Respectful Insolence

This one’s right up my alley, and PZ, John, Joseph, and Bora have already weighed in. I’ve been a big SF fan since my very earliest days. (Indeed, one of my earliest memories of SF is reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle back in maybe third grade or so. So, when I learned of a list of the Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, I just had to do like my fellow SB’ers and look at which ones I’ve actually read. For some of them, I’ll also add a brief comment (for example, at least a couple of these books I consider to be highly overrated).

So, here we go. Bold means that I’ve read it:

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Still the best fantasy ever written. Period.
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. Some denigrate Asimov for cardboard characters and excessive “talkiness” in his work, but the sheer sweep of this one makes up for those shortcomings. The Foundation trilogy is the basis for galactic empires in SF since the 1950′s, including Star Wars.
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert
  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson. I’m going to catch flak for this, but I found Gibson to be highly overrated as a writer. I never read another Gibson novel after this one.
  7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe. Here’s another one that I found to be highly overrated. I struggled to finish the second novel in the series and just gave up and bagged it after that.
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.. One of the greatest SF stories of all time. If you haven’t read this one, get the book. Now. I’ve read it at least three times.
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov. I’m a little puzzled why this one is on the list (for one thing, it was published in 1953). It’s a solid enough novel and quite readable, but hardly earth-shattering. I can only guess it’s on the list because it was the first full-length robot novel that Asimov did in which the Three Laws of Robotics were featured. On the other hand, if you want to include the definitive book about the Three Laws, then Asimov’s collection of interlinked short stories, I, Robot would be the one to get.
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany. Can someone explain to me why this novel is so highly rated? Overly long and at times incomprehensible, with unlikable characters and random sex scenes that seem placed in there just to show how “edgy” it all is, this novel is a load of pretentious psychedelic rubbish.
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson. The best fantasy trilogy since Tolkien.
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. I’m guessing this one is included simply because it’s the first Harry Potter book. In actuality, it’s the weakest of the bunch; J. K. Rowling improved steadily throughout the series. I’m very much looking forward to the last Harry Potter book in July.
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. No one did humorous SF better than the late, lamented Douglas Adams.
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice. The Vampire Lestat is a better novel, but this one got the whole Vampire series rolling. Whether that’s a good thing or not, you be the judge.
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks. What the hell is this book doing on the list? It’s nothing more than an obvious knockoff of Tolkien, derivative formulaic crap. I realized this reading it even as a teenager, fer cryin’ out loud!
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

33/50, or 66% Not bad. Not as good as PZ or John, but not too shabby. However, I have to wonder why they included dreck like The Sword of Shannara or Dhalgren on this list and left off much better (and more recent) works like Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio or Blood Music, for example. Or what about Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine? (Probably too old; it was originally published in 1950; on the other hand, this list plays fast and loose with being only about the last 50 years, given that The Lord of the Rings was originally published in 1954 and 1955 and most of the Foundation stories were written before 1957.) Or what about Julian May’s The Many-Colored Land series?

Finally, one truly glaring omission, as much as I hate to bring it up: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It started out really strong, with the first three novels (The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn) being among the best pure fantasy novels that I had ever read. Sadly, it started a slow degeneration after that, to the point where I couldn’t force myself to slog through it anymore after the eight book (The Path of Daggers), and basically put it aside before even finishing the book, unable to force myself to continue anymore. Nonetheless, by any definition of “significant,” the series has to be in this list. It rejuvenated the heroic fantasy fiction genre (at least for several years, before the series degenerated into crap.)

So, what books on the list have you read? What books don’t belong there? And what books aren’t there but should have been? Remember, we’re talking books written since 1956 or 1957; older stuff is by definition excluded.

Comments

  1. #1 Anuminous
    March 11, 2007

    For the love of god, man, get Ender’s Game and read it. I find a lot of Card’s stuff intolerable, but that one is a gem. Honestly he has some very good short stories too (look up Flux, a book of his shorts which includes the wonderful “The Thousand Deaths”).

    I agree with you about Canticle. I have not thought about it in a long time, but I think I will dig it out for a re-read this morning.

  2. #2 Ahcuah
    March 11, 2007

    I find it interesting that nobody has read “Children of the Atom.” It’s kind of a Zenna Henderson “The People” sort of book (and I note no Zenna on the list, either).

