My Top 5 (or so) Sci-Fi/Fi Fantasy Series

This is in no particular order, although I will say that A Song of Ice and Fire is number one, with The Chronicles of Narnia as a very close number two. (Talk about polar opposites!)

  1. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin I’ve been reading this series since almost day one. I began A Game of Thrones when it was in paperback, just before A Clash of Kings was published. Re-reading and discussing theories with other fans was a new and wonderful experience for me. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the fan community back then, and even got to meet and hang out with George a tiny bit. A great life experience that I’ll never forget! Waiting patiently for The Winds of Winter
  2. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan This is an interesting one because it introduced me to online fandom. I picked up The Great Hunt, which is the second book in the series, and thought it was okay, but I felt like I was missing something. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had skipped the first book! So I bought The Eye of the World, and was hooked. I went online to find out when the next one was coming out. That’s when I discovered websites like wotmania.com (which is no longer active). People were discussing theories and characters, and I had no idea what they were talking about! So I re-read the books and the rest is history! Another farm boy who becomes a king…a savior…a devil? Depends on who you ask!
  3. The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman Wow. DRAGONS!! This was my first real “grown up” fantasy series. Again, I read the second book in the trilogy (this seems to be a habit) and thought it was amazing! Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman at a con. It was great to be able to tell them in person how much this series influenced my love of fantasy. This is more of the questing type story. A rag tag group of people thrown together to defeat evil. Its got elves AND dragons! Yes!
  4. Dragon Prince/Dragon Star by Melanie Rawn This story was one of my favorites because it had so many characters and everyone seemed to be related! It was like a soap opera in some ways. And I mean that as a compliment. I loved the idea of sunlight as a source for magic. Its got everything- dragons and jewels, and pretty people and romance!
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis This one is near and dear to my heart. I used to read this series as a child over and over again. I spent a lot of time by myself and this series was my trusted companion. To this day, I still read this series at least a couple times a year, or I’ll listen to it on audiobook. The images and lessons from this series have stayed with me all my life. Further up and further in!
  6. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams I’ve been talking about this series quite a bit recently since there are new Osten Ard books being published. I won’t repeat everything here, but I still gravitate towards stories similar to this one. I mean, its got elf like people! And the scullery boy who’s really a king! Classic.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These are series that one day may creep into my top 5, but they are not quite ready yet…

  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling Loved the series, but haven’t had an interest to re-read them. If I ever do, then it may creep up on the list.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I adore this series, even though I tend to not like first person narratives. However, I inhaled this trilogy in just a couple days. I loved the movies as well.
  • The Expanse by James S. A. Corey I typically don’t read science fiction, but I will watch it. However, this series got my hooked from day one, as I have talked about before. I will definitely need to re-read it.
  • African Immortals by Tananarive Due I want to say that this was my first introduction to African American speculative fiction, even though I had read Octavia Butler before this. However, this series was something new and unique for me. To this day I still think this series would make a fantastic movie or TV show. Immortal Africans? The blood of Jesus? You can’t miss with that!
  • The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings Looking back, The Belgariad series was not all that great , but I gobbled it up at the time. Another farm boy who becomes king! I like series with multiple countries and cultures and this one fit the bill. For my young self, it was so epic and sprawling! I used to spend almost my whole weekly allowance buying the books. Now, it’s more nostalgia that makes me add this as an honorable mention.

What are some of your favorites?

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The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy by Brian Staveley

I had been looking for a good epic fantasy, and someone mentioned this on Goodreads, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did!

The three books in the series are:

  1. The Emperor’s Blades (TEB)
  2. The Providence of Fire (TPoF)
  3. The Last Mortal Bond (TLMB)

This is the story of 3 siblings who are the children of the Emperor of Annur. The children are raised in different places; Valyn is on an island training to become a member of an elite military group; Kaden (the heir to the throne) is studying with monks and Adare is raised at home in Annur. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the emperor dies, and since the heir to the throne is off studying with monks, you can image that the empire of Annur is in a very precarious situation. That’s pretty much where the story takes off.

I am not a big fan of long and detailed descriptions of battles, so for the first book (TEB) at least, that was a plus. The battle descriptions were general enough so that you get a sense of what is happening, without the excruciating detail of every knife, punch or sword thrust. There was some of that, but not too much. If you are looking for a sweeping romance to carry you through the trilogy, well, you won’t get that. I like a good romance, but I will admit that it was refreshing to not have that angst.

