NPR List of Top 100 SF/F Books and Series

Friday, August 19, 2011

No blog hop for me this week, but because I like lists, I was interested to see that last week NPR posted the results of their reader (listener?) poll of 100 Top Science Fiction and Fantasy works. (For some reason, some books are listed singly, others as series.) Reader surveys are notoriously flaky in their choices, and I missed the initial spate of posts about this list since I was out of town with limited internet access. Now, of course, I want in on this discussion/meme. Thanks to The Hopeful Librarian and Dreaming About Other Worlds for calling my attention to this.

Here's NPR's Article

And here's my commentary on the list: Bold titles are those I've read, and I'm going to go ahead and give myself credit even if I haven't read an entire series.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien - Duh.

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams - Again, Duh. I actually have a really fun oversized edition of this book that is illustrated with photos of people in costumes.

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card - Yup. Read the sequels, too. Am I the only one who liked Speaker for the Dead the best?

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert - I think I only read Dune itself, but it was pretty good. Although suddenly getting the reference in this song may be the most amazing thing I got from reading it.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin - I read the first three in this series, and then decided that reading giant doorstoppers that only made me depressed was not the best use of my time on Earth when there are enjoyable books out there. Maybe if it ever finishes I'll go back. Or maybe I'll just read the synopses on Wikipedia.

6. 1984, by George Orwell - Read back in high school, maybe worth another look one day.

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury - Check.

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov - I really liked these, but at some point the library I was living near didn't have the next one, and now I can't remember where I stopped reading them.

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley - Read this for Psychology class in High School

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman - Bit overrated, I seem to remember I preferred Good Omens, which I read around the same time.

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman - I love the movie, but have never gotten around to actually reading the book, although I know it's rather different. Also notable as one of the small number of books that my husband has read and I haven't

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan - Oh man, the story of me and Wheel of Time. Friends in High School were really into this series, so I tried it, and couldn't get through the first one. Years later I decided to give it another shot, read the first one and kinda liked it, but only got halfway through the second one before deciding I hated all the characters and the plot, and giving up in frustration. But I read one.

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell - I like to think that I would have gotten to some of these classics without having read them in High School English, but I honestly don't know.

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore - Very good, but I'm kinda over it lately. Please note: This book should not be anyone's first graphic novel. It's largely about subverting what was happening in comics in the 80's. Without that context, it's just a lot of violence and posturing.

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov - Awesome.

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein - Important, good, but maybe not awesome.

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut - I think I missed the Vonnegut reading window.

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley - This was surprisingly dull.

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick - Yes, I'm a bad person and should get to this.

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood - Read just this year, brilliant.

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King - Read, own illustrated copy of each book, plan to re-read...

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King - I love Dark Tower, but it's got flaws. This might be the best single Stephen King I've read.

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson - Still fun, a smidge dated now.

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury - Really, really good.

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut - Fine. Not that taken by it.

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman - This, on the other hand, CAN be someone's first graphic novel/comic book experience. Good transitional work for those of us already into fantasy/mythology with a dash of horror.

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess - I think I read this outside of school, but my memory is fuzzy.

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein - Can't be a military sci-fi fan without sampling the classics.

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams - I love this book.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey - Read back in the day, bought a cheap copy to re-read it, but haven't gotten to it yet.

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells - I had this summer where I was being paid for an intership in room and board, and I read a lot of public domain books on my laptop in those months.

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne - And this is one of my favorites that I read around that time.

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells - A completely fascinating book.

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny - On my radar, but haven't read it.

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings - I think I tried to read the first one but didn't finish it.

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Ah, high school. I actually threw this book across the room at one point. And I liked it at the time.

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson - Okay, this might be the first one I haven't even heard of. The name seems familiar, is this the guy who picked up the Wheel of Time books?

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven - Did I read the first one of these, or did I take it out of the library but never get to it? If I can't remember, no credit.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin - Although I read this so long ago that I basically remember nothing about it.

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien - Someone should go through and re-format the interesting bits from this into a shorter book. I'm glad I can say I read it, but I literally fell asleep at work while attempting to do so.

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman - Now, I think I should get credit for this one, because I saw the mini-series that was written before the book, but I haven't read the book.

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons - I read Hyperion. Is it really worth reading further? I heard the later ones aren't as interesting because they abandon the "Canterbury Tales in Space" structure.

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman - Man, there's a lot of Gaiman on this list, maybe because he tends to write stand-alone books, but this is one of the best. You BETTER read the illustrated version, though, is all I'm saying.

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle - One of the best books ever, in my opinion.

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman - Quite good.

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett - This is weird. Wheel of Time and Sandman are on here as series, but not Discworld? Huh. Small Gods is not my favorite Discworld book, but it can be read alone.

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson - Read the first one, hated it.

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold - Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett - Again, really? This is one of the worst Discworld books. Did people just pick it because it was recent? Not Sourcery, Night Watch, Hogfather?

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke - I remember really liking this, but have only a sketchy memory of the plot.

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson - Really, really good book.

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist - I read some of these back in high school, but I don't actually remember how many. I know I read the first couple.

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks - Yup, went through a Terry Brooks phase, but not a huge fan these days.

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard - Read the first compilation, would like to track down more.

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb - I actually read a different series by Ms. Hobb, and while it was very compelling and well written, it did put her on the list of "good authors who I don't read often because their books are too depressing".

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger - This book is overrated crap, and demeans the good name of genre fiction.

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne - I think I missed this one, so far anyway.

