What is the single best fantasy novel of all time?


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wow, a bit torn on this one. I can only pick one (if we are going by a more modern/postmodern definition of fantasy):

A Game of Throne Despite the controversy around the sh*te-tv adaptation; it truly remains my favorite, though a very very close second (and until recently was my top favorite) was the Lord of the Rings
What was the controversy on the first book being adapted for the 1st season? I don't remember there being much complaining back then.
 

Steel_Wind

Legend
A Storm of Swords is an absolutely an amazing banger of a book, just loads of "GASP!" moments spaced exactly enough apart that they remain effective and the story angled so well that every one of them is completely believable in the context of the setting and characters. GRRM at his absolutely peak and the bloody red wedding among countless other events.

It set up the time-skip and GRRM could have had it all. He could have had it all. But then went and cancelled the time skip, and it's been downhill all the way since then - not that 4 and 5 weren't good, but were they are good as any of 1-3? No. Will Winds of Winter come out in the next five years? No. Will A Dream of Spring ever come out? No.

Why'd you have to skip the time jump you so lovingly designed George, why man?
Well, the publication dates for Vol 1-3 tell a radically different story about the effect of finances on an author's discipline:

A Game of Thrones - August 1996
A Clash of Kings - November 1998
A Storm of Swords - November 2000

This is the publication history of the first three novels in the series. What isn't mentioned above is when sales started to REALLY ramp up and take off. That came in the wake of A Storm of Swords.

I bought AGoT in its paperback edition, so I am relatively certain that was in early 1997 that I got it. I bought all subsequent volumes in the series in hardcover more or less on the first day of release. Thing is, with ACoK and ASoS, that wasn't initially bestseller territory. There were fantasy fans at the time in 1997 who were huge fans and it won some major awards. But the word of mouth at the time was literally that: Word of Mouth. The Internet did not play all that large a role in the popularity of the series in the late 90s at all. Netscape and all the rest of the early web was still very much new in the late 90s and had not yet become a defining feature of modern society that it would take on in the early 2000s with the spread of cable internet.

Still, all of that changed for GRRM with ASoS. That novel is so exceptional that it elevated the two books before it and sales of the series as a whole started to take off as the novels moved out of the genre and into the mainstream. ASoIaF became a monster of a series in the wake of ASoS, one that would ultimately have a real and lasting impact on the genre and popular culture itself started with ASoS. Popularity of the novels ramped up significantly after that and sales started then moved exponentially.

The result was that GRRM no longer had to worry about paying the mortgage. He started to make damned good money off of those three books. And that's when the slowdown starts. A Feast for Crows was not released until 2005; a disappointment as many of the main characters do not appear with their own perspective chapters at all, notably Jon and Tyrion. A Dance of Dragons was released at the end of the broadcast of the 1st season of HBO's Game of Thrones, and sales of the whole series increased by orders of magnitude, world-wide. GRRM had more than HALF the top 10 best-sellers on Amazon for more than a year based on the phenomenal success of the HBO series. By that time in 2010, GRRM was already wealthy enough that his attention span necessary to write had waned; and with the sales of his novels after the 1st season of GoT went viral, basically, GRRM became stinking rich off his per copy royalties; indeed, the author himself became a celebrity. That simply doesn't happen to fantasy authors. Yet it did, just the same.

And so we have not seen a new novel in the series in 12 years - and counting. Turns out, having to pay the rent is an excellent motivator for an author.

None of that should take away from the fact that ASoS truly is an outstanding candidate for the Best Fantasy novel of all time. It is an achievement in fiction that, because of GoT, all of this became part of popular culture: The Red Wedding, the attack on the Wall by the wildings and the death of Ygrette, the poisoning of Joffrey, Oberynn's duel with the Mountain at Tyrion's trial, the strangling of Shae and Tyrion's crossbow bolt into Tywin as he sat on the toilet? All of this is ASoS.

The only novel which can compete with the footprint left by A Storm of Swords is The Lord of the Rings or perhaps Harry Potter (as its sales were literally unprecedented). That is where A Storm of Swords rises to - that's as rarified an atmosphere in fantasy literature as it gets.
 
