Monday, 6 January 2014

Favourites - Fantasy / Science Fiction Series

I'm just starting a nice Monday off. I should probably be reading, trying to finish off my first couple of books of 2014 or doing laundry or something. But I'm sort of in 'list-making' mode at the moment. While I was out walking the dogs last night, I started thinking of some of my favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy series. I've read a few in my 58 years so I think I can come up with a list of favourites. Obviously many excellent series will be left out, but it's more to the fact that I didn't get around to trying them, rather than they didn't make it to my list. Nonetheless, I think the list below contains some excellent series by a group of very talented authors and also is varied enough to cover both Sci Fi/ Fantasy/ Sword and Sorcery, etc. I hope you like it or find it interesting enough to give some of them a try. I've made a Top Ten, but they aren't in any particular order. Here goes.

Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Sword & Sorcery Favourites

Incarnations of Immortality
1. Piers Anthony - Incarnations of Immortality

Piers Anthony is a Sci Fi/ Fantasy writer, born in Oxford in 1934, but whose family emigrated to the US when he was six years old. He is a prolific writer, having published over 140 novels from 1956. He had created a great number of series, including, the Chthon series, the Apprentice Adept (excellent) and the Xanth books. Of those I have read, my favourite is the Incarnations of Immortality series; based on the seven Supernatural offices (Death, Time, Fate, War, Nature, Evil and War.)  The seven books were written between 1983 - 1990. I notice that another was written in 2007, Under a Velvet Cloak, featuring the adventures of the incarnation of Night. I wasn't aware this one had come out, so will have to see if it's available. :0)

The first seven books in the series were -

1. On a Pale Horse (1983) - Incarnation of Death. It tells the story of Zane, a photographer, who accidentally kills Death and must assume his Incarnation. The title comes from the sixth book of Revelation, in which one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death, rides upon a pale horse.
2. Bearing an Hour Glass (1984) - Incarnation of Time. In this story, Norton assumes the Incarnation of Time and must live his life backwards.
3. With a Tangled Skein (1985) - Incarnation of Fate. In this story, Niobe agrees to assume one of the three Incarnations of Fate in order to help thwart Satan's plans.
4. Wielding a Red Sword (1986) - Incarnation of War. Mym, an Indian prince, defies his father's plans for an arranged marriage, instead joining a travelling circus. He meets Orb, who teaches him to overcome his own handicap of a terrible stutter through song. He is soon discovered, and his father arranges for him to marry a princess by the name of Rapture of Malachite. After fighting against this for days on end, he finally realises that Rapture is worth loving, and so concedes to the marriage. However, a plot to separate him from her results in his decision to become the Incarnation of War.
5. Being a Green Mother (1987) - Incarnation of Nature. Orb assumes the Incarnation of Nature after having a child and is told that she may have to marry Satan.
6. For Love of Evil (1988) - Incarnation of Evil. Parry assumes the Incarnation of Evil.
7. And Eternity (1990) - Incarnation of Good. Three women must try to obtain objects from the 7 Incarnations of Day, including that of the Incarnation of Good.

I found this to be a fascinating series. It's been a long time since I read them, probably back when they first came out. I recall the first taking a little to get into, but once I did, I read each voraciously. Even though each story relates specifically to one of the Incarnations, they do tie together and the characters do appear in others of the stories. I'm amazed that Piers Anthony can produce such excellent series. One of the most interesting aspects of the versions I had of the books was at the end of each story, Anthony told what was going on in his life, his inspirations for the books, the various books he was also working, such an interesting life.

The Culture Series
2. Iain M. Banks - The Culture Novels. This is the most recent series with which I've involved myself. I started reading in 2010. I started with the 8th book in the series, Matter, as I saw it on the shelf of one of my local book stores and the plot summary sounded fascinating. I've got to say that what attracted me first was the book cover. Shades of orange and rust always attract me and this made me read the synopsis and then I was hooked. "In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one man it means a desperate flight and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for his sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. But the sister  is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high level interference in civilisations throughout the greater galaxy. Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be dangerous strategy, however. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else's war is never a simple matter."

