Or find the audio wherever you get your podcasts.
In 2019, I came back to fantasy and science fiction after more than twenty years away from it. Then, during the pandemic, I found blissful refuge in hours of Audible stories. Maybe, like me, you’re looking to get back into fantasy but need some ideas. Maybe you’d like to discover for the first time the inspiring refuge this genre can be. Or maybe you’re curious about my take on books you yourself know and love. Here is my pandemic reading list in fantasy and science fiction, and why I did or didn’t love them.
Pandemic FANTASY & SciFi Reading
- Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive (as of now Books 1-4), is imperfect in areas, but exquisite in its rendering of the cathartic transformational dimensions of being. The making of the Knights Radiant is a ride! You will scream and cry and change – and grow. It’s amazing. But it’s imperfect in ways that LOTR is not. Sanderson seems fixated on creating his very own world, so that he doesn’t allow the numinous to speak through him as fully as Tolkein did, except in important areas and in characters like Syl! (Of course, I love Kaladin, he’s my guy. I love the Heroes, but I’m Aries Midheaven and North Node, Mars on the South Node, so that tracks). I should also say that the audio books are narrated by a husband and wife team, Michael Kramer and Kate Redding, and they are extraordinary narrators. Especially Michael Kramer – his voice – you could just listen to him read the phone book and it would be great! This is a very long series, and it’s not the kind of series that I would expect someone who’s not a fantasy fan to get into. But if you are a fan of the genre, I highly recommend it if you’ve never checked it out!
- Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which has been turned into an Amazon Original series. In 2020, I read every gargantuan book, except for Perrin’s lost book for which everyone hated Faile but who is the ONLY female character I liked in this gross, ham-handed handling of the Numenorian world!! I’m one of those who hated the braid girl – I refuse to remember her name. I actually despised this series all the way through until the very end. I kept hoping it would grow on me. How many hours on Audible?? It was the beginning of the pandemic. It kept me preoccupied. I appreciated Brandon Sanderson’s contributions to the last books which were published post-Jordan. But Sanderson kept intact the passages previously written by Jordan. I could smell the stink on every Jordan paragraph. God, I despised his handling of the Materia. I shouldn’t be so harsh about it. I have some very good friends who love this series and it has a legion of fans. But how we respond to art and literature is a uniquely personal experience, don’t you think? How you or I respond shouldn’t detract from anyone else’s experience.
- James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series, also an Amazon Original series that is quite good, although it misses important aspects of the book series which is now complete with Book 9. This is one of my all-time favorite series of any genre. The science is very good and has deepened my understanding of…everything. It’s possible to find your way all the way through the world of matter, the fallen world, and back to the numinous. Like the contemporary research that’s proving the therapeutic value of sunsets, and finally validating the wonder of an artist and mystic in Hawaii who looked up every night at those gorgeous sunsets and thought, This must be therapeutic, but had not evidence to prove it. Now we have proof. This story is littered with insights to treasure, all while it looks into the future perhaps less than a thousand years–if we stay in war mode, which I hope we don’t. It’s pretty violent. The narrator Jefferson Mays is top shelf, his voices are so good! And I love some of the characters so much! Avasarala, Amos, even James Holden. Of course, Naomi, Alex, and Bobbie the Valkyrie! Having recently re-read Dune after the movie this fall (which also blew my mind), The Expanse stands very tall on its shoulders.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik, unfortunately a standalone. This is an 1800’s-ish feeling Eastern European fairy tale with an amazing timeless heroine, a grumpy hero, and a love affair that will set your hair on fire! This novel made me want to shout for joy, most of all for the way it sets the realm of faerie free, wraps it in an ardent embrace, and all the while offers up little jewels like: “Happiness was bubbling up through me, a bright stream laughing.”
- Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold is another fantastic adventure series. Miles Vorkosigan may be my favorite fictional hero of all time. And her Penric the Sorceror series and the other books in that world – are also great! Of all these, Lois McMaster Bujold is the one author (she’s still living) who I wish I could get to know.
- Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and her other Arthurian novels I had never read before. I really really loved this telling, this time from Merlin’s point of view beginning during his early childhood as the bastard grandson of a rather unloving minor Welsh king. I’m not generally a big Merlin fan, but this story was so moving. Stewart’s writing is imbued with her love of nature and indeed she is writing of her very own England, so there is naturally a genuineness and a depth to that love. It’s quite a literate book, which I liked (one Audible reviewer complained it read like a history book, lol, I wouldn’t go quite that far). And Stewart treats tenderly Merlin’s vulnerability, while not overindulging in his power, which is part of what makes it so remarkable – all the books in the series are good, the first is the very best.
Digging back into the past I would have to include books like The Last Unicorn, A Wrinkle in Time, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Mists of Avalon (although how disappointing about Marion Zimmer Bradley?), The Book of the Dun Cow, Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch Trilogy, Frank Herbert (Dune), Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Arthur C. Clark. And let us not forget the New Age adventures: Medicine Woman, Journey to Ixtlan and the Teachings of Don Juan, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, One, Return of the Bird Tribes, and on and on. By the time The Celestine Prophecy came out, I was growing skeptical. Parables are one thing. Tall tales told as autobiography are quite another. (I do not approve!)
Because of Becca Tarnas’ work with Tolkein, Jung, and the imaginal, I plan to begin a re-read of The Lord of the Rings. It’s been quite a while since I traveled with Frodo and the Company.
If you like multi-tasking, I highly recommend Audible and a set of wireless earbuds. I use Jabra Elite Actives – they’re waterproof and have a pretty good microphone, and are much less expensive than Airpods! I listen while I walk, do household chores, drive. Of course, I spend a lot of time alone and audio isn’t for everyone. But I love it, and so I’m sharing the gear I love. I’m not an affiliate, just an enthusiast. You can get these on Amazon, and I recommend the insurance!