Fantasy Novels to Appeal to the Science Fiction Reader and Vice Versa

cover_ukA few months back, I wrote a post about how The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss appealed to my hard science fiction reading father (as well as to myself).  It’s a very complex, rich world with a well developed magic system.  There were a couple of suggestions for other fantasy novels that would appeal to the reader who usually prefers harder, analytical science fiction, e.g., Perdido Street Sation by China Miéville and a number of works by Terry Pratchett like Small Gods.

It occurred to me that I had come across many more over the years and would provide a short list, and solicit more suggestions.

Master of the Five Magics by Lydon Hardy.  The first book of a trilogy features a very rigorous magic system with a very analytical protagonist who applies nifty reasoning.  Enjoyable intellectually for the magic systems and their applications alone.

The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick.  This is a dark, gritty novel that in no ways resembles a Lord of the Rings derivative.  Bleak and industrial, it’s still a fine book.

Pawn's DreamPawn’s Dream by Eric Nylund.  This is another fantasy novel featuring a well developed and interesting magic system that a family uses in our contemporary world and a fantasy dreamland.

The Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, starting with The Sleeping Dragon.  This novel initially looks very derivative of generic fantasy when a group of role-playing gamers actually become their characters, complete with character class and level, and are transported to the world of the game.  Thankfully Rosenberg takes it deeper than that.  One thing I found especially endearing was how one of the characters, an engineering major, rejects his fantasy persona and brings real engineering practices to his new reality.

On the flip side:

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.  People with high-tech adopt the personae of Hindu gods on an alien world.  Totally awesome, classic novel.  It’s science ficiton, but reads as serious fantasy.

Denner’s Wreck by Lawrence Watt-Evans.  This novel shares some of the same premises as Lord of Light, and, while less successful, is still a very enjoyable read.

A Game of Universe by Eric Nylund.  While this novel is probably best described as “science fantasy,” having elements of magic, the protagonist flies around the galaxy in a starship.  That made me put it in this category.  I’m a big fan of this cross-over novel.

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe.  This is another first novel of an award-winning series.  Set in the far future, we follow the adventures of a torturer in a very strange world.

pernBlack Sun Rising by C. S. Friedman.  First book of a trilogy, it reads like a fantasy featuring a knight on a quest and a dark vampiric sorcerer.  The world is an alien planet colonized by humans, however, and the magic is the result of alien life on that planet.

The Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, with a number of starting places.  The books read like fantasy, but again are set in a future where humans are colonizing an alien planet.  Some of the stories were originally published in Analog magazine, hardly the place for fantasy, and the dragons of Pern were designed to be consistent with the laws of physics — at least in regard to being capable of flight.

It can (and should?) be argued whether the above books by Wolfe, Friedman, and McCaffrey are science fiction or fantasy.  All read like fantasies, but are based in the real universe with the fantasy elements explainable with science, at least in principle.

The above are very short descriptions highlighting the cross over appeal. just a starting place if you want to explore across the SF/F division, or get a gift to lure someone else over to your side.  Other suggestions?

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  1. Thanks for the link to the interesting article. From my perspective, I think you’re right, that hard sf is on the decline, fantasy and YA are up, and writers trying to pay the rent follow the trends.

    A fraction of hard sf readers read for the ideas and extrapolation of a premise. In that sense, strong world building and magic systems hold similar appeal to some.

  2. Hi, Mike

    I’m not sure how hard core science fiction readers are when it comes to being open to other things. My sense of it is that hard SF is somewhat on the decline, and fantasy is on the rise, though of course hard SF still has plenty of great writers and books out there. My feeling is that readers of science fiction are generally open to, and actively read, other things: fantasy, crime, biographies…recipe books….

    But you’ve touched on a subject which I wrote about in Adventures in ScifiPublishing, so it would be interesting to get your view on that. It’s more about saving SF, but I make some points about genre mash ups.

    As for magic systems – not to mention world-building – I feel these are the least interesting part of any novel. A good story has to come first – these elements are just gravy, in my view, and really don’t have huge value when it comes to deciding whether a book is any good or not. I’m not convinced that an interesting magic system of itself would light a hard SF reader’s fire – though I damned good story probably would. I realise this may be a controversial view, but it’s just what I feel.

    You make some interesting points about non-generic fantasy. Which I believe would appeal to SF readers. So, in that, you asked for suggestions for books that dedicated SF readers might enjoy – I could highly recommend Tim Lebbon’s duology Dusk and Dawn, and of course Joe Abercrombie’s First Law novels.

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