If you're a fantasy lover who's avoided science fiction novels, maybe you just haven't found the right gateway drug. Here are 11 novels that bridge the gap between fantasy and science fiction, by fitting into both categories.
I am a child of the late 80's/early 90's. I came to fantasy fiction in the era where large, ongoing series of epic fantasies were all the rage and lengthy series by Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, Kate Elliott, David Eddings, Brian Jacques and Terry Goodkind topped the bestseller lists, even as their continuing sequels do now, nearly twenty years later. So I admit to being formed by and having a significant love for epic fantasy.
I am also aware that science fiction in particular tends to be avoided by some readers. But it is only by reading broadly within our genre, and even outside it, that we can truly consider ourselves fans of speculative fiction. You may have tried to read more broadly in the genre, and this list is not meant to dismiss books SF buffs may have suggested to you before, like McCaffrey' Pern, Jack Vance's Dying Earth, Terry Brooks Shannara, or Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. All of which, I can honestly say, except for the Vance novels, have never appealed much to me either.
This list is by no means exhaustive, so do feel free to suggest others that might bridge this gap in the comments below.
The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson
This novel is a science fiction of alternate history. In it, some few humans are born without the ability to die through some quirk of genetics. Many, especially in prehistory, die before they discover the truth, but a few clever and/or fearful ones manage to hide their inability and so traverse through history, occasionally encountering one another, but always seeking to survive in a world that would see them as abominations. The science fictional element when Anderson moves on into the future, past the twentieth century in which he was writing, but it is a small part of the novel. Here Anderson explores themes that can be found in epic fantasy in the races of elves and dwarves, but in a historical rather than mythological setting.
The Singers of Nevya by Louise Marley
This particular trilogy of books, long out of print, was recently re-released in omnibus form. It is a story of the space fantasy tradition, the types of books to which McCaffrey's Pern or C. S. Friedman's The Wilding. It is a novel which has as its basis and background mythos a science fiction origin, but whose story is almost entirely like that of an epic fantasy. It has none of the traditions of epic fantasy, save a magic system based on science, but for all that it is nearly indistinguishable from other epic fantasies.
In Her Name by Michael R. Hicks
This is a trilogy of books that is neither epic fantasy nor is it science fiction. The story begins with a young man being stolen from his homeworld and then raised by a space-faring warrior race called the Kreelans. The first novel, save for a few introductory chapters, is entirely an epic fantasy. It has all the young man coming-of-age and the learning to fight in a medieval warrior culture aspect of heroic stories. The following two novels then leap into space opera style science fiction, with even a military blend to it. Neither in one camp nor another, this is a true melding of two genres that I have found unique among all my varied readings.
Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
Buckell's series of novels with a Caribbean vibe starts with this one. While the latter two, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose are decidedly space opera, the first, Crystal Rain, blends space opera and heroic fantasy. Like other space fantasies, Buckell's characters are trapped on a planet and have lost some of their former technological prowess. His primary characters are a product of that former expertise, and are entwined in a tribal culture. Since the story takes place almost entirely on planet and bears many of the characteristics of epic fantasy, if not quite the same tropes, I do feel that the story should appeal to epic fantasy readers where its cousins would not.
Hunter's Run by George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois and Daniel Abraham
Ramon Espejo is a prospector on a recently colonized world. It's a rough life, but Ramon prefers it to the cramped humanity of the towns. But on a prospecting trip, Ramon uncovers a lost, alien, space faring civilization, hiding from all the others. Trapped by them, he is forced to use his knowledge of the wilds to find another man who has escaped the alien's clutches. But that man is more and less than Ramon thinks, and as he and his alien captor seek the escapee, Ramon is forced to learn more about himself than any man would care to. Having many of the same themes and adventure as an epic fantasy quest, the story bridges the gap between SF and fantasy quite nicely.
