Celebrating the rich heritage of fantasy and science fiction, I’ve tried to put together a list of my favourite works of fiction the two genres have to offer. From lands of elves and dragons, to worlds inhabited by hostile aliens, these are the novels, series and novellas you need to have on your bookshelf.
The Wheel of Time — Robert Jordan
Series begins with: The Eye of the World
When it comes to building a world of staggering depth, complexity and unbridled imagination, there are few writers who can claim to be as proficient as the late Robert Jordan. His epic series spans 14 novels, covers 12,000 pages and is told in no fewer than four million words. This isn’t a series for the lighthearted or the uninitiated; it’s a truly masterful weaving of multiple tales, following the unfolding fates of dozens of beautifully-crafted characters, perhaps none of whom are as profoundly important as Rand al’Thor.
Though Jordan died in 2007 before he could complete his epic body of works, the series was finished in style by fellow fantasy stalwart Brandon Sanderson. It’ll take up room, but it’s an absolute must have for your collection.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — Philip K Dick
Although the novel became perhaps more famous for its use as the basis of the classic film Blade Runner, Philip K Dick’s bleak futuristic tale of Rick Deckhard’s quest to retire rogue androids as a means to achieve his life goal of owning a real animal goes down as one of science-fiction’s most engrossing reads. Eschewing titanic space battles, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a masterfully somber affair that explores what it’s like to be human against a post-apocalyptic backdrop.
It’s an altogether different experience to the film, and doesn’t deserve to fall foul of comparison. Ultimately, Dick created one of the genre’s most lasting pieces of fiction — moving, thought-provoking and utterly brilliant.
The Kingkiller Chronicles — Patrick Rothfuss
Series begins with: The Name of the Wind
Patrick Rothfuss’s compelling if atypical fantasy series may not have reached completion yet, but deservedly earns a spot on the pantheon of all-time greats. Impeccably written and beautifully composed, it tells the story of Kvothe in the form of a wistful autobiography told to a mysterious chronicler. Full of intrigue, exquisite prose and sheer adventure, it’s a fantasy novel for people who don’t necessarily enjoy fantasy.
The first two novels, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear have since been joined by a delightfully enigmatic novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things which explores the strange and wonderful realm of Auri; while the third eagerly-awaited installment in the series is already in the works.
Starship Troopers — Robert A Heinlein
Many will recall the 1990s cinematic satirical adaptation that placed a great deal of emphasis on blowing up aliens, but the source material for the film was far more complex than that. If you’re after a traditional story, then Starship Troopers isn’t for you: its pacing is unorthodox, its plot structure a little odd and its themes definitely not mainstream. It follows the exploits of Sgt. Juan “Johnnie” Rico, who enlists in the futuristic Mobile Infantry, and the trials and tribulations he faces.
It’s less a traditional adventure story and more a commentary on society and human nature in general. And though it espouses some fairly radical militaristic views, its a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking read. Oh, and some aliens get blown up too.
The Legend of Drizzt — RA Salvatore
Series begins with: Homeland
RA Salvatore is about as prolific as they come. The revered author, responsible for the most famous of dark elves, Drizzt Do’Urden, writes almost exclusively in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting of Dungeons and Dragons. Of his many series, the core tales surrounding Drizzt and the Companions of the Hall are the most engrossing, yanking the reader by the arm and hurtling them along through a series of fast-paced, action-packed novels that take in everything from evil wizards, marauding orcs, sinister drow and conniving assassins.
The Drizzt saga now spans 27 novels, with the debut Icewind Dale trilogy and the Hunter’s Blades series being particular highlights. But, quite simply, just start with Homeland and read the whole bloody lot.
I Am Legend — Richard Matheson
Blurring the lines between sci-fi and horror, Richard Matheson broke ground with his 1954 novel I Am Legend. Credited with introducing the modern vampire, Matheson’s creation belongs more in the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction and directly influenced the rise of the contemporary zombie outbreak. The novel is bleak, dark and – and times – cripplingly lonely; so much so, it was once described as the “greatest novel on human loneliness”.
Don’t draw parallels with the film — it’s far, far better than the cinematic adaptation. A genuine science-fiction horror story, it moves slowly, creates tension superbly and ultimately leaves you with an unmatched bittersweet feeling.
The Lord of the Rings — JRR Tolkien
Where would fantasy be without the man who popularised the genre over seventy years ago? A renowned scholar, Tolkien painstakingly crafted an entire world down to its most minute details. His finest work, The Lord of the Rings, takes place in the Third Age of his epic mythology and is undoubtedly one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written. Pitting good against evil, exploring friendship, heroism, love and heartbreak, Tolkien’s masterpiece transcended the genre and became an integral cornerstone of Western literature.
It’s not only a stunning read that you cannot help but be enthralled by, it’s an entire universe to lose yourself in. Before you read it, however, make sure to read The Hobbit, the prequel in which the events of its successor are set. Plus, it’s a much easier read than its larger cousin!