Pharyngula

Tikistitch has put up a list of the “Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years” (hey, as old as I am!). Put the ones you’ve read in bold — I’ve put my list below the fold.

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 (started it, but it was such appalling dreck I threw it away after page 3)
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I read many of those when they first came out, compounding my geekery. Although they also seem to be a little sloppy in their timing: I Am Legend and More Than Human were written a few years before I was born, I’m sure.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron Baker
    March 10, 2007

    Hmmm, I had just about the same reaction to SWORD OF SHANNARA. Brooks has improved since, from unreadable to poor/mediocre.

  2. #2 Zeno
    March 10, 2007

    Terry Brooks has a special gift: the ability to outlast his critics. The initial reaction to The Sword of Shannara was a mixture of amusement and contempt. Brooks had produced the most blatant and unapologetic rip-off imaginable of The Lord of the Rings. The poverty of his imagination resulted in a quasi-plagiarized imitation that Tolkien fans disdained. But Brooks labored diligently onward, cranking out one Tolkienesque pastiche after another (“Tolkienesque”, that is, if you forgot that Tolkien was a master of languages).

    Maybe Brooks has gotten better with the years, but I had the same experience as PZ — tossing the first book aside after skimming it. Practice makes perfect. Still, I’m always surprised to see some reviewer or another gushing about how wonderful some Brooks fantasy is. I wouldn’t know.

    When Lord Foul’s Bane first appeared, I confidently expected another clumsy LOTR rip-off (complete with a lousy title and — ogawd — a character named “Drool Rockworm”). That one, however, surprised me, and I ended up devouring one Stephen Donaldson novel after another. There is a lot of room to maneuver in epic fantasy. You don’t have to go treading on Tolkien’s heels.

  3. #3 Eamon Knight
    March 10, 2007

    Well, gosh — I only get 26 out of 50 (hangs head in shame). But what criteria do they use for “most significant”? Some of those books are utter crap — Shannara, obviously; and McCaffrey’s “Dragon” books (like much of her oeuvre) are overblown melodramatic soap operas, just barely rescued by the intriguing setting.

  4. #4 Wally Whateley
    March 10, 2007

    I’ve only read nine (flogs self in shame). Though I think the list didn’t include nearly enough Bradbury, and it also includes quite a few books I’ve started and given up on, or that I avoid because the author’s fans are a bunch of insufferable morons.

  5. #5 Keith
    March 10, 2007

    I notice that the most recent one on that list is Harry Potter (and #1 at that, from 1998), and all the rest come from the the sixties through the early eighties, except for a handful form the fifties. Nothing of importance has been written in SF in the last ten years? Or is it just too soon to tell?

  6. #6 Martin R
    March 10, 2007

    Eamon, you beat me to it: I’m pretty sure that even the list’s author has no stringent definition of a “significant book”.

    And yes, Terry Brooks is really, really, really lame.

  7. #7 Richard Harris, FCD
    March 10, 2007

    Jeeeeez! I remember reading about half of these, about 30 years ago. But, ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. was a bit, errr, Catholic, if I remember right. But I managed to get to the end of it, but only because a religious colleague had asked me to give it a chance.

    The dragon stuff … Holy shit – I’d rather read the goddam bible!

  8. #8 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 10, 2007

    I list roughly 20,000 of what I consider the “Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 500 Years” organized chronologically, by author, by genre, by country, and the like — including details on most of the 50 mentioned above, at:

    THE ULTIMATE SCIENCE FICTION WEB GUIDE
    http://magicdragon.com/UltimateSF/SF-Index.html

  9. #9 Bob Munck
    March 10, 2007

    My list is IDENTICAL to yours, except that I’ve read the Cordwainer Smith and Algis Budrys that you haven’t. Also started and discarded the Terry Brooks.

    List needs more Vinge, more Stephenson. Less swords, sorcery, dragons.

  10. #10 Chris Bell
    March 10, 2007

    No 2001: A Space Odyssey ??

  11. #11 Mark Borok
    March 10, 2007

    I diligently read through “Sword of Shannara” and then confined it to a place of shame in the darkness under my bed. There it was joined by the novelization of “E.T. the Extraterrestrial”, wherein we find out that E.T. has the mass of a large star (or something like that, because the earth’s gravity is threatening to compress him into a black hole) and also that bathwater is teeming with micro-organisms (as E.T. discovers when he switches to microscopic vision while taking a bath).

    I may be in the minority, but I think the first three Xanth books should be on that list. I also think Dune and Thomas Covenant are over-rated.

  12. #12 Matt the heathen
    March 10, 2007

    Ender’s Game and The Man in the High Castle are my two favorite on the list.

    A science fiction short-story list of mine would start with That Only a Mother by Judith Merril. I didn’t sleep well for a week after reading it.

  13. #13 Wally Whateley
    March 10, 2007

    The first few Xanth books were good, though I don’t think I’d place them on a list of the Most Significant.

    I’ve noticed that the first few books in most of Piers Anthony’s series are good, then he apparently rediscovers the joy of injecting heroin into his eyeballs, and everything else dives straight into the toilet…

  14. #14 Ford
    March 10, 2007

    I have read most of these and those and they were all pretty good, despite various flaws. For example, Foundation is set way in the future, but everyone smokes and I don’t think the first volume had a single female character important enough to have a name. Maybe 3000 AD will be sort of like the 50’s only with spaceships, but I doubt it.

    Other suggestions:
    The Dispossessed, Always Coming Home (LeGuin)
    Woman on the Edge of Time (Piercy)
    Dreamsnake (Mcintyre)

    Recent stuff:
    Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon (Stephenson)
    Fire upon the Deep, Deepness in the Sky (Vinge)
    Stories of Your Life and Others (a wonderful short-story collection by Ted Chiang)

  15. #15 Kagehi
    March 10, 2007

    Hmm.. I would add David Brin’s “Uplift War”. An entire universe full of aliens that are so far removed from “normal” evolution that having some species show up with ships, their own uplifted species and technical expertise that makes the “Look it up on the galactic Conversapedia” method of problem solving look bloody stupid. The only real complaint I have heard from “anyone” about the series basically seems to be the bizarrish, “Why didn’t they make humans one of the stupid races and have some alien race pop up as the Wolflings.” I.e., its too “human centric” for some people, placing us in too “priveldged” a position. Now.. Had the ID movement been revving up back when Brin wrote it, he might have included a blurb on some earth history along the lines of, “Yeah, we had people just like you galactics on earth too at one time. We grew out of it.” He never the less did have a version of the current religious wackos in the series. A bunch of nuts that **insisted** that it was impossible for humans to have “evolved” so we must be some long lost, possibly abandonned, project from some other previous civilization that *was* part of the whole galactic uplift thing, and that if we only dug up enough fossils they could prove it. Its not “religious” ID, but slightly less silly, equally unsupported and patently absurd, “maybe aliens did it!”, form of ID.

    It was a major series for me. Probably sadly not for near enough of anyone else.

    Making a list from the ones I have read would include about 50-70% of the ones on the above list, but I would have to spend hours going through the thousands I own to figure out *if* that list was what I would have used myself. A real list would need to be based on common opinion, not personal, and sadly, common opinion has more to do what what crap they sometimes put on a shelf in K-Mart as a “best seller” than which ones have real value.

    Frankly, I also have the same problem with people here ragging on Brooks and McCaffrey when calling one a LOTR rip off and the other soap opera like, as I do with some of the complaints about movies and TV shows by those same people. Who the frack cares if they are derived or a bit soap opera like? Just read the story for what it is and stop acting like the damn king in the movie about Mozart who tells his attendent to say to Mozart that it had, “Too many notes.” The former does stand on its own, even if derivitive, and I really don’t get the problem people have with McCaffrey’s works at all. I have seen soap operas (My mother used to steal the TV for hours to watch them, and they haven’t improved from what I have occationally seen since). The comparison is only true in the most vague sense (and then only barely), it is laughable and insulting.

    It tends to be real obvious which people have “never” read anything past the first book in a series. But hell, even some of the best TV shows that have ever run nearly bombed the *first* season, because the number of people that where willing to suspend belief and overlook minor issues in the writing, which even out as the world is better understood, both by the writer and the reader/watcher.

    Do you see huge numbers of people whining about Robert Jordon using the mythology of King Arthur to stage his books? Gosh, why not complain that Pratchett picked some obscure story about elephants and a flat world, then dared to do nothing but parody everything from hollywood movie making to werewolf and vampire flicks. Not one scrap of “originality” (or non-soapish drama in the later) in any of them, if you apply the same “standard” of originality that you insist makes Brooks work bad, or the same non-stereo typical story elements you seem to imply makes McCaffrey’s works so bad. I have read bad. These are bloody works by Picasso compared to what truly qualifies as “bad”.

    I just don’t get some people on here.

  16. #16 Janice in GA
    March 10, 2007

    Hmm, 31 for me, and that’s fewer than I would have guessed.
    I’ve bounced off “Little, Big” by John Crowley before, and I keep trying Neil Stephenson, and keep bouncing off him too. Obviously I am deficient in some respect.

    But I love Cordwainer Smith.

  17. #17 John
    March 10, 2007

    I don’t think “Hitchiker’s Guide” really makes sense without “Restaurant” in any satsifying way, but I don’t think I saw that there.

    Also, you can take out any fantasy book on the list in order to put in, just off the top of my head, “The Man Who Folded Himself” by David Gerrold, “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis, “The Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham, “Walking on Glass” by Iain Banks, and the “His Dark Materials Trilogy” by Phillip Pullman. Oh, and “The Tripod Trilogy” by John Christopher, “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban, “Memoirs Found in A Bath Tub” by Stanislaw Lem, “The Wanting Seed” by Anthony Burgess, and maybe even “Kalki” by Gore Vidal.

    And definitely “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by John Christopher.

    And if you must name a Harry Potter book, “Order of the Phoenix” is easily the one.

    I found this list to be very conservative and that’s one thing sf shouldn’t be.

  18. #18 Ford
    March 10, 2007

    What about Shockwave Rider (Brunner)? Published in 1975 but has both computer worms and Paris Hilton. How’s that for prescience? Unacknowledged source of the TV series “Pretender”.

  19. #19 Joe Mansfield
    March 10, 2007

    I only get 20 of those but I reckon I would hit a better average on a better prepared list. For my money all of the following are far better and more important than Brooks,
    SF:
    Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
    Vernor Vinge – A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, Across Realtime.
    Iain M. Banks – Use of Weapons, Player of Games, Consider Phlebas
    Greg Bear – Eon,The Forge of God, Blood Music
    Kim Stanley Robinson – Red, Green and Blue Mars
    Peter F. Hamilton – The Nights Dawn Trilogy
    Carl Sagan – Contact
    And what of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 ??
    Peter Watts – Behemoth trilogy and Blindsight
    Michael Crichton might have some dodgy ideas on some issues but both The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park are pretty good and arguably “important”.

    Fantasy:
    Richard Adams – Watership Down
    David Gemmel – Legend, Waylander
    George R. R. Martin – A song of Ice and Fire
    Roger Zelazny – too many to mention
    Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
    Garth Nix – Abhorsen trilogy
    Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett – Good Omens
    Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods
    Clive Barker – Weaveworld, Imagica

  20. #20 Dave M
    March 10, 2007

    1. I’ve read 28.

    2. I notice that after the first 10, the rest are alphabetical. I guess that means the first 10 are most important?

    3. Dune is not overrated. Subsequent books in the series should never have been written though.

    4. What is overrated? #11, Book of the New Sun. I can’t believe I read all four volumes. The third one was just awful.

    5. I also miss more recent material. I’d start with Patricia McKillip (including but not limited to Riddle-Master). Brin’s Uplift trilogy is good, but the second one (Startide Rising) is so much better than the other two that the trilogy suffers as a whole. I just read Vinge’s Fire Upon the Deep, which definitely belongs. As does Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

  21. #21 CortxVortx
    March 10, 2007

    Read: 32
    Have: 6

    I echo the sentiment — “most significant” according to whom?

    “His Dark Materials” — seconded.

    — CV

  22. #22 XPM
    March 10, 2007

    Read: 5
    Have: 3

    I suppose I’m a rather poor SF fan. 🙁

    No mention of Stansilaw Lem though?

    Fiasco
    Solaris
    His Master’s Voice (one of the greastest novels about scientists ever written)

  23. #23 Patrick
    March 10, 2007

    The thing is, its a list of most “significant.” So even if a book is kind of lame, if it was “significant” it should still be there. Its not a list of “best” science fiction and fantasy for the past 50 years.

