Monday, March 12, 2007

Required reading?

   I found this little meme at Pharyngula, and have since seen it almost everywhere. This list purports to be the 50 most significant science fiction and fantasy books in the last 50 years. Some have complained that there are books on the list that were published prior to 50 years ago. Be aware that this list was originally compiled in 2002 by the Science Fiction Book Club, so books from as early as 1953 are included, and nothing in the last five years will appear.
   As usual, lists like these tend to spawn discussion over which books might not necessarily belong, and which other books might take their place, and I would question some of what appears here. However, for the purposes of this meme, I will simply go with what's here.
   I have bolded those titles I have read, italicised those I feel I should read, and struck those I don't see myself ever reading. I have also commented here and there.
   Turns out I have read just over half of these. Comments on my list? What does your list look like?

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien - Required reading. Even if you don't actually like it, you should read it. It is the foundation of all fantasy writing since. Even my favourite author, Guy Gavriel Kay, who deliberately avoids using Tolkien as a source, and a direct influence, has admitted that his writing career has been shaped, in part, as a reaction to Tolkien's work.

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov - Not deep, but well crafted, and fun.

Dune, Frank Herbert - Can be tough going, but ultimately worth it. With so many interlocking themes and levels, I can read this book, and its sequels, over and over again, and still take something new and interesting away from it.

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein - I have always felt that Heinlein was a bit over rated. Then again, maybe I'm just not smart enough to 'grok' him.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin - Classic young adult fantasy.

Neuromancer, William Gibson - I've never been sure just what to make of Gibson, and his series ofinterconnected novels beginning with Neuromancer have always puzzled me. They are enjoyable reads, but I am always left thinking there was something more I was supposed to get out of them. I much prefer his short fiction,much of which can be found in the book Burning Chrome. Hinterlands has always been my favourite story by Gibson, and I highly recommend it to those who have found his novels inaccessible.

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley - Chick lit. Not bad, but I wouldn't read it a second time.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov

Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras

Cities in Flight, James Blish

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson

The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

Gateway, Frederik Pohl

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling - Has absolutely no place here. Success does not equal significance. If it did, Cordwainer Smith would not appear on this list.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams - No one saw the world quite like Adams. He was truly unique.

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Little, Big, John Crowley

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon

The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith - Many people have never even heard of Cordwainer Smith. An oversight of tragic proportions. If you have never read any Smith, go out and find some. Now.

On the Beach, Nevil Shute - Perhaps somewhat less relevant than when I read it in the 80s, but only slightly.

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

Ringworld, Larry Niven
- One of the most inventive science fiction writers ever.

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien - Can be a tough go. It's unlikely that anyone other than a true Tolkien fan will get through it.

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut - Another classic must read. An example of how SF&F use other worlds and other times to comment on today.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson - His most talked about novel. On my to read list.

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

Timescape, Gregory Benford

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

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simianfarmer said...

Partly to play devil's advocate, I'll say that Harry Potter *does* have a place on this list.  Certainly not through any contributions in exemplary writing, but I can't think of a single other author who drove so many young minds to literature as a form of entertainment.  Thousands, probably millions of people will read more and better books because of being at least influenced by Rowling.

For me, it was three books by Piers Anthony one Christmas morning.  I'll never read him again, but something has to start the journey.  Harry Potter has started more on that path than most could hope to do.  If the list has no more specific criteria than 'significant', I'd say Potter has a place on it.


ravenjuiced said...

Not a Heinlein fan at all. I've read most of the one's you've read and I can't disagree much with your comments. I would just say two things, you were absolutely right to cross off Pratchett and Anne McCaffrey, very tedious to read, but I absolutely loved The Sword of Shannara. Brooks reminds me Asimov (only with druids instead of robots), very simple read, fun, quick, lots of dialogue. You'll finish the book in two days easy.


gehi6 said...

I enjoyed reading the list and your comments.  I kind of stay away from science fiction in recent years, since I don't read as I used to with cataracts growing!  But I still read a lot.  Science fiction is just not my favorite genre although I have read quite a number of these authors if not the one named.  I like to read about anybody else's reading tastes!  Gerry  

princesssaurora said...

This would require far too much effort for me to do... however!!! Do not dis the Potter books.  She never intendended them to be kiddie books and if that stupid Terry Brooks Shannara crap can be on the list... ALL of hers should be...

Oh yeah, and the Mists of Avalon... not chick lit, just a different pespective in this male dominated world.  Sheesh Paul!!!  You dissed Anne Rice too... you are weird.

Okay... I feel better now.  LOL

be well,

midwestvintage said...

 I have read most of the books you mentioned, loved some, hated others.  Love Interview With a Vampire by the way, the first vampire book I ever liked.  Good list.


tenyearnap said...

Go read Deathbird Stories (Ellison) right now. And I made my mac email account's name from a word used in Electric Sheep (Dick). "Kipple"...there's lots of kipple in the world. I haven't read much in the way of sci-fi but my husband has read just about everything here. Maybe I'll start reading some of these.--Cin

h0llyk911 said...

What?! I have to disagree with your Harry Potter observation - it's frickin' awesome!  Then again this is the chick that has tried to read "Dune" three times and failed miserably...

deslily said...

as for sci fi / fantasy.. i stick to fantasy.  So many on here I've read.  My "start" into fantasy was The Hobbit. (LOTR followed )  

The second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant was every bit as good as the first.. loved them (and loved Saltheart Foamfollower)

Seeing the Potter books and Wizard of Earthsea as young adult books can be deceiving, or we all want some easy enjoyable reading sometimes.  A new group of books has been nabbed by the movies that's a young adult book (trilogy) called Inkheart.  I like that they make the movies from "young adult fantasy books".. it sure seems to get more kids reading!  (even at age 62 I read them!)

I'm surprised I don't see the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman among this list... nor the Belgarath series by David Eddings.. both excellent... and... and.. no Anne McCaffrey Pern books?!! Oh the horror of it all!