Waiting on Winter?
Dec 18, 2016
Are you a Song of Ice and Fire fan? Are you waiting patiently for The Winds of Winter?
Are you tired of waiting patiently?
Well, wait no more! There are more epic series out there to read, many of them already complete.
My favorite epic is the eco-fiction politico-religious space fantasy of Dune. The original four books by Frank Herbert – Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God-Emperor of Dune – comprise an incredible example of world-building. The basis of the story is simple – House Atreides is the rightful ruler of the planet Arrakis by imperial decree, the desert world which is the only source in the universe for the drug spice, which slows aging considerably, awakens prescient visions, and is essential for the work of interstellar navigators, but they have been deposed by the villainous House Harkonnen and seemingly liquidated with the assistance of imperial forces, as the emperor was fearful of Duke Atreides’ popularity. The young heir Paul and his mother, Jessica, escape and are taken in by the native tribe of Arrakis. The Fremen, as they are called, are fervently religious and await a promised military and political leader – a prophecy which Paul happens to fit perfectly, and which may have been planted by the religious and political order his mother is a member of. The relationship between religion and politics, the ethics of ecological exploitation of resources, the economic exploitation of people, distrust of technology, the limits of human potential, racism, sexism, and more all are all explored in Dune.
Or, maybe, you want a lighter adventure than the world of Westeros. In that case, allow me to direct you to Discworld – the fantasy world of the late Terry Pratchett. Comedy and commentary exist in equal measure as you meet various bumbling wizards, a Machiavellian city administrator, a hard-boiled member of the City Watch (how hard-boiled? The Assassins’ Guild no longer accepts contracts on him), dwarves battling sexism among their people, werewolves fighting prejudice, witches with the magic of “first sight, and second thoughts,” and - of course - Death and his horse Binky. On the other side, you have a man-eating Luggage, hopelessly stereotypical vampires, governmental red tape on the local level, governmental red tape on the cosmic level (what happens when Death is forced into early retirement?), and the meanest – and most accurate to European legend – fairies you’ll find in fiction. The descriptions are memorable, the world is unique, and the stories stick with you well after you’ve finished the books. What’s more, each book is largely self-contained, so you can pick up anywhere in the series and not be too incredibly lost – though there is something to be said for starting with The Colour of Magic, and going on an adventure with Rincewind and his predatory Luggage. My personal recommendation is to start with Reaper Man – the story of Death’s forced retirement – to get the feel for the essential humanity and optimism of Discworld, followed by Lords And Ladies for the witches of Lancre, or Thud! to meet the City Watch.
For hardcore fans of sword-and-sorcery, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is an option. The massive fourteen-volume series has well-developed characters, a well-planned and internally logical system of magic, and form arguably the most well-crafted fantasy universe this-side of Tolkien. Unfortunately, Jordan died before completing the series, but left extensive notes behind; the last few books were completed by noted fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, whose Mistbornseries is another option to satisfy your epic hungers.
Beyond these typical tales, there are also the urban fantasy works of Jim Butcher (Dresden Files), Seanan McGuire (October Daye), and Charles Stross (The Laundry Files), all of which are epic in scope while lighter reading than Martin, Herbert, or Jordan. For a quick-hit, Jim C. Hines’ Princessseries or Goblin Quest books are fun reads that play with fantasy conventions in fascinating ways.
Winds of Winter is supposed to be released in the next two years, which gives you plenty of time to find – and fall in love with – a whole new world of characters. Whether you choose to walk the sands of Arrakis or patrol the streets of Ankh-Morpok, there’s enough variety in fantasy to fill your craving until you’re able to return to Westeros.