Significant SF

I picked this list up from Lou Anders’ blog via Ariel’s new blog The Genre Files:

This is the Science Fiction Book Club’s list of the fifty most significant science fiction/fantasy novels published between 1953 and 2002.

The Key:
Bold the ones you’ve read.
Strike-out the ones you hated.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert*
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester*
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson*
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice*
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin*
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven*
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester*
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

Now there are always problems with this kind of list as readers argue over who was and was not included on the final tally, that’s par for the course with these sorts of things. But I think Ariel makes a couple of good points on his blog when he points out the criteria used to select these books is not explained and also that it is a very US-centric list. Not that this invalidates it, but I suspect a list compiled by SF folks in the UK would contain many of these titles but also a number of others – why, for example, is John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos not on this list? It dates from 1957 but it ain’t made the list. No Iain M Banks as Ariel pointed out, a pretty unlikely omission in a UK-compiled list I’d imagine (as is the lack of David Gemmell – regardless of personal like or dislike he can’t be dismissed).

I’m also astonished that Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy isn’t in here since it must be one of the most significant works of the last few decades – we’re talking a book that NASA considers good reading for future Martian explorers for goodness sake. And no Jonathan Carroll either, alas (on which note I can’t believe he doesn’t have a UK deal for his last book, he is simply one of the most gifted writers around in any genre). No Neil Gaiman on this list? How many comics readers has Neil influenced into reading prose novels (and vice versa)? Not to mention his incredibly skill as a teller of multi-layered tales and the way he has been one of the writers of the fantastic who has made the genres respectable in the rarefied pages of the broadsheets (as they slowly realise SF and Fantasy can be – gasp – literature). Hard also to credit the lack of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and the lack of any Greg Bear or M John Harrison too.

I have read a number of these – quite a few of the older ones courtesy of Gollanc’z SF Masterworks, a terrific series which has, in my opinion, pretty much become to SF as the black-spined Penguin Classics has to older, more mainstream literature (come to think of it, if you want a good list of classic books simply consult their SF and their Fantasy Masterworks because there isn’t a dud among them). And like Ariel there are some here I haven’t read but I have read a number of other books by those authors. And as you can infer from the above paragraph there are a lot of writers I think should be on such a list who were not. But to end on a positive note, what this list has done (as most such lists have done) is to encourage people to talk about books. About good books. And that’s not a bad thing. I’m looking again at some sitting unread on my shelves and thinking, you know I’ve been meaning to read that one for so long…