  3. #3 Skiffy McReader
    March 11, 2007

    Wow…Of all the things to get me to de-lurk, it had to be a list of the “best” Sci-fi…

    I’m batting slightly under .500 on this list. (mostly I missed the older ones) I would have added Neil Stephenson’s Diamond Age and/or Cryptonomicon, (I noticed you hadn’t read his Snowcrash. Try to fit it in, seriously. It’s that good.) Steven Erickson’s Tales of Malazan’s Book of the Fallen series, (better than Jordan, IMHO) and R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing Series. (ditto)

    I would seriously recommend picking up any of Terry Pratchett’s work. (even the kid’s books) Colour of Magic was the weakest of the Discworld books (it was the 1st, and he hadn’t really found his “voice” yet.)

    I am also fond of Zelazny’s many Amber novels. (I’m afraid I never got to Lord of Light.)

    A favorite of mine that is a real sleeper (in that no one I know has ever heard of it) is Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams. It paints a brilliant machine-assisted evolutionary path for humans into the far future.

    I just wanted to say that I love your blog. I check in every day or so, and although I’m poorly qualified to weigh in on medical/biological matters I am always entertained.

    I’ll go back to lurking until you want to discuss something this fluffy again.

  4. #4 Joshua
    March 11, 2007

    I’m going to catch flak for this, but I found Gibson to be highly overrated as a writer. I never read another Gibson novel after this one.

    Man, I couldn’t agree more. I read Neuromancer, The Difference Engine, and Pattern Recognition, and I have absolutely no idea why people think Gibson is so incredible. His prose is awful, and his ideas are stale, if not just plain wrong. I don’t know how anybody who knows anything about computers can stomach his cyberpunk; I think he’s only a big deal because he was writing when the group of “people who know things about computers” was very, very small, but then again a lot of geeks seem to like him. (Presumably, the kinds of geeks who aren’t annoyed by poor writing.)

    In my world, William Gibson exists purely as a foil for Neal Stephenson, who plays off the ridiculous cyberpunk stereotypes brilliantly. Really, you should read Snow Crash, or perhaps the better quasi-sequel The Diamond Age.

    And, while I’m ranting, I’ll second Anuminous’ shock that you haven’t read Ender’s Game! I know Card has gone completely off the deep end in the last ten years, but Ender’s Game is a fantastic novel.

  5. #5 Hyperion
    March 11, 2007

    Agree wholeheartedly with Anuminous on “Ender’s Game.” I would have ranked it far higher, but I think a lot of it may have to do with the age at which one reads it. It’s definitely a coming of age story, in a way, and I think might mean more to those of us who read years ago it in middle-school than someone who reads it for the first time as an adult.

    With Jordan…it’s an epic series and he may one day be recognized as being the successor to Tolkein, and he gets mad props for weaving together ancient and modern mythologies from all over the world, but there’s little in there that isn’t already in Dune or LoTR. In fact, in some ways one could switch Rand al’Thor and Paul Atreides and it would make little difference…since both are essentially Messianic prophet-figures anyways. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan and one of these days I’ll get to finishing Knife of Dreams, if for no other reason than wanting some closure to the damned story, but I don’t know if I’d consider it to be Earth-shattering. The main thing that sets it apart is Jordan’s innate grasp of military and geopolitical strategy, where the heroes win not by might but by building alliances before the major battle.

    I might have moved Fahrenheit 451 up a few notches, more for its political message and chilling warnings…not to mention uncannily correct predictions. Also would have added Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man to the list.

  6. #6 Bartholomew Cubbins
    March 11, 2007

    Skiffy – agree about Stephenson. After reading Snow Crash I have to laugh at pop articles discussing avatars and how revolutionary these MU games are – the blueprint was laid out for them years ago. Plus, it harkens back to the urban myth/youth fantasy/phobia of a certain trap in a certain body part. *shivers*

    Cryptonomicon — an amazing story — is a case of real life imitating art. thepiratebay.org is attempting to create its own synthetic island-nation much like SeaLand to base government-free servers.

    The Diamond Age is a fantastic story but I can see why some people would get confused while reading it with the many characters and subplots.

    No Neil Gaiman on the list. American Gods is fantastic, as is the follow-up Anansi Boys.

    Which brings up other Gaiman efforts: what about graphic novels?

