WEEKLY BOOK BUZZ- The Best Fantasy that No One Has Ever Read - Mania.com

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WEEKLY BOOK BUZZ- The Best Fantasy that No One Has Ever Read

And the latest Novel from the Author of "The Exorcist"

By Tim Janson     December 14, 2008

Complete 3-Volume Star Wars Encyclopedia from Del Rey(2008).
© Del Rey


Not a lot of new releases this week. Too close to Christmas now for any major releases, those all came a few weeks back so we won’t see a lot of significant activity until after the new year. It’s not a total barren landscape, however. The biggest release of the week is certainly Del Rey’s massive, three volume Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia. This is a newly revised and simply fantastic. 
First, thank you to all those who commented on last week’s column about the most overrated fantasy writers and/or series. I was particularly happy to see a lot of you shared my sentiments about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the Sword of Truth series.
This week I want to go in the opposite direction. Give Mania’s readers your suggestions for underrated or little known writers or books. Think out of the box. It doesn’t have to be a new title; in fact older books are especially appreciated. I love going on the hunt through used bookstores to try and find something. Please don’t suggest Lord of the Rings or other such series. I gave you one last week, Lyndon Hardy, who wrote three magnificent fantasy books in the 1980s and then virtually disappeared. Here’s another…Elizabeth Boyer. In the 80s and 90s she wrote a dozen or so fantasy novels, I believe published by Ballantine. Her works had strong Scandinavian influences to them. While they were connected, my recollection is that they all could be read as standalone stories. Some of her titles included: The Sword and the Satchel, The Elves and the Otterskin, The Troll's Grindstone, The Wizard and the Warlord, and The Curse of Slagfid. Again, here is a writer who basically dropped out of sight. I highly suggest her books. 
Fathom Cherie Priest (Tor Hardcover)
The ageless water witch Arahab has been scheming for eons, gathering the means to awaken the great Leviathan. She aims to bring him and the old gods back to their former glory, caring little that their ascendance will also mean an end to the human race. However, awakening the Leviathan is no small feat. In fact, Arahab can’t complete the ritual without human aid. Arahab’s first choice is José Gaspar, a notorious sea pirate from eighteenth-century Spain. But when the task proves too difficult for Gaspar, she must look elsewhere, biding her time until the 1930’s, when the ideal candidate shows up: a slightly deranged teenager named Bernice.
Bernice is sophisticated, torn from New York and forced to spend a miserable summer on Anna Maria Island, a tiny rock off the coast of Florida. She’s also been saddled with the companionship of her farm-raised cousin Nia. Eventually, Bernice’s disenchantment gives way to rage, which in turn leads her to commit a deadly crime. When Nia won’t cover for Bernice’s actions, she turns on Nia, chasing her into the deadly coastal waves.
But the timing is right and the elementals have better ideas: the moment the girls go under, Bernice is commandeered for Arahab’s task force, and Nia is turned into a strange and powerful new creature by a servant of the earth who doesn’t want to surrender his green fields and muddy plains—not yet, at least. Add in a hapless fire inspector who’s just trying to get his paperwork in order, a fire god whose neutrality has been called into question, and a bizarre religious cult, and rural Florida doesn’t seem quite so sleepy anymore.
Busted Flush George R.R. Martin (Tor Hardcover)
In 1946, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA was accidentally unleashed in the skies over New York City. It killed ninety percent of those it infected. Nine percent survived to mutate into tragically deformed creatures. And one percent gained superpowers. TheWild Cards shared-universe series, created and edited since 1987 by New York Times #1 bestseller George R. R. Martin ("The American Tolkien" --Time magazine) along with Melinda Snodgrass, is the tale of the history of the world since then—and of the heroes among the one percent.
Now a new generation of heroes has taken its place on the world stage, its members crucial players in international events. At the United Nations, veteran ace John Fortune has assembled a team of young aces known as the Committee, to assist at trouble spots around the world–including a genocidal was in the Niger Delta, an invasion of zombies in hurricane ravaged New Orleans, and a freak nuclear explosion in a small Texas town. 
Rebel (Starship, Book 4) Mike Resnick (Pyr Hardcover) 
The date is 1968 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now. The Republic, dominated by the human race, is in the midst of an all-out war with the Teroni Federation. Almost a year has passed since the events of Starship: Mercenary. Captain Wilson Cole now commands a fleet of almost fifty ships, and he has become the single greatest military force on the Inner Frontier.
