The OF Blog: My Locus Online article, Best Heroic Fantasy of 2010, now live

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Locus Online article, Best Heroic Fantasy of 2010, now live

Here's the link to the article.  Hopefully, this little roundup will generate some discussion in some quarters of the web, even though I don't expect many to agree with all of my choices or the rationales behind them.  Feel free to leave your thoughts here, even if it's just to berate me for leaving out Authors X, Y, or Z or including sucky authors A, B, or C.


Anonymous said...

That list is BONERIFFIC!!!!!!!!!!

Larry said...

That adjective scares the ever-living bejeezus out of me.

Jason M Waltz said...

Well I like your list, especially the inclusion of Esslemont's title. He and Erikson remain sadly underappreciated here in the States.

Matt Denault said...

Congratulations on placing the piece, Larry.

Whenever I see a list like this, I'm always interested in knowing what books were read and considered but didn't make the cut, as opposed to those that were judged not to fit the category, or those simply not read. Care to dish on any of these matters? Did you like Jemisin's first book more than her second; or consider the first more heroic/epic than the second; or just not read the second? Did you consider books by folks like Guy Kay and Cat Valente and Kate Elliott too grounded in our world's history to fit the category, or just not good enough? Okorafor too futuristic? Newcomers like Beth Bernobich, Celine Kiernan, M.D. Lachlan, Rowena Cory Daniells, Col Buchanan, and relative newcomers like Brett, Weeks, and Erikson not good enough, or just not read? Old hands like Brooks and Fiest and McKillip and Donaldson and Card?

I'm obviously not arguing that all of these--or any of them--should have made your list; they're just the primary names I'm aware of who wrote books I associate with this marketing space last year. I haven't read many (read: most) of them, and I'm sure I missed a fair few. But that's precisely what I'm curious about: mapping the systems that generate awareness of books and a sense of the categories they fit into, to see how and why some have the chance to gain consideration for lists like this, and some do not.

Larry said...


I'll try to answer your questions as best as I possibly can. When devising a list, especially one on short notice (just over a week from the proposal being made to my article being sent for editing/posting), there are going to be some gaps, either from omission or because there are blind spots in coverage. What I did was take a look at what I had read or had intended to read in 2010 and choose the ones where I could create a coherent pattern of relationships between those stories; throwing up a list was far from my thoughts. There were some tough decisions.

I decided to eliminate stories that had connections to the "real world," thus Okorafor, among others, were eliminated. Guy Kay would have been eliminated due to this, except I have not been a fan of his writing and did not read his most current work. Valente's latest I have not yet read, so I could not justify posting something that I had not read; I never have thought of her works as being more than tangential to heroic fantasies, to be honest.

In regards to Jemisin, I have the second novel, but have yet to read it, so I could only consider her through her first novel, which I thought was quite strong for a debut effort. Hers is one of the few openers to multi-volume works I chose, in part because it was a mostly self-contained story.

I did read the Buchanan book and almost considered adding that and the Charlton, but each felt incomplete and while there is a hint of promise in each, I wanted to wait and see what each will produce with their sophomore efforts. Sanderson's book was included in part to cover the "fatter" end of the heroic fantasy spectrum; it was an improvement over his earlier efforts, even though I think there are still some rather noticeable flaws in his characterizations.

Brett and Weeks' novels did not interest me and Erikson had no 2010 copyrighted works released (if it had been published a month later, his Crack'd Pot Trail, short novel would have been at least strongly considered). I'd rather go a year without reading than to read Brooks, Card or Feist; McKillip had a 2010 release? If so, an oversight on my part.

Hope my response helps to an extent and thank you for asking these challenging questions, as I knew going in that there might be some strong alternates that might make for enjoyable reads for those reading this post and the responses to it.

Matt Denault said...

Thanks for the response, Larry, that all sounds fair enough. I think we're at a point where concepts of the heroic and epic are bending and bleeding a bit, and your list makes an interesting survey of some of that landscape--the "pattern of relationships" you mention.

Among other things, I had been pondering general questions of marketing and critical landscapes following the discussions last year about women writers of science fiction, and the struggles some have had just to be remembered, let alone represented. Epic fantasy strikes me as a potentially similar area, where there are a lot of women writing books that broadly fit the marketing template (in addition to those I mentioned in the previous comment, I had forgotten to add Jacqueline Carey, Sharon Shinn, Carol Berg, and L. Jagi Lamplighter as authors with 2010 pubs), but they tend not to be listed on "best of" lists. At the same time, things like the Coode Street podcast, Jeff VanderMeer's advocacy efforts, etc., have foregrounded some of the routes and systems of communication by which the same books tend to show up repeatedly in various venues and discussions. That combination made me curious about what books were considered for a list like this.

McKillip's "The Bards of Bone Plain" is a secondary world quasi-medieval fantasy that came out in early December 2010. It's nice, she's always written about magic and music so well, and here adds in bits about is perhaps a little thin on characterization...roughly comparable to her Od Magic, among her recent works.

Re: Erikson, oops, yeah, the US editions of Dust of Dreams were 2010, which are what I was looking at; I had forgotten about the original 2009 UK publication.

Sanderson's book was included in part to cover the "fatter" end of the heroic fantasy spectrum

For some reason this sentence makes me crack up every time I read it; I thank you for it.

Larry said...

Yeah, this subgenre is trickier to pinpoint in recent years; some of the authors you mention I just didn't think of as belonging on this list, while others thought some that did make didn't belong because they didn't fit even more traditional views of what constitutes heroic/epic fantasy.

If I had known about McKillip's book, I would have likely ordered and read it before composing this list, as I tend to view her recent efforts as being at worst solid and at best better than most anything written in the mythopoeic/heroic mold. As it was, I went by original publication for a market/language, which is why I included Esslemont's book, which came out just before Christmas in the UK.

As for that particular sentence, well, some things can have certain connotations behind them, I suppose ;)

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