You have a wide range of characters. There’s an immortal race of beings, gods (both young and old), regular humans and fantastical creatures. Not too much, but just enough. That seems to be my running commentary- not too much of this, not too much of that. However, once you get into the second (TPoF) and third (TLMB) books, the violence is on the uptick and you get a new point of view character. In the third book (TLMB), there is a confusing section in the middle of the story that can be hard to make heads or tails of. Stick with it because it does resolve itself before the end of the book. More astute readers may be able to catch on sooner. There are also some time jumps which you can miss if you are not reading carefully. I did notice in the third book (TLMB) that there were a few events that happened off screen, and you only learn about them when a character is describing the events either to another character or in their own thoughts. I wish some of that could have happened in “real time” but the last book goes through quite a bit of plot, so that may have been a good thing. I’m still not completely sure that I liked it.

Anyway, it was a great adventure with good world building and characters that you can really root for- or against.

Also, if you read the series and want more, there is a standalone novel called Skullsworn. It is the backstory for one of the characters in the trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 More than just “pretty good”, but not quite at the top of your “to read list”

 

TV Round Up

Well, I did a  Reading Round-up last time, so now let’s move on to TV!

These are TV shows that I am currently watching, just finished watching, or ones that I am looking forward to. These are mostly sci/fi  and fantasy, but I did include some others. As usual, they are in no particular order. I already do more in depth pieces on 12 Monkeys and Man in the High Castle, so I won’t list them again here. These are shows that I’m not going to do regular posts about, but that I am enjoying watching. As usual, these are in no particular order.

  1. The Expanse (SyFy) I have posted about the book series already, but needless to say the TV show is fantastic. The production values are high quality for television and the story is staying very true to the spirit of the books. Season 2 is currently airing. The SyFy channel has really upped its game. Its nice to see the channel focus on good quality science fiction programming, rather than shows with only a tangental relationship to the genre. Bravo, SyFy!
  2. The Magicians (SyFy) Once again, another great series from SyFy, based on a book series (The Magicians by Lev Grossman). I like the show, however, even though I’ve read the books, the show can get a bit confusing. From episode to episode, and sometimes from scene to scene, it feels as though something is missing, whether its a scene or a whole episode. It is very jumpy. I have found that binging a few episodes at a time is helpful. Having read the books helps, but in places where they have veered very far from the books, sometimes it becomes muddled. I do recommend this series, but you have to pay close attention. No playing on your phone while watching this one!
  3. Emerald City (NBC) This show has finished its first season. It is a take on the Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Notice I said a take on the book series, not on the movie. I’ve only read the Wizard of Oz, and if your only exposure to this story is the classic movie, well, lets just say the books are not a technicolor fantasy. Its quite dark. So, basing the tv series on the books rather than the movie was a pretty interesting take. Of course, the characters are very grey, and the story includes elements from the books that I don’t think have ever really been translated to the screen. The story has its issues, but if you are looking for something that is not just a re-make of the movie, this is worth checking out. The ratings were not that great, so I don’t know if it has been picked for a second season, but even with its future up in the air, I do recommend giving the show a try.
  4. 3% (Netflix) This one is something that I wouldn’t normally watch, but I was looking for something different, and this came up on my Neflix home page. I’m glad I took a chance! This is a Brazilian show about a future society where people are given the chance to live in a better, utopian society. However, only 3% of the candidates are taken. Those chosen to compete for a spot in the utopia are put through a series of challenges, and of course, the surviving 3% get to move “offshore” to the utopia. And, as you can imagine, this utopian society is probably not a real utopia. The show is in Portuguese, so you can watch it dubbed in English (or other languages) or use subtitles. Its a great show, and it has been picked up by Netflix for a second season.
  5. Prison Break (FOX, April 4, 2017) I was a huge Prison Break fan when the show first aired in 2005. It aired for 4 seasons, plus an extra episode called “The Final Break”. As you can guess from the title, its about a prison break. The main character comes up with an elaborate plan to get himself into the same prison where his brother is on death row, in order to break his brother out of prison. Every episode is a piece of the plan to break out. It is woven together brilliantly, and the first season is riveting.  By the 3rd and 4th seasons it got a bit convoluted,  but its still a great thrill ride. A new season is coming to FOX on April 4th, 2017. It takes place a few years after the events of season 4. You can watch all of the previous seasons on Netflix.
  6. The Americans (FX) The Americans is about Russian spies living in the U.S. in the early 80s. They are posing as your typical suburban American family. The parents are the spies, but their two kids have no idea.  I can’t say too much without spoiling it, but there is a lot of eighties nostalgia going on, in addition to all the spy stuff. Its very dark and keeps you on the edge of you seat. he episodes can get slow at times, but the precarious situations the spies get themselves into, and the lengths to which they have to go to accomplish the mission, are very intense. Highly recommended. Be forewarned that there are some graphic scenes, so if you’re squeamish, be prepared to cover your eyes. A lot. Its currently in its 5th season. Its final season (season 6) will air next year.