    I *highly* recommend The Books of Magic. It will make you see Harry Potter in a different light.

  7. #7 PlanetaryGear
    March 11, 2007

    Snow Crash is terrific. Also his other earlier novels, the Diamond Age and even the one named after that inflatable raft who’s name escapes me… umm.. Zodiac thats it. Those were great. I can’t get through anything he’s written recently but the earlier stuff was terrific.

  8. #8 Miguelito
    March 11, 2007

    I agree with your thoughts on the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Extremely gripping with a protagonist who you can both hate and love. I often refer to this story as literature because Donaldson’s writing style is so powerful.

    I re-read them every few years.

  9. #9 Prup aka Jim Benton
    March 11, 2007

    I’m someone whose SF reading tends more towards the early Campbellian. And I’m not someone who goes in for fantasy, so there are a number of these books I haven’t read. (I was never even able to finish Tolkein, for example.)
    The list has little to do with ‘the past 50 years,’ since many of the books predate 1957, including the Asimovs (40s for Foundation, 1952-4 for CAVES), the Blish(the last one was in the 50s, but the really important one, EARTHMAN COME HOME was earlier), the Bester (1952 or 3), MISSION OF GRAVITY (I think the 40s. certainly before 57), and CANTICLES FOR LEIBOWITZ may just make it under the wire.
    The list also doesn’t make much sense. DANGEROUS VISIONS was an anthology, some are multi-book series, and they include a collection by Ellison (deserving) but don’t include a collection by Sturgeon, the best short-story writer in the SF field.
    I don’t understand why many of the books are here, except for their ‘celebrity.’ (On the other hand, the forgotten CHILDREN OF THE ATOM is a surprisingly good choice — though I think it too is earlier than the list is supposed to cover.)
    DO ANDROIDS… is a good PKD, but he’s done much better. I’d list EYE IN THE SKY, MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE — whoops, saw it later on the list — and one of his later books, maybe ALL WE MARSMEN/MARTIAN TIME-SLIP. (THREE STIGMATA… and one of his later religious books would also qualify.)
    I do like seeing ROGUE MOON here, one of my ‘best evers.’

    I’d agree with listing a Delany (significance, first major black/bisexual SF writer) but liked his early stuff better. And since it was STARSHIP TROOPERS that got Delany writing — with the first major black sf character, I guess it can go in for significance, but DOUBLE STAR, REVOLT IN 2100 and others were better. (And his juveniles and DESTINATION MOON were even more significant because they gave SF a ‘respectability’ it didn’t have before.)

    There are others I’d drop but let me add some obvious lapses — ignoring the 50 year limit as much as they do.
    NECROMANCER and DORSAI — Gordon R. Dickson (much of his other work is boring, but these two were major)
    BRAIN WAVE — Poul Anderson (his first, and a really new idea, rare even then)
    SLAN – vanVogt (okay, vanVogt had only a nodding acquaintance with the English language, but this was the first ‘hated superman’ book and is seminal. Besides, with his stylistic problems, he’s still a great read. I’d also include WORLD OF NULL-A because of its effect, though I found the sequel more enjoyable.)
    FURY – Kuttner still maybe the most exciting SF adventure story I know. But there should be loads of Kuttner on the list.
    THEY’D RATHER BE RIGHT — Mark Clifton & Alex Apostolides. Forgotten, mostly because of copyright problems, but major.
    The first Pohl-Kornbluth novel (pulling a blank) not one I liked, but important. (And if you are including collections, you have to include THE MARCHING MORONS by Kornbluth, wonderfully cyncial stuff.

    I can go on, but won’t, but expect to check back with more comments.

  10. #10 Chris' Wills
    March 11, 2007

    Well 47 out of 50.
    The first book I read, was actually taught to read using it, was Mission of Gravity. MY older brother was an SF geek as well, excellent book.
    I would have had a few more Cordwainer Smith, though there aren’t that many around.
    Oh yes, why no E E Doc Smith!?

  11. #11 anjou
    March 11, 2007

    Not a connoisseur of SF but will put in a recommendation for “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

  12. #12 Graculus
    March 11, 2007

    I have found that most SF “fans” don’t like Dhalgren, but a lot of *writers* do. I liked it, but it’s not an easy book to like.

