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fantasy

Jan 16 2013

The Last Ringbearer

by Jesse M

The-Last-Ringbearer-by-Kirill-Eskov coverThere are two sides to every story. That’s the philosophy behind The Last Ringbearer, a tale set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth during the War of the Ring and told from the point of view of the “bad guys”. The Last Ringbearer was written by paleontologist Kirill Yeskov and published to acclaim in his native Russia in 1999. Fear of litigation by the Tolkien estate had until recently prevented its publication in English, but that changed in 2010 when Yisroel Markov posted his English translation of The Last Ringbearer as a free download. Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will note a variety of substantial differences; Sauron and the Ring of Power rate only passing mention, and hobbits are completely absent from the tale. For more information and analysis of The Last Ringbearer, take a look at this article on the subject, or this book review. Banewreaker coverReaders interested in exploring this concept of the “bad guys” as sympathetic characters with a different point of view should also check out Jacqueline Carey’s Banewreaker, the first book (along with Godslayer) in a duology titled The Sundering, which like The Last Ringbearer was inspired by and based on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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Oct 10 2011

The top 100 sci-fi and fantasy books

by Jesse M

Back in June, NPR asked readers of its website to nominate their top five science fiction and fantasy titles. Over 5,000 people responded with nominations. Of those nominees, several hundred were selected as candidates for a slot on the final list, and readers were then asked to vote on their ten favorites. Over 60,000 voters participated and, once all the result were tallied, NPR presented its list of the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy books. The winners are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary works, diverse in style and subject matter. The number one selection: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The list is an excellent readers’ advisory resource for devotees of sci-fi and fantasy who are looking for something new as well as for individuals interested in exploring one or both genres who don’t really know where to start. If you count yourself part of the latter category, the writers at the science fiction and fantasy blog SF Signal have constructed a flowchart for easy navigation of the top 100 list. You can choose to view the flowchart in one of two ways, either holistically in a large scrollable image or in an interactive format.

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Aug 24 2011

Double lives and new frontiers

by Dea Anne M

August 24th is the birthday of American science fiction author Alice Bradley Sheldon who is better known to the world by her pen name, James Tiptree Jr. Sheldon adopted the pseudonym when she began to publish science fiction around 1967. Her work won quite a bit of acclaim through the years but it wasn’t until 1977  that the public discovered that Tiptree was a woman. Apparently, Tiptree was afraid that her work would suffer negative feedback if her true gender was known and she also seemed to have concerns about exciting the wrong sort of notoriety by being a woman publishing in what had traditionally been a male-dominated genre. In an interview, Tiptree said “I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” Indeed, Alice Sheldon had been in Air Force photo-intelligence, the CIA, and had received a doctorate in experimental psychology.

Tiptree was a unique stylist who expressed an often dark vision in her fiction. Some of her more famous pieces, such as “The Women That Men Don’t See” and the novella, Houston, Houston Do You Read?,  deal with gender and sexual politics in very interesting and surprising ways. In 1991, science fiction authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler established the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an annual prize given to works of science fiction and fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender. If you’re in the mood to sample some of these award winners, DCPL has several to choose from. Some of these are:

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008), Camouflage by Joe Haldeman (2004), Set This House In Order: a romance of souls by Matt Ruff (2003), Wild Life by Molly Gloss (2000), Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey (1997), The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996), Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (I highly recommend this one!) and Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak (both books won in 1995) , Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason (1991), and White Queen by Gwyneth Jones (also 1991).

Would you like to sample Tiptree’s writing for yourself? DCPL has these titles:

Crown of Stars

Byte Beautiful: eight science fiction stories

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: the great years of James Tiptree Jr.

If you want to learn more about this brilliant and unusual writer and woman, don’t miss James Tiptree Jr.: the double life of Alice B. Sheldon. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly called this book “…a wonder: an even handed, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality…”

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Jul 1 2011

ShareReads: A Song of Ice and Fire

by Jesse M

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it. The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it. The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading. Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

***UPDATE***: You can now place reservations on A Dance With Dragons!!

T-minus 11 days until the fantasy literature event of the year, the release of A Dance With Dragons, George R. R. Martin’s long awaited (5+ years!) fifth installment in his epic, award-winning A Song of Ice and Fire series (hereafter referred to as ASOIAF). I can hardly contain my excitement!

