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Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Saturday, 17 July 2010, 11:14 am
by Estraa
The paragraphs of the writers I read are pleasing enough to read that I have come to downplay, even ignore, the enjoyment one can get from reflecting on a fantastic (both meanings) plot.

What I'd like this thread to be is mainly a list of books with the best plots that also have something fantastical, as well as meaningful rather than simply clever, about them. King of Elfland's Daughter might be an example, partly because of the structure below the events: it begins, ends happily, continues unhappily...

Anything else? As Avram Davidson once complained, good plots are awfully difficult to devise. I believe they're likewise awfully rare.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Saturday, 17 July 2010, 10:06 pm
by DavidTate
Estraa wrote:What I'd like this thread to be is mainly a list of books with the best plots that also have something fantastical, as well as meaningful rather than simply clever, about them.

Great question; I'll have to think about that some. I started to mention a few off the top of my head, but then I reconsidered. It's so hard to separate out the quality of the plot from the rest of the book! Especially when you have explicitly ruled out "merely clever"...

Could you give a few examples of works (SF or otherwise) that you think have great plots? I might need to calibrate...

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Sunday, 18 July 2010, 12:52 pm
by Estraa
DavidTate wrote:I started to mention a few off the top of my head, but then I reconsidered. It's so hard to separate out the quality of the plot from the rest of the book!

Personally, I'm interested in books that one will remember chiefly, or only, because of the plot. I've never purposefully read such books, and I don't plan to start now, but I would read, with great interest, the plot synopses assuming I could find them.

You could very well leave out all the other qualifications when devising your list, or make a mixed list or something.

Plots that involve interesting and substantial use of "alternative reality" or seem to drag out in an unexpected way seem to have a strange appeal to me for some reason. Another example, besides the Dunsany, of the latter that just came to my mind would be Cabell's Something about Eve. It's also a novel that I remember for that very thing. Otherwise I don't like it much, at least compared with Jurgen and some other of his novels. I have an example of an SF novel that fits the former category (alternative reality) and is listed as a candidate here: Only Forward. It's another work I remember for its plot.

Short stories could be included, if there is something stunningly fitting.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Monday, 19 July 2010, 6:30 pm
by DavidTate
Depending on how broadly you define 'plot', one great example might be Italo Calvino's novel If On a Winter's Night a Traveler..., which is memorable (in the long run) almost entirely for its structure. It is told in the second person (no, really), and features repeated tales within tales within tales, nested to a depth from which the story never quite fully emerges. I'm not sure that's "plot", though -- I don't remember much at all about what happens in the story, which I suspect is what you were looking for.

Piers Anthony is famous (notorious?) for writing books with absolutely no redeeming features except an intriguing plot idea. In one series, various characters (one per novel) take on the role of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and have difficulty adjusting to their new jobs. In another, a society revolves around a Game whose primary feature is that the nature of the competition, in any given match, is wholly unknown by the competitors. Depending on how the pre-contest plays out, they could find themselves fencing, or playing chess, or composing riddles, or playing musical instruments. Or pretty much anything else. Many readers are fascinated by the ramifications of this Game and the associated society; too bad it's found in such an awful work of fiction.

Lyndon Hardy's Master of the Five Magics has a very interesting premise involving a historical fragmentation of magical practice into competing and parochial guilds who specialize in certain types of magic. The alchemists have no interest in thaumaturgy; the wizards don't do sorcery; etc. Our Hero begins as an apprentice in one guild, but through a combination of accident and design gets exposed to all of the specialties, and discovers synergies that the guilds had not guessed (or had forgotten). Again, an awful book, with cardboard characters, painful attempts at dialog and romance, and no real development/resolution of tension -- but an interesting plot.

Keith Laumer's best novella, "Diplomat at Arms", the first-written (and last in internal chronology?) of the Retief stories, has a great plot. I hesitate to describe it; massive spoilers are involved. I like it, but the vast majority of its charm is in the plot.

