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Will "scifantasy" Frank said on November 16th, 2011 at 9:31 am

There’s also some more recent stuff, such as Brandon Sanderson (Elantris is a great one-book fantasy, and Mistborn is a great first book of a trilogy; I don’t think the following two worked as well, but hey, it’s a start).

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Among old fantasy novels, you can’t go wrong with the Earthsea trilogy. In three slim volumes, Ursula Le Guin conjures up a more convincing fantasy world than other authors do over tens of thousands of pages.

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Pantsless Pete: An explanation of how Betty Brant doesn’t come off as creepy in early issues of Spider-man by being a woman in, using the bare minimum of her completing high school and secretarial school, her early twenties hitting on a weird looking seventeen year old.

There’s a lot of surprising stuff in early Spider-Man. Here’s the big one: Peter Parker is practically Joe Cool. Amazing, right? Sure, maybe not before getting bit by the spider or compared to Flash Thompson, but he’s really much, much cooler than all the characters inspired by him (and almost every character who juggles superpowers and a normal life owes at least a little to him) or adaptations in other media. He’s a wiseass even out of costume, he doesn’t back away from a fight even though he worries about his secret identity, and he has an implausibly serious adult job, at least by today’s standards for teenagers. So in context, Betty Brant hitting on him just doesn’t seem all that weird.

(Disclaimer: that opinion is based on reading an anthology of the first dozen or so issues. So if Betty turns into a complete vamp in issue 15, I wouldn’t know about it and I agree that would be weird. All I’m saying is that the playful flirting they started out with didn’t come across as weird to me when I read it, despite the age difference.)

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I highly recommend Johnathan Strange and Mister Norrell, by Susannah Clarke–it’s more Harry Potter-style “urban” fantasy (albeit set in a parallel 19th century) than “epic” Tolkienian fantasy, but I don’t see where that was a condition. I will say I’ve had some people complain they couldn’t get into it because of the density of the fantasy world (there are a LOT of footnotes, many of which are basically short stories in and of themselves), so it might not before all tastes, but it’s elegantly written and compelling.

Second George R. R. Martin. He mostly does everything right that most epic fantasy writers do wrong, and once you get 100 pages in you’ll have a hard time putting the book down.

If you want to go back a little further, there are some really interesting fantasy writers who predate Tolkien, like Lord Dunsany, whose novel “The King of Elfland’s Daughter” is a near-perfect example of the “fairy tale for grown-ups” style. I’m always recommending James Branch Cabell, a nearly-forgotten writer who was apparently really popular back in the 20s and 30s…he wrote witty and satirical fantasies that are based around character rather than world-building, which is always welcome. “Jurgen” is his most prominent work.

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Jonathan Balofsky said on November 16th, 2011 at 11:02 am

Actually in one early issue of spider-man, its mentioned that Betty dropped out of high school and found work not long before the series began.

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King of Tokyo is fantastic.

We were in a big phase of busting hard into more and more complicated games (E.g.: Arkham Horror, etc) over a few months there, but then a Guru at Snakes and Lattes knew we needed a palette cleanser after a few hours there one afternoon back in the summer.

We played four rounds in a row and had an absolute blast. Picked it up the next day, and have introduced it to lots of friends since. Everyone should play it, f’ sho’.

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I remember Untold Tales retconned that Betty was the daughter of Jonah’s secretary who’d been injured offstage in an early Spidey issue. So Betty stepped in to support herself and Mom and as Jonah actually cared about her mom, he let her.
For all that he gets parodied, mocked and badly imitated, the best Conan stuff is very good indeed.
Excalibur by Saunders Anne Laubenthal is an Arthurian fantasy set in Alabama and it works. Tim Powers sets the grail quest in Las Vegas in Last Call and that works too (all of Powers works).

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If you’re wanting the pure, unadulterated source of Pratchett’s parody, you have to go straight to Fritz Leiber’s “Swords” series. It’s where Discworld started, and although it diverged pretty quickly, the first two DW books are shameless in their fond aping* of Leiber.