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Steel_Wind

Legend
Why'd you have to skip the time jump you so lovingly designed George, why man?
That's the problem with GRRM. He doesn't "lovingly" design anything. He doesn't write to an outline and has only a mostly firm idea of where he wants to get to -- with no idea or set plan as to how he will get there. He describes this to writing as a "gardener" as opposed to as an "architect".

The gap has nothing to do with it; not really. He blamed his initial slow speed on this costing him a "year" of writing, but the falsity of that is now laid bare, 20 years later. The muse he wasn't feeling didn't have anything to do with a 5 or 1 year gap. The plain truth is that it had to do with the size of GRRM's burgeoning bank account. That's the real story here.

We haven't got a new Cersei chapter in over 18 years. The character that people came to know on the series? She's a very interesting character, but she's not Cersei as written in the novels, and certainly not as we left her in AFFC. Cersei's chapters in AFFC utilize an unreliable narrator device; where what Cersei sees and reacts to in King's Landing as she tries to rule in Tommen's name is told is mostly only through her eyes. The reader has to figure this out for themselves though and parse out carefully the parts where Cersei is too stupid to see the machinations of those around her. Many people missed this on a first reading of AFFC and accepted it in good faith. GRRM is subtle in much of Cersei's POVs. She is being manipulated, especially by Lady Taena (who is wholly absent from the TV series) and it is all extremely interesting stuff. What is true and what isn't? We're still waiting.

We haven't had a new chapter from Cersei since 2005. The PoVs that were left out of AFFC were all developed, written and included in ADwD.... so, yeah. 2005 was the last time we heard from Cersei. That has nothing to do with any gap.

I've given up hope at this point; though there is something to the idea that a novel series is more commercially valuable as a going concern while part of it is still being written, and less so after it is complete. Whatever the case, it hardly matters now. 12 years is too goddamned long to wait for a book - any book.
 
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Well, the publication dates for Vol 1-3 tell a radically different story about the effect of finances on an author's discipline:

A Game of Thrones - August 1996
A Clash of Kings - November 1998
A Storm of Swords - November 2000

This is the publication history of the first three novels in the series. What isn't mentioned above is when sales started to REALLY ramp up and take off. That came in the wake of A Storm of Swords.

I bought AGoT in its paperback edition, so I am relatively certain that was in early 1997 that I got it. I bought all subsequent volumes in the series in hardcover more or less on the first day of release. Thing is, with ACoK and ASoS, that wasn't initially bestseller territory. There were fantasy fans at the time in 1997 who were huge fans and it won some major awards. But the word of mouth at the time was literally that: Word of Mouth. The Internet did not play all that large a role in the popularity of the series in the late 90s at all. Netscape and all the rest of the early web was still very much new in the late 90s and had not yet become a defining feature of modern society that it would take on in the early 2000s with the spread of cable internet.

Still, all of that changed for GRRM with ASoS. That novel is so exceptional that it elevated the two books before it and sales of the series as a whole started to take off as the novels moved out of the genre and into the mainstream. ASoIaF became a monster of a series in the wake of ASoS, one that would ultimately have a real and lasting impact on the genre and popular culture itself started with ASoS. Popularity of the novels ramped up significantly after that and sales started then moved exponentially.

The result was that GRRM no longer had to worry about paying the mortgage. He started to make damned good money off of those three books. And that's when the slowdown starts. A Feast for Crows was not released until 2005; a disappointment as many of the main characters do not appear with their own perspective chapters at all, notably Jon and Tyrion. A Dance of Dragons was released at the end of the broadcast of the 1st season of HBO's Game of Thrones, and sales of the whole series increased by orders of magnitude, world-wide. GRRM had more than HALF the top 10 best-sellers on Amazon for more than a year based on the phenomenal success of the HBO series. By that time in 2010, GRRM was already wealthy enough that his attention span necessary to write had waned; and with the sales of his novels after the 1st season of GoT went viral, basically, GRRM became stinking rich off his per copy royalties; indeed, the author himself became a celebrity. That simply doesn't happen to fantasy authors. Yet it did, just the same.

