A Quick Run-Down of Every F1 Title Decider So Far

As you may be aware, tomorrow will see the final race of the 2021 Formula One season, and for the first time in many years, we go into the finale with the Drivers’ Championship still on the line: Max Verstappen and Sir Lewis Hamilton are exactly level on points. It’s exciting, if you’re a fan; and if you’re a recent fan it must seem remarkable. The battle for the title hasn’t gone to the wire since 2016, and even then that was only a contest between teammates. In the big picture, however, title-deciders aren’t actually that rare: of the 70 seasons of F1 completed so far, 30 have seen at least two drivers separated by less than the available number of points at the final race – and it’s not just because the early seasons had fewer races. As little as a decade ago, this sort of title-decider was commonplace, or even the norm: between 1994 and 2013 inclusive, 11 seasons came down to the final race, and only 9 didn’t. But it’s easy to forget those old races, so I thought I’d quickly run down (for my own benefit, mostly), every title-decider in F1 history so far, as we wait to see what happens tomorow…


1950: 3 points (3 drivers)
The first championship was an in-house contest between three Alfa Romeo drivers: the experienced Luigi Fagioli and Nino Farina (both GP winners in the 1930s) and young (only 39!) upstart Juan Manuel Fangio. Fangio had dominated the 1949 season (along with Alberto Ascari), but didn’t have 1950 all his own way: Farina and Fangio traded wins for the first four races (discounting the Indy 500, theoretically a championship race but not contested by any championship contender), before Fangio pulled ahead by winning the fifth. The veteran Fagioli, meanwhile, had shown impressive consistency, coming second in four races. Arriving in Monza for the finale, therefore, Fangio led on 26 points, ahead of Fagioli on 24 and Farina on 22, with 8 points for a win. However, only the best four races counted for the title (to allow for the reliability problems of the era), which meant that a win for Fagioli would only count for 2 points (as it would have to replace one of his 6-point 2nds) – he could only take the title with both a win and a fastest lap (for which there was a bonus point available). Farina and Fangio, however, could earn the full 8, and a win would ensure either the title. It was a race of attrition, in which only 7 out of 27 cars finished; and although Fangio took pole, he double-retired (his car failed, so he stole someone else’s car, until that also failed), allowing Farina to take the win and, overtaking both his teammates, the title.

1951: 6 points (3(?) drivers)
After an inaugural season hamstrung by mechanical problems, Ferrari returned to the front in 1951, setting up a final-race decider between the two greatest drivers of the era: Alfa’s Fangio and Ferrari’s Ascari. Ascari needed to finish ahead of Fangio in the final race, and to himself be either 1st or 2nd. Ascari’s teammate, José Froilán González, could also have taken the title, had he won the race with the fastest lap, and Fangio not scored – at least I think that’s true, though thanks to complicated rules involving count-backs, race-dropping, and car-stealing (Fangio had a win in Fagioli’s car, leading Fagioli to quit the sport on the spot, while González had had his own 2nd place stolen by Ascari). In any case, it was again the cars that let the Ferrari drivers down, with high tyre degradation leading to an excess of pit-stops; Fangio cruised to victory in both the race and the championship.

1956: 3 points (2 drivers)
It seemed unlikely, going into the final race, that Fangio could lose the title: his rival Peter Collins would have to win the race, with Fangio third or lower, to overtake him. But when Fangio retired, leaving Collins in second place and only a few seconds behind the all-important lead (held by Stirling Moss), it suddenly seemed achievable… except that Collins preferred to lose, and voluntarily handed his car over to Fangio to allow the superior driver to defeat him for the title (and Moss to overtake him for 2nd in the championship standings). Collin’s generosity is particularly striking in light of the fact that Fangio was only in contention at all because Collins had previously given him his car in Monaco – where Fangio had crashed twice, before deciding to simply sit in the garage and relax for twenty laps, before calling Collins in from 2nd so that Fangio could hijack his race. Had Collins simply kept his own cars (and been allowed to do so), his results would have seen him win the title easily; Fangio, meanwhile, had only succeeded in finishing three races under his own steam all year, having also stolen Luigi Musso’s car in Argentina.

1958: 1 point (2 drivers)
Stirling Moss took the fastest lap, and won the race by a minute and a half after backing off in the later stages, but Mike Hawthorn’s second place was enough to win him the title by a single point. As in 1956, the title was essentially abdicated by English politeness – after Hawthorn had been penalised in the Portuguese GP, Moss had demanded that his rival’s points be reinstated, ultimately leading to his loss of the championship.

1959: 4 points (3 drivers)
A win for either Moss or Tony Brooks would have taken the title; indeed, Moss only needed a podium. But Moss retired (he only finished three races that season), and Brooks could manage only third, one place ahead of title-winner Jack Brabham. All three drivers had won 2 of the 9 races; however, in a season when only the best five results counted, only 4 of the 41 drivers to enter races that year (not even counting the Indy 500 competitors) actually achieved 5 whole results, and Brabham was the only man to make the top 5 in at least 5 races. (the only man to finish more races than Brabham was the veteran Maurice Trintignant, who astonishingly finished all 8 races he contested).

(1961: 1 point)
The 1961 season did not go down to the final race in the US; with two races to go, three drivers were in the hunt, but after the penultimate race Phil Hill was champion. It feels worth mentioning this season, however, for one particular reason: the only reason Hill wasn’t forced to wait until his home race to take the title was that his rival, Wolfgang von Tripps, died in the penultimate race, in Italy. In this case, only mortal biology, not mathematics, ensured that the title could not change hands at the last race.

1962: 12 points (2 drivers)
With 20 laps to go, the title was in the lap of Jim Clark – victory in the race, which Clark was leading comfortably, would have seen him end level on points with Graham Hill, and take the title through number of victories. But Clark’s fragile Lotus couldn’t hold it together, succumbing to an oil leak, and handing both race and championship to Hill. It would be the fourth race that season in which Clark would take pole only to retire.

1964: 1 point (3 drivers)
With 1 lap to go, the title was in the lap of Jim Clark – victory in the race, which Clark was leading comfortably, would see him end level on points with Graham Hill, and take the title through number of victories. But Clark’s fragile Lotus couldn’t hold it together, succumbing to an oil leak, and handing both race and championship to Hill – or at least so it seemed until the final few corners, when Ferrari team orders, communicated through frantic trackside waving after some last-moment mental arithmetic, succeeded in moving John Surtees from 3rd place into 2nd, to snatch the title from Hill by a single point. [In fact, Hill finished the season having collected one point more than Surtees – but lost due to the rule that he could only count points from his best six races.] As the three rivals raced for different teams, this was also the first season in which three constructors – Ferrari, BRM and Lotus – entered the final GP with a chance (and a viable chance!) of the Constructor’s Title.