I enjoyed the first book very much. It wasn't an easy read as it had a complex plot and took some getting used to the new worlds and peoples created by Banks, the idea of the Culture and other worlds of that particular universe. But it was fascinating as I got into it. I like strong female characters and Djan was one such. I liked the technology, the drones, the various peoples and overall the story. I've since read The State of the Art (Culture #4), a series of short stories elaborating the Culture universe and Consider Phlebas (Culture #1). All were excellent and I look forward to reading more of the series. I currently have two others on my bookshelf, Surface Detail (Culture #9) and a signed copy of Excession (Culture #5).

The complete Culture universe set of books consists of -
1. Consider Phlebas (1987) set in 1331 A.D
2. The Player of Games (1988) set in 2083 A.D.
3. Use of Weapons (1990) set in 2092 A.D.
4. The State of the Art (1991) various
5. Excession (1996) set in 2067 A.D.
6. Inversions (1998) unspecified
7. Look to Windward (2000) set in 2170 A.D.
8. Matter (2008) set in 2087 A.D.
9. Surface Detail (2010) set in 2970 A.D.
10. The Hydrogen Sonata (2012) set in 2375 - 2567 A.D.

Sadly, Iain Banks passed away in June of 2013. The world has lost a talented writer. The Culture series is an excellent series, but Banks also wrote many other books, try also The Wasp Factory or Matter, both also excellent.

The Uplift books
3. David Brin - The Uplift (Earthclan) novels

David Brin was born in 1950 and is a US scientist and novelist. Besides the Uplift saga, he is also noted for, amongst others, Postman (turned into a movie starring Kevin Costner) and The Heart of the Comet (which he wrote with Gregory Benford). I first discovered the Uplift books when o purchased the edition featured in the book cover photo above. I bought through the Science Fiction book club as the synopsis sounded so interesting. The book consists of StarTide Rising (published in 1983) and The Uplift War (published in 1987).  I enjoyed these first two books, which actually are books two and three of The Uplift Stories. The basic premise of the series is that Earth humans have been uplifted by a race called the Progenitors, one of the oldest of the universes' races. Earthlings have, without permission, also uplifted other mammals of Earth, such as chimpanzees and dolphins. They are now considered 'wolflings' by other races of the universe and either hunted by some or protected by others. That's probably it in its simplest form. A number of the stories concern the voyage of the Earth ship Streaker as it is hunted by many of the nations of the Civilisation of the Five Galaxies. It's an enthralling adventure, fascinating creatures and strong human/ chimp/ dolphin characters that make you want them to survive and beat the odds. The Uplift novels include -

1. Sundiver (1980)
2. Startide Rising (1983)
3. The Uplift War (1987)
4. Brightness Reef (1995)
5. Infinity's Shore (1996)
6. Heaven's Reach (1998)

John Carter of Mars
4. Edgar Rice Burroughs - The Barsoom Books

I won't get into this series again, suffice it to say, it is a series I've read more than once, have worn out my first copies and hope that my second copies of the books survive or I'll have to search and find new copies. I read the first two books last year to refresh my memories and may read 3 and 4 this year as one of my reading challenges. More info can be found on the series on a in November 2010 and here it is.

Conan the Barbarian
5. Robert E. Howard - Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard lived only from 1906 - 1936, was a writer of pulp fiction and is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery genre. The series I will discuss is the Conan series, a fantastic sword and sorcery adventure; following the adventures of Conan in various guises, the Barbarian, the Freebooter, the thief, of Aquilonia, etc as he wanders through the Hyborian age, fighting wizards and demons and saving voluptuous, lovely women. My collection of Conan books are from the Ace edition, the first being printed in 1983. After reading the first in my particular series, I proceeded to obtain the other 12 books in the series. To get a feel for the Conan series, this is the synopsis of the first book, Conan, "Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars - Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet."

This gives you the scope of the world created by Robert E. Howard, sometimes with editing or assistance by other sword and sorcery writers, Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. It's a fascinating world, one you can soak yourself in and just close your eyes and imagine the adventure. The books I have are -

1. Conan Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
2. Conan of Cimmeria Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
3. Conan the Freebooter Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
4. Conan the Wanderer Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
5. Conan the Adventurer Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
6. Conan the Buccaneer A complete novel by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.
7. Conan the Warrior Robert E. Howard
8. Conan the Usurper Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp
9. Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard
10. Conan the Avenger by Robert E. Howard, Bjorn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp
11. Conan of Aquilonia by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter
12. Conan of the Isles by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter.

Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter
6. Laurell K. Hamilton - Anita Blake Vampire Hunter

The first book in Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series came out in 1993. Laurell Hamilton was born in 1960 and the Anita Blake books is one of two successful fantasy series that she writes. The Anita Blake series is one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, it's sexy, creepy, full of action/ supernatural creatures, adventures and gets you hooked from the get-go.  I first saw this series when I was still living in Ottawa, during a trip to the Mall with my two girls, I think at the small Coles Books at the St Laurent shopping centre. We always stopped at the book store, so I could pick up something new and they could buy some books too. I saw the first few of the series on the shelves, liked the flashy covers and the first story intrigued me so I tried it.. "My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me The Executioner. What I call them isn't repeatable. Ever since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folks with fangs. I know better. I've seen their victims. I carry the scars.. But now a serial killer is murdering vampires - and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer..."

Yup, I was hooked. I already enjoyed the Buffy The Vampire TV Series and this seemed more adult and of a similar vein. I liked it, there was lots of action, creepiness and I liked the overall concept. Anita Blake raises the dead for a living, for families trying to resolve wills, etc. She also works for the St Louis police supernatural squad, assisting them in solving unique murders and she is also a licenced executioner and can act when supernatural beings kill humans. The story was well-paced and a page turner and the characters were unique and well-developed. Luckily for me, there were a number of the books already available in print so I could get into the series quickly and voraciously. It was fascinating, although each book got somewhat more graphic, both in the sex scenes and the violence, still made for fascinating reading. I paid the series forward, got my oldest daughter and many friends hooked, my daughter hooked her friends and so on. It also made me check out similar series, such as Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series and P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files series. But this is still my favourite if the genre. The later books haven't held my interest quite so much, but if you start the series, you'll be hooked. Trust me. You might also try Hamilton's Meridith Gentry series, which focuses on the Fae world, also quite excellent. These are the books in the Anita Blake series (remember, they're not for the faint of heart) -

1. Guilty Pleasures 2. The Laughing Corpse 3. Circus of the Damned 4. The Lunatic Cafe 5. Bloody Bones 6. The Killing Dance 7. Burnt Offerings 8. Blue Moon 9. Obsidian Butterfly 10. Narcissus in Chains 11. Cerulean Sins 12. Incubus Dreams 13. Micah 14. Danse Macabre  (now getting into unread territory for me) 15. The Harlequin 16. Blood Noir 17. Skin Trade 18. Flirt 19. Bullet 20. Hit List 21. Beauty 22. Kiss the Dead 23. Affliction 24. Dancing. (Yup, she's prolific)

The Well of Souls Series
7. Jack L. Chalker - Saga of the Well World

Jack L. Chalker was an American Science Fiction writer who lived from 1944 until 2005. I discovered his Well World books in the early 1980s while I was living in Ottawa. I found the whole concept of the Well World to be one of the most unique ideas I'd read in a very long time. The Well World is a world made up of hex worlds, each hex representing different races. If you enter the well world, you are transformed into a being of one of the races represented on the Well World. Each story stands alone, but there is a connecting thread, that being the character of Nathan Brazil who tracks through each story. In every story there is the uniqueness of meeting different races that make up the Well World and the difficulties of traversing the various hexes as each is unique in its own right. A fascinating series. This is the synopsis of the first book, Midnight at the Well of Souls, as a teaser. "Who was Nathan Brazil and what was he doing on the Well World? Entered by a thousand unsuspected gateways - built by a race lost in the clouds of time - the planet its dwellers called the Well World turned beings of every kind into something else. There spacefarer Nathan Brazil found himself companioned by a batman, an amorous female centaur and a mermaid - all once as human as he. yet Nathan Brazil's metamorphosis was more terrifying than any of those.. and his memory was coming back, bringing with it the secret of the Well World. For at the heart of the bizarre planet lay the goal of every being that had ever lived - and Nathan Brazil and his comrades were.. lucky?... enough to find it."