Other shows I’m watching include: All the Marvel Netflix shows (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist); Arrow, The Flash, Better Call Saul (although I am a season behind).

There’s more I could add, but this gives you an idea of what I like. What are you watching?

 

 

 

Reading Round-up

This is just a post to give everyone an idea of what I’ve been reading this month, and my anticipated reading for the next couple months.

Like many people, I have a bunch of books in my virtual “to read” pile. There are so many good books and so little time to read them. One of my goals for 2017 is to make more time for books. There’s a lot of great TV and movies out right now, and its so easy to get home from work, plop down on the couch, and flick on the TV. Rather than saving reading for the weekend, I’d like to get more reading done during the week. Anyway, here are a few of the books in my “to read” pile, and what I am currently reading right now.

Currently Reading: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley (Book 2 of The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne). I raced through the first book in this series, The Emperor’s Blades. I haven’t read a good epic fantasy in awhile, and this one definitely filled the void. I may do a full review of the entire trilogy when I’m finished, but so far I am really enjoying this.

To Read (in no particular order):

  1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I’m late to the game on this one, but I’ve heard great things about it, so of course I will give it a try. It is about a slave named Cora, who, of course, uses the Underground Railroad, a network of people, places and things used by slaves escaping slavery in the American South. This novel won the National Book Award and was an Oprah Book Club pick, so of course, I must read it.
  2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin I have read her books before, most notably The Inheritance Trilogy, and really enjoyed it. I have not been able to connect with her other books, but after reading a sample of The Fifth Season, I definitely want to give it a try. This novel won the Hugo Award for Best Novel of 2016.
  3. The City by Stella Gemmell Stella Gemmell is the wife of the late author, David Gemmell. I read David Geemmell’s trilogy, Troy, and one of his other novels, The Lion of Macedon. You can read my review of The Lion of Macedon here. David Gemmell died before he could finish the final book in the Troy trilogy, so Stella completed the novel for him. I love Greek mythology and stories from ancient Greece and Rome, and The City takes place in a similar setting. What I have read of the sample has peaked my interest, so at some point this year I will give it  a try.
  4. The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams. I am so looking forward to this! I have already posted my thoughts on Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and The Heart of What Was Lost. Needless to say, book 2 in The Last King of Osten Ard is tops for me.
  5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read the sample and was hooked. This is, in part, the story of a Nigerian immigrant to America, and how she grapples with her values and ideals in a post 9/11 America. These are stories we don’t hear enough about, and I can’t wait to dive into this one. Again, I’m late to the party on this one, but at least I’m getting there!

There are more on my list, but this gives you an idea of what I’m diving into in the next few months. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, so my list will only grow.

What’s on your list?

Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti: Home is the sequel to need Okorafor’s previous Hugo and Nebula award winning novella, Binti. I’m going to keep this brief because I shared most of my feelings about the world, the main character, plot, etc. If you want my take on Binti, you can read it here.

The story takes place after the closing events of Binti. And as the title lets us know, Binti goes home. Binti’s experiences at the university have changed her, both emotionally and physically, but she feels compelled to go home for a rite of passage that is very important in her culture. She brings along her alien friend, Okwu. Of course, we have the inevitable conflicts with Binti and her family- she’s changed, and her family has a hard time understanding this new Binti. Through her rite of passage, Binti begins to discover more about herself, and her people.

Overall the story is a worthy successor to the story begun in Binti. The use of an African culture for this futuristic setting is refreshing and exciting. We are able to sidestep the usual tropes found in science fiction when its based on European or American norms. If you’re looking for something new and fresh, Binti and Binti:Home are an excellent place to start.

I fully realize that this doesn’t give you too much to go on, (I don’t want o spoil the plot!) but trust me, its worth the read.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

 

The Man in The High Castle, S1 and S2

I didn’t post about this show last year, but I will give you the general run down. Its based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. In a nutshell, this is what the world could have been like if the Axis powers won World War II. The United States in divided into 3 territories: The east coast is controlled by Germany, and the west coast is controlled by Japan. Down the middle of the country, the Rockies, part of the Great Plains, is the neutral zone. Of course, this isn’t just straight alternate history. There are time traveling elements! You see, there are these films that very few people know about, that show a world like ours, where the Allied powers win. Of course, the bad guys want these films, because you don’t want the good guys seeing them and getting any ideas about starting a resistance movement or anything like that. (wink, wink).

