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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Compression and decompression

The producers of A Game of Thrones learned the wrong lessons from George Martin's mistakes:
Too often over the last three seasons—particularly since “Hardhome” in season five, when the series began to chart its own course—the show’s secondary characters and plots have seemed lost. Game of Thrones just doesn’t have time for anyone who isn’t Jon, Daenerys, or the Night King anymore. The show has shed George R.R. Martin’s most frustrating tics, which ultimately weighed his story down: his insistence on meticulous world-building, on resisting deus ex machina resolutions, and on subverting fantasy tropes. But in racing toward the end—in giving fans the resolution they have demanded—Game of Thrones has over-learned from Martin’s mistakes, taking the story too far in the other direction.

Paradoxically, the show has also become grander, more ambitious than any television series before it. Season seven was cut to only seven episodes, as opposed to the ordinary ten, presumably to pay for all the action. Its showrunners needed money for its first naval battle, a dragon assault on the Lannister army, round two between Jon and the Night King, and, most spectacularly, an undead dragon taking down an 8,000-year-old magic wall made of ice. But for all of their scope and masterful aesthetic execution (particularly in the case of the horribly named “Loot Train Battle”), these scenes all lacked the punch of “Hardhome,” when Jon first confronts the Night King and the show’s stakes at long last come into view.

This is because they were in keeping with the show’s post-“Hardhome” modus operandi: moving pieces around to prepare for a final sprint to the finish. The naval battle at the beginning of season seven served to eliminate the Sand Snakes (who never worked anyway) and kick into gear Theon’s redemption arc (which was then ignored for the next several episodes). The assault on Casterly Rock came about for no other reason than to even the odds by taking the Unsullied out of the picture, though they reappeared in the finale with no explanation.

Most egregiously, the “Frozen Lake Battle” (also horribly named) was necessitated by a plan to capture a wight that made absolutely no sense at all. The reason for its existence was to neatly get things done, in this case to give the Night King a dragon and to provide an excuse for finally bringing all the show’s far-flung characters together. As well-executed as many of these plot developments were, they never arose naturally from the show’s characters—instead they were imposed by the show’s writers, who are suddenly very pressed for time....

The show’s other standouts have been largely abandoned or turned into secondary figures, including the Starks. The culmination of the Littlefinger plot was thrilling, but overall it was narrative thumb-twiddling, a way to take a character off the board while giving something for Arya and Sansa to do while Jon was away.

The sad truth is that this is probably where the novels are going as well. Martin has concocted many of his characters to buy time for his primary story. It is Martin’s great strength that so many of them—including a number who never made it into the show—are so rich and real, but they too are ultimately extraneous to the main plot revolving around Jon and Dany.
Although I am contemptuous of George Martin as an individual, and although I am increasingly confident that ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT will eventually be seen by most fans of epic fantasy to be considerably superior to A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE once both series are finished, I continue to look on the books and the HBO series alike as a tremendous learning experience, if not an irreplaceable one.

The truth is that I'm grateful to Martin for the various mistakes he has made. Without the tedious debacle that was A Dance with Dragons, I never would have even thought about daring to begin my own epic fantasy. And without his spiraling out of control thanks to the introduction of 13 new perspective characters, bringing him to a total of 22 in one book, I would never have learned the importance of keeping them under such tight discipline. Without his foolish decision to go back and untie the Mereen Knot, I would not have grasped the importance of allowing the greater story to flow naturally, and not getting caught up in always explaining exactly what happened to whom.

Here is what most readers, even most writers, simply don't realize. Writing epic fantasy is very difficult. I would estimate that it's about 5x more difficult than writing a novel of normal size, not counting the extra time required to account for the additional length. Not only that, but periodically publishing large books is the exact opposite of what a writer should do if he wants to maximize his book sales in the current environment. So, most writers simply cannot write epic fantasy, and even if they happen to possess the ability, they can't afford to do so.

Then factor in the fact that several of those who have actually written epic fantasy have done so in the form of cheap Tolkien knockoffs, which provide no useful lessons to the aspiring epic writer, and perhaps you'll understand why I appreciate the chance to learn from GRRM in real time. Here is how I rank the writers of epic fantasy:
  1. JRR Tolkien
  2. Stephen Donaldson (Covenant)
  3. Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance Legends)
  4. David Eddings (Belgariad)
  5. Glen Cook
  6. Steven Erikson
  7. Raymond Feist
  8. George RR Martin
  9. Joe Abercrombie
  10. CS Friedman
  11. Tad Williams
  12. Daniel Abraham
  13. Brandon Sanderson
  14. R. Scott Bakker
  15. Melanie Rawn
  16. Terry Brooks
  17. Peter Brett
  18. Mark Lawrence
  19. Robert Jordan
  20. Terry Goodkind
  21. Christopher Paolini
Obviously, your mileage may vary, as may what you consider to be "epic fantasy". I would have Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, Tanith Lee, and Anne McCaffrey all ranked above Dragonlance, but their work is better categorized in other categories. It's rather amusing to see how many "best epic fantasy" lists feature works with descriptions that begin "okay, it's not actually epic fantasy, but [insert other sub-genre here]|.

I don't know where AODAL will end up once it is complete. Towards the top, I hope. But there is only one way to find out, and that is to finish Vols. II through V.

UPDATE: as you would expect, the clueless mediocrities at File 770 don't even understand what Epic Fantasy is and is not, nor do they realize that the Dragonlance Legends and the Belgariad merit recognition for their authors in themselves, even though the Dragonlance Chronicles, the DeathGate Cycle, and the Malloreon do not merit similar respect. It's about peak series achievement, not average.

If you're not an author of epic fantasy yourself, you may not realize what Weis & Hickman and Eddings accomplished and somehow managed to make look so easy. I tend to doubt it is a coincidence that they are some of the only epic fantasy authors who were actually able to put together legitimate second and third attempts, even though they were considerably less successful in doing so.

I would be willing to entertain the possibility that David Gemmell belongs on this list. I'd probably rank him somewhere between Glen Cook and Raymond Feist if he did. None of the other authors I saw mentioned there merit inclusion, with the possible exception of NK Jemisin, who would fit below Jordan and above Paolini.

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197 Comments:

Anonymous Looking Glass August 30, 2017 8:18 AM  

The one thing about Epic Fantasy is the word-smithing aspect is different from a singular novel. It's part of the reason when writers start really liking their world, they start dragging on... and on... and you become Robert Jordan. It points to the need for a very different Layout & Planning approach to the cycle of novels.

The writer has to find the right balance of Expansiveness. Since we live in a post-Tolkien age, where all is compared to it, finding that balance is hard. Which would also explain why everyone is trying to copy the dearly departed professor.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 30, 2017 8:21 AM  

In my experience, the story's characters, once established, write the rest of the adventure. The story may have a beginning, a middle and an end, and the narrative intensity may wax and relax in a preset pattern, but the characters provide the fine-focus. If the characters are artificial, the story is flat.

I agree that writing epic fiction well is extremely difficult. It is much easier to write a story set in a world with which people are innately familiar.

Just curious: has any story you've written taken turns you didn't anticipate, until the character(s) dictated them?

Blogger The Kurgan August 30, 2017 8:22 AM  

All you said about epic fantasy and the need to keep all the subplotlines straight so they make sense into the overall arching central plot line applies also to epic SF.

Which is what I am personally struggling with.
I can churn out 15,000 words in a day when I am in good form but I need my brain clear of any other thing. I envy you your ability to type out 500 a day and making it make sense, if that's what you do. My epic SF has been stuck for nearly 3 years because I haven't had the mental freedom to be sure to pick up all the threads and continue them as I'd started.

But we do these things not because it is easy, but because it makes SJWs cry.

Blogger dc.sunsets August 30, 2017 8:23 AM  

Just curious: has any story you've written taken turns you didn't anticipate, until the character(s) dictated them?
Sorry. I realized you answered this in your last paragraph.

Blogger Freelance Teacher August 30, 2017 8:28 AM  

Book 4 in the GRRM series was awful. Not only dull, but who cared about the Greyjoy and their Kingsmoot process? What? I thought Book 5 was clearly better as it got back on track and dealt with important stuff. My main curiosity is to see how the book sales will go now that the shows are ahead.

Blogger Sam Spade August 30, 2017 8:29 AM  

It's great that we have AOD&L thanks to ASOIAF decline. Your first book was better than Game of thrones. And GOT was very good in my opinion.

Your series supernatural lore and plot seems much better. Martin's one is zombies controled by an overpowered necromancer with no personality, motivations or interesting origin.

One of the things I liked the most in A Throne of Bones was all surrounding the supernatural antagonist. And I suppose is going to be expanded. More interesting and mature that a lvl 20 epic D&D sorcerer whose stupid enemies gift a Dragon to be even more overpowered.

Anonymous NH August 30, 2017 8:35 AM  

VD

When you write epic fantasy, do you have your end in mind from start, plot-wise or with the emotions you want to evoke?

Blogger Unknown August 30, 2017 8:39 AM  

Curious to know if VD has read Son of the Black Sword by Larry Corriea. ILOH does a respectable job of writing in that one, with more books to come. About a third as thick as either of Throne of Bones or A Sea of Skulls, though.

Blogger Aeoli Pera August 30, 2017 8:41 AM  

There's a precedent for this situation in the anime Fullmetal Alchemist. The show got ahead of the comic and they had to hack a nonsensical ending together. The comic's ending made a lot more sense (the whole thing is an allegory about hermeticists and fiat currency) but there were too many characters, story arcs, etc. and it really could have used some serious post-facto editing.

Anonymous NH August 30, 2017 8:41 AM  

DC.sunsets

Sorry. I realized you answered this in your last paragraph.

I took it to mean in terms of ranking against the others, not in storyline.

And you can always know the final destinations without yet knowing the details and vice versa. Fitzgerald for example worried if he could get all his characters to where he needed them to go to create an effect, if I recall.

Blogger Aeoli Pera August 30, 2017 8:42 AM  

Unknown wrote:Curious to know if VD has read Son of the Black Sword by Larry Corriea. ILOH does a respectable job of writing in that one, with more books to come. About a third as thick as either of Throne of Bones or A Sea of Skulls, though.

