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Contemporary Fantasy

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  • Contemporary Fantasy

    Who are the best contemporary fantasy writers in your opinion? I've enjoyed reading China Miéville, K.J. Bishop and Gene Wolfe+ (in particular The Wizard Knight from 2004) but I am pretty much at a loss when it comes to more recent writers. Browsing the contemporary fantasy section in my local bookstore I mainly see a lot of names I don't recognize, and most of it is probably junk anyway :)

    What do you think of Moorcocks more recent fantasy novels, if it's fair to categorise them as such: The Moonbeam Roads novels (2001-05) and The Whispering Swarm (2015)?

    Do you know of any good sites on the net reviewing new fantasy fiction?

  • #2
    Keep Sturgeon's law in mind: 90% of everything is *****.
    Browsing the shelves suffers now as it always did.
    Thus the delight in finding a new gem;
    A delight to be shared!

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    • #3
      Jeff Vandermeer is a good writer I have only read annihalation though. I'm looking forward to reading KJ Bishop is she not a modern writer?

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      • #4
        The hard thing with finding good modern writers is that time has not passed to seperate the good stuff from the forgettable.

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        • #5
          There is, of course, N. K. Jemisin of the Three Hugos. I've only read one of her earlier works, but a few friends have spoken very highly of her Broken Earth trilogy and I quite liked the earlier work (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms).

          I'm also a fairly big fan of Frances Hardinge, having enjoyed her books Fly By Night and A Face Like Glass. I guess I could describe her as a cross between China Mieville and Mervyn Peake. She's marketed as YA, not SFF, though.

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          • #6
            I realize that in asking for good fantasy written within the last 20 years I am in a way also asking about the state of fantasy at the moment. Is fantasy experiencing a golden age or is it just a shadow of what it used to be?

            One of the problems with getting a sense of where fantasy is heading now is that most books on the shelves are +600 pages and therefore take a lot of time reading. Do you have any experience with short story anthologies such as Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror? I have the impression that fantasy and the novel format are inseparably linked.

            Do you know of any literary magazines reviewing fantastical fiction?

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            • #7
              The lists on Goodreads are always confusing to me because they tend to include just about anything. Anyway, for what it's worth, the contemporary fantasy list includes authors like Rothfuss, Rowling, Martin, Sanderson, Gaiman, Abercrombie, Paolini, Jordan, Pratchett and Hobb, some of these probably more YA than fantasy proper. Also Susanne Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell), Naomi Novik (Uprooted) and Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series. I haven't read any of them, with the exception of the Harry Potter books many years ago, and some of Pratchett's older stuff. Probably they are just part of the 90% that Sturgeon spoke of.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Sir Sorcerer View Post
                The lists on Goodreads are always confusing to me because they tend to include just about anything. Anyway, for what it's worth, the contemporary fantasy list includes authors like Rothfuss, Rowling, Martin, Sanderson, Gaiman, Abercrombie, Paolini, Jordan, Pratchett and Hobb, some of these probably more YA than fantasy proper. Also Susanne Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell), Naomi Novik (Uprooted) and Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series. I haven't read any of them, with the exception of the Harry Potter books many years ago, and some of Pratchett's older stuff. Probably they are just part of the 90% that Sturgeon spoke of.
                Rothfuss and Sanderson are definitely part of the 90% from what I read of them. Very uninspired stuff. I like Gaiman though.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Peacefulpie View Post

                  Rothfuss and Sanderson are definitely part of the 90% from what I read of them. Very uninspired stuff. I like Gaiman though.
                  I agree on those and would add Martin to the list of the 90%. Obviously, too, would go Paolini who I think is one of the worst offenders.

                  Overall, I think the state of Fantasy is pretty stagnant. There are some refreshing spots--Gaiman, Mieville--which are trying to add something new to the discussion but overall I think the vast majority of it is derivative in the worst ways. Some, like Martin, try to disguise their derivations with shock and "gritty realism" but even they are fairly poor in my opinion. The trend a decade or so ago was in "Urban Fantasy" which provide fantastical twists to the modern world, some of which were decent but still they tend to follow the same formulae as classic fantasies. In the end, I have found myself reading fewer and fewer fantasy novels and those few new ones I have read in recent years (Rothfuss) have just confirmed my suspicious.

                  Does this mean the genre has been mined out? I would like to think not. I hope that in time we'll see a true revival sparked by something original and fresh. I certainly don't know what that will look like--if I did, I'd have a go at writing it myself!
                  "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
                  --Thomas a Kempis

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by EverKing View Post

                    I agree on those and would add Martin to the list of the 90%. Obviously, too, would go Paolini who I think is one of the worst offenders.

                    Overall, I think the state of Fantasy is pretty stagnant. There are some refreshing spots--Gaiman, Mieville--which are trying to add something new to the discussion but overall I think the vast majority of it is derivative in the worst ways. Some, like Martin, try to disguise their derivations with shock and "gritty realism" but even they are fairly poor in my opinion. The trend a decade or so ago was in "Urban Fantasy" which provide fantastical twists to the modern world, some of which were decent but still they tend to follow the same formulae as classic fantasies. In the end, I have found myself reading fewer and fewer fantasy novels and those few new ones I have read in recent years (Rothfuss) have just confirmed my suspicious.

