Reading fantasy is now more of a mainstream reading activity than it was back in the 1980’s. Back then it was perhaps considered a little geeky, and was most definitely sneered upon by some in the literary world (the famous literary TV debate of Terry Pratchett’s work still makes me seethe). Fantasy fiction has endured and grown in popularity, reaching out to, and shaping reading lives. On the whole, fantasy books are beautifully inclusive and welcoming and make you feel right at home while sending your imagination soaring. The 1980’s were an absolutely fabulous decade for fantasy fiction and this collection celebrates some of those authors.
As a teen I read what I liked (and still do), wherever it sat in terms of genre. I grew up with a mum who adored reading, so from a very early age was happily ensconced in the local library choosing books to bring home with me, and nothing pleased me more than receiving books as presents. I read everything I could lay my hands on, if it was book shaped and had words it in, then I opened it! I read my father’s non-fiction books on the Second World War, which encouraged me to reach further into the past, I borrowed my gran’s romance novels, which has led to a life-long love of romance and relationship tales, mum encouraged my love of the classics and books on nature. Then through friends recommendations and exploring further into the library I started to discover action/adventure, spy/espionage, crime/thrillers, and most importantly Science Fiction and FANTASY! The most imaginative of novels reached me as I was learning more about the world, and without realising it shaped not just my reading world, but me.
As a teen, fantasy fiction became my passion, and here I’ve highlighted ten authors, and their books from the 1980’s, who were in at the start of my deep and abiding love for this genre. I will turn the spotlight on two of them, two I still count as my forever favourites, the truly wonderful Guy Gavriel Kay and Terry Pratchett. On initial glance their books are as different as different can be, yet they both use another world to shine a light on our own.
I began the Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay with The Summer Tree, this powerful trilogy called to me and I have eagerly awaited his novels ever since. His latest (the paperback is published in April 2023) All the Seas of the World, is just as powerful, dynamic, and beautiful as Tigana which so beguiled me in 1990, and that final sentence in Tigana still absolutely slays me when I re-read the novel. While I have adored and highly recommend all of his novels, another favourite is The Lions of Al-Rassan. His early books are still as relevant and readable today as they ever were and that is the mark of a wonderful author. Guy Gavriel Kay was a hugely positive influence, his integrity, empathy, and view of humanity shaped mine (and still does). I continue to haunt the book aisles in exquisite anticipation every two to three years when his new novel is due.
Another author who hugely influenced my thoughts is Terry Pratchett, again his inclusivity and empathy reached out to me. I’ve also read absolutely everything written by Terry, from his kids and young adults novels, to of course, the Discworld series. While his Discworld Novels were set on a flat world that sat on top of four elephants who stood on the back of a turtle as it swam through space, he had the ability to turn a spotlight on the most ridiculous side of humanity. In the Discworld, I began with The Colour of Magic and read in publication order, and while I adore each and every one, the books that feature the City Watch (start with Guards! Guards!) and the witches (the three main witches are introduced in Wyrd Sisters though Granny Weatherwax appeared before this) are particular favourites. I miss, oh so miss this author, but Captain Vimes and Granny Weatherwax accompany me wherever I go, tapping on the door of my awareness with a comment every now and then. In 2022 Rob Wilkins wrote a beautifully astute biography, Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes, that I recommend to one and all.
So while Guy Gavriel Kay and Terry Pratchett remain at the top of my list of favourite authors, the other eight I’ve included celebrate 1980’s fantasy beautifully and prove just how varied the genre is. Welcome to the 80’s!