Monday, 26 October 2015

Overrated Fantasy Books

This is a counterpoint to my "recommended reading" lists and I may add to it as time goes by. E.g. I'm about to press "publish" and I recall LE Modesitt being pretty bad.... 

The Low-Hanging Fruit
It's like a fanfic written by a 14 year old. Wait a minute - that's exactly what it is!  Probably OK if you are also 14. Otherwise, avoid.  It amazes me how this made it onto shelves.  It's like his parents were publishers or something.....   But it got a movie?

Anything by Terry Goodkind
Not only it is terribly written, but it is inexplicably popular.  Probably by the same people who think Fifty Shades of Grey is fine literature.  It is drivel. Amateurish drivel. Popularity is not writing skill and Mr Goodkind, frankly, has none of the latter.  Well he is the master of "tell, don't show." The main character is a super warrior who is also a super wizard who is super intelligent and loves to get up on a soapbox. I'm not a women's libber by any stretch, but even I found the sex scenes awkward. 

Anything by Terry Brooks
If it wasn't for Terry Pratchett balancing things out, I'd think there was something in the name. He isn't awful like Goodkind, simply commercially successful and utterly devoid of imagination and any original ideas. It's like watching a rerun of a rerun.  Please, stop churning Shanarra books out. It's like a series of unoriginal RPG supplements that never ends.

The Desert Spear (Peter Brett)
I thought the series started promisingly, but by the second book, my goodness the characters became annoying.  Also, I find it ridiculous how random villagers suddenly turn into amazing demon-slaying heroes. I also dislike authors who write with an accent, y'all.

Alvin Maker (Orson Scott Card)
This is some sort of Mormon fantasy. Since I'm not a Mormon nor intend to read their literature, this misses the mark for me.  Preachy and dull.  A slur on the writer who did Ender's Game. (although some of the Ender sequels did hint to the depths to which Mr Card could sink.)

Anything by David Eddings
A McDonalds-style writer like Mr Brooks who churns books out by the score - only the MacDonalds nutirition information label is less cliche and more interesting.  I guess they aren't truly awful, (maybe OK for kids? I didn't mind them as a teen) it just offends me that such a poor writer should achieve such a level of success. I fear for humanity.

Anything by Piers Anthony
A panties-obsessed old pervert.  The panties of young, pubescent girls at that.  I wouldn't be surprised to discover he writes erotic fanfiction about kids TV programs or something equally disturbing. On the upside, at least he is honest about being in it for the money.

Anything by Raymond Feist besides Magician
The first book was quite good. The rest could simply be churned out by any ghostwriter. He evidently sold out to The Man rather early on.  I think most of the plots were copy+paste jobs.

Night Angel series
Cliches wrapped in cliches.  Orphan apprentices to master assassin, yadda yadda. Orphan gets super ninja magic powers.  I'd recommend it for teens but it's got swear words and sex and stuff to make it look like it was a gritty book meant for adults.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things - by Patrick Rothfuss
I've skewered this before, but it bears repeating. This is not a book, but a plotless, pointless vanity project that should (as per his original intention) never have been published.  Yes, the cover warned me I might not like it. (What writer does that?! - next time, Pat, listen to your inner voice) But I still feel robbed. I still expected a book.

A bit more contentious

The Black Company by Glenn Cook
It was one of the first gritty realistic "military" fantasies.  It's original, yes.  It's just not very good, and compares poorly to almost every successor/imitator. I've read more coherent SMS messages.

The Wheel of Time
It started really well - I enjoyed the first 4-5 books. Then I realised the series wasn't going anywhere.  The later books were filler. Huge books of filler, at that. New characters and plotlines were introduced and the story went nowhere.  A never-ending cash cow that was to be milked.  Apparently the series ended well (only after Robert Jordan died) but I'm too numbed to go back.  A good editor willing to cut through the crap would have helped. 

A Wizard from Earthsea
Quite boring to be honest. A lot of exposition as I recall.  World building was OK. Rather dated.

Malazan Book(s) of the Fallen
Boring.  He doesn't "baby his readers" but that's just an excuse for poor orientation.  It's like a homebrew wargames rules set. It makes sense in the author's head but the coherency does not always make its way onto the page.  I wasn't shocked to find that it is simply the author writing about a D&D roleplaying world he invented because that is exactly how it reads.  I'd excuse all this if it was actually interesting but it isn't.  Or if it he had amazing skills with prose (which he doesn't).  I'm amazed this series stretched for 10+ books. Probably because he conned his readers into thinking they were special snowflakes who "got" his deep and meaningful style.

Codex Alera
I sometimes secretly read my wife's Dresden Files collection (which seemed to improve as they went along), but surely Jim Butcher is not that awful a writer. Because Codex Alera is really awful.  I've tried to read it twice but given up and thrown the book into the corner of the room each time. Perhaps one more try, and thence into the bin. I recall a story that says Jim Butcher wrote it on a bet that you couldn't write a good story combining the Lost Legion and Pokemon.  Well Jim, you lost the bet, but props for trying - you're a cool guy.