He did, and IIRC said it indicates Correia has matured into a quite good author.

Anonymous 2106 Things I Hate August 30, 2017 8:45 AM  

Pleasantly surprised to see Weis&Hickman ranked as highly as they are by you. I always thought the Dragonlance series, the War of the Twins trilogy in particular, was underrated.

Likewise, I would put Susan Cooper's Time Master trilogy above the Dragonlance work.

Some lessons are lessons of example: I have avoided GoT precisely because of reading other's (whom I respect) critiques.

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 8:52 AM  

Eddings above Sanderson? Nah. (Although I read Sanderson just for the clever magic tricks, not for the characters who are almost universally annoying.)

It's remarkable how bad most epic fantasy is. Dragonlance is not, by any stretch of the imagination, good literature, and VD ranked it #3. I think this is a fair rank due to its large influence, but that still says nothing good about the genre as a whole.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 8:54 AM  

Curious to know if VD has read Son of the Black Sword by Larry Corriea

Yes. I quite liked it. I don't consider it to be epic fantasy, though.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 8:57 AM  

It's remarkable how bad most epic fantasy is.

The same thought struck me. But then I realized, that's simply because it is so hard. There is a reason the series tend to begin well, relatively speaking, then go downhill.

Trust me, I am VERY aware of this tendency. And I am doing my level best to fight it. The Extended Edition of ASOS should provide a clue as to whether I am doing so successfully or not.

When you write epic fantasy, do you have your end in mind from start, plot-wise or with the emotions you want to evoke?

The very end, yes. Everything else, no. I mean, I just figured out where I wanted Skuli's story to go last week. And it was mostly written already; I just had to throw out one bit that was incompatible.

Blogger PoseidonAwoke August 30, 2017 9:00 AM  

@Vox

I'm re-reading Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, which I read for the first time around 1980, when I was 11. Lot's of action, only a single perspective character and seems a bit thin on story, but enjoyable read (and no incest or rape so far).

What do you think of Zelazny in general?

Blogger B.J. August 30, 2017 9:02 AM  

Martin is giving all the signs he's done with this story. Writing endless prequels and side stories, developing spin-off shows about the prequels and side stories, developing shows based on other author's works, etc. Why spend years on grueling writing to cover the same ground as the show, knowing only 1/10 as many people will read it? I'm betting we'll get a "heres how I would have done it differently" summary while the books go on "hiatus" indefinitely.

The story is just too much of a mess. There's no fixing it without either doing what the show has done and taking an axe to the side plots (which Martin is not capable of doing) or putting the hammer down and writing 17 more books to cover every possible little detail like he feels compelled to do. No more money in that, so why bother?

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 9:03 AM  

@14
Yes, the more I think about the process the less it's something I feel equipped or interested to attempt.

In looking over my selection, all of my favorite fantasy with the exception of Lord of the Rings comes from "children's" authors (L'Engle, Alexander, Cooper, Lewis, etc), and pulps.

Anonymous Laz August 30, 2017 9:16 AM  

I would put Sanderson over Jordan too. He did better writing Jordan's story that Jordan did.

Blogger Ken Prescott August 30, 2017 9:16 AM  

"And without his spiraling out of control thanks to the introduction of 13 new perspective characters, bringing him to a total of 22 in one book, I would never have learned the importance of keeping them under such tight discipline."

THIS.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 9:17 AM  

What do you think of Zelazny in general?

I am a very big fan. I love The Chronicles of Amber and a number of his other works, particularly Lord of Light. But, again, not epic fantasy.

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 9:21 AM  

I love that Terry Goodkind is dead last. I was a big Goodkind fanboy when I was a lot younger, and the first couple of books are... still terrible, but also have fun moments. They started getting hilariously bad early on; and a few years after the "end" of the series he went back and started writing even more. To say that they read like fanfiction would be a lie; most fanfic writers could have easily done a better job.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 9:23 AM  

It's kind of remarkable to see that in KENP terms, the ARTS OF DARK AND LIGHT now amount to 3,038 pages. That will be 3,708 by Christmas.

Blogger Zarathustra's Bastard August 30, 2017 9:24 AM  

Loved Throne of Bones, Vox. Thought I was well past feeling immersed in fiction, especially fantasy. The apparent historicity of the Amorrans revitalises the familiar elf/dwarf/orc fantasy ecology. The fight scenes, in particular, were more compelling than any I've read (I had to break 'The Crows' into two sittings it was so harrowing.) Also loved the way you weaved the sociosexual hierarchy stuff through the narrative.

Anonymous Looking Glass August 30, 2017 9:24 AM  

Part of the issue with Epic Fantasy is that the journey to Rivendell might be the most engrossing openings to a fiction book ever. However, that chunk of sheer brilliance hides the fact that LOTR was resting on decades of world-building, which was then rewritten several times. The end result is actually a book of fiction with functionally doesn't operate as fiction in the traditional sense. It's really a very well written history book in a different world, with so much detail that it seems little different than a Middle Ages journey.

I was traveling the first time I was reading all the way through LOTR, and I popped up somewhere in the Two Towers to remind myself that Middle Earth isn't a real place. One simply can't buy a copy of the Red Book of Westmarch.

Anonymous Looking Glass August 30, 2017 9:26 AM  

Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP).

Anonymous Anchorman August 30, 2017 9:31 AM  

I think the writers killed off Littlefinger because they knew they couldn't write that character's level of manipulation. Rather than expose their lack of talent, they eliminated the issue.

Expect more of the same. Flattened characters, telegraphed or (worse) nonsensical betrayals, and grrrl power (the clear over-reaction to the bad press they took following the rapes).

Blogger Mike X August 30, 2017 9:31 AM  

@VD

What about Gene Wolfe? Didn't read him or don't consider him epic fantasy?

Blogger Zaklog the Great August 30, 2017 9:35 AM  

Hmmm, by that list, I simply have not consumed much epic fantasy at all. I've read The Lord of the Rings and I'm reading Sanderson's Stormlight books, but that's about it. I started the Thomas Covenant series, but dropped the first book in disgust before I was even halfway through. The main character was just so . . . unpleasant. Terry Brooks, I've read a few of his books, and something about him just rubs me the wrong way, although I can't point to specifically what it is.

Blogger modsquad August 30, 2017 9:36 AM  

A) Martin expressed a long time ago he didn't intend to take the story this far. There's a difference between writing something because you want to, and writing because someone pulled a dump truck full of money up to your house.

B) The staff writers have had two weak pillars once the show passed the novels. It's more difficult to write dialogue for someone else's creation. The staff writer has to consider, "What would Martin have them say in this case?" The second pillar is simply if they were as creative as Martin, they'd be writing their own material as opposed to interpreting someone else's.

C) The elephant in the room is that the tv show has converged. Women rule(d) many of the Houses in Westeros... Cercei, Lyanna Mormont, Ellaria Sand, Lysa Arryn, etc. Dany rules over neutered men and blood riders.

Brienne of Tarth has fought Jaime to a stalemate, defeated The Hound and all other comers. Euron Greyjoy, badass pirate, is an orbiter to Cersei. He's repeatedly committed men and resources to her in hopes he might get to marry her one day. Jorah Mormont has orbited Dany for years. Baelish orbited Kat Stark for decades, then repeated the process with Sansa. Arya was able to take what knowledge she could from the Faceless Men then walked away from them without penalty or consequence.

And Dany, who took control of the Sullies with a double cross and the Dothraki by burning their leaders in a wood hut, is now gunning for the Iron Throne so she can lead the world to becoming a "better place." She's Antifa with dragons.

The exact people who are turning against GoT now are the same people who've been red pilled. Most just haven't understand yet the 'why' behind their discontent.

P.S. Anyone who writes a story covering four or five thousand pages will be guaranteed critics finding plot holes, inconsistencies, boring secondary storylines and repetitious behavior.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 9:40 AM  

What about Gene Wolfe? Didn't read him or don't consider him epic fantasy?

The latter. I don't know if there is a word for what he does.

Blogger Ron Winkleheimer August 30, 2017 9:42 AM  

In regards to Weis and Hickman, has anyone here read __The Deathgate_Cycle__? Opinions? I haven't read Dragonlance, but thought TDC was pretty good.

Blogger fuzzracer August 30, 2017 9:45 AM  

I'm surprised you don't rate R. Scott Bakker higher. Needlessly cruel and rapey? Some other reason?

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 9:51 AM  

Needlessly cruel and rapey? Some other reason?

Bakker has his moments, but his characterizations are mediocre, his excessive fascination with sex and rape is juvenile, and he fantasizes about a handjob from his mommy.

And his nihilism renders everything irrelevant anyhow.

Anonymous Basket of Deplorables August 30, 2017 9:52 AM  

Vox, I know you're objective is to beat Rape Rape (at least #8) and that knocking JRR out of the top spot (#1) is unachievable. Which spot do you think you can realistically achieve if your vision is executed with your best efforts?

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 9:52 AM  

@28
Same. After the rape scene I (metaphorically) threw the book across the room. Never looked back.

I've read a lot of epic fantasy, but besides Sanderson I can hardly stand the stuff now. I need to revisit ATOB; I didn't love it the first time, but may just not have been in the mood for epic fantasy when I read it.

Anonymous Anchorman August 30, 2017 9:54 AM  

Hmmm, by that list, I simply have not consumed much epic fantasy at all.

I'm not, either. However, years ago VD published a list of best works and turned me on to Abercrombie/First Law Trilogy. I liked them.

Blogger Dave August 30, 2017 9:55 AM  

How do you qualify epic? Obviously not just length or volumes.

Anonymous Ryan ATL August 30, 2017 9:56 AM  

do you guys think the dead army's goal is total annihilation of all things south or do they have some kind of (probably bs) target or goal in mind?

Blogger Monty James August 30, 2017 10:03 AM  

I don't frequently read epic fantasy, so thanks for the list. Looks like something I can use to catch up.

Any thoughts on the David Drake "Isles" series?

