Written by Jonathan J. Reinhart
My podcast, Wargaming Recon, is the longest-running tabletop wargaming podcast in existence but there’s one passion it doesn’t normally allow me to indulge. I speak of my love for sci-fi/fantasy. It was an unexpected honor to be asked by Multiverse to write an article detailing my personal 7 best sci-fi/fantasy books and films.
For an avid reader and library employee such as myself this is no easy task. Should I detail the ones that have stuck with me year after year? Perhaps I should avoid the easy ones. Or, maybe I ought to avoid duplicating titles mentioned by other entries in this 7 of the best series.
Who would guess that compiling a list of seven sci-fi/fantasy titles could be so fraught with peril? Like many a protagonist from our favorite fandoms I, too, must venture forth to reach my goal.
Star Wars – George Lucas
No other piece of cinema or writing has every impacted me so deeply or in such a variety of ways as George Lucas’s visionary extravaganza known as Star Wars. The Holy Trilogy brilliantly blends the inspiration of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces with fantastic homages to many of Mr. Lucas’s personal fandoms. The Empire Strikes Back grabbed me as a young boy with its stark differences of good and evil, of heroes on the edge of disaster, and with unexpected twists and turns. The highly successful series of writing from the Expanded Universe carried me through my high school and college years. Timothy Zahn earns my eternal gratitude for his flawless writing of the Thrawn trilogy beginning with Heir to the Empire.
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” wrote J.R.R. Tolkien. Unlike Star Wars I came late to the high fantasy of Middle Earth. It wasn’t until college that I dived into The Hobbit. Some may call it a book for children. I say it is an enjoyable introduction to Middle Earth that mirrors many of the aspects I seek in a roleplaying game. A character, Bilbo, of seemingly ordinary skills is able to be more than he seems. How many of us live our lives thinking we’re nothing special? If only we could behave more like Bilbo, shed the trappings of normalcy, and strive to grow beyond the limits we set for ourselves. As Yoda once said, “size matters not.” Bilbo is a true example of this. We have Gandalf to thank for seeing in Bilbo the abilities to do great things.
Studio Ghibliverse – Hayao Miyazaki
Am I cheating by lumping so many films together into a single entry? Maybe, but I don’t really care. Hayao Miyazaki is a master of fantasy. Anyone who has seen his films, especially in their original Japanese, will surely agree that Miyazaki builds a world like few others. The environments inhabited by his characters are breathtaking. Many a word can be written of Miyazaki’s brilliance. Rather than attempt, and fail, to do him justice I’ll limit myself to a few aspects. He places an important spotlight on empowered female protagonists. Far too often in the genre of Sci-fi/fantasy we have strong male characters, but less viable female ones. We need more role models like Kiki, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, and Chihiro. Although difficult to choose anything but the entire Miyazaki catalog I daresay the manga of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the films Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi along with Mononoke-hime are some of the more exemplary choices.
Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein crafted a brilliant piece of science fiction in 1959. However, for me the adaptation that brings me back time and time again is the 1997 Paul Verhoeven film. The film is great satire that asks the viewer “Would you like to know more?” With a role played by Neil Patrick Harris you’re bound to find the film enjoyable. For me the scenes of military combat are quite spectacular. The film manages to depict space and land combat in a way that allows the audience to be drawn in on the surface and then helps them to become receptive to its warning against rushing into war. Some of the best war films are arguably anti-war films. Starship Troopers might be easy to dismiss by those who don’t get it.
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
What do you get in a novel where the main character doesn’t really go anywhere or do much of anything? If Katherine Addison writes it, you get The Goblin Emperor. This is a rare novel to thrust forth perfection by using intricate details, inner monologue, and interesting setting. Through Maia we are able to examine the dangers of big government. He tries to do what is right even when he isn’t sure what that is or how to make it happen. Clearly a high fantasy type of novel, The Goblin Emperor manages to set itself apart from the archetypal works like Lord of the Rings. As soon as I finished the book I read it again. One word of advice is to skip the book and go straight to the audiobook. Readers who get hung up tend to have trouble with the difficult to pronounce character names and locations.
Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Like several of my choices this one blends film with the written word. The novel is short. Short as in so short, how could they have made an incredible film out of it? The answer, of course, lies in the novel’s title. Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? is a deceptive title that reveals little until the reader digs deep. As we venture into the rabbit hole we tackle what it means to be human, to be alive, to think, to exist, and simply to be. Mr. Dick is subtle in his way. Many readers will need to re-read this story in order to formulate their own hypothesis. For me, I can answer the question Mr. Dick posits with one of my own. “Do you dream of electronic sheep?”
FABLES – Bill Willingham
Graphic novels can do so many incredible things. FABLES is a series of graphic novels that not only does many incredible things, but does them incredibly well. Bill Willingham takes the nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and fables with which we are collectively familiar. He then turns them on their head to produce a multi-layered story all his own. The art throughout the series is consistently beautiful. The characters are fantastically written. The plot is both familiar to the reader and also unknown. FABLES is one of the best graphic novel series I have ever read. No matter what I’m reading or watching I’ll think of FABLES to ponder how Bill Willingham would approach the subject. Not only is it a piece of craftsmanship sure to bring much joy to many, it would also make for an exceedingly fun game. Its story could serve as the inspiration for game designers to create roleplaying games, strategy games, board games, video games…you name it. With FABLES there is no dearth of wondrous experiences to be had.