Monday, June 29, 2015

An interesting revelation on a "Worst of Fantasy" compilation list I stumbled across

Over on there's a list of the blogger's 30 picks for Worst Fantasy Novels ever. He discusses his methodology and admits its his own list, but also makes cogent arguments for why he feels as he does about these novels.

So recently I got back into reading fantasy....something I have largely avoided for years, with the only exceptions being my George R.R. Martin stint that ended a few years back and my persistent devotion to Salvatore's Drizzt novels, although I am still stuck in the Thousand Orcs era of that series. One of the reasons I have otherwise avoided reading most fantasy out there? It seemed to be a vast field of terrible novels, and I couldn't figure out why, other than that most of the books in question seemed trite, derivative, overdone, juvenile, plain old crappy and occasionally professionally bad in that special way that only someone who can hash out a thousand-page epic can manage to achieve.

So, enter this "worst of fantasy" list I my surprise, I had read (or attempted to read) virtually every book on this list, and it is shocking to realize that it is entirely possible that my swearing off almost all fantasy fiction not written by GRRM or RAS back in the late 90's to early 00's may have been due to a poor random sampling on my part of what I was trying to read.

It's good to get some affirmation, I have to say....on the list as presented I disagree (only marginally) with two cases: I happen to like David Eddings but do agree his Belgariad series resonated much better with my young teen self, and I do like Salvatore but I'd never put his books up as pinnacles of exceptionalism.....they're fun the same way comics are fun.

But...everything else on that list? I tried to read them all (well, except #1 which postdates my exodus from fantasy, plus I am very studious in avoiding shitty ebook fiction). I remember trying to plow through the Fifth Sorceress and wondering where I had gone wrong. I tried on several occasions to get in to Terry Goodkind and figured I must be missing something because clearly this looked like a popular series. I was ranting about The Iron Tower Trilogy as a teenager, appalled at how unabashedly derivative it was.

Dragonlance? Never could get into it, even when I really tried. Same with Feist and Brooks...and Douglass, and even Drake's Lord of the Isles, which I was sure I was meant to enjoy but I just couldn't. 

It goes on, but there was a period when the "good stuff I liked" was eclipsed by the growing pile of "stuff I couldn't get in to." But I tended to assume that if I wasn't "getting" it then it was probably because I was losing interest, or the genre was played out for me...or I had too little time to really appreciate it.

Then this list comes along and like a bolt from the blue I realize: I was on an unlucky reading streak, possibly for years. I was buying all the wrong stuff, reading all the wrong books, and in the end it killed my motivation to read more fantasy fiction. My only saving grace was stumbling across A Game of Thrones when I was in the hospital getting my appendix removed....and a concerted binge-reading of Salvatore's first ten Drizzt novels, which I found compelling in a great soap-opera way. Outside of that, I gave up on fantasy fiction entirely for close to fifteen years now.

Recently I started reading Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, and picked up a few others as well (Sanderson's Mistborn, Bretts' The Warded Man and Rothfuss's Name of the Wind) and I have Joe Abercrombie on my to-get list. I may check out Brent Weeks.

If I dive back, I think now is the time for omnivorous reading habits from the pre-internet days need to be cultivated with a healthy sense of skepticism about what is out there. I have excellent "SF fiction" radar for what is good and what is not....less so for fantasy. If anyone has recommendations I welcome them....I can't help but notice, for example, that Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn is on the "reader's worst" list on the same site....sigh.


  1. read the first two IronTower books, they were derivative to the extreme but tolerable. sword of shanara....erk, didn't care for it when I was 10. The first dragonlace trilogy was awful, the second one was fairly good.

  2. Jack Vance's "Lyoness" trilogy is a great read as is "Titus Groan" and "Gormenghast" by Mervyn Peake. Try out "City of Saints and Madmen" by Jeff VanderMeer for something a bit different. Happy reading!

  3. I've read Gormenghast and a lot of Vance but not Lyoness oddly....Adding Vandemeer to the list! He pops up a lot I've noticed as a good current author. I actually have read a book by him...a Predator novel of all things.

  4. I have fond memories of the legions of Tolkien rip-offs. When I was a kid and new to Tolkien I read as many of them as I could. I wanted to recapture the same feeling of wonder I had when I read The Hobbit and the Trilogy.

    My whole game group read Shanara and we had characters based on the books. We had elfstones, we had Skullbearers running around. I adored the Iron Tower trilogy the first time I read it.

    But eventually I learned there were other stories than Tolkien rip-offs out there. I burned out on them hard and after that I couldn't read anything that felt like a Tolkien retread. I tried to re-read the Iron Tower series once, I couldn't make it through 50 pages.

    They played a good role in my budding fantasy reading and I have fond memories of them, but I have no further use for those books.