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Fantasy Conversion Kit

My entry in the genre conversion kits discussion is very belated, but here it is all the same (I came up with a list of titles back when the discussions were going around, and then didn't have time to add reasons to the list). Since I'm not up-to-date on science fiction these days, so I'm only doing a fantasy conversion kit. Here are ten books chosen to be introductions to different types of fantasy; they're meant to be picked among, based on the tastes of the person you're trying to convert. (I like all of these, else I wouldn't recommend them, but I don't expect everyone to.)

  1. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. A great deal of the genre is the Big Fat Fantasy: long, sweeping, multi-character, otherworld fantasies about the fate of the entire world, frequently involving wars and political intrigue. If someone's wanting epic, I still can't come up with anything better than Tolkien in this category, for all that it's not perfect.
  2. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Historically-based or inspired fantasy; it's not an alternate history, but it's similar in enough ways that it could be a gateway into alternate history if one liked it. It's also on the literary end of genre fantasy.

    Tigana is set on an Italy-inspired peninsula and concerns, in part, a curse that has stripped the name of a province from outside memory. It has political and personal intrigue, heightened emotions, and a gripping plot; IMO it also has a somewhat unfortunate attitude toward sex, but that's a relatively small portion of the book. I gave it to an English professor who loved it.

  3. Finder or War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. These are both urban fantasy, which is set in cities of our world or a close relative thereto, present-day or near-future, with magic or Faerie, and often featuring younger (teens and twenties) characters. As urban fantasy often is, these two books are more intimate than your Big Fat Fantasy, both in scale and plot components.

    I think Finder is a slightly better novel than War for the Oaks. However, War for the Oaks was one of the original urban fantasy novels and stands entirely alone. (I don't think that Finder's setting in the Bordertown shared universe renders it not a stand-alone, but I note it for those sensitive to such matters.)

  4. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny or Jhereg by Steven Brust: Short, snappy, first-person smartass narration, with high quantities of Cool Stuff and intriguing settings in worlds other than our own (mostly). Chad's hooked several of his students with Jhereg, and a set of the Vlad books up through Dragon now lives in his office.
  5. Last Call by Tim Powers: A secret history of Las Vegas, poker, and the Fisher King. Besides being mythic up to your ears, it's got grit and tension, which might appeal to someone who likes mysteries or thrillers.
  6. Spindle's End by Robin McKinley: For those looking for mythic through a fairy-tale format; also for those who like animals. Rich characters and rich prose in service of a fascinating retelling of "Sleeping Beauty." I have some extended quotes in a review.
  7. Resurrection Man or Mockingbird (review) by Sean Stewart: Tight, intimate family tales with mysterious, non-mechanical magic. Resurrection Man is dark (it opens with the main character looking down at his own corpse), Mockingbird is funny (and, I think, slightly more accessible to mainstream readers), and they're both excellent.
  8. Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (booklog) or The Element of Fire by Martha Wells (booklog entries one, two): Examples of Fantasy of Manners, with all the crackling wit and social negotiation that implies. Sorcery and Cecilia is an epistolary Regency-with-magic, and somewhat lighter than the more seventeenth-century The Element of Fire (which, alas, is also a much harder book to find). Sorcery and Cecilia in particular would be good for romance readers.
  9. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: In which "Five billion people almost DIE, and it is FUNNY" (as Book-A-Minute has put it). Because it's also humane, and we could all use that sometimes.
  10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (booklog): Okay, I don't exactly know what else this would lead a new reader into besides Walton's other novels, but as a Trollope novel where all the characters are literal dragons and eat each other, well, I bet you could intrigue a lot of people who've read Trollope (willingly or otherwise) into reading it.

Not objective, not authoritative, open for discussion. Comments?

When I saw the title "Fantasy conversion kit", I thought you meant instructions on how to change any book into a fantasy book.

Step 1 - change the main character's name to something you just made up. the more odd the name the better (i.e. Frodo, Rincewind, or Phedre). Repeat for all characters.

Heh. Perhaps I should edit that . . .

(no subject) - larabeaton, 2005-07-19 12:42 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 01:28 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - coffeeandink, 2005-07-19 01:00 am (UTC)(Expand)
I was surprised not to see _Bridge of Birds_ on your list. If I had to remove one book from your list to make room for it I'd lose _Sorcery and Cecilia_, not because I don't like it (though I don't like it as much as I do the others on your list) but because I think a lot of the fantasy-of-manners (as I understand the term) niche can also be filled by _Tooth and Claw_. Aside from _Bridge of Birds_ being one of my favorite novels ever, it gets the axis of fantasy based on non-European source myths into the mix.

