Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The 50 Most Significant SF&F Books

This is the Science Fiction Book Club's list of the fifty most significant science fiction/fantasy novels published between 1953 and 2002.

The Key:
Bold the ones you've read.
Strike-out the ones you hated.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert*
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein*
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison*
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card*
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl*
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon*
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien*
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock*
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

So I've read 22 of the 50, 6 of which I've not finished, 16 of which I have. I tended to love almost everything I did finish and didn't hate anything (though I was underwhelmed by the Bradbury).

Some explaination on how I can not complete JRR's work and yet put it down as a favorite. As a child, I saw the Bakshi film, fell in love with it, started the books, but quit before Return of the King to read 1/2 of The Silmarillion but quit that when it got boring to read The Tolkien Companion and paint pewter figures. But I had a five by three foot table top covered with a battle between the Riders of Rohan and an army of Orcs in my room for years, and I ruined my eyes painting the little guys, so how canI say I didn't love it?

As for not having read PKD's greatest - both my college film teacher and my post-graduate history of theatre teacher were of the type who felt "I don't want to show you the classics you can see anywhere, let's look at the obscure works." So I'd seen all the lesser known works from the great directors like Hitchcock, Polanski, etc... before I'd seen their major ones. The attitude/approach apparently rubbed off. Galactic Pot Healer is my favorite PKD.

12 comments:

Liviu said...

Considering that the first time I had access to these books was in the early-mid 90's when I was already in my midtwenties and with many books read (from french/russian/english/spanish classics to lots of historical fiction and classical fantastic fiction), my reaction is as follows:

2(++), 3(+), 4(+), 6(-), 7(=), 10(=), 11(+), 13(++), 22(--), 24(-), 25(+), 30(+), 32(-), 33(=), 38(++), 39(-), 42(-), 43(-), 46(=), 49(+),

and overall it corresponds with my reaction about the authors (love Asimov and some Heinlein, Clarke and LeGuin, do not chime with Sterling/Stephenson/Gibson/PK Dick/Niven though I can see their appeal since I like quite a few books that are compared to theirs, cannot understand why OS Card's Ender series is popular, and cannot stand elves, orcs and the like)

David Louis Edelman said...

Am I suffering from anticipatory Thanksgiving turkey hallucinations, or did they actually list The Sword of Shannara as one of the top 50 most significant books in SF/F?

John Joseph Adams said...

Lou! Forget not reading The Man in the High Castle -- you've never read The Stars My Destination?? Rectify this immediately!

As for Shannara being on the list, Dave...well, it does say "significant" not "good". And you can't deny that Sword of Shannara was a significant book; by popularizing the Tolkein-esque secondard world fantasy (and being the first, I think, fantasy novel ever to hit the NY Times bestseller list), it's largely responsible for the shape of the fantasy field today--that probably more than half of it is epic-style fantasy.

Lou Anders said...

re: Bester - I've read tons of his short fiction, but no novels. True for many of the greats actually, as I tended to read fantasy at novel length but SF in anthologies when I was younger. Roberson made me pick up The Demolished Man recently though. If I only had time for one, which?

re: Sword of Shannara - even though I will probably never read it, I am tempted by the new omnibus collection. For a while, my library was an attempt to have, not books I would necessarly read, but every "important" book I might ever want to lay hand on. At the rate I accumulate books now, this notion is absurd and I have tried to slow down buying books I know I'll never get to - but I am tempted by this one. Cause, hey, it's on a list.

John Joseph Adams said...

The Demolished Man vs. The Stars My Destination is a contentious topic amongst Bester fans; I say Stars is far and away the better book (it's my favorite novel), but many would disagree.

It's funny how everyone has these kinds of gaps in his or her reading background; I have my share as well (I'm sure I have more gaps than you do). In fact, that's why I usually don't fill out memes like this: because I don't want to invite people to do what I just did to you--point, gasp, and say "My god, you haven't read ______??" :)

Lou Anders said...

Well, not having read the Clarke is probably enough to get me kicked out of the club. I almost didn't do the list for the reason you stated, but then I decided I wanted to do it - as much for myself as for anyone else to see.

What's interesting to me about this is twofold:

a) Contrasting this with my own recent Top Ten of books I'd Be Reading if I Weren't Reading Other Books. Is it more "valuable" (by what standard, I know?) for me to spend my precious (as in rare) free reading slots filling in the gaps in the SFBC's Top 50 or my own Top 10. Do I need to fill in wholes in my education, or keep up with the Jonses? Classic or contemporary? Because I am leaning toward contemporary.

Then...

b) Times past, someone could stand a reasonable chance of reading every important SF work as it came out, given that in the golden ages past there might have only been 12 or so books a year to read total. Now, there are hundreds. No one's reading year looks like anyone elses. Decades on, when those of us who are around to do so are wall looking back on our "good old days," SF&F won't have the same sort of shared history of famous works that it does from the vantage point of NOW. Sure, we could talk about the Hugo nomimated novels, I supposed, but I'm usually lucky to have read one of them.

This leads me to wondering whether works like SPIN and RIVER OF GODS will be remembered as classics decades hence, or whether "classics" is itself an outdated concept in an increasingly niche-driven market.

Paul Wargelin said...

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert*
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester*
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling*
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson*
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester*
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I've only read fifteen of the fifty, but I do have or have access to another seventeen. Actually, I just borrowed PKD's "Do Androids Dream..?" from my brother.

Lou,

Re: "Valuable" reading. I believe this is in the eye of the beholder. Most elementary and high school teachers (at least when I was in school) push books and stories that are deemed to be classic literature on students without any regard to their reading habits (if any), levels, or--and this is most important--interest. Many teachers also frowned upon those of us who were reading comic books or popular fiction by Stephen King, failing to take into account that their students were reading and enjoying it. The end result of these teachers' actions?

1: The student develops an appreciation of literature and an open mindedness to explore all kinds of fiction.

2: The student resents being forced to read books he/she had no interest in (and being told that the fiction they were choosing to read was inferior), and turn their backs on reading altogether.

As much as I trust my family and friends to recommend books, music, and films I'd enjoy, there's something more satisfying in discovering them on my own. So when it comes to these "best of" lists, I tend to shy away from them because my expectations--once I've been bombarded with hype--are rarely met.

Re: Bester. I love both The Demolished Man and The Stars, My Destination, but because The Demolished Man was my first Bester reading experience, I'm a little more partial to it. And it was a great introduction because I have not been disappointed in any Bester, and I also recommend The Computer Connection and the short story collection Virtual Unrealities.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Paul,
I agree with your analysis of the teaching scenario.

Re: Valuable - I was couching this in terms of filling in gaps in the history or knowing the current field, and I think, as much as it might offend the grand old men, its more important for me to read those writing today then those writing decades ago. But I will continue to fill in from both lists. And I have read Virtual Unrealities.

paul wargelin said...

Hi Lou,

Re: Valuable. I meant to comment on the historical aspect of these books too. And like you, I will continue to fill in from both contemporary and classic books--regardless of genre.

Ashok K. said...
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Ashok K. said...
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Lou Anders said...

I am actually very curious to see what from now survives, not that I am rushing to old age.