Difficult/Challenging Authors

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Evil Agent, Oct 5, 2012.

  1. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

    Aug 18, 2002
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    I'm wondering who are some of the most difficult/challenging but rewarding fantasy authors you've read?

    I ask this because I've just ordered a bunch of Gene Wolfe books (Wizard Knight and Book of the New Sun). It may be a while before I get around to reading them, but everything I've heard leads me to believe that reading Wolfe will be a challenge. This could be good, however, as I've lost interest in a lot of fantasy over the last few years and rarely enjoy any new authors.

    For me, the most challenging/difficult but ultimately rewarding authors I've read are probably as follows:

    Stephen R. Donaldson (Blew my mind when I was 19, after having mostly read Eddings & Goodkind).

    Mervyn Peake (Some of the best prose I've read. Highly descriptive, vivid imagery).

    Patricia McKillip (Riddlemaster was one of the most bizarre books I've read. Still not sure I understand what the heck happened).

    I can't say any of them were my favourites, but they were all enjoyable in their own way.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2012
  2. Jon Sprunk

    Jon Sprunk Book of the Black Earth

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series is generally considered a more challenging read. I've read the first few so far and quite enjoy them.
  3. Andols

    Andols I like stories

    May 7, 2007
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    China Mieville for me. I have started various books a few times but his writing style and my brain do not get along.
  4. Evil Agent

    Evil Agent Saturn Comes Back Around

    Aug 18, 2002
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    Yes, Eriskon is definitely challenging! But in a different way. I don't find his prose difficult, just incredibly confusing.

    China Mieville is also sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. One day, perhaps.
  5. Lucas Thorn

    Lucas Thorn Cthulhu's Red Bucket

    Aug 19, 2012
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    i'd go with peake. i never finished groan. not for lack of wanting to, but it's just so descriptive it gets almost claustrophobic. i haven't read anyone else i think the same way about, though.

    having said that, i found peter hamilton's scifi epics hard to read during lunch breaks. because you just can't keep track of who is who or what is going on when you're reading it in bits.
  6. Obtuse

    Obtuse ‪Ominous, I'm In Us

    May 1, 2003
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    The Wars of Light and Shadow by Wurts has a reputation as being difficult. The language is very descriptive, but dense at the same time. The description isn't just filler; there is a reason for nearly everything she writes. I don't believe all of Wurts' works are like this. I recall reading somewhere that the style was intentionally chosen for this series.

    McKillip's work, that which I've read at any rate, is interesting to me in that it doesn't have to be difficult. For the most part you can read her work, not carelessly, but at a shallower level and still enjoy it. The deeper you go and more carefully you read it, however, the more you are rewarded. You get what you give with McKillip.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2012
  7. JoshuaD

    JoshuaD Lost in Necropolis

    Oct 6, 2012
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    Peake did take some effort to get into, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

    Wolfe, however, I found very digestible from the get go.
  8. AuntiePam

    AuntiePam Cranky old broad

    Jan 2, 2000
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    Wolfe fits this category for me. I loved Book of the New Sun but I'm not sure I "got" everything he was telling me, the "deeper meaning". Even when you know someone is an unreliable narrator, that doesn't always help.

    Same with Margaret Atwood. I must not have understood Oryx and Crake. I was just bored and waiting for something to happen. :)

    ETA: How about Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell? Challenging and incredibly entertaining, even if you have trouble putting it all together.
  9. Larry

    Larry Vaguely Borgesian

    Dec 29, 2003
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    It seems Erikson is one of the more challenging epic fantasy writers because so many people can't seem to spell his name correctly on the various forums I visit ;)

    More seriously, the Malazan books do require more concentration on the part of the readers for the "full story" to be seen. They are one of the rare epic fantasies that I've re-read and gained more from doing so, as there is much more to them than the plot elements.

