Today at the store, a customer asked me if we had a certain book in stock – a fantasy book by Robin Hobb called Assassin’s Fate: Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. I checked the computer to find it was just released May 9th and we had 10 copies. I showed her to the section and she was so excited to see it, she picked up the book and hugged it. We chatted briefly before she left. I mentioned I had never really read much fantasy or sci-fi before – she looked at me in shock – I explained it was because I just didn’t know where to start and didn’t know what was good. She nodded solemnly, saying there can be a lot of crap to get through, but it’s so worth it because eventually you’ll find gold.
Then she went on to say fantasy and sci-fi are the best genres because they have it all – she listed off on each finger: romance, drama, adventure, politics, horror, mystery, heartache, action, betrayal – anything and everything you can think of can happen and has happened in a fantasy or sci-fi novel. The world building and array of characters, all of it is so vast – there’s just so much freedom to do it all.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily make them the best genres since, of course, that’s a subjective question, but it certainly does make them probably the most complex genres. And it was something I had never really realized before, but it’s so true; so much goes on in there – whole other worlds and lives are played out! This can obviously be said of nearly all books, but something about the fantasy and sci-fi genres takes it to a whole other level, and if i’m honest, that’s partly why I’ve avoided them. They’re so chock-a-block full of stuff going on, it’s a bit overwhelming – and most are pretty thick, too. I worry that I’ll start one, but then not be able to finish it and get bogged down if I’m not enjoying it. I’m also not hugely interested in combat or action scenes or politics if they’re too complex, all of which are usually big components of fantasy and sci-fi stories.
I think the trick, though, is finding something that will really appeal to me personally. I’ve heard a lot about the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, which is an epic fantasy featuring an awesome female protagonist, an evil world ruler, and a magic system based on different metals. I’m intrigued, but still intimidated. So that’s a possibility, but I’ve also heard about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss about a man named Kvothe and his story of becoming a notorious wizard – and then of course there’s George R.R Martin’s whole Game of Thrones series.
So far, I’ve read all of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series; it was a steampunk fantasy series that started off really great, but kind of levelled out over time into mediocre. I’ve also read Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson; a sci-fi book which I enjoyed, but wasn’t super excited about – not enough to continue the series at least. But I can’t say I’ve actually read any true fantasy books – not like this Assassin’s Fate series the customer was showing me. I know Neil Gaiman is very popular for fantasy books. I’ve read the first book of his graphic novel Sandman series and loved it, and I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up one of his fantasy books – but still, I’m hesitant.
I guess I’m pretty comfortable reading my general fiction, psychological thrillers, and mysteries. I love the feeling of wanting to know more and wondering what will happen, especially if there’s some kind of twist that not only turns the story on its head, but also plays with the craft of writing as well, like Ian Reid’s I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (which I’ll be reviewing soon!) Fantasy and sci-fi books generally don’t seem to be like that from what I’ve heard; they seem to be more about telling an epic story rather than exploring the nature of stories. Does that make sense? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with telling an epic story, but for me personally I seem to gravitate more towards stories that get into your head and play with the craft of writing and narration.
So, what makes a genre the best genre? Is it the freedom and limitless imagination of the fantasy and sci-fi worlds? The emotional heart strings of romance? The ups and downs of general fiction about life, love, and loss? The heart pounding, skin crawling sensation of a good horror or psychological thriller? There really isn’t one correct answer for this as we all enjoy different things and have different preferences. I suppose a better question is, which genre is your favourite and why? And if you’re a fantasy/sci-fi reader, what would you recommend for a newbie like me?