Would you agree that the Shannara series...

Laughing Mime

Mixes poisons and sharpens knives with Kylar
#21
I enjoyed the first quarter. I thought i was getting something interesting set in a post apocalyptic world, then ran straight into some prophecies and Elves. Not particularly bad, just over-used devices, characters and plot from what i remember.

For what its worth i read it on a house boat with no pre-knowledge of the author. My taste ranges from children's cartoons to high fantasy so I think it is a bit false to argue people here just don't like anything that isn't dark. Sometimes books just kind of suck.
 

Ryan W. Mueller

Journeyed there and back again
#22
I guess I was focusing on the lists on the site rather than what the forum members enjoy. The top lists are heavily skewed toward the current Grimdark-influenced wave of fantasy. They're not quite as much so as they used to be (maybe there was some updating in there somewhere).
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#23
I read a few Shannara books back in the day. I'm talking 25 years years ago here, so my recollections are hazy. What I do remember is that I liked them at first. They are straight forward fantasy, and I was coming direct from the Dragonlance books. The plot was kind of predictable but then so are most movies. I gave up at about halfway through the Heritage series when it became apparent that it was just going to be the same story again and again. There's plenty to enjoy about them, but they become pretty derivative. I don't remember being either offended or bowled over by the quality of the writing.
 

MrMarbles

Fought a battle in the name of the old gods
#24
I read the Shannara book years ago, after Tolkien, but before ASOIAF. Absolutely adored them, but have almost completely forgotten everything about them by now. Might be time for a re-read!
 

rajwible

Helped Logen count his fingers
#25
I'd rather drag my testicles through 2 meters of hot glass shards than read those foul books.
Wow.
Just...wow.
That's pretty damn intense.
I don't think I can get past this to read the rest of the thread. :p
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#26
I read them as they came out and liked them. Remember that there were few choices back then, not at all like this golden age of fantasy we're in now.
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#28
I read a few Shannara books back in the day. I'm talking 25 years years ago here, so my recollections are hazy. What I do remember is that I liked them at first. They are straight forward fantasy, and I was coming direct from the Dragonlance books. The plot was kind of predictable but then so are most movies. I gave up at about halfway through the Heritage series when it became apparent that it was just going to be the same story again and again. There's plenty to enjoy about them, but they become pretty derivative. I don't remember being either offended or bowled over by the quality of the writing.
It is rare that I agree with a post quite so much!
 

Silvion Night

Sir Readalot
Staff member
#29
http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/fantasy-forever#.bcByEbZnX

The Shannara books are N9 in the "51 Best Fantasy Series Ever Written" according to Buzzfeed. Silvion - prepare your hot glass. :D
Hmm, that's just another fantasy list. Riftwar, The Sword of Truth, Eragon, Dark Elf and Dragonlance are all series that appear on this list which I don't consider 'the best of fantasy', but rather 'the absolute worst of fantasy'.
 

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#31
Some good points here guys. It's very hard to balance out a Best List -- it goes one direction (let's say catering to the Brooks, Twilight, Harry Potter, Goodkind, Paranormal Romance crowd) -- a direction which consists of a significant percentage of the fantasy readers and the hardcore crowd gets pissed off. But too far in the direction of the more serious works (yes, darker style of fantasy) and the more casual fans are scared off.

Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don't! Dammed if you put GRRM near the top ( or on the list), dammed if you don't have him. Dammed if you keep WOT on, Dammed if you don't have it on.

The site really grew out of the old Top 25 list I put together for fun, way back in like 2005. I never expected to launch a fairly large site out of it that gets millions of visitors a year. It was just a pet project where I wanted to share my love of fantasy books with everyone else. And at that time, circa 2005/2006 there wasn't anything else really around as detailed as my original list, let alone a website just devoted to the best fantasy books.

If you read half the comments on the Top 25 list (the 2000+ of them), you would think I'd have a horde of angry readers who want to cut off my fingers and toes for daring to leave their favorite author off the list, or place another author above.

:O

I'll likely revise the Top 25 by the end of this year again (I spent a full year rebuilding the site design to let me easily modify the lists from a back end, dynamically -- before it would literally take WEEK of my time just to change around an existing list with a updated one, even when I had a fully written updated list on hand ready to go) and like always, try to aim for something in the middle.