Also, it’s a bloody good series in its own right, and as it’s composed mostly of loosely connected short stories and novellas, it can be read in a nicely piecemeal fashion.
(In the above list, I’d slot them in just above or below Riftwar.)

I heartily recommend trying to pick up one of the editions introduced by Neil Gaiman, who (as usual) says everything I want to say and more with style and eloquence.

*Ook.

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Oh, and unreserved agreement with the Earthsea recommendation above. Although stay the hell away from the SyFy TV adaption, about which Le Guin is relentlessly and righteously scathing.

If I may add a couple more to the list, my all time top recommended fantasy (of sorts), and one of my three mostly-favourite books* is Barry Hughart’s “Bridge of Birds”, which is set in an imaginary Ancient China, and is utterly delightful.

I’d also put Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Curse of Chalion” and sequels in around the Empire trilogy – memorable and thoroughly readable.

Finally, for something different, Diana Wynne Jones’ “Dark Lord of Derkholm” is a neat subversion of the genre without requiring more than passing familiarity with the various tropes. It’s also quite a good read in its own right (warning – relevant Wikipedia page full of spoilers).

* My favourite books change all the time, but the three that always end up on my top ten list are “Bridge of Birds”, “Mirabile” (SF) by Janet Kagan and “Only Forward” (??) by Michael Marshall Smith.

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I have to second pretty much everything Thornae listed above, and add in David Weber’s Oath of Swords. It’s technically the first in an unfinished series, and also rather “this started life as a D&D campaign”-flavored, but still manages to be a fun, banter-laden, fairly self-contained adventure story. Also, it has one of the rare examples of a paladin-type I don’t want to punch in the face.

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Sean D. Martin said on November 16th, 2011 at 6:23 pm

and really, it’s just radio when you get down to brass tacks

Well, duh.

Wait, you mean there are folks who think they’re really something else?

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Darth Paradox said on November 16th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Your HTML is a little horked in the board-games paragraph. I think you wanted this (we’ll see if it works):

Ankh-Morpork, which is a fun, fast and light game with a few major design flaws that desperately need to be addressed to make it playable (the most notable of which is that Vimes is simply much more powerful than the other personality-roles players can be). Oh, and everybody around here is always up for a game of Blood Bowl: Team Manager

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Also, it has one of the rare examples of a paladin-type I don’t want to punch in the face.
How would you punch Bahzell in the face? He’s about eight feet tall! :)

My impression of Betty Brant from the early Spider-Man issues was that she wasn’t meant to be that much older than Peter- I remember the bit about her being a high-school dropout- which was much less of a big deal in the 60s with regard to employability.

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Like the others said, Betty is actually around Peter’s age. Peter dating Betty is arguably the least creepy of his major relationships.

If you read the Dirko stuff, Gwen comes off as a stalker at first. Their relationship just kept getting less healthy from there.

Putting aside the ethical dilemma of a hero sleeping with a thief*, his fling with Felicia was all kinds of kinky.

Then there are the fans that claim that the Parallel Lives retcon makes Mary Jane a gold-digger … and, as much as I like MJ, I can kind of see their point.

*And it’s really hard to do when the hero’s origin story revolves around him regretting looking the other way the FIRST time he could have stopped a thief.

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Anything by Diana Wynne Jones is good. Bridge of Birds is indeed delightful–Ernest Bramah’s Kai Lung stories of China (much, much older) are also charming.

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Pratchett pretty much gives up the fantasy novel parody within the first 6-10 novels or thereabouts.

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Aussiesmurf said on November 16th, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Good stand-alone fantasy books :

Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! by Terry Brooks
War of the Flowers by Tad Williams
The Hobbit by Tolkein (hell, no-one else mentioned it!)
A Wizard of Earthsea (I know there are sequels, but it stands alone).
Legend by David Gemmell

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Follow-on to the Aaron Diaz question – what do you think of the collaborative Fifty-Too and its assorted premises?