    The one I think should be tossed is Snowcrash, which is a horrid heap of crap. Bad science, one dimensional characters and it reads like a video game that’s based on a comic book (not graphic novel) – when it doesn’t read like a mainframe core dump (and yes, I have read those, too). I was *using* avatars years before Snowcrash was written.

    I can think of plenty of worse writers than Stephenson, granted, but this one shouldn’t be anywhere near a top 50 list. Could we replace it with Lem’s Solaris or Russ’ The Female Man? If you are going to give a nod to cyberpunk then Mona Lisa Overdrive is far more significant a work.

  13. #13 JimV
    March 11, 2007

    Okay, I’ve read 42 of them, but it’s a bad list. The best Heinlein, “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” is not on it. There are no Niven/Pournelle’s (e.g., “The Mote In God’s Eye” and “Footfall”), no Niven’s (e.g., “World of Ptavvs”, “Ringworld”, or “The Integral Trees”), and worst of all, no Vernor Vinge’s! (“A Fire Upon The Deep”, “A Deepness In The Sky”) I would toss Brooks, Card, and McCaffrey to make room.

    Wait, there’s no Jack Vance! Ellison, you’re outa here! Now everybody squeeze in to make room for Dan Simmons.

  14. #14 Melissa G
    March 11, 2007

    Snow Crash is so brilliant in part because it riffs upon the very tropes laid down by Gibson, Sterling, et al.– I howled with laughter seeing Cyberpunk elements taken to ridiculous extremes! But then it blossoms into something so utterly magnificent that it stands on its own as a work of sci-fi art.

    I am a Stephenson fangirl and have devoured everything that man has written thus far.

    Unlike many commenters here, however, I do also love Gibson. I find that the more punchy, pulpy elements of his books are supported by a foundation of genuine emotion, character and nuance that many of his contemporaries never match. The way the events of Neuromancer build up to the denouement of Mona Lisa Overdrive– well, I find it truly moving. Some of his images touch and haunt me like none other. Also, I think his Virtual Light trilogy is underrated.

  15. #15 Infophile
    March 11, 2007

    Neuromancer, William Gibson. I’m going to catch flak for this, but I found Gibson to be highly overrated as a writer. I never read another Gibson novel after this one.

    I heard a story about this one, that if true, might explain why it’s so overrated. The story goes that Gibson, when he wrote Neuromancer, was actually intending it to be a parody of the whole cyberpunk genre. He kind of flubbed this, in that no one knew it was a parody, and cyberpunk fans declared it the best example of the genre ever.

    Also, I have to agree: You need to read some Terry Pratchett. He’s to Fantasy what Douglas Adams was to Sci-Fi, only about 5 times as prolific (so far). How can you not love a guy who comes up with an idea like “Retrophrenology” in his books, which is essentially molding the skull to change personality traits. Or, in this world, it would be a trick to get woos to pay you to hit them in the head with a mallet.

  16. #16 traumbaum
    March 11, 2007

    If you found Robert Jordan’s early books entertaining, I highly suggest reading George R. R. Martin. His characters are more colorful and his writing more mature, with delicious shades of gray in the storyline. I remember Robert Jordan having a weakness for inventing minor characters, and delineating good and evil far too clearly. I stopped reading his books right around the eighth book, as well.

  17. #17 Michael Burton
    March 11, 2007

    Gee… maybe I’m not a nerd at all. My batting average on that list is really low. Only nine, and I’m not sure I ever finished Stranger in a Strange Land.

    I’ve just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for the nth time, but I notice it’s not on the list. I suppose it’s not as influential as some of the other books listed. Vonnegut’s so good, he’s tough to imitate.

  18. #18 J Max
    March 11, 2007

    I greatly enjoyed the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons.

    About Jordan: The 8th and 9th books are insuferable but the series is picking back up with the Crossroads of Twilight and Knife of Dreams. Another note you may find interesting is that Jordan has been diagnosed with Amyloidosis and is currently undergoing treatment. Forbes did a decent write up http://tinyurl.com/y4f3o9 on his struggle to finish the series.

    George RR Martin is also the greatest thing out there as far as fantasy is concerned.

  19. #19 Zebee
    March 11, 2007

    I note the list is not “best” but “most significant”. I think that means “influential” or “turning point” or “the one people think of when discussing this trope”.

