I ran across Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books at NPR.org of all places. I enjoyed it, and immediately started thinking: “What’s missing?”
First, I have to say that it’s a pretty good list. With surprises, even, notably the inclusion of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale; welcome, but far from her best book. It is biased toward the old rather than the new which is in the nature of such things. Trivia: I’ve read 42 of the first 50 and only 21 of the second. I’ll read more.
I considered, and could only think of three works that were obviously missing; interestingly, all by authors with other offerings that had made the list.
Missing by Zelazny · Lord of Light. I mean, really, the Amber books are OK even if there are too many of them. But Lord of Light is a huge, immaculately-plotted book bulging with character and wit, not to mention some serious speculative sizzle.
I’d also rate Doorways in the Sand above Amber, but Lord of Light is Zelazny’s masterpiece.
Missing by Wolfe · I don’t want to denigrate Book of the New Sun, which is a wonderful piece, but a novel doesn’t have to be a sprawling multi-volume overreach to belong on this list.
My favorite Wolfe, by a wide margin, is The Fifth Head of Cerberus. The full title includes the trailer Three Novellas but I omit that because Wolfe’s being cute; this is single story, and a tightly-woven one, full of horror and wonder. The fact that you notice this only gradually is part of the charm.
Missing by Le Guin · Well, Earthsea, of course. I think that the people who voted for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed actually liked Earthsea better but wanted to vote for Le Guin’s “serious” work. Granted, Earthsea has dragons and wizards and princes and so on; but nonetheless it’s a finer, deeper work than the (elegant, granted) explorations of gender and class in those other books.
What Did I Miss? · Which books do you think should’ve been in that list?
Disclosure · Those Amazon.com links have my wife’s affiliate tag; she might make a buck or two if you follow ’em and buy.
Comment feed for ongoing:
From: Adrian (Aug 14 2011, at 22:16)
Pretty arbitrary that some of the "books" are a series of five or more novells while others are a single volume. For example, how many of the interminable Dune series get it to be number 3?
From: John Cowan (Aug 14 2011, at 22:23)
The Earthsea books, or at least the first three, are YA ("young adult") books, which the pollsters explicitly excluded. That's where Harry Potter and the Wizard of Oz went, too.
From: Geoff Arnold (Aug 14 2011, at 22:34)
No Pullman, Varley, Reynolds, Peake...
Of course I don't really know what "Fantasy" is any more, or whence comes the recent compulsion to yoke it with SciFi. The most fantastic (literally) book that I read recently was Salman Rushdie's brilliant "Luka and the Fire of Life".
And of course we all know that the most popular fantasy series of recent years was Harry Potter. And don't tell me that it's a children's series: any time the publisher has to come up with a special "grown-up" binding for a book, you can forget that argument.....
From: Stefan Tilkov (Aug 14 2011, at 23:03)
Great list; I'd add some of Julian May's stuff.
From: Tkil (Aug 15 2011, at 01:13)
Regarding Le Guin's <cite>Earthsea</cite>... I like it quite a bit, but it always evoked in me a "tunnel" perception: vignettes drawn exquisitely, but with world development only as decoration rather than as engine.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing!
I did end up correlating this with "female scifi/fantasy authors", because Vonda McIntyre's original works struck me very much the same way: exquisite attention to detail in the present / bubble / tunnel, while letting the rest of the world define itself.
I'm sure there are counterexamples on both sides -- Niven's <cite>Ringworld</cite> series is not that far off -- but there was definitely a coincidence in my sci-fi-reading youth.
From: arcandros (Aug 15 2011, at 01:42)
Well I actually disagree with 62, Tery Goodkind's Sword of truth series. After the 3rd book it becomes inane, boring and repeatable.
Off the top of my head books that are whole orders of magnitude better:
Ilion/Olympos by Dan Simmons
Any of Tigana, A Song for Arbonne or the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Anything by Peter F. Hamilton
Joe Abercrombie's The Last Argument of Kings
Even the soap opera of fantasy adventure's, the Dragonlance books edges ahead in plot and writing :P
From: andrew wait (Aug 15 2011, at 03:33)
Anything by Alfred Bester .. but how about "The Stars My Destination"
From: John Kapotten (Aug 15 2011, at 03:41)
The Forge of God written by Greg Bear.
I don't like all of his work, but this one is a really good book.
In my opinion it definitely belongs in that list.
From: Randy Hudson (Aug 15 2011, at 04:28)
My unlisted favorite is Russell Hoban's extraordinary 'Riddley Walker'. Published in 1980, it's set in an Iron Age Britain many centuries after an atomic apocalypse, telling how Riddley's life changes when he finds a hand puppet from "time back way way back". Hoban imagines a complete and complex world, with its own dialect of English (that the book is written in, ostensibly by Riddley). If the novel is about any one thing, it's the power of art -- which the book well exempflies.