    So Anne McCaffrey should stay. She certainly does melodramatic soap opera type writing. But she’s SO GOOD at it, and she’s attracted so many young readers to the genre (including many teenage girls who otherwise might not have been interested) that she’s certainly in the “significant” category. She’s practically spawned an entire sub genre of fantasy writing based on her work. See, eg, Mercedes Lackey.

    Similarly, consider Terry Pratchett. “The Color of Magic” isn’t his best work. His later work is just phenomenal, his early work is simply ok. But “The Color of Magic” is the one that started the craze for his style of writing. So it belongs.

  24. #24 XPM
    March 10, 2007

    And one of the greatest novels, too…

  25. #25 John Owens
    March 10, 2007

    I’m going to have to disqualify your first listing on a technicality. The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954 and 1955, so it’s going to have to go from any list of fiction of the last 50 years.

  26. #26 Graham Douglas
    March 10, 2007

    It may be significant, but I loathed the Thomas Covenant series, one of the few novels where I had absolutely no empathy with the main character – indeed, I spent most of the book hoping that he’d get squashed or eaten or meet some suitably bloody end. Plus, I’d say it was even more derivative of Tolkien than Brooks.

    (BTW, I’ve read 23 of them)

  27. #27 Kagehi
    March 10, 2007

    For the specific I read on that list. 16-17 of them. Most of those are probably hard sci-fi, which I don’t read as often as more fantasy style ones, or where not in publication back when I got most of the ones I have. A few I have seen the movie adaptations for, like Interview and Starship Troopers. The Ranma one I tried to play an old computer game of, but gave up because imho, it was a pain in the ass. Maybe someone will remake it in some format that is actually playable some time. lol

    Have to agree, somewhat, with Graham Douglas on the Thomas Covenant ones. The first series wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t spectacular either. The second one… Got absurdly religious in theme. Like Covenant was sort of a messiah or something, only he dies and his “ring” gets passed on to some woman that was taking care of him. Real Narnia like BS, with the world remade through his death and her taking over into some new paradise of some nonsense. Read the second series while grinding my teeth the whole time and hoping they where not going the direction they seemed to be and it was just my imagination.

  28. #28 perseid99
    March 10, 2007

    It seems some pretty significant works have been left off this list:

    We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
    1984, George Orwell
    Brave New World, Huxley
    The Handmaid’s Tale, Margret Atwood
    Flatland, A Romance of Many Dimensions, Edwin Abbott

    …or I have an inordinate fondness for dystopias.

    No I, Robot or Dan Simmons novels?

  29. #29 Flounder
    March 10, 2007

    Is ‘A Clockwork Orange’ not considered a science fiction novel? It has as many science fiction elements a ‘The Man in the High Castle’ does and both are should be at the top of any list like this methinks.

  30. #30 Gray Lensman
    March 10, 2007

    It’s a good list, at least for old guys like me. I’ve read all of them,I think.

    Some of them remind me of Theodore Sturgeon’s “Sturgeon’s Revelation” or “Sturgeon’s Law”. Google it with pleasure. It applies to so many things in life.

    It’s not on the list, but Clarke’s Rendevous With Rama (first book only) is one I reread happily because it gives me the thing I most enjoy in SF,a sense of strange.

  31. #31 Shoeguyster
    March 10, 2007

    Admittedly, I haven’t read much science fiction in the last twenty years, but I have read more than half the books, and all but two of the authors.
    Other entries:
    Solaris. Much better than any of the movies of the same name.
    The Sheep Look Up.
    The first two Riverworld novels
    Anything by Philip Dick
    I’ve got no time for sword and sorcery, and wish fantasy would not be listed in the same category of science fiction.

  32. #32 Kuni
    March 10, 2007

    Brooks is terrible, and no, his later works have not improved.

    I’m puzzled Robin Hobb(“Assassin”, “Liveship Traders”) doesn’t make the list, surprised that David Brin(“Uplift”, “Kiln People”) isn’t on it, and where the heck is Vinge?

    I’d also contend that China Mieville(“Perdido Street Station”) and perhaps CS Friendman (“This Alien Shore” and others) ought to kick a few people off this list.

    And why is Childhood’s End on the list? That book was terrible in comparison to, say, 2001.

  33. #33 Eamon Knight
    March 10, 2007

    Frankly, I also have the same problem with people here ragging on Brooks and McCaffrey when calling one a LOTR rip off and the other soap opera like…..

    Me being among the first on this thread to say that, I suppose I’d better step up and defend it ;-).

    The problem with Shannara isn’t just that it’s derivative of Tolkien. Damn near everything in literature is derivative of something else by now — we’ve been telling tales for a long time, and there just aren’t that many new things under the sun. The problem is that it’s cheap knock-off of Tolkien. It’s been a good 25+ years since I read it, so I no longer recall details, but I do recall, starved for fantasy as I was at the time, thinking “This is just so thin“. No texture. Shannara is to LOTR as Kraft dinner is to linguini con vongole prepared by an expert chef.

    As to McCaffrey: read the whole Dragonrider series, and managed to mostly like them despite the characterization: everyone seems to be a one-dimensional hero or asshole, and/or constantly whining about their insecurities. Ditto what I remember of The Ship Who Sang, as well as a book of shorts Get Off The Unicorn that’s kicking around the chaotic collection of two-books-deep shelving (or just stacked on the floor) that passes for our household library (is there a 12-steps program for bibliophiles?).

    However, I will grant you that there is crap far, far, FAR SCREAMING PURPLE WITH SHOOTING STARS FAR worse than either of those. 😉

  34. #34 Zeno
    March 10, 2007

    Yeah, what Eamon said. (“Kraft dinner” — ha ha!) The Sword of Shannara was not only a rip-off, it was a bad rip-off. You can be derivative if you’re also clever.

    Also: My count is 33. Maybe 34, since I’m not sure about the Cordwainer Smith book. I read most of his stuff years ago.

  35. #35 DiscGrace
    March 10, 2007

    My husband has read all of the Shannara books, but he thought Wizard of Earthsea wasn’t that good, and The Left Hand of Darkness was, in his words, “really pretty bad”.

    Sometimes I worry about him. =(

  36. #36 Josh
    March 10, 2007

    Yeh, all of the Foundation stories are more than fifty years old, as is the Sturgeon, the Bester, and most of those that perseid99 (#28 above) complained are not on the list.

    The list completely ignores the feminist canon, so Judith Merril’s absence is no surprise given that there’s no Russ, Piercy, Charnas, Tiptree, or McHugh.

  37. #37 grendelkhan
    March 10, 2007

    Fourteen for me. (Ugh; I need to read more.) Didn’t count The Rediscovery of Man; I read most of the stories, but not all of them, in another collection.

    I agree with some of the other posters; this list would be much more interesting without the fantasy, and it should include A Fire Upon the Deep and Startide Rising, at the very least.

    The ISFDB has its slightly outdated top 100 lists, if anyone wants to look at those.

  38. #38 tgibbs
    March 10, 2007

    My list is the same as your own, except that I read the Cordwainer Smith and Budrys books, and I never read “On the Beach.”

    I don’t think I’d argue with putting any of them (the ones I’ve read, anyway) on the list, although several authors deserve more than a single entry. I also think that the absence of Vinge and Stephenson is odd. Tiptree also would seem to belong on the list. And Michael Moorcock. And Charles Stross, I think–he hasn’t been writing for long, but I still think he makes the cut. I’d also include something by Steven King, who I think has been enormously influential (and whom I think is a better writer than he is given credit for). How about Beagle’s, “The Last Unicorn”? Some other favorites are missing, but I’m not sure that I could make the case for “Significant.”

  39. #39 VJB
    March 10, 2007

    Thomas Disch: Brave Little Toaster, On Wings of Song
    Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash
    Poul Anderson: Tau Zero (I really fear a gravitationally-closed universe)
    Too damn many others.

  40. #40 Goffer
    March 10, 2007

    I quite enjoyed the Shannara books after the first one – the settings become quite epic and the characters aren’t all as hopeless as the one in the original. The 4-part series that finished it was really quite well done.

    I much preferred his ‘Magical Kingdom for Sale: Sold’ series though. A lot more light hearted.

    For a fantasy setting I would have thought that Feist would made it with Magician though. And Peter F. Hamilton with The Nights Dawn Trilogy for sci-fi. 🙁

    Out of all the books on the list the one that was the most significant for me was Lord of Light.

  41. #41 windy
    March 10, 2007

    The presence of Brooks burns me a bit as well (might as well put Eddings in there), but wasn’t Shannara the first of the ‘derivative fantasy bricks’ to hit the bestseller lists? Thus the significance points?

    But what about Hyperion?
    Or on the fantasy side, why not some Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper or Robert Holdstock? (derivative done right, I’d say) Or Guy Gavriel Kay?

    And hey, Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita wasn’t published until the 1960s…

  42. #42 andy
    March 10, 2007

    Timescape?! I can’t see what kind of merit gets it onto the list, I thought it was pretty poor myself. Like many of Benford’s books I’ve read, I thought it had a couple of really neat ideas, but it’s let down by a clunky plot and characterisation.

  43. #43 justawriter
    March 10, 2007

    Some of the comments on this thread remind of my general distaste of critics. I go more my Duke Ellington’s credo, “If it sounds good, it is good.” (thanks Peter Schickele) I don’t mind if someone enjoys something that isn’t my preference, as long as they don’t insist that I MUST LIKE IT OR BE EXTERMINATED. EXTERMINATE. EXTERMINATE.
    EXTEEERRRRMINAAAAAATE.

    OK, who let the Daleks out? Anyway, I liked the Covenant series, have always thought Bradbury tended towards the pretentious, Heinlein had two modes – amazing and unreadable, as a child I wanted to be Asimov and even if she wasn’t a great novelist Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.) should be on any list of significant SF. I probably would have also included something by Silverberg on the list.

    None of which should matter a whit to what you like or dislike, as if there were some objective criteria of judging popular entertainments.

  44. #44 thwaite
    March 10, 2007

    The target article didn’t note anything from Kim Stanley Robinson’s corpulant corpus, and only one reader has noted even a single of his titles. Only some are PC hack-work, and even the alternative history in YEARS OF RICE & SALT (which simply supposes that Europe was completely depopulated by the Great Plague, which isn’t such a stretch) is nonetheless often interesting.

    I’m also fond of more introspective SF which tries to imagine other forms of cognition, as we presume exist in evolution (hard to know where to classify Stephen Mithen’s speculations here such his THE PREHISTORY OF THE MIND – science and/or fiction?). Other such efforts:
    THE INHERITORS (William Golding, 1955, so technically ineligible) about go-with-the-flow Neandertals losing to H. sapiens;
    THE EVOLUTION MAN (Roy Lewis, 1960, a spoof on the evolution of Freudian psychodynamics);
    SOLDIER OF THE MIST (Gene Wolfe, 1986, a classical Greek soldier who has amnesia – a kind of historical fantasy neurology). And this last reminds me of Jaynes’
    ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND – another one hard to classify.

  45. #45 fyreflye
    March 10, 2007

    Having been born well before any of these were published I’ve read nearly all including the Budrys and the Shiras (both major writers who’ve been almost completely forgotten.) To my undying shame I have to admit I couldn’t get past the first chapter of vol. 2 of LOTR before succumbing to ennui. Loved the movies, though. And naturally I wasn’t likely to try Brooks, Donaldson et. al after flunking Tolkien 101.
    Most of the additional works suggested here were good ones but I’d like to mention the one I’d consider best of all: The Stand, by Stephen King (the unabridged version.) A masterpiece.

  46. #46 Russell Blackford
    March 10, 2007

    Almost all of them.

    In a couple of cases involving old classics like the Budrys, I’m honestly not sure if I read them at some point as a kid or if I’ve just read so much about them that I feel as if I have. But I definitely have not read anything by Terry Brooks.

  47. #47 Zeno
    March 10, 2007

    I concur with those who mentioned Iain M. Banks. The Player of Games is one of my favorites and I’ve reread it a couple of times with the keenest pleasure. Must. Not. Go. Dig. It. Out. Again.

    I have work to do this weekend.

