Science fiction/fantasy

Say it loud, I’m an SF geek and I’m proud

This one’s right up my alley, and PZ, John, Joseph, and Bora have already weighed in. I’ve been a big SF fan since my very earliest days. (Indeed, one of my earliest memories of SF is reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle back in maybe third grade or so. So, when I learned of a list of the Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, I just had to do like my fellow SB’ers and look at which ones I’ve actually read. For some of them, I’ll also add a brief comment (for example, at least a couple of these books I consider to be highly overrated).

So, here we go. Bold means that I’ve read it:

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Still the best fantasy ever written. Period.
  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. Some denigrate Asimov for cardboard characters and excessive “talkiness” in his work, but the sheer sweep of this one makes up for those shortcomings. The Foundation trilogy is the basis for galactic empires in SF since the 1950’s, including Star Wars.
  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. I’m going to catch flak for this, but I found Gibson to be highly overrated as a writer. I never read another Gibson novel after this one.
  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. Here’s another one that I found to be highly overrated. I struggled to finish the second novel in the series and just gave up and bagged it after that.
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.. One of the greatest SF stories of all time. If you haven’t read this one, get the book. Now. I’ve read it at least three times.
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov. I’m a little puzzled why this one is on the list (for one thing, it was published in 1953). It’s a solid enough novel and quite readable, but hardly earth-shattering. I can only guess it’s on the list because it was the first full-length robot novel that Asimov did in which the Three Laws of Robotics were featured. On the other hand, if you want to include the definitive book about the Three Laws, then Asimov’s collection of interlinked short stories, I, Robot would be the one to get.
  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. Can someone explain to me why this novel is so highly rated? Overly long and at times incomprehensible, with unlikable characters and random sex scenes that seem placed in there just to show how “edgy” it all is, this novel is a load of pretentious psychedelic rubbish.
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson. The best fantasy trilogy since Tolkien.
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. I’m guessing this one is included simply because it’s the first Harry Potter book. In actuality, it’s the weakest of the bunch; J. K. Rowling improved steadily throughout the series. I’m very much looking forward to the last Harry Potter book in July.
  27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. No one did humorous SF better than the late, lamented Douglas Adams.
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice. The Vampire Lestat is a better novel, but this one got the whole Vampire series rolling. Whether that’s a good thing or not, you be the judge.
  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. What the hell is this book doing on the list? It’s nothing more than an obvious knockoff of Tolkien, derivative formulaic crap. I realized this reading it even as a teenager, fer cryin’ out loud!
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

33/50, or 66% Not bad. Not as good as PZ or John, but not too shabby. However, I have to wonder why they included dreck like The Sword of Shannara or Dhalgren on this list and left off much better (and more recent) works like Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Radio or Blood Music, for example. Or what about Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Dandelion Wine? (Probably too old; it was originally published in 1950; on the other hand, this list plays fast and loose with being only about the last 50 years, given that The Lord of the Rings was originally published in 1954 and 1955 and most of the Foundation stories were written before 1957.) Or what about Julian May’s The Many-Colored Land series?

Finally, one truly glaring omission, as much as I hate to bring it up: Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. It started out really strong, with the first three novels (The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn) being among the best pure fantasy novels that I had ever read. Sadly, it started a slow degeneration after that, to the point where I couldn’t force myself to slog through it anymore after the eight book (The Path of Daggers), and basically put it aside before even finishing the book, unable to force myself to continue anymore. Nonetheless, by any definition of “significant,” the series has to be in this list. It rejuvenated the heroic fantasy fiction genre (at least for several years, before the series degenerated into crap.)

So, what books on the list have you read? What books don’t belong there? And what books aren’t there but should have been? Remember, we’re talking books written since 1956 or 1957; older stuff is by definition excluded.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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