With one exception. The Republic still comes and goes as it pleases, taking what it wants, conscripting men, and extorting taxes, even though the Frontier worlds receive nothing in exchange. And, of course, the government still wants Wilson Cole and the starship Theodore Roosevelt. He has no interest in confronting such an overwhelming force, and constantly steers clear of them.
Then an incident occurs that changes everything, and Cole declares war on the Republic. Outnumbered and always outgunned, his fleet is no match for the Republic's millions of military vessels, even after he forges alliances with the warlords he previously hunted down. It's a hopeless cause...but that's just what Wilson Cole and the Teddy R. are best at.
Gaunt's Ghosts: The Founding Dan Abnett (Games Workshop TPB)
This omnibus edition of the first three Gaunt's Ghosts novels follows the story of the Tanith First-and-Only regiment (nicknamed the Ghosts) and their charismatic commissar, Ibram Gaunt. As they travel from warzone to warzone in the Chaos-infested Sabbat Worlds system, the Ghosts must not only carry out the most dangerous of missions but also survive the deady politics of the Imperial Guard.
Elsewhere William Peter Blatty (Cemetery Dance Hardcover)
This incredible haunted house novel from William Peter Blatty, the legendary author of The Exorcist, is disturbing, unsettling, chilling, and laced with a nasty streak of dark humor. Elsewhere is a must-have for all fans of dark fiction and sure to become a time-honored classic in the genre.
The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia   Stephen J. Sansweet (Del Rey, 3 volume Hardcover Edition)
The Star Wars universe, much like our own, is constantly expanding. In the ten years since the publication of the Star Wars Encyclopedia, a lot has happened in that galaxy far, far away: four new feature films, a host of official original novels, comics, video games, and more. Now, thirty years of information on all things Star Wars–ranging from science and technology to history and geography, culture and biography to ecology and cosmology–has been supplemented with an entire decade’s worth of all-new material. Abundantly illustrated with full-color artwork and photos, and now in a new three-volume edition to accommodate its wealth of detailed entries, the Star Wars Encyclopedia encompasses the full measure of George Lucas’s creation.
Here’s just a sampling of what’s inside:
  • character portraits of both the renowned (Luke Skywalker, Queen Amidala, Darth Vader) and the obscure (Tnun Bdu, Tycho Celchu, Bib Fortuna)
  • the natives and customs of planets as diverse as Tatooine and Hoth, Dagobah and Kashyyyk
  • the rituals, secrets, and traditions of Jedi Knights and Sith Lords
  • a timeline of major events in Star Wars history, from the Clone Wars and the inception of the Empire to the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and the invasion of the monstrous Yuuzhan Vong
I’ve got the first volume in the series and it is well worth the price. It retails for $125 but you can pick it up at Amazon for an incredible 40% off. That’s a fantastic deal considering were talking about over 1200 pages of material. 
Frazetta: The Definitive Reference James A. Bond (Vanguard Productions)
Enter the world of Frank Frazetta--with more than 800 illustrations
* The most complete index of Frazetta artwork ever compiled
* Commentary by top Frazetta experts
* Dozens of rare images, including Conan, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, more!
* Fantastic reference for collectors, artists, and great entertainment for fans
The work of Frank Frazetta, THE greatest fantasy artist of all time, has influenced generations of artists, fans, designers, and movie directors. Now, collected in Frazetta, The Definitive Reference, are essays and illustrated data in a one-of-a-kind volume tracing the entire arc of Frazetta’s career with more than 800 of his unforgettable images. From his early 1950s comics, to Tarzan, Pellucidar, and John Carter of Mars book covers; to his 1960s monster mags, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella; to his major movie posters, including After the Fox and What’s New Pussycat; to, of course, his revolutionary Conan paintings--it’s all here. Frazetta overflows with fantastic images, insightful commentary, and the most complete index of artwork ever compiled on this fantastic icon.
Capsule Reviews
The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman (Harper Collins Hardcover)

Much like his previous novel Coraline, The Graveyard Book gets a bit pigeon-holed as being a novel for children or teens. Nothing could be further from the truth as both books displayed Gaiman’s signature gift for subtle creepiness and unforgettable characters. Gaiman has a remarkable ability to create a world of fantasy within the boundaries of our mundane world. Here a non-descript cemetery in the heart of the city becomes the setting as the rest of the world nearly melts away.

