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!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I fully endorse your choice,they are definitely all time best ones -I think The Brave new world still steal the show in bio-medico sf if any such sub categorization exist at all !
    But remember, may it be Brave New World or 1984 they were promoted as mainstream sf and not the genre sf.But still these are the classics of World sf.

  3. So hard to choose from a list of sci-fi *and* fanatasy...

    This is what i ended up with, though my list could easily be very different if i thought about "favorite" or "best" a little differently.

    Forever War
    A Fire upon the Deep
    Ender's Game
    The Watchmen
    Lord of the Rings
    The Silmarillion
    The Song of Ice and Fire
    The Space Trilogy
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
    The Uplift Saga

    Thanks for alerting me to this.

  4. I wouldn't disagree with any of your selections j.w. bjerk, other than to consider the Silmarillion/Lord of the Rings to be part of one greater work.

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  6. Nice list blogging buddy - this Sci-Fi review may be of interest to you -

  7. Anonymous10:52 AM

    I've read all of your top ten except Oryx and Crake (browsed and put down), and most of the others, and reread some of the older ones within the last few years. Brave New World and Left Hand of Darkness have held up better than Dune, in my adult opinion.

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  9. A friend of mine who is an avid Science Fiction fan recently told me that he had read a novel that is by far the best science fiction novel that he had read in the past thirty years. I had never heard of the author and googling him really gave strange results. I live on the opposite coast from my friend so I bought the novel purely on faith and after reading it three times in a week, would say he is correct, in fact I can think of nothing in any genre that is comparable. I would add however that despite a sort of swashbuckling level of action, this novel would be best appreciated by persons of high intelligence, if Star Wars and such are your thing it is unlikely that you will be able to appreciate The Unwritten Book: Xellex by Carlos Dwa. The author refers to the novel as a posttemporal artifact and in retrospect I would agree. It's not cheap, and the only place I have found it is on Amazon, and the description is a bloody mess as if it was put there by someone who wasn't really involved with the book itself, in fact the "look inside the book" function has typos and other errata that are not in the novel I purchased.
    I would say it is by far my favorite science fiction novel and can only hope Mr. Dwa intends to release another Unwritten Book in the future. I believe it may be a self-published novel, and if so Carlos is doing himself and the rest of us a disservice as it would make an incredible film if the right person saw it.

  10. Anonymous9:34 AM

    A little late, but some thoughts:

    - I'm surprised the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov didn't come up in this post.

    - I'd give a nod to Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos.

    - The Old Man's War trilogy by John Scalzi has some serious classic potential.

    - Also among recent works, Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy has classic potential.

    - Alfred Bester could have gotten some love for The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man.

    - Raymond E. Feist has been somewhat off his game for the past few series, but the original Riftwars Saga and the Serpent War Saga were excellent.

    -Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is also excellent and (I believe) has the most Hugos for a single series and author. Could be wrong though.

    Nice blog, hope to keep reading.


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