Hmmm, well, that's a possibility. I don't think _Tooth and Claw_ gets you the sheer *fun* of Fantasy of Manners; and I'm not entirely sure that _Bridge of Birds_ would lead into other non-European-sourced fantasies, but that's possibly just because it hasn't for me.

But it's true that I am somewhat lacking in non-European-sourced fantasies, both generally and here.

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 12:21 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I'm intrigued that your list mostly includes fantasy that would be shelved in the (grown-up)fiction section of most libraries. Were I trying to convert someone (no matter what age) to fantasy, there are some "children" or "YA" books that would be right up next to Tolkien.

Examples: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin; The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander; A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond.

Unless your list is specifically directed to converting someone to sword-and-sorcery "grownup" fantasy....

I know that my preference for the fantasy genre began with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, so if I were to add YA books to the list, that one would be at the top.

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 01:33 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - silmaril, 2005-07-19 05:25 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 01:33 am (UTC)(Expand)
I'm late to this discussion, so I'm a bit unsure of the goals. Are we looking for representatives of the major sub-genres, or most accessible books?

Here's my list (assuming we're trying to steal fans from other genres):

1. Non-readers - Harry Potter
Not a great work, but provably accessible.

2. Mystery: Police Procedural - Pratchett Guards! Guards!

3. Mystery: Hard-boiled PI - Butcher Grave Peril
Third book in the series, but better than the first two.

4. Mystery: Whodunit - Garrett Lord Darcy

5. Books With Cats - Duane Book of Night With Moon
Maybe not a genre, but definitely a large demographic. First Joe Grey book would work too (looking up title...) Cat on the Edge

6. Romance: Silly - Davidson Undead and Unwed

7. Romance: Serious - Harris Dead Until Dark

8. King Arthur - Walton The King's Peace

9. Historical - Stevermer College of Magics
Though Sorcery and Cecilia and Element of Fire work too. And Bridge of Birds for non-European history.

10. Science Fiction -
This shouldn't be hard, but everything I think of is stuff other people already call ScF. Is Pratchett's Strata sufficiently fantastic to count?

I'm looking for books that I might give a non-fantasy reader to convince them that fantasy doesn't suck. I set up my kit to span sub-genres in the theory that this would allow more tailoring for the tastes of the potential convertee.

I love _A College of Magics_, but I'm not sure that the plot is sufficiently foregrounded to work for a reader new to the genre. I'd say _When the King Comes Home_, but people seem to split sharply on Hail, the narrator (I have this reservation, to a lesser extent, regarding the Sulien books). _Scholar of Magics_ hasn't sunk into my brain well enough yet for me to really say.

I wonder if _Lord Darcy_ might not feel a little fussy and outdated to someone new to the genre?

Books with cats is a great subcategory!

I don't know either of your romance suggestions.

I was deliberately leaving science fiction off the list.

Thinking about Sean Stewart, would you consider Nobody's Son to meet your definition of fantasy of manners? Either Shielder's Mark or Gail seem to fit several of the aspects of your definition, and while I wouldn't necessarily qualify it primarily as fantasy of manners, it seems to mesh well enough, to me, to fit in a cousinly sort of way.

It's been so long since I read it that I'm afraid I couldn't say.

I think you should have some McKillip in there, but I'm a fan.


Besides _The Forgotten Beasts of Eld_ and some of her short stories, though, I haven't liked her stuff.

_Forgotten Beasts_ might go as an alternative to _Spindle's End_, though.

Purely anecdotally, T&C has really awesome results on the impressing non-genre readers front. I think there's a whole mainstream market for it... who regrettably wouldn't be seen dead with it.


Would Anubis Gates work better than Last Call? It's all one to me, because I adore Powers and these two books in particular, but AG seems to be more universally liked. On the other hand, LC may be more accessable on account of people knowing more about Capone than Colridge.

I'd be likely to replace Spindle's End (my least favorite McKinley) with one of her others. Not Deerskin, because it's so dark, but maybe one of the Beauty and the Beasts, or either of the Damar books.

And I'm so glad you used Element of Fire - it's my favorite Wells, but gets passed over in favor of Death of a Necromancer all the time. (And speaking of which, we'll have to race to the Borderlands, because if I beat you there, I'm taking the name Kade Carrion for myself *g*)

I don't remember _The Anubis Gates_ that well; I remember finding it confusing as anything, and that's all.

Re: Wells: lots of people like her later stuff, but it's not *zing*ed for me like _Element_ does. I might give the currently-in-progress trilogy a shot when it's done, though. _Death_ was enjoyable but doesn't do well in comparison afterwards, to me.

