A-Z of Fantasy

For fun, I decided to post an A-Z of fantasy. For some letters this was harder, obviously, and sometimes I switched to science fiction. Here are the posts (slightly edited), starting with the earlier ones.

But first an image I created—A magician at the edge of the universe.

a magician at the edge of the universeA magician at the edge of the universe

Jan 15, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (A)  Author You've Read the Most Books From

There are several authors I've read extensively since I was in my teens or twenties.

Terry Brooks wins with 41 books. I loved his books, and still like them, although not nearly as much as I used to. Still, they're good fantasy adventure stories, and his Magical Kingdom for Sale series kept me occupied during a long (13+ hour) flight, so I'll always appreciate that.

Honourable mentions go to Raymond Feist (31 books), Lois McMaster Bujold (21 books), and Michael Moorcock (21 books).

I still find Feist readable, and particularly like his original Magician books and the Empire Trilogy (which I love). The rest of the series rambles in an enjoyable way, and I always find it interesting when his characters launch into philosophical discussions on the nature of the universe and life. I don't have to agree with them, of course; I just enjoy listening to them.

Lois McMaster Bujold has written some good fantasy, but I most love her science fiction. The Vorkosigan Saga, with Miles Vorkosigan's adventures in space I've read and reread several times.

Michael Moorcock was my introduction to fantasy; I began reading him when I was about 14. I loved the Eternal Champion concept and followed the character in most of his incarnations. I still find them fun to read.

Jan 20, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (B) Best Standalone Novel

I like many but here I'm choosing The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I really enjoyed this book. There's no more than a hint of magic, but the goblin's personal struggles as he moves from obscurity to power are fascinating. Well written with a warm tone.

The novel won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2015 and was nominated for the Nebula and Hugo Awards, too.

Feb 08, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (C) Currently Reading

I'm currently reading a sample of Legend by David Gemmell. It's a tale of war and vengeance. I quite like it, but maybe not enough to want to see what happens next. The protagonist just doesn't interest me enough.

The other fantasy novel I'm reading is The Oak and the Ram by Michael Moorcock. It's book two in the Chronicle of Prince Corum and the Silver Hand. This follow-on series isn't as strong as the Books of Corum trilogy, but I like the world he's created. I have first editions of the trilogy in hardback which I picked up in a secondhand shop, and I like the early 70s artwork.

Feb 11, 2022

(D) Drink of My Choice While Reading

If I drink anything while I read, the choice would usually be between tea and water. Tea during the day and water at night.

Any type of tea is good, but I particularly like a good Ceylon or Darjeeling tea. I also drink oolong tea from central Taiwan, and the teas grown in the valleys around Shiding. Pouchong and the local red tea are my favourites.

Here's a picture of one of my teapots, which is designed as an ox with a calf on her back. I bought it in Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan.

ox teapot frontMy tea pot

Feb 13, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (E) E-book, Paperback, or Hardback?

Hardbacks are my favourite. They last longer, and I like the look of them in my bookcase but will only buy them when I expect to reread the book several times.

Paperbacks are good, too, especially for nonfiction.

E-books are not bad—especially for novels. They're useful when I'm travelling or when I want to read a book immediately. I like that I can increase the size of the print to suit me, too. I don't really like reading on my phone. Mostly, I read e-books on my Kindle e-reader (I have plans to buy a Kobo e-reader, too). E-books are also good for special offers, and as a way to check out a new book to see if I like it.

Feb 20, 2022

(F) Fictional Character You'd like to Drink With

Many fantasy characters are too pompous for me. Too full of themselves. Especially the magicians, who seldom have time for regular people. If I were to spend time with any fantasy characters, I'd have to be able to relate to them naturally.

But there is one magician I'd like to have a drink with, that's Kulgan from Raymond Feist's Magician series. Kulgan was Pug's initial and very down-to-earth teacher. Another character I'd invite would be Macros. It'd be interesting to talk to someone who once tried to become a god. Still from Feist's books, I'd also invite Mara from The Empire Trilogy. I admire her ability to forgive people who have done her harm.

I'd be happy to have a drink with the Goblin Emperor (from Katherine Addison's novel) too. It's interesting when ordinary goblins rise to great heights as this one did.

Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings would be another character I'd like to meet. I'd love to spend the evening eating and drinking with him and his wife. Lots of questions to ask him.

Just to move quickly outside fantasy and into science fiction—I'd like to meet Miles Vorkosigan, the brilliant character created by Lois McMaster Bujold in her long and enjoyable Vorkosigan series.