Thomas Covenant
I think it was about internal struggles and symbolism.  I merely found it dull and depressing. Antiheroes are fine, but his was unlikeable and whiny/dull.  It was probably hot stuff back in the 70s but unlike crime fiction and perhaps sci fi), fantasy has actually progressed.  Take off the nostalgia goggles.  Also, I was convinced he used obscure words just to pad the novel without knowing what they meant (my teenage recollections - I may be wrong). Also, too much rape.

Step away from that sacred cow, and put down that cattle prod!

Lord of the Rings
Put down the pitchforks and torches, folks. Remember, I said overrated, not bad.  Tolkien is a terrific world builder and his world of Middle Earth inspired a genre.  But his plotting and characterisation are pretty nonexistent.  Lots of landscape descriptions, lots of walking. Heck, even the trees walked.  I'm going to commit heresy and suggest his work could do with a good edit.  As an influential feat of worldbuilding, sure? As a novel?  Meh.
(Actually I was just imagining a world without Tolkien. It might have made fantasy more interesting, actually)

Harry Potter
Again, I said overrated. It's quite OK, but not that good. Basically an Enid Blyton book but with a magical boarding school. It's simply not good enough for the hype/craze/waiting-in-line-overnight-to-purchase-a-book/movies etc etc. Not even remotely.  It's decent. But not the second coming.  It's not even the best fantasy book of its generation. I felt the series started well, but I think the editors were kinda sitting back by the end as the Potter cult gained momentum.  JK Rowling's publicist isn't overrated though.

Anything by Brandon Sanderson that isn't The Way of Kings
Until the The Way of Kings I had dismissed Brandon Sanderson as another wannabe churned out of the "author factory" (based in Arizona/Utah or somewhere in the American Midwest) where famous authors sponsor their proteges.  Everything else Brandon has done (mind, I haven't read his ending to the Wheel of Time) has been classed as "great, imaginative worldbuilding, very 'meh' writing skills."
Imaginative? Yes. Overrated? Absolutely.

A Game of Thrones
Perhaps this is because of all the hype from the TV shows? Nah. I was already getting tired of his tendency to wander off into irrelevant detail and longwindedness before the shows.  People always see this on my bookshelf and ask "should I read this?" and I answer "no, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, watch the show instead then read the book if you're dedicated."  I was a GRR Martin fan when he released his first ASoIaF books, but the shine has well and truly worn off.   I honestly think he is now "milking" it like Wheel of Time as book 4 and 5 kinda went nowhere.... is there even an overarching plot at all?

How dare you! You, sir, clearly do not have the comprehension nor literacy skills to grasp a masterwork of literature!

 Actually, I always wonder what qualifies a book critic.  If a critic, by definition, is "...a legless man who teaches running...." then I am as qualified as any!  As usual, feel free to agree/disagree, and add your 10c below. 


  1. and which would be the most underrated books?

    1. Sounds like material for another log post....

      The first name that came to wind was Paul Kearney - a decent author (not amazing) who has a lot of solid 3/5 or 4/5 star series with about 0 recognition.

  2. Somewhat to my surprise (since we frequently disagree about war games) I have to second pretty much every thing especially since you did say "over rated" not "bad" I will disagree on Tolkien though I will admit that he has been elevated from great writer to deity which is unfair to him. Being great (or even good) in this day and age probably means your overrated by definition... which is sad.

    1. Tolkien was a great builder/linguist whatever. But a great novelist? How many chapters did he need to get to Weathertop? As for plot, I refer you to:

    2. I happen to love all of his works and will not be swayed with rational arguments (love is not rational after all). I will agree he is "over-rated" in that his reputation is so high in some circles that no experience reading it could measure up if your exposed to the reputation before reading.

  3. I think your low hanging fruit section covers everything I read from the school library (Goodkind, Eddings, Feist and Brooks) that got me into fantasy books in the first place (other than Tolkein, who I'd read before).

    A lot of the others that I've read since that are in your list... I would agree with them all, especially Thomas Covenant. I never did finish that one...

    I'd certainly be interested to see your most underrated books list too :)

  4. Add me to the list of those who agree with pretty much all of your post. In particular, Thomas Covenant was a bunch of drivel and I was very disappointed with The Black Company after the reviews I read of it.

    The only point of contention I might raise is that Harry Potter was written for kids and anything that gets young teens excited about reading is great. Anything that gets them committed to reading a series of large books is indeed quite a phenomenon. Eregon had a similar impact with my kids, for which I thank the author!

    1. I actually moonlight as a librarian(!) and some of the YA stuff now is really rather good. For example, Half a King is better than most adult novels and I reckon you AND your son would enjoy it. Out of other YA novels, you might enjoy "The Haunting of Alaizebel Cray" as well - set in VSF London.

      Back in the day, YA meant "the author is not good enough to write for adults" or "abridged version of adult book" but now there's a lot of good stuff out there hidden amongst the emo girl-meets-bad boy vampire/werewolf/angel/demon hunter crap.

    2. I'll check them out - cheers!

  5. You have bad taste and you are a bad person who does bad things. And you should feel bad. But only for including The Black Company on this list. The rest of it proves you have good taste and are a good person who does good things.

    Let me take off my troll hat for bit. While I agree with your assessment in most cases, I will admit to reading and enjoying the Codex Alera series even while recognizing that it wasn't all that great. Hey, sometimes a guy just wants to eat at McDonald's.