Fellow fans of the series will understand why. Beginning with A Game of Thrones and continuing through A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows, Martin has taken readers on a wild ride across kingdoms and continents, through battles and political intrigues, and into the hearts and minds of some of the most compelling characters ever to grace the page. The high quality writing, epic scope of the series, and the sizable (and still growing) number of point-of-view characters have resulted in a large and devoted fan base who eagerly await the remaining novels and hungrily devour every scrap of news related to the series.

Map of Westeros

A fan submitted map of the continent of Westeros, where much of ASOIAF takes place. Click through for a larger image.

To help keep track of all the myriad characters and plotlines, as well as to keep themselves occupied while waiting for Martin to finish A Dance With Dragons, fans have created websites which index a variety of information pertinent to the series. In-depth character and plot analysis, maps, heraldry, and spirited discussion of various “conspiracy theories” (some plausible, some rather dubious) can be found at such sites, the two most notable being Westeros.org and Towerofthehand.com. Both sites also contain episode guides and discussion forums for the ASOIAF television adaptation, Game Of Thrones, which just recently wrapped up its first season.

But let the reader beware: plot spoilers abound on both sites, particularly in the discussion forums. While both sites do a good job compartmentalizing potential spoiler information so that users won’t accidentally browse upon it, Tower Of The Hand also has a clever system in place which lets visitors to the site indicate how many books in the series they have read (as well as how many episodes of the television program they’ve viewed) and then hides problematic articles and essays. Even so, commenters aren’t obliged to add spoiler tags, so if you aren’t all caught up, be cautious.

For those who, like myself, read all the books years ago and would like a little refresher on what’s going on before diving into A Dance With Dragons, the blog Wertzone has written an excellent four part essay on what has happened so far. Part 1 details the ancient history of the world, part 2 covers the events of the past 300 years, part 3 recollects the events of the first two books, and part 4 catches readers up with the events of the third and fourth books.

While the long, agonizing wait for A Dance With Dragons is finally coming to an end, George R. R. Martin isn’t the only author who has kept his readers in a state of frantic anticipation as they await the next installment of a beloved series. An old friend of mine told me that the gaps between installments of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series were nearly unbearable for him (the spread between the publication of first installment and seventh and final volume was a staggering 27 years!), especially after King’s accident in 1999 when he was struck by a vehicle while walking on the shoulder of the road (The injuries King sustained were so difficult to cope with that at one point he announced his retirement from the writing world before eventually reconsidering and finishing the series).

What authors/series have kept you in suspense? Was the wait ultimately worthwhile?

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May 20 2011

Food in Fantasy Literature

by Jesse M

This evening they had supped on oxtail soup, summer greens tossed with pecans, grapes, red fennel, and crumbled cheese, hot crab pie, spiced squash, and quails drowned in butter. Each dish had come with its own wine. Lord Janos allowed that he had never eaten half so well.
A Clash of Kings

Have you ever read a passage in a fantasy novel describing a hearty meal the characters are about to consume, and found your mouth watering? If so, you’re in good company. Many readers, intrigued (and hungry!) after learning what their favorite characters have been eating, have decided to try their hand at preparing the dishes referenced in books they’ve enjoyed. The passage quoted above, along with the spread of food pictured, is courtesy of a blog called The Inn at the Crossroads, a reference to an inn featured in the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. There are numerous descriptions of food throughout the books in the series, and the authors of the blog have featured over two dozen dishes thus far, each with mouth-watering illustrations and accompanied by the relevant passage from the book in addition to recipes for the dishes. In many cases, two recipes are presented; one medieval version along with a more modern variation.

The bloggers behind Inn at the Crossroads are the most recent in a long line of chefs who have prepared dishes inspired by their reading material. For instance, recipes for food from the seminal Lord of the Rings trilogy (such as Lembas, the highly nutritious elven bread) are featured on a number of websites, one of the best known of which is Middle-Earth recipes. Fans of the Dragonlance series of books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman might like to try Otik’s spiced potatoes, a recipe for which can be found here. And no list of fantasy literature cuisine would be complete without mentioning the delectable descriptions of foodstuffs from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. The meals described in the various books of the series were so appealing to fans that in 2005 Jacques published The Redwall Cookbook, which featured recipes for some of the most appetizing dishes.

