Amph What's important for Fantasy/Sci-fi literature to have?

Discussion in 'Archive: SF&F: Books and Comics' started by Twinky_Stryder, Jan 7, 2006.

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  1. Twinky_Stryder Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Nov 16, 2003
    star 4
    Basically, what does a Fantasy/Sci-fi book need to have in it in order to be a good book.

    Villianous villain?
    Likeable hero/heroine?
    Originality or the same old structure?
    A sense of reality, so that it isn't all just off the wall?


    Personally, I like it when the characters are likeable and the story is complex, but not so complex that it's confusing and boring.


    What do you guys and gals think?

  2. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 10
    It's not so much what can make a good book, it's what a writer must do to avoid the bad.

    "Show don't tell" is a biggy. A writer should avoid too much narrative. The only time you should 'tell' is when an event isn't that important to the story or theme.

    Also, avoiding Deus Ex Machina is a must. In the second AVP book the lead character has this android. The android is like a Swiss Army Knife but it doesn't know all of its functions, so when the lead character gets into a bad situation the android comes in with some previously unknown power and saves the day. This is the leading killer of a suspensful moment.

    I really hate anthalogies that don't live up to the original story by the original author. Clarke's Rama series sums this up. The Rama ship turns out to be a messenger from God. [face_plain] We went from a good science fiction tale to a scene involving anal beads. :eek: I relize Rama is not an anthalogy, but you get my point.

    Cliches are not a bad thing if used well enough and presented in some new and/or interesting context. Star Wars would be a prime example. The story of redemption through the son is not new, galactic warfare is not new, the black knight is not new, the damsel in distress is not new, but the stories are told in a new manner.
    A symbol symbolizes two things; in Lord of the Flies Piggy's glasses symbolize order on the island, but they are also just Piggy's glasses. The fact that Piggy's glasses symbolize...his glasses...becomes the part you the reader must see as something new.
    Darth Vader is a symbol of many things: The Black Knight, mankind losing its humanity, elements of Lucifer, Othello, Faust. But it's how those symbols are presented. If Vader was just Vader, he is still interesting as is.

    I hope that makes sense.

    As far as science fiction and fanatsy you must also take the reader to another world. If an event happens on the Moon I need to fell like I'm reading a story of characters dealing with that environment. If the character is off to see the king of a far off land I expect to feel like I'm walking down some cobbled road within the walls of a place that belongs to the King of the Land.
  3. emilsson Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 1998
    star 6
    VadersLaMent, your post makes a lot of sense to me and I agree with your points about symbolism.

    I would argue that Lord of the Rings became a success had a lot do with Tolkien using and expanding upon already existing symbols and giving them slightly new content. Frodo does not fit the traditional model for a hero, but his portayal does say something of the modern age. As the conditions of human life changes, so does these symbols.

    I think the best writers are those that takes preexisting themes, challenge and/or give them new meanings them by, for example, starting with a typical bad guy and then, as the story proceeds, shows that the nature of evil is more problematic than we first believed.

    Another important aspect lies in the writer's ability to make the reader believe in the reality of his creation. When I read A Song of Ice and Fire I feel as if I am witnessing the events unfolding. When Martin describes a battle I can picture the devastation and imagine the smell arising from the battle ground. The same is true for Robin Hobb's series (both the two trilogies about Fitz and The Liveship Traders. Dragons do not exist in our world, but their presence seem logical in her writing.

    So, all in all, both the ability of restructuring and making the story come alive are very important to fantasy novels to me.

    (I'm leaving science fiction out by choice since I haven't read enough novels of the genre to form an opinion. But I guess that making the worlds appear real is just as important for that particular kind of story.)
  4. TheProphetOfSullust Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 10, 2003
    star 4
    I guess this applies to all literature, not just SF&F, but...

    The author must respect the reader, and not insult his/her intelligence. Preaching, blatant allegory (I'm not talking about taking elements from RL events and applying them, I'm talking about outright retelling of history with basically nothing but names changed), and porn under the guise of "science fiction" don't cut it.

    By the way, concerning blatant allegory: I can think of one exeption: Harry Turtledove's Darkness series. The thing is, we all know it's a blatant allegory, so there is no pretense...
  5. DarthSparhawk Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jan 6, 2006
    1) Likable main character, who develops his character.
    2) Evil and cunning villain.
    3) Interesting plot with background history.
  6. Raja_Io Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2005
    star 4
    The atmosphere is essential thing in a book for me. That special feeling about the story, the writing is something that really appeals me. That's why I love Ursula le Guin and Strugatsky brothers so much. But the atmosphere isn't a thing any writer could achieve just by learning, it's something deeper and connected with a certain person's mind itself.