Feb 23, 2022

(G) Glad I Gave This Book A Chance

I nearly didn't give Robin Hobb’s first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, a chance. To be honest, the name put me off for a long time. I don’t usually read books about assassins, but this assassin was reluctant, making it slightly more interesting.

When I finally tried the book, I still didn’t like it and only read a few chapters. It wasn't until several years had passed that I tried it again. This time I finished it.

Even then, I didn’t love the book but was interested enough to buy the next one in the series. Later, I read the other (about 16) books in The Realm of the Elderlings cycle.

I loved them.

Feb 25, 2022

(H) Hidden Gem Book

There are several hidden gems that I've come across in SPFBO (Self-publishing Fantasy Blog-Off) contests over the years, although most of the books I enjoyed failed to reach the finals. Here are two of them.

First, Nectar and Ambrosia by E. M. Hamill. It's set in an inn that straddles our world and a mythological one. The protagonist, Callie, is chased by a monster when she comes across the inn. She enters. Strangely, the monster is blocked from entering. Inside, she encounters gods from mythology...

The second hidden gem is The Ember Child by Anthony Mitchell. It's an epic fantasy without much magic, but a good read if you like epic adventures. I don't think the author promotes this book—so it's a very well-hidden gem.

Mar 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (I) Influences on My Writing

Not all of the influence on my writing comes from fantasy writers, although I've been influenced by some, and not all the influence and inspiration has yet found its way into my published stories. I have unpublished stories where the influence is sparking new ideas right now.

Psychology has influenced some of the concepts I've written about, particularly in my short stories (mostly, as yet, unpublished). Ideas on consciousness and the unconscious, and how at certain times in history, decisions were made to discourage individuals from accessing their own unconscious, instead, they were encouraged to seek spiritual help from the church hierarchy. I'm interested in how this shifted thinking from being more subjective to something more objective—which science then adopted and adapted for its own use. Carl Jung discusses this in his book Psychological Types.

Milton's Paradise Lost is an epic poem that reads like fantasy. I took some ideas directly from Paradise Lost and used them in The Darkling Odyssey. The poetry of Emily Dickinson, and William Blake; especially his Proverbs of Hell, and The Four Zoas. The King James Version of the Bible influenced and inspired these writers, and me too, not least, the rhythm of the writing.

William Blake Four ZoasFrom William Blake's The Four Zoas

Philosophically, Heraclitus and Lao-Tzu have influenced the outlook of some characters. It's in the background of course—nothing explicit.

But for fantasy? Raymond E. Feist, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Lois McMaster Bujold are some authors that come immediately to mind. I'm not saying I write like them, but I've read and reread their stories many times. With Edgar Rice Burroughs, I like the sense of adventure. Moorcock has incredible imagination. I enjoyed Feist's long adventures which he mixes with the characters' philosophical ramblings on the universe—fun, even when I don't agree with them. Lois McMaster Bujold wrote science fiction as well as fantasy, and I actually prefer her science fiction. Epic adventures in space.

I've reread most of the above many times. Some have excited my imagination, some have given me ideas to explore. I'm not saying that I write like these writers, but something of their work has touched me.

Mar 09, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (J) Just Finished

I've just finished reading the novella 'The Emperor's Soul' by Brandon Sanderson. It's more tightly focussed than most of his books, telling the story of a prisoner held by the empire. She's a master forger. Using her magic, she can copy objects. She's given the task of copying the emperor's soul after an assassination attempt.

She needs more than two years to create a new soul. Even then, she's not sure it's possible. She's given weeks.

I like the relationships between the characters in this story. I can't say much more without giving the ending away. It's my favourite of his stories so far.

Mar 15, 2022

(K) Kinds of Books I Won’t Read

Horror of any kind, whether it's psychological horror or graphic, bloody horror. Either way, I just don't see the point in reading it. I sometimes enjoy dark fantasy, but not horror.

Mar 18, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (L) Longer—Novels I Wished Were Longer

It’s rare that I wish a novel were any longer than it is; sometimes it’s the opposite. Although many of my favourite novels are the perfect length.

But Michael Moorcock was an author who wrote many fantasy novellas, and I often wished his books were longer. Any of the Books of Corum, for example.

What about you? Are there any novels you wished were longer?

Apr 03, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (M) Most Memorable Magicians in a Fantasy Story

No.1 from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle

This one’s hard, but I have to choose Pug (later known as Milamber) from Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Cycle. Pug appears in most of the 30 books in the cycle; he plays a minor role in the brilliant Empire trilogy, but otherwise is one of the main characters in almost all the other books.