So in Season 1, we get the set up. The story takes place in 1962. We figure out who the players are and how each part of the country is run. We get a little more insight into what’s going on in the rest of the world in season 2. In season 1 we meet Juliana, who’s sister is a part of this resistance movement that knows about the existence of the films, and is determined to use them to overthrow the Germans and the Japanese. Juliana is in San Fransisco. We also meet Joe, who is in New York City.  Juliana discovers the film, meets Joe, and that’s pretty much when the story takes off. There are many more characters involved of course, but to try to list all of them here would be information overload, but suffice to say, the interplay  between the characters, the two empires (Germany and Japan) is incredible. If you know your WWII history, then you know that the alliance between Japan and Germany was not an easy one, and that tension remains even after their victory. This is explored more in season 2.

I will say that the show really hits its stride in season 2. We are past the set up and exposition phase of Season 1, and we get to see more of the world created after WWII. There is so much attention to detail, that you find yourself looking for all the “easter eggs” and references to what technology and culture would have been like. In many ways it was more advanced, and in others it seems stagnated in the 1940s. I am not an expert in any way when it comes to WWII and this time period, but just as a fan of history in general, the whole thing is just riveting. In season 2, we get to spend more time with other characters and delve a little bit into their motivations. The world is also expanded, and we see more of what life was like beyond Joe and Juliana in the States. I feel like if I say too much more it will give away too much and will take away from some of the surprise revelations about the characters. Watching the show raises the question, for me at least, as to why some Americans appear to be whole heartedly accepting the superiority of both the Japanese and the Germans. In every oppressed society you always have people who will buy into the propaganda of the oppressor, but it just makes you want to know how they got there. I am aware of the times and the state of race relations, and due to their own prejudices that it may have been easier for some to get there, (at least in the German controlled eastern U.S.) but these were still foreign invaders. We start to see some of this in Season 2. And lets not forget, this is alternate history with a bit of science fiction thrown in. The existence of the films themselves speaks to the existence of time travel and alternate universes, and this is a major plot element in season 2. Be forewarned, it gets a bit timey-whimey, but its not hard to follow at all. I actually think it handles the concept of time travel and alternate universes in a very thoughtful way. At times it will break your heart.

As you can probably tell, I whole heartedly recommend this series! You can binge watch both seasons on Amazon Prime.

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Happy 2017!

As I mentioned in my Memory, Sorrow and Thorn post, this is a bridge novel between the last events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MST), and the beginning of the new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard. More specifically, this book details the events between the end of To Green Angel  Tower (the third book in MST) and its epilogue. For those who don’t want MST spoiled, I will say that this book is clearly a set up for the new trilogy, and is probably a necessary read before you dive into The Last King of Osten Ard (LKOA).

SPOILERS FOR MEMORY, SORROW and THORN ahead!

After the Storm King was defeated, Duke Isgrimnur is tasked with destroying the remaining Norns, who were still terrorizing parts of Osten Ard. We get view points of Isgrimnur, a couple of common soldiers, and the Norns themselves. With the Norn point of view, we get to see more of their society and how it works. We see the conflicts that arise when the ultimate fate of their entire race is hangs in the balance.  What some of them propose to do is actually quite shocking, and seems to go against everything they believe, about themselves and about the world, but it makes for a fascinating dilemma. What would you do if you are facing the complete annihilation of your race? I became very invested in their story, and it’s pretty clear that what happens in the final battle between the Norns and the humans if Osten Ard will have ramifications for generations to come.

I was not as invested in the point of view of the common soldiers. While the change of perspective was good for pacing, the characters didn’t resonate with me. I tend to like fantasy that focuses more on the upper classes, royalty, etc. as opposed to the common folk. I get why its there, its just not as compelling to me.

There are certainly events in this book that are foreshadowing of events to come in LKOA, including some good old fashioned prophetic ramblings from immortal creatures!

The Heart of What Was Lost is a great throwback to the epic fantasy of the 90’s. When I first read MST, I was reading it along with The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc. which were clearly influenced by MST. Its nice to get back into high adventure, and a nice break from the graphic violence and long detailed depiction of battles that are depicted in the more “grim/dark” fantasy that is popular now.

This is absolutely a set up for the new trilogy. For fans of MST, this relatively short novel is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the world of Osten Ard, and prepare you for the new adventure to come.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5