1967: 5 points (2 drivers)
Clark’s five retirements in the season had already cost him the title by the Mexican GP – his chances were blown in his legendary drive at Monza two races earlier (he pitted to replace a tyre and chased back to regain the lead, but ran out of fuel on the final lap). But two drivers were still in the hunt: Jack Brabham needed to win the final race, with Denny Hulme finishing fifth or lower. Unfortunately for him, neither of those conditions came to pass, with Hulme finishing one place behind Brabham, in 3rd, and Clark winning the race by a minute and a half, despite his car having been without a clutch for almost the entire race.

1968: 12 points (3 drivers)
Seeking his second title, Hulme needed to win, with Jackie Stewart no higher than 3rd, and Graham Hill no higher than 6th; Stewart needed to beat Hill by 2 places and be at least 4th, and to be no more than 3 places behind Hulme, or 2nd if Hulme won; Hill needed to come within 2 places of Stewart, and to come at least 5th if Hulme won. But as it happened, all this mathematics was largely irrelevant, as Stewart finished outside the points, and Hulme finished on fire. Hill won the race, and the title.

1974: 3 points (3 drivers)
For the second year in a row, the season ended with the tradition of a driver (this time Helmuth Koinigg) being gruesomely killed by badly-installed safety apparatus at Watkins Glen. As usual, this was not allowed to distract from the events, however, with only Niki Lauda retiring out of respect for the dead (and only after mechanical problems had made clear he would not be enjoying the day in any case). At the front of the championship, Clay Regazzoni was level on points with Emerson Fittipaldi, with Jody Scheckter needing a win and for neither of his rivals to finish. The contest was over almost from the start, however, as Regazzoni struggled with mechanical problems and finished out of the points, Scheckter retired with mechanical problems, and Fittipaldi safely finished 4th.

1976: 1 point (2 drivers)
With five wins, two seconds and a third from the first nine races, Lauda seemed unstoppable again, as he had been the year before. But his crash at the German GP threw everything into doubt, including Lauda’s life – with disfiguring facial burns and badly damaged lungs, the champion was read the last rites. Energised by the thought of James Hunt stealing his title, however, Lauda rose from his deathbed, missing only two races – although he struggled early on in his return, in part because blood from his open scars filled and congealed in his helmet, welding it to his head. A podium position in the penultimate race, however, put him back in pole position for the title, needing only to finish ahead of Hunt, or close behind him, to take a second title. But the Japanese GP was contested in thick fog and heavy rain, with many drivers calling for the race to be abandoned (which would have handed Lauda the title); although it went ahead, four drivers voluntarily retired from the race in order to avoid the excessive risk of death – and Lauda was one of them. Hunt still needed to finish fourth or higher, and was only fifth on the track – until two laps before the checkered flag, when he accidentally overtook two cars to take a podium and (although he didn’t realise it at the time) the championship.

(1978: 13 points)
As with 1961, this season deserves mention despite having been decided three races early: Mario Andretti’s closest rival, Ronnie Peterson, was not in a position to take the title to the final GP (he would have needed a 1st and a 2nd from the final two races) only because he had been killed in the antepenultimate race.

1981: 1 point (3 drivers)
The season came down to the ultimate driving challenge: a number of laps around a car park out the back of a casino in Las Vegas. If Jacques Lafitte did not finish first or second, either Carlos Reutemann or Nelson Piquet would win by finishing ahead of the other (Piquet also need to be at least 5th); if Lafitte did come first or second, the permutations became more complicated, including the possibility (if Lafitte won, Piquet took third and Reutemann came fourth) of all three drivers finishing exactly level on points (Lafitte taking the title through a higher number second-place finishes). Reutemann seemed to have the advantage, taking pole – but his teammate Alan Jones (who refused to assist Reutemann on the grounds that “I am a member of the British Commonwealth” and thus morally prohibited from teamwork) overtook him into the first corner, and he was soon slipping down the grid with serious mechanical trouble. Lafitte never troubled the leaders, and Piquet survived two perils – erratic breaking from Reutemann (Piquet accused him of trying to crash them both out, scuttling his damaged car to take the title) and the unbearable American heat (he was physically sick in qualifying, and collapsed after the race) to take fifth, and the title.

1982: 5 points (2 or 3 drivers)
How many men were in contention for the title going into this year’s jaunt around the car park depends on exactly when you count. Until the list of competitors was finalised, it was three: Keke Rosberg led Didier Pironi by only three points, with John Watson six more behind. The complication was that Pironi had suffered catastrophic leg injuries earlier in the season (in a crash similar to that in which his teammate Gilles Villeneuve had been killed) and had missed three races in a row. Nobody really expected him to make it to the Las Vegas startline, and when the lights went out the contenders were indeed down to only two, with Watson needing victory and a poor race for Rosberg to make up the deficit (Pironi, meanwhile, would never race again). This was the second season in which three constructors went into the final race with a chance of the team title. In the race, Watson suffered a bad start, but fought his way from twelfth back up to second; yet his heroics were irrelevant, as Rosberg’s fifth place would have been enough to secure the title no matter who won the race. Michele Alboreto became the 11th driver to win a race that season, while Ferrari somehow took the Constructor’s title, despite losing both their starting drivers to career-ending (and in one case fatal) injuries. Rosberg became the second man, after Hawthorn, to win a title despite having won only a single race.

1983: 2 points (3 drivers)
For the third year in a row, three drivers were still mathematically capable of winning the title going into the final race – and unlike the previous year, all three would be on the start grid. Prost was two points ahead of Piquet, with René Arnoux six more behind and needing a win. His hopes were over by lap 9, however, when his complicated turbo engine failed; this left Prost, in third, needing to overtake Piquet, the leader; yet his hopes were also soon over, when his complicated turbo engine failed. Piquet, however, was soon slowing himself, putting his title in jeopardy – from first, he fell back to fourth, knowing that the loss of one more place would cost him the title. Fortunately for him, Lauda’s complicated turbo engine then failed, giving Piquet the podium and the championship.