The story starts with Pug outside Castle Crydee as a child, when he’s rescued from a storm by the magician Kulgan, to whom he later becomes apprenticed. Together, they fight against an empire that attacks through a rift in the universe.

I love the development of Pug from a boy to a simple magician of the lesser way, to a magician of the greater way who becomes involved in exploring the nature of the universe in order to save it.

No.2 from Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger Series

Although I think Pug’s the most interesting magician, I have to give honorary mention to Jonathan-Thomas-Meriweather and Clothahump—the turtle magician, from Alan Dean Foster’s funny Spellsinger series.

The wizard Clothahump searches across dimensions for a magician who can defeat an invading army. He finds Jonathan-Thomas Meriweather, an aspiring rock guitarist, and brings him into his world. He makes magic from rock songs on an instrument he finds in his new world. His magic is hit and miss and funny.

Apr 11, 2022

(N) Number of Books in Your House

How many books do you have?

I know. It's something that varies over life. My books include paperbacks, hardbacks, and ebooks. Not all of them are fantasy or sci-fi, but quite a few are. If I'd saved all the books I've ever bought (or even worse, read) then there would be no room for me in the house. Of course, I sell, give away or (on rare occasions) recycle books I don't want.

But how many books do I have? I've just counted them. Here are the numbers (in reverse order):

Hardbacks 106

Paperbacks 326

Ebooks 1,284

The ebooks are mostly on Amazon, but well over 100 are on Kobo, too. Only a handful on Apple.

How many books do you have? I always like to hear from readers. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page or hit reply on one of my newsletters and let me know.

Apr 17, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (O) One Fantasy Book You've Read Multiple Times

It's hard to say which fantasy book I've read the most times, but Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist must be one of the books I've reread the most. This is a book that divides opinion. Some people just see nothing special in it, but I love the protagonist, Mara, and the intricate network of people she builds around her as she fights for her family's survival.

Apr 22, 2022

(P) Preferred Place To Read

In my old armchair. I also like reading on the bus, however bumpy. I hate reading on the beach—too much sun and sand. For some reason, I can't read in bed either.

May 20, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (Q) Favourite Fantasy Quote

Okay, this is not strictly a fantasy quote, but I think it relates to fantasy. “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions.” Albert Einstein

May 29, 2022

(R) Biggest Reading Regret

My biggest reading regret is that between the ages of about 30 and 36 I hardly read a single book. Throughout my childhood, teenage years, and twenties I read a lot. Every day. From 37 onwards I've read a lot, but for some reason, I almost completely stopped for about 6 years. I'm not sure why, but I remember feeling bored whenever I read. I clearly remember the joy I felt when I started reading again. In fact, for the first five or six years of my return to reading, I read an enormous amount, and that reading gave me so many ideas for books of my own.

Jun 07, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (S) Short Stories You Enjoyed or Made You Think

Here are two short fantasy stories that I enjoyed. I'm not saying they're the best I've read, but they were fun to read. The first came quickly to mind, and the second I found on a quick internet search and enjoyed. Always good to discover new stories/writers.

I've linked to free versions of each story. Let me know if you like them. Here they are.

The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan by Clark Ashton Smith. This is an old one, first published in 1932, but it still reads well. Fantastic purple prose. It's a strange story, a little dark, but also quite funny. It's the story of a usurer who meets a sticky ending.

Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead by Carmen Maria Machado.

This one's written in the style of a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the protagonist who needs to go to hell to find her sister. Interesting read. Published in 2014. You can read it in Lightspeed magazine.

Jun 11, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (S) Short Stories You Enjoyed or Made You Think

'S' again. A few days ago I published short fantasy stories I've enjoyed. I thought I'd do a science fiction post, too. One of the stories might sound and feel like fantasy, but it's actually soft science fiction.

The first one is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (first published in 1959). It was later expanded into a novel and eventually became a film.

Scientists discover a way to increase intelligence. They test this on a mouse (Algernon). It works. The mouse becomes incredibly intelligent. Then they replicate this on Charlie, a man with an IQ of 68. His intelligence drastically increases, and he realises that the people he thought friends were really mocking him. He becomes one of the top scientists in the world, but then he notices a problem with Algernon. The mouse is returning to what it was before.

Sad but worth reading. And don't be put off by the poor spelling—it improves as Charlie gains intelligence.

