Fantasy’s Apocalyptic Turn

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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10 Responses

  1. Belle Lettre says:

    You are such a nerd. But then again, so am I.

    I don’t read much epic fantasy to be honest. I don’t even read sci fi, which I prefer to watch on TV with special effects (Star Trek TNG, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica). But lots of my English grad student buddies, people I generally respect usually high falutin’ literary tastes love science fiction fantasy as beach reads. I’m intending to take up their suggestions this summer if I make it to the beach in between conferences.

    The general consensus is that you can’t go wrong with the Victorianist trained sci fi author (and lit professor at the University of London) Adam Roberts: . Start with Salt, then On, then Stone.

    Or Octavia Butler, who unfortunately died last year.

    Kindred is a sci fi exploration of slavery, supposed to be very good, as are the Parable of the Sower series.

    They’re both highly rated as readable, intelligent, and well-written sci fi fantasy.

    Anyway, that’s what I’m reading this summer. Although Jim Chen gave me some historical fantasy for Christmas, “Freedom and Necessity” by Steven Brust and Emma Bull, and I’ve still yet to read that.

  2. Amber says:

    Thanks for this post. I get a lot of flack from my boyfriend (also a lawyer) about reading “books with dragons on the cover,” but as you point out many of the recent fantasy series are more than just escapism. Thanks for the comprehensive recs; I’m a big China Mieville fan, who is explicitly the anti-Tolkien.

  3. G says:

    After reading GRRM, I just can’t go back to anything else. I’ve delayed reading the Erickson novels because they are so large in scope and would probably require much of my time and focus to enjoy properly. I’ve also heard Glen Cook’s The Black Company is very good, and will be reading that in the future as well (among the other authors you’ve mentioned).

    It’s good to know that fantasy is moving in the “right” direction and that there are others with similar tastes.

  4. Seth R. says:

    I’ll cop to reading a lot of the books you linked to while I was in high school (and picking a few of them up again in later years out of nostalgia). I was an avid fantasy reader. But yeah, Weis/Hickman, Eddings, et al just haven’t stood the test of time.

    I don’t really do fantasy anymore. I tried to pick up Song of Ice and Fire a couple months ago. But you’re right: the sex and brutality are definitely there. After a while, I just didn’t feel like wallowing in human filth over a genre I suddenly realized I didn’t care about anymore. I didn’t even get through the first book.

    I’ve been going for historical non-fiction mostly. But I still wish I could find a good piece of fantasy writing that didn’t make me feel like pond scum after reading it. You’re summary of current literary trends is not exactly encouraging.

  5. Roger says:

    Children of Hurin is the first fantasy book I’ve bought in a while. I am deep into A Song of Ice and Fire, which is the only ongoing current fantasy series I can stand and I think that has to do with the fact that it’s not so much fantasy as medieval in tone. I gave up on Robert Jordan halfway through book six. I do have some Gene Wolfe I plan on reading, but right now I’m working through an Honor Harrington novel and I do have plans to get back to Glen Cook’s Black Company stories.

    I’ve read a lot of fantasy in my youth, and while I still have a fondness for it, I’m much more choosy about what I read (ie, GRRM), and my tastes have moved toward other genres and non-fiction.

  6. Dave Hoffman says:

    A contrary example. It’s a very bad book, in a pretty terrible series, but for some reason I read it tonight: Exile’s Honor, by Lackey. There is a tort lawsuit resolved by a factfinder using a “truth spell.”

  7. BDG says:

    Comparing Wolfe to Gaddis is a cheap shot. I think you should try again, if you gave up quickly…he’ll offer you all the dense character development and moral complexity you want, without having to resort to the kinds of over-the-top shock of some others you mention (although _The Wizard_ gets pretty bleak).

    A fairer criticism is that his politics are pretty objectionable, from the perspective of the left-of-center law professor. But he generally doesn’t hit you over the head with them.

  8. dave hoffman says:

    I’ve tried Wolfe many times (although I haven’t tried the Wizard). I just can’t get past the first 100 pages in any of his books. I recognize there is meat there, and that he is doing complicated and interesting things with the narration, but it (for me) is just a bit fit with the subject matter. For what it is worth, I wasn’t aware of his politics, whatever they may be.

  9. Very nice article!

    You may want to try “The Knight” part of the Wizard Knight (two books). It’s a very approachable Wolfe.

    Also, try his short stories–they’re all very good. It’s when he approaches novel-length that the singularity usually starts to fold–for good, if you like that kind of stuff, or ill, if you don’t.

    I like Gene Wolfe, but have a difficult time chewing through his novels. But his short stories–and The Knight–I devour happily.

  10. TJ Erickson says:

    For the guy who is looking for “a good piece of fantasy writing that didn’t make me feel like pond scum after reading” I recommend Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. The language and writing is arresting, and she leaves you feeling better about people than a lot of what is on the shelves these days. I read a lot, both in genre and out, and I have created a list of very few writers that I think are truly at the top of the game.

    Charles de Lint and Patricia McKillip are both amazing stylists, Guy Gavriel Kay might be the best fantasist of the 90’s(I am aware that his Fionavar novels read like Tok-clones, but he’d just finished the work he did on the Silmarilion, so I give him a pass. His work deserves it.) , and Bujold as mentioned above is truly superb. Each has flaws of course, but they are all truly gifted writers as well.

    Among the grittier versions of the genre, I like “hard fantasy” as a description, I have recently read, and very much enjoyed James Clemen’s Shadowfall.

    I think that I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the genre right now, as there are some amazing younger writers out there. I recently read a first novel by a guy named Jay Lake, called Mainspring, that was inventive, and fascinating, and far superior to much that has been written in the last 30 years. The late 80’s and early 90’s will I think in the long run, be viewed as the low water points for fantasy. Right now if you want brainless tok-clones, they are out there, but there is also a lot of intelligent and insightful writing written in genre. -TJ