    1. Dresden Files is McDonalds. Codex Alera is the McDonalds you find sunbaked onto the drive through tarmac!

      I notice Black Company is revered in wargame circles, despite its awfulness. But sadly if being one of the cool kids means reading incoherent text-message-style stories, I'll pass.

      .....These reviews are fun to write as I can let rip as I don't know the authors (which I often do with the wargame reviews) - theres no need to even attempt to be objective!

  6. Don't get me started about the Wheel of Time series...ugh! It started out well, but after awhile, I needed a cheat sheet to remember who the cast of thousands were, and why I should remotely care. The one character that was really interesting, the female magician (or whatever she was), Moiraine died! Why her and not the billions of others who had no real point to the story? My head hurt and lost interest after the sixth book.

    1. I think I quit at the same point.

      I thought WoT was winding up towards the finale around books 4-5... then books 6-7 I was like "wtf? off on new tangents?!" and it was obvious it was just an attempt to milk the series. You know, like "filler" episodes in TV series but ones that go for 800 pages compared to a 30min TV show....

  7. Hey there evilleMonkeigh,

    I've been following your blog for some time now, although not really commenting. I took a lot of advice in your game design posts to heart, and have finally put the first version of GALAXIA, a space wargame revolving around orbital maneuvering with plausible mid-future spacecraft, up for sale on Wargame Vault. Sale price is $15.00 for the rulebook; a comprehensive Excel database containing all ship and munitions data to date is a separate (but free; I may try to link the two into a single bundle as I better learn WGV's interface) file.

    The main rulebook can be found here:

    Database here:

    And finally, my Shapeways store with official Galaxia miniatures is here:

    I would greatly appreciate if you considered taking a look at my rules! This is still only the first version of them; I fully expect to make quite a few corrections in the next few weeks.


    1. I have a bit of a backlog of rules to review (I have small kids so can't always get out to test them often) - but new space games are good. I do have a query:

      Do you have a link to a blog etc where you talk about your design ideas etc so we have an idea of what your rules are about or what mechanisms/detail is involved?

      To be blunt, auper "realistic" (or ultra detailed) space rules tend to be something I avoid - e.g. if it shares traits with AV:T, Babylon 5 Wars or SFB - or it's like 1 ship per player - it's unlikely I'm going to want to try it out. (I prefer that as a PC game)

    2. I used to maintain a blog, but it was primarily dedicated to in-universe musings about technology, missile types, and the like. The WargameVault page does have PDF and Flash previews of the rulebook, as well.

      To sum things up quickly, the game uses a specially-gridded board to approximate relative velocities of differing orbits, requiring players to plan rendezvous maneuvers, launch at particular moments to hit targets, create spreads of persistent(!) missile salvos to deny particular orbits to hostiles, et cetera.

      The primary offensive spacecraft type is the "striker", an airliner-sized, FTL-capable craft roughly equivalent to a PT boat, as large warships are rather impractical and uncommon for many reasons. For every freighter with container or lighter racks replaced with missile bays, there are at least a dozen strikers.

      Level of detail is best described as moderate. Spacecraft do require tracking of ammunition (best accomplished using the labelled counters that represent the missile salvos on the board itself), with some tracking of hit points. Hit points simply provide a way of establishing reasonable limits on how much shrapnel or unitary warheads a particular spacecraft can take before breaking up. In all likelihood, the craft will be knocked out by critical hits long before it runs out of hit points.

      Galaxia is designed to allow squadron-plus engagements. A first-time player can easily handle a squadron of eight aerospace fighters, with supporting space stations, ground installations, and satellites, and two squadrons would not pose any difficulty either. Combat in-universe rarely occurs at levels above this, so I see the rules as a good fit.

  8. I agree - though I really *like* 'The Black Company' proper i.e. the eponymous novel, the 1st of the series; but I'm a simple mind and can't follow when the author switches from a point of view to another with flashbacks (sometimes over centuries) and involves gods and parallel universes.
    Besides, I was hoping for a better fate for Soulcatcher ^.^

    1. If you'd like a more coherent version of a mercenary fantasy unit, I suggest Brian Ruckley's "The Free" - which is in a similar vein.

  9. I largely agree but with some provisos. To say Tolkien's LOTR is over rated is like saying Shakespeare is over rated.

    As for some other statements Piers Anthony actually wrote a few books that are worth reading: Macroscope, Prostho Plus another, and I have fond memories of the Of Man and Manta series (Omnivore, Orn & 0X), but the rest of is stuff doesn't float my boat.

    Again Glenn Cook's standalone novels like The Dragon Never Sleeps and Passage at arms are well worth reading and not books I would consider to be over rated, and perhaps that's the point. Is it the authors or their works that are over rated?

    1. Whenever I suggest Tolkien has limitations as an author, friends often plug their ears and go "lalalalalala!" very loudly....

      Character Development?
      Pacing/Being able to end the story in a timely manner?
      Info dump/superfluous info?
      Use of deus ex machina?

      Being an influential author does not automatically qualify one as a great author, nor a near deity. One could even argue if that influence was positive or not. Being a detailed worldbuilder does not make one a great author (sometimes, the opposite depending on how the worldbuilding is delivered). Tolkien is more a linguistics professor than a novelist, and it shows. The Hobbit was a bit better written, but OK, not godlike.