  48. #48 RedMolly
    March 10, 2007

    I once took a flight with nothing but The Sword of Shannara for distraction. I spent an hour and a half in the airport staring at other people and three hours on the plane staring out the window at the clouds instead and never made it past the first chapter. If you need to have a big fat dopey fantasy novel in the list somewhere, why not put David Eddings’ neverending BelMalPolgariad series in there, with its at-least-attempted bits of humor?

    Also, I quite agree that Guy Gavriel Kay, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb and Connie Willis deserved places on that list; it seems a bit space-operatic and dragon-infested for my tastes. (I like my nonrealistic fiction with a heavy dose of realism, thank you.)

  49. #49 K. Signal Eingang
    March 10, 2007

    READ:
    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
    Neuromancer, William Gibson
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
    Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
    A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
    Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
    Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
    Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
    Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
    The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
    The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
    On the Beach, Nevil Shute
    Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
    Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

    COULDN’T FINISH:
    The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
    The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
    Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
    The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson

    KEEP MEANING TO READ:
    Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
    The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
    Ringworld, Larry Niven
    The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
    The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
    The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
    To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

    NEVER FRICKIN HEARD OF:
    Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
    Cities in Flight, James Blish
    Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
    The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
    Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
    Gateway, Frederik Pohl
    I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
    Little, Big, John Crowley
    Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
    Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
    More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
    The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
    Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
    Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
    The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
    Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
    The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks (started it, but it was such appalling dreck I threw it away after page 3)
    Timescape, Gregory Benford

    STEADFASTLY REFUSE TO READ:
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

  50. #50 fardels bear
    March 10, 2007

    I agree with fyreflye above. I read LOTR once, barely and have never been able to make it past the endlessly dull second book again.

    I also second the call for Dan Simmons “Hyperion” series which is wonderful. It could replace the Thomas Covenant stuff for my money.

    And Gene Wolfe is bloody brilliant, but I’ve always preferred the more quiet novels. His short stories are unparalleled: “The Island of Dr. Death” or the “The Death of Dr. Island” are great. FREE LIVE FREE is a favorite novel, but I’ve never met anyone else who’s read that. So I guess it isn’t “significant.”

    How about we consider Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels one big book and vote for that one?

  51. #51 dieselrain
    March 10, 2007

    Heinlein’s “Time for the Stars” gave me the bug to read science fiction when I was in 7th grade, so it’s significant on my list. Have read 23 of the 50. Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels were high impact novels for me. I tried LOTR and just couldn’t do it — I like “hard science” fiction, not fantasy, and LOTR was fantasy, to me. I wanted to write like Azimov — big laugh. Hooray for Ender’s Game! I’m always looking for a sci-fi novel that will “grab me” like Rendezvous with Rama did. Feeling that I’ve exhausted the list of really great science fiction, I’ve resorted to reading, gasp, mysteries!

  52. #52 Hank Fox
    March 10, 2007

    I get 40 … and didn’t we do this once before, a year or so back?

    Two not on the list: David Brin’s “The Uplift War” would be in my top 5. Vernor Vinge’s “A Deepness in the Sky” would be in the top 10.

    (I liked the Uplift series because it was based in believable territory. Uplift is something we COULD do in the near future, and I would dearly love to talk to a chimp, or a dog, or maybe an elephant.)

    Something more recent that I thought was thoroughly enjoyable: Eric Flint’s “1632.”

    Note to Hollywood: Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” would make a totally rockin’ movie! (IN MY LIFETIME PLEASE.)

    Sword of Shannara: Two thumbs down! and a popcorn fart.

    Vomit-worthy: I tried reading Covenant the Unbeliever, but I got annoyed at how stupid the main character seemed in the first chapter, dully refusing to believe what was happening to him, and then there was this chicky who kept insisting “But it is hurtloam!” My lip curled at the very word. Hurtloam! Hurtloam! Hurtloam! Argh. The crowing of brain-damaged roosters. Threw the book down and lived my life happily without either Steven R. Donaldson or regrets.

  53. #53 Christian Burnham
    March 10, 2007

    I don’t care that it’s a Catholic novel- ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’ is a classic that most atheists would find worth reading.

    The list is missing two of PKD’s strongest works: ‘Ubik’ and ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’. (PKD was a religious nut, but a genius nevertheless.)

    I’d also recommend ‘Sirens of Titan’ by Kurt Vonnegut for a really clever plot.

    Oh- and where’s ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore?

    ‘The Stars My Destination’ by Bester is another undoubted classic. Fantastically original.

  54. #54 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 10, 2007

    Allowing movies (since it is unlikely I will read a filmed book):

    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

  55. #55 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 10, 2007

    Allowing movies (since it is unlikely I will read a filmed book):

    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

  56. #56 Serpent's Choice
    March 10, 2007

    Read everything on the list except Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras (which I’ve never even HEARD of) and the latter two-thirds of Shannara. Apparently I’m a speculative fiction fan. =p

    But this list … I’m not a fan of this list. I understand that “significant” is really nebulous, ideally considering awards, sales, critical acclaim, and influence on later works, all squished into one package. But the lack of some of THE most significant — by any means — books is damning. No 2001? No Snow Queen? No Hyperion? No American Gods? No Darwin’s Radio? No Doomsday Book? No Spell for Chameleon? Did I mention no 2001?

  57. #57 Caledonian
    March 10, 2007

    Oh merciful godlings, not Darwin’s Radio

  58. #58 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 10, 2007

    I might as well pitch in for good books:

    Strong and/or unconventional:
    The Stars My Destination, Bester.
    Riverworld, Farmer.
    Time enough for love, Heinlein
    Ender’s game, Card (But only Ender’s game by Card.)
    Anvil of Stars, Bear

    Basic:
    I, Robot, Asimov
    Reality Dysfunction trilogy, Hamilton
    Uplift, Brin

    Much of anything of Moore, Vinge and van Voigt are also good reads for one reason or other.

  59. #59 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 10, 2007

    I might as well pitch in for good books:

    Strong and/or unconventional:
    The Stars My Destination, Bester.
    Riverworld, Farmer.
    Time enough for love, Heinlein
    Ender’s game, Card (But only Ender’s game by Card.)
    Anvil of Stars, Bear

    Basic:
    I, Robot, Asimov
    Reality Dysfunction trilogy, Hamilton
    Uplift, Brin

    Much of anything of Moore, Vinge and van Voigt are also good reads for one reason or other.

  60. #60 Mike Nerdahl
    March 10, 2007

    I’m a fairly new returnee to fantasy/Sf, and though I now find Brooks’ stuff mediocre, at very best, it spawned a genre of similar type of stuff. Stuff I like to sift out from my sf/fantasy purchases as mediocre, of course.

    McCaffrey gets the same sort of points. Dragons + time paradoxes = ka ching!

    If I’m going to complain about anything, I’ll have to grumble about Fritz Leiber not being on this list.

    And let me thank K. Signal for admitting to not having finished Thomas Covenant. How can somebody stomach reading three books with such a detestable and unlikeable protagonist?

  61. #61 truth machine
    March 10, 2007

    Here are the ones I can recall reading. Listed authors I’ve read only other books by: Pratchett, Dick, Budrys, Moorecock. Other significant authors in my collection: Brian Aldiss, Margaret Atwood, Anthony Boucher, David R. Bunch, Michael Crichton (boo hiss), L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, Gordon R. Dickson, Gardner R. Dozois, David Gerrold, Damon Knight, Henry Kuttner, Keith Laumer, C. M. Kornbluth, Murrey Leinster, Fritz Lieber, Judith Merril, C. L. Moore, Joanna Russ, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg, Clifford D. Simak, William Tenn, A. E. van Vogt, Jack Vance, John Varley, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Philip Wylie, John Wyndham. All of this, except for the Pratchett, is decades old. And that’s my second collection, having sold many books years earlier.

    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
    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
    A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
    Cities in Flight, James Blish
    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
    The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
    Little, Big, John Crowley
    Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
    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
    Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
    Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
    The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
    Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
    Timescape, Gregory Benford
    To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

  62. #62 bug_girl
    March 10, 2007

    Wait a minute–only 4 women made the list?
    and one of them is J.K Rowling??
    Hmm.

    I may have to ponder this for a while. I think there are some missing authors here.
    Connie Willis, for one, springs immediately to mind. Domesday Book was incredible.

  63. #63 BillW
    March 10, 2007

    I’m surprised no one mentioned C.J. Cherryh. I was particularly fond of her ‘Arafel’s Saga’ and her ‘Gates’ series but despite enjoying these, I would agree they don’t belong on a “most significant” list – just surprised she was not mentioned.

    However, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series should be on the list. Books can still be signficant, even if they are fun…which makes me think that there’s an interesting way to put together a list of “most significant books,” to whit, all the books that Terry Pratchet makes fun of. 😉

    I believe I would put ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ above ‘Stranger’. It is his best written book and, along with ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘Revolt In 2100’ had a profound impact on many people’s politics of the time.

    Oddly (perhaps) I would put Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy on the list despite the fact that she never wrote anything else nearly as good and is not generally considered as being a fantasy author. But these books spawned a raft of historical fantasy books and predates ‘The Mists of Avalon.’

    Several people have mentioned Connie Willis so I will only observe that she most definitely meets one of Ursula Le Guin’s litmus tests of fantasy/sf: ‘Mrs. Brown’ (an imaginary, slightly mousy character who inhabits Ms. Le Guin’s imagination) would definitely be comfortable in Ms. Wills’s books. See (I believe) one of Ms. Le Guin’s essays or prefaces in one of her collection books like ‘The Winds Twelve Quarters’ for more details.

    I must try again to read Phillip K. Dick. I don’t like him and think he’s overrated but so many people whose judgement I trust like his work that I think I must be missing something. To my mind he comes across as a drugged out, self-destructive “artiste” railing constantly about the evils of society…which come to think of it, is exactly what he was. But then, I don’t have a taste for many of the British sf writers so the failing is probably mine.

  64. #64 truth machine
    March 10, 2007

    Oh yeah, Marge Piercy and Ms. James Tiptree Jr. are in another room.

  65. #65 PZ Myers
    March 10, 2007

    I could have said a few things about my opinion of all those authors I read.

    Fabulous stuff: Anything by Gene Wolfe or Ray Bradbury. The choices for LeGuin and Zelazny are excellent.

    Dune is very good, but Herbert had one book in him. The rest is crap.

    Pratchett has a lot of good books in him, but the one they picked is ho-hum.

    I can’t stand Heinlein. Clarke and Asimov are interesting for historical reasons, but seriously — they couldn’t write. Cool ideas scrawled on cardboard with crayons.

    Donaldson leaves me cold. I’ve known a fair number of people who love his work, though.

    Dragons? Boring.

    Anne Rice? Boring.

    I’m a big fan of Gibson, and I think the complaints he gets are unwarranted. There’s a misperception about what he does: he’s not really an SF author. He writes character pieces and moody novels that just happen to be set a little bit in the future.

    Neal Stephenson is the most infuriating author on the list. I love his work to pieces, except every single book has some huge flaw that makes you want to tell him to go back and start over and leave that piece out.

    The stuff that should have been in there that isn’t:
    Vinge. Seriously, how can anyone leave him out of a list like this anymore?
    Banks. #1 on my list. Fantastic writer, wonderfully grim.
    Mieville. If you’re going to be heavy on the fantasy, how can you leave the most imaginative writer in fantasy out?
    Gaiman. Another fabulous fantasist. Coraline for the kids, American Gods for the grownups.
    Powers. His latest books have been rather plodding, but The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides are phenomenal.
    Maybe Susanna Clarke…but it’s on the basis of one book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Maybe that one needs more time.
    Sterling, especially for Schismatrix.
    Stewart, for Earth Abides.
    If we’re talking influential, Alan Moore ought to be on there for Watchmen.

  66. #66 PZ Myers
    March 10, 2007

    Big thumbs up for Willis and Leiber. I should have remembered CJ Cherryh myself — I’ve got a stack of her books on my shelf. Downbelow Station, 40,000 in Gehenna are great, I thought Cyteen was a bit overdone.

  67. #67 Keith Douglas
    March 10, 2007

    Here are the ones I’ve read/seen:

    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov [I still have this in my old closet at my parents’ place, but haven’t gotten around to it]
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein [Also in the closet]
    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin [This one was very strange. It seemed to not really go anywhere. Mind you, I last read it nearly 20 years ago.]
    Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke [I love this one, for some reason, despite the fact I disagree with some of it completely]
    Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey [I read something of hers. I can’t remember anything beyond the “thread” idea, and dont’ remember which book it was from.]
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling [Overrated.]
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams [Douglas was taken from us too soon :(]
    The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien [Ouch. Yes, I read this. It read like notes, which it probably was.]
    Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut [Pretty good]

    Is “Wizard’s First Rule” by Pratchett? I forget. I found that somewhat amusing at the time, but I can’t remember why.

