Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Literary Geekery

Found via Orac, this list of the supposed most influential Sci-Fi/Fan books of the last 50 years has been making its way around the 'net. (Whether or not you like Richard Dawkins, you have to give him props for coming up with the concept of a meme.) So, I figured I'd give it a go myself. I'll note in advance that my Sci-Fi/Fan reading phase has been limited to maybe the last 5 years or so (yes, I'm that young), so obviously my list of what I've read won't be quite that grand.

Books I've read in bold (and since they are so few, with comments):

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien - First one on this list I actually read, and also notably the only "book" on this list that isn't a single book (technically it's six books in three volumes). It's a classic and did a lot to get people into the fantasy genre, but personally it seemed somewhat dull and cliche. Or maybe it just seems cliche because half the fantasy books since have copied it.
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
  3. Dune, Frank Herbert - Only ever got halfway through it on my first read-through, but it's waiting on my shelf for when I get around to it.
  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 - Need I say more? Okay, I will. To be honest, though the first book was good, it's a far cry from the best in the Discworld series (okay, it's close to the bottom, even though that's a very high bottom). Pratchett varies a ton in the themes of his more recent books, so different ones will resonate best with different people. For me, my favorite was Night Watch, thanks to my kinship with the character of Sam Vimes and his struggles with "The Beast."
  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 - The whole series is interesting, if only to see Card's descent into madness.
  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 - To me, the most notable thing about this series is that it proves that an outsider still has a shot to be a frakking huge success (word is, Rowling is now more rich than the Queen). The story is quite encouraging to novice writers, keeping many from giving up.
  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams - 4
  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 - Yes, Tolkien's the only author with more than one book on here (as far as I've noticed, at least). Don't particularly know what this is doing on here, though; it's a pale shadow of The Lord of the Rings.
  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
6.5/50. Given that I've been reading for 5/50 years, I'd say that's not so bad. I have a lot of catching up to do, though. However, it does seem to me that there are a few significant books missing:
  1. Calculating God, Robert J. Sawyer - Imagine proposing a book like this to a publisher: "Okay, a guy and an alien get together, and have a conversation. That's the book." Nevertheless, it works. For those who haven't read it, the novel is mostly about a debate over the existence of God, between a believer alien and an atheist human. The catch here is that God only intervenes on large scales: causing mass extinctions in order to push towards intelligent life. In the end, it's revealed that this "God" is just another big space alien, and the whole argument is turned on its head.
  2. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - Unlike the metaphors both authors normally use, this book takes Christianity by the horns, from the Creation to the Apocalypse and beyond.
  3. Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman - Something of Neil Gaiman's deserves to be on here, and this is one of the best and most recent. (Though if you've got a better suggestion of what you think his most "significant" contribution is, feel free to drop a comment (I'm looking at you, Akusai).)
Edit: As noted by Akusai in the comments, American Gods is probably the most fitting Gaiman novel. Anansi Boys is just too recent to judge its significance.


Akusai said...

I'm looking at you, Akusai

Fine, fine, fine. In my opinion, it has to be American Gods. Anansi Boys, apart from being a sequel to it, was written too recently to be eligible for the list. I'm not sure if American Gods was or not, but his other stuff is either a comic book and thus ineligible by default (as great as The Sandman is, it isn't fair) or not as good. Neverwhere, in fact, kind of sucks a little bit.

I'm hardly disparaging Anansi Boys, though. Gaiman's reported that he started writing that long before American Gods, it just happened to turn out to be a good sequel. And it is a great book. It's funny and poignant and really, really good.

But for me, American Gods seems to have a lot more going on. It blends myth and legend with noir, adventure, and horror, and you come out the other end feeling like you were part of something great. There's no way you can absorb it all in one reading. It's exciting, engaging, depressing, funny, and strangely enlightening.

I'm due to read it again here as soon as I finish Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. It's always a good way to start the spring.

Akusai said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that Good Omens definitely deserves a place on the list. I can't think of one thing wrong with that book. It's great from the first page and never lets up.

Also, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who was underimpressed by LotR. I'll have some choice things to say about that when I get around to covering the list.

Infophile said...

American Gods was what I first thought of putting in as well; it's just that I've heard such good things about Anansi Boys it ended up being a toss-up (haven't gotten around to reading it quite yet, it's on the shelf waiting).

Berlzebub said...

I'm with both of you on LotR. It's main claim to fame is the genre that it kicked off. I much prefer R.A. Salvatore. He's done several books for TSR's Forgotten Realms series, mostly about a character named Drizzt Do'Urden, and a few Star Wars novels. I highly recommend anything written by him.

Also, Info, I really enjoyed Dune, when I read it. It's been a good many years, and I'm due to read it again. My father was a big sci/fi reader, and got me into it. I've only read the first in the series though.

I'd also recommend a little heard of book called Voyage to Yesteryear. Of course, it holds a special place in my memory because it was during that book that I realized that I was an atheist. So, I may be biased. Still, there were some humorous parts in it that I still recall with some chuckles.