Fantasy for scifi geeks

Decided to start a new post for my edification. Can some of the authors of fantasy stories explain fantasy to scifi guys like me? I have been reading many of the fantasy stories from members of this site and much of it goes over my head. So, can people explain the main archetypes? The difference between the types of elves, ogres, knights, shape-shifters, etc? You see, we scifi authors basically have humans ans aliens. Sometimes zombies. Pretty easy. Many times the worls is in danger or ends. That's the gist of our stories. Help a brother muggle out.

It's kind of hard to explain because most of the fantasy stories here stray away from the conventional types of archetypes you find in the standard fantasy stuff you can find in a bookstore or library. Many of the stories that I find online don't have the elves and ogres and if they do, they aren't the standard, like in Tales of MU. There are many of the standard fantasy species/races, but they aren't used in the stand way. I think one thing that defines a fantasy is that things happen in a world unlike our own, much like a sci-fi. It's really not as easy to explain if you are using fantasy stories online as your basis. Stories like Alisiyad and Queen of Seven differ from stories like Tales of MU and An Intimate History. Then there are the subcategories that crossover like Urban Fantasy and Cyberpunk, Steampunk, and the like. I don't think you are going to find the standard fantasy on here.

I'm mainly a sci-fi author and reader, and all I can say is, read the Song of Ice & Fire series by George R.R. Martin. This will clear up any confusion you might have about fantasy and why it does actually deserve to exist.

After that, you might move on to the Black Company series by Glen Cook, as well as Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, etc. Things will proceed from there.



If you want to know about all the "archetypes" and cliches and tropes, then read Eragon. Then proceed to the good stuff that Ryan mentioned.

@SoraKainomori - Thanks for the explanation.

@winter - I have read some Gaiman - Liked it very much- Always stayed away from Martin because it seemed too much like fantasy and Pratchett because the covers always look like the stories are supposed to be funny, and I refuse to read any funny science fiction not written by Douglas Adams, I did pick up the new Gaiman at the bookstore and then put it down, would that be a good fantasy read?

@SoraKainomori - Eragon seems to be for a much younger reader, but if you recommend it I will try it.

Gaiman: Neverwhere, maybe American Gods (If you don't mind creepy sex scenes.)

Buy Pratchett. Now. Like, now now. He's the best ever. Better than Adams. (At least in my mind. I do own every single one of his books...) It's a bit difficult to pick the right book to start off with. His books have several strands, like Rincewind the Wizzard, the Night Watch, and the Witches.

If you like mysteries and detective stories, Guards! Guards! is a good place to start, and Wyrd Sisters is good if you like strong female leads and Shakespeare references.

Martin is a bit... difficult. Seriously. The first book has dozens of characters, and the politics are incredibly complex. Ice and Fire is sort of a magical War of the Rose, as written by a depressed Tolkien. He's rather fond of killing off everyone you could ever root for, and portrays a brutally violent, depraved world where nobody is truly good or evil.

Also, there are dozens of Fantasy genres. High, Dark, Urban, Low...

It's even harder once you factor in online works, which are usually very unique. For instance, the one I write is Dark Fantasy set in a sort of Napoleonic era world.

apocalypsenovel: IT'S A TRAP!

Nobody recommends Eragon. Nobody that isn't a sick, depraved bastard intent only on the suffering of humankind. *glances at SoraKainomori*

Martin is actually one of the only fantasy writers I like, even after four doorstopping volumes in the Song of Ice & Fire series. I've gone off Tolkien, I've gone off Feist, and Tad Williams can <censored censored censored>, but not Martin. I'd say Glen Cook is harder to get into than Martin. The only challenge with Martin is getting used to all the characters, but like I said, if you start ASoIaF you're in it for the long haul so there's plenty of time.

Pratchett is unreservedly hilarious and most of his books are massive send-ups of fantasy tropes and cliches. It's not sci-fi, and it's not Douglas Adams, but if you can stomach Adams's sense of humour you should have no trouble with Pratchett's.



*shifty eyes, whistles* ^^; Heh... I didn't do anything. I was "recommending" it because it seems to have every cliche and trope known to mankind stuff between it's cover. I was pretty young when I read it and I hated it. I was so mad that I even purchased the book and I never regret anything I buy, even if it is an impulse buy. I was also being a bit sarcastic, but for some odd reason sarcasm is lost in the interwebz. XD. So if you want to know the "tropes" and "cliches" read Eragon. If you want something WAY better, read what the others are suggesting. You can probably read Prachett to see how tropes are handled correctly and read Eragon for a good laugh to see how tropes are handled very badly. It's good to read the bad stuff too, it makes you appreciate the good. *wants others to suffer the same pain. XD*

One thing you might do is this:

Many science fiction authors are also fantasy authors. I'd say check if that's the case with some of your favorites and then see if that's true of them. That way at least you know you like their writing beforehand. After that it's just a matter of the genre.

Another idea:

Check out the classics of the genre. Lots of "high fantasy" copies Tolkien so read Lord of the Rings (or at least watch the movies) if you haven't already. You might also check out stuff by Poul Anderson (he wrote science fiction as well). For that matter, you might also check out stuff by Roger Zelazny, specifically his Amber series (he also wrote science fiction).