                    Does this mean the genre has been mined out? I would like to think not. I hope that in time we'll see a true revival sparked by something original and fresh. I certainly don't know what that will look like--if I did, I'd have a go at writing it myself!
                    I haven't read Martin but I do know of Paolini's reputation. I have tried reading Mieville twice but can not get into his books. I think that fantasy has definitely got more stuff to explore just not in the "standard fantasy setting".

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Peacefulpie View Post

                      I haven't read Martin but I do know of Paolini's reputation. I have tried reading Mieville twice but can not get into his books. I think that fantasy has definitely got more stuff to explore just not in the "standard fantasy setting".
                      My opinions of Martin may be unfairly critical because I came into Fantasy, if you will, through Tad Williams in the early 90's. Martin has acknowledged Williams's influence as an inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), which is appreciated, but in addition to the painful parallels between the two Martin utterly fails where I feel Williams succeeded: providing some emotional connection to the story and "heart" to the characters. Martin attempts to build on Williams's early attempts at modernizing the classical fantasy tropes, a la Tolkien, through subversion but Martin's approach becomes more about shocking the reader than in encouraging the reader to think of the true consequences of the tropes. I don't really know how to explain it except to say that Martin presents the tale as a charlatan would, a snake-oil salesman with few redeeming qualities.

                      That said, I know many ardent fans of Fantasy who swear by Martin and have a distaste for the lingering prose of Williams. To each their own.
                      "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
                      --Thomas a Kempis

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Sir Sorcerer View Post
                        The lists on Goodreads are always confusing to me because they tend to include just about anything. Anyway, for what it's worth, the contemporary fantasy list includes authors like Rothfuss, Rowling, Martin, Sanderson, Gaiman, Abercrombie, Paolini, Jordan, Pratchett and Hobb, some of these probably more YA than fantasy proper. Also Susanne Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell), Naomi Novik (Uprooted) and Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series. I haven't read any of them, with the exception of the Harry Potter books many years ago, and some of Pratchett's older stuff. Probably they are just part of the 90% that Sturgeon spoke of.
                        Oh, I forgot Joe Abercrombie. I really liked his First Law trilogy and, possibly, his Best Served Cold standalone novel set in the same world. For myself, Logen Ninefingers, his barbarian character, is right up there with Conan. The novels in his YA aimed Shattered Sea trilogy are all shorter works, being mere 300-400 pages each. I liked them, but not as much as his so called grimdark First Law stuff.

                        I've also read Susanna Clarke's short stories collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which I found well wrought and quite interesting in places. Not enough to make me want to tackle Strange & Norrel, though. Throwing her into Sturgeon's 90% crud bin seems a mistake to me. Gaiman's certainly praised her to the heavens.

                        Yet another fairly recent trilogy I enjoyed (though not overly so) was Aliette De Bodard's Aztec magical murder mystery: Obsidian and Blood. However, the Aztec names and mythology seem quite a hurdle for many.

                        I'll finish off my recent trilogies round up by mentioning Pat Walsh's unfinished Crowfield Abbey series. I quite enjoyed both The Crowfield Curse and, to a slightly less extent, The Crowfield Demon. BTW, they also feature a somewhat Elric like white skinned elf named Shadlock. I'm quite disappointed the trilogy has been on hiatus or something for the last few years.

                        I also just bought Spellslinger by Sebastian De Castell. Not having read it I can't say much about it. A blurb that goes "Told with the conviction of Ursula LeGuin and the dash of Alexandre Dumas" sounds promising, though. I've also spoken with him a couple times in a bookstore we, apparently, both frequent and he's left a good impression.

                        As for golden or stagnant ages, I think it's the same as it ever was: it's always the best of times, and the worst of times. But these days, it's a whole lot easier to get your hands on nearly anything you want, whether old or new.
                        Last edited by Heresiologist; 09-21-2020, 09:00 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post
                          I've also read Susanna Clarke's short stories collection The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which I found well wrought and quite interesting in places. Not enough to make me want to tackle Strange & Norrel, though. Throwing her into Sturgeon's 90% crud bin seems a mistake to me. Gaiman's certainly praised her to the heavens.
                          Her new book, Piranesi, is receiving a lot of good reviews:
                          https://locusmag.com/2020/09/gary-k-...usanna-clarke/

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                          • #14
                            I think what has changed is that fantasy used to be a genre written almost exclusively by white men from North America and Western Europe. During the last 10 years this perception has been radically overturned. Just look at the recent Hugo, Locus etc. awards. I can only see this as a good thing.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Peacefulpie View Post
                              Jeff Vandermeer is a good writer I have only read annihalation though. I'm looking forward to reading KJ Bishop is she not a modern writer?
                              Borne is amazing, and I’m really partial to Vennis Underground. I don’t think any of his work has disappointed me. And Bishop is relatively current (and really good) although she hasn’t published for a few years.

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