    So while I think Sword of Shannara is utter rubbish, it’s the one I think of when I think of “dreadful derivative fantasy” and after it came out I recall it being used as a marker “oh yeah, there’s another Sword book”.

    Starship Troopers isn’t the best Heinlein but you’d be hard put to find someone reading SF in the last 50 years who hasn’t read it and hasn’t got an opinion on it, usually strong.

    Gibson was the start of the cyberpunk genre really, there might have been ones before him, but few could name them.

    Doc Smith is definitely not “last 50 years” but if you wanted significant he’d have to be there.

    It does seem to be a list made by someone who started and stopped reading about the same time I did :) Started in the 70s, dropped off in the 80s some time. So the big names of the 50s and 60s are there, but not much from the 90s and later. Perhaps because by the 90s the field was so huge and fragmented it’s hard to tell “significant” from “good”?

  20. #20 Nes
    March 11, 2007

    Wow, am I the only one who reads Science Blogs who likes Brooks? I’ll admit that the Sword series wasn’t all that good, but Heritage is much better, plus he has the Kingdom of Landover series. (Though some of those have “Power Rangers” style deus ex machina type crap in them… “we fought a bad guy for 15 minutes and he’s beating the crap out of us, let’s pull out our super weapon and win the battle now!”)

    I’ve only read 7 of those 50, though I’ve seen movies based on several others (off the top of my head, “Harry Potter”, “Starship Troopers”, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”/”Blade Runner”, “Dune”, and “Interview With The Vampire”, and I’ve read other books by some of those authors, Pratchett for sure).

    An author I would have liked to have seen included on there is Katharine Kerr.

  21. #21 MikeQ
    March 11, 2007

    What about Phillip Pullman? Surely he deserves to be on this list.

  22. #22 Adam Cuerden
    March 11, 2007

    You haven’t read Pratchett? You must! That said, The Colour of Magic has little going for it besides being the first, I’d start with Guards! Guards!, Interesting Times, The Truth, Going Postal, or, if you prefer something a bit Gothic, Hogfather.

    Why on earth is Sword of Shannarra on there? Because it’s the most notable Tolkien ripoff?

    M

  23. #23 Jesse
    March 11, 2007

    1. Go read “I Am Legend” right now. It’s fast, it’s good, and it’s got an interesting spin on evolution (I apologize for the inside joke.

    2. Why no Lovecraft on the list?

  24. #24 DrDork
    March 11, 2007

    Hi Orac

    Can I recommend reconsidering Gene Wolfe ? I found the New Sun and associated books verbose and hard work initially…but they develop wonderfully with unexpected depths in later progression – such that I have re-read the series several times now.

    I agree about Wheel of Time – started well, then died in the ass (technically speaking). Will read the rest only when it has ended.

    As has been mentioned – if nothing else – chase down some Terry Pratchett – hilarious !

  25. #25 James
    March 11, 2007

    I second traumbaum’s recommendation of George R R Martin, “A Song of Ice and Fire” is a great series.

    And do go read Pratchett. I think the Wizards sub-series (which includes the first two books) is one of the weaker ones, but you can start in with “Equal Rites” or “Guards! Guards!” without any difficulty. You will not regret it.

  26. #26 Mountaindan
    March 12, 2007

    Pratchett? Pratchett!Pratchett!Pratchett!Pratchett!Pratchett!Pratchett!

    You can’t start with it but THE TRUTH is one of the best social satires ever written. Start with something like Thief of Time, or something even earlier. Realize its a new world he’s created, with different books focusing on different characters within it and you’ll soon get into the swing of things. I GUARANTEE you will be laughing. Also, if you haven’t read GOOD OMENS by Pratchett and Gaimen you’re in for a treat.

    And STARDUST by Neil Gaimen As sweet and wonderful as the movie A Princess Bride. (And already been optioned!)

  27. #27 JW Tan
    March 12, 2007

    Or, in this world, it would be a trick to get woos to pay you to hit them in the head with a mallet.

    In the Discworld as well too, actually. I envy anyone who hasn’t read Terry Pratchett. They’re in for a humungous treat.

    The Chronicles of Amber should be on the list too. Shame Zelazny didn’t live long enough to finish it.

  28. #28 Flex
    March 12, 2007

    If you like good fantasy, you can’t do better than Jack Vance’s _Lyonesse_ trilogy. It is not heroic (much) and avoids the ‘small-band-of-plucky-heroes-save-the-entire-multiverse’ motif so common in fantasy.