1984: ½ point (2 drivers)
The streak of nail-biting seasons continued with the closest result in history. In 1976, Lauda had lost the title when he refused to race in terrible conditions in Japan, but in 1984 the weather turned the title in the opposite direction. Lauda had spun out in the wet in Monaco, and Prost, struggling with mechanical failure and with a dwindling lead, successfully demanded from the cockpit that the race be stopped, ensuring him the win – a controversial ruling, given that the race director was Prost’s Porsche teammate, and that he did not consult race stewards. The last laugh at the end of the season, however, belonged to Lauda: the early stoppage at Monaco meant that only half points were awarded for that race, costing Prost 4½ points. That meant that at the final race in Portugal, Lauda’s fate was in his own hands: although Prost took the victory, Lauda was able to take second (albeit only thanks to Mansell’s engine failure) and the title, with a historically narrow margin of victory.

1986: 2 points (3 drivers)
Williams had the fastest car in 1986, but suffered from an abundance of drivers – third-placed Piquet had repeatedly taken points from first-placed Mansell, leaving Prost to sneak up to within six points of the title. The final race started well enough, with Mansell in command – but after 63 laps, the title slipped through his grasp due to his failure to crash. A tyre burst, leaving the car out of control and unable to continue, but Mansell successfully, yet disasterously, piloted it to a stop without colliding with anything. Had he suffered a large accident in the process, the race director was standing by ready to red-flag it, handing the title to Mansell; but instead, Mansell watched, unharmed but disinherited, as Prost cruised home to win the race ahead of Piquet and take the title.

1994: 1 point (2 drivers)
Michael Schumacher and Benetton started the season clearly ahead of their rivals Williams; but by the final round, Williams driver Damon Hill had won four of the last five races and was now only a single point behind Schumacher. Schumacher now had only two ways to win the title: beat Hill fairly and squarely on track, or cheat. As we know, however, he never had to make that choice, as fortunately for him he accidentally unaccountably crashed into the side of Hill’s car halfway through the race, putting both drivers out of the grand prix, but ensuring Schumacher became champion.

1996: 19 points (2 drivers)
It was never likely that Jacques Villeneuve would steal this title in the final race: he not only needed to win, but also needed his teammate, Hill, not to score. He did take pole, but a long shot got longer when a bad start put him in sixth by the end of the opening lap, and all hope was gone once a wheel fell off halfway through the race. Hill won the title; but Villeneuve perhaps had the last laugh, as it was Hill who was then fired by their team.

1997: 39 points (2 drivers)
Williams and Benetton were neck and neck this season in speed, but poor early reliability had allowed Schumacher to build a significant lead. By the final round, however, those problems seemingly behind them, Williams driver Jacques Villeneuve had won three of the last six races and was now only a single point behind Schumacher. This meant that Schumacher now had only two ways to win the title: beat Villeneuve fair and square on the track, or cheat. As we know, however, he never had to make that choice, as fortunately for him a bizarre steering wheel twitch crashed him into the side of Villeneuve’s car halfway through the race, seemingly making Schumacher champion. The story this year, however, was a little more complicated: although Schumacher’s car was wrecked Villeneuve’s was only damaged, and the Canadian was able to limp home holding onto third place, and enough points to finish three ahead of Schumacher and take the title. That margin then blossomed into the largest winning margin of any season that had been decided in the final race, when the authorities disqualified Schumacher from the season entirely.

1998: 14 points (2 drivers)
Schumacher’s run of bad luck in finales continued, but this time affected nobody but himself. Four points behind, he needed a win, and for rival Hakkinen to finish no higher than third – he kept his hopes alive by taking pole, though Hakkinen joined him on the front row. Everything went wrong, however, when Schumacher rolled forward from his starting position on the grid and stalled, earning himself demotion to the back of the grid. Nonetheless, he fought his way back up to third, before more bad luck – a puncture – ended his hopes entirely. Hakkinen won both the race and the title.

1999: 2 points (2 drivers)
In 1999, Schumacher lost the title long before the final race, when he broke a leg at Silverstone; but he returned for the final two races still able to win the title for his teammate, Eddie Irvine. He took pole, while Irvine was fifth – first and fourth would give Irvine the title. Irvine did his part, fighting up to third, but Schumacher was beaten off the line, and never able to regain the lead from Hakkinen, finishing five seconds behind the Finn. Irvine could still have finished level on points with Hakkinen, had Schumacher agreed to let him past, but would have lost on countback in any case.

2003: 2 points (2 drivers)
There were nearly three contenders at Japan in 2003 – but Juan Pablo Montoya’s sixth place at the preceding race now meant that the best he could do was tie Schumacher on points and lose on countback. Kimi Raikkonen, however, was still a live contender: with a 9 point deficit and 10 points for a win, he needed to come 1st and have Schumacher come no higher than 9th. He came close, but failed in both regards: he took 2nd, and Schumacher took 8th. Montoya didn’t finish the race.

2006:  13 points (2 drivers)
A close season was derailed at the end by Schumacher’s continuing bad luck (or karma). Having lead with two races to go, he suffered a retirement in the penultimate race, meaning he suddenly needed a win, with Fernando Alonso scoring nothing. A further mysterious technical failure landed him down in 10th in qualifying; when he tried to force Alonso’s teammate, Fisichella, off the road on lap 6, he made contact and suffered a puncture, leaving him in last place and a lap down. Schumacher put up an impressive fight, making his way back up to 4th, but as Alonso was safely home in 2nd, it was all in vain.

2007: 1 point (3 drivers)
Although 2007 saw the first three-way shootout in over 20 years, it didn’t seem in advance as though it would be a nailbiter: even if Alonso won the race, McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton could take the title simply by coming home immediately behind him; if Alonso did not win (a possibility, with two Ferraris acting as potential spoilers), his chances became even smaller, as he would be behind on countback – 2nd place for Alonso, and Hamilton would only need 5th, and Hamilton had only finished lower than 5th once that season. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was seven points off the lead and only a mathematical consideration. Hamilton’s arithmetic seemed to be wrapped up after qualifying, when he took 2nd (behind Felipe Massa, not a challenger for the title), two places ahead of Alonso. Things came rapidly apart, however: a terrible start left Hamilton in 8th, and a few laps later a gearbox issue left him needing to turn his onboard computer off and on again. By the time it had rebooted, he was down in 18th, and his title hopes were ruined. At the front, Alonso was unable to catch the leading Ferraris, and Raikkonen took the win, catapulting himself from third to first in the rankings. Hamilton, meanwhile, fought back to take 7th, ensuring he would take 2nd in the season rankings from his teammate on countback.

