Producing a top 5 list of Science Fiction and Fantasy books is a little like picking the winning lottery numbers. There are probably at least a hundred books or series that I could include here and there are many notable books that haven’t made it to my list. As an example the series A Song of Ice and Fire by J R R Martin is a great series, but I simply had to draw the line somewhere.
I’ve tried to list books (and series) that have had a profound effect on me in some way; whether it’s helped me realize how much I love to read, or whether its touched me deep down somehow doesn’t really matter, but in some small way the books I choose are personal to me and have inspired me in some little way.
I hope that you can agree with some of my choices, but I am sure there are a hundred books that could be included.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien (Review and synopsis):
What other book could be at the top of my list? When I picked up this book at the age of ten I did not realize the impact it would have on my life. It inspired my love of reading and particularly for the fantasy and science fiction genres.
Tolkien has created such an amazing world, one that lives and breathes and really stands out as a place that could exists. Then he’s added real and diverse characters to build a stunning and plausible story that captures the imagination and becomes something more than a simple story. It’s the first book where I really felt for the characters, felt their pain and frustration, and their triumphs – it inspired me to read, and to continue reading for the last 30 years.
It is heads and shoulders above most fantasy writing; the prose and poetry is simply fantastic and the descriptive language has the ability to bring the world of Middle Earth to life. Tolkien has an amazing story telling ability and despite its length Lord of the Rings remains one of the most gripping books I have read.
It has probably become one of the most important fantasy books of all time, and is recognized as a true classic in all genres, not just fantasy.
THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT by Stephen Donaldson (Review and synopsis):
One of the problems I have with a lot of modern fantasy is that it follows a standard tried and tested formula where the hero grows up not knowing his/her power and eventually go on to defeat the biggest evil in the land – probably 80% of modern fantasy has this same theme.
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant therefore appealed to me in many ways. Firstly, it is about a hero who simply does not believe in the land he is defending and due to this actually commits some heinous acts. He wields great power, but is almost reluctant to do so once he realizes how this power has the potential to corrupt and pervert.
The series is a very challenging one to read and contains a lot that challenges the standard tenet of traditional fantasy. The main character has leprosy in the real world and once he enters a fantasy world he assumes it is the delusions due to his illness rather than another real world. Thus we follow Thomas Covenant as he struggles to deal with his reality, and there are many metaphors to real life embedded into the storyline.
What I like is that it is a very deep and often disturbing look into insanity and the way one man deals with it, even though he isn’t actually insane. It’s a dark journey, but a very compelling one.
THE WAY OF KINGS by Brandon Sanderson (Review and synopsis):
I first encountered Brandon Sanderson after he completed the Wheel of Time series. I enjoyed his writing and so decided to try his newest novel The Way of Kings. This very large volume, is book one in a ten book series, and just from this you know it’s going to be a book of epic proportions.
What I didn’t expect was to be so engrossed with the plot and characters. Sanderson has written a book that compares with Tolkien; it is very well written, but more than that he has the ability to create a real land and real flawed characters. He’s infused the land with magic that feels like it could be real, and although some would say the book is a little slow, he has a way of moving the story along, showing you a glimpse of the characters as you go and really building up the atmosphere; in some ways the story is secondary, it’s more about how the characters develop and become who they are. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read for the last twenty years, and I eagerly anticipate the next ten to fifteen years reading the rest of the series.
MAGICIAN by Raymond E Feist:
Raymond E Feist is one of my favorite writers. He’s not particularly original, in fact a lot of his writing follows the traditional tenets of fantasy. In fact I usually am not impressed by writers who don’t stray too much from the norm. However, Feist has built such a good heroic fantasy, and done it in such a way that it really stands out as one of the best traditional fantasy series of all time.
He creates very intricate and detailed plots and fills his books with intriguing characters that grow on you over time. I particularly like the way that the books span time and some of your favorite characters actually grow old and die! It’s sad in a way to see a favorite character die, but the continuity of the series is so good that you soon get some new favorite characters.
The books are very Tolkienesque, with Elves, Dwarves, magic and mayhem, but this is actually done well enough to give the series its own identity.
5 ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card:
I know that science fiction fans will be dismayed that only one science fiction novel made my top five and that I chose Ender’s game when the likes of Asimov etc were left out in the cold. And if I am completely honest I will admit that Orson Scott Card is simply not the greatest science fiction writer out there, he is very good but there are better writers.
However, Ender’s game (and the subsequent series) was the kind of series that jumps out at you and captures you straight away. The first novel in the series is extremely popular with teenagers as it involves a lot of younger characters, their training in battle school and their ultimate battle against an unseen evil alien race. The books are exciting, but more than that I found some truly deep and wonderful characters in the whole series (including some of the aliens in later books) and it was the ability of Card to bring the characters to the front, while blending them with intriguing plots and sub plots that made these books stand out for me.
Sure they are not as compelling (in some ways) as such series like the Foundation Series, Ring World or a couple of dozen other series I could mention, but there’s something about them that kept me wanting to read the next novel – while I’ve loved a lot of science fiction, no other series made me go out a get all the remaining books and read them in sequence.
So there you have it, my own personal top five – there are some books that you’ll agree with, and there are some books you’ll be amazed I didn’t list, but this is a subjective list that probably means more to me than you. However, if you haven’t read some of these books then I promise that you won’t be disappointed…..probably.