Friday, March 16, 2007

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years

Via Syaffolee, who referenced Tikistich (I'm beginning to feel less self-conscious about my goofy web moniker anymore) and PZ Myers.

Pretty good list, though I wonder why all of Harry Potter isn't included as one item.

Everything in bold I've read. (And now I have some new additions to my "to read" pile. Yay!) Comments on specific ones follow the list.

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

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley - I read this back in the day where I'd finish reading things I didn't like basically because they'd been so acclaimed (a side-effect of my English major). I always wanted to see if I was missing something. I've done this enough now to know that it's almost never the case that you're missing anything if you don't like what you're reading by, say, 100 pages. I hated this one. This retelling of the Arthurian Legend basically takes gender feminism (read "man-hating" feminism) and Wicca (which, of course, didn't exist back in the day) and mixes them into a bitter brew that climaxes by taking a swipe at the Catholic Church that would make Dan Brown hoist an eyebrow. Perhaps the only tome that does a more mean-spirited takedown of previously heroic people is Michael Moorcock's (I've always wondered if that was a wink-wink, nudge-nudge pseudonym given the nature of his subjects) Behold the Man where a time-traveler goes back to find Jesus, only to discover that Jesus is a retarded man birthed by a prostitute named Mary whose label of "virgin" was meant to be ironic; he ends up being crucified in Jesus' place. Yuk.

The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett - Couldn't get past the first chapter. I just don't get this guy's humour. Don't think I made it to the end of the first chapter.

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson - Like many, I was so put off by the vicious rape of an innocent girl by the supposed hero of the story that I couldn't continue.

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien - Long-running series and corporate mascots are kept consistent by a "bible" that gives all the back-story and do's and don't's for the franchise. This is essentially Tolkien's version of that for his books and reads like one. The very first section describing the creation of the universe is lyrical and stirring, but then the leaden detail and histories deliver nothing but endless chasms of boredom. (With a nod to Earl for that wondrous phrase.)

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson - Another acclaimed "must read" book for the cyberage, but the writing is precious and way too "meta" for my tastes. Even though it's spun as a farce, a future world in which delivering a pizza in time is more important than the lives and property encountered en route struck me as a joke a 14-year-old would find funny, but not anyone else. Also, William Gibson owns cyberspace stories in the way that Tolkien owns sword and sorcery. Anyone else has to do a scooch better to even be worth the read. I got to my requisite 100 pages and chucked it back in the library return bin. However, I loved, loved, loved Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. That's HIS classic that no one will ever match. (Btw, M. Blowhard, you would love Gibson's Pattern Recognition, about a woman who has visceral pleasant or allergic reactions to logos and product branding so as to become the top consultant for the same; she visits the land of logo overload - Japan (think Bladerunner). Hilarity ensues.)

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks - Like I said above, any sword and sorcery has got to outdo Tolkien and this just doesn't do it. When the Tolkien renaissance began, this was the only other thing out there, so I think it benefited by a ride on coattails. It's kinda cutesy, too, if I recall. I abandoned it early.

The ONLY contender to the Tolkien throne is the Belgariad by David Eddings, Volumes 1 and 2. Eddings creates vivid and memorable characters that outshine not only those in the genre, but in fiction in general.

Finally, Asimov's Caves of Steel is good, as are all in that robot series, but Robots of Dawn (the 3rd book) is by far the best. It's one of the few novels that has it all: romance, mystery, humor, robots, sex, and tragedy.


Sya said...

I have a copy of The Silmarillion, but every time I think about reading it, a wave of sleepiness hits me.

Whisky Prajer said...

I have to admit I got a little depressed when I realized that when it comes to this list, I would now probably take a pass on most of the books I read back in the day. Some of them meant a great deal to me at the time. The Thomas Covenant books are a prime example: they meant the world to me as a young, over-angsty losing-my-religion (or maybe not) punk, but I could never make it past the 100-page mark these days.

Which gets me wondering about your reaction to Snow Crash - perhaps if you'd read it upon publication your reaction to it might be different? I haven't bothered re-reading it, but it certainly tickled my fancy at the time, especially Stephenson's take on the old "language is a virus" theme. In any case, I agree with you that Gibson named and claimed "cyberspace", making just about anyone else an interloper.

Whisky Prajer said...

BTW, have you read this interview with Stephenson? Lots of good material to savour, including this bit:

Q: In a fight between you and William Gibson, who would win?

Neal: You don't have to settle for mere idle speculation. Let me tell you how it came out on the three occasions when we did fight.

Yahmdallah said...

Sya - I hear that. Btw, if you look very closely, that creepy glowing butterfly that puts people to sleep is carrying a tiny copy of the Silmarillion.

Wisky - I know that I'd have loved it as a teen and even in my 20s. I had McJobs most of the time then, and would've savored every sick moment.