In June, I was alerted by my fellow The Lord of the Rings fans to NPR’s call to nominate books for their Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. Setting aside the problem of conflating the genres—I mean, I get it, but it does mean a lot of good books in both categories will fall by the wayside—I enjoyed looking through the comments for new recommendations and, of course, taking the opportunity to peddle Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering like it’s my job. (If you read and liked The Lord of the Rings, you should read it. End of story.) The nominations were counted, the votes were tallied, and on Thursday, NPR unveiled the fruit of its labors—their top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books (circa Summer 2011). I’m not going to copy the list verbatim—you can find a printable version here if you so desire—but I am going to talk about some of the selections that made it, be they good or bad in my book.
I’ve been following the dialogue between Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin concerning what exactly constitutes science fiction for some time, because it’s an important question–at what point is that line drawn? We tend to think that other people see genres the same way we do, as Atwood and Le Guin did. However, to their surprise, they discovered they did not, making their chief conflict quite complicated. When I attended one of Atwood’s lectures at Emory a few weeks ago, I was quite taken with her choice of phrase when she was discussing the many meanings SF has to her–it depends on your “literary taxonomy”. To further explore that idea, I’ve decided to clarify and contemplate my personal literary taxonomy.
(Obviously, we’re only dealing with fiction here–nonfiction and fiction are as different as the day and night. It’s only when you try to pick out the different phases of the moon that you run into trouble.)
As I tend to mention a great deal, I was reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. If asked to choose one genre to read for the rest of my life, I’d happily answer fantasy. My reading resolutions were drawn up mostly to keep me from just gorging myself on fantasy and the occasional piece of science fiction and historical fiction. But I’m so happy swimming in the deep end that I rarely notice people at the edge tentatively dipping their toes in the pool. (It is, of course, a mana pool.) I know for people who haven’t read much fantasy that the genre can look intimidating, so today I’m going to recommend fantasy novels based on what other genres you enjoy. So take a deep breath and relax. This won’t hurt a bit.
The Mists of Avalon
based on the novel The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon is absolutely huge, when it comes to feminist retellings of legends, giving voice and dignity to the oft-maligned Morgaine le Fay. And I mean huge in all senses of the word–not only was its impact huge, but it’s also over nine hundred pages long. When I came across the TNT miniseries adaptation at my school library, I was downright curious about how such an adaptation would even be feasible. So I picked it up.