      IS Shakespeare overrated? Definitely a majority portion of those who read it (high school kids!) would think so..... He wasn't exactly full of original plots or world building... (I said this a bit tongue in cheek, but now I think about it, I doubt he is worthy of the deity status accorded him)

      If I've written "anything by" it's the author as a whole; if the series is named, the book/series in particular.

  10. I read "Wizard's first rule", not really knowing anything about Goodkind, but I was playing a game themed around the book. I thought it was okay at first, with some good characters, but then it got to the point where the hero is tortured and basically brainwashed into following with basically a cattle prod. "Not down there!". Super creepy.

    I agree about Brooks. Not bad, but nothing really interesting either. I don't even really remember what happened in the first book in the shanarra, which is the only one I read (though it's been a while), except an impression that it was very lord of the rings-like, and that I'd rather read LotR than read it again.

    I think I got to the same point you did on wheel of time, and stopped. the females are almost always failing the bechdel test, talking about how they want to have sex with the hero. The hero, a cardboard cutout constantly whining about how he can't just deal with those greedy nobles (oh good! more cardboard!) and why won't they just accept him as the god-king-hero and worship him? nothing really else happening. The desert culture from 1-2 books before where I stopped were kind of interesting.

  11. I was kind of curious about Patrick Rothfuss's books when he started playing in the PAX D&D games ("What ho!"). I notice you only name one book, are the other books by Rothfuss worth checking out?

    1. They are rather good, and appear in more detail here:

  12. Nice one. Someone has to have the courage to poop on sacred unicows and thank you for doing such a service. I felt one of your best calls was in the comments. Paul Kearney was criminally unappreciated.

  13. Im still not sure if Tolkien's work can be overrated. Your critique aims at him writing a novel, while in large parts the Lord of the Rings is much more an epic. Without Tolkien Fantasy wouldnt be what it is today (although after the latest movie exploits and the billion poorly written copies, you might argue, that would have been a good thing).
    I recently re-read it and was amazed how enjoyable it still is, leading from something like a fairy tale in the Shire into darker and darker regions.

    I also found Feist quite enjoyable, although with the exception of the Magician, I havent read him in 20years.

    Totally agree with Brooks and the Thomas Covenant-books. The latter I havent been able to finish even though I tried three times - and you can find so much praise about it! Also Eragon = so true, though I acknowledge that the author was still a kid, its unbelievable that this was filmed!

    I also liked that the Song of Ice and Fire made it to the list. While I tremendously enjoyed the first two books, it has become what Wheel of Time was: An ever retarding static, where dozens of new characters are introduced out of nothing, characters' actions don't cause anything (Dance with Dragons!) and you are expected to read through hundreds of pages just to admire the author's brilliance!

    While with Tolkien, I can do this. I really do admire his linguistic genius, the lack of anachronisms in his world, the many layers of perception within its work (characters writing books in which characters tell stories about ages long begone!). MArtin is a good writer, but has fallen into a trap, where he loves everything about his creation so much (or fears the end of the monthly paychecks he earns with these books) that he creates so many unnecessary sub-plots, that I am too bored to follow him any more.

    I also would include Abercrombie. But that may be because I only read three of his novels (First Law): The first volume was one of the best, I must admit, I have ever read, the second was still good, though lacked the pace and surprising elements, while no. 3's torture scenes and stupid endings simply annoyed me.

    1. I think it's fair to critique Tolkien as a novelist when we're talking about fantasy NOVELS. If it was a "best fantasy worldbuilding" thread or "best linguist writing fantasy" then he probably wouldn't be overrated at all.

      Neither am I comparing LOTR as an epic vs Beowulf, or the Saga of Eric the Red or whatever. Because that's not what LOTR gets compared against (by 99% of ordinary people who read it, anyway). No, they compare LOTR vs other fantasy books (aka novels).

      For example, judging Shakespeare on other grounds makes sense: Shakespeare's a playwright, not a novelist. I suppose we could compare his work to modern screenplays and scripts, but he isn't a novelist and thus a "Midsummer Night's Dream" does not belong in a fantasy book review, as it is a script, not a novel. Whereas LOTR is a novel.

      Btw, Abercrombie actually got a lot better after the "First Law" books which are his worst (and forgivable as they are his first; unlike Feist et al where the writing degrades over time).

      The rest of the books are standalones usually parodying a genre; I liked "The Heroes" (war movie) best, with Red Country (western), and Best Served Cold (revenge) also both better than the latter two First Law books.

      I really like standalone fantasy books; it shows an author can write a good story in a mere 500 pages, not 12+ 800 page tomes which are badly in need of an editor with gumption.

      His Half a King/Half the World YA books are much better and "toned back" a bit with less grimdark; well worth a read if you are interested in trying him again.

    2. Thanks, I will give these a try.

      What's your opinion of Wagner, Howard and especially Leiber? Those three together with Moorcock are my favourites from a long time of reading (mostly poorly written) Fantasy books.

    3. Honestly they are all so far back in my reading past I can't give an accurate account, though I do recall Howard being very 30s pulp (with a correspondingly dodgy, overblown, over-descriptive writing style). His books were pulp "airport novel" junk reading at the time, and haven't aged well.

