7 of the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books and Movies of All Time
Written by Chris Mahon of OUTER PLACES
Every fantasy/sci-fi fan began somewhere. Some people picked up Lord of the Rings as a kid, while others crossed paths with Neil Gaiman or got sucked in by X-Wings. Personally, I’m a sucker for hard sci-fi, complete with worldbuilding and crazy, mind-bending details. Of all the SF movies and books you could be reading/watching this winter, here are seven of the absolute best:
Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
This was the book that got me into the fantasy genre. It was the first fantasy world I’d read that felt genuinely old, and the way magic was treated inspired the same kind of awe and reverence that you get when you look at a cathedral or the Grand Canyon. Most of all, it captured the wonder of old stories about wizards and magic, which I loved. Aside from that, her prose gets right to the point and doesn’t waste your time like some big doorstop fantasy series do (looking at you, Robert Jordan!).
Dune by Frank Herbert
When I first read Dune, I went into full lore mode: I started piecing together all the references and history and trying to get a handle on the connection between the spice, Paul Atreides, the Bene Gesserit, the Guild, etc. The whole concept of a protagonist seeing the future was totally new to me as a reader, but when I realized that the central conflict was all about simultaneously becoming a new god and trying not to trigger a galaxy-wide jihad, I just sat there and mouthed “no way.” It was absolutely mind-blowing.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Neuromancer is everything I want from a sci-fi novel: it’s eccentric, original, well-written, and mind-bending, with worldbuilding that’s second to none. Gibson fleshed out his world’s tech, cultures, history, and visuals so vividly that I firmly believe we’ll see a Sprawl and cyberpunk subculture sometime in the future. On top of that, the story and characters (mostly Case) get so bleak and twisted over the course of the narrative that I ended up getting a thousand-yard stare after some chapters.
Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli
Princess Mononoke is the reason I can’t watch Game of Thrones. After you’ve experienced Ashitaka’s romance and friendship with San, the beauty and vastness of the Great Forest, and the bittersweet joy of witnessing the end of an age, you’ll wonder why you ever needed a bunch of violence and incest just to have a good time. And since it’s Studio Ghibli, the visuals and art direction (not to mention the music) are absolutely stunning.
Johannes Cabal The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
Dying is easy—comedy is hard. This book pulls off both. The narration is filled with this amazing sardonic wit thanks to Johannes, who is the biggest Grinch of all time. Though the humor is what carries the book, the story ends up easing you into more and more serious, emotionally charged situations that make you hope Johannes will redeem himself before it’s too late. In the end, Johannes Cabal The Neuromancer leaves you with your head in your hands, wondering how something so charming and fun could hurt you so much.
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Hogfather, like most of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, manages to be both a relentlessly silly spoof of the fantasy genre (the footnotes are always pure gold) and a sobering meditation on the human condition. It’s always wonderful to see Death (yes, the Grim Reaper) trying to figure out why humans do what they do, and his attempt to save Christmas (aka Hogswatch) ends up culminating in the most powerful, touching appeal I’ve ever heard for why we need fantasy.
End of Evangelion by Hideaki Anno and GAINAX
End of Evangelion was the full-length movie that capped off the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it is one of the most disturbing, mind-boggling, and beautiful pieces of sci-fi I’ve ever seen. On the surface, it depicts the last several hours leading up to an apocalyptic caused by one incredibly messed-up kid in a giant robot, but it really ends up exploring what it means to be human, as well as the boundaries between fiction and reality. Akira gets a lot of praise, but End of Evangelion is one of those pieces of sci-fi that still haunts fans (including me) years later.