The final story is The Smallest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey. It's a positive and uplifting story. From the title, it sounds like fantasy, and it feels like fantasy, too. But actually, it's not. I think most fantasy fans would still enjoy reading it. It's a moving and entertaining story. In many ways, it's my favourite of the four.

Jul 03, 2022

A-Z of Fantasy (T) Favourite Stories with Trolls

I've always enjoyed fantasy with trolls, and I particularly liked the rock trolls in Terry Brooks's Shannara series. They were sometimes allies to the druids and sometimes not. Kermadec was one troll I liked; a leader intensely loyal to Grianne Ohmsford, the Ilse Witch.

Terry Brooks's trolls were warlike and tribal, originally coming from humans exposed in the apocalypse. They influenced mine, although the trolls I write about are elemental creatures, and not descended from humans. My first novel, Blue Prometheus, introduces a troll who proves a formidable ally to the heroes.

Jul 14, 2022

(U) Favourite Underground Sci-fi

As I've mentioned before, I've always loved fantasy and sci-fi set deep beneath the planet's surface. My favourite is Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Here's the cover of one of my old paperbacks. The series is pure adventure taking place in the centre of the Earth. The molten core becomes the sun. I adopted a similar idea in The Darkling Odyssey.

Apart from Burroughs, I also like Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was partly the inspiration for The Darkling Odyssey. And although the sci-fi film The Core received a poor critical response, I still enjoyed it. Perhaps I could like any story with this theme.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Land of Terror (Pellucidar)Edgar Rice Burroughs' Land of Terror (Pellucidar)

Sep 07, 2022

(V) Favourite Fantasy Villain

I once asked why many fantasy readers love villains in an online fantasy forum.

I was immediately attacked. I think I broke some sort of fantasy reader code. Perhaps I'm risking the same again, but with very few exceptions (my favourite is named below) I dislike fantasy villains because I don't like people who use and abuse other humans for their own gain. 

My experience of real-life criminals has been negative. And what I see around me in society is even worse. They're self-centred, cynical, and selfish. Organised crime is very destructive, so I dislike anything romanticising it. Even autocratic kings and queens are more attractive to me—although I don't love them (I do love them as characters!).

I understand that most people are not thinking of this when they enjoy a fantasy villain. The attraction is identifying with someone living outside the law, unconstrained by rules and regulations. I like this part, too. But I'd rather the fantasy villains be antagonists.

But there is one I like.

Who is my favourite fantasy villain?

I like Jimmy the Hand in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. Not the novel named after him, but the part he played in The Riftwar Saga and later books. His character's attractive to me because he actively improved himself and his life, becoming someone great, even if he still had some connections to his old world.

What do you think of fantasy villains?

Oct 07, 2022

(W) Favourite Fantasy Woods

The Old Forest at the edge of the Shire, with Tom Bombadil, and Fangorn, the home of the Treebeard and the ents are still two of my favourites, even though I don't read Tolkien so much nowadays. 

Read more in Magic Forests in Fantasy and Myth.

Oct 23, 2022

(X) Best Story Involving Xenology

This one has to be SF. I can't think of any 'x' for fantasy, except perhaps, Xena, warrior princess. 

Xenology is the scientific study of alien biology and cultures, and the most enjoyable novel I can think of that involves the study of alien culture is The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss. Earth is enslaved by an alien race, and the protagonist is the chief interpreter. He's a person with a deep understanding of the alien race, and he has the chance to help free the planet.

Although I don't rate The Interpreter with Hothouse, one of Alidss's classics, I enjoyed his portrayal of the alien species.

Oct 26, 2022

(Y) Best Yacht Stories in Fantasy

This is a hard choice, but I'm going to pick Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. It's #1 in the Liveship Traders series. Althea Vestrit is denied her inheritance, a sentient sailing ship. It's a story of family politics and power, one that I didn't think I'd enjoy, but I did.

The rest of the Liveship Traders series is worth reading, too. Other sailing fantasy books I've enjoyed include The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist, and The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock, which is pulp fiction but fun. The Odyssey by Homer is obviously a classic, too.

Oct 29, 2022

(Z) The Zaniest SF Series

The zaniest SF book I've read is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It's just very funny. Actually, I think the radio series (BBC Radio 4) is the best. The book comes second. I'd place the TV series in third place. The worst of the franchise is the film, which I didn't enjoy and didn't finish watching. 

I don't normally like comedy in fantasy/SF, but here it works well.

Read more articles by Ned Marcus


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