Must Reads

Enter here to tales of yore,

Everyone has their list of books that they think are amazing.  We tend to tell people that they must read these books, thus the title, must reads.  However, while there are a lot of great books out there, and a lot of books that are beneficial to read, there are relatively few books or authors that one ‘must read’.  Books/authors that one ‘must read’ are books/authors that have become foundational to a particular genre, or that have significantly changed that genre in some way.  So, I have compiled a list of ‘must reads’ for Science Fiction and Fantasy fans.  You will not that this list is relatively short (comparatively speaking) and at least a few books that you think should be on it, aren’t.  Again, these are books/authors that founded or significantly altered the genre.

Isaac Asimov: Asimov wrote numerous short stories and a number of novels.  However, he is best known for his Foundation Trilogy.  Asimov effectively founded the Science Fiction genre, and thus is definitely a must read.

J.R.R. Tolkien:  Tolkien was a prolific author, so prolific that books of his short stories and still be found and newly published by his descendants.  Best know for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien is to fantasy what Asimov is to Science Fiction.

C.S. Lewis: While not as prolific a fiction author, nor as influential to the genre as Tolkien, Lewis’s work and relationship with Tolkien are both significant to the genre.

Edgar Allan Poe: Poe is not the first person to come to mind when one thinks of sci-fi/fantasy.  His work primarily belongs to the genres of horror and mystery, but the influence of Poe’s writing is felt throughout the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres and thus he is a must read for any fan.

H.P. Lovecraft: Like Poe, Lovecraft’s writing belongs primarily in the realm of horror.  However, Lovecraft’s influence is also felt throughout all three genres, and to truly understand any of them, one must be familiar with his work.

Frank Herbert: Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune are all profoundly influential novels that have helped to shape the sci-fi genre in its entirety.  It is difficult to find a good sci-fi author (or film maker) who has not been influenced by Herbert’s work.

Of many man and dragons score,

Robert Heinlein: Like Herbert, Heinlein is a name that should be familiar to all sci-fi fans.  While Herbert dealt more with the philosophical, Heinlein’s fiction deals with practical and political concerns.  Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers are suggested.

George Orwell: While there are many great dystopian authors, Orwell is arguably the most prolific and influential (thought both Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley rank only slightly lower).  Animal Farm and 1984 are suggested.

Sir Thomas More:  More’s novel Utopia (1516) is responsible for the great flood of dystopian fiction of the 20th century.  While the novel itself is not a must read, familiarity with its ideas is important.

George Macdonald: Macdonald was a significant influence on the work of both Tolkien and Lewis, and many consider Macdonald’s writing to be the first true fantasy written for adults.  Phantastes is recommended (although my favorites have always been The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdy, though these are written for children).

Robert E. Howard: Best known for Conan The Barbarian, and his many short stories involving this character.  It is argued that Howard introduced the first protagonist with a significantly different moral structure in fantasy.

Ursula K. Leguin: The Earthsea series is almost as foundational to the development of modern fantasy as Tolkien’s work.

Terry Brooks: While his work is often as maligned as it is loved among fans of the fantasy genre, the Shannara series led a major change in the way that fantasy was published (if not the way that it was written) and opened doors for many other fantasy authors.

And of the living lands all covered in war.

Stephen R. Donaldson: Donaldson’s work in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: The Unbeliever stood side by side with Brooks’ Shannara novels in reintroducing the fantasy genre to the American public.

Glen Cook:  While Brooks and Donaldson changed the way that fantasy was published, Cook changed the way that fantasy was written.  Before Cook the fantasy genre was dominated by stories about kings, princes, and maidens.  The tales tended to revolve around men and women of significant power and influence, who changed the world.  Cook’s The Black Company changed this focus.  Cook’s series looks at fantasy through the eyes of the soldier, the mercenary, and the peasant.  Instead of great heroes, Cook’s protagonists are men and women who’s primary goal is to stay alive, and to get home with all their parts intact.

A Review of A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

This book has two great covers as well.