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2007

    Well, the formatting is just too much work …

    But my total is actually fairly low. With only a few exceptions, most of the “real” science fiction that I’ve read (Harry Potter is not real science fiction) dates to more than 20 years ago. But back then, I read a lot of it. Probably caused subtle, yet long term, damage.

  69. #69 Alan Kellogg
    March 11, 2007

    LotR: You need to let the book entertain you, instead of demanding it entertain you.

    Significant: I don’t think this word means what certain commenters think it means.

    Thomas Covenant: The man is a self-important whiner. He also has serious medical problems. Though I suspect they have far more to do with some form of schizophrenia than they do with leprosy.

    Derivative: Show me one original work Shakespeare ever produced.

  70. #70 Christian Burnham
    March 11, 2007

    P. Z.

    Has Gibson done anything worthwhile since Neuromancer?

    I packed it in with him when he ripped off Iain Banks’ Bridge novel.

    Speaking of Banks- The Wasp Factory, The Bridge and Walking on Glass were genius works of a modern day Kafka. He’s never lived up to the promise of his three first novels.

    —————————————————
    People are too sniffy about J. K. Rowling. She’s a great children’s writer, and her books contain enough meat for many adult readers to enjoy.

  71. #71 Chris
    March 11, 2007

    I’m a big Charles Sheffield fan, though I don’t know if he has done any one book that would crack a top 50 list. Glad to see some props for Simmons-Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion are just stunning (the Endymion books blow chunks, IMO).

    I confess that I like the Thomas Covenent books entirely out of proportion to the quality of the writing-it is so overwrought and melodramatic, but it works for me in some weird way.

  72. #72 fyreflye
    March 11, 2007

    For the benefit of those complaining about the dearth of female writers on the original list and in early SF: Wilmar J Shiras was a woman. Julian May was a woman. Andre Norton was a woman. C. L. Moore was a woman who also published under the names “Lawrence O’Donnell” and “Lewis Padgett” when collaborating with her husband Henry Kuttner.
    To the best of my memory Judith Merrill was the first SF writer to actually admit to being being a woman.

  73. #73 Christian Burnham
    March 11, 2007

    BTW-
    Should I bite the bullet and read Ender’s Game?

    Orson Scott Card seems like a poisonous right-wing nut, but I’ve heard Ender’s Game is a classic.

  74. #74 False Prophet
    March 11, 2007

    I’ve read 20 on the list (though I’ve seen film adaptations of maybe 3 or 4 more).

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks Terry Brooks is garbage. And I’m one of those people who think Lord of the Rings is overrated. You have to give props to Tolkien for world-building and influencing a whole genre to the point that rarely do any other authors deviate from his blueprint. But man O man is his prose dull! Why does he also get the Silmarillion on here, a book that most of the rabid Tolkien fans I know aren’t able to finish?

    I always preferred sword and sorcery fantasy to epic fantasy anyway. Give me Howard’s Conan or Leiber’s Fahfhrd and Grey Mouser anyday–also why I support Moorcock on here.

    Definitely you need to have China Mieville, Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman on this list. As for Guy Gavriel Kay–great guy in person (I met him at a signing) and he put out two books I thought were fantastic–Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan–but I don’t think he’s been consistent (Song for Arbonne, the book between Tigana and Lions, took forever for the plot to start). I agree with PZ–I want to include Susanna Clarke, but I need to see more from her first.

    As for more contemporary science fiction writers–what, no Robert J. Sawyer? He just recently became only the 7th writer to hit the sci-fi trifecta (Hugo, Nebula and Campbell). I’d also add Alistair Reynolds but I haven’t read a whole lot by him yet.

  75. #75 Graculus
    March 11, 2007

    How the hell did Snowcrash get on the list? I’ll accept Ender’s Game, it was at least interesting without being cutesy (still didn’t like it).

    But no The Earth Abides? Bug Jack Baron? Solaris? Day of the Triffids The Female Man? Juniper Time? The Crystal Cave? 1984? Gormenghast?

    Hello?

  76. #76 mike
    March 11, 2007

    The Wheel of Time series, particularly #6 Lord of Chaos. Just my favorite thing ever ever.

  77. #77 Cat of Many Faces
    March 11, 2007

    To be honest I love the thomas covenant books. Of course you hate TC he is NOT supposed to be likable. He is in my mind the personification of the worst that humanity can be. He is very painfully human. But that was what I liked about them, it was a hopeful portrail of humanity, even as hateful and awful a person as he could do the right thing. Also it was pleasant to see a character fully taken to task for every mistake. If you screw up, there are consequences.

    I also would have put up the original dragonlance chronicles up. the others are all hit and miss, but the first set are marvelous.

    as for the “dragon” books, they are best read every other paragraph. heh. i guess i just get tired of seeing every character in a series or setting having the same gimmick. (cough, Valdemar, cough).

    I wanted to punch the author of liebowits at the end of the book for having no sympathy for dying people.

    Oh and I add my vote for star tide rising. “But tell me boys, what’s your excuse? you E.T.’s and your stars.”

  78. #78 DuWayne
    March 11, 2007

    Does it make me a total geek that I have read all but 6 or 7 of them? I have to admit, too, that I devoured Terry Brooks – of course, I did read them when I was nine and ten, TLOTR’s was just a little too boring at the time. I include Anne Mcaffrey to my list of haven’t read, though I did start reading Dragon Riders, my eleven year old sensabilities just couldn’t take it. . .

  79. #79 fyreflye
    March 11, 2007

    Should I bite the bullet and read Ender’s Game?

    Orson Scott Card seems like a poisonous right-wing nut, but I’ve heard Ender’s Game is a classic.

    If you’re a 16 yr old 96 pound male weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach and needs a violent wet dream fantasy to make you feel really powerful and important Ender was fabricated for the likes of you. If you’re a reasonably adjusted grownup – sorry, it’s just too late.

  80. #80 Christian Burnham
    March 11, 2007

    Thanks fyreflye.

    I’m a 34 year old 96 pound male weakling- so I don’t think I’ll give any more money to that right wing nut.

  81. #81 stand
    March 11, 2007

    The standard criticism of the Covenant series always perplexes me. Of *course* he’s an annoying jerk. He’s *supposed* to be an annoying jerk. The brilliance of those books is that Donaldson had the balls (and the skill) to create such an unlikable character as Thomas Covenant; and yet he still navigates him into doing the right thing in the end.

    Also, Gene Wolfe is brilliant! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  82. #82 tch
    March 11, 2007

    1984 by orwell qualifies as sci-fi…

  83. #83 TGC
    March 11, 2007

    Good news for fans of Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination has been optioned for production. Check out http://www.aintitcool.com?q=node/22812.

  84. #84 truth machine
    March 11, 2007

    The standard criticism of the Covenant series always perplexes me. Of *course* he’s an annoying jerk. He’s *supposed* to be an annoying jerk.

    No one likes Covenant — not even Covenant.

    The main complaint I’ve heard of the series is that Donaldson creates beautiful noble characters that you adore and then cruelly slaughters them.

    I can’t stand Heinlein.

    But his time travel stories, “All you Zombies” and “By His Bootstraps”, were significant, to say the least. The information in the dictionary in BHB formed a timelike loop.

    Clarke and Asimov are interesting for historical reasons, but seriously — they couldn’t write.

    I totally agree about Clarke but not at all about Asimov.

    Andre Norton was a woman.

    And author of the first SF book I can remember reading, The Beast Master — great stuff about a telepath and his animal team.

  85. #85 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 11, 2007

    If you’re a 16 yr old 96 pound male weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach and needs a violent wet dream fantasy to make you feel really powerful and important Ender was fabricated for the likes of you. If you’re a reasonably adjusted grownup – sorry, it’s just too late.

    Interesting that Ender’s Game is so polarizing. That is one reading.

    The other is that it shows how innocent children gets isolated, perverted and made into soldiers and killers. Sort of the shakeup the “Lord of the Flies” gives, but as scifi and with the added perversion of grownups promoting it.

  86. #86 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 11, 2007

    If you’re a 16 yr old 96 pound male weakling who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach and needs a violent wet dream fantasy to make you feel really powerful and important Ender was fabricated for the likes of you. If you’re a reasonably adjusted grownup – sorry, it’s just too late.

    Interesting that Ender’s Game is so polarizing. That is one reading.

    The other is that it shows how innocent children gets isolated, perverted and made into soldiers and killers. Sort of the shakeup the “Lord of the Flies” gives, but as scifi and with the added perversion of grownups promoting it.

  87. #87 Lars
    March 11, 2007

    Can’t believe that the libertarian classic The Space Merchants didn’t make it…

  88. #88 Craig
    March 11, 2007

    Gateway’s my favorite.

  89. #89 Jorg
    March 11, 2007

    50? Any list that only has 50 most significant books is worse than useless. There should be at least 200. I’ve read 49 of these, and some of them are utter crap (yes, Brooks has been mentioned already). I suppose it’s too early to tell whether Banks, Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Watts, Charles Stross, Karl Schroeder, Bruce Sterling, Michael Moorcock will be considered significant (although, for my money any one of them blows McCaffrey and that ilk out of all possible waters). And I agree, fantasy, while a wondersome and lovely thing (Hobb, Mieville, Flewellyn), should not be mixed in with real speculative fiction…;). And where are Lem and Strugacki brothers? (OK, that’s just my Eastern European upbringing raising its multiple heads…)

  90. #90 Jorg
    March 11, 2007

    Apologies; that’s what I get for writing a coomment while reading The Brothel in Rosenstrasse. I was actually trying to say Barrington Bayley, rather than Michael Moorcock. Oh well. It still turns.

  91. #91 truth machine
    March 11, 2007

    Interesting that Ender’s Game is so polarizing. That is one reading.

    There are additional clues in the sequels and in his real-world politics.

  92. #92 JohannS
    March 11, 2007

    Why are SF and fantasy always lumped together?

    I enjoy those SF books that use what we know of physics, astronomy etc. as a foundation to speculate what travel between the stars would be like. I find the exploration of what could realistically (though not necessarily soon) come to pass of interest. Thus, I don’t care for the close association of SF and fantasy, a realm of literature I see as divorced from possibility. I don’t deny the literary merits of fantasy or that I have greatly enjoyed some works in that genre. I am simply frustrated that I have to wade through a sea of elven romance novels at the bookstore when Im looking for a good true to science SF book. SF is not fantasy! *sigh*

  93. #93 Man of Mystery
    March 11, 2007

    Wait, no Wheel of Time? I appreciate that it’s not, you know, any good, but its inexplicable popularity surely qualifies it for a ‘most significant’. The same could be said for Sword of Truth, seeing as how both series are identical.

  94. #94 Bob O'H
    March 11, 2007

    What? The Last Dangerous Visions isn’t on the list?

    Bob

  95. #95 Louis
    March 11, 2007

    The Wheel of Time is no good? I beg to differ. Guilty pleasure certainly, but it’s not a BAD guilty pleasure like say wanking during a Mass just to annoy the Catholics, for example.

    I’d add Feist to the list as well. I defy anyone to dislike Magician. I won’t comment about some of the more recent stuff, but on a purely subjective basis and only in my humble opinion, Magician is one of the best books ever written and anyone who disagrees needs to be shot to death very, very hard until it bloody well hurts.

    Anyway, you could have removed every book on that list and replaced it with every Pratchett book. Pratchett deserves some sort of very big and expensive medal. The Discworld is a triumph and anyone who differs shall of course be subjected to death by fisting.

    Louis

    P.S. There exists a certain annoying type of snobbery in literature and music particularly. We’ve all been to parties where someone has scanned the CD collection of the host and said “Haven’t you got any [i]good[/i] music?”. Same with literature. What one prefers and enjoys is a purely subjective matter, it is [i]good[/i] for person who prefers it. Granted one should aim to stretch oneself and read or listen outside one’s comfort zone occasionally, but the vile snobbery that infiltrates the arts in an inexcusable arrogance. The only reason people consider certain art good and some bad, in the sense used above, is based purely on their likes and dislikes. To falsely elevate this nonsense to a poorly faked attempt at actual criticism or analysis frankly a) annoys the piss out of me and b) robs McDonalds of otherwise productive employees as all products of arts degree courses undoubtedly are. I’m almost moved to use the word “cunts”! 😉

  96. #96 beepbeepitsme
    March 11, 2007

    I have only read these:

    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
    Dune, Frank Herbert
    Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
    Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams <<<(obviously) 🙂

  97. #97 MysticOlly
    March 11, 2007

    I agree pretty much with that list, but would complain that fifty books id probably too few to contain all the great sci-fi/fantasy of the last fifty (+) years.