      Moorcock. A bit weird/depressing from memory. Definitely overrated as he has a real "aura" that the books do not even remotely live up to. I think I have a few Elric books mouldering in the bottom of a box in the shed.

      Like the other two, increasingly fading into the background. Despite his reputation, I doubt many under 30-40 would even know of Moorcock (heresy as it may seem to his advocates) let alone have read his books.

      In Australia, the only way you'd get a Moorcock book is a 70s edition at a second hand "dime" store - I don't recall the last time I even saw one for sale, new, at a bookstore.

      Is Lieber the Gray Mouser guy? Again, very faint memories. He's probably not overrrated as he's even harder to find than the other two....

    4. This is a bit of an infantile response I know, but Michael Moorcock as a name always made me laugh. I was always afraid to march into the library and ask for his stuff. Sounds like something off a Bond/Austin Powers movie - Pussy Galore, Alotta Fagina and Ivana Humpalot etc etc.

      ...because every thread with Michael Moorcock in it needs the opportunity for jokes in the comments section....

    5. Oh my goodness! Our tastes are a bit too far away to get to a common point here. WithHoward (who not only introduced THE two most long-linving archetypes of fantasy literature, namely Conan and Solomon Kane) and Moorcock are two more classics, which are on a similar level as Tolkien.

      Again, forget about the world-building and stuff, but without these authors you would not read Fantasy literature today. It's like calling Newton stupid because he didnt think of the relative dimension of time when formulating the theory of gravity!

      (Well, maybe that's a "little" bit too high a praise for these authors, but honestly, they can't be overrated, since they more or less single-handedly defined the genre).

      I think, what you are referring to is that their style is old-fashioned. This is a problem, you have with many literary classics. The older they get, the more difficult they are to read from a modern perspective.

      But would you call Homer's Ilias overrated or the Gilgamesh epic?

      Tolkien, I do agree to a certain level, is no Fantasy novel, its much more an experiment of how serious you can get when writing fantastic. But its been a great experience to see how it worked and how many possibilities it spawned for the authors who followed him.

      Howard is very much the same, but Moorcock deserves praise for something else (though you should google his absolutely evil polemic on Tolkien. He is not the greatest fan of LotR): Transcendent concepts. Suddenly demons were not simply a monster that was exchangable with a lion or an evil swordsman, but moral questions, questions of reality and many other aspects were presented in Fantasy novels.

      While I don't like everything, Moorcock has written over the time, I still would praise Elric, Corum and the end of time books. If you want to try something different, check Glorianna or his latest three books (beginning with the Dreamthief's daughter) which take Fantasy to the 2nd World War.

      If you can get some of Fritz Leiber's works, give them a try. He is probably much more to your liking. Maybe the first truly "modern" author of fantasy, sometimes dark, sometimes comical, sometimes even hillariously funny. Either start chronologically or read his best novel The Swords of Lankhmar.

    6. I enjoy all the different points of view. It's fun debating something besides wargames.

      ..... "Inventing" a genre is great, but how high was the bar set, and has it been exceeded? Just because it was the best (and only) fantasy novel at the time doesn't mean it's the best now, or even well written for the time.

      Often older books/movies have a nostalgia appeal as it was the first we read, that got us hooked on a genre. For example I quite like The Prisoner of Zenda whilst acknowledging it is a rather poorly written, cliched book.

      Alexander Graham Bell may have invented the phone, but his phone isn't necessarily better than a current Nokia or a Samsung, and I wouldn't recommend his phone over a modern one. If someone said "Get a Model T Ford, they're awesome, they defined the mass produced car! Without Model T Fords, we'd not have the cars we do today!"

      I'd say, "Model T's may be a bit overrated - try a Mazda 6 first instead."

      Moorcock seemed to be busy being a revolutionary (or a reactionary against Tolkien) and while he may have interesting IDEAS, he wasn't a particularly amazing writer. (Not a below-average writer, like Howard - but definitely overrated)

      I was reading El Borak by Howard the other day, and his writing style is just... ugh. I'm not saying dated - I read Jules Verne the other day and it didn't bother me at all. I don't care if it's racist, for example - that's fine, just reflecting the attitudes of the times. But I do care if it's so clunkily written that I wince every second paragraph. He fits into the "paid by the word, so churns out lots of stuff" Terry Brooks/Eddings category at best.

      Does the author/book come with a reputation that outshines the actual work? Would someone, who had heard of the glowing reputation/popularity of the book, be potentially disappointed when comparing a book to similar books in the genre?

  14. MAcavityandMycroft10 November 2015 at 16:57

    I can't believe I'm doing this, but I'm going to defend Eddings. He's actually a very good author (as in writing skills), who wrote the most generic plot possible. Though not a favourite at all, he is very readable, and I often found myself as a youngster happily reading a couple of chapters and then realizing that literally all that happened was they stopped for lunch.

    I heard a rumour that this was intentional. That he picked all the stereo-typical elements and tried to write the best books within that challenge.

    Of course, he went on to write it multiple times, eventually having his characters point out that they were LITERALLY doing the same thing so...

