Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What are your 10 top science fiction and fantasy novels?

In June NPR collected nominations for the top  science fiction and fantasy novels of all time. That includes a heck of a lot of books, even excluding young-adult and children's books and all horror and paranormal romance.

 The suggestions were narrowed down to a few hundred titles and now they are asking the public to vote for their top 10 picks.  The winners will be compiled into a top 100 list.

The list includes novels that were published over the course of almost a century and a half - starting with Jules Verne's 1870 classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - and covers a broad range of genres from graphic novels (Watchmen) to humor (Small Gods, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and swords and sorcery (Conan the Barbarian) to hard science fiction (Rendezvous with Rama) to more literary works (1984) and everything in between.

I don't think there is any easy way to really pick the ten best out of such a diverse selection of novels.  On my first pass I used up almost all 10 picks before I got out of the "D"s.  So to winnow my choices down, I made some arbitrary rules: only science fiction or SF-esque novels, only one novel per author, and the novels had to have some significance to me.

So here are my picks, in roughly chronological publication order.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932).  Brave New World was one of the novels I read in high school that I found really compelling. It wasn't just poor savage John's inability to fit in to "modern" society, but also the description of cool biotechnology.  (And no, I wasn't in high school when it was published).

Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954).  I read a lot of Asimov during my formative years, so it was hard to pick a single novel. What put Caves of Steel ahead of the Foundaton Trilogy or I, Robot is its blend of science fiction with a murder mystery, a combination I find irresistible.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (1966). This is my favorite non-juvenile Heinlein novel. Viva la RevoluciĆ³n!

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969).  Another novel I read for the first time in high school, as an assignment in English class. I found the juxtaposition of World War II prisoner of war scenes with the science fiction elements strangely compelling and it set me off on a journey of reading more Vonnegut.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ (1975). I read The Female Man for the first time just a couple of years ago.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have cared for it when I was in high school, but as I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate fiction that explores gender roles and feminist issues.

The Callahan's Series, by Spider Robinson (1977-2003). Callahan's Crosstime Saloon is full of bad puns and silly situations and wouldn't win any literary awards. But Robinson was introduced to me by my husband when we were first dating, and the Callahan novels in particular always make me feel happily nostalgic.

The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert (1965-1985).  The Dune saga is the first series of novels where I acquired new installments as they were published. Never mind that the later books never quite lived up to the original novel.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1992).  Willis is one of my favorite science fiction authors and the Doomsday Book is one of her best. 

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992). I almost picked Stephenson's more recent and more "serious" Anathem (2008) instead, but  Snow Crash's blend of humor, cyberpunk and vision of future Los Angeles makes it much more re-readable.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003). Atwood is another of my favorite authors, and I find her imagined post-apocalyptic world molded by biotechnology engrossing. And yes, I think it's science fiction.


So those were my ten selections.  If I could have chosen ten or so more (still excluding author duplicates), I would have included more "hard" science fiction:

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
The Company Wars by CJ Cherryh.
The Culture Series by Iain M. Banks
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K Dick
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keys
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Heechee Saga by Frederik Pohl
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler
Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Neuromancer, by William Gibson
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.
The Riverworld Series by Phlip Jose Farmer

And even that was hard to narrow down.

So what would your top picks be from NPR's list?

Vote now!