    But there are other challenging writers. Javier Marías, while not exactly a fantasy writers, certainly writes in a style that challenges his readers to pay attention to the little details. Micheal Cisco is another whose prose is beautiful, but who also demands more from readers. Michal Ajvaz might be a third, but I need more than two novels and a short story to be certain.
  10. Staffbearer

    Staffbearer Registered User

    Feb 13, 2002
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    I've read pretty much every book that posters throughout the years have mentioned to be considered "dense" or difficult to read. I've enjoyed the lot of them to no ends.... Wolfe and Mieville among my favorite authors..

    but I couldnt get into to Peake at all.. I tried. I dont quit books but after 100+ pages it was just boring and I knew nothing was going to change. Nothing was really happening and it got to the point when I turned the page I would bet money the author was going to still be describing the samething he was describing two pages ago...

    I physically hurt myself reading just that small amount.. and if I turn around now I will see that massive tomb sitting underneath my lamp table... just haunting me.
  11. Mark Lawrence

    Mark Lawrence The New ... MARK LAWRENCE

    May 21, 2010
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    There are books that are challenging because they are badly written - they require you to do work that you shouldn't have to.

    There are books that are challenging because they present difficult intellectual themes that stand between you and any story on offer. These aren't badly written so much as they're written with an erudite and educated reader in mind.

    And there are ideal books that contain challenges (both intellectual and emotional) but these flow through the narrative at a deeper level and allow less perceptive readers to enjoy a story without being required to engage the central themes, but are always accessible to those with the eyes to see them.

    Genre writing often packages its 'cleverness' in neat boxes and has the lead character monologue them to you. Literary fiction often delivers those insights with a less heavy hand. These are of course generalisations but it's depressing to see some pundits laud the former as 'deep' and miss entirely the brilliance of the latter.
  12. Hitmouse

    Hitmouse Registered User

    Jul 11, 2009
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    I picked up Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer when I was about 14 and read it as a (slightly dreamy) fantasy adventure, and was completely transported. Not difficult at all, and can be read on several levels. Some of his later stuff is a bit harder.

    I read Peake at around the same time and absolutely loved it.

    I was bought a boxed set of Thomas Covenant shortly afterwards. Read them, found them uneccesarily turgid and verbose, and as a result irritating. Have never bothered to reread, unlike Wolfe and Peake whom I have returned to countless times.

    It is interesting how one's mileage varies.
  13. NickeeCoco

    NickeeCoco Reader Staff Member

    Feb 21, 2009
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    I agree that McKillip can be considered difficult. She can use some intricate grammar and phrasing. Another author who's in that same vein is Ursula K. LeGuin or even C.J. Cherryh. The former mainly because of her themes, and the latter, because of the same reason as McKillip. I love all three, though.
  14. owlcroft

    owlcroft Webmaster, Great SF&F

    Sep 11, 2008
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    From Lists 'R' Us Central:

    Not all works by each author are "difficult" or "challenging" (using a a threshhold some of the authors cited by the OP), but each has at least some that are, and, for many, all or most of their work is. And for each, there is work of reward and merit ranging from good to superlative.