Blogger Harry Goldblatt MD August 30, 2017 10:15 AM  

That Steven Erikson is even on that list boggles the mind. Gardens of the Moon is by far the most poorly written novel I have ever read (and I have made my way through some clunkers).
Even more obscene is the £675,000 advance he received to continue writing this saga.
As I read Robert E. Howard, I come to appreciate his raw talent for setting a scene in a few precise sentences. This ability seems to be in low demand these days. Sad.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 10:16 AM  

do you guys think the dead army's goal is total annihilation of all things south or do they have some kind of (probably bs) target or goal in mind?

They just want to get in on all the rape, presumably.

Anonymous a_peraspera August 30, 2017 10:23 AM  

You like Eddings? Lolcuck

Blogger Jon D. August 30, 2017 10:28 AM  

Nice post on the genre. Game of Thrones doesn't even make my top list and not just starting with A Dance With Dragons, but A Feast For Crows was where I couldn't even get through the beginning of it. I really struggled to get through the third book as it was and so I quit the series entirely.

And yes it always boggles my mind when people make these "best of" lists that don't actually have the correct genre books in it. They seem to just want to shoehorn their favorite books regardless of category most of the time.

My favorite epic fantasy by series goes as follows, though I don't read a ton of it because of the time investment involved and the usual lack of payoff for such verbose works. I endorse all of these, however:

1. The Wheel Of Time
2. Lord Of The Rings
3. Mistborn
4. Arts of Dark And Light
5. Riyria Chronicles
6. Stormlight Archives
7. Shannara

And A Song Of Ice And Fire wouldn't even make my recommended list.

Blogger James Dixon August 30, 2017 10:29 AM  

> But there is only one way to find out, and that is to finish Vols. II through V.

Yeah, about that... :)

> I started the Thomas Covenant series, but dropped the first book in disgust before I was even halfway through. The main character was just so . . . unpleasant.

He doesn't get any better. The stories almost make it worth putting up with him. Almost.

Blogger rondolf August 30, 2017 10:30 AM  

What I most enjoy about AODAL is the sense of actual tactical and strategic thinking, whereas most fiction authors set up obvious pre-ordained scenarios that we are supposed to pretend are an organic part of he story. Helps maintain immersion immensely. Looking forward to 3-5.

Blogger James Dixon August 30, 2017 10:34 AM  

Vox, have you read the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, and would you rate it as epic fantasy?

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 10:39 AM  

Vox, have you read the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, and would you rate it as epic fantasy?

Yes. No. It's alternate world High Fantasy.

Anonymous Taco Town August 30, 2017 10:39 AM  

I'm surprised you put Dragonlance so high. It hasn't really aged well in my opinion, and it can be very trite in places if you aren't familiar with Dungeons and Dragons and bought into that mythology ahead of time.

I thought it was great when I read it at age 15, but when I tried to read it again at 34 I found it quite painful.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 10:40 AM  

You like Eddings? Lolcuck

When you wonder why you don't have any friends, refer yourself to this comment.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 10:43 AM  

I'm surprised you put Dragonlance so high. It hasn't really aged well in my opinion, and it can be very trite in places if you aren't familiar with Dungeons and Dragons and bought into that mythology ahead of time.

I think between the two Chronicles and Legends trilogies, the place is merited. There has been a tremendous amount of garbage published since, of course. Legends is better than Chronicles.

Blogger John Wright August 30, 2017 10:44 AM  

@30
"What about Gene Wolfe? Didn't read him or don't consider him epic fantasy?

The latter. I don't know if there is a word for what he does."

Allow me to suggest a word: Genius.

Blogger Cluebat Vanexodar August 30, 2017 10:45 AM  

Wow. You put Donaldson's Thomas Covenant in the second spot.
I have to agree, although I am surprised. His world was extraordinary, and the plot was unique and provocative. I only wish that he had better writing skills.

I would have included Moorcock as well.

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 10:50 AM  

@47
What would you say the differences are between high and epic fantasy? Usually people equate the two.

Blogger Orville August 30, 2017 10:53 AM  

VD, what's your opinion on how many VP characters are too many? Thanks.

Blogger Matthew August 30, 2017 10:55 AM  

Orville wrote:VD, what's your opinion on how many VP characters are too many? Thanks.

Vox Popoli has quite a few characters.

Anonymous a_peraspera August 30, 2017 10:59 AM  

Oh come on. While my comment above was certainly trollish, Eddings did suck ass. He wrote the same "adventure/quest" story three times. Twice even with the same characters doing the same things.

Thankfully I realized what was going on halfway through the Malloreon and stopped paying for Eddings...finished them up via the library.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:00 AM  

What would you say the differences are between high and epic fantasy? Usually people equate the two.

Scope, length, and multiple perspectives. High fantasy can be a short story about an elf prince.

Wow. You put Donaldson's Thomas Covenant in the second spot.

That surprised me too. It's not my second-favorite. But I would find it nearly as difficult to write those books as Tolkien's. I feel capable of doing pretty much anything that Eddings or Martin or Feist managed.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:03 AM  

Oh come on. While my comment above was certainly trollish, Eddings did suck ass. He wrote the same "adventure/quest" story three times. Twice even with the same characters doing the same things.

He did repeat himself. I was very surprised when the Malloreon followed the Belgariad model so slavishly. I stopped reading him then myself. But that doesn't lessen the accomplishment of The Belgariad much, if at all. He basically did what Terry Brooks did, only he did it much better. I put him in the Tolkien rip-off category; there is very little to learn from him.

And the novel he wrote before turning to epic fantasy was actually quite good.

Blogger Ivaneus August 30, 2017 11:04 AM  

I think you missed one author, Christopher Paolini. Considering the handicap of having written the first book in his Inheritance cycle at age 16, he did pretty good. Not super great but I would classify his series as "Epic Fantasy" which qualifies him for the list.

And, more importantly, means that you can push Terry Goodkind down to #19.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:05 AM  

I haven't read Paolini, so I don't have an opinion. I've read all of those on the list.

Blogger Ivaneus August 30, 2017 11:06 AM  

Fair enough.

Blogger Cail Corishev August 30, 2017 11:06 AM  

Eddings takes some abuse because the Belgariad is a fairly straightforward Farm Boy's Journey, and it's pretty upbeat for this age when everything has to be "gritty" and "realistic." But it's a very, very good Farm Boy's Journey. I get a little misty every time when Belgarath shares that wink with the Orb. The characters are so good that he basically reused them under other names in his other books. Now that is a series that could be great on TV, but I suppose it wouldn't have enough boobs and corruption to get an audience.

I used to have Donaldson in my #1 spot, but he might have dropped one due to the third Covenant trilogy, which I still haven't finished. The Gap and The Man Who books are great, but don't count toward his epic fantasy status.

It's interesting how differently people react to Covenant, especially that one early scene. Even as a 16-year-old with strong white knight tendencies, that didn't bother me that much. It was bad, sure, but sort of understandable given the circumstances. Reading other things Donaldson has written about it, it's clear that it was supposed to make the character nearly irredeemable, but I didn't take it that way. Besides, compare him to Angus....

Blogger Amos Bellomy August 30, 2017 11:08 AM  

Paolini?

PAOLINI?!?

That Lord of the Rings fan fic that followed the plot of Star Wars?
Derivative trash with terrible characters and awful prosw.

An okay intro for kids maybe.

Blogger Some Guy August 30, 2017 11:09 AM  

Vox,

Brandon Sanderson is quite talented and the stormlight archives has been very impressive so far. Just wondering why you rate him so far down the list? I'm only asking because you normally have reasons that can be articulated for your choices.

Blogger Amos Bellomy August 30, 2017 11:10 AM  

Does your definition require multiple books?

Tom Simon's "Lord Talon's Revenge" should put him very high up on this list. Wonderful book.

Anonymous kfg August 30, 2017 11:12 AM  

" . . . Lord of Light. But, again, not epic fantasy."

It's better than that, it's epic fantastical SF.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:14 AM  

Brandon Sanderson is quite talented and the stormlight archives has been very impressive so far. Just wondering why you rate him so far down the list?

I find Sanderson's work to be relentlessly average. I read the first Stormlight book and couldn't be bothered to pick up the second one. I started reading the first Mistborn and put it down in favor of something else pretty quickly. I thought he was an excellent choice to complete The Wheel of Time in a competent manner.

I don't think he's bad, I just don't find his work to be very interesting.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:15 AM  

Tom Simon's "Lord Talon's Revenge" should put him very high up on this list. Wonderful book.

Not epic fantasy. Also, Simon is missing something as an author. I can't pinpoint it, but it's almost like he writes in 2D. There is a flat, cartoonish effect to his work, but I don't know why.

Blogger mushroom August 30, 2017 11:16 AM  

VD wrote:What about Gene Wolfe? Didn't read him or don't consider him epic fantasy?

The latter. I don't know if there is a word for what he does.


The word I would use is "literature".

Blogger Ivaneus August 30, 2017 11:17 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous Nathan August 30, 2017 11:18 AM  

@63,

An apt criticism. Paolini was from the time when tradpub was trawling Fanfiction.net for wunderkind writers.

@64,

I can't help but think the wheels are coming off the Cosmere soon. The Book of Endless Pages, the Mistborn steampunks, and his Steelheart series have all had issues that were not present in the earlier books.

Blogger Ivaneus August 30, 2017 11:19 AM  

@63 & 70
Apparently I am "Not Good" at getting quotes to actually work correctly on Blogger.

Anonymous Hile Troy August 30, 2017 11:20 AM  

The Gap and The Man Who books are great, but don't count toward his epic fantasy status.

Of course The Gap is epic fantasy, it's just in space.

Blogger Ivaneus August 30, 2017 11:20 AM  

Paolini?

PAOLINI?!?

That Lord of the Rings fan fic that followed the plot of Star Wars?
Derivative trash with terrible characters and awful prosw.

An okay intro for kids maybe.

But ask yourself this question: Were his books better than Goodkind's? Having read both of them I have to conclude that he wrote better than Terry.

I actually managed to read all three of Paolini's books, I wasn't able to stomach slogging through a third entry into "The Sword of Truth." So going by that metric, I have to rate him above Goodkind and if Terry made the list than so can Chris. But I probably am also being a bit more forgiving than I should be just because of his youth when writing those novels.

Blogger Desdichado August 30, 2017 11:22 AM  

Good grief. "Vox, what do you think about this?" "Vox, what about this?" Geez, if you disagree with the list, write your own and post it on your own blog where you can talk about why you picked what you did as much as you want.

