Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Top 100 Science Fiction And Fantasy Books

My good friend, guitar-playing buddy and occasional debating partner The Whited Sepulchre posted the NPR Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Book list with annotations (I guess there is a lot of this going around) and challenged folks to do their version of the list. Despite his occasionally loathsome political opinions, the WS is extremely well-read (and now a published author!) so I found his list fascinating.

 I used to read a lot of sci-fi when I was younger; not so much now. A lot of authors I enjoyed when younger I find tiresome now. Anyway, here's my list.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm sorry - I've tried to read this probably 2 dozen times and never got any further than the first 30 pages. My first attempt was when I was 13, my last was when I was in my late 40's. Hugo Dyson, one of Tolkien's contemporaries is reported to have exclaimed: "Oh god! Not another fucking elf!"during a reading by Tolkien. I feel his pain.

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

There's a copy floating around the house one of my son's bought - someday I'll read it.

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

My wife's a librarian and has ready this - as has youngest son. But not me.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

Re-read this again a couple of years ago - closer to reality than we'd like to think. And all political parties (including Republican, Democrat, Tea Party and Libertarian) are guilty of the sins described. It's added countless terms to our shared vocabulary, including "Big Brother," "newspeak," and "thoughtcrime." By the way, the real title is "Nineteen Eighty-Four" - spelled out.

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Read this years ago and enjoyed it but having re-read another of Bradbury's novels and found it a bit of a let down, I'm hesitant to risk harming the memory I have of this one. The concept is brilliant, but the irony of today is we don't need the government to destroy books, we'll do it ourselves to make room for more electronic gadgets.

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

I think I read the first two volumes but I don't remember much about it.

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Read this years ago (probably in high school). May be time to find a second hand copy.

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

Saw the movie, never read the book.

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

Read this years ago (probably in high school). Easier going than Nineteen-Eighty Four, but no less pointed and pungent.

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

An entertaining read. Some claim this book launched the "cyberpunk" movement in sci-fi.

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

The recent movie was okay but the original - a graphic novel - is far superior. Dave Gibbons illustrated and the artwork is amazing. Author Alan Moore refuses to endorse any of the adaptations of his work, so yo I read tons of comic books as a kid and this fed my adult appetite. u typically won't see his name on the movie credits. To dismiss this as a comic book is criminal.

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

A series of short stories held together by a common theme, which gradually builds to a thought-provoking finale. The recent movie, while okay, did little more than recycle the title - it had nothing to do with this book, which is wonderful.

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

Read this year ago, when it was sort of a hippie thing to do. Funny that the Libertarians now claim him as one of their own. Given some of the themes in other works I'd be surprised if the Tea Partiers and conservative Christian crowd would also adopt him.

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Read this in college and thought it was an amazing book (although Mother Night is still my favorite Vonnegut book).

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

This is the source material for the movie Blade Runner, which differed a great deal from the source. At the risk of pissing off fans, I'd say from purely a formal/stylistic point of view Philip K Dick is a pretty mediocre writer, but his books are so brimming with the most amazing ideas you quickly forget the quality of his writing. My favorite Dick book is A Scanner Darkly, also made in to a movie (as have a number of other of his works).

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

Read it years ago - don't recall much about it other than it was not exactly like Kubrick's film.

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson is probably one of my favorite authors these days, although his recent mega-novels are a bit much for my tastes. Snow Crash is an early work and great fun - witty, intelligent, and full of pop-culture references and just all around crazy shit. I guess you'd call it cyberpunk. Stephenson pulls in references from so many different sources it's hard to see how he pulls it off, but he does! Highly recommended.

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

Read it years ago and enjoyed it. Like Asimov's I, Robot, it's a collection of thematically related short stories. In many ways Bradbury's short works are more satisfying to me than the longer ones (like Something Wicked This Way Comes), since his poetic style can get tiresome past a certain point.

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

Another one I read while in college. Vonnegut can occasionally seem a little too slap-dash but this one stays on course. At his best, Vonnegut is very, very good.

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

Read this when I lived in California several years after Kubrick's film version. A good read but I found myself constantly checking the glossary at the back of the book to follow the slang Burgess invented. "I was cured, alright!"

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

Never read it - though experts aren't sure whether it is a paean to fascism or a parody of fascism. The movie fairly well sucked.

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

Read this years ago - a cautionary tale when monasteries are once again the caretakers of knowledge in post-atomic world where a new dark ages has arisen, and how that came to be. I remember it was full of  gentle humor amidst cold-war concerns. Timely at the time of it's publication, I may need to re-read.

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Read it years ago. The George Pal movie with Rod Taylor scared the be-jeebers out of me.

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

Read the short story and later the expanded novelization. I remember crying the first time I read the short story.

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

The first Neal Stephenson book I ever read, and it totally hooked me. Not quite as wildly fantastic as some of his earlier books but still -wow. It bounces back and forth between the present and WWII and finally ties the two story lines together. My libertarian friends ought to read this one.

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

Both of my sons have been huge Terry Pratchett fans, so there are lots of his books littering our household. Someday I'll have to read one.

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

See previous Pratchett comment above.

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

Probably my favorite of all Stephenson's novels. As is typical of his others, it's wildly inventive and entertaining. It's also got an emotional core that caught me completely by surprise. I think I read the last few chapters with tears in my eyes.

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

I re-read this a few years ago and didn't enjoy it near as much as I remember enjoying it the first time I read it. Bradbury's prose style was a little too self-consciously poetic for my taste; I found it tiresome and an effort to read.

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

A retelling of the Wizard of Oz saga from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging.

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

I love Stephenson but his later books are a little too massive for my occasionally short attention span. I have a copy of this but haven't read it yet.

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

Like some of his other books, a collection of related short-stories, which I find more enjoyable. Read it years ago.

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis


Nick said...

Loathesome political views...I love it!

I agree with you 100% on Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit first and loved it. But after about five attempts, I could never get through the first book. The movies were pretty good which makes me think i missed something. Heresy, I know.

I'd say more, but I'll probably do the list myself.

Good to hear from you Ralph.

Dr Ralph said...

Nick! Always a pleasure to hear from you, sir!

For me the LOTR movies were only a moderate improvement over the books. I saw all of them and found them enjoyable enough, but once was plenty.

I look forward to your version of the list.

I was slightly surprised A. E. Van Vogt didn't make the list - he's the source of the "an armed society is a polite society" quote thrown around so often (but I think the missing context is important to understanding what he meant).