[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
If there is one thing fantastika has a-plenty, this thing is called the Saga. Unrestrained by the so-called “reality” that plagues mainstream literature, SF, Fantasy, and Horror genres have told us since time immemorial stories that span large swathes of space and time, creating in the best cases new epic legends – or at the very least giving us readers (or spectators, in the case of film or TV series) unforgettable moments of joy and fun. So we asked this week’s panelists:
Here’s what they said…
“Of all time” is a difficult qualifier because my tastes are constantly changing.
Still, here’s a brief list of series that I want to mention:
Empire Trilogy by Janny Wurts and Raymond E. Feist: I really consider this Wurts’s writing more than Feist’s, and she subverts the D&D-esque setting the latter established in the Riftwar Saga by fleshing out the details of her non-European culture. The politics is a precursor to many modern epic fantasies like The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire, and reading about a blatantly Asian-influenced culture was more than welcome. (Also, if you’re familiar with the Collectible Card Game and RPG Legend of the Five Rings, these novels immediately capture the flavor of that world.)
Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb: I consider Hobb’s Liveship Traders series to be superior to her Farseer series and she successfully juggles in-depth characterization of various characters. That and you have a seafaring narrative (how many of our epic fantasies take place in landlocked continents?) filled with adventure, economics, and political intrigue.
Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey: This is both subversion and guilty pleasure. Carey creates a fascinating cosmology based on Jewish folklore and convincingly creates a culture whose moral norms are vastly different from our (Western/Christian/Catholic) own. It’s also interesting how Carey’s protagonist solves/eludes danger, a far cry from your stereotypical male hero.
Well-Built City Trilogy by Jeffrey Ford: What’s interesting with Ford is that despite being part of a trilogy, each of these novels accomplishes something different. What starts out in a frontier setting soon takes place in a fantastic dreamscape. It’s atypical fantasy that’s unique and different and carries Ford’s unique writing style.
Ambergris series by Jeff VanderMeer: Much like Ford, VanderMeer’s books are vastly, vastly different from each other and unique works in of themselves. What’s great with Ambergris is that VanderMeer makes the most out of his setting, exploring it in different periods of time and giving various recurring characters various layers of depth. Ambergris can be noir. It can be high fantasy. It depends on the book you’re reading and what frame of mind you’re in. Ambergris is rife with potential and VanderMeer isn’t done mining it.
Discworld by Terry Pratchett: It’s massive. There’s dozens of books. Each sub-series has its own themes, agenda, and cast of characters. You can’t describe Discworld with just one word because it encapsulates so many sub-genres depending on the series or book you’re reading.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin: Been reading it since the 2000’s. It’s a fantastic epic with a huge cast of characters, a never-ending ability to surprise, and deals with every human problem imaginable (politics, economics, subtle and overt threats, etc.)
Tales From the Flath Earth by Tanith Lee. It begins with Night’s Master (1978) and features a series of interconnected stories all set in a fantasy world and clustered around Azhrarn, the Prince of Demons who rules Innerearth. Azhrarn is beautiful, cruel and toys with humans in the way a child might delight himself by squishing ants. But he’s also magnetic, charming and even benevolent. His schemes and games of sorcery – and their impact on humanity – form the core of the narrative. And if you thought Martin’s books were the first to plunge fantasy into the adult and sexy side of the equation, you’re wrong. Lee did it before.
The rest of the books (Death’s Master, Delusions Master, Delirium’s Mistress and Night’s Sorceries) introduce the other Lords of Darkness, who are often in conflict with Azhrarn. There are horses that ride over water, gods, beautiful women with snakes instead of hair, fire elementals, the inhabitants of an undersea kingdom, angels and more.
The books were hard to come by in the past, but have been reissued in the last couple of years by Norilana under its TaLeKa imprint and a sixth volume titled Earth’s Master is forthcoming. Unlike other series, however, the books can all be read as individual volumes.
Tanith Lee also wrote the Paradys books, which, like Flat Earth, consist mainly of interconnected stories centering around a city, an alternate Paris with fantastic, Gothic elements.
This is a tough one to answer for me, because my immediate thought was Dune. But that’s not really true. I loved Dune itself, but the subsequent Frank Herbert books left me cold. They just weren’t as rich as the original. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was in high school and home with mono. I had a fever of 104. I’m not sure if I read what was on the page or was in some kind of weird fever dream. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia until the last book, when Lewis hit us over the head with the Christian allegory. At 12, I hated that.
So…I’ll have to go with my fav from that 12th summer, when I was reading everything possible. Tarzan: Lord of the Apes. I read every single Tarzan book Burroughs wrote. Oh, and L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, and all the follow-ups. Come to think of it, I read those that summer as well. Quite the sf/f summer for me, if a bit old-fashioned, even at the time.
Interesting. I like other sagas/series, but I haven’t enjoyed the newer ones as much as I enjoyed those from my childhood. (Now if we were talking mystery series, boy, would I have a list for you.)
Don’t read this one, it’s boring banality: Star Wars, the original trilogy. First of all, I was a boy when I watched the first one, later called “Episode IV: A New Hope”. I would not be honest to that boy, who saw this film probably 20 times during the first year of screening, and then a good couple dozen times as he grew to become me. This saga has it all, jungian archetypes and good old swashbuckling, Harrison Ford’s smile and epic battles in space. I even thing it’s a good vehicle to discuss very serious issues of the contemporary world, like: when your government tells you “give up your freedoms for security reasons”, isn’t it exactly the way of thinking that got Palpatine elected?