I think part of the problem is that the fantasy genres has just grown too big. It used to more defined into a specific box 15 to 20 years ago. Now, the genre has spread it's wings and touches every genre with new subgenres being invented each year, or old ones rejuvenated.

In days now long gone, one knew what to expect of a fantasy book. There were wizards, there was magic, there was some quest to solve, maybe a magic sword, a bad guy to kill. Good guys were good, bad guys were bad.

Simple.

Now the genre, the conventions, the morality of the heroes -- everything is pretty much an open territory and undefined at this point. You can do anything and break every rule and get labelled as edgy. And i suppose, to stand out from the crowd, authors are trying to push those boundaries more and more. More violence, even less likable heroes, more depressing worlds, etc.

As far as labeling fiction fantasy -- now anything where the rules of reality are slightly suspended can be labeled as fantasy.

It's confusing. And it's not going to get any simpler.

I do always try to keep the lists somewhat balanced, though yes, my tastes run in the darker direction as some have noted here -- and not everyone shares those tastes. But we'll see what happens then. You wouldn't believe how hard it actually is keeping 25 books on a list; removing one entry is like stabbing yourself with a steak knife, yet at the same time, there's a lot of cool books that you want to add to it, but you just can't justify removing some of the other entries.

What to do, sigh.
 
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moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#32
Good post Ben. You know I really like what you've done and would like to do the same thing someday once I've read more....


It's very hard to balance out a Best List -- it goes one direction (let's say catering to the Brooks, Twilight, Harry Potter, Goodkind, Paranormal Romance crowd) -- a direction which consists of a significant percentage of the fantasy readers and the hardcore crowd gets pissed off.
I can't believe you'd even entertain that thought. I think that would piss most people on the forums off and honestly I don't want those kinds of people joining the forums....


But too far in the direction of the more serious works (yes, darker style of fantasy) and the more casual fans are scared off.
To me serious equates literary and high quality writing. It doesn't have to be dark.


Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don't! Dammed if you put GRRM near the top ( or on the list), dammed if you don't have him. Dammed if you keep WOT on, Dammed if you don't have it on.
I understand this dilemma. Personally I think you should take WOT off and keep GoT but just not at the very top. That way at least you won't piss off the people who dislike GoT.

If you read half the comments on the Top 25 list (the 2000+ of them), you would think I'd have a horde of angry readers who want to cut off my fingers and toes for daring to leave their favorite author off the list, or place another author above.
I guess that's democracy.


I'll likely revise the Top 25 by the end of this year again (I spent a full year rebuilding the site design to let me easily modify the lists from a back end, dynamically -- before it would literally take WEEK of my time just to change around an existing list with a updated one, even when I had a fully written updated list on hand ready to go) and like always, try to aim for something in the middle.
Looking forward to it. I'd like it if there was more emphasis on complexity and attention to literary qualities on the list....


I think part of the problem is that the fantasy genres has just grown too big. It used to more defined into a specific box 15 to 20 years ago.
I don't know, I think that depends on how you define fantasy.

More violence, even less likable heroes, more depressing worlds, etc.
I don't see how that's pushing boundaries but then again I'm looking at this more through a literary lens and not a genre lens.

You wouldn't believe how hard it actually is keeping 25 books on a list; removing one entry is like stabbing yourself with a steak knife, yet at the same time, there's a lot of cool books that you want to add to it, but you just can't justify removing some of the other entries.
Why keep it to only 25 then? Why not 35 or 40?
 

btkong

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#33
To me serious equates literary and high quality writing. It doesn't have to be dark.
Agreed here: the overall picks may be too dark, though I do try weighting big in favor of high quality writing (The Name of the Wind, Jonathan Strange, City of Stairs, The Magicians) would be my picks for the standouts on the list in terms of literary elements and prose quality).

Still there are other authors on the list who are not the best at writing prose yet are good story tellers (Gemmell say). And some of the authors on the list are some great writers who can write circles, in terms of the quality of prose, around some of their contemporaries, those being the likes of Jack Vance (this guy writes better prose drunk than some of the more popular fantasy writers on their best day), Sean Williams, and such.

But, I'll keep this in mind next update.