    Tolkien is an interesting one. I can't really disagree with your point, as I recommend to first-time readers that they think of it as a history, rather than a novel to enjoy it. That said, I've never seen a compelling argument against the plot...

    1. The LOTR plot was so meandering as to be non-existent. It's more like a travel diary of Middle Earth than a novel. Let me sum it up:

      "A hobbit discovers he has a magic ring. He does a lot of walking, to places that are described in painstaking detail, and finally chucks it into a volcano, despite the fact it would have been much faster to fly there on a giant eagle."

      You thought the movies dragged on and missed about 5 logical "ending points?" That's because the books did too. In fact, apart from the abomination that was Return of the King (Army of the Dead grrrr) the movies were BETTER than the books (something I almost never say), because they cut out so much random crap.

      If only Mr Jackson had simply restricted himself to cutting out stuff, rather than changing/adding it in. I think it is a conceit of directors/scriptwriters.
      "This book is beloved by millions, so I'm going to change it to prove I can do it better than the author can."

      Case in point: The Hobbit. Where the book was definitely better than the (3!) movies.


  15. I've just discovered this site, having followed a series of links, originally from Board GameGeek, I think, but it's hard to be sure by this time. The review of The Battlefield was what I came for - and appreciated - but having spotted the provocative title of this thread I couldn't resist looking, and found it very stimulating, which is exactly what I needed given that, by a perverse circumstance, I'm writing this in McDonalds - they do WiFi as well as 'food', you know, thus permitting my participation in this debate. (In fairness I feel bound to add that I am quite partial to McFlurries, preferably with Oreos, but I've been here so long I couldn't have my third one as they're not available on the breakfast menu.)

    Having read a fair amount of fantasy literature, I hope I may be forgiven for adopting some of the bad habits of the authors who have been surgically skewered above, including a weakness for meandering digression, but will end with a couple of moderately pertinent observations.

    Most of the authors in the first section are ones whom I have never felt the slightest interest in reading, though I have encountered a few of them in anthologies, without being remotely stimulated to investigate their oeuvre. I can never remember the difference between the Two Terries Who Aren't Pratchett, but can recall being staggered by the following blurb found on the cover of one or the other's publications, at least in their UK editions. (It's from memory, so may not be precise). "He who has not read Terry Brookkind has not read fantasy". The author of these sage words was Christopher Paolini, whose concept of fantasy - or, for that matter, reality - was thus advertised as being rather different than that of the average sentient, let alone author. (I don't plan to read him.)

    I can't quit, however, without at least one token disagreement. Given that Tolkien has already found a number of champions, I'll go for Shakespeare. "He wasn't exactly full of original plots or world building." This, I contend, is known as missing the point. No-one in Shakespeare's time or earlier would have even recognised those terms: ALL the classical authors' plots were taken from history, legend, or folk tale. Homer did not invent the Trojan War, though today it's largely known through the Iliad, any more than Shakespeare invented the Agincourt campaign (though the average simpleton probably knows it, if at all, only in his retelling.) You may not class those as fantasy, but it's equally true of classic works with a fantasy element, and of course, as has already been pointed out, as a dramatist his criteria were not those of a novelist. I don't know off-hand when the term 'world building' came into existence, but I'm reasonably certain it was subsequent to the bard's passing.

    I'm looking forward to reading the companion piece on recommended reading and may return with more pithy rejoinders, but I have lingered here too long. (You may interpret the word 'here' as you will).

    1. Well, if Paolini recommends Terry Goodkind, I stand corrected. :-P

      Your token Shakespearan disagreement, I would contend, is called "cherry picking" an argument (at best) or taking a statement out of context/creating a "straw man" (at worst) :-)

    2. I'm not familiar with straw men, or how to create one, though I vaguely recall the earlier appearance of the phrase in this thread. As for my comments being out of context, please explain. I don''t think I was "cherry picking" any more than you were. I'm not familiar with the entirety of Shakespeare's oeuvre, so cannot claim to be in a position to make a comprehensive argument, quite apart from the question of space.

      You brought up the question of his possibly being overrated, and cited his lack of originality and world building skills, which I consider to be a complete red - and possibly straw - herring, i,e, irrelevant.


    3. To add to the discussion: (I must say, the blog comments are usually more interesting than the posts)

      "All classic works were taken from history, legend or folk tale."
      -But someone had to invent those legends and folk tales, and that person was not Shakespeare, who thus cannot be compared against those who create their own world and characters.

      "I don't know off-hand when the term 'world building' came into existence, but I'm reasonably certain it was subsequent to the bard's passing."
      -This is a bit of a red herring. The word assassinate became popular thanks to Shakespeare's works, but it is ludicrous to claim no one was assassinated before the word became popular.

      "The criteria for a dramatist is not the same as a novelist."
      -Agreed. This was used to refute the "LOTR can only be judged as an epic not a novel."

      "You may not class those as fantasy, but it's equally true of classic works with a fantasy element"
      -Is this saying Shakespeare CAN be judged as a fantasy novel?

      The whole argument seems based around the fact something cannot exist unless a word has been specifically coined for it, and that Shakespeare (if he indeed penned the plays attributed to him) was exempt from using his imagination in other ways besides inventing words (which he did), whilst simultaneously denying then agreeing(?) his works can be classed alongside fantasy novels.