    • Ackroyd, Peter
    • Adams, Richard
    • Aickman, Robert
    • Ajvaz, Michal
    • Amis, Kingsley
    • Amis, Martin
    • Attanasio, A. A.
    • Auster, Paul
    • Barrett, Neal
    • Barth, John
    • Bauer, Steven
    • Beagle, Peter S.
    • Benson, Stella
    • Billias, Stephen
    • Bisson, Terry
    • Blaylock, James
    • Borges, Jorge Luis
    • Bulgakov, Mikhail
    • Byatt, A. S.
    • Cabell, James Branch
    • Calvino, Italo
    • Carroll, Jonathan
    • Carter, Angela
    • Chabon, Michael
    • Charnas, Suzy McKee
    • Cherryh, C. J.
    • Chesterton, G. K.
    • Cisco, Michael
    • Clarke, Susanna
    • Cokal, Susann
    • Crowley, John
    • Davidson, Avram
    • Davies, Robertson
    • Davis, Kathryn
    • De Bernieres, Louis
    • Ducornet, Rikki
    • Eco, Umberto
    • Eddison, E. R.
    • Emmons, Josh
    • Findley, Timothy
    • Finney, Charles G.
    • Frayn, Michael
    • Friesner, Esther
    • Gaiman, Neil
    • Gardner, John
    • Gentle, Mary
    • Geston, Mark S.
    • Grant, Richard
    • Gray, Alasdair
    • Hanratty, Peter
    • Hansen, Erik Fosnes
    • Harrison, M. John
    • Helprin, Mark
    • Hoban, Russell
    • Hoffmann, E. T. A.
    • Hughes, Rhys
    • Irwin, Robert
    • Jackson, Shirley
    • Joyce, Graham
    • Kathryns, G. A.
    • Kotzwinkle, William
    • Lafferty, R. A.
    • Le Guin, Ursula K.
    • Lee, Tanith
    • Lindholm, Megan
    • Lindsay, David
    • McKillip, Patricia
    • Meynard, Yves
    • Miéville, China
    • Millet, Lydia
    • Millhauser, Steven
    • Mills, Magnus
    • Mirrlees, Hope
    • Mitchell, David
    • Moorcock, Michael
    • Morris, William
    • O'Brien, Flann
    • Ozick, Cynthia
    • Palmer, Thomas
    • Peake, Mervyn
    • Percy, Walker
    • Pinckney, Josephine
    • Priest, Christopher
    • Read, Herbert
    • Rushdie, Salman
    • Ryman, Geoff
    • Shepard, Lucius
    • Sherman, Delia
    • Snyder, Midori
    • Somtow, S. P.
    • Stewart, Sean
    • Tournier, Michel
    • Vance, Jack *****
    • Wangerin Jr., Walter
    • Warner, Sylvia Townsend
    • White, T. H.
    • Whittemore, Edward
    • Williams, Charles
    • Wolfe, Gene
    • Woolf, Virginia
    • Wrede, Patricia C.
    • Wright, Austin Tappan
    That ought to be enough to be going along with.
  15. Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard. I gave up on that one.

    I'm kinda glad I'm not the only one who finds Mieville challenging. To be fair, I loved Un Lun Dun, but the other two books by him I've read (Perdito Street Station & The Scar), I really struggled with. It was a case of gritting my teeth and reading a few pages at a time; not something I usually do (if I book hasn't hooked me by the time I'm halfway through, then too bad), but he's so highly regarded, I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. And I can see it, for sure, but still...I didn't enjoy the experience.

    I recently read A Fire Upon the Deep (by Vernor Vinge), and found it very hard going at first (didn't enjoy the writing much) ...but I kept reading, and the story and the characters pulled me in, and overall I did enjoy the book. Sometimes, it's definitely worth hanging in there. (OK, OK, it's not a fantasy book, I apologize if it matters.)

    @ evil agent - It's a while since I've reread Wolfe, but I remember him as an absolutely superb writer who can really pull you in. Having said that, I did borrow The Wizard Knight from the library (twice) and both times, I didn't manage to get past the first 10 pages or so; but I always assumed that's because it's a sequel to an earlier book (The Knight?), which I haven't read (don't quote me on that, it might not be....) The Book of the New Sun series is a masterpiece, yes it might be a bit hard to get into at first, but it's very immersive and well worth the read.
  16. HeclaBull

    HeclaBull Registered User

    Jul 30, 2010
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    Robert Holdstock is an author I consider challenging. I read his novel Celtika years ago and found that it reminded me of Gene Wolfe with it's weird, wandering plot and the way it had so many mythic themes layered throughout it.

    Michael Swankick is also very challenging. Iron Dragon's Daughter was just so weird and trippy that I wouldn't even know where to begin if I wanted to analyze it.