    I consider it better than Lord of the Rings, although I fully admit that the subjects are entirely different. I find _Lyonesse_ to be more on a human scale.

  29. #29 Iko
    March 12, 2007

    Although Neuromancer isn’t really high on my favorite books shelf, I do have to say that Gibson wrote my favorite short story The Hinterlands. It’s one of those stories that reminds me of Orwell’s 1984. It’s tightly written, beautiful, and makes poignant observations about humanity.

  30. #30 Tulio serpio
    March 12, 2007

    Nobody here have read Stanislav Lem’s Solaris?

  31. #31 Ginger Yellow
    March 12, 2007

    The most staggering omission is, obviously, the entire world of comics/graphic novels. Any list needs Watchmen at an absolute minimum, and I’d also include X-Men, Akira, Judge Dredd/2000 AD and Transmetropolitan. I see no reason at all to exclude the ones that form books – Watchmen, Akira, Transmet – and very good reasons to include the others. X-Men alone has probably been more “significant” than half the books on the list put together.

    I too struggled with Book of the New Sun and I wasn’t all that impressed by The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but his collection of short stories, The Island of Doctor Death, is superb.

  32. #32 Flex
    March 12, 2007

    Ginger Yellow inspires me to make one further comment.

    I like most of what Gene Wolfe has written, although I know plenty of people who don’t. But his first book, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, is absolutely amazing when deconstructed. Three different versions of the same story, lightly intertwined with each other. It’s an incredibly tight piece of writing. The next closest novel I can think of which does a similar thing is Douglas Adams’, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Dectective Agency, in my opinion the best novel Adams wrote.

    Plus, I have never been able to forget the referance in the title. The Cerberus’ fifth head is her maidenhead, which the bitch will never lose. That’s humor as black as it comes, and I haven’t seen a referance to Cerberus for years without thinking of the joke.

    Which reminds me. As you mention, there is a derth of comics/graphic novels. Where is Cerebus the Aardvark? Talk about significant and influencial even if you consider the later books a bit misogynistic.

    Cheers!

  33. #33 Ginger Yellow
    March 12, 2007

    Three different versions of the same story, lightly intertwined with each other. It’s an incredibly tight piece of writing. The next closest novel I can think of which does a similar thing is Douglas Adams’, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Dectective Agency, in my opinion the best novel Adams wrote.

    It’s not a novel, obviously, but Rashomon does this. I can’t recall too much about the structure, beyond the bare outline – it was more that the content just didn’t grab me at all. Funnily enough I had the opposite reaction to a somewhat similarly constructed book – Cloud Atlas. I loved the individual stories, but I thought the intertwined structure didn’t add all that much. I’m much more of a fan of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, but then I’m into all that arch, self-aware stuff.

  34. #34 Lynn
    March 12, 2007

    Hmm. I’ve read a lot of these, being a member of one of the “older” generations of SF fans. This list bears little resemblance to what I’d identify as a list of “best” SF. I suppose I might let it by as “significant,” but a lot of these works would be on my list of most over-rated.

    I loved Asimov, but I’d replace the novels with some of his collections of short stories. He was far better at short stories than novels *because* he was far better at ideas than characters.

    This won’t be a popular claim, but all of the “Dune” books were unbearably tedious and pointless. Couldn’t stay awake through any of them. And though I loved the recent movies, I’d say the same about the Tolkien novels. I don’t know how many times I tried to read the second one, only to get bogged down in its incredibly boring version of Deuteronomy. And I hate the Anne Rice books (though that could simply be because I find the whole vampire mythos completely tedious and boring).

    There are quite a few others I’d drop from the list, but what strikes me most is an egregious omission–there’s no C.J. Cherryh on this list. I’d definitely include at least “Cyteen,” and probably one or two of her other novels.

    A very disappointing list.

    Lynn

  35. #35 Melissa
    March 12, 2007

    I find it hard to believe that Jules Verne, HG Wells and David Eddings have none of their books on this list. Or the trilogy “Before the Golden Age”, edited by Asimov.

  36. #36 Blake Stacey
    March 12, 2007

    Ginger Yellow:

    I second Transmetropolitan, and suggest The Sandman for the fantasy side.