    What I hate about sci-fi is explaining everything. I've read the "2001: Space Oddysey" and was completely disappointed, as I expected something outstanding, at least it's a classic. But I couldn't stand Clarke's urge to describe and explain everything that came into character's view, especially in the beginning. I think he was trying to sound realistic, but I wouldn't say it worked... Rather on the contrary.

    TheProphetOfSullust made a good point about porn in literature. I hate it, really, and I don't know why the fantasy, sci-fi and horror books (well, the *cheap* ones) especially are filled with erotic moments (to be subtle...). This can ruin even the best idea for a book, as people just get annoyed by it, and then forget, or don't want to think, about the great storyline or anything good in the book. I at least react like that (maybe I'm a prude). Too many of too vulgar scenes just create a dirty and primitive feeling about the book.
  7. emilsson Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 1998
    star 6
    I dislike books which include graphic descriptions of erotic moments just for the sake of it or for shock value. But I don't mind when authors use sexual encounters in order to say something that serves a vital purpose for the story. For example, George R Martin has had a lot of sex in his A song of ice and fire and many times that has given insights into the characters (at other times it has made me laugh hysterically :)).
  8. Raja_Io Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2005
    star 4
    Well, you're right. Count the "vulgar scenes" phrase rather than "erotic moments". I meant the real porn in books, as we all know it happens - sad to admit, quite often. I think that's one of the factors of wide-spread view of fantasy as not very valuable literature.
  9. Daughter_of_Yubyub Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 8, 2002
    star 6
    In the end, for me, it comes down to a strong cast. It's not enough for the main hero to be likeable. The other important characters also have to be well developed. I'll forgive a lot of other things as long as I'm taken with the characters.
  10. Lank_Pavail Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 26, 2002
    star 7
    A good story with characters that one can feel something for. If the conection's not there, the book is like empty calories. :p
  11. Genimay Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    Jun 2, 2005
    star 4
    A charater people can connect with. Depending on if the book is writen for kids or adults kinda is the guidline to how complicated to make a charater. Harry Potter is very good as both. All kids and adults can really get him.

    Next they need to pull you into the story. It isn't just a story you read. YOu have to be there with the charaters.

    And of course a villan. Someone smart and is totally set in what they do.

    And a plot. Is the main charater saveing the universe or his own backyard.
  12. VadersLaMent Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Apr 3, 2002
    star 10
    One thing every book needs, a hook on the first page. That first page is crucial to grabbing the reader. See the first page of the ROTJ novelization for a great example.
  13. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Look at it from a different angle. Your country's publishers can affect what readers will have to read.

    If they want more breezy material that's what you'll get. And before you groan out the bantha that your shelves are bursting with cliche and clones, perhaps it's not the publisher to blame. Perhaps they can only offer what they are getting.

    Steven Erikson and his silent partner the ICE man are the only authors, anywhere I have read, after all these years, literally unequalled, who respect the reader. Read his book, and you'll get intricate storylines, unexpected surprises, rolling action, mature prose, excellent characters, page turning intrigue, surprise deaths. As a matter fo fact, no one's safe, not even the most favourite name. And what you see one book can change the next.

    And finally in fantasy, women equality. There's no wenches and raping and underclassing them here.
  14. Sniper_Wolf Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 26, 2002
    star 4
    Excellence's on the ball. For two genres that are riddled with clones, the ability to stand out with something fresh is the most important aspect. More elves, dragons, lasers, singular aliens, etc. are a bore. I'd rather read an ambitious novel that falls flat on its face than a tired and true novel. Creativity should triumph all.

    Ex, what is the name of Erikson's first book in his series? I'm interested in testing his work out from your praise of him.
  15. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    That's the catch, Sniper Wolf: the first Malazan book's so challenging to understand, with an unexplained and "cheap" ending, it can give the misleading impression that's how the series is. But don't worry, the second book explains everything you didn't understand in the first, and you suddenly realise the cheap ending is far more complex.

    The first book of the series, Gardens of the Moon, can put people off from its enigmatic and complex nature, but all other books are much easier to understand as you go on. And the second book, Deadhouse Gates, is one of the most evocative and heartwrenching endings in fantasy publishing. The pattern repeats: don't worry, what you didn't understand in there too, yeah, is expanded in later books.

    The events of book 1 continue in book 3. Book 2 continues in book 4. Oh, Erikson isn't without his faults---like those ridiculous character names---but like Martin, you'll get people every bit as diversified and distinctive---and I will even say Martin's humour is surpassed. Out of the blue, you can suddenly read an absolutely hilarious situation or come back line, usually from Quick Ben, undead T'lan Imass arrogance, or the famous fat Kruppe, who drives everyone mad with his insensible ramblings stretching their patience thin. "Alas," he sighes back, "I can only dream of thin."

    I don't know Scott Bakker, but really, Martin and Erikson are in a devastating league of their own. The current and past market literally has no rival. I'm a pale insignificance to such calibre.
  16. Mastadge Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 4, 1999
    star 7
    Scott Bakker is right up there with them.