I'm not sure who the classics of "urban fantasy" are... Probably Neil Gaiman's work will become some of them, but within that area I personally like Jim Butcher's series about Harry Dresden, a wizard living in modern times. It's very accessible stuff. It tends to be as much a mystery as anything else.

I think it's just so hard to point and say "This is fantasy." About as hard as it is to point and say "this is SF." After all, we all know that there is pilesand piles of SF which goes beyond "humans versus aliens," we can all think of plenty of it. Without the aliens. Or without the "versus" or even without the humans. Tons of it. And the same applies to fantasy.

There's a million little sub-genres in fantasy, just like there is in SF. And...mostly...they're just tags to shelve the books under, in a bookstore. Don't worry about it. Just find interesting books.

You've gotten some really sharp recommendations here. Roger Zelazny is a delight, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, absolutely. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you read some Fritz Leiber, and some Robert Silverberg.

And if you want to phase slowly from SF into fantasy...why not read Dune? That's fantasy AND SF. ANd then there's Gene Wolfe's amazing books. Fantasy, SF, horror, and huge time-eaters. Zelazny, another one, who is fantasy and SF combined.

A good overview is here:

As to the different types of creatures (elves, ogres, shapeshifters, etc), each author has their own take of the classic definition. The following link is a good start:

And really, you could sum down both genres as "humans and aliens" for SF (as mentioned in the first post) and "Humans and species" or "humans and myth" for fantasy. THey can both boil down so simply, and then expand into such complex and varied things. Which is why I love reading. :D

@ Ace - I hadn't seen that SFsite article before, that is a really good one, I'm glad I got to see that. Thanks.

Thank you all. I think I understand better. I will read Dune - Saw the movie and enjoyed it. I will also try Pratchett and Zelazny, we'll see how it goes...

Once again, thanks.

Dune is not fantasy. It's a timeless sci-fi classic and one of the best novels ever written, but there's no way you can classify it as fantasy . . .



Apocalypsnovel - purge the movie Dune from your mind and embrace the beautiful novel that is Dune (if that makes any sense). Though I've never considered Dune to be Fantasy, it's Fantastic.

I'm a writer of strictly Science Fiction, who recently found herself writing what had to be called a Fantasy, though it follows none of the paths you'd expect to see when hearing the word Fantasy. In fact, I'd prefer to consider it Science Fiction merely because that's what I write - but technically, so I'm told, if your character steps through a door into another world, you're a Fantasy. Walking, talking, and squawking forced me to call it a Duck. But what I'm getting at is, Fantasy can take on MANY forms. Don't shy away thinking it's only dragons, elves and the odd princess or two.

And read Terry Pratchett! If you loved Douglas Adams, you'll be made happy.

Personally, I'm not so much with the elves and orcs and so on. I mean, I'm a good geek girl; I know the differences among them, but I'm not interested in reading or writing about them that much. That's why there are no magical critters or other beings besides humans in the History.

Can I say, at the risk of sounding really sugary, I am so happy to be here where people love books as much as my geeky self.

@ Apocalypsenovel - I KNOW! Honestly, I try not to gibber and shout about it constantly, but I seriously love books and get hyperactive and giddy when I'm around other people who do too. There aren't internet emoticons enough to express it. :-D (I am such a bibliophile)

Much of the more modern fantasy stories don't really use archetypes such as elves, dwarves and so on. Coming from a purely scifi root myself, I always had problems connecting with dragons, unicorns and "the fae". That's why I tend to shy away from conventional archetypes in my fantasy. I'll never let Frodo in, but a Gollum or two might be acceptable. No dragons. Bah.

Although, some of the most original fantasy I've read is from China Mieville. His books Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council absolutely blew my mind. An amazing book series which I recommend to anyone looking for unconventional fantasy. And from the looks of his author's picture in the back of the book, he looks to be a total badass. Utterly recommended.

I guess I'm really happy to read about Orcs and Dragons and Gollums Galore, but...there's got to be a STORY behind and around the species. It can't be high fantasy for the sake of high fantasy. There's got to be something fresh and approachable and interesting. If I REALLY want to read the Hero's Journey (as Joseph Campbell called it), then I'll read the Lord of the Rings again.

Terry Pratchett's a good example, in that he's made a whole career out of picking up ALL the cliches out there, and then examining them in newer, sharper, better light. Suddenly, Dwarves are interesting and fleshed out. Trolls are too. Even Vampires.

@ Ryan -- Yeah, Dune is an absolute masterpiece of the SF field. We absolutely agree on that, and I'd fight someone who said otherwise (ideally, I'd like to figure out what legal action would make Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson STOP...). However, I can comfortably see Dune in a blurring middle-area between fantasy and SF. It share so much with both. In the same sense that perhaps you could look at Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber as neither/both SF AND fantasy. Or take the Shadow of the Torturer series by Gene Wolfe. Both/neither SF AND fantasy. Does that make sense? They're in the blurred middle space. They are, none of them, roaring space operas. They are also not epic high fantasy.

Does that make sense? I'm not sure I'm explaining the view properly. So instead, I'll just say "Anyone who hasn't read Wolfe/Zelazny/ in sick for a week at work, read 'em all, and watch your whole world transform around you." :)