Evolving Thoughts

SF and me

As I have mentioned before, I started reading dystopias at eight. This naturally led to my reading science fiction or SF (never scifi) and the third book was, as I have said, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, in the Wellsian tradition.

But it wasn’t all literary. Dreck. I craved dreck! As someone once said, it’s time to get SF out of the universities, and back in the gutter where it belongs. So I was intrigued by this list of best SF of the last 50 years, at tikistitch, via Pharyngula. The titles I have read are in bold.

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov

Dune, Frank Herbert

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke

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

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

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

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

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

On the Beach, Nevil Shute

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

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

But where is No enemy but time? by Michael Bishop? Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward? And why include the ones I marked in italic as SF? Fantasy ain’t SF, dude.

Late change: I read the Wikipedia entry for Children of the Atom, and I recall the story line, so I added it.


  1. #1 Jim Harrison
    March 10, 2007

    What amazes me is that I’ve read almost all the SF books you have and I’m not a fan. The other interesting thing: very few of these books were published in the last decade or two. Where are the recent SF books that are worth reading?

  2. #2 John Wilkins
    March 10, 2007

    Good question. I think the role of SF as a way of exciting minds has waned as our technologies begin to resemble those of SF.

  3. #3 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 10, 2007

    “Where are the recent SF books that are worth reading?”

    It’s not guaranteed, but following the major awards sometimes suggests books worth investigating.

    These include:
    * Nebula Awards (peer review, voted on by Active Members of Science Fiction Writers of America)
    * Hugo Awards (people’s choice, by paid members of the World Science Fiction Convention, mostly fans)
    * John W. Campbell awards
    * Theodore Sturgeon awards
    * Philip K. Dick awards
    * James Tiptree, Jr. awards
    * Locus Poll and Awards (readers of Locus, the magazine of the science fiction industry)
    See, for example:

    The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards


  4. #4 dileffante
    March 11, 2007

    I’m not sure about the criteria for classification, but I guess that both of Neal Stephenson’s trilogies will make it into the list in the future.

  5. #5 steven_wgi@hotmail.com
    March 11, 2007

    A lot on that list are what I would call fantasy.

  6. #6 Charlie B.
    March 11, 2007

    Well, it does say “SF and Fantasy” in the original list…

    Anyway… Neal Stephenson and Greg Egan are the current writers who I feel have best explored our techonological future. If we ever do colonise the solar system, Ben Bova and Stephen Baxter may well be cited as influential.

    Of the list above, I’ve read 36 of them.

  7. #7 Bob O'H
    March 11, 2007

    You don’t think the ones in italics could be part of the fantasy side of “The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years” do you?

    Oh, and I guess the reason there are so few recent books is because it takes time for a book to become influential.


  8. #8 John Wilkins
    March 11, 2007

    The last time fantasy was worth reading was Fritz Leiber. Donaldson is crap. Even the Raymond Feist stuff stopped being interesting after about five books.

    I agree with Stephenson and Egan. But Greg Bear ought to be remaindered before he;s even published.

  9. #9 Malky
    March 11, 2007

    I would suggest reading Alaistair Reynolds. Hard SF with some really good story lines

  10. #10 John Wilkins
    March 11, 2007

    Thanks. I’ll check him out.

  11. #11 Iorwerth Thomas
    March 11, 2007

    Reynolds got me reading hard SF again after a couple of years of burn-out (for which I blame Egan’s ‘Diaspora’, I’m afraid). He’s good, and I find that his style is slightly better than Baxter’s. John Meaney’s ‘To Hold Infinity’ is also worth it.

    Paul (J) McAuley is also worth it; he’s one of those rare sf authors who’s trained as a biologist and it shows. The same goes for Brian Stapleford — his ‘Architects of Emortality’ sequence is quite neat.

    Adam Roberts is good at wrongfooting the reader. Bit of an acquired taste, though.

    I’m tempted to recommend Hal Duncan’s ‘Vellum’ and ‘Ink’, though strictly they’re Sam Delaney-style soft sf/fantasy (very, very modernist) with Sumerian overtones, as they’re the best things I read in the last year or so, but they might not be to everyone’s taste. (Duncan has a deep dislike of sub-genre distinctions, so it follows that everything gets a bit wierd. But good though. Very, very good.)

  12. #12 Jorg
    March 11, 2007

    Some in the more recent-and-brillliant category

    1.Peter Watts (a marine biologist, and it shows)
    2.Alastair Reynolds (an astrophysicist; ditto)
    3.Iain Banks (ummm…an English major with deep respect of and good knowledge of, science?;)
    4.Greg Egan (a physicist/computer scientist, and it shows).
    5.Ken McLeod (a foul-mouthed Scottish anarchist, and it shows;))

    Enough already!

    The aforementioned ones can also write well(-ish); something not every one of the scientist-SF writers has been capable of (e.g. Clement or Clarke–I love both of them, but their style is…atrocious?)

  13. #13 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 11, 2007

    “Greg Bear ought to be remaindered before he’s even published.”

    John Wilkins: are you saying that you don’t like the speculative genetics in “Darwin’s Radio”? Or the bio-nanotechnology of Blood Music? Or don’t like what he did in his posthumous Foundation novel in Asimov’s universe? Or don’t like his style?

    Enquiring minds want to know…

  14. #14 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    There are about 5 that haven’t read. Most I read before I was 15.

    And why include the ones I marked in italic as SF? Fantasy ain’t SF, dude.

    I think I stopped caring about that when I was 19 or so.
    I suggest you read some good old-fashioned sword-and-planet, like Leigh Brackett’s The Ginger Star , The Hounds of Skaith , The Reavers of Skaith , so you can see how pointless it is to look for distinctions a significant portion of readers will agree on.

  15. #15 Susan Silberstein
    March 11, 2007

    C.J. Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series is brilliant. Real SF. Aliens! Space Travel! Plot!

  16. #16 jackd
    March 12, 2007

    Two points, the most important first:

    Go find a copy of Crowley’s Little, Big. It’s fantasy, not science fiction at all, but it’s rich and beautiful and sad and sweet and one of the best damn things I’ve ever read.

    Second recommendation for Peter Watts. Three of his books are available as downloads at rifters.com (http://rifters.com/real/shorts.htm). Warning: Don’t look for happy talk. Reviewer James Nicoll says, “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.” On the other hand, his slide show “Vampire Domestication” at http://rifters.com/real/progress.htm is hilarious.

  17. #17 arensb
    April 1, 2007

    There’s another version of this list with various types of markup, including “Times font: Author is douchebag”. The only book marked up this way is Ender’s Game.

  18. #18 arensb
    April 1, 2007

    D’oh! I should learn to read all of the words in the original post before shooting my fool mouth off.

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