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After you have a few fantasy book under your belt, I’d recommend Stephen Donaldson’s stuff. Not so much the Thomas Covenant series (which require a pretty intense commitment) but definitely his short story collections, Daughter of Regals and Reave the Just.

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For beginning fantasy, I’d recommend the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I suppose the books may skew a little young for the readers of this site, but I still love the hell out of them. There are five books, so it’s not exactly stand-alone, but each one is a complete story in and of itself.

You know, I’m surprised with the recent trend of blockbuster youth-fantasy-based cinema, that this series isn’t in development for adaptation. (I know there was a cartoon in the 80s, but the same could be said for LOTR.) These books strike me as easily filmable.

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*raises hand* I have read Eddings, I mock him, and I have never, ever loved his books. Even at 14, when the first one came out, I couldn’t see them as anything but Tolkien Lite (with the racist undertones suddenly made more explicit – though to be fair, I did NOT notice that at 14, but when as an adult I decided I ought to try to finish the series). I categorize them with the Shannara books, and am astonished to see them being seriously recommended.

“What would you recommend, then?” is a fair question. People above have mentioned many fine things, but here’s one I haven’t seen yet: either of Steven Brust’s Dragaeran series, the Taltos saga or The Phoenix Guards saga.

The Taltos books start with Jhereg, and all of the earlier books in the series are relatively short by fantasy standards. You can read Jhereg without going on, it tells a contained story; but I’d be surprised if a reader didn’t want to go on. The conceit is that the POV character is a human in a world of much taller, long-lived (some near immortal) elf-types, and he is an assassin and part of an organized-crime syndicate. The style of narration (first person) is deliberately reminiscent of noir detective novels.

The Phoenix Guards is the first book of a different series in the same world, set at an earlier point in its history. I think it stands alone, and I think it provides a reasonable intro to the world if you haven’t read the Taltos books (though it’s hard to say as I did read those first). Its tone and narration style are a deliberate take-off of Dumas’ Musketeer books, though having read those, I’d call Brust’s pastiche more lively and rollicking and fun.

Both series buckle a lot of swash in an old-fashioned sense, though I would call the latter series more of a sincere swashbuckler.

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Jack Balfour said on November 17th, 2011 at 11:10 am

I notice that a lot of people’s ideas of “Classic superheroes but done right” miss the essential appeal of the character. The most popular train of thought with Superman is “Wouldn’t he be more interesting without being tied to Clark Kent,” which is the single most innovative thing about Superman. Diaz’s concept for Wonder Woman also seems to be based on not liking anything about Wonder Woman at all.

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Am I allowed to mock Eddings not for his plot recycling, but for his relentless manichean worldview, his “might makes right” perspective, his broad ethnic stereotypes, and the fact that every series and standalone he ever wrote takes a group of brutal, murderous thugs and portrays them as people of the highest moral caliber and their opponents as subhuman vermin fit for extermination?

For fucks sake, one of Sparhawk’s posse in the Elenium/Tamuli is a dude who enjoys beheading people on the thinnest of pretexts and then hiding behind his religious and political credentials to escape the consequences. This is portrayed as the amusing peccadillo of a hero.

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TMGK:

So, Riftwar isn’t the worst for the “Hear the dice rolling while calculating THAC0” feel, that award I give to Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance books. Raistlin’s pretty much a straight-up magic-user (“Hey! Raistlin just leveled up, and he gets to learn another spell!”), though I still did enjoy the first series much in the same way that I enjoyed the first Eddings series.

For fantasy with buckling of swashes, there’s always Brust’s Taltos books.

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Mike, Dragonlance was based on an actual D&D campaign, and was heavily tied into the Dragonlance D&D release, which I think kinda lets it out of the running.

I have read worse than Magician, during my teenage fantasy binge many years ago, but they were all so bad that I’ve forgotten what they were called. The Riftwar series was at least readable.

