Following my post on RPG material, here is some fiction that I read in 2011 which has some relation to gaming. I read a lot of other stuff, mostly economic history & literature, but most of that is not really on topic. This list is incomplete and in no particular order. Maybe I’ll keep a better list in 2012. Also, I didn’t read much fantasy (or fiction generally) prior to the summer, because that is when I started to get back into D&D. I find that I enjoy fantasy literature much more when I am gaming, because it becomes less of a pure aesthetic experience and more of an idea mine (I have found the same thing to be true of television and movies).
- Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind
- When I was in high school, I loved Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. When I started reading The Wheel of Time, five books were out. When book six game out, I reread the first five. Ditto when book seven came out. Then I resolved that I would not start any new big-volume fantasy series until it was at least nominally complete. I have mostly stuck with that resolution (it has also kept me from reading A Song of Ice and Fire past the second book), but I suppose I broke it for The Name of the Wind. I enjoyed this book. Kvothe is an excellent example of a bard (a class I usually loathe). He manages to conform to most of the bard tropes (even supports himself in wizard’s school with his lute playing) while not seeming like a cliché (though there is quite a bit of Elric/antihero influence too). Kvothe is something of a wish fulfillment character, which lends a slightly adolescent feeling to the whole thing. The magic based on naming reminds me pleasantly of Earthsea, the faerie realm feels mythic rather than mundane, and I’m interested in seeing where he goes with the Chandrian (though I’m not convinced he has a plan; I think he might be making it up volume by volume). I think it is suggestive that Rothfuss names The Last Unicorn as the best book he has ever read.
- Rothfuss – The Wise Man’s Fear
- The sequel to The Name of the Wind. This one, however, I found much less successful. It was a 300 page (if that) story in a 1000 page package. It carried forth several of the good points from The Name of the Wind, but did not develop enough for me. It also contains a pseudo-asian culture which seems to exist for the sole purpose of justifying mercenaries skilled in martial arts (who of course end up training the main character).
- Lovecraft – The Whisperer in Darkness
- Needs no introduction.
- Beagle – The Last Unicorn
- Surprisingly close to the cartoon movie (which I greatly enjoyed when I was much younger; despite the fact that it was clearly intended for kids, it was quite melancholic). It is in places more whimsical than the movie, but there are some timeless scenes, like Mommy Fortuna’s carnival.
- Smith – The Return of the Sorcerer (collected stories)
- I am relatively new to Smith, despite the fact that I lived about 45 minutes away from Auburn (in California) all through my teens (Smith was known as “The Bard of Auburn” because he lived there through most of his writing). Many of his stories do seem to capture the atmosphere of the Sierra Nevada foothills while also being otherworldly.
- Howard – The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Del Rey collection)
- I originally avoided Conan due to how campy he seemed (I blame all the pop culture spin-offs). The original Howard stories are excellent. My favorite aspect of the setting is how it seems to reflect the real world but avoid the “these are the fantasy vikings, these are the fantasy chinese” problem that seems to infect many fantasy settings.
- Anderson – The Broken Sword
- Absolutely gorgeous writing. I have a half-written post about this, so I’ll just say it masterfully blends Norse myth and other fantastic elements. The elf, dwarf, and troll lands are models for what I would love to see in a D&D setting. And there are no pointless heroics here. I would probably place this in any top 5 “Appendix N” list.
- Leiber – Swords and Deviltry
- The first of the Lankhmar books. Enjoyable, and clearly one of the early influences for classic D&D. Not a novel, but a collection of short stories. I am coming to appreciate short stories more now. I used to avoid them in favor of novels. At least one Leiber probably deserves to be in a top 5 “Appendix N” list also.
- Leiber – Swords Against Death
- As above.
- Vance – The Dying Earth
- I contend that it is impossible to really understand the implied setting aspects of classic D&D without reading The Dying Earth stories. And it’s not just the magic. The setting (true points of light in the darkness) and the characters (pragmatic and completely amoral) are just as important.
- Vance – The Eyes of the Overworld
- This novel gives us one of the inspirations for the thief class in Cugel the Clever (the other main influence being The Gray Mouser, as far as I know). His selfishness and the absurdity of his actions are epic. Kafka is one of my favorite authors, and I felt his influence strongly here.
- Vance – Cugel’s Saga
- As the other Vance works. I didn’t like this one quite as much as The Eyes of the Overworld, but it is still a classic. These three selections were all contained in the Orb omnibus edition Tales of the Dying Earth (I still have Rhialto the Marvellous to read).
- Cook – The Black Company
- Loved it. Posted about it recently.
Yeah D&D makes a lot more sense once I’d discovered Vance. I read few from your list this year (The first 2 Vance works, both of the Kovthe novels and Black Company).
What did you think of the Rothfuss books? Did you have a similar reaction?
I think Rothfuss is playing some very interesting games with the whole concept of story, what is a story, narrative, etc. At least I hope he is. We’ll have to wait for the next installment to see if he can pull it off.
Like you I had a few problems with parts of the second book. I found the parts in the land of the fay weak, and the world building for the martial arts types a bit dodgy too, but having said that it was still a damn good read, juts not as good as the first which I thought was very good.
It is interesting how many people are engaging with these texts. In the last couple of years, Howard, Smith, Lovecraft, Leiber, Vance, and Cook have all been at the top of my reading list.
It’s great to come home and find so much high-quality feedback! Thanks for taking the time to poke around.
What’s really interesting to me about many of these Appendix N readings is how I was ever able to avoid reading some of them before. I did read Moorcock extensively in the 90s, and Lovecraft (though I didn’t really get Lovecraft then). I knew about Vance, but never got around to reading his work. I had never even heard of Clark Ashton Smith until relatively recently.
Approaching all of these with fresh eyes has been quite revealing.
I also hope he knows where he is going. The narrative has not even seemed to come close to the eponymous event of the series title (the regicide).
Another thing I really like about the Kvothe series is the idea of malfeasance, that any kind of magical assault is somehow worse than other kinds of attacks and deserves harsher punishment. It adds a bit of cultural oomph to the concept of magic as dangerous and chaotic. I think malfeasance probably deserves a blog post of its own.
Yes, indeed. It seems a lot of things have come together in recent years, not just rising interest in and discussion of the books in question, but also their availability in new editions.