2008: 1 point (2 drivers)
Hamilton again came to Brazil with a strong lead, this time over Massa – fifth place would guarantee him the title, no matter what Massa did. Unfortunately, Hamilton had been having a year of disasterous misjudgments that had turned what should have been a cruise to victory into a nailbiter – multiple collisions and track limits violations had seen him repeatedly penalised, either by the authorities or by physics; most shocking of all was the Canadian GP incident in which he caused a multiple-car collision in the pitlane. As a result, the title seemed only precariously in his grasp: he had finished lower than fifth, or not finished, in almost a third of the season’s races, equal to the number of races he had won. Hamilton chose a cautious approach in the finale, opting for a high-fuel strategy that saw him 4th on the grid; but despite no clear catastrophe occuring, variable weather and complex strategies, and an overtake by Sebastian Vettel with just two laps to go, had forced him down to 6th entering the final lap, and as Massa crossed the in first, he believed he was the champion. Behind, however, the weather was playing one last trick, as Timo Glock attempted to navigate the final lap on dry tyres, when all other cars were on intermediates. Hamilton fought in vain to repass Vettel; but Glock’s car was now undriveable, and both Vettel and then, at the final corner of the final lap, Hamilton sailed past (almost literally), giving Hamilton 5th place, and the title. Glock, meanwhile, didn’t know he’d lost two places until after the race – his visibility was so poor, and his car so far off the racing line, that he hadn’t even seen the cars go past him.

2010: 4 points (4 drivers)
For the first time, after a season in which there had been five championship leaders, and five multiple winners, four drivers still contested the title at the final race – while the constructor’s title was still theoretically in the balance between two teams, neither of which boasted the leading driver. That leading driver was Alonso, six points ahead of closest rival Mark Webber – a margin that a year earlier would have seemed comfortable, but that had been devalued by a major change in points allocations (from 10-8-6(etc) to 25-18-15(etc)). If Webber won, in other words, he would take the title; if Webber came 2nd, a 4th place for Alonso would be enough on countback. Meanwhile, however, Webber’s junior teammate, Vettel, also had a theoretical chance, a further seven points back thanks to a win in the preceding race. If Vettel won, Alonso would need to be at least 4th. Finally, Lewis Hamilton retained a mathematical chance of a second title, but needed Alonso not to score, and the Red Bull drivers to finish low in the points (his own teammate, defending champion Jenson Button, had only been eliminated from contention at the penultimate race). Everything seemed to be going Alonso’s way after qualifying – Vettel took pole, but Alonso was safely in 3rd, with Webber down in 5th – but in the end the strategic challenge of facing two teammates at once was too much to overcome. When Webber pitted early, Alonso responded to prevent an undercut; but in the process of staying ahead of Webber, he gave up the chance to stay close to Vettel; this ought not to have been a problem, as Alonso still needed only 4th – but Renault, and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, had chosen a clever off-rhythm strategy that put them ahead of the championship leader, and on the angular street circuit of Abu Dhabi Alonso was unable to pass the trio, finishing in 7th. Sebastian Vettel therefore won the title – having been in 4th with two races to go, he became the first champion since Hunt not to have led at any point in the year until the final checkered flag.

2012: 3 points (2 drivers)
After a complicated season in which four drivers alternated at the the championship standings, only two were left in contention in Brazil: Alonso and Vettel. Vettel had a wide lead, and Alonso (in arguably only the fourth-best car) needed a dramatic swing in his favour in Brazil, which seemed out of the question once Vettel qualified four places ahead of him. But Vettel’s hotheadedness, poor luck, and Brazil’s difficult weather conditions resulted in a series of calamities for the German: a bad start; a collision; engine damage and a crack in the car itself that saw the team turn down engine performance and pray for a safety car, just to finish the race without catching fire; a terrible pit stop (caused by the failure of Vettel’s radio). Alonso, conversely, benefited immensely when Hamilton and Nico Hülkenberg crashed out ahead of him, allowing him up to 2nd position. But Alonso could not pass Button for the lead, and Vettel gradually fought back to 7th, the position he needed, before being gifted 6th for safety by countryman Schumacher in his final race. The deployment of a safety car ensured Vettel would survive to the checkered flag, to take the title.

2016: 5 points (2 drivers)
Reigning champion Hamilton found himself 12 points behind his teammate Rosberg heading into the final race: Rosberg knew a podium would guarantee the title, and in a car lightyears ahead of the opposition this would ordinarily have been almost a forgone conclusion. In the last 11 races, each Mercedes driver had finished off the podium only once, and neither of these poor had been due to racing pace (Rosberg having once been relegated to 4th through a penalty, Hamilton having once retired with engine failure). Even a major disaster, like Rosberg suffering a first-lap collision that left him at the back of the grid, had been unable to prevent a podium finish, and the dominance of the Mercedes was only growing: the last three races had been Hamilton-Rosberg 1-2s. Facing long odds, Hamilton tried to skew the game through a cunning strategy: having taken pole on an Abu Dhabi track on which overtaking was exceptionally difficult without a clear speed advantage, Hamilton intentionally drove slowly (defying the repeated commands of his team), bringing the pack together, negating Rosberg’s speed advantage over the cars behind him, and putting him at risk of strategic calls by the other teams, particularly in the event of a poorly-timed safety car. But Rosberg successfully fended off Vettel to the end – resulting in one of the few races of the modern era in which the third driver on the podium finished less than a second behind the winner – and a fourth consecutive 1-2 gave Rosberg his title, at the final last-race showdown in F1 history… so far.

Pointing out a little update…

So, it’s a new year. It’s also, a little unbelievably, a new decade, at least for this blog – I started this back in December 2008. In ‘honour’ of that, I thought I should probably update a few things around the place that I’ve been meaning to do for ages (maybe even move to a new theme that actually uses more than 20% of the screen for content…).

Then, of course, I got ‘flu. That’s what happens when you start getting too decisive…

But one thing I have done is create a new index for my book reviews. Rather than going alphabetically, this time I’ve gone by rating, from brilliant down to eye-gougingly bad, which may be more immediately useful for people than a big alphabetical list – although do feel free to tell me I’m an idiot for doing it this way. I’ve also taken the opportunity to explain a little more about what those ratings mean in my practice.

[in other news, I did mean to be posting more this month, but… yeah. Aside from influenza, and other distractions, I’ve gotten bogged down in a review, and at the same time bogged down in a truly gargantuan (and relentlessly dour) novel, so… I would apologise for lack of content, but after a decade of this that would sort of ring hollow at this point…]

 

A Call for Recommendations!

So, it’s allegedly a new year now (although I’m still suspicious – is there any chance we could have a recount?). And a new year brings with it, like whelks adhered to a hull, new ambitions and determinations. Or in my case, the same ambitions as before, but again. Like: I should read more.