      Allow me to phrase more clear questions:
      As a playwright (not author), is Shakespeare truly worthy of the near deity status we accord him? Has his work been equalled or even exceeeded by those after him? Should his works be mandatory reading for our youth? Can his works even be judged against conventional fantasy?

    4. Combative sort of person, aren't you? I'll try to match you.

      1. Originality - to reuse a phrase we've both already made use of, though neither of us can claim to be the originator, this is a red herring (where the hell does that come from?)

      "But someone had to invent those legend or folk tales": surely they evolved of their own volition, so to speak, rather like the history (which you omit) though this is also beside the point (see what I mean about layers of irrelevance?) In short, does it matter where they came from? My point is that none of the classic authors was ever judged by the originality of his base material, or regarded any less for its absence. On the contrary, it was expected that they draw on great, classic, well known sources; the grander the theme, the greater the work, at least in theory. This was true of poetry, drama, opera, and the early prose tales, though not the later novel (which, perhaps not coincidentally, means 'new'). No, Shakespeare cannot be compared with those who create their own worlds (he did create quite a few characters, to be fair, albeit largely in supporting roles, other than in some of the comedies) but why should he be? That criterion was never a factor, but you have argued against his greatness because of it. By the same token, you presumably dismiss Homer, Virgil, Dante and countless others.

      2. World building - I fear we may be in danger of being buried in layers of red herrings here. You describe my argument thus because I said the term did not exist, pointing out that this does not mean the concept did not. However, for the same reasons outlined above, I believe it really did not. Please give an example of a 17th century - or earlier - world builder, irrespective of how the hypothetical author may have termed the process. I would be highly surprised if you can, if by this you mean creating a milieu from scratch (though it should be pointed out that not even Tolkien did this, having Anglo-Saxon England as his starting point, just as the majority of fantasy authors have based their imagined worlds on historical models; of course he transformed it into something his own). Evidently for the argument to be meaningful the term needs to be rigorously defined, and not just applied selectively.

      3. Shakespearian drama as fantasy novel - no. I meant that the classical works with fantasy elements were no more original in conception than those without them. The gods appear in Greek poetry and drama - albeit not visible, to the best of my knowledge - but these were in the context of a belief system, and against a known backdrop, e.g. the Trojan War. The line you quote was an afterthought to pre-empt a possible argument that my example - Agincourt - was not fantasy; I might have saved some effort by citing King Lear (or Hamlet, which at least has a ghost.) Lear was a legendary figure, and I'm reasonably sure Shakespeare dug up the Dane from somewhere, though I don't know how much he invented himself in either case.

      I'll address the last two paragraphs after a break for a muffin. Please excuse the crumbs.

    5. I think I've addressed your point about a concept being capable of existence independent of a recognised term for it (though surely one must swiftly follow to allow for discussion, though not necessarily the same one used by a later generation). To be clear, it was not my intention to suggest that just because world building as a term is fairly recent that it cannot, in theory, have already existed, albeit in different terms; I am aware critical terminology is as subject to fashion as other kinds. I simply do not accept that it (world building) is relevant to an author of Shakespeare's time, or until the concept of fantasy literature as we understand it emerged very much later. (As to precisely when this was, I hesitate to nominate a specific period which I will almost certainly feel the need to reconsider before long, but I doubt that it could be before the rise of the gothic novel in the mid-eighteenth century, and the subsequent Romantic movement, and even then the indebtedness to folk tales is obvious. Frankenstein is, however, a possible touchstone, albeit more for SF than fantasy of the type we are discussing).

      BTW, I do hope you realise I'm essentially thinking this through as I write? Everything I state is tentative to an extent (though essentially correct).

      I'm not sure I understand your apparent assertion that I believe Shakespeare was "exempt from using his imagination in other ways than inventing worlds"...I don't see how anything I've said could lead to that conclusion. He certainly made plenty of things up - many words and phrases now in common currency, to start with - and undoubtedly applied his imagination to the psychology of his protagonists (having little choice if he intended any depth in the characterisations). There is an abundance of imagination, not remotely vitiated by the use of settings and major characters who were already known to the audiences. (See previous points for what I contend is the complete irrelevance of this).

      I am further confused by your apparent belief that I am "simultaneously denying then agreeing his works can be classed alongside fantasy novels". I don't know the basis for this perception of a blatant contradiction, but must assume I have expressed myself with less than ideal clarity. I hope I can redress this by stating that I don't believe Shakespeare belongs in a discussion of fantasy novels. The criteria, both in terms of genre and historical context, are so different as to constitute the Mother of All Red Herrings. Someone - please - get a harpoon.

    6. I seem to be taking over this blog, with comments all over the place, but before withdrawing I need to meet the challenge of answering your closing questions as best I can.

      "As a playwright (not author), is Shakespeare truly worthy of the near deity status we accord him? "

      This seems to suggest his plays are lacking as dramas, a view I have heard expressed by actors, who should know. I'm no expert - it's a long time since I read or watched one, other than an occasional film adaptation - but they certainly seem to have their faults from a technical point of view, with mislaid characters, among other foibles. Many of them are still great works, however, and I don't see how most of the tragedies and histories can be regarded as other than cornerstones of the western canon, pompous as that may sound. This is not to say that Shakespeare, or any artist, should be treated with reverence; according him "near deity status" does his work no favours, and probably inhibits proper appreciation. A good production of the better plays can be an exciting, moving, even visceral experience, but the text needs to be brought to life rather than recited as scripture.