  37. #37 Blake Stacey
    March 12, 2007

    Also, Kurosawa’s film Rashomon was based on two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, “Rashomon” and “In the Grove”.

  38. #38 Flex
    March 12, 2007

    Arrg,

    I just picked up four Kurosawa films, but not Rashomom yet. And now I learn I need to track down the short stories it’s based on?

    Oh well. I’ll just put those on the list.

    Thanks for the tip.

  39. #39 Marco Ferrari
    March 12, 2007

    No Stanislaw Lem titles (other than Solaris)? The list is useless.

    Marco

  40. #40 M.
    March 12, 2007

    “Kiln People” (Brin) is a must-read. A bit too wordy, but “Neverness” (Zindel) should not be skipped either.

  41. #41 Brendan
    March 12, 2007

    Jess said:

    2. Why no Lovecraft on the list?

    Because the list is explicitly “of the Last 50 Years” Lovecraft died 70 years ago. Somehow, I think that disqualifies him for a list that limits at 50 years ago. If they’d moved back to 100 years ago or something, I’m sure he’d be on there.

    Lynn, you make Chibi-Brendan cry floods! Dune was fantastic! The rest of the series is unmentionably awful (well, I only got to God Emperor and gave up, but Messiah in particular . . .), but the first one was brilliantly detailed and intricate. I can certainly see your point about Tolkein though, I liked the LotR series fairly well, but I had a really hard time getting into the thrid one, and I’ll not be rereading it anytime soon, but it certainly had its moments. Anne Rice I’ll grant you unconditionally. I liked Interview, but I was in high school. I wore a trenchcoat and stayed up till 2 in the morning on purely aesthetic grounds. My tastes may have been off at the time. I definitely agree with you on Cherryh. I’ve only read the Foreigner trilogy, but I seem to recall it was awesome.

  42. #42 Brian
    March 13, 2007

    Well, I’ve missed a lot of these, as my primary reading genre growing up was much more in the fantasy vein – C.S. Lewis and Tolkein were the most important authors in my early reading life. This has spoiled me a bit, as no one, IMHO, has ever come close to what Tolkein achieved, and I left the genre(s) entirely for for almost the last 15 years.

    I’ve recently come back to it, however (although much more SF this time), and many of these books are either recently read or on my current reading list.

    Yes, definately read Ender’s Game, and actually, I think I enjoyed Ender’s Shadow a little better. Speaker For The Dead is not quite as good, but, looking at the list, can hold it’s own here.

    Of course, the main reason I MUST comment here is that Octavia Butler is not on this list!! Nothing by Ms. Butler?? So far I’ve only read Patternmaster, Clay’s Ark, and Kindred, but several more of her books are on my reading list, and if they’re as good a these three, then I’d say that leaving her off the list is an egregious omission.

  43. #43 Ste
    March 13, 2007

    Iv’e read most of them; but some of them I didn’t get to until I was ‘all growed up’ and had much less tolerance for bad writing. Thus I simply couldn’t make it through that first Donaldson thing, ‘Lord Foul’s Bane’. Utterly dire. I doubt I could make it through much of Heinlein these days eitherm, with all his telling-not-showing.

    Meanwhile, any such list that deigns to include fantasy, but neglects to include Jack Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’ cycle, is both jejune and inoptative.

  44. #44 Brian
    March 14, 2007

    inoptative?

  45. #45 Steven Sullivan
    March 14, 2007

    Your question is nuncupatory.

  46. #46 Linda
    March 17, 2007

    I’m not an expert, but I agree with the surprise at no Octavia Butler — the Parable series was considered very groundbreaking. And everyone who reads LeGuin would also likely enjoy Woman on the Edge of Time — a vision of a world without social classes, without oppression of any kind, a sort of realist-utopia. It’s brilliant. (And I mean the British use, not the over-used literary hyperbole ;o)

  47. #47 Edna Gardener
    March 20, 2007

    For me, the most glaring omission is John Brunner. His most well known novels were Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Looked Up, but the one I keep rereading is Shockwave Rider. How about David Brin’s uplift series, and Earth? Might I mention the fabulous Rudy Rucker, shocking fellow that he is? (I named an orange cat after him, because it had a kinky tail.) The recent news of the depth of the polar ice on Mars makes the series Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley
    Robinson especially worth reading.