    And might I say, as I have said before, that if you've only found two authors who respect the reader, then you really, really are not looking very hard. Maybe the only authors in a very particular subgenre -- the psueo-medieval military fantasy subgenre -- but fantasy comprises far more than just that, and there are many, many SFF writers who have a lot to offer.
  17. Raja_Io Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2005
    star 4
    Agreed. How come you judge all of the other writers? There ary many authors do not disrespect the reader. I wouldn't say I have felt offended when reading le Guin or Strugatsky. Or even Tolkien. [face_plain]

    EDIT: Sounded strange.
  18. ezekiel22x Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 9, 2002
    star 5
    If you think Martin and Erikson are fantasy's two all-time definitive voices, then like Mastadge says you should probably do yourself a favor and look a little bit beyond all the recent epic stuff.

    If you're looking for immaculate prose, dense characters, and plotting chock full of emotion and allusion, then I assure you that Gene Wolfe's masterwork The Book of the New Sun makes Martin's work look particularly pedestrian.
  19. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Why are people assuming I'm unfamiliar with fantasy instead of inquiring? Is this how discussion starts? [face_shame_on_you]

    Over the years I have noticed this silly aspect of the forum: people just assume what they want, and never apologise when corrected. Very well; I presume your hair is all blonde.

    Mastadge, you took me literally! When I say I've only found two sharp authors, I meant in my opinion, not in finding them by search. :p

    The problmem with Bakker, I've heard, is that he too rapes woman and underclasses them. Erikson does neither, and technically, supercedes him for creativity in that dept alone.

    Raja_Io, I understood you, but don't share your obvious high regard for Tolkien. Endless scenic description neither thrills nor enthralls me. I've given that overhyped boredom serious thought for a long time, and have concluded only the sheer length and illusional gravity of the peril has made it memorable worldwide. People have equated an overload of topographical names for gold-gilded quality. Or perhaps it's the biblical prose, giving it a perceived formality. But you see, had the book come out today, or he'd arrived at his rambling conversations a lot sooner, it would be nothing special significant.

    In this sense, James Luceno's infodumps are no different. By rights, he should be equally worshipped, no? :D

    I am now conversant in what's available in fantasy. And Erikson is giraffe neck above peers in many divisions. How many of you have read him, anyway? He's not widely known . . . and after half a year of delicate searching I have indeed confirmed the veracity of the rumour: American publishers did consider the Malazan series too mature for readers. [face_dancing] Bakker too had problems; perhaps it's Canadian bias?

    Do tell me, my good Ezekiel, what is sun-blinding about Wolfe's material? The Wizard Knight Trilogy---young boy enters alternate world, becomes brave hero, searches for magical dragon sword. If the simplicity of the title wasn't enough, I'd say this was recycled teen food yet again.

    To respect the reader, seriously, you must give them a creative plot they can't foresee, unexpected surprises, a rewarding finale, mature prose, good cover art, ongoing interest and intrigue, all without fantasy's typical cliches. Except for his use of dragons, Erikson does all. Few others do.
  20. ezekiel22x Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 9, 2002
    star 5
    I've already told you why you should read The Book of the New Sun. If you choose not to, then at least refrain from calling Gene Wolfe a purveyor of teen filler (Unless, of course, you're comfortable with making asinine, ignorant remarks.)
  21. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Why don't you detail his attributes for me then, rather than turbolaser flippancy? Show me what makes his most recent material The Wizard Knight so engaging. Whilst doing so, mayhaps you could point where in my above posts I said I was Wolfely unfamiliar, for I fear I cannot find it. :D
  22. Jairen Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Sep 1, 2000
    star 4
    Hey, let's try not to let this get too personal on here. Everyone will have opinions on who they think is the best, and what they like. There is no need to justify what you like, just accept that others may not agree.
  23. dontlookatmethatway Jedi Youngling

    Member Since:
    Jul 5, 2005
    star 3
    Excellence, I have a few objections to your post.

    I fail to see how this detracts from the quality of the book. The social position of women is merely an aspect of the world that the author creates.

    It's not "recycled teen food." He takes all the overused subjects in fantasy (elves, dragons, giants and the like) and gives them a twist. This makes them interesting and not just the same old cliches. While I'm not Wolfe's biggest fan, your characterization of his writing is simply unfair.

    Tolkien was a great author. The long descriptions that he gives in his books are one of the things that make them good. He goes to great lengths to describe the world that his story is set in, and that's a real boon to the reader. I cannot see how people think that it is boring.
  24. Excellence Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2002
    star 7

    Easy, Jairen, no one's overheated.
  25. Raja_Io Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Aug 28, 2005
    star 4
    Let's just discuss the topic, ok? Every author has his/her own thread, so there's no need to fight, right?



    What's important for Fantasy/Sci-fi literature to have?


    Answer, please.
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