From: Al (Aug 15 2011, at 06:16)
I think Earthsea was excluded for being Young Adult, as with Narnia.
From: Paul (Aug 15 2011, at 06:42)
There were too many books by the same authors, some of which were not their best work. SciFi should make you think as well as enteritain you. Blindsight should have been on the list (by Peter Watts). Quite a distrubing book which still makes me think, years after I read it. http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm.
Dan Simmons Hyperion stories are good (although the last two in the series were a bit of a letdown). But his three best books are "Phases of Gravity" (which really isn't scifi) and "Ildum" and "Olympos" which must be one of the most ambitious novels attempted (merging one of the best modern day descriptions of the fall of Troy with Shakespeare quoting robots).
From: Jim Ancona (Aug 15 2011, at 06:43)
I like The Lathe of Heaven better than either Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed. Somehow I missed reading Earthsea, probably because it involves dragons and such and I tend to shy away from the fantasy end of the spectrum. I guess I'll have remedy that omission.
I missed Stephenson's Baroque Cycle on the list, but given how many of his others made it, I can't really complain.
From: Martin Van Aken (Aug 15 2011, at 06:56)
Pretty good list (for the selection - discussing the order would be endless, as many genres and epoch are mixed). My "missing one" would be the Inverted world from Christopher Priest (http://www.amazon.com/Inverted-World-Novel-Christopher-Priest/dp/0060134216), with its bewildering first sentence : ""I had reached the age of 650 miles".
From: Andrew (Aug 15 2011, at 09:22)
I think they nailed it. The judges obviously sat down and thought about what the terms sci-fi and fantasy really mean. The inclusion of Watership Down is inspired and it's good to see 1984 recognized for being more than a political novel. I guess I'd have liked to have seen David Brin's Sundiver in the final 100 but that's just quibbling really.
From: Daniel Grady (Aug 15 2011, at 10:11)
Re Fifth Head of Cerberus, I couldn't agree with you more.
From: IanRae (Aug 15 2011, at 11:49)
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge is an excellent near-future story about the Internet and where it's going.
From: Ed (Aug 15 2011, at 13:33)
What, no Octavia E. Butler? If I had to pick one, maybe Kindred.
From: Jason Orendorff (Aug 15 2011, at 15:24)
That's a pretty good list.
Doomsday Book is the one book on there that I would bump up 70 slots if it were me. It's not perfect; it has pacing issues; but once you've read it you won't care about that.
From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Aug 16 2011, at 21:18)
I agree re: Bester being excluded is a mistake; also I think the list was weighted more toward current authors than "Golden Age" authors, but that may be because it was a crowd-sourced list, and those books are recent reads for people.
From: Rob (Aug 17 2011, at 07:51)
It is the usual weird jumble of great books and great authors. There is a lot of crap in the list too. As for Zelazny, they also forgot Creatures of Light & Dark.
But nothing by Tanith Lee or C.J. Cherryh? Only one book by Gibson? What about Little, Big by John Crowly if you want great fantasy? Asimov also deserves something for The Gods Themselves.
Piers Anthony's Xanth? Wasn't that the interminable series that spawned the relatively short-lived meme of "Pier's Anthony Syndrome: a series where every book is half as good as the previous one?"
From: Ed Davies (Aug 18 2011, at 07:57)
John Brunner: _The Shockwave Rider_.
Sort of the Cryptonomicon of the era when computers only lived in computer rooms. Influenced my attitudes quite a bit in the late 1970s.
Charlie Stross is notably absent. It makes sense because most of his books are good but none (yet) are great: his strength is productivity at coming up with new approaches. He's a good example of why lists of this sort shouldn't be taken too seriously.
From: Chris Waigl (Aug 20 2011, at 13:39)
As authors go, I'm missing Elizabeth Bear and Nancy Kress. Great to see Connie Willis.
From: Peter (Aug 21 2011, at 17:01)
I think John Wyndham is missing. Day of the Triffids was a good one, but The Chrysalid was also excellent, among others.
From: Eric Mill (Sep 04 2011, at 10:47)
Well, you named two of my favorite books (Earthsea, Lord of Light) -- guess I'll have to go buy the Wolfe book, which I hadn't heard of.
Too bad Earthsea was excluded for being Young Adult; I read it at age 11, and then age ~16, where I couldn't believe that I had even understood it at 11.
From: RDC (Sep 06 2011, at 09:34)
I've read most of these but I was amazed at two very important and influential authors missing, namely H. Beam Piper and Edgar Rice Burroughs: Where's Little Fuzzy, Lord Kalvan, Tarzan or John Carter? They may be considered hackneyed cliches today but they were written before there were cliches (in fact everyone copied them to create cliches!!!)
Seriously - treat yourself and jump to Gutenburg and the free library then move onto Amazon to get some of their work.