An unstoppable killer murders an entire family as they sleep…all except for a young baby who manages to find his way up the street and through the gates of a cemetery. There he is adopted by the ghosts of those long dead and comes under the protection of one who is neither dead nor alive. He is named Nobody…Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short and the ghosts of the cemetery become his friends and his teachers. The early chapters find Bod exploring the cemetery and meeting new ghosts. There is the witch who lives in the outcast part of the cemetery and the very ancient tomb, deep below the surface where things inhuman dwell. Bod is safe within the cemetery but soon the Man Jack, and the other Jacks have come to finish what they started years earlier. The Graveyard book is an enthralling tale for any age. Don’t let the “children’s book” description put you off; this is a magical tale! Grade A

Halloween and Other Seasons Al Sarrantonio (Cemetery Dance hardcover)

I get the distinct feeling that Mr. Sarrantonio does not like kids! In his latest short story collection, children are wished away to limbo by their parents during a sleepover; sent off to a very strange Summer camp where kids are disappearing at an alarming rate; made to be quiet once and for all by an irate dad during a family vacation road trip; and sent off to be the new kid in school…on an alien planet! Yeah kids, you might want to avoid ol’ Al!

Seriously though, these stories are horror mixed with liberal doses of humor and an EC Comics style irony. The humor is on dull display in the story, “Roger in the Womb”. When it’s time for Mrs. J to give birth her baby turns out to be rather stubborn about coming out of the womb. No matter what the doctors try they cannot extricate the baby from his warm and cozy home. The doctors are in a panic until they find the unborn baby making contact with them through Morse code. The baby, Roger, plans on making an announcement to the world! Absolutely hilarious and poignant. If babies only knew what awaited them in the real world more of them might refuse to come out! Grade A-
Bond On Set Greg Williams (DK Publishing Hardcover)
If you’ve got a James Bond fan on your Christmas list this year and you’re looking for that perfect gift, look no further than Bond On Set. This 160 page, gift book chronicles the filming of the latest Bond film. Quantum of Solace. You will take a journey through the film from pre-production through primary shooting, visiting all of the exotic locales that go hand-in-hand with any Bond film.
Best of all, the book is filled with stunning photography of the actors, sets, action sequences, behind-the-scenes work, and so much more. We see Daniel Craig rehearsing and choreographing his fight scenes, the incredible rooftop chase, the homage to Goldfinger in Agent Fields’ death scene, and the battle in the burning hotel. While not deep with lots of detailed information, Bond on Set is really more of a personal scrapbook or journal, just as if you had been on set and taking pictures and notes. Fluffy but gorgeous! Grade B+



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Hobbs 12/14/2008 8:19:08 AM

Tim, I actually think last week we were kind of suggesting writers...the problem with naming over rated writers is that if I don't like them I won't read another of their books.  Granted, that's just me.

A many thanks to you guys that suggested R.R. Martin ice and fire.  I did pick up the first one this past week though the more I researched this series the more I'm convinced he's never going to finish the series unless his HBO special on his books gets made.  I mean the guy is still hasn't released book 5 in a 7 book series and he started it almost 13 years ago.  I saw his photo, he isn't a spring chicken.

I don't have anyone I can really recommend like last week.  There are other types of books I like such as Vince Flynn and his character Mitch Rapp that beats the shit of Terrorists...his books are  fun read and they don't bore you to death with tech stuff.  Flynn knows how to get to the point and once he puts his foot on the gas he doesn't let up till the end.

I just read a book called "Terror" by Dan Simmons about the 1845 Franklin expedition that tried to find the northwest passage and disappeared.  This is a fictional account of what happened to a true expedition and I really enjoyed it.  A bit long I must admit but I still recommend it. 