Eric Flint made a good statement on his blog a while back that to be a paid 'writer' you have to either be a good at writing prose or you need to be a good story teller, but between the two, telling a good story is the more important (and to be a 'great' writer, you often need to be good at both). And you'll often see the same in the fantasy (and many of the genres) that many of the more successful writers are not necessarily clever wordsmiths or elegant at prose, but they tell a good story.

And for most fans of the genre, the story is the more important element, the elements of writing itself, often a distant second -- sometimes very much so (cough 50 Shades of Porn for example).

On the other hand, strong ability as a word smith, is (generally) not enough to pull out a good story on its own, if the plot and characters are weak.

If you want to see an example of someone who's marvelous at prose, but failing at almost every other element that's important to readers - such as the plot, characterization, etc -- give Cecillia Dart-Thorton 's Bitterybynde trilogy a read (or look at her entry I made on The Worst Fantasy Books list for a summary).

Or just look at Janny Wurts, one of the most talented writers in terms of her way with words and her ability to write strong characters and interesting settings, yet her ability to create a story that keeps readers hooked has been lacking (which is why she's never found the success she probably deserves). Just try to get through her War of Light and Shadows saga. If you can make it through more than a couple of those books, you are a stronger person than I.

You see many writers with a good ability to tell a captivating story but who lack the writing skills most astutely in the indie fantasy area. Once in a while you may find a diamond in the rough -- and it's a diamond because the story is awesome, but it's rough because the prose doesn't do the story justice.
 
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Ryan W. Mueller

Journeyed there and back again
#34
I've noticed that with some of the indies I've read. The writing won't win any awards, but the story has me hooked. Usually, I'm fine with that as long as the writing isn't so bad that it pulls me out of the story. As a reader, I'm there for the story first. However, great writing can make me enjoy a story I would not otherwise enjoy.

For example, Tigana. I really liked the book overall, but the beginning was very slow. In the hands of a less talented writer, that beginning would have kept me from reading the rest of the book.

Now let's imagine Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, or Jim Butcher trying to write a slow-paced and literary character study. They're three of my favorite authors, but I'll admit freely that their prose is nothing special. I love them because of the stories they tell and the way they tell them. If they told a slow story like that, I'd probably get bored in less than fifty pages because there's nothing keeping me there.

Now for a book that I felt pulled off both, great writing and great storytelling: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. It struck a rare balance between fast-paced action and great writing, and now I'm eagerly awaiting the sequels.
 

moonspawn

Journeyed there and back again
#35
Eric Flint made a good statement on his blog a while back that to be a 'writer' you have to either be a good at writing prose and you need to be a good story teller, but between the two, telling a good story is the more important (and to be a 'great' writer, you need to be good at both). And you'll often see the same in the fantasy (and many of the genres) that many of the writers are not necessarily clever wordsmiths or elegant at prose, but they tell a good story.
I agree with this but I'd also argue that if you go far enough in one direction or another then the strength of lets say story writing could potentially out way bad prose as long as the author's prose aren't 'basic' if that makes any since. I guess as an example I would say Tim Powers is an excellent story writer with strong plots, good characterization, and clever world building but a bad prose writer. I mean when I read Stress of Her Regard I had difficulty getting an image in my head of what he was describing and I'd often times have to re-read descriptive passages multiple times because the writing was so unclear but even with this flaw there were many clever subtleties and ambiguities in the writing that would be totally lost on a reader who was speeding reading. And in the end it was one of the most challenging fantasy books I've read. Speaking of which I do find it a curiosity that not much Tim Powers is listed on the site.


and to be a 'great' writer, you need to be good at both
Honestly there are very, very few books I would say that have great prose and a great story and fewer authors that do both consistently. Then again some authors merely just have interesting and possibly innovative ideas but are poor at prose and not that great with story but yet get called great for some reason but some of those could legitimately be called great depending on how ground breaking their ideas are.

On the other hand, strong ability as a word smith, is not enough to pull out a good story on it's own, if the plot and characters are weak.
For epic fantasy and long fiction you're right an author's word smiting won't be able to hold the readers attention forever if every other element is weak. But it could work for fiction in shorter formats.