Blogger OGRE August 30, 2017 11:23 AM  

Weiss and Hickman have the same strengths and weaknesses as Martin; excellent character creation, strong world building, little discipline when it comes to story and plot. I'd put their Death Gate Cycle over Dragonlance, if only because of the ridiculousness that was Mina, especially when compared to the fascinating characters of Alfred and Hugh the Hand.

(Hugh being a far more interesting assassin than either Arya or Jaqen.)

Blogger Cail Corishev August 30, 2017 11:24 AM  

11. Tad Williams

He's a frustrating one. I've read his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn and Otherland series, and both start out great and create really interesting worlds where a lot of stuff happens and I get into the characters, and then they just kinda fizzle to a predictable end. I reread MS&T a few years ago because I couldn't remember how it ended, and it didn't stick much better the second time. But he's a good enough writer that if he continues the series, I'll probably read it. And I still need to finish Tailchaser's Song sometime.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 11:28 AM  

Geez, if you disagree with the list, write your own and post it on your own blog where you can talk about why you picked what you did as much as you want.

I don't think they're disagreeing, necessarily, merely discussing various tangents.

Blogger Some Guy August 30, 2017 11:29 AM  

I don't disagree with vox. I was merely curious about his take on Sanderson. Vox is a very rational person and his opinions are very rarely based on emotion. I value that and will consider anything he says as a valid argument whether I feel he is accurate or not.

Anonymous kfg August 30, 2017 11:31 AM  

"Geez, if you disagree with the list, write your own and post it on your own blog where you can talk about why you picked what you did as much as you want."

This isn't an exercise in hearing ourselves talk. As has been noted above there is interest in what Vox thinks because of why he thinks it.

At which point intellectual interaction may tend to ensue. There are those who consider that a good thing, especially as many of the Dread Ilk are good at it themselves.

Blogger Some Guy August 30, 2017 11:32 AM  

Vox,

As far as martin is concerned, why do you think he is failing so badly at getting this next book out? He knows where the story ends supposedly. What would be holding him back other than perfectionism?

Blogger Skyler the Weird August 30, 2017 11:36 AM  

Weiss and Hickman also tried Dragonlance in Space with their unfinished Starshield trilogy. The Germans at Random House killed the series due to poor sales and kept the rights to keep them from completing the Trilogy with a different publisher.

Anonymous VFM #6306 August 30, 2017 11:38 AM  

Epic Fantasy should cost more, and have levels to unlock. You read them in a different way than you do a typical novel.

I loved Dune, and even got the sense of living in the shadow of Paul Atreides, but the fairly focused perspective on a single critical character, while satisfying in its own genre, is completely different from the reader's perspective of flying, much like the battle-crow at the end of A Throne of Bones, through the varied experiences of a living world. Epicness is next to Godliness, and thus, when it falters, that's why it can be such a diabolical experience.

Blogger Matthew August 30, 2017 11:48 AM  

Given that your reading list lacks the final books of the two Dave Duncan quartets, I hesitate to ask how you liked them. A Handful of Men has scope and multiple perspectives, though perhaps not much length.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab August 30, 2017 11:50 AM  

No love for Jack Vance Lyonesse trilogy?

Anonymous Anonymous August 30, 2017 11:52 AM  

Martin is the anti-Tolkien.

In Tolkien's books, the heroes defend the West against sorcerers, dragons, the Eastern hordes and a would-be world monarch.

In Martin's books, the "heroes" help the would-be world monarch, Eastern hordes, dragons and sorcerers conquer the West.

"Villain" Jamie Lannister is the most admirable surviving major character. He has a healthy sense of disgust. He has a visceral reaction against certain abominations that others tolerate. He was disgusted by the Mad King, a foreigner, burning his people alive - so he executed him and his pyromancers. He was disgusted by that little snoop, Bran Stark, spying on him, so he tried to rid the world of a peeping tom. Unfortunately, Bran survived and is now an omniscient wizard spying on the whole damn world. A new would-be foreign tyrant, Danaerys, disgusted him by once again burning his people alive, so he charged towards his own certain death to avenge his people. Disgust at the heinous sorcery on display in the wight prompted him to volunteer for the war against the Night King, against the obvious real wishes of his sister. There is reason to hope he will experience disgust at his own sins, including the lazy juvenile sin of repressing his own latent political abilities, and repent.

When that happens, watch out. The successful Andal invasion of Westeros and extermination of the Children of the Forest in the days of the Faith Militant is the only instance of valor vanquishing magic in the history of Martin's world. If the people of Westeros have enough healthy prejudice to stubbornly resist invasion, despite Cersei's sins and incompetence, and despite good behavior on the part of the Dothroki, what could they not accomplish under the crusading leadership of a repentant Jamie Lannister after the inevitable Dothroki atrocities begin?

Blogger Sheila4g August 30, 2017 11:55 AM  

@47 Vox Day: "Vox, have you read the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, and would you rate it as epic fantasy?

Yes. No. It's alternate world High Fantasy."

Ah, I too wanted your take on Kay (I really enjoy his writing and world creating and manipulation of time). I've read about half the series on your list. I couldn't even make it halfway into Shanara the writing was so poor. I'd probably rate Williams a bit higher, but parts of his books do get tedious. For some reason I never loved the Covenant books although I read them. I actually prefer Donaldson's two-volume "Mirror" books, and his science fiction "Gap" turned out to be excellent.

Anonymous Goladus August 30, 2017 12:02 PM  

I think between the two Chronicles and Legends trilogies, the place is merited. There has been a tremendous amount of garbage published since, of course. Legends is better than Chronicles.

It seems to me that Dragonlance tends to be under-rated due to the poor quality prose, the way the first novel (Autumn Twilight) reads like a D&D campaign, and perhaps resentment at the popularity of the series. Literary types can't seem to see past these issues to really evaluate what Dragonlance does well or in a way that sets it apart from others in the genre.

I would say that of all the themes that Dragonlance does do well, it particularly distinguishes itself on exploration and development of a wide range of romantic relationships. Some story arcs are better than others but even the weaker subplots (like Goldmoon and Riverwind) resonate, at least for me, even as an adult.

Blogger James Dixon August 30, 2017 12:02 PM  

> I would have included Moorcock as well.

As with Kay, Vox would probably consider Moorcock to be High Fantasy.

Blogger James Dixon August 30, 2017 12:05 PM  

> And I still need to finish Tailchaser's Song sometime.

Likewise. Maybe I'll have time someday.

Anonymous Avalanche August 30, 2017 12:09 PM  

@46 Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, which I think I read in 1999 when it was published!), has always always stuck in my mind. I don't remember a lot of detail, but the stunning emotionally wrenching end -- and the plot-basis (I won't reveal a spoiler) -- have ever-after stuck with me. Haven't read anything else of his -- but this singleton was magnificent! (Library Journal called it: "single-volume epic fantasy.")(687 pages)

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 12:10 PM  

As far as martin is concerned, why do you think he is failing so badly at getting this next book out? He knows where the story ends supposedly. What would be holding him back other than perfectionism?

Fear of failure. He knows ADWD sucked. If the last two books suck as well, he will destroy his own literary legacy despite the massive success of the TV show.

If he can't deliver, he'd probably be better off never releasing them.

Also, he's lost his fastball. It's age-related, to a certain extent. That's why I need to be sure to finish AODAL in the next 10-15 years.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 12:13 PM  

Given that your reading list lacks the final books of the two Dave Duncan quartets, I hesitate to ask how you liked them. A Handful of Men has scope and multiple perspectives, though perhaps not much length.

I read the first four. They were okay. But the goblin nonsense was painful, and the super-gamma sorcerer completely ixnayed it for me. I would not consider them to be epic.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, which I think I read in 1999 when it was published!), has always always stuck in my mind

Kay is best with one-offs. I really, really liked The Lions of Al-Rassan.

Anonymous Kapper August 30, 2017 12:14 PM  

@62
Cail, I've read the third Covenant series. Starts out fine, but the ending is just awful. You've been warned!

Anonymous cremes August 30, 2017 12:16 PM  

I really enjoyed the "Sovereign of the Seven Isles" series by David A. Wells. I think it may only qualify as High Fantasy instead of epic fantasy though.

Anonymous Avalanche August 30, 2017 12:19 PM  

@75 "Vox, what do you think about this?" "Vox, what about this?"

Good grief, indeed. If one finds a ... thought leader? to use the jargon ... who writes amazing books; who is lead editor at an amazing pub house; who is respected and admired by a lot of VERY respected and admired other authors; whose opinions on HIS blog about various books and series resonate with you; and whose base in history, knowledge, logic, etc. etc. ALSO resonates with you -- why would you NOT ask his advice on other books and series you've heard of or considered reading?!

If you're going to have, say, a tankless water heater added to your house, are you going to make the choice blindly, or are you going to ask both plumbers who install (and repair?) them, and people who have had them installed, to try to base your OWN decision on sound grounds? (Ask me how I know.)

Blogger Cail Corishev August 30, 2017 12:21 PM  

@94 Kapper, Thanks. It didn't start out fine for me; it dragged, despite the much faster pace in story terms, and Linden spends too much time whining at herself and everyone else. She's far less enjoyable as the only protagonist than when she only had that role part of the time in the second series. There are things I like about it, though, so I'm sure I'll finish it someday. There's just not the urgency I felt when I first heard he was continuing it. The funny thing is, to me the second trilogy ended perfectly, but Donaldson says he came up with the second and third series together and always intended it to continue. Go figure.

Blogger Jack Ward August 30, 2017 12:33 PM  

I can salivate over the idea of vol. 2-5. Bring it on!

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 12:35 PM  

@93
The Sarantine Mosaic and Last Light of the Sun are both excellent. I think Kay was still figuring things out with the Fionavar Tapestry; I read the first book and didn't quite find it interesting enough to continue.

Blogger DJ | AMDG August 30, 2017 12:37 PM  

This is true. Legends of the Twins was incredibly memorable and was quite expansive in world scale. Time travel. Spiritual travel. More LOTR like historical background. And IMO plenty of action and interesting inter and intra-personal drama to maintain pacing. Very underrated trilogy.