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore - Ha, ha, ha! Sometimes you're just in the mood for some sword-and-sorcery melodrama, and this delivers. I'm disappointed that this would make the list over Dragonlance, though, cause it ain't better.

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson - I know people who really liked this book, but I found it dull.

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey - On my list...

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury - I really liked this.

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire - And I really hated this book. Great idea, stupid, pretentious execution. The musical succeeds by focusing on character relationships and ignoring all the bullshit political stuff that never went anywhere.

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson - Honestly? I think this had a fascinating world that was built for 3/4 of the book, but then was thrown aside in favor of a plot that felt tacked on.

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher - Read the first one, but it was boring and poorly structured, so I stopped there.

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn - Read these back in High School, and remember them fondly. Although why isn't this entry called Star Wars: Heir to the Empire Trilogy? Were the fine folks at NPR embarrassed that movies inspired good books? Drizzt up above lost his Forgotten Realms tag, too.

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan - Read the first one, and while it wasn't my cup of tea, it wasn't terrible. However, there is no way in HELL these books belong on this list. They are Romance novels, with a smidgen of Time Travel.

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock - Read a compilation of the early stories and loved them.

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury - I find it odd that both this and Something Wicked This Way Comes are on this list. I think I should get partial credit for this, because I've read some of the stories, but not this particular collection, I don't think.

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - On the mental list.

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson - This too.

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville - Read this, thought it was fascinating world building, compelling story, and then I hated the ending with the fire of a thousand suns. I wish I could scrub it from my brain. I haven't quite been able to convince myself to pick up another Mieville since.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony - Read plenty of these back in the day, Anthony was one of my favorites when I was 16.

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

So if I'm counting right, that's 60 entries read out of 100. Not too shabby. What do you think is the one I haven't read that I'm most missing out on?


Red said...

Thanks for posting this. I had voted in this but forgot to check back when all the votes were counted and the list was decided. Your description of Watchmen as a lot of violence and posturing is exactly what I thought of it and probably because it's the only graphic novel I've read. That said I can't say I have a lot of interest to try other ones.

jenemoore said...

It's so good to hear from someone else who thinks that Wicked is terribly overrated. It had the potential to be interesting, but really it didn't manage it.

You really, really need to read Flowers for Algernon. Just take an afternoon and do the whole thing in one gulp; it's short. But it's incredible. (Knowing the plot means nothing, the writing is everything.)

Lindsay said...

@Red: To be fair, I did really like Watchmen when I first read it, but I've cooled on it a lot over time. I hope you'll investigate some other graphic novels sometime, maybe action-comedy is more your pace? I know it's mine. Or you can ignore superheroes entirely and there's a lot being done in fantasy, memoir and children's genres with graphic storytelling.

@jenemoore: Maybe I will, thanks for the recommendation!

Jesse said...

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is probably Heinlein's best, and I think you'd like it. The Amber series I love but it might not be up your ally. I already ranted about The Eyre Affair on Facebook, so go read it!

Skip the Belgariad, but you don't need to know that. Ringworld is highly worth the read, if you're in a hard SF mood. The Sword of Truth sucks, skip that one. I wasn't that razzed by the Farseer, and I think agree with you. I think I don't read her because she's Serious and Depressing. Chris loves Old Man's War, but I haven't read it. The Kushiel books are amazing, but they are very concerned with Beauty, and how Beautiful people are. It is is surprisingly not annoying, but it might drive you crazy, being Lindsay and all. I've never gotten through the Culture series, or rather, the first book. I suspect they are good, because the first book is almost awesome but I hate the storytelling. The Book of the New Sun is amazing, too, but you really have to be in the mood for it. The main character is a torturer, and the world is very weird.

Did I mention The Eyre Affair? It's rather good. It takes place in a world where pirated first edition and fake lost Shakespeare plays are more profitable on the black market than narcotics.

Colin said...

A Fire Upon the Deep is awesome, but if you read it you should turn around and then read Deepness in the Sky (which isn't on this list) next. You need to be in the mood for spaceships though.

The Culture books are really interesting, but don't feel like you need to read through them in order (or need to start with Consider Phlebas because all the books are stand alone). Just read the synopsis and pick one that sounds interesting.

The Road was almost good and has some great imagery, but it always felt like Cormac McCarthy wasn't quite willing to admit that things were as horrible as they really were.

The later Hyperion books aren't as interesting as the first, but they do tie up all the loose ends from the first book as well as being good in their own right.

Canticle for Leibowitz is really interesting but has been rehashed so many times we all know the main themes by now. It's also super catholic.

If you liked 2001 the movie you should read 2001 since it's like the movie but more. If you didn't like 2001 you probably shouldn't read 2001 for the same reason. It's slow, full of conversations between two people who are on a mission together, and a computer that loses its shit. Also exploration on the development of consciousness, space exploration, technological advancement, and a bunch of other related themes.

You are a bad person for not having read Do Androids Dream...

The Princess Bride is actually a lot closer to the film version than you give it credit for, though the asides are different (and more ridiculous). It also is wonderful.

Lindsay said...

@Jesse: I was pretty sure you were the person I knew who loved the Amber books. I think of you whenever I almost take them out of the library or almost buy them from a dying Borders, etc. My friend Katrina swears by Kushiel's etc... so it's on the list to try.

@Colin: A Fire Upon The Deep will be on the TBR list soon enough if I go through with my plan to try to read all the Hugo winners. And I haven't actually sat through 2001 the movie either. I did work with Keir Dullea once, though. Erin says that the tone/subtext of the book The Princess Bride is fairly different than the movie, and maybe I'll get around to it one day.

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