And so we have not seen a new novel in the series in 12 years - and counting. Turns out, having to pay the rent is an excellent motivator for an author.

None of that should take away from the fact that ASoS truly is an outstanding candidate for the Best Fantasy novel of all time. It is an achievement in fiction that, because of GoT, all of this became part of popular culture: The Red Wedding, the attack on the Wall by the wildings and the death of Ygrette, the poisoning of Joffrey, Oberynn's duel with the Mountain at Tyrion's trial, the strangling of Shae and Tyrion's crossbow bolt into Tywin as he sat on the toilet? All of this is ASoS.

The only novel which can compete with the footprint left by A Storm of Swords is The Lord of the Rings or perhaps Harry Potter (as its sales were literally unprecedented). That is where A Storm of Swords rises to - that's as rarified an atmosphere in fantasy literature as it gets.
I mean, the big problem with your theory here is that:

A) You have no proof that GRRM was financially pressured prior to ASoS, only that it took him to a new level of wealth.

and

B) GRRM has discussed this whole thing at extreme length, and acknowledged how he screwed up, and it's clearly not been a matter of "IM RICH! YOU CAN ALL SUCK A FAT ONE!", but rather, when he finished ASoS (and before it went huge), he stupidly (by his own admission) changed the plan from a 10-year timeskip to writing through that whole ten years.

Also, very problematic:

Turns out, having to pay the rent is an excellent motivator for an author.
Funny how that only seems to apply to GRRM.

A lot of quite poor or marginal authors also have huge difficulties putting out follow-ups. Relevantly we might look at Scott Lynch. Who definitely isn't rich. Yet has, as a result of mental health issues and other factors, not put out a book for a similar period.

Further undermining your "Keep writers poor!" manifesto (a bold manifesto, admittedly, especially in the context of the WGA strike!), is that fact that a lot of extremely, staggeringly wealthy authors keep pounding novels out. In fact I would go as far as to say that with wealthy genre authors, that's kind of the norm. They may have an ultra-huge hit but it doesn't slow them down.

So at best I think we can say you offer a somewhat cruel-seeming and obviously incomplete theses. I don't think it actually makes sense until we add in the fact that GRRM absolutely blew up his own writing plan and never seems to have been able to get back on track afterwards.
 

Steel_Wind

Legend
Funny how that only seems to apply to GRRM.
But it doesn't apply to only GRRM. It has applied to many authors who experience sudden immense mainstream success. You mention Lynch, who has had some success with Locke Lamora and the Gentlemen Bastards. Problem is, that's small scale; the sort of genre success that GRRM had in his first three novels. It isn't success like ASoIaF post ASoS.

To get to that level of success, the only other contemporary fantasy author who has enjoyed that degree of financial success on the bestseller lists -- and the fat cheques coming from Hollywood to buy the rights to his series -- you would have to go to Patrick Rothfuss and the Kingkiller Chronicles. And his publication history literally stalls and slides into GRRM's "rut of non-progress" precisely when he struck it rich, too. Not GRRM levels of rich, no, but very few fantasy authors become overnight millionaires. Like GRRM, Rothfuss is the exception (in terms of commercial success) and so falls within the same "rule" that nothing motivates a muse like a landlord with an outstretched hand.

When you look at the publishing history of major novelists who have become ridiculously wealthy and yet turn out product regularly and on time? It's quite a short list, really. And when you stop and really look at it, the success and sheer focus that Stephen King and JK Rowling had as writers -- all while experiencing wealth in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- is truly exceptional.

And perhaps that is simply human nature. Were I to put myself in GRRM's fiscal shoes? I'd probably be just the same. If I win a lottery for millions of dollars, there will certainly be "signs". And one of those signs will be me not going to work this Monday -- or any Monday after it until the end of my life. So, to be fair, I get it.

Still sucks as a fan though.
 

But it doesn't apply to only GRRM. It has applied to many authors who experience sudden immense mainstream success. You mention Lynch, who has had some success with Locke Lamora and the Gentlemen Bastards. Problem is, that's small scale; the sort of genre success that GRRM had in his first three novels. It isn't success like ASoIaF post ASoS.

