In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.
This was the topic of last week’s Booking Through Thursday question, which I answered by saying that I don’t read much of either genre. However, that hasn’t always been true, and even now it’s not completely correct. I look for a good story, period, and if that story has elements of fantasy and/or science fiction in it, I won’t necessarily reject it out of hand. In fact, I’ve found that some themes are explored more effectively in those genres than in more “realistic” fiction.
When I was younger, I was more likely to read straight-up fantasy and sci-fi than I am now; I even took an elective English class in Fantasy Literature in high school. (One of the optional readings in that class was The Princess Bride, which was the first I’d ever heard of it – and I didn’t choose to read it then. It was high school – what more can I tell you? Not so much with the good judgment back then.) These are a few of my fantasy and science-fiction favorites from my middle-school through college years:
- The Time Trilogy, by Madeleine L’Engle (it wasn’t a Quartet yet back then!): I still think every kid needs to read A Wrinkle in Time. And I’ll never forget that when I encountered mitochondria in a cell-biology class, it wasn’t the first time, thanks to A Wind in the Door.
- The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein: I’ve said for the record that I prefer The Lord of the Rings on film, but I loved Bilbo Baggins’ book. We’ll see if the upcoming movie adaptation changes my mind…
- The Dragonriders of Pern series and the Harper Hall trilogy, by Anne McCaffrey: My mom was actually more interested in reading fantasy than I was, and I took a lot of her recommendations. I know there have been many more of the Pern books since I stopped reading them, and that McCaffrey has been involved in a lot of collaborations as well, but I particularly liked the musically-themed Harper Hall books.
- The Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment), by Mary Stewart, and The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley: Again, reading these was instigated by my mom, but I loved their re-interpretations of the Arthurian stories (which at times made King Arthur a rather minor character, oddly enough). I think I read the Merlin books two or three times, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read The Mists of Avalon twice.
- Dune, by Frank Herbert: This is another of the “optional” books I didn’t read during my Fantasy Lit class, but I caught up with it, and the rest of the original trilogy, during college. Hated the movie, though.
L’Engle’s books may be what set the tone for my fantasy/sci-fi preferences as an adult – they largely take place in the recognizable, “real” world, and I think I need that bit of familiarity in my fiction to keep anchored. I’ve also become more aware of the the social, political, and philosophical themes that underlie a lot of this fiction, and wonder if the genre elements help make them more reader-friendly. Still, it’s the story and its telling that make them worth reading, and these are some that have left their mark on me in recent years:
- The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: I forget that these books are sold in the children’s section. I forget that they’re fantasy. But the books are impossible to forget – a seven-book epic tale of good and evil that traces the growth of its characters and their writer.
- The His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman: For me, the second book in this series, The Subtle Knife, was the most compelling, and that’s probably because it starts out in Will’s real-world Oxford rather than Lyra’s parallel-universe one, but I plan to re-read the whole thing at some point.
- The Sparrow and Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell: I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up these two companion books, which blend science fiction, fantasy, religion and philosophy in a riveting story unlike much else I’ve ever read. What I found was fascinating, thought-provoking and memorable, and I look forward to reading them both again one day.
Of course, I’d have to get out from TBR Purgatory before I could re-read any of these, and I’m not sure whether that qualifies as science fiction or fantasy.
I’m not reading anything thematically appropriate today, but it looks like fantasy and science-fiction reading may have affected me more than I’ve realized. What about you? Have you read any of these books? Are there others you love and would recommend? Comments, please!