In the past couple of months I have started rereading books I read last in the 1990s and liked a lot then. The surprise and excitement of discovering a new world is less, of course, for I am already familiar with the worlds in those books. What surprised me the most, is that some books still hold up while others have become boring, bland, or otherwise uninteresting.

For example, I was unable to even get into Williams’ Otherland series. And I devoured Feist’s Magician almost like I did when I was in my teens.

How do you experience rereads from your youth? What writing characteristics makes a book eternally fresh or almost immediately dated?

D. Moonfire

There are a couple fantasy books that always pull me in and seem to resist the erosion of time. Recently I read, Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward after not touching it for about fifteen years and the story still sucked me in, mainly because it’s about balance in the world and how even so-called evil characters are fully capable of being heroes, just for different reasons. Simon Green’s Guards of Haven (and at least the first related book to that series, Blue Moon Rising) also have help up pretty well over the years.

A lot of what I think makes a book survive time are my favorite books deal with general beats of life (invasion, fear, the strive for perfection at the exclusion of all else) as opposed to gimmicks, twists, and reveals. You can only be surprised one time when Senator Palatine ends up being a Sith but it is easier to have an empathic feel for the fight against a sense of self or saving one’s love one.

Books can have both. In the above example, Villains by Necessity has a twist. I remember the twist, even after not reading it for fifteen years. Even as I went through the book, in the back of my head, I’m trying to anticipate it and that sense of wonder will never come back. As such, the book was grand because of the other foundations were solid that even though I knew what was happening, I came back for the struggle.

The other is perfection. I dislike when a novel is basically “we’re awesome, now we’re going over there to be more awesome, and then we’ll be awesome again”. I feel that about the protagonist in Pyromancer by Don Callander. (And the Exalted RPG, but that was the point.) I want to see failures, idiocy, and brain dead decisions in the reader’s eye that make sense in the character’s. Those stories pull me in a lot more and keep over time.

One of the books I’ve really enjoyed rereading several times is The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. I loved reading it as a kid, and I find it still holds up quite well today.


I have not read this book yet, so thanks for the recommendation! Can you explain why you think it holds up well?

Although science fiction from before the 1980s feels often dated, I do find the reflection of the time it was written in very intriguing. More so than from books of different genres written in those years. Might be an interesting topic for historians to explore someday.

I find a lot of sci-fi authors fall into a trap of being anchored to the society of the day. So, their world end up being basically reflections of the world they live in where doors go whoosh.

Meanwhile, Clarke understood that there is a symbiosis between society and technology both necessarily shaping each other. So he doesn’t simply imagine how some new technology would apply within the society of his day, but how a more advanced society shaped by advanced technology might function.

Clarke also had a knack for describing things in a way where he gives the reader the idea of the general concept and the science behind it without going into too much technical detail regarding how it might be implemented. So, as long as the general idea is still valid, the reader can interpret it in a way that makes sense to them based on the technology of the time.

Fantasy books, stories, &c
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