The books in the series include -

1. Midnight at the Well of Souls (1977)
2. Exiles at the Well of Souls (1978)
3. Quest for the Well of Souls (1978)
4. The Return of Nathan Brazil (1980)
5. Twilight at the Well of Souls (1980)
6. The Sea is Full of Stars ((1999) (haven't read)
7. Ghost of the Well of Souls (2000) (Haven't read)

(In 1993/ 94, Chalker also wrote a Watcher's at the Well of Souls series of 3 books that was set in the same world and also quite interesting)

Chronicles of Narnia
8. C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis, who lived from 1898 - 1963 wrote the Chronicles of Narnia between 1950 and 1956. Although I think it can fall easily within the Young Adult fiction genre, I do think it is a classic of the Fantasy genre as well. I read the books while I was at university in the mid-70's, had not heard of them prior to that and I loved the stories. A wonderful world was created for Peter, Lucy, Edmund and Susan to live out the terror of the war years. This wonderful world, Narnia, was accessed in the first story through a clothes closet and once in the world, the children meet fascinating creatures, from Aslan, the brave lion, hero of Narnia to the evil White Witch. The children find out about themselves and become heroes, even Kings and Queens in their own right. A lovely, fascinating series that needs to be read. These are the books that make up this series -

1. The Magician's Nephew (1954) - a prequel
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
3. The Horse and his Boy (1954)
4. Prince Caspian (1951)
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
6. The Silver Chair (1953)
7. The Last Battle (1956)

A Song of Ice and Fire
9. George R.R. Martin - A Song of Ice and Fire

I've been hooked on this series since I started the first book, A Game of Thrones, 1 year and a half ago and also started watching the HBO mini-series. Martin started the series in 1996 and probably had no idea how much impact the series would eventually have on people. He has created a fascinating world of knights, magic, dragons, creatures from the frozen north and put them together in an epic tale. The characters are fascinating, even though Martin seems to have no loyalty to them, no qualms about killing off anybody, no matter how major a character. The world is so very interesting and the story pulses with action and adventure. I have only read the first three books so far but know I'll continue the series this year and hope to be caught up with the TV series by year's end. We'll see. It's a must-read for any fantasy lover. These are the books in the series, so far -

1. A Game of Thrones (1996)
2. A Clash of Kings (1999)
3. A Storm of Swords (2000)
4. A Feast of Crows (2005)
5. A Dance with Dragons (2011)

Book 6, The Winds of Winter, and Book 7, A Dream of Spring, are forthcoming.

The Chronicles of Amber
10. Roger Zelazny - The Chronicles of Amber

Roger Zelazny was an American writer of fantasy and science fiction who lived from 1937 - 1995. I bought the first compendium of the The Chronicles of Amber, Volume 1 from the Science Fiction book club and found to be unique and interesting. The Chronicles comprise 2 distinct sets of five novels that tell of the adventures of Prince Corwin of Amber and then of his son, Prince Merlin. The stories take place on the two true worlds, Amber and the Courts of Chaos and a number of shadow worlds, including Earth. Access to and from these worlds is gained by traversing the Pattern for the Royals of Amber and by the Logrus for the Lords of Chaos. The Ten Amber novels were written between 1970 and 1991. Zelazny demonstrates that he is an excellent story teller and able to create fascinating worlds, intrigue and interesting personalities. I loved this series, it drew me in and held my attention from the first book to the last. I recommend it highly. These are the ten books of the series:

The Corwin Cycle

1. Nine Princes of Amber (1970)
2. The Guns of Avalon (1972)
3. Sign of the Unicorn (1975)
4. The Hand of Oberon (1976)
5. The Courts of Chaos (1978)

The Merlin Cycle

1. Trumps of Doom (1985)
2. Blood of Amber (1986)
3. Sign of Chaos (1987)
4. Knight of Shadows (1989)
5. Prince of Chaos (1991)

So there you have it, my Top Ten list. I would like to mention a couple of honourable mention series as well. They include Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. This is only an honourable mention as I haven't read enough of the series. I've enjoyed both the TV series and the few books I've read so far. I'm looking forward to exploring this series more. I also recommend Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need which consists of only two books (not properly a series); The Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through, an excellent 'mini-series'. I'd recommend The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by the same author as it is a fascinating series, except it was so depressing and I never ever really liked the main character. Still worth a read for its scope. Finally, I would like to recommend H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy books. I really liked this series, but once again it's almost two short. It is an excellent Science fiction series consisting of - Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and other People.

I think I'm going to have to reread some of these series.

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