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Great Science-Fiction
& Fantasy Works

science-fiction & fantasy literature:
a critical list with discussions

"Guilty Pleasures" of Science-Fiction & Fantasy

"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

As is urgently declaimed throughout this site, this is a place dedicated to the literate in speculative fiction. But, as there are times when even the most fastidious gourmets get to wanting to just murder a one-pound bag of greasy potato chips, so there are times when even the most civilized readers just want to kick back and wallow--hence this page.

But there are wallows and there are wallows. The works here are, I hope, wallows through warm, clean mud, as opposed to cold, slimy yuck with sharp rocks hiding under it. So to speak.

Have fun.

Some Notable Guilty Pleasures

These being what they are, there are no pages for their authors (excepting any who have pages for other, more literate works listed elsewhere on this site), nor are there individual book pages for the titles--but each author name below is a link to an Abebooks search for used copies of that work.

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.

(This list has much overlap with, but does differ from, that of the "campy stuff" on the "Specialty Lists" page here.)

  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice:
    This is by no means all of Burroughs' fantastic work, but it comprises his best-known series.
    • Tarzan - nominally adventure novels, but most have a fantasy overlay (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.
    • Pellucidar - a prehistory-level inhabited land inside a hollow Earth (in one book, Tarzan visits).

  • Cynthia Joyce Clay:

  • Crawford, Dan:
    (There is almost nothing on line about Crawford--dont confuse him with "Dan R. Crawford", a missionary author.)
    • The Nimnestl trio - Nimnestl is a powerful black female warrior who hires out herself and her war hammer to protect a young king.

  • Dave Duncan:
    Duncan is almost always at least entertaining, and some of his work has made the main lists here.
    • 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).
    • Venice - 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.

  • Garrett, Randall:
    • Lord Darcy - 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.:
    Green, who does dark and often gory fantasy, has done some work that is in the main lists here.
    • Nightside - faux noir PI with a heavy dash of dark fantasy, all played for low-key humor.

  • Haggard, H. Rider:
    • Alan Quatermain - possibly the original of the "ripping yarns" school; the series includes King Solomon's Mines.
    • Ayesha - The ageless "She Who Must be Obeyed".

  • Howard, Robert E.:
    Howard is called the originator of the swords-and-sorcery tale, though blood-and-thunder might better fit.
    • Conan - first and foremost of the thud-and-blunder barbarian heroes, set in the "Hyborian Age".
    • King Kull - king of Atlantis.
    • Solomon Kane - the Puritan swordsman and adventurer.
    • Bran Mak Morn - the Pictish Conan/Kull.
    • Red Sonia - possibly the first barbarian swordswoman.
    • Cormac Mac Art - a descendant of Kull living in King Arthur's age.

  • Leiber, Fritz:
    • 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.

  • Mundy, Talbot:
    Mundy wrote several other series--Jimgrim and Tibet among them--but this is his best.
    • Tros of Samothrace - a tetrology of historical adventures with fantasy overtones, set in the Britain of Julius Caesar's reign.

  • Quinn, Seabury:
    • Jules de Grandin - "the occult Sherlock Holmes", though Poirot seems a 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).

  • "Robeson, Kenneth":
    The author's name is in quotation marks because it was a "house name" for several authors who wrote Savage tales--Lester Dent did most of them.
    • Doc Savage - a near-superman and his gang of 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"):
    Smith wrote several series, but only his Lensman work rises above excrutiating.
    • Lensman - 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.

  • Stapledon, Olaf:
    Pleasures, but not "guilty": Stapledon was a mediocre wordsmith, but had an amazingly expansive imagination, and was probably the source of, among others, the Lensman series. These are just his better-known works
    • First and Last Men - subtitled, accurately, "A Story of the Near and Far Future".
    • Star Maker - a vast, sweeping tale, the prime referent for the phrase "sense of wonder".
    • Odd John - the original of the mutant superman who can find no happiness.
    • Sirius - an extraordinarily affecting tale, sometimes comic and sometimes sober, of a dog with human-level intelligence.

  • Tubb, E. C.:
    Tubb was a prolific if mostly undistinguished science-fiction author, but the series below caught up a lot of enthusiastic readers.
    • Dumarest of Terra - an Earthman--in a human-populated galaxy so vast and old that Earth is a vague, mythic rumor--searching for his now-lost home.

  • Van Vogt, A. E.:
    Van Vogt was a truly weird writer of bizarre, often almost incomprehensible science-fiction tales; he was prolific, and the series below is just a sampler.
    • Null-A - "non-Aristotelian" logic, especially as set forth in Count Alfred Korzybski's "General Semantics" fascinated Van Vogt, and he wrote novels based on it.

  • vor der Hake, Marlene:
    (The book below is hard to find used--if nothing turns up, try a new-book search.)

  • Wyke-Smith, Edward A.:
    Wyke-Smith wrote several books, but only the one below is remembered today (and in print)--though some of his others might be fun, too.

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