Friday, August 12, 2011

The NPR Top 100 SF/F Books

NPR, purveyors of what used to be called moderate centrist journalism before the United States lurched so far over to the right that Dwight Eisenhower is now considered a Socialist by many God-fearin’ ‘Merkins, recently polled its listenership to see if they could come up with a list of the Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy books. People were invited to submit suggestions for the list online, and the editors whittled them down to a couple hundred “most submitted” items, whereupon people were given a chance to vote for their top ten.

My friends Janiece and Random Michelle have posted the lists of what they have read and tried to read, and since this seemed like a fun project I have decided to follow along.

Books that made my top ten list get an asterisk up front.

Books or series I’ve read are in bold. This one seems fairly simple.

Books or series I’ve abandoned are italicized. This gets complicated. I generally finish the books I start (and those I can’t fight through are not likely to appear on a list like this) but there are several series in here that I started and haven’t finished. I have therefore had to make a few command decisions.

Series I’ve started and intend to finish but which haven’t come to completion themselves – i.e. the authors are still churning them out – I have marked as read.

Series I read a significant chunk of and may one day return to I have marked as read.

Series I read that I have no intention of returning to, regardless of whether I just dipped into them or read a significant chunk of them, I have italicized.

And yes, I realize that by making fine distinctions like that I have outed myself as a genuine nerd. But you know, folks, it’s a list of SF/F books. I would think that would be obvious, even without all the abundant additional evidence provided by this blog.


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

An all time favorite, one I’ve read nearly two dozen times (including once aloud to Tabitha). As a historian I just love the world Tolkien created for his creatures – nobody does backstory like Tolkien.

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

I am so glad this made the list. SF/F needs more humor. We all need more humor.

3. *Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

This was given to me by a friend back in the 80s. “It’s the story of a very put-upon young man,” she said. And it is, but also much more than that. Card himself is – to judge from his public statements on political issues – an idiot. But he’s a great writer.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert.

The first volume was a masterpiece. I gave up halfway through the second one.

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

On the to-read list.

6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

I much preferred the movie (odd for me), but the book was wonderful as well.

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan.
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

On the to-read list.

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss.

This is one of the series I’m looking forward to finishing, as only two of the three volumes are out at the moment. The first one, The Name of the Wind, was one of the most darkly lyrical books I have ever read. I couldn’t put the whole series on the top ten because you never know how things will go in final volumes – David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series was a modern masterpiece for six volumes. And then there was a seventh, which was mediocre. And then there was the eighth and final volume, which was so bad Wingrove publicly apologized for it. So maybe next time I’ll put Rothfuss’ series on my top ten list, but not until they’re all out.

19. *Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut on WWII and humanity – how can you not love that? Unless of course you live in Missouri and have the mental capacity of a cheeseburger and have it banned from your school district, as happened recently. I grieve for my country.

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
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

I read this on a bet. In 8th grade my friend Matt loved this book and I loved The Lord of the Rings. We agreed that if one read the other’s book, the other would have to reciprocate. 28 years later I read this in order to prep for a course I was designing (one that, unfortunately, never was offered). So I figure Matt has until 2036 to read The Lord of the Rings now.

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

On the to-read list.

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

The movie made me not want to touch this book with asbestos gloves and a HazMat suit.

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

We’re about to get rabbits for the girls 4H project, and this is all that runs through my mind when I think about that.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. *A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

One of the best of the post-apocalyptic genre, and one I read a bit of to my atomic bomb class every time we offer it. “Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again?”

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

I enjoyed this, but I liked Sean McMullen’s goofy take on it better.

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

This has been on my to-read list for decades and I’m beginning to doubt I’ll ever get to it.

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

This is one of my favorite books of all time – I like it even more than The Lord of the Rings – but it is dense and deliberately archaic, and really something for Tolkien addicts more than the general reading public.

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. *Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman does a wonderful job of pointing out the oddities that might just be lurking at our feet.

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

One of the sharpest “old-school” science fiction space romps out there, with a solid core of ideas to make you think.

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

The movie was marvelous. Someday I'll get to the book.

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

Pratchett is one of those writers who can make you laugh at the same time as he makes you think – a rare quality, I find. This is one of the best of the Discworld series, and oddly enough one that doesn’t fit into any of the running subseries in that world. I wish that Night Watch had been one of the choices, though.

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

I find I like the adaptations of Austen, Bronte and the like a whole lot more than the actual things they wrote.

