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It is easier to bend the universe around the story.
Wizard wordsmith Terry Pratchett has earned his status as a fantasy world builder. Take his wildly popular ‘Discworld’ series. There are gods, dwarves, chauvinistic wizards and feminist witches, goblins … even an orang-utan librarian (to keep those unruly magic books under control). There’s an unlikely hero in the form of Rincewind, and his allergy to adventure. Most fantastic of all, is that this action takes place on the Discworld – a flat disc balanced on the back of four giant elephants standing on an enormous turtle. Whyever not?
Pratchett’s fantasies dance with this mash-up of folklore, fable and fairytale. He deconstructs the art of stories and storytelling only to patch them back together again, but stranger.
Here are some more writers like Pratchett for your reading pleasure.
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In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Recommended Book: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (1979)
Douglas Adams could be the SF yin to Pratchett’s fantasy yang. Except his books really are out-of-this-world.
The interplanetary travel series, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, stars pyjama-lover Arthur Dent as he (another unwilling adventurer) thumbs a lift through time and space. It has become something of a classic ever since it was first published in 1979.
Dent and his fellow wanderers encounter a host of weird and wonderful creatures, from Vogons (whose poetry is an instrument of torture) to the genocidal planet Krikket (from which the gentleman’s game derives). His round-the-galaxy travel kit consists of pyjamas, slippers and a towel – ‘about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have’, and celebrated by readers on the annual Towel Day (25th May).
Above all, eccentric Briton Arthur Dent knows that gallivanting around the universe simply isn’t done without filling-up on a good brew first!
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The genre of comic fantasy has now come a long way … it’s time we started writing books that are *about* something.
Recommended Book: ‘Expecting Someone Taller’. (1987) Or try his publisher’s clever gizmo to find your own.
Moving swiftly on, Tom Holt is a writer whose books will bring you back to earth with a bump – as that’s where they are set.
The role of comic fantasy author could have been written for Holt. As a vocal spokesman for the genre, he was for some time a columnist for British Fantasy Society. Like Pratchett, he has decades of writing experience under his belt.
Each of Holt’s books revises age-old myths and legends to give them a fantastical twist. The author’s power lies in pulling the rug from under our feet by transfiguring the ordinary and the mundane. ‘The Portable Door’ and ‘You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, but it Helps’ both deal, for example, with the modern-day gladiatorial arena of office politics. Holt knows how to mash-up a good title: see ‘The Good, the Bad and the Smug’ or ‘Snow White and the Seven Samurai’.
At its best, Holt’s writing style is incisive and addictive. ‘‘When Holt’s on form, the world seems a much cheerier place’’, praised SFX.
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One of the rare guys who can always make me laugh.
Recommended Book: ‘The Brentford Trilogy’ (1981-84)
On a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, Robert Rankin is likely to be found holed up in a Welsh bookshop, quietly tucking Pratchett’s more popular books out-of-sight behind his own covers.
This revelatory joke from one of his interviews is typical of Rankin’s firecracker comedy and idiosyncratic writing. It is shared by his devoted readers, who call themselves The Order of the Golden Sprout.
Rankin was first spotted in 1981 by the same publisher who released ‘Hitchhikers’, though his work is grittier and cut from a different cloth. When on form, his style is off-beat and mordant, often carrying a lovely literary turn of phrase.
The London suburb of Brentford, ‘‘lovingly cradled in an aqueous elbow of old Mother Thames’’, plays host to the majority of the action. Here, Rankin’s characters are relieved to find themselves saved from the horrors of regular employment by a constant bombardment of alien invasions.
Rankin’s books riff on a variety of strands – including alternative historical realities, science fiction and steampunk. They aren’t the most commercial of titles, which is why he regularly produces two a year.
The author even went so far as to dub his particular style ‘‘far-fetched fiction’’; that way he ‘‘would have my own book shelf in Smiths, with just my books in them and it would be bliss’’.
For a quirkier and deeper insight, read into these two authors like Terry Pratchett.
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Recommended Book: ‘The Eyre Affair’ (2001)
Jasper Fforde deserves his place on our shortlist due to the sheer inventiveness of his novels. His best-loved works are the ‘Thursday Next’ series. In Fforde’s characteristic meta style, these books toy with the fantastical idea that stories are literally produced and mechanised.
The author’s quirkiness is perfectly summed up by the tribute that readers pay to him each year: an annual Fforde Fiesta.
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Recommended Book: ‘American Gods’ (2001)
Author Neil Gaiman cuts a Tim Burton-esque figure with his wiry frame, gothically pale complexion and black curls. It’s a look that suits his fictional output down to the ground. Gaiman’s writing is prolific, often sublime and multi-award-winning.
We’ve reached the end of our whistle-stop tour through life, the universe and everything. All of the above authors have each done their bit, in their own unique way, to diversify and popularise this versatile genre. What’s even more fantastical, is the dedication with which their readers find just-as-extraordinary ways to pay homage back to them.
Are there any other fantasy humourists that you would have liked to have seen on this list?
Which is your favourite author like Terry Pratchett?
Let us know in the comments below!
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