Specifically, I want to read both more, and more widely. So I’m hoping some people might take pity on me and make some recommendations. I’d like to suggest six categories:

1. A classic (say, pre-1985) fantasy novel.

2. A “literary” novel from the 20th century.

3. A notable but underappreciated fantasy novel from the 21st century.

4. A popular fantasy novel from the last two or three years.

5. A “literary” novel from the last two or three years.

6. A science fiction novel from the 21st century.

7. A “popular”, “mainstream” novel of recent decades. I don’t know, a Grisham or a Clancy or something – but not TOO unreadable, please.

 

In each case, standalone novels are preferred, although I won’t automatically rule out, say, a book that happens to have a sequel.

For the “classic” fantasy novel, I’ve read a few of the big names already – there’s no point suggesting Tolkien, Lewis, Eddings, Brooks, Donaldson or Feist. And you can consider Cabell pre-suggested (as I hope to gradually read through his oeuvre over the years). But it would be nice to find something less famous that was still an interesting read.

For 20th century literary novels, Sholokov is already on the list (indeed, I’ve started, paused, and am now waiting for a non-abridged translation). You needn’t suggest Sinclair Lewis (although I doubt anyone was going to anyway…). I’ll be skeptical of suggestions of Hemmingway, having tried and failed to be interested in the past.

For 21st century fantasy, I don’t actually know that much, although I’ve read some Abercrombie and Abraham (as well as 90s holdovers like Hobb and Martin).

In general, I like to think I’m open-minded – I can appreciate beautifully-written classics, and genuinely gripping potboilers. I’m more inclined to like things that seem interesting and unexpected, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

I’m not necessarily looking for books to change my life. I’m looking to try to get more of a sense of what people are reading in categories like these where perhaps I’m currently too ignorant – although if I can learn while also enjoying the experience, that would be ideal…

Any suggestions gratefully received…

Tough Travelling: Assassins

Thought I’d have another (typically belated) go at Tough Travelling. This week, we’re dealing with Assassins:

Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

  Continue reading

Tough Travelling – Beginnings

Tough Travelling – the fantasy-trope-based blog challenge, is back! I only took part once or twice in the individual version, and I don’t see this being a weekly thing for me. But what better time to join in than for the inaugural edition of the new version? (now operated by Fantasy Faction)

This week, the theme is “beginnings”, and refers to the common trope of fantasy novels beginning: “in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’” (the inner quote is from Diana Wynne Jones).

I’m largely going to ignore that. Well, I’m not, but for my response to that, see the bottom of this post.

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Looking for recent Fantasy/SF

So, if you’re reading this you probably know I’m a fantasy fan… sort of. Because the truth is, I haven’t actively been reading new fantasy novels since the early part of the last decade. Since then, I’ve been mostly re-reading books, following a couple of my favourite authors (Hobb, Martin, Pratchett have lasted the longest), and now and then catching up on something I might have read as a kid but never actually did [plus trying to catch up on some classic SF, and even some non-genre works].

And I’m not going to suddenly go back to being a huge pulp fantasy reader. Don’t have the time or the energy.

But there’s been a meme this week, ‘which popular series have you secretly not read?’ or the like… and I look at people’s answers, and not only have I not read any of these popular series, I haven’t even heard of most of them! And this has pushed me to a crisis (er… in the technical sense, not the melodramatic sense!) that I’ve been heading toward for a while now.

I need to go at least a little way toward actually catching up on some of what everybody else has been reading the last decade.

But since I’ve not been reading it, I don’t know what it is.

So. I’m going to buy some books. Does anybody have any suggestions as to what I should buy?

– should mostly be fantasy, or maybe approachable SF
– should have been written in the last 15 years or so
– not necessarily THE biggest series, but should be fairly well known (unless it’s really fantastic, of course!)- I’m not hugely interested in grimdark for the sake of grimdark, although I don’t mind some mature content in a good cause
– I’m not really interested in political screeds and gimmicky pointscoring, whether it’s from the ‘Left’ or from the ‘Right’. I don’t mind sincere ideological content under the skin of a book, but if its main attraction is it being politically ‘right on’ for some readers, it’ll probably irritate me.
– I like intellectual, artistic, unique books. On the other hand, I can also appreciate big dumb fun books. [what tends to irritate me is books that pretend to be intellectual, artistic and unique, while actually being commercial and simplistic]
– I can really love huge tomes. I love Hobb’s giant books, I really quite liked Martin’s latest even gianter book. I can love big series. On the other hand, I don’t have has much time or energy for this as I used to have, so a huge long book or a massive series is going to have to be really good to get me to stick with it. And ideally it should get good very quickly if it wants to hook me.
– In terms of subgenre, I’d really like to discover some new epic fantasy to get into. But I have eclectic tastes, and I’m will to try pretty much anything, even romance (I actually really like romance stories in theory… I just almost always find them infuriatingly awful in practice; by ‘awful’, I mostly mean too much inauthentic and overly-cliché angsting).
– oh, and at present I only read actual, physical books. Feel free to mention things only available digitally, since I do intend to move with the times eventually, but I’m mostly looking for actual paper things I can buy.

 

Three things NOT to recommend to me: Seraphina, which I’ve read (liked it, I’ll buy the sequel, but I didn’t love it); Gail Carriger and Joe Abercrombie – I’ve got copies of books by both of them, which I do intend to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet.

 

So, anyone got some good ideas for me? [Many thanks in advance for your help!]

TOUGH TRAVELLING – True Love

tough-travelingTrue Love

Love has often not been Fantasy’s strong suite – unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a genre for so long primarily marketed at geeky teenage boys. As among many geeky teenage boys, there was sort of an apprehension that love was incredibly important and solved all your problems, but not really too much idea of what exactly it entailed. The love of Aragorn and Arwen, for instance, or of Rosie and Sam, was ideal for a fantasy novel: signposted from the beginning so as not to be a cause of any anxiety or confusion, then conveniently absent while all the exciting stuff was going on so as not to get in the way, and finally dealt with once and for all with a marriage at the end of the book, because as we all know real life ends with marriage…

…but along the way, the genre has produced the odd interesting pairing. Some truly moving; others, just truly disturbing. Here, in accordance with this ‘Tough Travelling’ meme that I keep meaning to participate in but never quite get around to, are a few that I can think of.