To get to that level of success, the only other contemporary fantasy author who has enjoyed that degree of financial success on the bestseller lists -- and the fat cheques coming from Hollywood to buy the rights to his series -- you would have to go to Patrick Rothfuss and the Kingkiller Chronicles. And his publication history literally stalls and slides into GRRM's "rut of non-progress" precisely when he struck it rich, too. Not GRRM levels of rich, no, but very few fantasy authors become overnight millionaires. Like GRRM, Rothfuss is the exception (in terms of commercial success) and so falls within the same "rule" that nothing motivates a muse like a landlord with an outstretched hand.

When you look at the publishing history of major novelists who have become ridiculously wealthy and yet turn out product regularly and on time? It's quite a short list, really. And when you stop and really look at it, the success and sheer focus that Stephen King and JK Rowling had as writers -- all while experiencing wealth in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- is truly exceptional.

And perhaps that is simply human nature. Were I to put myself in GRRM's fiscal shoes? I'd probably be just the same. If I win a lottery for millions of dollars, there will certainly be "signs". And one of those signs will be me not going to work this Monday -- or any Monday after it until the end of my life. So, to be fair, I get it.

Still sucks as a fan though.
It does only apply there though, it seems, because you are hyperfocused on the fantasy genre and are completely blinding yourself to genre writers in general.

You've got a general thesis, which is disproven by truly countless authors - the majority of the genre novels on the bestseller lists - and you've two authors as your sole basis (I'm assuming you're not counting Lynch because that would be kind of wild given his mental health struggles). You seem to be suggesting only GRRM and Rothfuss have ever hit it big with a novel's success too which is just... so obviously not correct that it's hard to respond to without giggling. There have been genre authors in the best seller lists since forever. Jordan never slowed down until he died, for example.
nothing motivates a muse like a landlord with an outstretched hand
Did the AMPTP write this? Or a landlord? (I kid but come on man read the room)
And perhaps that is simply human nature. Were I to put myself in GRRM's fiscal shoes? I'd probably be just the same. If I win a lottery for millions of dollars, there will certainly be "signs". And one of those signs will be me not going to work this Monday -- or any Monday after it until the end of my life. So, to be fair, I get it.
It's just not true!

Like demonstrably - loads of genre writers just keep writing, and loads of authors have had Rothfuss' level of success and it's not even slowed them down.

For example, this awful-sounding but possibly great fantasy novel had been at #1 NYT bestseller for 17 weeks by May, god knows how much further it went:

Fourth Wing​

REBECCA YARROS​

(17 Weeks) Violet Sorrengail is all set to live a quiet life among her books until her mother forces orders her to become a candidate for the highly competitive dragon riders. But dragons usually prefer to kill rather than bond with weak humans like Violet. With half the competition willing to kill her to improve their odds and the other half hating her because of her mother, Violet must use all her wits to survive the war college.

I know there are a bunch of highly questionable fantasy novels over the last 4-5 years which were NYT bestsellers but so forgettable I can't even remember their names or much about them beyond that one of them had so many kinds of elf in I started actually getting kind of angry at elves in general.

You've got two (2) datapoints in favour, hundreds, literally against, and you're forming your entire "Keep writers poor" thesis on those two (2) datapoints.

This is an internet-shenanigans argument frankly! I'm not mad, it's a Saturday afternoon after all, but I am laughing quite a lot. I mean believe what you want but you got two (2) datapoints!

By the same exact logic, we could say "Being a male fantasy writer with a big bushy beard makes you likely to just randomly give up on your series at a crucial moment". They both have that in common, but if we look at other fantasy genre writers who have been successful, almost none of them, male or female, have big bushy beards!
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I doubt it’s the money, really. It probably has more to do with the rising level of fame driving up demand for him to make appearances, be involved in other projects, etc.

Moreover, it also drives up expectations. The worst thing is trying to live (or write) up to expectations. so you distract yourself with other projects or life events because your main claim to fame has become this huge challenge.
 

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