(no subject) - richboye, 2005-07-19 03:48 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - richboye, 2005-07-19 03:49 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 03:56 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - desdenova, 2005-07-19 06:12 pm (UTC)(Expand)
On Stranger Tides - richboye, 2005-07-19 09:03 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Re: On Stranger Tides - richboye, 2005-08-07 09:15 pm (UTC)(Expand)
Interesting list...I've read all but three of these (_Mockingbird_, _Sorcery & Cecilia_, and _Tooth & Claw_), and certainly liked or even loved all of them. I'm not sure I see the granularity of your sub-genres, which says more about me really, since I'm not used to thinking of fantasy subgenres in quite the same way that you've parsed them here (all that's really saying is that I don't think about subgenres that much at all, to tell the truth). Or maybe another way of saying the same thing is that I lump several of your choices into roughly the same grouping or sub-genre, and if I were making the list, I'd be granular in a different direction, for instance, by giving Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" a separate category rather than subsuming it under either Tolkien "big epic" or Kay "historical basis". Not a criticism, just an observation....

Along the lines of what Mike suggested in the "big convoluted confusing, but nevertheless beautiful and lit'rary" subgenre, along with _Winter's Tale_ (which I haven't read), I'd throw in _Little, Big_. And if you're looking for non-Western flavor entries, I'd absolutely put _Fudoki_ on the list, although it's a very different creature than _Bridge of Birds_ (and granted, I don't recall seeing that you'd read it yet).


I'm not putting "Song of Fire and Ice" on this list because it's not _done_ yet.

As I recall _Little, Big_ (which is not very well), the fantasy element is not precisely foregrounded; which I suppose could cut either way, really. I should re-read that in my cps spr tm.

I haven't read Kij Johnson's novels yet, either. Someday . . .

(no subject) - kgbooklog, 2005-07-19 07:53 pm (UTC)(Expand)
I am just awed you took this on at all. It's such a huge task I wouldn't know where to start. The readerly divisions you tried on seem very sensible.

Thanks! It was a little hard to get started, I admit, but once I had a couple of ideas, I could kind of see the holes left by them. And it was certainly an interesting way to vacuum some cats--still, even, with the interesting discussions it's sparked here. We'll see if sf.written has anything to say about it.

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It is the same guy, though I didn't lay the _A.I._ game. And *hangs head in shame* no, I haven't read _Watership Down_ yet.

Here! Have a cute doggie icon!

*runs away*

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(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-19 05:47 pm (UTC)(Expand)
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I would substitute either A Song for Arbonne or The Sarantine Mosaic for Tigana, if it were my list. Tigana is a good book, but something about the psychology of the characters always seems a bit off to me, and I suspect might bother non-F&SF readers more. The Sarantine Mosaic might be a better choice as it has more fantastic elements than Arbonne (not to mention The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is why I didn't).

I support Mary Kay's recommendation of McKillip. If you haven't read her more recent books (since about 1997, I want to say), you might want to try some of them, as they feel rather different to me than her earlier works such as The Riddle-Master of Hed (although I like those, too). I think the best of her more recent books is Alphabet of Thorn.

The most recent, chronologically, McKillip I've read was _Winter Rose_, which I didn't like. I see that it has a publication date of 1996, so just before your cut-off. Would you say her books after that are much different?

(no subject) - (Anonymous), 2005-07-21 02:56 am (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous), 2005-07-21 02:25 pm (UTC)(Expand)
(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-21 05:40 pm (UTC)(Expand)
The rec.arts.sf.written version of this post is at message ID 4frpd1lm17gemg3h7s9jvs0njp35ecqr9e@news.verizon.net (link to Google Groups).

How about so-called "alternative history"?

Hi, I'm strolling around Internet and approve of many of the choices you put up on your initiation list. I'll try this OpenID thing. Nope, not supported.

May I plug Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower" and/or "Parable of the Talents"? I haven't found her other work up to speed relative to these; IMHO they ought to be reprinted in one big volume.

I also enjoy Tim Powers' novels and agree with Chad Orzel's recommendation of "Declare" rather than "Last Call". I prefer the latter (and "Earthquake Weather" was even better) but I think the former may be more accessible and more genre-crossing.

Then again, your list is just fine, given that you're trying to bring in new readers. But I wouldn't knock Ursula Le Guin for adults, nor neglect Ray Bradbury.

Alethea (http://humans.scienceboard.net)

Oh yes, and *do* read Watership Down. Utterly classic. And why hasn't the Annotated Alice (Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner's notes) been mentioned? Too scholarly? *Too* classic?

(no subject) - kate_nepveu, 2005-07-25 12:05 am (UTC)(Expand)

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