All are variants on the idea of ‘true love’ as presented in Fantasy; some may be more loving, or more true, than others. The meme calls for five… I ended up with 13. Well, 14, technically. But then I do way fewer than 1 in 3 of these, so I reckon I’m still in deficit…

Warning: beyond this point lie moderate spoilers for the works of Tolkien, Feist, Wurts, Weiss, Hickman, Eddings, Abrams, McCaffrey, Abrams, Hobb, Jordan, Green, Donaldson, Pratchett, Gentle, and Nyx Smith…

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Longest books I’ve read…

Just on a whim, I had a quick look to try to find the longest books I’ve read. Now, two things must be noted: first, that I’m taking ‘longest’ fairly literally. And, second, that I’m taking ‘book’ literally. So these are the single volumes that I have read in that format that have the most pages. This isn’t the highest wordcount, which would be very hard to calculate. It also isn’t the literal dimensions of the book, which depends on the paper as well as the page count, and would involve me using a ruler for every book. It’s just a simple metric, and is entirely unfair, as it depends on which edition I happen to have of which book (most importantly hardcover vs paperback). But just for fun… the 30 longest books, in page counts, I’m aware of having read:

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Reading List Revamped…

…so I’ve finally gotten around to revamping my old posts on a fan poll I did years back that aimed to produce a recommended reading list for the SF&F genre.

The page is up over here.

Tough Travelling: Immortals

 

As per last week, I’m following along in Nathan’s footsteps as he wanders through his copy of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. This week: Immortals. The Guide splits this into three subtypes: Gods and the like (who cannot die unless people stop believing in them); Elves, Dark Lords and so forth (who cannot die unless they are killed); and immortal humans.

Since there are just so many immortals in genre novels, even in the relatively small number that I’ve read (and the smaller number that I remember), I think I’m going to do three lists, one for each of those categories. Even then, the second and third lists may be a little long…

Oh, and last week someone said that my picks were a little eclectic. I’m hoping to continue that theme!

 

So, let’s start off with ‘Gods’. I’m including here anything that can’t be killed, and that is in some way a fundamental part of the world (i.e. not just an invulnerable human). Here’s my slightly recondite five:

 

1. K’z’k – Sluggy Freelance (Pete Abrams)

K’z’k’s status is somewhat unclear: perhaps a mere world-ending demon, perhaps the quintessential embodiment of destruction itself. What does seem clear (although that may change in the coming days, thanks to timing…) is that he/she can’t be killed. The annoyingly cheerful bug-monster just sort of seems to shatter into pieces, lodged in texts or in people’s minds, waiting for a chance to rise again, piece by piece. Some of those pieces are themselves sentient, so I suppose theoretically there’s a whole bunch of K’z’k’s wandering around at times. Anyway, despite being found in the lowly and disreputable local of a mere webcomic, K’z’k deserves to be on this list both for the hydra-like mechanism of his/her immortality and for her/his sheer force of psychotic personality – Abrams manages to make his Big Bad into something inhuman, funny, monstrous, strange, and really irritating in a creepy way. The fact it can raise hordes of the undead helps too.

2. Odin – The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul (Douglas Adams)

Lots of books have the ancient gods living among us, either in some sort of tangential world that intersects with ours, or else surviving in some hidden places. Sometimes those gods are powerful; sometimes, they’ve fallen on hard times. In Adams’ book, however, Valhalla is St Pancras Station, and many of the Norse gods live as tramps. The patron of that clan, the all-wise, all-knowing Odin, is currently residing in a nursing home, where he sleeps 22 hours a day, and while he may think he’s still got his wits, it’s not entirely clear that he’s up for dealing with all the complexities of the modern world – such as lawyers.

3. Tzadkiel – The Urth of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe)

What is Tzadkiel? Who knows. I think it’s probably some sort of interdimensional angel-robot constructed by a doubly-ascended ‘earlier’ iteration of humanity, but your mileage may vary. Whatever it is, it’s able to reside is the superdimension of Yesod and as the power to judge humanity, and control major astrophysical parameters. It’s also something that exists in many fragments, at least one of which has been banished (by itself? who knows?) to a place beyond (or between) realities. It may also be a boat. It’s a Gene Wolfe novel, what do you expect, clarity?

4. The Lady of Pain – The Planescape RPG setting (various)

The Lady of Pain has a very spikey face. She may or may not be a god. At some point in the past, she arrived in the toroidal portal city of Sigil (which floats at the top of an infinitely tall spire), and quickly disposed of the god that previously ruled there. Since then, she’s ruled with an iron, and very spiky, but somewhat absenteeist, fist. Humans get on with their own business, and as long as they don’t cross certain metaphorical lines, she gets on with hers – whatever that may be. In a setting, and a city, where gods and archdevils wander about the streets getting in drunken brawls, it takes a lot to be mysterious and aloof, but the Lady certainly is. Those who cross her – by molesting her mindless ‘dabus’ servants, for instance, or worst of all by praying to her – come to unpleasant ends. I believe flaying alive has been involved on some occasions. What she’s most famous for, however, is the punishment of ‘mazing’ – teleporting an enemy to a small personal prison-dimension from which escape is almost impossible. Yes, the Lady may be a plot device, a virtually omnipotent dea ex machina, but she’s a memorable one, and her inscrutable danger and strange appearance perfectly set the tone for the magnificently baroque setting.

5. Counter-flow – Interesting Times (Terry Pratchett)

When you say ‘gods who don’t die unless you stop believing in them’, everyone will think of Pratchett. And it’s tempting to include Om, or Angus (the personal god of one mad stylite), or P’tang-P’tang, or Offler the Crocodile God, or the Verruca Gnome, or Teg the Horse-Headed God of Agriculture, or Fate and the Lady, Death, Myria St Jean, or Mr Safe Way. Gods and immortals are everywhere in the Discworld. But that very ubiquity is why these more famous deities don’t capture the essence of Pratchett’s setting. Instead, I’ve gone for one of the most obscure, demonstrating just how omnipresent immortality is in this world: a round of applause if you please for Counter-flow, one of the Four Dread Horsemen of Public Holidays!

