It’a All About Meme

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

SF Book Club Best 50 SF books 1953-2002

The 50 most significant science fiction/fantasy books, 1953-2002, according to the Science Fiction Book Club. Bold the ones you’ve read, strike-out the ones you hated, italicize those you started but never finished, and put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

*The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
*The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (I loved it when I was 12, anyway. It’s hard for me to tell if I’d feel the same way about it, coming across it as an adult.)
*Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (I like lots of Heinlein, including parts of this book, but it’s also the book which began his long downward spiral into inanity.)
*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 (Honestly, I can’t tell if I’ve read this or not. Whenever I think about it I flash on the movie. This might amuse Bradbury or not.)
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe (Begins brilliantly, but tapers off in the last book and a half.)
*A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
*The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras (I read “In Hiding” which is apparently part of this book.)
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett (I don’t actually think Pratchett is usually very funny. But I do like his mock-worldmaking, the Nac Mac Feegle and Granny Weatherwax.)
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
*Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
*The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany (I enjoy a lot of Delany’s work, “Nova” for instance, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why “Dhalgren” is such a big deal.)
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 prefer the original radio show. Or the TV version. Let’s not discuss the movie.)
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
**The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
*Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon (Sturgeon’s best work is in short form. Even the middle section of this book, published as “Baby is Three”, was better standing by itself.)
*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 most overrated of all sf novels.)
*The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut (If it were “Sirens of Titan” or “Cat’s Cradle” I’d’ve asterisked it.)
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (Brunner’s brief career as a Serious Important Author for Our Times–the 1970s–bored me. But his “Traveller in Black” stories are fun, in a dry way, and his cheesier earlier work is still worth reading.)
*The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks (I know this is on the list because it paves the way for the Plague of the Big Plump Trilogies. But it doesn’t, really: there were other Tolkien-lite series that emerged around the same time. “Shannara” is a symptom rather than a cause.)
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

The awfulness of this list has been commented on before. Is “Cities in Flight” really more significant than “After Such Knowledge”? Why is “I Am Legend” on this list at all? Why “On the Beach”? Where is Leiber (who was at least 2 or 3 of the great sf/f writers of the 20th C.), Jack Vance, Lois Bujold, Connie Willis, Clifford Simak, “The Space Merchants”, James Tiptree jr., C.S. Lewis? Where shall wisdom be found? Where is the place of understanding?

[edit: some second thoughts about what’s on the list and what should be. sartorias proposes Andre Norton, and it’s something I should have thought of. It might be hard to pick just one of her books, but then a number of items on the list aren’t really single books either.]

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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One Response to It’a All About Meme

  1. Indeed, I have read one whole book by Andre Norton (will eventually read the other three in that series), and I don’t think it’s one of the better knowns. Perhaps “more than one out of this author’s many books” would count.

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