Stress over finding the perfect gift for family and friends tends to escalate as the holidays approach. It doesn’t have to, especially when the recipient is a fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. Armed with this handy gift guide, your holiday shopping will be frightfully easy.

For Fiction-Loving Bibliophiles

The Folio Society specializes in collectible editions of great books, and its latest catalog has some wonderful treats genre fans will cherish. First is The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin’s thought-provoking story about politics and change. It follows a revolutionary scientist, named Shevek, who tries to reunite the anarchist world of Anarres with its sister planet Urras. Through Shevek’s mission, readers get to see the philosophical pros and cons of two different political ideologies and how no single one is the answer to everything. Nestled in a sturdy slipcase and adorned with endpaper maps and terrific illustrations by David Lupton, this new edition of Le Guin’s 1974 classic reminds us that great literature remains relevant decades after first publication.

Jin Yong’s A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes is a masterpiece of Chinese fiction posing as an action-packed martial arts fantasy. Taking place in the year 1200, it depicts a China divided between the Song Empire in the south and Genghis Khan’s empire in the north. A young man who learned martial arts from the Seven Heroes of traditional folklore finds that his own destiny is to change the country’s history. The story is part one of the Legends of the Condor Heroes trilogy, and Folio’s edition, translated by Anna Holmwood with an introduction by Ken Liu, gets the usual VIP treatment. It comes in a decorated slipcase and includes appropriately epic illustrations by Ye Luying.

Aimed at younger readers—but great gifts for adults, as well—are two more delights from The Folio Society. First is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the classic tale of a girl’s adventures in a dream world filled with fantastic creatures. Detailed artwork by Charles van Sandwyk brings Carroll’s wonderfully bizarre story to life. Another adventure about a girl in an enchanted land is Howl’s Moving Castleby Diana Wynne Jones. In the magical kingdom of Ingary, a teenager named Sophie is turned into an old crone by a witch, and gets a job cleaning the floating castle of the wizard Howl. There, Sophie devises a plan to reclaim her youth. Illustrated by Marie-Alice Harel, this remarkable edition will look great on any shelf.


For Dungeons & Dragons Fans

Dungeons & Dragons is a role-playing game (RPG) whose popularity hasn’t waned in the 45 years since it was first released. The game allows players to assume the roles of various characters, usually heroes, who embark on adventures created and/or run by a dungeon master. Several books aimed at D&D fans would make excellent gifts.

For young newcomers, there is a series of supplemental guides from Ten Speed Press that will explain the concepts of the game in easy-to-understand language. The Young Adventurer’s Guides by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler are super handy, since D&Dis known for its very extensive and detailed instruction manuals; the series condenses a lot of tedious reading into small, easy to absorb, cleverly illustrated volumes grouped by theme. Warriors & Weapons, for example, explains the different types of roles the players can assume with respect to races, character classes, and equipment. Monsters & Creatures covers the myriad imaginative beasts that players will encounter on their journeys, including any special powers they may possess. Dungeons & Tombs covers the basics of dungeons, the prevalent locations of said adventures, and all the secrets their dark corners contain.

Dungeon masters (DMs) are the ones who moderate the game—whether it is a prepackaged adventure or one sprung from the imagination—and make sure that the players have a good time. There are lots of rules that DMs must learn—that’s what all the instruction books are for. What the instructions lack is a recommended strategy for running a good adventure. That’s where Keith Ammann’s book The Monsters Know What They’re Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters (Saga Press) comes in. DMs will find easy-to-apply strategies relating to exciting battles, creatures and characters, as well as engaging campaigns. Ammann’s clear and detailed explanations break down all the larger components of D&D into easily digestible bits, making it an essential guide for the DM looking to up his game.


Meanwhile, at the Intersection of Fantasy and Puppets

Fans of Jim Henson’s spectacular 1982 puppet fantasy, The Dark Crystal, were thrilled when they learned about the prequel series being produced for Netflix. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance continues that same professional level of artistry, a refreshing live-action departure from today’s computer generated imagery-laden films. Within the pages of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance: Inside the Epic Return to Thra by Daniel Wallace (Insight Editions), you’ll find hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs, illustrations, and sketches that chronicle the monumental effort to bring the imaginative world of Thra to life. Wallace’s compelling text features the original film’s history, profiles of all the characters, and interviews with the creators of the new series, including the puppeteers and costume designer Brian Froud, who worked on the original film.


Speaking of Unspeakable Evil

The literary impact of H.P. Lovecraft can be felt to this day. His greatest creation is The Cthulhu Mythos, a set of interconnected stories about an ancient race of alien deities known as the “Great Old Ones”—including the tentacled deity Cthulhu—who once ruled the Earth before falling into a trancelike sleep. Lovecraft’s 1928 story “The Call of Cthulhu” is celebrated as the start of the mythos proper and is now available in a sturdy new 64-page hardback edition from Design Studio Press. It shows that Lovecraft’s original work stands the test of time. François Baranger’s excellent, atmospheric color illustrations lend more power to Lovecraft’s words, immersing readers in a world that is terrifying to contemplate.


For Moviemaking Maniacs

Anyone who’s seen classic science fiction films knows the name Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was the special effects mastermind who ushered in a new era of stop-motion animation with films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and Clash of the Titans (1981). A new book, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies by John Walsh (Titan Books), looks at dozens of other projects that never made it to the screen, with sketches, storyboards, models, and stills from test footage. The book also covers scenes cut from his films, as well as ideas that Harryhausen turned down. How cool would it have been to see Harryhausen’s versions of King Kong vs. Frankenstein, John Carter of Mars, Dune, X-Men, The Princess Bride, and The Empire Strikes Back?

What Harryhausen did for stop-motion animation, Rick Baker did for makeup and special effects. Baker is the artist behind some of the coolest classic special effects in the best (and worst) movies ever seen. His extraordinary career is the focus of an impressive two-volume retrospective, Rick Baker: Metamorphosis by J. W. Rinzler (Cameron Books). Each 350-page-plus volume chronologically recounts Baker’s experiences designing marvelous creature effects, human grotesqueries, oddball aliens, and creative makeup from the 1950s to the present day. Through Rinzler’s engrossing narrative, fans of moviemaking magic can see Baker’s evolution from a preteen with a strange hobby to an accomplished and well-respected artist who was the recipient of numerous awards. Baker’s inside stories of movie set madness are entertaining in their own right, but it’s the hundreds of eye-popping photos and sketches that make this a coffee table book warranting return visits. 

Stay tuned for additional gift ideas in Part 2, coming next week.

Science Fiction/Fantasy correspondent John DeNardo is the founding editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning blog. Follow him on Twitter @sfsignal.