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Now, how about elves’? In this category I’m including everything that doesn’t naturally die, but that can be killed – things that start out immortal, not that become so in some way. Here are five examples:

1. Artanis – assorted works (J.R.R. Tolkien)

We can’t talk about elves without mentioning Papa Tolkien. So which elf should we pick? Feänor has the most personality, I think. Or perhaps the continually overlooked Cirdan, oldest of the elves in Middle-Earth? But I’ll go with Artanis, who in The Lord of the Rings is known as Galadriel (a translation of the ‘pet name’ her husband calls her by). Artanis is fiery and headstrong from the beginning, friend and kinswoman to Feänor – the Silmarils are apparently inspired by the way her hair caught the light of the Two Trees. It’s not made explicit whether she participates in the fratricidal massacre Feänor carries out, but she does leave Valinor with him – true to her strong will, she picks a middle course, refusing to abide by the will of the gods, but also refusing to swear oaths to Feänor or to his quest for the Silmarils. If Feänor is an image of Lucifer (the brilliant light-bringer who falls through his own pride and is exiled from heaven), that makes Artanis the elven equivalent of (some versions of) Mephistopheles, the not-fully-aligned ambassador of Lucifer. Artanis largely ignores the whole ‘battle for the fate of existence’ thing going on in the Silmarillion, instead settling in the isolationist kingdom of Doriath, where she picks up a somewhat weak-willed boy-toy, Celeborn, and settles down into marital bliss. When Morgoth is defeated and a general amnesty is handed out to the exiles, Artanis, despite not having done anything particularly unforgiveable, refuses to accept the pardon of the Valar (which would mean accepting that they had authority over her), and instead stays in Middle-Earth. Eventually, as wars gradually kill off almost all the great elves, she’s left as one of the most important, and finally decides to take matters into her own hands, taking the ring Nenya and migrating to the forest of Lorinand, where she appoints herself as queen (dragging Celeborn along with her for company) and sets out to create her own imitation of Doriath. By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Artanis is apparently the being in Middle-Earth closest in power to Sauron and most dangerous to him – which given that she’s competing against a bunch of demigods (Gandalf, Saruman, etc al) is saying something. Her story reaches its turning point when she is offered the One Ring – if she accepts, she will be able to achieve her ambitions, destroy Sauron, and set herself up as Goddess-empress of the world, turning the whole of Middle-Earth into a fascistic garden-state. By now, however, she has come to doubt her own wonderfulness enough to realise that she doesn’t have the wisdom (or just plain niceness) to rule creation benignly (interestingly, her relationship with Celeborn is an inversion of expectations not just because she’s more powerful than him, but because he, ‘the Wise’, is there to flatter her and give her sensible advice in private, while she’s the one who does all the ruling, fighting, and general decisioning), and turns it down. Instead, she uses her power to purify the Necromancer’s fortress at Dol Guldur, and then swallows her pride and returns to Valinor.

2. Leonardo – the Shadowrun setting, and particularly the novel Black Madonna (various, and particularly Carl Sergeant and Marc Gascoigne)

Shadowrun, like Middle-Earth, is packed full of elves. Some of them have been born recently. Some of them are mutated humans. Some of them were freaks born before magic returned. Some of them are very, very old. One of them is Leonardo da Vinci. Black Madonna begins with Leonardo, now the world’s greatest computer hacker, causing attention-getting mayhem; the novel then follows a team of mercenaries as they attempt to unravel da Vinci’s code, both in the current day (i.e. a magic-infested corporate dystopia in the near future) and through understanding his art works (particularly some strange features in his painting of the Last Supper) – a trail Leonardo has cunningly left to lead them to a theological truth about Jesus, John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene. A truth the Vatican don’t want anyone to know – leaving the mercenaries dodging the attentions of both the Jesuits and the Priory of Sion (both of whom use magic and heavy weaponry). You know, I suspect that if somebody were to flagrantly steal the plot of this novel and then re-write it in a less bizarre, non-elfy setting (say, the real world), it could be a real publishing success. Anyway, Leonardo da Vinci as an immortal elf who is also a genius computer hacker, a cult leader with a secret compound, a wizard, and a heresiarch archnemesis of the Vatican… that’s an immortal who sticks in the memory!

3. The King of the ElvesLords and Ladies (Terry Pratchett)

Most of the beings in Pratchett are derivative of fantasy tropes; his elves, however, are an intentional inversion – psychotic, animalistic, predatory. The easy pick here would be their Queen, a fairly straightforward moustache-twirling villain; but I’d prefer to acknowledge her husband. Where the Queen and her court are reached through open-air healthy-womanhood-ritual-hosting stone circles and reside in a cold but elegant world, the King’s retinue are reached through the sweaty, dark, hot recesses of underground barrows. The King is basically a deus ex machina, and it takes quite something both to make that role feel justified and to make him seem up to the task: Pratchett does it with very few words by tapping into something primal, making his Elf King an admixture of devil, pagan god, and folk tale spirit – something at once powerful, malevolent, familiar, and strangely pitiable.

4. R. Daneel Olivaw – various novels (Isaac Asimov; also Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, David Brin, and possibly others)

We first meet R. Daneel (the ‘R.’ stands for ‘robot’) in a future version of earth, playing the by-the-book half of a buddy cop pairing in a murder mystery; but even then, it’s clear that the robot has much more intelligence and individuality than we might first assume. We last meet him… well, let’s just say it’s a long time later, in a very different role. I’m not sure whether he’s officially immortal, but his ability to replace parts of himself to prolong his lifespan, and to continually improve himself (he’s basically the entire Singularity in one person) make him effectively so, unless somebody manages to kill him. But to do that, they’d have to find him…

5. Ungoliant – The Silmarillion (Tolkien)

It’s probably cheating to include two by the same author, but this one really isn’t an elf… in fact, nobody knows what she is. She may be a Maia (a lesser goddess, effectively), or she may be an incarnation of absolute and primal darkness and nothingness who predates Creation itself. Either way, she’s a great big spider. Ungoliant kicks off the main events of the Silmarillion by smuggling Melkor into Valinor and, with his help, devouring the light of the Two Trees and of the Wells of Varda. Her insatiable hunger, however, leads to some conflict with Melkor, as she’d really like to eat the Silmarils. By this point, she’s become so dangerous that she’s on the verge of killing and eating Melkor himself, before his henchgodlings show up to help him out. She spends the rest of the book birthing monstrous spiders and generally terrifying people in her chosen nesting place, before fleeing to other parts of the world. One theory has her killed by Eärendil, but the official text leaves her fate unspecified, so she may still be around. Alternatively, it’s suggested that she eventually becomes so hungry that she dies… by eating herself. One of her great-great-(etc)-granddaughters is Shelob, who we meet in The Lord of the Rings.