Chronicles OTHO was good but so incomplete. It most certainly could have been 2-3x as large as it was, but the publishing world couldn't support that format back then. The authors actually removed novel size portions from Chronicles and wrote entire side books just to fit the trade paperback format of the day.

I am a bit surprised you included Dragonlance but not the Drizzt stuff by Salvatore.

Did you read any of Gary Gygax's Gord the Rogue books? He had a store in Lake Geneva WI that still sold them into the late 90's. Greyhawk was a poor facsimile of Forgotten Realms, and Gygax was clearly projecting his D&D and big evil corporate brand frustrations out with Gord, metaphorically destroying the whole brand in the end (last Gord book) to remake something better.

Gygax's pride got in the way, I think, much like it did with GRRM. I don't think JRRT succumbed to that kind of sin. I think he was keenly aware of the danger, though. That's the moral of the LOTR story!

[I mean, for heaven's sake, you guys are CREATING WORLDS, and getting international praise and pay for it. How does one not succumb to pride.]

You've always expressed a kind of honest humility from what I've read these last 17 years or so. Even some of your more grandiose posturing has never struck me as Pride. Maybe a touch of intellectual machismo if there is such a thing, but that's far from expressing a haughty spirit.

I believe if AODAL becomes as renown as you hope, it will because of your success at avoiding the sin of pride. No easy feat for you, and I so appreciate your example.

Blogger KSC August 30, 2017 12:38 PM  

@71
I agree with this. The Steelheart series had two fun books, and then a book that was pretty awful. I have always found the Wax and Wayne "adventures" mildly annoying, and while I enjoy Sanderson's uses of magic, his rules are starting to spiral out of control and become incomprehensible.

And, as I said upthread, his characters tend to be somewhat annoying, not least because he's not good at writing dialogue.

Codex Alera by Jim Butcher comes close to epic fantasy, but doesn't quite achieve it. It is, however, better than the Dresden Files; first because of the much less prevalence of graphic content, and because it's finished.

Blogger DJ | AMDG August 30, 2017 12:43 PM  

I continue to consume it although I agree. Not Mistborn, though. Lordy. Sanderson has married himself to the Cosmere Universe building he's doing similar to Pixar. I just think it limits his work, as proliferative as it is.

Anonymous Napoleon 12pdr August 30, 2017 12:44 PM  

Vox, have you released the full-length version of ASOS yet? ATOB was truly impressive, the initial version of ASOS was interesting but clearly incomplete.

I keep thinking that you may need to take Emergency Measures. Write up the plot, hand it to John Wright with a 55-gallon drum of coffee and a water-cooled word processor, and get ready to edit your brains out. The two of you make a formidable team.

Blogger R Doom August 30, 2017 12:46 PM  

Am I the only one that thinks the whole "kill the Night King and they all explode" plot is lame, tired, and stupid? I mean, the whole Kill The Alien Queen thing can work, but GoT used to be a little different. If everything revolves around the Night King, why does he fight from basically the front line, every time?

Also, didn't Jon used to have a dire wolf? That bond was something of a big deal and I don't think it made an appearance the whole season.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 12:52 PM  

I am a bit surprised you included Dragonlance but not the Drizzt stuff by Salvatore.

Why? The Drizzt stuff was terrible. A lot of junior high schoolers loved it, then bitterly regretted re-reading it.

If everything revolves around the Night King, why does he fight from basically the front line, every time?

Because GRRM is a military illiterate. So does every general and queen. Hell, Jon Snow took on Ramsay's entire army by himself, remember?

Anonymous a_peraspera August 30, 2017 12:53 PM  

"Greyhawk was a poor facsimile of Forgotten Realms"

Blasphemer. Greyhawk came first.

Blogger Theproductofafineeduction August 30, 2017 12:54 PM  

@104

The directors wanted to have a zombie bear so they made cuts that they felt were necessary to make it happen. Not even kidding.

Anonymous Mr. Stark August 30, 2017 12:56 PM  

Nice to see Raymond E. Feist on the list, ahead of mr. Martin. Few years ago I considered Martin superior to Feist but have changed my mind since. I like both, but Feist can actually tie the knots together.

Have you read "The Serpentwar Saga" Vox? For me, that is an unappreciated piece of epic fantasy. The first three books are brilliant while the last book is a lackluster (not a bad one though).

Blogger David Hallquist August 30, 2017 1:01 PM  

Don't forget to give us dragons; I'm looking forward to seeing more of them after their introduction in the first book.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable August 30, 2017 1:05 PM  

Vox is spot-on to put Donaldson at #2. I started reading him in high school and got half my vocabulary from him. The Covenant character was unique in its day (I was also reading Shannara and the difference in quality and significance was notable even to a 15-year old). But I was not all that appalled at how it started. Even then I knew myself well enough to know what's possible if you don't find a way to get yourself under control.

The latest series is probably running out of gas, like these things do. I agree with Cail that it labored at the outset and I too wanted to punch Linden the entire way through. But there are still a few things only Donaldson does that make it worth slogging through the newer stuff.

Blogger Stephen Ward August 30, 2017 1:05 PM  

I thought we had volume 2 already?

Blogger Solaire Of Astora August 30, 2017 1:07 PM  

I can't speak for all of Sanderson's work as I've only read his Mistborn trilogy but it felt like an anime written in novel form. Both the plot and the action follow a lot of those conventions. Perhaps that explains why some people love it and others find it average.

Blogger Stephen Ward August 30, 2017 1:09 PM  

Paoloini went downhill after the first one, which was excellent, and can stand on its own.

@Kurgan I've found that keeping an outline of the main & minor events helpful, as well as an up-to-date TODO and summary in separate files. large books are a marathon, not a sprint, and planning helps.

Anonymous Anchorman August 30, 2017 1:10 PM  

Because GRRM is a military illiterate.

+1

I understand "making good TV action," but Jon pulling a Leroy Jenkins is inexcusably dumb. Dany splitting her numerically superior force to fight two fronts is inexcusably dumb. Placing your Achilles Heel (Night King) in the front...you get the point.

And if they were really focused on good TV action, there's no reason to have Arya's story arc. It might be interesting on its own, but in the larger scheme it was a story out of tempo and scale with anything else shown to viewers.

Blogger Elwin Ransom August 30, 2017 1:12 PM  

From the list, most of which I read when I was 10-16 years old, my list would be.

1. JRRT
2. Feist
3. Weis and Hickman
4. Eddings
5. Brooks
6. Jordan
7. Donaldson

After #5 I would stop recommending, I didn’t enjoy Jordan or Donaldson. Brooks was just ok.

I enjoyed Eddings.

I recall W&H, Feist, and JRRT with fondness.

My son is currently reading W&H and loving it.

Anonymous Anchorman August 30, 2017 1:14 PM  

BTW, has anyone seen the 60s movie, "A Lion In Winter?"

Classic movie. I may be off base, but I wouldn't be surprised if that movie inspired Martin's layers of ambitions/plots motif.

Really good movie and intriguing.

Blogger Cail Corishev August 30, 2017 1:21 PM  

I started reading [Donaldson] in high school and got half my vocabulary from him.

One of my English teachers had us do word-a-days: for each day of the school year, we had to find a word we didn't know and write down the definition, the sentence and source it was in, and a sentence of our own using it. The Covenant books came in very handy for that.

Blogger Elwin Ransom August 30, 2017 1:22 PM  

I enjoyed Gemmell, but I don’t think he would qualify as Epic.

Thanks to CH.com I am reading through a bunch of pulps now, R E Howard, Harry Harrison, Sabatini, and more.

Son of Black Sword was a fun romp.

Blogger Skyler the Weird August 30, 2017 1:28 PM  

Martin was inspired by the Wars of the Roses between House York and House Lancaster.

I read Eragon and liked it but couldn't get into the other two.

It took me three years to finish the first volume of The Wheel of Time and I never read another.

Blogger Sheila4g August 30, 2017 1:35 PM  

Vox, would you characterize Judith Tarr's "Hound and Falcon" series as young adult, high fantasy, historical fiction, or something else? She's another excellent writer.

@116 Anchorman: "Classic movie. I may be off base, but I wouldn't be surprised if that movie inspired Martin's layers of ambitions/plots motif."

I just dug an old paperback out of my shelf that I know I saw echoes of in ASOIAF - Exiles by Melanie Rawn. A series she began and abandoned, first volume published in 1994. Anyone else read it? It was obviously long ago even for me, but I definitely recall the same sort of house intrigue, mixed genetic lines, etc. from the Rawn work as I saw in GRR Martin.

Blogger Cataline Sergius August 30, 2017 1:42 PM  

I think the biggest problem that epic fantasy has is the temptation of the author to use Deus ex machina because, "hey it's magic. You can't argue with magic."

Martin is certainly guilty of that one in a big way.

I believe the DragonLance books were better structured because magic was strictly limited to Jack Vance's Dying Earth rules.

1. The spell must be memorized from a book.

2. Once the the spell is uttered, the spell vanishes from your memory.

The unearthly syllables that alter reality and were never meant to be in our world go back to where they came from. You can't keep them in your head.

3. You also need components. A glass rod. An eagle feather and so on.

The restrictions create drama because according to these rules, magic is not something you can just pull right our of your ass when it's most convenient.

You have to make preparations and those preparations come to nothing if you need a different spell.

Nothing grinds my teeth more than hearing the pretend rule of "Magic Always Has A Price." IE something "bad" will happen to the nearest expendable character and then everyone is obliged to feel bad for a minute.

Blogger Cataline Sergius August 30, 2017 1:45 PM  

I suppose my biggest gripe with the DragonLance books was the prologue at the start of the chapter that would tell you everything that was about to happen.

A dangerous bridge is tested...

A Dwarf gets wet...

Anonymous map August 30, 2017 2:07 PM  

Stephen Donaldson was a fantastic read. Read it when I was a kid. All six books of the first series. Only fantasy series I ever read. Never read Tolkien.

Donaldson also wrote a truly excellent science-fiction called The Gap Series. Worth checking out.

Blogger DJ | AMDG August 30, 2017 2:09 PM  

I didn't know that! Why I read this blog. Forgotten realms was still better. Lol

Blogger Snidely Whiplash August 30, 2017 2:14 PM  

map wrote:Never read Tolkien.
Then you are functionally illiterate.
Go, now, do not hesitate, do not even think. Just get Fellowship of the ring and start reading.