For example, Tigana. I really liked the book overall, but the beginning was very slow. In the hands of a less talented writer, that beginning would have kept me from reading the rest of the book.
You being serious. Tigana started off fantastically and then at some point it derailed and became a simple good vs evil story. I wish the entire thing had been that slow!
 

ofer

Journeyed there and back again
#36
Now for a book that I felt pulled off both, great writing and great storytelling: City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. It struck a rare balance between fast-paced action and great writing, and now I'm eagerly awaiting the sequels.
Couldn't agree more. I absolutely loved this book. It had everything - mythology, backstory, good characters, great writing - and yet it had an excellent pace that made it a page-turner. I'm also awaiting the sequel.
 

Nuomer1

Journeyed there and back again
#37
I've noticed that with some of the indies I've read. The writing won't win any awards, but the story has me hooked.
I absolutely agree - and I am looking at this from both sides. As a reader, I want a good story - which doesn't mean action adventure, it means something that holds my interest, ideally through the characters and storyline, but the world scene/background has a substantial part to play.
That said, I am struggling with definitions and examples here. I read a lot of F/SF, and a fair amount of detective/police procedural stuff. But I don't read much of the material that most 'literary' types would refer to as 'literature'. Examples? I can't do the Great English Classics (Dickens, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, etc) but I do like Conan Doyle (and not just the Sherlock Holmes stories - I read the Professor Challenger works and others a long time ago, and would read them again if I could find time). And I really like Larry Niven, early McCaffrey, early Le Guin etc

I think for me general 'quality of writing' (and leave full definitions of that until later, personal taste may be a major factor!) needs to cross a certain threshold before a book becomes worth reading. Once that is crossed, then the story and characters are more important, and sophisticated writing techniques are only useful once the story itself has reached a worthwhile standard.

Then look at how a writer reaches those standards!

Many people have stories to tell. If they also have a basic knack for writing and a reasonable command of the English language, then they are going to reach what Ryan describes in the sentence quoted above.
Such authors count as the Good Indies (That brings me to my other view of this situation - as an author, that is where I think/hope I now fit)
But to develop further, they need help. They need skilled advice, a Creative Writing class or something similar. And there lies the problem. Teacher and pupil need to be well matched, in style, interests and ambition. And then, the aspiring author needs to be able to invest a lot of time (and maybe money) not so much acquiring the skills as just polishing them. That is a long slow process, that few people are willing to get involved with unless they have some confidence of a successful outcome at the end - and that is why they choose the Indie route. If successful there, they may be willing to work at improvement - which is a good thing, and one of the advantages of the electronic world. Sadly, that same electronic world allows indie publication by people who can barely string three words together without a Zap-Pow moment in between. Oh well, that's life today!

Purely for interest, there are close comparisons here with my other hobby, woodcarving. The initial work of carving is creative, enjoyable, satisfying - and friends and family all tell me how clever I am. But to be saleable, a piece needs to be sandpapered all over, in every tiny corner and awkward space, with five or six consecutively finer grades of sandpaper, then oiled and waxed and polished - and quite possible stripped and moved back by two or three grades of sandpaper because of a small patch missed on the first pass. I hate that stage of the process - but to move from the 'family and friends' level (equals 'Good Indie') to 'Art Gallery' (equals agent and publisher) the polishing is necessary. In both areas, I currently exist close to that boundary!
 

ABatch

Journeyed there and back again
#38
I always felt like the Shannara series was for people who were jones-ing for more Tolkien-esque fantasy -- as I was, when I was much younger. But then I encountered the Elric series/saga by Moorcock and my tastes and perceptions changed. I used to adore Feist; now I'd rather read Erikson or Abercrombie.
 

GreyMouser

Journeyed there and back again
#39
I always felt like the Shannara series was for people who were jones-ing for more Tolkien-esque fantasy -- as I was, when I was much younger. But then I encountered the Elric series/saga by Moorcock and my tastes and perceptions changed. I used to adore Feist; now I'd rather read Erikson or Abercrombie.
It went the other way around for me. I read Robert E. Howard's Conan, Michael Moorcock's Elric, Karl Edward Wagner's Kane, The Black Company and when I tried to read the first Shannara book it just couldn't hold my attention. I did however love Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books when I got to them a few years later.