    Iain M. Banks – doesn’t get enough reccommendations.

    Bester’s – The Stars My Destination is probably number one.

    Where’s UBIK or VALIS by PK Dick. VALIS is totally nuts but is one of the funniest/darkest books I have ever read.

    Also, for Fantasy what about Gene Wolfe’s Latro novels. They are stupendous. Actually I think Wolfe gets short shrift on this list. His work comprises the most significant work in speculative fiction. Too bad he’s a catholic (like my mum).

    Oh and big-up the Orion Sci-Fi Masterworks/Fantasy Masterworks list.

    Oli

    PS Where was Jack Vance??? Tales of the Dying Sun is the dog’s bollocks.

  98. #98 Phil Lipari
    March 11, 2007

    In my humble opinion I would certainly add David Brin (The Uplift War, Startide Rising) and Vernor Vinge to the list. I finally read “A Fire Upon the Deep” a few months ago which I very much enjoyed and am looking forward to reading “A Deppness Upon the Sky.” Since this list needs more women I would add Joan D. Vinge’s “The Snow Queen” to the list as well as Lois McMaster Bujold who deals effectively with how technological advances affect a society and its people in her Miles Vorkosigan novels and has some brilliant writing. Certainy lists like this can be very subjective, so various criteria such as the Hugo and Nebula awards can be viewed as having some impact on what are significant works. Anyway, I’ve actually enjoyed reading such a deverse discussion.

  99. #99 Bunjo
    March 11, 2007

    Yep, read most of them. Since I am even older than PZ I read a lot of the early ones when they were ‘recently published’, much shorter and less detailed than today’s offerings, and I was uncritical… however I acknowledge the debt owed to the likes of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Sturgeon etc.

    Since then I have become far more choosy and have adopted several rules of thumb to avoid disappointment:

    1) I don’t normally read anything which features dragons
    2) Ditto cute furry creatures
    3) Ditto King Arthur & Camelot
    4) Time travel
    5) Anything related to Shanarra

    although there are some noteworthy exceptions to these rules.

    Books which I have enjoyed recently tend to be longer and more multi layered.

    Suggestions:

    The Araminta Station trilogy by Jack Vance (if you like his particular style)
    System of the World trilogy by Neal Stephenson
    Daughter of the Empire trilogy by Raymond E Feist/Janny Wurts (and the original Magician by Raymond E Feist)
    The Stand by Stephen King
    Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
    Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams
    the War Gods own series by David Weber
    the later works of L E Moddesitt jnr
    anything from Terry Pratchett

  100. #100 Graculus
    March 11, 2007

    SF is not fantasy! *sigh*

    Yes it is. Try to tell me that Star Trek physics isn’t magic, c’mon. And most writer’s aliens may as well be elves.

    And the line is blurry as hell. Is steampunk SF or fantasy?

    The only reason people consider certain art good and some bad, in the sense used above, is based purely on their likes and dislikes.

    No, there are some objective criteria. For instance, in SF it’s really, really bad form to get the science wrong. I don’t mean “speculate about something that we don’t know”, I mean “get well established facts on the ground screwed up”. Enough respect for your characters to make them at least 2 dimensional, not one. Grammar, continuity, stuff like that.

    It’s the same for any art, really. If you don’t know your tools then maybe you should re-think your career.

  101. #101 AV
    March 11, 2007

    Re: Brooks–I read the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy first, and was surprised by how bad The Sword of Shannara turned out to be.

    My question is this: if Brooks makes it onto this list with The Sword of Shannara, then why doesn’t Raymond E. Feist make it with his far superior Magician?

    Anyway, I don’t seem to have read very much SF/Fantasy:
    The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
    Neuromancer, William Gibson
    The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
    Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
    The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

    Where is Le Guin’s The Dispossessed?

  102. #102 G. Shelley
    March 11, 2007

    I followed the links but didn’t find the original article. What was the basis for the assessment?
    Is the Sword of Shannara particularly well written? No Is it derivative of Tolkien? Highly (to quote Brooks, “I had read The Lord of the Rings two years earlier. What if Tolkien’s magic and fairy creatures were made a part of the worlds of Walter Scott and Dumas”
    Other than that, I’m not sure what makes a story derrivative of Tolkien. A great and powerful evil enemy who wishes to bring a darkness to the world? A group of characters setting off on a quest together? Numerous intelligent species? Page after page of descriptions of the scenery? Intermidably dull songs? People who give speeches instead of speaking? Very little modern fantasy is strongly influenced by Tolkien

  103. #103 Dave Wisker
    March 11, 2007

    Ive read 23 of them, and seen the film adaptations of a couple more. One I started (Dhalgren) but never finished.

    I hate Donaldson. Love Gene Wolfe’s use of language– its pretty unusual for ‘genre fiction’, in my experience. I think John Varley could have used at least one entry. His collection of short fiction “The Persistence of Vision”, maybe, or one of his novels like “Titan” or “Steel Beach”. Oh well.

  104. #104 John Bode
    March 11, 2007

    Hmph. If the list doesn’t include Buddy Holly Is Alive And Well On Ganymede, then it’s not a valid list. And I’m not saying that just because I’ve only read a fraction (8) of those books. Really.

    I did read Sword of Shanarra and I think enjoyed it. Of course, I was 11 or 12 and hadn’t read LoTR yet.

  105. #105 Eveningsun
    March 11, 2007

    Terry Pratchett is fun, but no way is he better than, say, Delaney….

  106. #106 Caledonian
    March 11, 2007

    Clarke and Asimov are interesting for historical reasons, but seriously — they couldn’t write.

    I totally agree about Clarke but not at all about Asimov.

    The above is quotes from two different posters, just to be clear.

    I think you’re both wrong. They can both write, and write well – the question isn’t whether they can produce quality, but what the nature of the standards that defines ‘quality’ is. There are different subgenres within ‘non-realistic writing’, and subsubgenres within those – not all of which are mutually compatible. Golden Age SF is concerned with very different things than New Wave. A well-written example of the first is not a well-written example of the second, and vice versa.

    Clarke and Asimov are Golden Age and Silver Age authors, although their styles are quintessentially Golden.

  107. #107 Caledonian
    March 11, 2007

    A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin [This one was very strange. It seemed to not really go anywhere. Mind you, I last read it nearly 20 years ago.]

    *spittake*

  108. #108 Eamon Knight
    March 11, 2007

    Seconded on the “A.C.Clarke couldn’t write” meme. Not consistently bad, but a lot of his stuff is basically a contrived “Travelog of the Future” — it had value at the time for the “gee-whiz” of the postulated technology and sexiness of space travel, but the plot was ho-hum and the characters were wooden. Specific examples: Earthlight, Prelude to Space, The Sands of Mars, The Deep Range, and even the first Rama book (and others I could mention if I took the time to comb through the stacks). Stuff I liked when I was 14, but 10 years later found shallow.

    Read both of the Thomas Covenant trilogies (a couple of times even); I see there’s a third one on the way, which I may read when it starts to hit the second-hand stores. Somehow, I never quite “got” the books, despite having re-read them, but the last time through was probably 15 years ago, so it might be interesting to see how I respond to them now.

    Neal Stephenson recommendations: Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle (the latter being an enormous and complex trilogy that defies genre categorization).

  109. #109 Danp
    March 11, 2007

    Too much fantasy, also nothing recent, well that is understandable because not enough time has passed for it too be recognized as classics. But still there is the nineties which is awhile back now, no mention of Vinge, Stephenson or Brin. And what about Brunner, Zanzibar and Shockwave was 60’s and 70’s (satisfying the “old” criteria). The only fantasy I would have kept is Drangonflight(more popular than “classic”) as a bone to the fantasist, and LOTR(very popular and definitely a classic).

  110. #110 Krystalline Apostate
    March 11, 2007

    Well, for the record, I’ve re-read LOTR, & have re-read Donaldson’s trilogies (all 3) several times.
    I think Covenant was by far the most realistic of the old ‘modern man dropped into the mythological world’: he’s a skeptic suddenly drafted into a world of magic, & living in blatant denial of his surroundings. Most of those read like ‘A Yankee in KA’s court’, modern guy adapts quickly w/o any noticeable impact on the psyche. List needed more Harlan Ellison, Angry Candy, etc.
    Card may be an ID’er, but he sure writes well (read A Plague of Butterflies – wow!). Clarke’s a little bit of all right, never cared much for Heinlein, Rice is okay for empty calories.
    Can’t abide Anthony. His characters have diarrhea of the mouth. Zelazny’s Lord of Light is a classic, & well worth a re-read.
    Am currently reading ‘His Dark Materials’. Intriguing.

  111. #111 Hank Fox
    March 11, 2007

    Found it! We DID have an entry on this same subject, back on August 24, 2004. Only that time it was a list of “100 Science Fiction Books You Just Have to Read.”

    http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/a_science_fiction_list/

    That was back in the days before’s PZ’s world-spanning fame, when he was so new and unknown, he had only 23 commenters.

    I’d forgotten some of the books I mentioned back then:

    I’d nominate Vernor Vinge’s “The Peace War” and “Marooned in Realtime” as Top 100. And David Brin’s “Earth” would be way up on my list.

    I think my number one and two, though, might be Brin’s “The Uplift War,” and Dean Koontz’s “Watchers.” Koontz’s “Lightning” kicked me in the head with the idea of time travelers from the past, and I continue to love the idea, so I guess this one would be on my Top 100 list. And … it’s probably more in the horror genre, but “The Talisman” by Steven King and Peter Straub. … Gordon Dickson’s “Spacepaw” was fun, and ditto for H. Beam Piper’s “Little Fuzzy.”

    Nothing by Spider Robinson? Hmm. I’m just glad there was no Alan Dean Foster on the list — I don’t think I could bear it. And by the way, I’ve always thought Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” would make one helluva good movie.

    And here’s a horror I continue to have:

    Speaking of all this, some years back I discovered that libraries SELL OFF ALL THEIR OLD NOVELS!! I was freaked out, big time. I always think that any great old novel I can think of is right there in the library, waiting for me to pick it up again like an old friend. But they’re not.

    ALL OF THE BOOKS that got me into SF starting when I was 9 years old are GONE. Paul French/Isaac Asimov’s “Lucky Starr” books? Gone. “Zip Zip Goes to Venus”? Gone. Those grand space battle books by H. Beam Piper [and Edmund Hamilton]? Gone. And everything else I could think of (except maybe the Jules Verne stuff). Jeez, they’re throwing away my fondest memories.

  112. #112 Blake Stacey
    March 11, 2007

    I couldn’t finish Foundation the first time I tried. If somebody had told me that it was actually a collection of short stories, it might’ve been much easier, since that would explain the uneven writing and the fact that it kept jumping forward years and years but never getting anywhere. The later books of the series, which Asimov produced near the end of his career, have much better writing but also much less fanboy appeal. (Spoiler alert) The First and Second Foundations, those high-power nerd conventions, turn out to be broken, and the salvation of humanity is revealed to be a collective mind organized by paternalistic robots. It makes sense in context, but damn, it’s like rooting for the Borg!

    Overall, evaluating the Foundation series is like trying to judge the Star Trek movies. Even the original Trilogy has some good parts — the Hober Mallow, Bayta and Arkady Darell stories — which are like movies two, four and six. And then there’s the rest of it. . . .

    The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are also a heck of a lot nicer than the Foundation Trilogy, with some pieces of damn fine prose in Caves.

    Other people have mentioned David Brin, and since he’s said nice things about me I should put in a plug for his books. The first Uplift trilogy was good (I haven’t gotten around to the Uplift Storm books yet), but for some reason I’m more strongly tempted to reread Earth, Foundation’s Triumph and Kiln People.

    I’m one of the crowd who can’t finish Stephenson books.

    Charlie Stross’s The Atrocity Archives was a blast, but I’m not sure it counts as “significant”.

  113. #113 Blake Stacey
    March 11, 2007

    In ten years, one of the early Honor Harrington books (On Basilisk Station or Honor of the Queen, take your pick) will probably be counted as “significant”.