Blogger Flair1239 August 30, 2017 2:34 PM  

I still reread Eddings occasionally. His work is a little cartoonish, but still very engaging.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 2:40 PM  

a damn nice list. Though I think Glenn Cook should be second.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 2:42 PM  

"Because GRRM is a military illiterate. So does every general and queen. Hell, Jon Snow took on Ramsay's entire army by himself, remember?"

while that's true... there is historical precedent.

Nathaniel Bedford Forrest pulled it off.

Blogger Aeoli Pera August 30, 2017 2:55 PM  

Snidely Whiplash wrote:map wrote:Never read Tolkien.

Then you are functionally illiterate.

Go, now, do not hesitate, do not even think. Just get Fellowship of the ring and start reading.


Disagree, start with The Hobbit, then go to Fellowship.

Blogger Aeoli Pera August 30, 2017 2:56 PM  

I agree with the don't hesitate, don't think part. These books are the reason that section of Barnes and Noble even exists.

Anonymous 5343 Kinds of Deplorable August 30, 2017 3:04 PM  

These books are the reason that section of Barnes and Noble even exists.

Yes.

Anonymous Anonymous August 30, 2017 3:21 PM  

Nate,

While capable of individual heroics, Forrest preferred to use competent tactics.

"Get there first with the most men".

Blogger Cluebat Vanexodar August 30, 2017 3:23 PM  

@117
My problem with Donaldson is that (at least early on) he seemed to rely on certain words to often and they came to grate on me. Sometimes it's good to have a thesaurus lying around.
Preternatural was one, there were others. But this was back in the day before word processors allowed you to do a count at the push of a button.

Blogger Desdichado August 30, 2017 3:26 PM  

I greatly dislike the Thomas Covenant books (as many of them as I could read anyway; I think I only got through two) for many of the same reasons I despised His Dark Materials; the subversive, nihilistic themes and grossly distasteful protagonists.

But if the former makes the list, the latter should also, I presume, be a qualifier.

Blogger Francis The Pope August 30, 2017 3:27 PM  

All this time I was wondering how the undead would get past the wall, getting a dracolich seems like cheap way through. I thought there was going to be a secret supporter (Lord Baelish perhaps) on the other side of the wall that would with some trickery get them through, and the question still remains without the luck of getting a dracolich, how were they planning to get past the wall?

Blogger darrenl August 30, 2017 3:36 PM  

Hey Vox,

I've been thinking about reading some good fantasy. I'm a Lord of the Rings kind of guy (I'm also a fan of CS Lewis), so with that in mind what would you recommend to start with if one were to start up reading a new series.

God Bless,
D

Blogger Desdichado August 30, 2017 3:38 PM  

Also; if Weis & Hickman qualify, and I agree that they must, then there's quite a lot of untapped stuff in the world of shared world spec fiction. I read the Twilight War trilogy (kind of as a dare by the author) by Paul S. Kemp, and it qualifies. Not saying that it was excellent, but it wasn't any worse than many on the list. It was considerably better than some on the list.

Also; if fantasy that takes place in an unorthodox setting (such as in space) counts, then suddenly Star Wars counts as epic fantasy, or Eisenhorn. Maybe that's stretching the functional definition of epic fantasy too far, though—your call. I tend to see most people who use the term epic fantasy use it interchangeably with High Fantasy, and what exactly makes fantasy epic is ill-defined.

Anonymous RA August 30, 2017 3:48 PM  

Loved Tolkien. Stayed with Donaldson though first Covenant novel was a bit dissatisfying, the remaining books from the first two trilogies are very good. But was barely able to finish the first book in the last Chronicles and gave it up after that. Was disappointed as I found the Gap series to be pretty good, if very dark in places.

Since I didn't find anything else worth reading, I hadn't read any fantasy since then until VD offered his short intros to Selenoth on Kindle recently. Felt sufficiently inspired to download ATOB using the free Kindle special offer and am currently wading through it. It's beginning to grow on me, will say that much. To say at this point this series will eventually end up somewhere at the top ... well we'll see about that, but VD gets kudos for trying his hand at it. As a strictly small time writer, I can tell it's a huge amount of work to keep characters and plot lines consistent and making sense at the level required in epic fantasy series, takes some serious chops there. Way more than the vast majority of us writers are capable of.

Competent writers can turn out decent shorter work. Along those lines, I wrote and published a small number of short stories long ago under a pseudonym. Since then I've had some ideas kicking around in my head for short novels and series of short novels with some sort of serialization process. Just need to set the outlines to paper and see if I can fill them out. and see if they're any good.

Other fantasy series I read as a teenager and young adult:

Terry Brooks, the original Shannara trilogy - entertaining but formulaic, got tired of the formula when the next series came out and never touched it again after that.

Piers Anthony, found the first Xanth books readable but vaguely creepy, gave it up after about 3 or 4 of them.

Stephen Lawhead, Merlin trilogy, dense writer, but good stories, did not continue to read him. As an aside, I've always been fascinated by stories of Arthur ever since reading Once and Future King by TH White. Read the original Malory, then read a lot of imitators, rewrites, reimagined versions, etc.

Chronicles of Amber, Zelazny - could not get enough of this, really, really good. Regret that Zelazny passed away before he could do a 3rd series if he was going to do one.

Never read Martin, Jordan, Eddings, Weis/Hickman, Williams, Goodkind ...

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 3:51 PM  

I've been thinking about reading some good fantasy. I'm a Lord of the Rings kind of guy (I'm also a fan of CS Lewis), so with that in mind what would you recommend to start with if one were to start up reading a new series.

Moth & Cobweb by John C. Wright
Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Blogger Thucydides August 30, 2017 3:52 PM  

Wonderful discussions here. GRRM is a huge disappointment to me because I had initially discovered him through his short stories. "Sandkings" or "The Way of Cross and Dragon" are tightly plotted and excellently delivered stories which have remained in my mind for years. Obviously branching out into novels isn't his thing.

WRT plotting, I suspect a lot of what ends up being "bad" in epic and pseudo epic fantasy (or anything else, for that matter) really has to do with the authors being tempted by greed , hubris or other factors to extend plots way beyond their logical conclusions. In another medium, the best example was the original "Twin Peaks". David Lynch had written the story arc to conclude in one season, until the network pulled a "We're going to have season two!" partway through the run. Lynch needed to essentially mangle the planned ending in order to have season two, and season two was a huge mess and disappointment, since it was hastily conceived and tacked onto the story of "Twin Peaks". (One can only ask "David Lynch, WTF?", but I suspect there was too much control by the network for Lynch to simply tell them the STFU, even if he wanted to. Being booted off your own project halfway through was probably the price he might have paid for saying no...). Disney is going to go down the same road with their Marvel and Star Wars franchise simply because they believe there are enough suckers to go see the same films over and over again......

I'm fairly sure that if anyone were to take the time and effort to go through all these series they hated they might be able to find the "natural" ending point of the plot somewhere well before the end.

Blogger Tom August 30, 2017 3:56 PM  

it's a huge amount of work to keep characters and plot lines consistent

Amazed anyone ever makes this work in a novel over 400 pages. As a career proofreader, I know doing it successfully is next to impossible.

Blogger Desdichado August 30, 2017 4:04 PM  

I'm also a little curious about the "what qualifies and why" criteria. When Joe Abercrombie sets out to deliberately write the anti-epic fantasy, if you will, and Steven Erikson is on record stating that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a post-modern critique of epic fantasy, should they even be considered epic fantasy?

Then again, I suppose Elric is still considered sword & sorcery, even though it was the post-modern inversion of Conan. I dunno.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 4:07 PM  

When Joe Abercrombie sets out to deliberately write the anti-epic fantasy, if you will, and Steven Erikson is on record stating that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a post-modern critique of epic fantasy, should they even be considered epic fantasy?

Yes. Who cares what the authors say. They're both obviously writing epic fantasy, they're just striking SJW poses because special snowflakes.

Blogger OGRE August 30, 2017 4:13 PM  

@135 that would have been more interesting than the dead dragon (and battleship sized anchor chains) falling in their laps for no good reason whatsoever. And would have made Littlefinger a more interesting character as opposed to the 'creeper guy with evil goatee' that they ran with in the show; instead have him sowing the ultimate in chaos by letting the undead past the wall so that he might have a new ladder to climb.

They've not had any idea what to do with Littlefinger since the Vale, and its been a tragic waste of a great character. All they've done with him is make him a prop piece to create artificial tension between Sansa and Arya when he had no good reason for doing so in the first place. Why does he give a rat's ass about Arya? He knows next to nothing about her, so why contrive some weird, convoluted, and heavily forced plot against her? And then kill him off with a narratively inconsistent trial? I was literally cringing during that scene--and I despise using the words 'literal' and 'cringe' but thats was exactly what was happening.

Blogger scimitar August 30, 2017 4:29 PM  

You listed Joe Abercrombie good. Isn't he something ? He's a young guy too. Love his stuff..

Anonymous RA August 30, 2017 4:32 PM  

I watched the first two seasons of GoT when the DVDs came out, courtesy of a friend who was into it enough to buy the set back then. I didn't feel inspired enough to continue and given the "you go girls" emphasis I've read about since then, that seems to have been a good decision.

Blogger B.J. August 30, 2017 4:32 PM  

VD wrote:I am a bit surprised you included Dragonlance but not the Drizzt stuff by Salvatore.

Why? The Drizzt stuff was terrible. A lot of junior high schoolers loved it, then bitterly regretted re-reading it.


Holy crap is this ever true.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 4:38 PM  

"While capable of individual heroics, Forrest preferred to use competent tactics.

"Get there first with the most men"."

The man was the rarest of the rare.. a master of both tactics and strategy.

And on top of that... a stupendous physical badass as well.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 4:42 PM  

"Why? The Drizzt stuff was terrible. A lot of junior high schoolers loved it, then bitterly regretted re-reading it."

read it when I was 13... enjoyed it. Never re-read it. For the same reason I never re-read any of the Incarnations of Immortality stuff by Piers Anthony.