I love the plot of the novella "Second Game", by Katherine MacLean and Charles V. de Vet. Again, a game is involved -- in this case, a species whose leaders are chosen for their proficiency at a complex strategy board game. The species is extremely xenophobic and aggressive, and early human attempts at intimidation and negotiation backfire badly. Our Hero, a chess master whose motto is "I'll beat you the second game", solves the problem in an unexpected way.

Some of Iain M. Banks's novels of The Culture have startling structure and/or plot. The most (in)famous is Use of Weapons, whose chapters are presented in a chronological order that bounces back and forth between past and future, converging to the present from both sides. Readers tend to either love or hate the book.

Isaac Asimov is famous for stories where the plot is everything (or, equivalently, there's nothing else there). "Nightfall", "The Last Question", "The Dead Past", and "Green Patches" spring to mind as examples. Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Star" follows a similar pattern. If you're not familiar with some of these, I can spoil them for you...

I hesitate to include something so well-written on this list, but Ursula K. Le Guin's novel The Lathe of Heaven might be an example of what you're looking for. The plot is the point, to a large extent, though the telling of the tale is also excellent.

Hal Clement was famous for writing 'hard' science fiction, where the setting (and how it works) is 90% of the story. Mission of Gravity and Iceworld are both good examples of this. Neither is a good book, but both are intriguing plots/settings, where the plot is driven by the setting.

Eric Flint has founded an entire industry on the question of "what could happen if a small West Virginia town from our time suddenly got transported, lock stock and barrel, to the middle of Thuringia during the 30-Years' War? Numerous authors have now contributed to this 1632 universe, at varying levels of interest and competence, but all of it is relentlessly plot-centered.

Are those the sorts of thing you're looking for?

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Tuesday, 20 July 2010, 11:33 am
by Estraa

I don't think I'm looking for anything very specific, so all such contributions are inherently good.

Can you recommend some particular Ian M. Banks novels? I have been planning to read him (whole books), but so far haven't.

The idea of competing "effective" dreams is interesting, as a literalized metaphor, I mean people competing against one another in the creation of the world through dreams, although Le Guin didn't quite go there, judging from the Wiki synopsis. (I don't mind plot spoiling except when it's Vance or Gene Wolfe or something else at the top of the pile that I plan to read. There aren't many such writers.)

I read the synopses of Nightfall, The Dead Past, and The Star. They were interesting more as ideas than as plots, but I guess that's splitting hairs. I'll read more synopses later.

Thanks again.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Tuesday, 20 July 2010, 10:53 pm
by DavidTate
Estraa wrote:Can you recommend some particular Ian M. Banks novels? I have been planning to read him (whole books), but so far haven't.
I think Banks's novel The Player of Games is a pretty good introduction to The Culture. If you are fond of action/adventure, you might prefer to start with Consider Phlebas. Those were the first 2 books in the series, and assume less familiarity. If you like either of those, you might try Excession.

Disclaimer -- I am not an avid fan of the Culture novels. I'm not sure whether that makes me a better source for recommendations or a worse one.

(And regarding plot citations, you're most welcome.)

In The Lathe of Heaven, Le Guin was writing a novel about Taoist thought, and coming at it very indirectly. The psychiatrist who treats George Orr looks at his perfectly balanced Myers-Briggs scores and sees a lack of any personality, rather than a perfectly balanced personality. He tries to use Orr's dreams as a tool to better the world, and is frustrated at how Orr never dreams in ways that realize his (the psychiatrist's) vision of utopia. He blames Orr for subverting his intent, despite the fact that he of all people should know that dreams are not subject to scripting. Despite the rather odd ending, it's my favorite Le Guin novel.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Wednesday, 29 September 2010, 10:42 am
by Estraa
OK, I'm giving this thread a bump. My interest was renewed although with a twist a few moments ago as I considered certain private matters, and I thought about a new angle to this thread. To be honest it would merit a new thread it's so different but I don't want more than half of the threads here to be mine so there are hard choices to be made... And anyway, the angle comes from that much maligned way of reading books just to see what happens to the characters, but I have a new twist to that as well and the twist is what happens must be interesting, ie the plost must be good, the better the better, and this thread aims for the best. I'm suffering from a flu so I'm starting these threads, or bumping them up.