  114. #114 Blake Stacey
    March 11, 2007

    I’m gonna expose myself as a self-righteous literature person and say that Thomas Pynchon deserves to be on any of these top-50 lists for Gravity’s Rainbow.

  115. #115 Orac
    March 11, 2007

    Also, Gene Wolfe is brilliant! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    I’m telling you otherwise. I could never understand why Gene Wolfe is held in such high regard. I couldn’t even force myself to read more than the first book and a half of his series.

  116. #116 Madam Pomfrey
    March 11, 2007

    How about Niven’s “All The Myriad Ways”? A true gem.

    Oh, Maxwell…

  117. #117 Orac
    March 11, 2007

    Clarke and Asimov are Golden Age and Silver Age authors, although their styles are quintessentially Golden.

    Indeed. Such authors tended to be less concerned with limning vivid characters and more concerned with story and ideas. The prose tended to be more conventional and functional. That does not mean that they couldn’t write some really fantastic stories, and they did.

  118. #118 marc
    March 11, 2007

    My goodness, my nerd credentials are weak. And I have a physics degree, for Jeebus’ sake! Counting Lord of the Rings as one, that makes only 9 I’ve read. Perhaps I’m the only one who is completely stymied by Anne Rice’s popularity. I stopped trying to read Interview with the Vampire after two abortive attempts. I found The Silmarillion every bit as interesting as reading the Old Testament (though somewhat more plausible). Perhaps I would be more competitive on a non-fiction nerd-book list…

  119. #119 Skiffy McReader
    March 11, 2007

    I’m going to de-lurk here (just like on Orac’s blog) to put in my 2 cents. I’m batting about .500 for anyone keeping track at home. 😉

    I second lumping all of Pratchett’s Discworld stuff together. There is a lot more going on in them than just snappy plots and sparkling wordplay.

    Next: Terry Brooks; the disreputable nature of- agreed.

    Powers and his Anubis Gate: I’m glad someone else here liked it too.

    Walter Jon Williams and his wonderful Aristoi should be read more, but I don’t know if he would have made the list.

    How about John Stadik’s Roderick, or Harrison’s Light. If a freakin’ Pern novel gets on the list, they should be a shoo in.

    And to beat a dead horse, The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson and the Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker are (arguably, if you’re a George RR Martin fan) the best fantasy novels out today.

    P.S. Love the blog, read it often but never post. It’s outside of my expertise, but not my interest. Keep up the good work.

  120. #120 PZ Myers
    March 11, 2007

    Speaking of Walter Jon Williams — if people don’t like Gibson’s approach to cyberpunk, try his Hardwired. That one is an action movie waiting to happen, and Hollywood ought to snap it up.

  121. #121 Prup aka Jim Benton
    March 11, 2007

    I’ve commented on the list at length on RESPECTFUL INNOCENCE, so just a couple of short ones. PZ, your one major ‘haven’t read’ is ROGUE MOON, which might be my pick for best SF novel ever. I’d include a best of Sturgeon collection rather than MORE THAN HUMAN which I’ve never considered one of his best. (But Teddy the Fish was the best short story writer in SF, with Kuttner — there should be more of his work here — coming in second.)
    The timing on this list is utter crap, with most of the good stuff earlier than 1957. And why THE DEMOLISHED MAN over STARS MY DESTINATION — for years the favorite in any Best SF novel poll?

  122. #122 Peter Rovegno
    March 11, 2007

    I see I’m not the only one who wondered where Kim Stanley Robinson was…Red, Green, and Blue Mars were definitely some of the most significant books for me back when I read them.
    Fire Upon the Deep definitely seconded, as well as Startide Rising (I had trouble making it through the second Uplift trilogy, unfortunately).
    I’m somewhat puzzled by the lack of Stephen Baxter, though…I just got into him recently, and his ideas are consistently complex and engaging (although it may just be that I’m not old enough to know the works his may be derivative of). The Light of Other Days, which he did with Arthur C. Clarke, remains one of my favorites.

    RE: False Prophet at #72 above–Alistair Reynolds is one of my favorite new authors, and I’m hopeful that he’ll make it onto lists like these in the years to come (Chasm City and Redemption Ark are my current favorites, although I’ve not read Pushing Ice yet).

  123. #123 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    For those posting about Xanth – recall that as Piers admits in his bio, the first one ( A Spell For A Chameleon ) was written for 18-25 year olds. Each successive Xanth novel targeted an age group about 2-3 years younger than the first, and from about Crewel Lye onward, they all targeted precocious (or not so precocious) 5-year-olds. (This means I read them backward, since I started Xanth with A Spell For A Chameleon when I was 6, and stopped with Golem in the Gears when I was 16.) Nothing in Xanth (and no post 1986 Piers) belongs anyone’s ’50 most important’ anything list, but we’re talking about a list that has Shannara on it – which only belongs on the ’50 most important books to vomit on’ list. People who like to argue about religion, or the lack thereof, should probably have Piers’s Tarot on their ‘most important SF / Fantasy’ list, though I suspect most here will ultimately disagree with Piers’s conclusions (except the bit about religious experiences being hallucinations). ( Tarot reads like Fantasy, for the most part, but the introductory setting is that of an interstellar colonization effort, and at the end (or near the begining if one is a careful reader) it is revealed that all the wild events are hallucinations induced by alien spores and religion. )

    Somebody mentioned Donaldson and LOTR pastiches. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever chronicles are very good, but he draws numerous elements, at all scales, from Richar Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen , as does LOTR, though neither could be called a pastiche or an imitation.. (Donaldson’s later SF series The Gap Into Foo is a deliberate re-framing of Der Ring des Nibelungen .) Despite having really enjoyed Tolkien, Donaldson, and other Der Ring des Nibelungen – inspired fiction, I didn’t much care for Der Ring des Nibelungen , and couldn’t finish it, but I don’t know German (and I have trouble following English operas, much less German), so I read an annotated script for an English translation. Tolkien and Donaldson knew what to reject. (Among other things, Der Ring des Nibelungen comes across as amazingly sexist, much more so than I was accustomed to in 20th century fantasy. Wagner was also infamously anti-semitic, though if that comes across in Der Ring des Nibelungen , I missed it. )

  124. #124 RedMolly
    March 11, 2007

    Lois McMaster Bujold who deals effectively with how technological advances affect a society and its people in her Miles Vorkosigan novels and has some brilliant writing

    The Vorkosigan saga: pure literary crack.

    I only pick those books up on Wednesday afternoons or Sunday mornings when I know I’ll be able to tear through them at top speed and not have to put them down ’til I’m finished.

  125. #125 tikistitch
    March 11, 2007

    BTW-
    Should I bite the bullet and read Ender’s Game?

    I’m one of those odd people who don’t care for Card’s writing–I read Ender as well as Wyrms years before I’d heard any of his political blathering, and literally was so annoyed by Wyrms I wanted to hurl it across the room. But after years of discusing his books, I realize I am definitely in the minority. Anyways, as long as Card keeps running off at the mouth, I like to keep reminding people he’s completely batshit.

  126. #126 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    Dune is very good, but Herbert had one book in him. The rest is crap.

    I’m shocked, just shocked, that an invertebrate lover like you didn’t like The Green Brain .

  127. #127 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    I think Covenant was by far the most realistic of the old ‘modern man dropped into the mythological world’: he’s a skeptic suddenly drafted into a world of magic, & living in blatant denial of his surroundings. Most of those read like ‘A Yankee in KA’s court’, modern guy adapts quickly w/o any noticeable impact on the psyche.

    Unlike most ‘modern man dropped into the mythological world’ authors, Twain intended to parody insanely confident Yankee inventiveness.

  128. #128 Edo Bosnar
    March 11, 2007

    I’m de-lurking here for a moment to say that I’ve read most of the stuff on the list, and also agree with numerous commenters above that much of it is hardly canonical.
    I’ll add my vote for including Kim Stanley Robinson, who deserves mention for some of his lesser known works from the early ’80s, like “Icehenge” and “Memory of Whiteness”; also, his “Escape from Kathmandu” can probably be placed in the fantasy category, albeit fantasy with tongue firmly in cheek (for those of you who haven’t read it, do so: how can you beat a book that features Jimmy Carter unknowingly shaking hands with a Yeti wearing a baseball cap?)
    Too few people also mentioned the lack of James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), who was definitely the finest sci fi short-story writer ever. And how could anyone leave Octavia Butler out of a list like this?

  129. #129 Patrick
    March 11, 2007

    You should read Ender’s Game. The thing about it is, there are a lot of very ambiguous morals in it. If you want to read it as a book about the moral justification of atrocity, you can. You can also read the exact opposite moral into the book as well- that cultural differences and an unwillingness to consider communication instead of violence can destroy us all, either literally, or even if we win, by destroying our very “soul.”

    The problem is, because the author is a militaristic right wing dick, people tend to read in the first moral. Which may have in fact been his intent. But the second moral is there in the story as well.

    So take the book for what it is, and read it in a vacuum. Its worth it then.

  130. #130 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    Speaking of Walter Jon Williams — if people don’t like Gibson’s approach to cyberpunk, try his Hardwired. That one is an action movie waiting to happen, and Hollywood ought to snap it up.

    Agreed, but the shelves of any well-stocked used book store contain dozens of ‘action movies waiting to happen that Hollywood ought to snap up’, but most will wait forever while Hollywood obliviously wastes 10s of millions on drek like The Core and Waterworld .

    And props to Edo Bosnar for reminding me who had written Escape From Kathmandu .

  131. #131 Krystalline Apostate
    March 11, 2007

    llewelly:
    Unlike most ‘modern man dropped into the mythological world’ authors, Twain intended to parody insanely confident Yankee inventiveness.
    True enough, but most modern authors seem to miss that. There seems to be an overabundance in the genre where a modern man/woman is dropped into an alien/magical/alternate world, there’s a few brief moments of shock, & then they just carry on as best they can.
    Covenant was an ‘unbeliever’ to the Nth power, due to his leprosy. & he did something that you rarely see in SF/Fantasy: he tried to make deals, internally & externally.
    To me, it was a lot more believable than most of the other rot 1 encounters.

    As to Nibelungen, I actually came across a novel written in English that’s squarely in the fantasy realm, well-written, no operatic overtones. Rhinegold by Stephen Grundy. It’s worth reading more than once (I have), & develops the plot & characters very well.

    PZ:
    Hardwired was written by Walter Jon Williams. At least the copy I have is.

  132. #132 Edo Bosnar
    March 11, 2007

    …and I forgot to mention in my previous post probably one of the finest, and most unusual, fantasy novels I’ve ever read, which I absolutely cannot believe did not make it on this list: “The Malacia Tapestry” by Brian Aldiss.
    (wow, 2 posts in a single thread for someone who usually lurks – I guess the topic really inspired me…)

  133. #133 Claire
    March 11, 2007

    15 of the list – not as many as I’d like, but oh well. To Your Scattered Bodies Go is one of my all time favorite books.

  134. #134 John Todd Jensen
    March 11, 2007

    As best I can gather, this list comes from the Science Fiction Book Club, which may explain why there’s nothing too obscure on the list, and why some “books” are titled by their omnibus title, while others are listed singly. The SFBC has the list on their site, (http://www.sfbc.com/doc/content/sitelets/FSE_Sitelet_Theme_2.jhtml?SID=nmsfctop50) but they give it with no explanation of criteria, so I’m assuming that availability through the club and sales of club editions are pretty important criteria.

  135. #135 Bunjo
    March 11, 2007

    Ook! Ook!

    Just in case I didn’t stress my regard for the Terry Pratchett books enough, I’m also recommending 3 of his fiction/non-fiction works jointly written with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen – the Science of Discworld I, II, and III. Whilst best read in order, they can be read separately if you have at least some knowledge of Discworld.

    They are supportive of good science and the latest one (tSoDWIII) is subtitled “Darwin’s Watch”. Without giving too much away it is about Paley’s watch, Charles Darwin, The Theology of Species and the Reverend Richard Dawkins…

  136. #136 David Harmon
    March 11, 2007

    Agreed, 50 books isn’t half enough. I’d add Brin, Greg Egan (Permutation City and/or Diaspora), Vernor Vinge, Octavia Butler (Lilith’s Brood, et al). For fantasy, Raymond Feist and Tad Williams. (That’s just offhand.)

