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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works
Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.
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Guilty Pleasures: Literary Potato Chips For The Gourmet Reader
“This rot-gut wasn’t never within a million parsecs of Tellus, but it ain’t bad—not bad at all.”
– Gray Lensman
E. E. “Doc” Smith
Haute Cuisine v. Potato Chips
I expect this section’s title says it all. Gourmets are choosy about what they consume, and that is so for both gastronomic and literary gourmets. But it remains so that every once in a while even the most fervently discriminating gastronomic gourmet gets into a mood when only a great big bag of greasy potato chips will satisfy; and so also it is for literary gourmets. So: here are some bags o’ chips for you.
These being what they are, there are no pages for their authors (excepting those few who have pages for other, more literate works listed elsewhere on this site); but each title below is a link to an ABEbooks search for copies of that work or collection of works.
This is not, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive list of books of this general sort: there are simply too many. Moreover, this is an area where the tastes of discriminating readers are likely to vary far more than they will for the sorts of books this site focusses on. I suspect that many of the authors (and their works) that I class as one-star in the main lists might seem to some other readers to be mere “guilty pleasures”, while some of what I list here will seem sheer trash with no redeeming features. It is, I suspect, all a matter of how one’s sense of humor works, and Heaven knows that’s variable enough.
(A few of the things listed below are not really literary potato chips: those few are decent reads that do not fully qualify—usually by reason of wooden prose—for the main lists here. Most notable are the works of Olaf Stapledon, whose work I recommend almost solely for the wild expansiveness of his imagination. But Zolloco, The Woman and the Raven, and the old classic Land of Snergs are worthwhile entertainment.)
(This list has much overlap with, but does differ from, that of the “campy stuff” on the “Specialty Lists” page here.)
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Some Literary Bags of Potato Chips
Burroughs, Edgar Rice:
– nominally adventure novels, but most have a fantasy overlay (as if the base idea isn’t fantastic enough).
John Carter of Mars
– freely mixing swords and “radium pistols”.
Carson Napier of Venus
– in the classic old swamp/jungle vision of Venus.
– a prehistory-level inhabited land inside a hollow Earth (in one book of the series, Tarzan visits).
Cynthia Joyce Clay:
The Nimnestl trio
– Nimnestl is a powerful black female warrior who hires out herself and her war hammer to protect a young king.
A Man of His Word
– the first sub-series of the "Pandemia" cycle.
A Handful of Men
– the second sub-series of the “Pandemia” cycle.
The King’s Blades
– encompasses two sub-series (plus a third, YA sub-series).
– aka the “Alchemist” series: Nero Wolfe-style detection in a 13th-century Venice where magic works and Maestro Nostradamus (no, not that one, his cousin) and his apprentice do the detecting.
– more “Nero Wolfe where magic works”, this time set in a contemporary England where the king really reigns and the Polish Empire is the enemy.
Green, Simon R.:
– faux noir PI with a heavy dash of dark fantasy, all played for low-key humor.
Haggard, H. Rider:
– possibly the original of the “ripping yarns” school; the series includes King Solomon’s Mines.
– The ageless “She Who Must be Obeyed”.
Howard, Robert E.:
– first and foremost of the thud-and-blunder barbarian heroes, set in the "Hyborian Age".
– king of Atlantis.
– the Puritan swordsman and adventurer.
Bran Mak Morn
– the Pictish Conan/Kull.
– possibly the first barbarian swordswoman.
Cormac Mac Art
– a descendant of Kull living in King Arthur's age.
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
– picqaresque sword-and-sorcery stuff; a few are really good, the rest are the sort of thing you will like if you like that sort of thing.
Tros of Samothrace
– a tetrology of historical adventures with fantasy overtones, set in the Britain of Julius Caesar’s time.
Jules de Grandin
– “the occult Sherlock Holmes”, though Poirot seems a much likelier model; set in a small town in New Jersey that was apparently the occult center of the universe (to judge by all the things that happened there).
– a near-superman and his gang of, um, characterful associates fight crime and conspiracies in the 1930s from their HQ atop the Empire State Building. (Doc’s full name was Clark Savage, Jr.; The Shadow’s real identity was Kent Allard; take it from there.)
Smith, E. E. (“Doc”):
– the original and still premier “space opera” (in the good, old sense); eminently readable, chiefly because Smith didn’t take himself (or his works) too seriously. Very period.
First and Last Men
– subtitled, accurately, “A Story of the Near and Far Future”.
– a vast, sweeping tale, the prime referent for the phrase “sense of wonder”.
– the original of the mutant superman who can find no happiness.
– an extraordinarily affecting tale, sometimes comic and sometimes sober, of a dog with human-level intelligence.
Tubb, E. C.:
Dumarest of Terra
– an Earthman—in a human-populated galaxy so vast and old that Earth is a vague, disbelieved rumor—searching for his now-lost home.
Van Vogt, A. E.:
– “non-Aristotelian” logic, especially as set forth in Count Alfred Korzybski’s “General SemanticsEri” fascinated Van Vogt, and he wrote novels based on it.
vor der Hake, Marlene:
Wyke-Smith, Edward A.:
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