Okay, fine, I’ll play too

The top 100 fantasy/sci-fi books, according to an apparently-arbitrary sampling of NPR listeners.  As the meme goes, I’ll bold those I’ve read, strike the ones I regret having read, and comment in parentheses.  If nerd-lit bothers you, hit the sidebar; with the Belgian GP coming up there’s good stuff in the motorsports section.

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

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

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (I don’t quite regret having read this one; mostly I’m just relieved that I stopped before reading any of the sequels)

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert (Just the first one; as with The Matrix, it’s a good thing there weren’t any sequels)

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

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov (The first book was entertaining; the second was drearily repetititititive as well as offensively pretentious.)

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan (By the time I’d sunk uncounted time and money into the first eight books, I realized Jordan didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing and was just making it all up as he went along.  Didn’t stop me and half of Usenet from building elaborate conspiracy theories on the assumption that he was a fiendishly clever schemer, though.  Maybe there’s a lesson in there.)

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore (Good thing they didn’t make a movie; that would’ve sucked compared to the book.)

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick (I actually really hate Philip K. Dick’s fiction, but I’ll give this one a pass for Blade Runner’s sake if nothing else.)

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

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

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

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

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

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

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

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings (I don’t regret reading the Belgariad, at least not the first time.  I regret reading it the second, third, and fourth times, though, when it was called the Malloreon, the Elenium, and the Talmudi.  On the other hand, those books at least delayed my introduction to Robert Jordan, so I guess they bought me some time if nothing else.)

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

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

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

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & 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 (Hah!  Never touched the fucking thing!)

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 (What can I say?  I was in junior high; don’t judge me.)

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi (Way better than anything Salvatore’s written.)

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

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

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

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 (Ranked 83rd, below David Eddings and R. A. Salvatore?  So much for the idea that NPR appeals to a smarter class of listeners.)

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

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 (“Oh look, I’m so dark.  And bored.”  Still better than Drizzt.)

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

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 & 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

Why is there no Lovecraft in this list?  No Spider Robinson?  No Illuminatus!? I can understand that reading David Drake or Larry Correia would make NPR’s listeners spontaneously ignite, but come on.


5 Responses to “Okay, fine, I’ll play too”

  1. August 25, 2011 at 06:05

    Why is there no Lovecraft in this list?

    I thought the same thing. Because he’s usually shelved in horror, most people instinctively cabin him out of science fiction, though he clearly fits there. The same would probably happen to the Alien series if it didn’t have space ships.

    Come to think of it, most horror is SF, innit? Excluding thrillers and “psychological horror”, I mean.

    • August 25, 2011 at 11:48

      A lot of Lovecraft’s stuff reads like fantasy to me, when upon further reflection it’s SF. The Dreams In The Witch-House is a good example: Lovecraft pretty clearly intended multidimensional math to be the sinister new technology (SF), but to me it just looks like an entertaining conceit for magic (fantasy). I suspect I’d have a similar reaction to Jules Verne, in that the “advanced technology” would be insufficiently advanced.

      Have we found a corollary to Clarke’s Law? “Any SF story centered around an insufficiently advanced technology is better imagined as magic”?

      • August 25, 2011 at 12:22

        It depends. Not all Lovecraft stories were intended as “cosmic horror” stories, even if modern imitators and RPG developers try to shoehorn them all into the same universe. His dream cycle is straight-up fantasy, and most of his early work is traditional supernatural horror, but within the Cthulhu mythos, some of the most significant stories are explicitly about time travelling aliens and brains in jars. There are surely a couple that bleed between the branches of SF, but the mythos stories are notable because they’re “atheist horror” that breaks from the supernatural kind. The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, and Pickman’s Model are pretty conventional monster stories, sure. But I have a hard time agreeing that the science fiction elements are welded on in The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Whisperer in Darkness.

        • August 25, 2011 at 13:17

          I’m not arguing that the SF elements in the Mythos stories you mention were tacked on as an afterthought, just that the specific details haven’t aged well. The mind-transfer contraption that not-Nathaniel Peaslee builds in Shadow is a good example: I can’t find my copy of the story to quote it, but IIRC the contraption is pretty much all early-20th Century technology, mirrors and gears and fine-ground lenses and such. I doubt it’d look out of place on a table at a Steampunk con. To my mind, which is based around ICs and fibre optics and such as current technology, it comes across as so anachronistic that its brain-sending time-travel super powers must be some sort of magic, for which not-Peaslee’s contraption is just a focus.

          • August 25, 2011 at 13:20

            Interesting point. The same is true of the Mi-Go brain cylinders and paraphernalia in Whisperer. Doesn’t affect me the same way, but I get where you’re coming from.

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