      "Has his work been equalled or even exceeded by those after him? "

      If you're again speaking purely of drama, I'm sure there are a fair number of plays which stand up well in comparison, though it's difficult to think of a dramatist who wrote as many great works, even if one dismisses all the comedies. (I'm not familiar with most of them, and those I have encountered failed to excite me). Marlowe's plays are considered equal to Shakespeare's by many, though his output was curtailed to a mere half dozen by a sharp (or pointed) disagreement.

      If, however, you mean, "Are any later writers (in all genres) Shakespeare's equal or superior?" that is difficult to judge - especially by an amateur such as myself - for a number of reasons. Obvious candidates would be Goethe (not least according to himself), Tolstoy, and Dostoevski, and other Important Writers I've Never Quite Got Around To Reading.

      "Should his works be mandatory reading for our youth?"

      Some should certainly be part of the educational curriculum, though at what age pupils should be introduced to them is difficult to say. Here, I think it's at around 15, a year or so before GCSE O Levels are taken. To do it much earlier would ask a lot of most pupils, but to wait longer would not allow sufficient time for proper assimilation prior to examination. Many leave education at that point, so without some exposure to the texts might never read them. I seem to recall my class being presented with Julius Caesar the year before we studied Henry V for our O Levels, over many months. I don't recall this causing any major outbreaks of panic or mental breakdowns, though how well the language was appreciated is another matter. We also had to read Chaucer, though, which may have worked in Shakespeare's favour, being eminently comprehensible in comparison.

      It's interesting to note that some - George R R Martin among them - believe Tolkien should be part of the educational syllabus, which leads rather neatly to:

      "Can his works even be judged against conventional fantasy?"

      See previous comments. (In sum: no.)

  16. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know Paolini's overstated - and presumably well-recompensed - endorsement was for Terry Brooks, who is also a "mentor and friend". I can't find the actual quote I had in mind, but at least I now know it was on The Shit-shovellers of Shannara, or one of its ill-favoured siblings.

    Having reread much of the current thread backwards - which might just improve the reading experience of some of the reviled books - I see you did not introduce Shakespeare into the debate, though you certainly made the points I have addressed. On sobre reflection, I feel your status as an Antipodean should be taken as a mitigating circumstance. Speaking - albeit with understandable reluctance - of the southern hemisphere, don't you have Amazon? If so, how can it be so difficult to find books by Moorcock and Leiber? (please note spelling - this is, in common with everything else I have written, completely correct). This reminds me that the only words of Raymond Feist I have read were in the foreword to a collection of Lankhmar stories (the best edition, by White Wolf, now OOP, illustrated by Mike Mignola) wherein he pointed out that it is only publishers' marketing departments who claim Tolkien is the supreme influence on subsequent generations of fantasy writers: in reality, he points out, Leiber wears that mantle.

    I take issue also with your comments on A Song of Ice and Fire, but space and time (and quite possibly Nathaniel) preclude a detailed refutation of your mollusc-brained arguments.

    For what it may be worth, I have enjoyed all of Abercrombie's books, none of which I consider weak. I am just approaching the end of Half the World, but hope he returns to the venue of his earlier books, as I am greatly intrigued by the hints of a much greater conflict than has hitherto been described - i.e. that between the arrogant wizard who features prominently in the initial trilogy and the mysterious character who resurrects the heroine of Best Served Cold (sorry, but the names of all three escape me). I would be very disappointed if these were not followed up, but, to quote half the World, "So it goes with hopes".

    1. RANT: Amazon (like everything else) has an "Australia tax" - i.e. ridiculous P&P or simply markup, like GW content etc.

      The point I was making is that yes, you may be able to hunt up Moorcock or Leiber online at considerable expense and the local library usually might have a Moorcock book or two (out of the, what, 50-60 he published) but I didn't even include them as they are not readily available like all the other books mentioned. Even the Michael J. Sullivan Riyria Chronicles (which were originally self published) are more widely available.

      It's a sad indictment when you can find multiple copies of all the Paolini books.....

      ...but they aren't overrated so much as irrelevant.

  17. Point (and rant) taken. If it makes you feel better, Eureka Miniatures are horrendously expensive in the UK.

    A further point on Paolini: in spite of not having read his books, or having the slightest intention to, I was intrigued by the early commencement of his writing career, and wondered why his parents were irresponsible enough to allow it. It turns out that they are publishers, and published at least the first editions themselves. If there isn't a law against this already, what further atrocities are needed to bring one about?

    BTW, having missed the last bus home, I'm back at McDonald's, having fries thrown at me. I'm surprised the assailants can read my comments from their position.

  18. Heh. I already referenced his irresponsible patents....

    "It amazes me how this made it onto shelves. It's like his parents were publishers or something....."

  19. Replies
    1. I did actually. Like yourself, I was wondering how on earth he got published at such a tender age.... and with such indulgent editing. I've marked better Year 10 assignments.