Blogger StinkEye August 30, 2017 4:45 PM  

"Kingkiller Chronicle" by Patrick Rothfuss. No room for him on this list?

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 4:47 PM  

"Kingkiller Chronicle" by Patrick Rothfuss. No room for him on this list?

None whatsoever. First, it's not even close to epic fantasy. Second, it is almost uniquely terrible. Rothfuss would be below 100 on a list of 20.

He actually managed to write a more annoying protagonist than Robert Jordan. And considering that I slogged through two Wheel of Time books buoyed solely by the hope that someone, anyone would kill Rand al'Thor, that is saying something.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 4:55 PM  

VD

I assume you don't consider The Chronicles of Amber to be Epic Fantasy. Why?

Blogger Ingot9455 August 30, 2017 5:02 PM  

@150, @151 - You're in luck, NBC has the rights to do a Kingkiller series and have been doing up scripts.

(I couldn't get past the relentless Gary Stu-ing myself.)

Anonymous Nathan August 30, 2017 5:05 PM  

@153,

So, will those writers finish the series for Rothfuss?

Blogger fezpaul August 30, 2017 5:07 PM  

I love Abercrombie. But he tends to go for the Super Chick Warrior character too much. But creating the character Sand dan Glokta buys a guy a lot of good will from this reader. Why no mention of KJ Parker?

Blogger The Lizard King August 30, 2017 5:16 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Anonymous trip August 30, 2017 5:17 PM  

No Janny Wurts? I haven't read Cycle of Fire, but Wars of Light and Shadow would fit my definition of epic fantasy, at least.

Blogger The Lizard King August 30, 2017 5:18 PM  

Make me another that is surprised at how high you ranked Dragonlance, Vox Day. I am almost done reading the Chronicles trilogy and while I can appreciate it for what it was, even if the books were before my time. I think the books are a bit ... trite as others here have described them. A bit too filled with cliches. There is nothing wrong with retelling a story of good and evil, but Dragonlance's execution is simply "OK" in my opinion. Perhaps you could go into more depth of what makes them so great in your eyes?

The books also contain traces of what I feel is some of todays "strong empowered woman" attitude rife in fiction right now with Laurana. Or perhaps I have just grown incredibly cynical given the rampant propaganda in today's media.

Anonymous trip August 30, 2017 5:23 PM  

@155,

By what definition does KJ Parker write epic fantasy?

In my opinion, Abercrombie has grown increasingly stale from Best Served Cold onwards. Not coincidentally, that focussed on Monza Murcatto...

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 5:57 PM  

@10-That's true of the Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald knew Daisy had to run over Tom's girlfriend on the way back from New York, but he struggled over how to get the gang there. This has to happen directly after Tom's big confrontation with Gatsby. His solution was to drag out the confrontation by starting them off in the country, then have them decide to take a trip to the city on a whim. Because it's too darn hot, they check into a Manhattan hotel room to have mint juleps.

It isn't a perfect solution, and I'm not entirely sure it comes off as he intended, but it works.

Blogger fezpaul August 30, 2017 5:59 PM  

@159
Sprawling tales in a non existent pre-gunpowder world? Does a lack of magic disqualify a book from being fantasy?

...and the viking chick in the Half A King series...

Anonymous trip August 30, 2017 6:08 PM  

@161,

Fantasy, for sure, but I don't think any of Parker's works have the scope or scale to be considered epic fantasy.

> ...and the viking chick in the Half A King series...

Yes. I put up with it for a while out of respect for creating Glokta and the Bloody Nine, but there are limits.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 6:09 PM  

@29-"if they were as creative as Martin, they'd be writing their own material as opposed to interpreting someone else's."

That's often but not necessarily so. (Let's focus on literature--including screenwriter--and ignore, for instance, classical composer's obsession with variations, homages, rhapsodies, fantasies, etc ) Adaptation is a special skill, and great artists usually have their own work to occupy them. But the better sort of artists do it, too.

One of the few contemporary playwrights I can stand, Tom Stoppard, for instance adapted Ford Maddox Ford's tertralogy of novels Parade's End as a tv miniseries not long ago. I liked it.

Also, even if the Game of Thrones showrunners can't write as well as Martin, they could write better than they do. The dialogue this season, when it doesn't sound like soundbites made for advertisements out of nowhere, is maddeningly circuitous. Or just plain dull.

Blogger Anchorman August 30, 2017 6:16 PM  

Lloyd Alexander wrote me a nice (response) letter years ago, before he died. He lived in Upper Darby, PA. I kept the letter in The High King.

The books might be Young Adult in writing, but the stories were fantastic. Don't waste your time with that abortion Disney made (the movie Black Cauldron

Blogger Anchorman August 30, 2017 6:17 PM  

One last thing. Alexander was really good at characterization. Aspiring writers can learn a lot from him. Made relatable, likeable characters with minimal prose.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 6:22 PM  

@43-"it always boggles my mind when people make these 'best of' lists that don't actually have the correct genre books in it"

That's all too common, and yes, they play favorites. Could just be that they're ignorant or sloppy thinkers. But I think a big part of it is that critics want to be creative, too.

It's like museum "curators" (I swear every single museum exhibit I've ever been to--not counting ones at smaller, specialized museums, like a sailboat museum I once visited--directly contradict the theme of the exhibit as soon as possible), directors of classic plays or operas that have been performed a million times. They're enamored of getting things wrong on purpose, to disturb the audience and to rub a little fake artistic originality onto themselves.

Also, there's sickness in journalism, as evidenced by the phenomenon of "clickbait." Drawing your attention by being obviously wrong is epidemic.

Blogger Amos Bellomy August 30, 2017 6:31 PM  

I can see why Simon's Lord Talon's wouldn't be epic fantasy, but I did think it was hilarious.

Blogger Elwin Ransom August 30, 2017 6:31 PM  

I always find it head scratching when someone declares something trite, very, very few stories are new or original in any real sense and for the most part I don’t think they need to be.

There has been some truly epic shit written from folks trying not to be trite.

I find poor dialogue to be much more vexing than if something isn’t original.

Blogger VD August 30, 2017 6:37 PM  

Perhaps you could go into more depth of what makes them so great in your eyes?

Read Legends. That's the justification, not Chronicles.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 6:45 PM  

@168-Originality has been an unhealthy obsession in Western art since the Romantic movement at least. The advent of modernism made it terminal.

Thinking back on a the books I've enjoyed, I can't say even one of them was because of how New I thought it was. Even so, in describing them to friends I probably accentuate originality without thinking, because that's conventional. Everyone does it.

There's a catchphrase RedLetterMedia has been repeating lately from their review of the Star Wars Rogue One movie, where they shout sarcastically, "It broke new ground!" That's been running through my head whenever I hear the usual phraseology about the "best," "most," "greatest," "latest," "last," and "first." You know, the kind of things college kids put in the titles of essays they're forced to write. You know that book/movie/play/song by Daring Artist X, well, "it broke new ground!"

That being said, there's something to be said for originality. It's at least partly an element of good art, because even if you enjoy blatant rip-offs, you at least want there to be *something* new about it. There has got to be middle ground between novelty for its own sake and triteness. A moderate amount of cliche-edness is fine.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 7:06 PM  

Could part of the reason why it's so hard to write epic fantasies is that novels aren't a proper vehicle for that kind of story? Not that they can't get the job done. Lord of the Rings proves as much. Maybe the genre of epic storytelling more naturally belongs to poetry or drama. But no one writes epic poetry anymore, so it's unfortunately left to novels.

I don't want to talk like an academic and take abstract conventions too seriously, but I've never been sure 4- or 500 pages is an appropriate length for a single story. Short stories and novellas usually keep the different elements in better balance. But novels are perfectly capable of telling great stories. Epic novels, whether they're in the fantasy, sci-fi, historical, or what-not genres, tend to be multi-volume. Or, in the case of Lord of the Rings, split into multiple volumes for convenience. Series of novels are no problem for me, but I've always found the better series to have each individual novel contain discrete stories. One big story stretched out over thousands of pages is prohibitively wrong.

Probably epic fantasy novelists endeavor to split up individual novels in a series as I prefer, with separate but interrelated stories. Still they must at least make the series as a whole appear to add up to one big story, don't they? That sounds perhaps more difficult than the effort is worth. Unless you're Tolkien.

Without checking, I want to say my copy of the Iliad is 500 and some pages. Which is plenty enough for poetry, but way fewer than something like A Song of Ice and Fire. You get less detail and "world-building," but all the epicness and pure storytelling impact, I think, of epic novels. That's simply because poetry carries it better. Also, probably because the Homer couldn't make the Iliad many thousands of pages long had he wanted. Singers needed to memorize it. Or at least memorize enough within a certain pattern.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 7:25 PM  

I was wondering what it is about writing epic novels, in particular, that's particularly difficult. Is it working out the plot?* Fitting smaller stories within the Big Story? The sheer mass of detail, both of character and setting?

Would that still remain a problem if the artist was a poet instead of a novelist, or do(/did) they they face the same sort of difficulty? Apart from purely poetic difficulty, I mean.

I was thinking about the basic elements differentiating the novel from other prose narrative forms, which I think are its focus on psychology (or, to use a less loaded term, the inner life of characters) and social setting. Does the epic form, especially fantasy, require so much effort at setting, or "world-building," that it tends to put the story out of balance? Or, contrarily, does the effort put into developing a great number of characters, as well as the fact that point of view tends to jump between them, tend to put the story out of balance?

Not truly, I don't think. Because I have read epic novels with characters just as real and compelling and at the same time settings just as vivid as any other book.

Is it the amount of detail required, getting in the way of narrative momentum?

Or simply the size of the whole thing? Who could write five great novels in a row on any subject? Or not even in a row, but over the course of a career. Let alone jamming them together and hoping they make any sense.

*I've written nothing but short stories, all crap. Plot was always, always, always the most maddening element. Because unlike with most everything else, you can't fudge it. Not much, anyway. You can't hide it. You can cheat, but people will notice.

Characters don't have to make sense by absolute necessity, because people often don't make sense. But plots have to make sense. (Though reality doesn't always seem to make sense.)