Harmony by C. F. Bentley
According to author C. F. Bentley Harmony is her "spiritual quest with a literary twist in a space opera landscape." The spiritual aspect of this novel is apparent almost from page one. Harmony is the central planet of a caste society where all people are assigned their positions in society by the caste marks that appear on their cheeks at birth. Workers, Nobles, Priests, and Warriors all bear different marks and no intermarriage is allowed between the castes. Sissy is an exception, born with all of the caste marks upon her cheek; she has grown up hiding her marks from everyone, fearing that like others born with more than one mark she will be consigned to an insane asylum. But when an earthquake threatens to tear apart the entire planet of Harmony, Sissy communes with the planet and stops the total destruction. She is soon discovered, and is immediately removed from her Worker caste family into the role of high priestess, the most powerful role in the seven planet Harmonic Empire. Young woman that she is, Sissy must overcome manipulative priests, a society in slow decay, and the desire of other external empires to conquer harmony for its one great commodity, badger metal. Here there is magic, the rag-to-riches story common among epic fantasies, and a compelling central character who finds herself facing improbable odds.
Genetopia by Keith Brooke
With elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and the philosophical underpinnings of a Robert Heinlein novel, Genetopia, by Keith Brooke, explores what it is to be human in a world devolved from its present state. In Brooke's future Earth, mankind has fallen from its high technological state into a tribal culture more controlled by the technology it created than controlling it. The advent of nanotechnology and the proliferation of genetic modification at some point in the distant past led to the creation of two races of humans. In Brooke's vision, science has changed us into something different, not better, nor worse, only different. Flint and Amberline are compelling characters, and their journeys take quite a few unexpected twists. Brooke has written a tight, interesting, and unusual novel in Genetopia that I recommend as a good read for those who want to explore the nature of humanity.
The Spiral Labyrinth by Matthew Hughes
One of the most unusual novels you may encounter, The Spiral Labyrinth by Matthew Hughes, mixes fantasy, science fiction, and mystery to tell a tale fit for a contemporary fantasy, set in the far future, where magic is returning to replace science as the dominating force in the universe. Hughes tells a mystery, set in the far future, where magic and science are intermingled, though magic (known as sympathetic association) is slowly becoming the dominant method by which the universe operates. But there are still spaceships, intelligent computers, weird aliens and all the other features of a great science fiction tale. It is in the addition of magic, and the encounters Hepthorn has when thrown far forward into time, that we see some of the classic elements of fantasy – swords, villains, and medieval scenery. This mix and match of plots, background, and tropes add to the great fun of the novel.
Tides by Scott MacKay
A science fiction novel comparable in feel to George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle's Windhaven, Tides is a high seas adventure story. The tides are massive waves hundreds of feet high that keep the people of Paras locked onto their continent. Hab believes, through recent scientific discovery, that a metal rich (Paras is metal poor, although agriculturally rich) continent exists on the other side of their world. Forced by circumstance to resort to lying in order to fulfill his dream, Hab goes in search of this other continent. But what he finds is a sentient reptilian species scrabbling for survival on a tiny and barren continent called Ortok by its inhabitants. This species has perfected lying to an art, and here Hab learns the consequences of a lie while also learning its practical usefulness. The story has setting and elements of an epic fantasy story while still having the flavor of science fiction.
Bitterwood by James Maxey
I thought the book was fairly good, in the way that I always appreciate a book that is both familiar and o' so subtly different. I was comfortable in reading this book as if it were a sword and sorcery adventure tale, and then Maxey throws me for a loop by introducing his preacher character. But this was but a pale foreshadow to the big reveal about the nature of the world of Bitterwood and the hegemony of the dragons. This book is almost entirely epic fantasy for most of its length, that is, until we reach its end and discover a significant truth.
Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams
Implied Spaces is quite an unusual novel. It has the characters of a space opera, the science necessary to be appreciated by fans of Hard SF, the pacing and even elements of a sword and sorcery novel, and philosophy that would have been appreciated by Nietzsche himself. Overlaying all of this is a sort of sly winking humor coming from the author himself, as if he holds a hidden secret unknown to protagonist Aristide or the reader. The action never stops, and Aristide finds himself being at times a fantasy hero, with sword and shield, a political powerhouse, a traitor, a genius, a lover, and a space soldier and leader of men in time of war. Space zombies make a short appearance, antimatter too, and all in just 265 pages.
Hopefully, reading one of these suggested titles might help in broadening your reading horizons. This is no ultimatum, nor should you think I am coming from on high to tell you what you should and shouldn't read, but if you have felt that perhaps you could benefit from reading more widely within the speculative fiction genre, these particular titles may help you bridge the gap. Rather than diving in full throttle into science fiction, a part of the genre you may have already tried and dismissed, these fictions may appeal to your epic fantasy inclinations.
This post originally appeared on Walker of Worlds.