on your definition of "literature" I would suggest The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The downside is that it is the first and only published book of a 10 book series. That is the ONLY downside. It has characters who will grab hold of you, an ongoing story line that still manages to have an immensely satisfying beginning, middle and end, and world-building that is wrapped up within the story rather than done info-dump style.

Space Station Mir said...

Marie, The Hunger Games is definitely a good book to start with, it's hard not to like.

Biblibio, I've appreciated your support with the SFF Lit project, and I enjoy reading about your picks as well, feel free to comment with more of them! It doesn't matter if we agree or not, it's the principle of elevating SFF in general.

Carl V., I've been meaning to check out Sanderson, thanks for the rec!

Carl V. said...

You are welcome. I have become a Way of Kings evangelist, in large part because I normally shy away from huge books and run screaming away from series that are not yet complete, but this book just sucked me in and never let up.