Blogger Sojourner August 30, 2017 7:29 PM  

It's a real shame that good epic fantasy is so hard to come by. I enjoyed the WoT series well enough but could certainly say that things were really stalling out around book 6 and Rand certainly suffered from the anime protagonist syndrome of having all the power but being a whiny b**ch for far too long. So WoT obviously led me to Sanderson, who I enjoy, but that's it for modern epic fantasy outside of what Cook wrote and a passing reading of the First Law series. I'll have to give Throne of Bones a go because it really does suck that, once again, modern epics suck (Fantasy or SciFi)

Anonymous Dick Hertz August 30, 2017 7:33 PM  

@85
Vance is one of my favorite authors, whether it was his skiffy or his fantasy.

GRRM's "Tuf Voyaging" series from the 1980s was a skiffy series featuring an eccentric protagonist named Haviland Tuf, who always spoke like a Vance character, even when no one else did.

Speaking of GRRM, I have always found his skiffy far better than his fantasy, if a bit predictable. In a GRRM skiffy story you always know you're going to see:

Anyone who likes cats is good. Anyone who dislikes cats is evil. Anyone who harms a cat is going to die in an imaginatively horrible manner. Anyone who has any connection to the military is a moral imbecile and bloodthirsty moron, no matter whether the survival of humanity is at stake. And he's going to take every opportunity to remind us that the universe is a brutally hostile place, perhaps even more so than Lovecraft's. And he loathes organized religion, as we see whenever the Steel Angels appear. All of these elements together make a GRRM skiffy short story from the 70s or 80s as readily identifiable as a fingerprint.

@89
According to persistent rumor, Dragonlance WAS written as a synopsis of a D&D campaign.

Blogger Joe Keenan August 30, 2017 7:39 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Joe Keenan August 30, 2017 7:40 PM  

1. Tolkien
2. Eddison
3. Howard
4. William Morris
5. Kenneth Morris

Those are the top writer of Epic Fantasy. Haven't read Vox's stuff yet, waiting for one more book before I commit.

POST A COMMENT

Anonymous The Observer August 30, 2017 8:54 PM  

GRRM's "Tuf Voyaging" series from the 1980s was a skiffy series featuring an eccentric protagonist named Haviland Tuf, who always spoke like a Vance character, even when no one else did.

An eminently hateable psychopath of an ugly dwarf who was portrayed as so much more morally superior than everyone else, vegan, and one-upped all those jocks in his introduction, and went on to promulgate leftist cookie-cutter enviromentalist ideals against those stupid cut-outs for right-wing morons and their overpopulating, cockfighting ways.

Oh, and the god complex too.

Like Tyrion, Tuf is a thinly-veiled authorial stand-in for Gamma GRRM and his politics.

Blogger Nate August 30, 2017 9:01 PM  

"1. Tolkien
2. Eddison
3. Howard
4. William Morris
5. Kenneth Morris"

An Epic Fantasy list without Glen Cook is simply broken.

Blogger hoosiertoo August 30, 2017 9:02 PM  

@130 Disagree. LOTR stands on its own. Reread The Hobbit a couple of years ago and it fell flat where LOTR never does.
The Silmarillion - now that's genius.

Blogger Technomad August 30, 2017 9:04 PM  

The problem with a lot of "epic fantasy" is that it runs on clichés. WHY do all societies have to be kingdoms? Even in the Real Middle Ages (tm) there were other ways of doing things---Venice and Genoa, to name two, were republics all through that period, and very emphatic about it. The Venetians actually beheaded a Doge who started getting ideas above his station (Marin Falier). WHY must the non-human races be on the decline? WHY can't there be progress---Middle Earth lasted for millennia and nobody stumbles across gunpowder in all that time? (I do NOT count the movies as canon for LOTR!)

Blogger hoosiertoo August 30, 2017 9:22 PM  

@181 Tolkien: Was the Shire a Kingdom? Weren't Gandalf's fireworks gunpowder? Wasn't "progress" one reason the Shire needed to be scoured?
For the prehistory to eventually lead into history elves, dragons and whatnot need to go away, while the memory of them remain as legends.
I don't know. Tolkien himself was a Luddite. It bleeds through into his writing.

Anonymous Blume August 30, 2017 10:14 PM  

Sheila4g wrote:Vox, would you characterize Judith Tarr's "Hound and Falcon" series as young adult, high fantasy, historical fiction, or something else? She's another excellent writer.

@116 Anchorman: "Classic movie. I may be off base, but I wouldn't be surprised if that movie inspired Martin's layers of ambitions/plots motif."

I just dug an old paperback out of my shelf that I know I saw echoes of in ASOIAF - Exiles by Melanie Rawn. A series she began and abandoned, first volume published in 1994. Anyone else read it? It was obviously long ago even for me, but I definitely recall the same sort of house intrigue, mixed genetic lines, etc. from the Rawn work as I saw in GRR Martin.



I read it to and loved it. I waited a decade to read the third book only to finally accept the truth that it was never coming out. It is the main reason I laugh when people tell me GRRM will finish in his own time. I have seen this story before. Also it is a bit more limited in scope so it might not be epic fantasy. It is only about two rival houses of magic fighting a secret war for supremacy.

Blogger Joe Keenan August 30, 2017 10:28 PM  

@182 The Shire was scourged of Sharky (Suraman) and his minion(s) (Grima,etal). I was not scoured to remove progress, it was scoured to remove sin, or perhaps better, the effects of sin. Regarding the Elves and all the going away, Tolkien sought to gift England with a mythos. To do that lots of 'splainin needed to be done. The rounding of the world and the removal of elves etal from the new world is part of that. Explaining the Lambton Worm is also part of it. Tolkien was a genius.

Blogger Jeshurun August 30, 2017 10:30 PM  

I'm not good with words or the most articulate but I love A Game of Thrones, mostly. Things I take away from ASOIAF and George R.R. Martin is

1: How fame ruins and/or brings out the worst in people.
2: How the world is a snare. George is celebrated for his novels and that very thing is turning out to be his downfall. Consider what most likely will be said of him, "As far as authors go, on the level of Tolkien BUT didn't finish his story. He will always be remembered as the guy with great potential BUT never finished the story".
3. And why didn't he finish the story? Clearly because the world is a snare - cons, traveling, vacations, interviews; basking in the glory of man. Fame and celebrity are too great of temptations for 99% of people.

The great tragedy of George and so many others is as Jesus said, he has been snared by the world. That which he was renowned for was his ruin.

Matthew 16:26 - For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Blogger John rockwell August 30, 2017 10:48 PM  

@Technomad
Maybe its because "progress'' is physically ugly, rapes the environment and all human ecologies in his time.

Anonymous Goladus August 30, 2017 11:05 PM  

@175
According to persistent rumor, Dragonlance WAS written as a synopsis of a D&D campaign.

I believe the first Chronicles book was. While the game setting undoubtedly influenced the remainder, the second and third novels in the trilogy do not seem to be adapted from a tabletop campaign the way Autumn Twilight was.

Anonymous z8in August 30, 2017 11:11 PM  

Always wonder how Mark Lawrence keeps making it into lists like this. Was Broken Empire really epic in scope? Think it had just one pov before I dropped it somewhere in book 2 and all the side characters felt like background props.

Blogger tublecane August 30, 2017 11:52 PM  

@178-You know what I don't like about the dwarf on Game of Thrones? He's always dishing out the insults, but has trouble handling jokes at the expense of his size. He always hits back in terms of "heard that one before," or "come on, you can do better than that." As if the problem is that the jokes aren't funny. Some of them are funny. I laugh, anyway.

Maybe he let slide a couple of height-jokes; I can't remember. But he repeatedly acts like it's out of bounds to make fun of his stature, with unfunniness or unoriginality as an excuse. One time he took exception to the term "dwarf," without it being part off a joke, which I thought was the accepted nomenclature.

I realize he'd get tired of hearing the same type of joke his whole life, if not the same jokes verbatim over and over again. But really, his objections are based on Political Correctness. He's asserting a right not to be mocked because dwarfs have more Diversity Pokemon Points than the normal-heighted.

That's on the show, anyway. Don't know about the books.

Blogger VD August 31, 2017 5:01 AM  

Actually, Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince series might qualify as epic fantasy. They were pretty good. I didn't like Exiles, though. Didn't finish the first book.

Blogger By The Sword August 31, 2017 7:53 AM  

Seconded. What the fuck dude? The only reason Paolini got published at all was because his parents were in the publishing business. I tried to read ERAGON and sorained my neck muscles from cringing so much. (By the way, if you turn the lower case 'e" in "eragon upside down, you get the word "dragon". Snore!)

Blogger By The Sword August 31, 2017 8:10 AM  

Dragonlance Chrinicles (Dragons of Autumn Twilight/Winter Night/Spring Dawn) was D&D campaign. They wrote that series, and TSR published it as an advertisement for D&D. It was based on their own game sessions.

Blogger By The Sword August 31, 2017 8:15 AM  

Moorcock was not much i to world-building, but he could spin a tale better than most of the authors on that list.

Blogger SmockMan August 31, 2017 10:16 AM  

Abercrombie's not quite epic will surpass GRRM. His books are solid, above average fantasy, but he is awful writing sex and love. A generic woman writing bad boy, space-pirates romance could do better.

Blogger szopen August 31, 2017 10:48 AM  

Sapkowski is not on the list? Well, I guess he really bogged down in the saga - most likely someone told him the fat books sell better so he started to introduce new secondary stories and characters like crazy, plus adding many-pages long dialogues...

Blogger CashBailey August 31, 2017 10:16 PM  

Joe Abercrombie is my nigga. In fact, I'm reading through his whole library again right now.

His stuff is thrilling, funny, engaging but never pretentious. I don't remember a single fucking thing that happened in DANCE WITH DRAGONS.

Blogger Lorenzo September 01, 2017 8:19 PM  

I am a great fan of Guy Gavriel Kay. He was a an assistant/editor for Christopher Tolkien for the posthumous JRR Tolkien works. The Fionavar Tapestry was him getting Tolkien out of his system and, unlike so many imitators, actually went back to the original source material. I also really liked the Lions of Al Rassan, though the Song for Arbonne completely captivated me. But if one is going to distinguish alternative world high fantasy from epic fantasy, it is reasonable not to include him.

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