Also, if you haven’t already seen it, you should browse through MGK’s previous summary of popular adolescent novels.

And yeah, Weber’s foray into fantasy is great fun – it’s also about the only one of his series where I don’t want to shake him by the collar and yell “Multiple secondary character homocide is not the only way to add depth to your protagonists!!!”
Or words to that effect.

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King of Tokyo is one that gets brought out at least every third week in my board gaming group’s weekly meetings. Great, gloriously fun game.

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I reread the Prydain books as an adult and they still work for me (There’s six by the way, counting the short story collection The Foundling).
Joining in the lack of enthusiasm for Eddings. Read the first two, felt the story could have been squeezed into two-thirds of the first book’s length, never picked up another one.

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Am I allowed to mock Eddings not for his plot recycling, but for his relentless manichean worldview, his “might makes right” perspective, his broad ethnic stereotypes, and the fact that every series and standalone he ever wrote takes a group of brutal, murderous thugs and portrays them as people of the highest moral caliber and their opponents as subhuman vermin fit for extermination?

Actually, this is in the best traditions of any epic genre. Most traditional epics tell one-sided stories about heroes who are, from neutral point of view, behaving arrogantly, stupidly and without paying any heed to the humanity of their adversaries.

The one thing that differentiates between Elenium and Belgariad is the fact that Sparhawk ought to know better. He is a world-weary, tired soldier who’s seen that his side is not always the right one. Yet he rides from a massacre to the next without any problems of conscience: everyone who is against him must be against the Good. For Belgarion, you could forgive this. Belgarion is just a teenager manipulated by his relatives. Sparhawk is an adult.

And don’t talk to me about the “Dreamers”. They are simply awful. Even the Greek gods show more tact and decency.

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@Lurker-

That’s true, but most authors have some degree of self-awareness about the dark side of the traditions of the epic fantasy genre and at least make an attempt to dodge around them or ameliorate them. I actually think he made a better job of this in Dreamers, where despite his good guys being vastly more awful than usual he has the sense to make the force of evil a bunch of hideous bug monsters.

But Eddings just doesn’t seem to care. The monstrous acts his good guys commit aren’t portrayed as regrettably hard choices in a hard world. They’re usually played either for laughs, or as well-deserved punishment being meted out on the wicked.

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Carl Walker said on November 19th, 2011 at 1:47 am

I’ve read all of the Ditko stuff and am just starting the Romita stuff, and I guess I just thought Betty was an intern or something; it never occurred to me that logically she should be older. The last thing I read thought was the “oh I realize Betty didn’t mean anything to me” nonsense. Man, just don’t bring it up at all, that would’ve been better.

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Agreed–Betty Brandt was always written at most a couple of years older than Peter.

I can’t believe that the Wikipedia entries for Kelewan and Tekumel do not mention each other. It’s sort of like trying to have a Wikipedia entry for The Sword of Shannara that doesn’t mention The Lord of the Rings, except in a world where Terry Brooks was really rich and Tolkien was living in moderate obscurity.

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For no-holds-barred “you can hear the dice rolling” but a fun twist on things, try to find Eve Forward’s Villains by Necessity. It’s long out of print and hard to find, it’s most definitely lifted from someone’s D&D game, but it’s well worth a read. Mostly because it’s a nice set of characters, the pacing is good, and it’s a fun and light read.

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Dean Hacker said on December 9th, 2011 at 6:26 pm

It seemed as though Betty was around four years older. Peter seemed to be about 16 when he went to work for the Daily Bugle. Betty was (at most) twenty. That is an age/maturity gap, but not weirdly so.

Moreover, Ditko (and even Romita) drew Betty as remarkably average looking. That mitigated the upper hand that she enjoyed in the relationship. She plainly was not toying with Peter. She really saw him as a potential partner.

As Beacon mentioned above, Betty is very nearly Spidey’s best love interest. MJ is obviously terrific and would be tough to beat. However, Gwen has never clicked for me and Black Cat is borderline fan service.

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