    I read the first two Thomas Covenant trilogies. I’d say they’re brilliantly written, the problem is they’re just so depressing! Likewise, Philip Dick was brilliant, but some of his later novels are really disturbing (unsurprising, given his psychotic break).

  137. #137 Daggerstab
    March 11, 2007

    Did I miss some author/title, or the original list really does not contain anything written on my side of the Iron Curtain? No Lem? No Strugatski?

  138. #138 KevinD
    March 11, 2007

    With only 50 books on the list quite a lot of books are going to be left out. Rather than quibbling about individual books/authors I’ll comment that the list seems to be rather sparse in female and non-American authors.

    I will add my utter horror at Sword of Shannara’s inclusion. Generally I’m a live and let live kind of guy in terms of artistic taste. But SoS is so bad it boggles the mind – 30 years later I can still vividly remember the excrutiating experience that was its reading.

    As the list includes self-described children’s fiction (Harry Potter and Earthsea) I’d like to champion Diana Wynne-Jones. Her output is a bit uneven but the Crestomanci books have the Potter books beat by a mile in my estimation.

  139. #139 drsteveb
    March 11, 2007

    I had read 43 of 50.
    For the 400+ comment version of this see over at dailykos:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/3/10/185925/572

  140. #140 fardels bear
    March 11, 2007

    I agree, Herbert had one book in him. It was called SOUL CATCHER and I think I’m the only person in the world to have read it. Much, much better than DUNE.

  141. #141 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    I agree, Herbert had one book in him. It was called SOUL CATCHER and I think I’m the only person in the world to have read it. Much, much better than DUNE.

    For some it’s Soul Catcher, for others it’s Dune, for some it’s The Jesus Incident, for others it’s Destination Void, for some it’s The Godmakers, for others … . Lots of people think Herbert had ‘one good book’, but curiously can’t agree on which one. Amusingly, the ones who think it’s not Dune think no one else read the ‘only good Herbert book’.

  142. #142 Dave M
    March 11, 2007

    I read The Godmakers. It was good, but I can’t imagine preferring it to Dune.

  143. #143 Eamon Knight
    March 11, 2007

    OK, to those of you who have been analyzing and praising the Covenant series: Damn you!. Now I’m going to have to read the fucking things again, just to see if I “get” them this time. Last time, I was somewhat younger and Christian and idealistic, and probably tried to understand the whole thing in terms of Christian motifs of guilt and redemption or something, which just don’t apply. Now that I’m an old crotchety atheist, I’m probably more willing to accept a morally conflicted and ambiguous hero at face value. Possibly irrelevant aside: one of my favorite ST characters (and the ‘nym I always used when I played laser tag) was Garak, the exiled Cardassian agent — you could never tell which side he was on this week.

  144. #144 Tom Renbarger
    March 11, 2007

    Having just re-read three of the Deryni trilogies (the Deryni Chronicles and the two Camber trilogies) and starting on the fourth, I’ll have to nominate Katherine Kurtz as a notable omission. Maybe she’d make the cut on a Top 100. I thought all 6 of the 10th-century Deryni novels were superb. The 12th-century stuff is a bit more uneven but still pretty good. If I had to pick just one of her novels, I guess I would go with Saint Camber, although The Harrowing of Gwynedd and King Javan’s Year are also excellent, if depressing, books.

    For Piers Anthony, I have to admit I prefer his Incarnations of Immortality series to the Xanth series. There are only so many puns one can take. If I had to pick one book by Pratchett, I’d pick Small Gods, but the chosen novel does have that “first of its kind by this writer” thing going for it.

    For other fantasy, A Game of Thrones and The Eye of the World probably should be on the list. I’d also put Contact on the list on the SF end, although the geopolitical assumptions made in the book are almost quaintly out of date now.

  145. #145 Krystalline Apostate
    March 12, 2007

    Tom:
    For Piers Anthony, I have to admit I prefer his Incarnations of Immortality series to the Xanth series.
    I’d read Tarot a few years earlier, wasn’t boweled over. Read ‘Rides a Pale Horse’, & while it had a clever device (it was back then) – all I could think was, “Geez, this Death guy sure can’t keep his mouth shut.” I walked away w/the impression that the Grim Reaper sure would get behind in his quotas if he felt obliged to explain why he had to take somebody’s life every…single…time. That was 20 years ago, but that’s what I came away with.
    I imagine he’s gotten better w/age – most writers do – but haven’t touched 1 of his books since.

  146. #146 John Scanlon
    March 12, 2007

    Uh, about 27. I re-read things a lot that I own, but most of the pre-80’s SF I’ve read is in my brother’s collection which has been at least partly in storage for 20-odd years, and may include more things from the list.

    I’m so glad I never read any Terry Brooks, but was recently forced to read Eragon (OK, it was a gift) and found that, for a pastiche of Tolkien’s LOTR and Silmarillion, LeGuin’s Earthsea, and McCaffrey’s Pern all of which I absorbed in the 70’s, it was actually well written (you know, like it had been competently edited or something – which is such a rare thing these days).

    Donaldson’s Covenant – quite the opposite. Here and in other discussions I’ve seen, people divide up on whether they didn’t like it because they hated TC, or liked it because the author was sophisticated enough to have a complex and unlikeable central character. Nobody seems to mention that the writing was crap, and apparently a lot of people just can’t tell the difference (crap in a quite different way from classic early SF like some Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein when that was the style). I find the clunkiness of the sentences, the repetitious malapropism of the adjectives quite distracting; but the first trilogy reliably gave me nightmares on each reading, so the story itself is powerful. I went to a lecture in about ’83 where Donaldson discussed his ‘Ring’ obsession and said he was going to leave the story there for a while because he wasn’t (yet) a good enough writer to do it justice. Did he get better, anybody know?

    Slipping laterally to another author-lecture I attended around the same time at Sydney Uni, where Fred Hoyle (The Black Cloud really should be on any list of this type) was explaining his wack-job theories about interstellar microorganisms. A great line in his Yorkshire accent, referring to the decision to include viruses as well as bacteria in his model of interstellar dust clouds: ‘May as well be ‘ung for a sheep as a lamb.’

  147. #147 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    Am I the only person commenting here who’s read Rogue Moon?! Impossible.

    Maybe not. I’ve also read Soul Catcher – and Dune. Liked them both; thought the latter was phenomenal.

    Actually, I’ve read quite a few of the books on the list. My dad has a decent collection and I grew up without TV. I’ve been raiding that shelf since I was about 10.

    It’s hard for me to judge “significance.” Short frame of reference… Harry Potter? Successful, obviously; influential, yes in the short term, but Significant? Ask me again in 20 years. I don’t know yet. Does anybody?

    Loved The Stand but I get Spider Robinson’s scathing assessment of the book, which is that King did a disservice to SF by employing a (literal) deus ex machina in the climax.

    Donaldson had the balls (and the skill) to create such an unlikable character as Thomas Covenant…

    That seems to be a Donaldson hallmark. I haven’t read Covenant (though we still have my mom’s copies on the shelf, hmmm) but I did read the entire “Gap” series. It was sick and twisted, yes – and very absorbing in a horrifying kind of way. I guess that means I liked it.

    My Heinlein vote goes to The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Some books that were significant to me were Childhood’s End; Simak’s City; the first three Xanth books and the Omnivore Trilogy; LOTR; Spinrad’s Child of Fortune (note psychotropic connection with the Tarot trilogy, LOL) Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor; Time Enough For Love

    And way, way up on the significant-to-me list are the SF Hall Of Fame anthologies, Vols I, IIa and IIb, and a “Best SF Short Stories” collection dated circa 1958 (Kornbluth appeared twice) and a Nebula award collection dated 1987 (featuring “Newton Sleep” and “Listening To Brahms” and other stories like these.

    On A Canticle for Leibowitz: Obviously, some form of Catholicism is a major character in the novel, and most of the characters are monks, but I don’t see the book itself as being “Catholic” in the way I think people mean when they say that. I thought it was about the preservation of knowledge as a sacred duty in the face of mankind’s inevitably self-destructive nature, but the duty was really to humanity, not to God. The supernatural is conspicuously absent from this book (if not from the minds of its characters). Does that make it more… secular? I don’t know. It’s 2 a.m., why am I trying to think? 🙂

    I agree that Watchmen should be on there.

  148. #148 reason
    March 12, 2007

    OK my twopence worth:
    Fantasy and SF surely are two different things.
    The obviously missing classics by authors who didn’t just write SF (Orlwell’s 1984, Brave New World).
    And where are the classic SF authors, Verne, Wells, Wyndham?
    This list can’t be serious, on any score.

  149. #149 Ginger Yellow
    March 12, 2007

    “The list is missing two of PKD’s strongest works: ‘Ubik’ and ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’. (PKD was a religious nut, but a genius nevertheless.)”

    Agreed – Ubik is my favourite Dick novel – but I’m not sure how “significant” they are. It would be hard to disentangle the influence of Ubik from that of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, since they are thematically so similar. The drug culture references are more explicit in Ubik of course.

    The list is pretty good, if very mainstream – it reads almost like a catalogue of the SF Masterworks imprint. But it is depressingly conservative in its scope – where are the comics and graphic novels? No Watchmen? Akira? X-Men?

  150. #150 RickU
    March 12, 2007

    First there are some blatant omissions here. The collaborations between Niven and Pournelle were/are far better than their works alone so I nominate “Lucifer’s Hammer” and “The Mote in God’s Eye” for their 2.

    I (guiltily) have to admit that I liked the Shannara series…but in my defense I was in my pre-teens and hadn’t read LOTR yet. I really enjoyed the Thomas Covenant series all the way through.

    Ender’s Game was worth my time though anything else by that author has not been (so far).

    I’m a huge Heinlein fan. There are only a couple of things that he wrote that I didn’t like. Some of what I consider his more important works don’t even get mentioned by other Heinlein fans. Citizen of the Galaxy and Tunnel in the Sky are right up there with Stranger and Starship troopers. For social commentary Job: A comedy of Justice was awesome and hilarious.

    I’ve read only about half the books on that list.

    I do want to throw in one more Niven/Pournell plug. “Inferno” is a very funny good book about a science fiction author’s journey through hell based on Dante’s “Inferno”(loosely of course).

  151. #151 MysticOlly
    March 12, 2007

    RE #146

    Agreed. Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman is great and I can see how UBIK is thematically similar.

    How about ‘The Eye Of Argon’ by Jim Theis.

    It is probably the best (and one of the most read) short stories in the history of the multiverse.

    Or something.

    O

  152. #152 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    And where are the classic SF authors, Verne, Wells, Wyndham?

    I’m with you in spirit, but be reminded that this is quite explicitly a list of the
    “Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years” which surely excludes some of the great books you have in mind.

  153. #153 Caledonian
    March 12, 2007

    I thought it was about the preservation of knowledge as a sacred duty in the face of mankind’s inevitably self-destructive nature, but the duty was really to humanity, not to God. The supernatural is conspicuously absent from this book (if not from the minds of its characters).

    I could be mistaken – it’s been a while since I’ve read the book – but wasn’t one of the characters the Wandering Jew?

    That strikes me as being pretty blatantly supernatural. Not to mention partisan.

  154. #154 Flex
    March 12, 2007

    What can you say about a list limited to 50?

    Orwell’s 1984 was published in 1949 (written in 1948), so It’s past the 50 year mark. But Tolkien gets in, so who knows what’s going on.

    Clarke’s 2001 was originally a short story called ‘The Sentinal’ and Clarke converted it into a novel from the screenplay he helped write with Kubrick. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong, but it may explain why it’s not on the list.

    I’ve read most of the novels on the list, and there area plenty of novels left off, even influencial ones.

    I’d second the above mention of _Rouge_Moon_, although it doesn’t get much play, it is a very early example of the shift toward psychological science fiction of the 1960’s.

    I happen to think that _God_Emperor_of_Dune_ was the best of the Dune books. I realize I’m in the minority, but I think _God_Emperor_ really explored the problems Herbert didn’t consider when writing the first trilogy.

    Gene Wolfe is more a stylist than anything else, and there are times I love reading his work, and times I can’t stand it. I have to be in the right mood for it. (I can say the same for Mervyn Peake.) He loves to experiment with language and structure. He’s an author that other authors apparently read with relish, and for that reason alone should be in the list of significant influences (like Ellison).

    And where is Clifford Simak? His _Time_is_the_Simplest_Thing_ is a unique solution to all the time-travel paradoxes, even if it does reek of vitalism.