6. Turiya The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (and sequels) – Stephen Donaldson

Donaldson’s covenant books have a lot of problems, but they also have some fantastic elements. Turiya, along with his brothers Moksha and Samedhi, collectively known as the Ravers, are among the best. Essentially the Nazgul to Lord Foul’s Sauron, they’re much more memorable and frightening than the originals: they’re not just supernatural psychopaths, they’re also body-snatchers, able to enter into the minds of lesser beings and control their bodies. This means that pretty much anyone can be a Raver, and Donaldson plays up the horror both of their power as fifth column traitors and of their power of possession (which I remember being fatal, although perhaps there are exceptions). Turiya (also known as ‘Herem’, ‘Kinslaughterer’ and other things) and his brothers are generally behind everything horrible and inhuman that happens in the books, and given how dark Donaldson goes at times, that makes these three some seriously unpleasant villains. It’s not even clear whether it’s possible to destroy the brothers (who have existed since time immemorial, and have a peculiar hatred of trees), although they can be rent into incoherent shreds… possibly.

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And, finally, humans. OK, so ‘human’ can be a relative term in genre, but I’m going to use it to mean anyone who starts out mortal and ends up immortal, but excluding those who end up gods. Turns out there are still plenty of those.

1. Zifnab – The Death Gate Cycle (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman)

Although it may be tempted to think that Zifnab, a seemingly derranged old wizard, is the same person as Fizban, a seemingly derranged old wizard who is secretly the ultimate god of good in Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance novels, it may alternatively simply be the case that he’s a really old, really geeky guy from Earth’s 20th century, who likes making allusions to D&D, and Merlinesque anachronistic references. If this is the case, given the setting, he’s probably immortal.

2. Vecna – various works in the Greyhawk and later Ravenloft settings (various authors)

D&D’s lich king. I think he may end up a god at some point, but until then he’s just a guy who really hates the thought of dying, so turns himself into an undead abomination. He’s not nice. Of course, D&D, and particularly Ravenloft, is crawling with undead. I was tempted to to suggest Jander Sunstar, the trying-to-be-good vampire elf who first introduces us to Ravenloft, or Count Strahd von Zarovich, the setting’s admirably no-nonsense Dracula clone and hero of two volumes of his own vampire-autobiography, or Azalin, his lich archnemesis. In fact, I think all the Dreadlords of Ravenloft are immortal, even those who are theoretically human – so perhaps Dominic D’Honaire, the mind-controlling Darklord of Dementlieu, or obscure Thakok-An, High Priestess of a sleeping dragon-god in Kalidnay. But no, despite my affection for Ravenloft, it has to be Vecna, on the strength purely of the names of the three main Greyhawk adventures in which he appears: the excited Vecna Lives!, the cautious Vecna Reborn, and the furious Die, Vecna, Die!, a title which, if any does, surely deserves to be shouted. Incidentally, if you didn’t like third edition D&D, blame Vecna – apparently his conflict with the Lady of Pain (see above) is what caused the changes between editions…

3. Lazarus – A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr.)

Miller’s post-apocalyptic analysis of religious faith is set in three time periods, spanning more than a thousand years; yet in each one of them, a ragged, wandering Jew appears, all three very similar in appearance. The strong suggestion is that the three are the same man – perhaps even the Leibowitz of the title. No reason is given for why he might be immortal.

4. Oasis – Sluggy Freelance (Abrams)

I know it seems excessive to have two characters here from the same webcomic (even if they do feel like they’re almost from different worlds, given how varied the comic is), but I can’t address this topic without mention Oasis, the mysterious brainwashed gymnast-assassin. The details of her nature remain shrouded in mystery; but we do know that, as well as being astonishingly good at killing people, she’s received clearly fatal wounds on several occasions – including being shot in the head. Nonetheless, the girl keeps coming back. Does she have incredible powers of regeneration? Is she some sort of possessing spirit that turns people into more of her? Is she only one of an army of clones, with her personality and memories continually being uploaded into new bodies? Is she perhaps some sort of deity in a disguise so good she’s fooled herself? We shall see.

5. Zedar – The Belgariad (David Eddings)

Zedar is the proximal villain of the seminal YA fantasy saga (his master, the evil god Torak, being out of sight for most of the time), but he’s played more as a victim of the universe. Zedar begins as a disciple of Aldur, the wise god who is the patron of the good sorcerors, only to turn to the dark side later in life (having by this time already achieved immortality); that doesn’t mean he has anything more than contempt for most of his new allies. As the spiritual brother of the lead good guy, he is essentially the Judas of the series, and Eddings allows us to ponder similar questions to those surrounding Judas: given that this is a world with binding prophecies, and that Zedar is never much more than the tool of far more powerful forces, how much free will does he really have in his betrayal, and what does that mean for how the reader feels about him? He even seems to regret causing any pain to the heroes. That, however, doesn’t do him any good in the end. Because, SPOILER: the reason he merits inclusion on this list isn’t his moral ambiguity or his standard-issue magic-user immortality, it’s what the good guy does to him: pushes him into a rock. Zedar gets to spend the rest of his immortal eternity trapped forever, completely immobile, in a stone. There are downsides to not dying…/SPOILER

6. Winston Rumfoord The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)

Winston Rumfoord, and his dog Kazak, have no magical powers. They just happen to have an unfortunate encounter with a chronsynclastic infundibulum – which, naturally enough, means that they now exist through all of time, but only in a very thin ribbon stretching between the Sun and Betelgeuse, only briefly visible to anybody else when the earth happens to cross their path. They are therefore immortal, because there isn’t any time when they aren’t – although there are times when they are not observed.

7. Robert Gadling – Sandman (Neil Gaiman)

A veteran back from the Hundred Years War gets drunk in a tavern one day and has an argument with his friends, in which he suggests that death is just a habit: “The only reason people die, is because everyone does it. You all just go along with it. It’s rubbish, death. It’s stupid. I don’t want anything to do with it.” Fortunately for him, Death herself is listening, and grants him immortality. He also meets her brother, Dream, and agrees to meet up with him once every hundred years. We see him throughout 600 years – the first and last meetings both featuring gripes about the recently-introduced poll tax…

8. Wowbagger the Infinitely-Prolonged – Life, the Universe and Everything (Douglas Adams)

Hobb Gadling wants immortality because he doesn’t want to die; and so far, he still hasn’t regretted it. But not all immortal characters are quite so pleased with themselves. One of those is Bowerick Wowbagger, who gains immortality in an unusual accident involving elastic bands. Driven to the point of madness by his inability to think of anything interesting to do on Sundays (an allusion to the famous quote on the subject by Susan Ertz), he finally decides to express his anger at the universe in the most absolute, yet pointless, way possible: he resolves to visit every single living being in the universe and insult them, one by one. Well, it’s something to do, innit?