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Apr 27 2011

Only The Worst!

by Joseph M

In past entries, we’ve talked about how the jacket covers can tell you something about when a book was published as well as provide vital clues as to the identity of a book which resists identification by other means.

Today I’d like to mention a website devoted to showcasing the most bizarre, inexplicable, and just plain bad science fiction and fantasy book covers out there. It’s called Good Show Sir, and it is billed as “Only the worst Sci-fi/Fantasy book covers”.

The pictures are hilarious, and the commentary even more so! I find it highly amusing. Can you think of any book covers that are so bad they are good?

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Mar 11 2011

A Dance With Dragons

by Jesse M

Big news for fantasy fans: author George R. R. Martin has announced an official publication date for the long awaited fifth installment of his celebrated A Song of Ice and Fire series! Originally slated to be published in 2007, A Dance With Dragons will finally be on shelves by July 12 of this year.  But the good news doesn’t end there.
Martin has also been hard at work adapting a miniseries, “A Game of Thrones“, based on his novels for HBO. The first episode will debut in just over a month, on April 17. HBO has just released a trailer for the series, which you can watch here.

For those not in the know, George R. R. Martin is a prolific and acclaimed author of science fiction and fantasy. Dubbed “the American Tolkien” by TIME magazine, he also possesses the distinction of being my favorite fantasy writer of all time. You can read more about the author and his work at his website, and learn more about the world in which the novels are set here.

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Apr 16 2010

Fantasy Fiction: It’s Fantastic!

by Jesse M

In today’s post I’ll be focusing on fantasy fiction, a venerable genre that has experienced an explosion in popularity in recent years. As Wikipedia explains, fantasy is a genre that uses magic and other supernatural forms as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. Fantasy is often grouped together with it’s sibling genres (horror and science fiction) under the umbrella of speculative fiction, or SF, as they all share similarities. Generally speaking, what sets fantasy apart is an avoidance of scientific or macabre themes.

Fantasy has always been one of my great loves. I grew up in a fantasy friendly household; my parents owned a well-thumbed set of the Lord of The Rings trilogy as well as several of the cartoon film adaptations (such as The Hobbit), all of which I heartily enjoyed. Learning to read in kindergarten and first grade, I slowly developed my new found skills by consuming juvenile literature and comic books, but it wasn’t until my second grade year that my reading abilities really blossomed. The catalyst occurred when my older half-brother introduced me to his stash of fantasy novels while I was visiting on vacation. I was instantly hooked. I devoured all the books in his collection, including such seminal works as Weis & Hickman’s Dragons of Winter Night and Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard. Upon arriving back home from vacationing, I dragged my mother around to numerous bookstores and hobby shops, doing my best to acquire more books to satisfy my growing hunger for fantasy fiction.

That hunger has remained with me to the present day, and luckily the modern fantasy fiction landscape features an abundance of talented, prolific authors available to satisfy my cravings. In fact, a couple of recent articles have noted that the genre is experiencing a boom. Continually rising annual sales have given it the distinction of being the biggest genre in publishing, and the plethora of talented young authors in the field promising a high volume of quality works in the years to come.

If fantasy is a genre you might be interested in, allow me to recommend a few of my favorites.

Fans of the epic fantasy produced by J.R.R. Tolkien might enjoy Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey, the first of two novels wherein the majority of the protagonists are individuals that are considered “evil” by the rest of the world. Jacqueline Carey is also the author of the Kushiel series of novels, which I highly recommend.

Quite at odds with the Tolkien-esque variety of fantasy fiction is that produced by China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station, a multiple award winning book set in the city-state of New Crobuzon and featuring a cast of exotic and alien characters, magic (thaumaturgy) and steampunk technology. Miéville describes his work as “weird fiction“, and it is, but it is all the more pleasurable for it. A must read.