Last week I reviewed Patrick Rothfuss’ first book, The Name of the Wind.  This week I want to continue by reviewing it’s sequel The Wise Man’s Fear, released earlier this year.  I’m going to guess that at least a few of your went out and bought The Name of the Wind since last week, or are at least planning to, so I’ll try not to spoil anything for you, but (needless to say) Kvothe doesn’t die at the end of it.  That’s my spoiler.  Now, on to The Wise Man’s Fear.

Overall: 9.5/10

A Wise Man’s Fear isn’t quite as easy to get pulled into as The Name of the Wind.  All of the same qualities are present in the sequel to make it a great book, but everything feels a little bit more forced than the first.  This isn’t to say that it is bad, but A Wise Man’s Fear doesn’t pull you into Kvothe’s world quite as completely as its predecessor until more than halfway through the book.  However, there are a great many contributing factors.  First of all, The Wise Man’s Fear is about half again as long as The Name of the Wind, which means that it necessarily moves a little bit more slowly.  Add to this the fact that the University, fresh and new when Kvothe arrives in the first book, is now a little old hat, and you have a necessary start to the book that isn’t as exciting as it could be.  This combined with a large number of intermissions between the beginning and middle that pull us out of Kvothe’s story and into the present day lead to a slightly boring and somewhat disjointed start to the second book.  However, keep reading because, the second half of the book is stellar.

Writing: 10/10

The listening experience doesn’t changed significantly from the first to second book.  The writing still flows smoothly, and the reader does an excellent job, the primary difficulty in the first half of the book is chapter organization and subject matter.  However, much of what is somewhat boring in the first half is necessary for later in the story, so it’s worth the effort to read.

Characters: 9.5/10

Again, Rothfuss leads us deep into Kvothe’s mind and personal worldview.  Kvothe is still an excellent character, but the secondary characters in The Wise Man’s Fear are much more real than those of the first book.  Pella, Simmon, and even Devi are more fully developed, and new secondary characters like the Maer Alvaron, Tempi, and Vashet are also very well developed.  These strong secondary characters allow Kvothe to feel even more real by comparison, which leads to a more strongly character driven book.

World: 10/10

Again Rothfuss’ world is excellently developed, from the forests Vint, to Felurian’s twilight glade, to the windy hills of Ademre Rothfuss paints a picture of his world that is both believable and beautiful.  He includes a vast amount of detail that will keep world lovers dedicated for ages.  This is still where his writing shines the most, and I have not doubt that it will continue to do so.

Plot: 10/10

The plot of Kvothe’s life takes an interesting turn in this book.  I won’t say much, because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but if you are a discerning reader then you’ll probably catch the gist of it by the end of the first book, although I must admit that the execution of this twist is wonderful.

Pacing: 7/10

As I mentioned above, The Wise Man’s Fear has some pacing issues.  These aren’t difficult to overcome, the story is still interesting and the writing is still good, but almost the first half of the book left me with the feeling that Rothfuss was simply waiting until he could start the second half.  He fills the space with interesting stories, and necessary events to get from place to place, but it leaves the reader with the feeling that something is missing.

Commentary: 8.0/10

Rothfuss’ commentary in The Wise Man’s Fear was more blatant that in The Name of the Wind.  However, it reminded me of an extended version of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, with different ideas presented through cultural conflict.  Kvothe travels from the University to Severen (in Vint) and then to Felurian’s glade and then to Ademre, before returning to Severen and the University.  In his travels Kvothe encouters several different cultures, and much of the commentary in the book is presented in the form of conflicting ideas in and between these cultures, and Kvothe’s reactions.   While very different than the commentary in The Name of the Wind, the commentary in The Wise Man’s Fear is about equally well presented, with some ideas presented more strongly or completely than others.  However, like Stranger in a Strange Land, I do not agree with a lot of the commentary that Rothfuss make in this book.

Conclusion:

The Wise Man’s Fear is definitely worth reading, especially if you like The Name of the Wind, but don’t expect it to be the same book – of course, that would be boring.