Someone in some other thread mentioned writers like George Martin, whom I haven't read, but I don't like characters dying a lot, it gives the impression the author isn't really serious and didn't think about the plot and what he wanted to happen prior to writing about it and sometimes I suspect the writer killed off a character because he got pissed off about something else, and someone mentioned Robin Hobb whose work everyone in fantasy knows but the clunky writing style should discourage most people from reading those books, I don't think if I could do it anymore (maybe as a kid), Lovecraft is just perfect in terms of prose if you start comparing things, but basically I'm looking for something like those two, sort of "epic" length fantasy or scifi like MA Foster, but written so adults can read it and it seems genuine, with actually interesting things happening to people in the books without too much bullsh*t.

edit: now that I think about it more, it doesn't have to be long, more like reading it you feel the pressure to see what happens next and it's not like you turn a page and oh it ended, but if the book has substance that won't happen even if it is short. Supposing long books weren't just written badly as a rule (because the writer knew it is a long book the publisher wants and he didn't have much time or whatever) it might be different, but I'm willing to consider stories of all lengths equally after giving it some thought.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Friday, 13 January 2012, 12:48 am
by Cyril
Modern fantasy plot ideas
1). Somebody finds a magic lamp with a genie inside that grants wishes. However, the genie isn't the kind that can just magic stuff out of nowhere. When the wisher asks for a million dollars then the genie goes out and robs a bank (or pilfers numerous smaller places to get the money). The players are looking into a bunch of thefts or strange events and run into the genie. Also, the magic that binds the genie to its lamp makes it so that the genie will be freed after it grants its third wish unless the third wish is for it to get back into the lamp.
The original wielder of the lamp might be smart enough to keep wishing it back into the lamp to get essentially infinite wishes, but if anyone else gets it then the genie won't be mentioning that little tidbit. If the genie ever gets free then its going to have a little 'discussion' with anyone who treated it poorly during its time of servitude.
2). A young and lonely wizard created a magical TV that can scry on attractive women. Seriously. He origionally had it hooked up to a VCR or DVD recorder so he could make some tapes for personal use until he had a run in with somebody a little more ruthless. Now the device is in the hands of the mob or some vampires or something and they use it either to kidnap or attack women or to spy on certain important people.
3). Another wizard creates a magical Shmoo-like creature that eats garbage and converts it into a specific type of good. It might make bandages, blank DVDs, eggs, canned soup, ramen noodles, gasoline, pure water in bottles, or towels (the specific item being made never changes unless a talented wizard magically edits the Shmoos 'code' to make something else). The Shmoo creature basically eats garbage, makes more of the specific item, and occasionally divides itself into two creatures so that it exponentially reproduces.
The original intention was to end world poverty by having the Shmoo just make an expenentially increasing supply of some useful thing like medicine or food while simultaniously getting rid of the garbage. However, after he freely distributed it to his friends (and they gave some to their friends) then eventually somebody started tampering with it and it went wrong.
Now there might be a swarm of the things eating things other than garbage, or they are making something like bullets, poison, or drugs. Or their constant production of goods is messing up the economy, or it just mutated into an unstoppable glob of ooze (the Shmooze?).
No matter what, a shmoo cannot transmute elements or change what it makes without a wizard programming it so it can't make gold or print money (well, it can but the bills would have the same numbers on them and you would need to feed it the right metals to make coins). Expect alot of problems both from the things themselves and the ability of a wide variety of people to suddenly get near-infinite amounts of whatever the things have been programmed to make.

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Thursday, 19 April 2012, 8:47 pm
by charleshudgen
I still go for Twilight series because when I first watched the movie of it I was amazed especially to the characters. It wouldn't have the 4 series, if it was not plotted accordingly just like today it will come out the 5th series and everybody awaits to launch it in all cinemas in the world. That is the impact of the story and I guess the characters who portraits was very applauded. They give justice to their characters as a wolf, vampire and as a human who fall inloved with vampire.

Books about Science Fiction

Re: Best Fantasy Plots

PostPosted: Tuesday, 09 October 2012, 7:58 am
by altonherry
Nice post. I like it. Thanks for sharing these information. Keep it up. :roll: :P