George R. R. Martin
currently holds the distinction of being my favorite fantasy author. His Song of Ice and Fire series has won numerous awards (the first three novels each received the Locus Award) and garnered accolades for it’s richly detailed setting, incredibly complex and numerous characters (as well as the ruthlessness with which he is willing to kill off major characters as the plot advances), and epic scope. The first book in the series is titled A Game of Thrones and I can’t suggest it forcefully enough! There is one caveat, however; the series isn’t finished yet, with another three volumes still to come, so prepare yourself for a painstaking wait after you’ve finished reading the currently published material.

And finally, no list of fantasy novels would be complete without a mention of the Harry Potter series of books by J.K. Rowling. This series, both the books and movies, has had a profound effect on the fantasy genre by inculcating a whole new generation of children with a love of reading in general and fantasy fiction in particular. It is difficult to overstate its impact and it will remain relevant in the world of literature for many years to come.

I’ll have to stop there due to space constraints, but your exploration of the fantasy genre can continue! A great place to start is this article profiling the “20 greatest fantasy writers of all time”. Check it out.

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Mar 31 2010

Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack

by Nancy M

Rapunzel’s Revenge takes the well-known Brothers Grimm tale and re-imagines it into an exciting western whose main damsel is anything but distressed. Yes, this redheaded Rapunzel too gets locked away, but instead of waiting around for prince charming to save her, she passes the time training herself to use her excessively long locks as weapons. Her first order of business? Using her braids to repel herself to freedom. Once free, she pairs up with outlaw Jack and his Golden Goose, who help her battle it out with villains and ferocious creatures all while seeking revenge on Mother Gothel, the evil woman who stole Rapunzel from her mother, locked her up and is now wreaking magical havoc in the land.  This completely engrossing and exciting graphic novel brought to you by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean, is complete with bright illustrations and a fantastic cast of characters.

Recently published and available at the Library is Calamity Jack, another graphic novel adventure brought to you by the Hales. This second book again pairs Rapunzel and Jack, this time with the focus on the scheming Jack and just how he got mixed up with that beanstalk and Giant in the first place.

These wonderfully imaginative books are perfect for middle readers who like adventure, fantasy and fairytales and they would also be great for reluctant readers.

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Jan 22 2010

Time Travel Fiction

by Jesse M

time-machine DCPLive imageIn this week’s post, I will discuss one of the most interesting and variable of genres, time travel fiction. For our purposes, time travel simply means either going forward or backward in time (for a more detailed explanation of time travel, go here). Time travel fiction can generally be divided into two distinct catagories, time travel fantasy vs. time travel science fiction. Generally, the categorization is made based upon the method of time travel; stories involving time travel devices and technologies are considered part of the science fiction genre, whereas stories that involve time travel through supernatural, magical, or unexplained means are considered part of the fantasy genre. Additionally, time travel science fiction is more likely to concern itself with the possible consequences of time travel, such as the Grandfather Paradox.

While time travel fiction has been around for centuries (many different cultures possess ancient myths and folktales in which the characters engage in something akin to forward time travel; examples include the Hindu account of King Kakudmi and the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro), it was in the 1800s that the genre came into its own. One of the earliest examples of time travel in fiction takes place in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (the ghosts of Christmas past and future serve as the medium by which the travel occurs, putting this into the time travel fantasy category). The latter part of the century saw the publication of the seminal time travel novel, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, in which the protagonist builds a device which carries him to the far future, and eventually back again. The book marked the first appearance of a “time machine”, a term coined by Wells, and as such can be considered the first time travel science fiction novel (this is not entirely accurate, actually The Time Machine was his second published work involving the concept of time travel, the first being a short story titled The Chronic Argonauts, however The Time Machine was more successful and is responsible for popularizing the genre). Other novels published in the 1800s involving time travel include A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (which is an excellent example of time travel fantasy, as no explanation for the time travel is ever provided, and despite the protagonist’s introduction of ideas and technology well in advance of the time period, there is no examination of the potential consequences of this) by Mark Twain, and Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, the third largest best-seller of its time, which features a young American male who falls into a hypnotic sleep and wakes over 100 years in the future.

[read the rest of this post…]

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