PZ, Bora, Orac, John, and others have all put up posts about a list of the 50 most significant Science Fiction and Fantasy works of the last fifty years. As the reigning Geek-Lord of ScienceBlogs, I figured that I had to weigh in as well. Here’s the list: the one’s that I’ve read are bold-faced.
- The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.: A work of true brilliance. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it; all I can say is that I don’t think I’ve gone for longer than two years without re-reading it since I first encountered it in sixth grade.
- The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. : Foundation definitely shows its age, and
all of Asimov’s flaws as a writer are on display. On the other hand, all of Asimov’s strengths as a writer are also on display. Foundation is what really got me started
reading SF, and I continue to believe that it’s a masterpiece.
- Dune, Frank Herbert: In general, Herbert was a pretty crappy writer. I’ll never understand quite how he managed to pull Dune off. Dune is one of the great masterworks of
science fiction – it’s another of those books that I’ve read more times than I can count, and I still love it, and still find new details. It’s just a spectacular piece of fiction,
beautifully written, with a depth of detail and history that I think was unprecedented in SF. Unfortunately, the sequels were mostly back to Herbert’s old crappy writing style. The depth
in the setting did manage to shine through at times, but not enough to justify seven volumes. (I must admit that the series reads much better if you just pretend that the second book doesn’t exist; there are a ton of continuity problems in the second book, but he mostly gets his act straightened out after that.)
- Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein: Gods, what an over-rated piece of dreck. I heard so much about this; when I finally managed to get a copy from my local library and read it, I was just astonished at how dreadful it was. It doesn’t even make it to the level of mediocrity of much of Heinlein’s later work. Heinlein’s juveniles were often fantastic (I have incredibly fond memories of “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”), but his later adult fiction was mediocre at best. And SiaSL is not his best. Ick.
- A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin. My second-favorite fantasy series after
Tolkien. It’s got a very different flavor to it, which is part of why I love it: Tolkien had such an influence on fantasy that almost all of the fantasies written for decades after LoTR tended to feel like ripoffs. Earthsea was different – subtle, original, lyrical; just a wonderful piece of fiction.
- Neuromancer, William Gibson.: Overrated. It had style – I’ll give it that. But it’s style was self-consciously cool; the whole thing had a sense of “I, William Gibson, the author of this book am so much cooler than anyone who’d read this stuff”. It also had a terrible influence on science fiction – I was glad to see cyberpunk fade out and disappear.
- Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke: Overrated. Eh.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick: This one was a shock when I read it. I’d seen the original Blade Runner (the cheesy version with the voiceover), and thought this was a novelization of it. (I was clueless, OK?) I loved the movie; I’m crazy for the directors cut of it; but this just left it in the dust. Got me well and truly hooked on PKD. I do have to say that “Blade Runner” came closer to DADoES than any other PKD movie has come to his stories. (The worse example being “Total Recall”, which took a brilliant story with multiple layers of identity confusion, and stripped it down so that it had a shadow of one.)
- The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley: Loved this the first time I read it. Then I recently read it again, and couldn’t figure out why I liked it the first time.
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: definitely a classic.
- The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe.: Another one I’ve read too many times. I
love Wolfe’s writing. New Sun isn’t exactly a fast-paced gripping novel. It’s very slow
at times; often rather grotesque. But it’s a terrific read overall.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.: For me, this is the opposite of
my experience with “Mists of Avalon”. I first read Canticle in high school, and couldn’t figure out why anyone thought it was good. Then I recently found my copy while doing some cleaning, and re-read it, and was just amazed – it’s amazing.
- The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov.: I love Caves of Steel; it’s my favorite of
Asimov’s books. For some reason, Asimov’s weaknesses as a writer just don’t seem as glaring
in this book, and it’s got everything that I like about his writing.
- Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras. Never read this one.
- Cities in Flight, James Blish: I was pretty sure I’d read this at some point; checking the description on Wikipedia, I definitely remember reading it, and wondering what all the fuss was about. Seemed like fairly mediocre space opera to me. Blish has never thrilled me as an author.
- The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett: I love Pratchett and Discworld. I’ve got very nearly the entire series. But “Colour” is my least favorite.
- Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison: OK, but pretentious. I’ve never been a fan of fiction that’s very conscious of how cutting edge it is; too much of DV has that self-conscious feel to it for my tastes.
- Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison: Harlan Ellison is a bit of a jackass. But when he puts his mind to it, man can be write.
- The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester: Another big wow – this is an amazing book. Somehow, I managed to completely miss Bester until the SF book club re-issued a few of his books about 5-6 years ago, and it just knocked me out. Pure brilliance. I just can’t believe I went
so long as an SF fan without knowing about this!
- Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany.: God, what an awful book. Terrible, dreadful, awful, pointless. It took me at least a dozen tries before I managed to read this; I kept trying because so many people raved about how wonderful it was. I don’t think I’ll ever understand what people see in this. The style of the writing gives me a headache; the story is slow and almost entirely pointless, interspersed with terribly written and very unpleasant sex scenes which have nothing to do with anything else. God, what dreck.
- Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey: OK stuff; not great, but fun for a light read. Damn shame they had to ruin it by writing 70 or 80 crappy sequels.
- Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card: Scott used to be such a good writer, with such
a deep empathy for his characters. “Ender’s Game” was a great novel, with a really compelling main character. I even loved the first sequel: “Speaker for the Dead” was a really great story as well, with some nice development of Ender as a character. I hate what he’s done by
going back and retconning the story by telling it from Bean’s PoV; it’s such an obnoxious
conscious effort to re-write the politics of the story to fit his more recent ultra-conservative
gay-hating war-mongering political views.
- The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson.: Mediocre. I’ve never really understood why people think it’s so great. To me, it’s always felt like an overly self-conscious take on “Yeah, but what if Frodo was a total asshole?”.
- The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. Haven’t read it.
- Gateway, Frederik Pohl: Eh. OK. Another one with too many sequels.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. : I love the Harry Potter novels. “The Philosopher’s Stone” isn’t my favorite in the series, but it is a great story. And it’s well-worth going back to re-read after having read some of the later ones – there are hints hidden in it to things that happen in later novels.
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. : 42. Need I say more? Ok – a little more. I’ve worn out three different copies of this. Any time I’m feeling depressed, I dig out one of the Hitchhiker’s books to cheer me up.
- I Am Legend, Richard Matheson. Not only have I not read this one, I have to admit that I haven’t even heard of it before.
- Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice.: Ick. Ick ick. Ick ick ick ick ick. I hate Anne Rice; I hate her writing style, I hate her stories, I hate her characters, and I hate what she did to the vampire legends. Ick, ick, blech.
- The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin: Another brilliant work by LeGuin. Love it, although not as much as Earthsea.
- Little, Big, John Crowley: I started this, and got distracted, and then lost my copy. I don’t remember much about it. Based on reading other Crowley, I suspect that I’d like it quite a lot.
- Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny: One of my all-time favorite novels. What an amazing piece of writing! It’s one of those books that has a plot that sets its hooks in you, and keeps you engaged – and at the same time, is written in such a wonderful style that you sometimes have to just stop reading to ponder the beauty of a paragraph. Zelazny at his best – and that is one hell of a strong statement.
- The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick: A good novel, but very over-rated I think. PKD wrote so many things that were so much better than this; I think it’s a shame that this is the novel he’s best known for.
- Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement. Never read it.
- More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon: Ok. Didn’t knock my socks off, but it’s a nice piece of writing.
- The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith. I’ve never managed to get a copy of any of Smith’s books.
- On the Beach, Nevil Shute. Haven’t read it.
- Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke. Typical of everything I dislike about so many
of Clarke’s books. The man has interesting ideas, but he has absolutely no clue of how to hang a plot around them. Rama has great potential – but he managed to utterly waste it. I mean, what really happens in Rama? Human’s discover what appears to be an artificial comet. They go to explore it. They find all sorts of interesting, but unexplained things. And then they have to leave it before it slingshots its way out of the solar system.
- Ringworld, Larry Niven: Mediocre space opera.
- Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys. Haven’t read it.
- The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien: This should not be identified as a novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a novel assembled by his son from notes left by the father. J.R.R. Tolkien would never have published it in this form. It’s got some brilliant parts; and it’s got some utterly dreadful parts. It’s very sad to look at the “Unfinished Tales” published later, and see parts of the Silmarillion as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote them, and compare them to the versions edited by Christopher Tolkien.
- Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut. Brilliant. I am not worthy to comment.
- Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson: A really fun read, but someone really needs to teach him how to write an ending!
- Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner: Eh.
- The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester: Remember what I said about “The Demolished Man”? I like “The Stars My Destination” even more.
- Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein: What a piece of crap. Heinlein at his worst. A heavy-handed political tract.
- Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock: Profoundly mediocre. Like I said before, I have a dislike for self-consciously cutting-edge stuff. Moorcock’s writing was almost always incredibly self-conscious. It’s got that writing style that says “I’m a great writer writing this; look at how wonderful my writing style is!”.
- The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks. : What the hell is this doing here? An
incredibly blatant ripoff, virtually scene for scene and character for character of LoTR. The worse piece of derivative garbage that I’ve had the misfortune to waste my hard-earned money on.
- Timescape, Gregory Benford. I know I’ve read this; it’s on my bookshelf. But I can’t remember a thing about it. Which pretty much sums up my experience with everything I’ve read by Benford – totally forgettable.
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer. Haven’t read it.
Hmmm… I’ve read 42 out of 50. Are the 8 that I missed worth getting?