Another one called Amazonia by James Rollins.  A thriller, Indiana Jones type novel.  That was given to me by a friend and it's a quick, fun read.

Though those books probably don't fall into the Fantasy realm such as Elves and Demons.  Some of the novels you listed Tim don't really fall into that category either which is why I listed what I did.  You have horror and sci-fi in there as well.

Walker 12/14/2008 10:05:00 AM

 I am a fan of the old-style American fantasy before Tolkien came in and contaminated everything.  Don't get me wrong; Tolkien is excellent.  But now everything descends from him, and the earlier masters are rarely read.

In particular, I am thinking of Jack Vance.  The Dying Earth stories were a major influence of the formation of Dungeon & Dragons.  And Vance's Lyoness trilogy is often considered the work of a master at his height.

Before that, in the age of weird fiction, we had Robert E. Howard and Conan, of course.  But Clark Ashton Smith and his Zothique stories are also worth reading from the same time period.

On the other side of the lake, I like Lord Dunsany.  The King of Elveland's Daughter is a classic.  And there is something oddly rhythmic to the short story "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth".

AquilianRanger1 12/14/2008 5:32:47 PM

Great idea for commentary, and I'm glad you did it! Here's my vote, Tim Powers. Specifically “The Anubis Gates”, “The Drawing of the Dark”, “The Stress of Her Regard” and the wonderful “On Stranger Tides”. The work is fantastic and very original. No dragons or elves here, and you will find no half-baked Tolkien rip off stories. If you haven’t checked out the works of Mr. Powers, I highly recommend it!

tjanson 12/14/2008 9:00:57 PM

Hobbs...I think you got confused.  The horror and sci-fi stuff mentioned is the week's new releases...not my suggestions of underrated fantasy.  Anyway...Walker and Auilianranger...NICE JOB!  Jack Vance is fantastic.  I read Eyes of the Overwold many years ago and loved it.  And Tim Powers...that's one I forgot...YES!  People MUST find and read "The Drawing of the Dark".  This is a GREAT fantasy and so different than what's out there today. 

Walker...Yes I also meant to mention Robert E. Howard.  Yes we all know who he is and he's hardly under the radar, but I wonder how many people have read the Solomon Kane stories.  For my money they are as good and some even better than is Conan stories.  They are far darker in tone than Conan.  Good start guys!

Let me toss out one more...Jack L. Chalker is primarily known as a Sci-Fi writer but he wrote a great fantasy novel called "And the Devil will Drag you Under" 

ArkoblaConn 12/15/2008 11:27:38 AM

Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Series for great politics (I'd recommend Camber of Culdi to those Fire & Icers) with a fantasy twist.

William R. Forsticien's Last Regiment series (Civil War guys transported to another planet - brilliant)

LE Modesit Jr - The Recluse Series; Worldbuidling and a different type of magic

Lawrence Watt Evans for humorous Fantasy


and not fantasy - but Temple by Matt Reilly - Brilliant book which has two stories spanning two timelines...very indiana jones ish.


jdell1964 12/15/2008 3:04:17 PM

.....Jack L. Chalker's Dancing Gods series is pretty good too. "The Drawing of the Dark" ...what a great book! As i mentioned before....the "Deathgate Cycle" by Weiss/Hickman is really good too. I also enjoyed the Bazil Broketail  and Arna books by Cristopher Rowley.


ashamel 12/15/2008 9:43:20 PM

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay should be better known.

richmadcity 12/18/2008 11:38:43 AM

I think Robert Holdstock is one of the most overlooked authors right now...  He has two distinct series -- the Mythago Cycle (Mythago Wood, Lavondyss and others) and the Merlin Codex (Celtica, Iron Grail and The Broken Kings)  He is quite simply my favorite autor right now.

The Mythago Cycle is a little bit of a harder read.  It explores the nature of myth and imagination, but is simply beautiful.  The Merlin Codex books, which plant Merlin in adventures with Jason and the Argonauts, are less esoteric, but still VERY good.

Another recommendation would be to check out Anubis Gates by Tim Powers -- a fast-paced, inventive, and fun book.



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