I am a dedicated mystery reader, but in the last year I have been trying to expand my horizons by reading some science fiction, fantasy, and I guess what you could call fiction with fantastic elements. I thought I’d share some of my favorite adventures in these genres.
Very recently, I read L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel for children, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, for the first time. I chose this particular title because a new movie about the history of the Wizard himself is currently playing in theaters and because a musical about the Wicked Witch of the West , called Wicked, which has appeared on Broadway and in Chicago, will come to the Morrris Performing Arts Center soon. I’m excited to see both of these shows, and they made me curious about Baum’s story for children, which was published in 1900. I wanted to experience for myself this book from over 100 years ago that is still so popular and powerful that two spinoffs for adults are drawing crowds today. I found while looking for the book in the library catalog that there are many ways to enjoy this story. I read it as an eBook through the library’s OverDrive service. There is also a print book and a book on CD. It turns out that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the first book in a series, and you will find the rest of the series in our catalog. At the St. Joseph County Public Library, we have many adaptations, too! There is a graphic novel for children, a graphic novel for adults, three pop-up books for toddlers and a first chapter book for beginning readers. You will also find Wicked, the book on which the musical is based, and the other three books in the Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire. And these are only a few of the versions of the Oz story!
Before traveling to the Land of Oz, I visited the planet Pern. Like Baum’s Land of Oz, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is an amazing fantasy world. Early Pern settlers lost contact with their home planet, and in their isolation developed a unique culture and social structure, which is based on the need to defend people’s lives and food sources against thread, strands that fall from the sky and destroy all biological matter in their path. And even better, Pern has dragons, developed to fight this thread! I recently reread Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, and enjoyed them just as much now as I did when I first read them in high school. Dragonsinger is available individually, and all three can be found in The Harper Hall of Pern.
My next stop was Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, which takes place on the planet Barrayar. Barrayar was settled by people from Earth, and then like the settlers of Pern, the Barrayarans lost contact with their home planet. Unlike Pern, though, the Barrayarans reestablished contact after many generations, and Barrayar is now a fairly conservative planet adjusting to existing in a very modern universe. The most recent, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is, strangely enough, the one I read first. Although I did not find it especially fast-moving in the beginning, this book was laugh-out-loud funny at points, filled with likable characters. I’m currently reading an earlier work in the series, A Civil Campaign. Bujold also has a series called The Sharing Knife, which I am eager to try.
The world of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series is hard to describe. The stories take place in the 1980′s, but an alternative history version of the 1980′s. Moreover, the “real world” and the world of fictional characters interact. The series begins with the Eyre Affair, which is funny and suspenseful. I’m looking forward to reading the latest installment in this series, The Woman Who Died a Lot, as well as FForde’s new teen book, The Last Dragonslayer.
Finally, a trilogy of books by Deborah Harkness brought me to a world where vampires, witches and daemons live in an awkward truce and where time travel is possible. The trilogy begins with A Discovery of Witches and continues with Shadow of Night. To avoid spoiling it for you, I’ll just say that the second book takes place mostly in a very exciting period in the past and features some well-known historical figures. The third has yet to be written, and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival!
My next foray into a new world will probably be A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, the book that inspired the HBO series. I’m excited to see that it is now available as a graphic novel, and may take a look at that, too.
What worlds have you explored? Are there some I should try?