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

I made through the first tome and thought, well, I liked this story better when Tolkien wrote it, and I never went back.

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

A heartbreaking work that just barely missed my top ten.

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
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

I’m still working my way through this series – I’ve got the books and will get to them by and by – and it’s one I try to buy in hardback because I enjoy it so much, mostly because of the world it is set in and the gumption of the main female character. Of course when the main character is a sacred prostitute and a divinely-ordained masochist it does mean you have to slog through a few passages, but they seemed a small price to pay.

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

A fascinating meditation on the nature of good and evil, turned into a musical about the stories behind the stories we hear. I loved them both.

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. *The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

When the boundary between fiction and reality is porous, somebody has to police the border. And Fforde writes about it with a glorious abandon, full of allusions, puns and general weirdity.

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

On my to-read list.

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

Another book like The Silmarillion – dense, difficult, but thoroughly enjoyable.

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
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

On my to-read list.

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. *Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville.

Nobody does “alien” quite like Mieville, and this is his best book among the ones I’ve read. The city of New Crobuzon becomes a major character in its own right.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony.

I read much of this in high school, which is about the level it’s pitched at. I think I read enough to qualify, though apparently he keeps churning them out anyway.

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

So I’ve read 41 of the top 100 SF/F books of all time. I’ve abandoned 2 more, and another 6 are on the to-read list. Nine of my top ten made the list, which sort of scares me. I’m not used to being that in sync with any larger culture, even one as narrowly defined as SF/F.

I’ll take it, though.

The one book that was on my top ten that didn’t make it was The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, which is among my top five books ever. But you can’t win them all.


Random Michelle K said...

Read the Stardust comic first! It's actually okay for pre-teens, as long as you're okay with the word "fuck" in teeny tiny letters, and off screen boinking.

IIRC, Charles Vess did the artwork.

The movie was--with Gaiman's blessing--heavily adapted. But still very very good. (I think the swordfight at the end may be as good as the closing swordfight in The Princess Bride)

David said...

Did the comic precede the novel then?

I loved the movie - it was a sweet story, and the scene when the pirates react to Robert DeNiro's secret is just priceless. :)

Random Michelle K said...

IIRC it was a "graphic novel" then a book and then the movie.

I remember reading Neil Gaiman's blog with apprehension as he talked about being on site for the filming of the movie--and being excited at how awesome he said everyone was. I remember seeing a still of Michele Pfeifer driving the goat cart.

Random Michelle K said...

And yes, I am full of obscure esoterica in re books I love. ;)

David said...

It's never obscure when it comes to books you love. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you for reminding me of Ursula K LeGuin. What a great writer. I think the frosh at BMC now read "The Left Hand of Darkness."

Warner said...

If you will simply run down the list you haven't read and read every other one, you have some fine reading ahead of you.

The same is probably true for me, and perhaps I should use it to pick my next book.

Found you through the UCF conspiracy, not certain which one thought.

David said...

@Warner - I think that's one of the main functions of lists like these!

neurondoc said...

The UCF conspiracy strikes again. 7 of my 10 choices made the top 100 list. I find it interesting how we've each read a significant percent of these books but only about 25 of them overlap. Not that that means anything, though.

neurondoc said...

I hadn't known that Stardust was a book. I only read the graphic novel.

David said...

What I find interesting about the lists we've all posted is the comments people have made about the various books.

PDaniel said...

Dave - Just a few suggestions (acknowledging that you have read a lot more books on this list than I have):
1. "Flowers for Algernon" is the most moving work of fiction that I have ever read, bar none. Forget the crap movie "Charley" that was based on it. it's just a short story, but you will never forget the last line.

2. "A Clockwork Orange" is a hundred times a better novel than a movie. I know people offer that opinion all the time, but Burgess' experiment with the English language frames a central moral dilemma ("Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?)that I think would resonate with you.

David said...

Paul -

I will put Flowers for Algernon on my list, then.

But not A Clockwork Orange.

The movie permanently ruined me for that one for two reasons. First, I didn't like the movie all that much (which isn't unusual and normally wouldn't be a problem). Second and more importantly, the context in which I saw that movie makes me extremely reluctant to revisit that work. It was at a gathering where the host - a supposed friend of mine whom I never spoke to again afterward - was unwarrantably nasty to someone I loved because she did not wish to see the film.

I cannot imagine any context in which I would be able to do the book any justice, and so I will avoid it.