  155. #155 DaveL
    March 12, 2007

    I’ve read all of them. Honestly, it’s a good selection, in general, but misses lots of good reading.

  156. #156 Faithful Reader
    March 12, 2007

    I’ve read 36 of them. Anyone who has not read any Alfred Bester needs to do so *now* as they are still contemporary nd compelling, perhaps Gaiman-like.

    “Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun!”

    “Gully Foyle is my name,
    Terra is my nation
    Deep space is my dwelling place
    And the Stars my destination.”

  157. #157 Eamon Knight
    March 12, 2007

    I could be mistaken – it’s been a while since I’ve read the book – but wasn’t one of the characters the Wandering Jew?
    That strikes me as being pretty blatantly supernatural. Not to mention partisan.

    It’s been maybe five years since my last re-read of Canticle. Yes, there’s this mysterious Jew who shows up every few centuries, but IIRC it’s never made absolutely clear that it’s always the same guy — there’s a deliberate ambiguity about the character (sometimes he’s also Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead). I think the author is making dramatic use of the Wandering Jew myth, without necessarily endorsing all the baggage that goes with it (in the same vein, Stephenson’s Enoch Root character is a sort of supernatural sore thumb stuck in the middle of the otherwise naturalistic Baroque Cycle + Cryptonomicon story). Ditto the Immaculate Conception motif at the end of the book. So I’m not sure just how much of Canticle can be taken as Miller grinding his own religious axe, and how much is just story-telling.

    BTW: there’s a sequel St. Liebowitz and the Wild Horsewoman. Time-wise, I think it’s set roughly in the middle period of the other book. It’s also one of the few books I gave up on half-way through, for lack of a detectable plot.

  158. #158 Ginger Yellow
    March 12, 2007

    “Agreed. Flann O’Brien’s Third Policeman is great and I can see how UBIK is thematically similar.”

    The parallel was made especially obvious to me as by sheer chance I read the former straight after the latter. It was a very disconcerting experience.

  159. #159 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    My take on the enigmatic Wandering Jew character in Canticle is pretty similar to Eamon’s, but Caledonian may have hit the nail on the head. Tough call.

  160. #160 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    And where is Clifford Simak? His _Time_is_the_Simplest_Thing_ is a unique solution to all the time-travel paradoxes, even if it does reek of vitalism.

    Flex, have you read “Ripples in the Dirac Sea” by Geoffrey Landis?

  161. #161 Bill Dauphin
    March 12, 2007

    I’m coming late to this party, but here goes: My score is 16 out of the 50, not including two that I started but didn’t finish (the Foundation trilogy and The Silmarillion), but including Rogue Moon, which I read in novella (or is it novelette? I get the two confused) form in the SFWA Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection. (I’m with Kseniya on the seminal importance of these books, which IIRC collected the SFWA’s consensus best short stories, novelettes, and novellas from the pre-Nebula era.)

    My score would be higher as a percentage if we looked at strictly defined SF alone; I was a child of the Space Age, and my interest in SF was initially founded on space travel. That broadened, of course, as a I got to know more about the genre, but I’ve generally not warmed up to fantasy, nor even to “SF” that depends on the tropes of fantasy (e.g., dragons). I actually only got around to reading The Hobbit and LOTR when I knew the movies were coming out, even though they’d been all the rage among my friends when I was in high school. I love the Harry Potter books, and I understand why they’re considered within the genre, but I really think of them as in a category distinct from either SF or traditional fantasy.

    A few scattered responses to the comments thread:

    Re Heinlein: Count me among the fans, though that may be only because he was the guy whose books first attracted my attention in junior high. People who hate Heinlein usually do so either because they say he’s a goddam hippie (citing Stranger) or because they say he’s a goddam facist (citing Starship Troopers). For that reason, it’s probably reasonable to spike those two books out as “significant”; personally, I agree that Stranger is his most significant work, because its influenced extended outside the world of SF, but I question Troopers, which I think would be largely unknown outside genre circles if not for the ^%#$@ movie. I agree with another poster who mentioned The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I find both more entertaining and more interesting intellectually (and which habitually gets Heinlein called a goddam libertarian! [g]). BUT… the Heinlein work that was most significant to SF was his series of juveniles, which arguably recruited a whole generation of both readers and writers to SF. It’s hard to pick out a single “most significant” book from among the juveniles, though, and including them all as a unit would be inappropriate on a list like this (as it is, including trilogies is a minor cheat, IMHO).

    And speaking of Starship Troopers: Where’s Joe Haldeman on this list? I wouldn’t put his overall body of work at the top of the field (much as I enjoy reading it), but I think The Forever War was seminal, bringing a sorely needed (IMHO) post-Vietnam perspective to SF depictions of warfare.

    Re Niven vs. Niven/Pournelle: I’m a big fan of Niven both as a solo artist and as a collaborator. I find the Niven/Pournelle efforts extraordinarily entertaining (and much better than Pournelle’s solo work), but none of them expanded the mind’s eye the way Ringworld did (or rather, the concept of the Ringworld itself; the story is actually a bit rambling). Lucifer’s Hammer is one of my favorite books, but it’s essentially a mainstream disaster epic/soap opera whose only real connection to SF is the fact that the source of the disaster is a comet rather than an earthquake or volcano or burning building. Footfall — essential Lucifer’s Hammer with an alien invasion in place of the comet — is much more solidly within the genre, but it’s nowhere near as good a book. The Mote in God’s Eye is a great first-contact novel… but it’s not the best first-contact novel, and nowhere near the first, so I can understand why it’s not on this list.

    Re Clarke: I agree that he’s not the greatest prose stylist, and that many of his works (esp. the late-career stuff) are little more than high-tech travelogues, but I absolutely support Childhood’s End being on this list. I found it completely compelling when I first read it as a teen, and have continued to find it compelling each time I’ve re-read it since. 2001 undoubtedly represents Clarke’s most significant impact on popular culture, but that was owing almost entirely to the brilliance of the movie, rather than either Clarke’s original story or his novelization.

    Re Bradbury: I get why Fahrenheit 451 is here, but where is The Martian Chronicles? In the 70s, if there was one SF book in your school’s English Lit curriculum, this was probably it. This book probably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Heinlein’s juveniles in getting a generation to read genre fiction.

  162. #162 Bill Dauphin
    March 12, 2007

    Urrk! “fascist,” of course, not “facist.” I suppose being someone who can’t even spell “fascist” isn’t a totally bad thing, eh?

  163. #163 Bill Dauphin
    March 12, 2007

    Urrk again! I just looked at the list again and now see that The Forever War is there. Dunno how I missed it.

    [EmilyLitella]Never mind![/EmilyLitella]

  164. #164 PhilB
    March 12, 2007

    I’m somewhat puzzled by the lack of Stephen Baxter, though…I just got into him recently, and his ideas are consistently complex and engaging (although it may just be that I’m not old enough to know the works his may be derivative of). #119

    I’ve been reading SF since the 50’s and I’m puzzled that I only saw one reference to Baxter. Try The Time Ships.

  165. #165 Krystalline Apostate
    March 12, 2007

    John:
    Nobody seems to mention that the writing was crap, and apparently a lot of people just can’t tell the difference
    Really? I rather enjoyed Donaldson’s writing style.
    Then again, I re-read the Silmarillion more than once, & enjoyed that as well. So what do I know?

  166. #166 Tlazolteotl
    March 12, 2007

    More Brunner, please. And where the hell is Kim Stanley Robinson?

  167. #167 Tlazolteotl
    March 12, 2007

    And Octavia Butler, for crying out loud?!

    And the only books I disliked more than Card’s were Donaldson’s. Ughh.

  168. #168 Turbonerd
    March 12, 2007

    ugh. only 17 of 50, including the Shannara series and the PolBel-riads (and like most of the others, I’ll plead youth). Obviously, I have some catching up to do. And I’ll paraphrase some of the justification others have cited as well – “good” sf targeted to younger readers is not a bad thing. Which is why I applaud the inclusion of Harry Potter on the list. For its target audience, it is good fiction. It got my then-third-grader interested in reading – which he had really struggled with up to that point. And it opened doors to other, better works, like the Hitchhiker series. And as far as I’m concerned, an afternoon spent with something as dreadful as the Shannara stories is much preferable to that same afternoon spent staring at his XBox.

    Also, I would second the Riddle-Master trilogy by McKillip, and just about anything from CJ Cherryh.

  169. #169 BillH
    March 12, 2007

    OK….I have read every single comment……and I have determined that I must be the oldest (most elderly) reader of this blog. I am probably the only one for whom the idea of 50 years is not a long time.

    so…where on any list are the works of E. E. (DOC) SMITH? They are certainly not the best examples of what is today called Science Fiction, but when I read them, in the 40’s, I was in complete awe of the possibilities that space travel and the future held. I am not certain his books are still in print, however I remember seeing some of his work in Barnes and Noble as recent as probably 10 years ago.

    The better educated and more sophisticated mind of a 70 year old can see the many problems with Smith, but at the age I was when I read him, I was transfixed!

    I have read 28 of the 50 books listed, but for my money, the #1 science fiction book of all is “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke. It did for me what the best novels do….it fired my imagination and created a landscape and characters so vivid that I can still, after many years, see clearly the interior of Rama. David Niven’s “Ringworld” is a close second.

  170. #170 Bill Dauphin
    March 12, 2007

    While we’re on the subject…

    Recently I’ve seen several TV ads for an upcoming movie called (IIRC) The Last Mimzy. It’s notoriously difficult to figure out plot from an ad or trailer, but this looks like it might be an adaptation of “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (aka Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore), a fantastic short story about some kids who stumble on some educational toys from the future.

    This was one of my favorite stories from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection, and I don’t know whether or not to hope this movie is based on it: The story would make a fantastic movie if done right… but it doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing Hollywood is likely to do right. Anyone heard anything about this?

  171. #171 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    Bill,

    Yes, I heard about this a couple of months ago. Your fears/hopes are confirmed.

    It is an adaptation of the great Kuttner and Moore story, and I’m urging my friends to read it BEFORE the movie comes out and ruins it. Maybe the screenplay will do it justice, but as we all know, those kinds of screenplays are few and far between. But they do exist. I will hope for the best.

  172. #172 Kseniya
    March 12, 2007

    Speaking of the SF Hall of Fame anthologies, and film adaptations, I was told the “Vintage Season” screenplay was horrendous. Like they completely changed the ending or something (and if they did, and you know the story, you can guess in exactly what way they changed it, can’t you?) I haven’t see it, though. (I’m afraid to, LOL.)

    🙂

  173. #173 Krystalline Apostate
    March 13, 2007

    Bill:
    It’s notoriously difficult to figure out plot from an ad or trailer, but this looks like it might be an adaptation of “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett (aka Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore)
    Wasn’t that in Dangerous Visions? That was a great story, if memory serves.

  174. #174 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 13, 2007

    There are additional clues in the sequels and in his real-world politics.

    I purposefully excluded the sequels. As some has noted, in this view he reengineered his world in them.

    And I thank Patrick for explaining the reason for the polarity in views about “Ender’s Game” in comment #126.

  175. #175 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 13, 2007

    There are additional clues in the sequels and in his real-world politics.

    I purposefully excluded the sequels. As some has noted, in this view he reengineered his world in them.

    And I thank Patrick for explaining the reason for the polarity in views about “Ender’s Game” in comment #126.

  176. #176 Steven Sullivan
    March 14, 2007

    ‘Mimsy Were the Borogoves’ (1943) long predates ‘Dangerous Visions’. I first encountered it in the monumental first ‘Science Fiction Hall of Fame’ anthology (1970), edited by Silverberg. I hope the film does right by it, but I won’t be surprised if they botched it completely.

  177. #177 Keith Douglas
    March 15, 2007

    JohannS: I think part of it is because the “possibility” is so vague. Take Dune, for example. Use of what amounts to a drug to do faster-than-light travel? Is this at all consistent with what we know about the universe? Not in the slightest. Yet Dune is regarded as SF. And there’s the other way around; take the computer game Might and Magic Book I (yes, I know, it is old). Dwarves, dragons, magic weapons, sorcerers, etc. And yet one discovers while playing that the game takes place inside what is probably supposed to be like the asteroid / fake planet Yonada, from Star Trek’s “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, and there are laser blasters, a data keeper, and such as well, towards the end of the game. So which is it? SF or fantasy?

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