Monday, March 12, 2007

The "50 Most Significant Science Fiction Novels of the Last 50 Years" Meme

One of those infernal Internet memes has been making the rounds, but this one has a redeeming feature -- it talks about Science Fiction books. So below the fold, I'll post the list of the (allegedly) "Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years". The ones I've read before in bold and I'll include a bit of a note for the ones that I think warrant it.

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. Bar none, the best epic fantasy series every written. Period.

  2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. I read this one while very young, and it set the mold for what epic, sweeping, visionary science fiction should be.

  3. Dune, Frank Herbert. This was my first exposure to truly "hard" science fiction, which means it has very technical aspects to it that take a lot more thought just to understand than classic "space opera" type sci-fi. I've re-read it probably a dozen times, and it's truly a remarkable piece of visionary, unique writing.

  4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein. I don't "get" Heinlein as much as a lot of people do, and I honestly thought this was just an all right novel. I suspect that its power is largely due to the time period in which it was published, and that in years to come it won't occupy as lofty a place in the hierarchy as it has traditionally.

  5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin. I found this series to be fairly dull, I don't think I'd have it on the list at all to be frank.

  6. Neuromancer, William Gibson. Cyberpunk's landmark novel, this is another one I just didn't really get. It's kind of cool, yes, but awfully hard to read in my opinion.
  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. I thought this feminist King Arthur saga to be tough to read through.

  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. A classic example of sci-fi as cultural allegory. I think it's honored more for its historical significance than for its inherent value as a work of art, but nonetheless it remains a pretty satisfying read.

  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe.

  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr. I bought and read this when I was 11, I think, mostly because I didn't know what a Canticle was (but it sounded cool!) and Leibowitz is a neat name. It's certainly a classic, but again not an incredibly fun read.

  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov. I'll quote Orac on this, as he sums up my feelings on this perfectly:

    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. Pratchett is hysterical. You'll be hard-pressed to ever find a funnier, more irreverent writer in any genre, and the fact that it's fantasy just makes the whole thing more fun. If the Monty Python troupe wrote novels, this is what they would be like.

  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison

  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester. I read this, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it's about.

  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany.

  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey. I loved the Pern series growing up. If you can make it through the first 90 pages of this one, you're in for a real treat. I preferred McCaffery's "Dragonharper of Pern" series (same world, different characters) to this one, mostly because of where I was in life when I read it, but definitely one of the biggies in the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

  22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card. I would have ranked this much higher, possibly as high as number one. Whenever someone who's never read a sci-fi novel asks which one they should read to get a feel for what it's all about, I hand them "Ender's Game". I've purchased probably a dozen copies and given them all away at various times to various people, and have read it probably close to twenty times myself. I love, love, love this novel.

  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson. I was too young when I read this the first time, it's definitely an adult-themed book. Leprosy, rape, despair, it's a lot to slog through. Reading this series was like flagellating yourself with a whip the whole time, very difficult to get through and not terribly enjoyable.

  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. This is an old-school sci-fi book, and is one of the best at dealing with the repercussions of time distortion caused by relativistic speed.

  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl

  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter series is one of those rare cases of something being both extremely popular, and extremely good. I'd recommend this series to anyone who wants to get a feeling for what good fantasy writing is all about.

  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. The next best humorous sci-fi/fantasy author behind Terry Pratchett. Very funny stuff.

  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice. I don't care much for Anne Rice's writing or for vampires. The whole goth thing is kind of lost on me.

  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin. I need to reread this, because frankly I didn't understand it. I'm trying to remember if I even made it all the way through ... I must have, because I hardly ever leave a book unfinished, but all I can dredge up is a feeling of confusion.

  31. Little, Big, John Crowley

  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny. I don't know how the heck I missed this book, I love Zelazny ... I need to get my butt over to the book store, pronto.

  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. A much better book than it was a movie. Although the book doesn't feature Denise Richards' enormous .... teeth, so that's a drawback.

  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock. The classic "dark fantasy" novel.

  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks. I'm fairly appalled this book is on this list, it's a second-rate rehash of Lord of the Rings in every way. Bad call here, guys.

  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford. I honestly don't think Benford's a very good writer, and this one didn't do much for me frankly.

  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I think I probably read a few others on this list, but can't remember for sure -- at a certain point they all blur together, especially since some of them I last read 25 years ago or more. Good stuff, though. Counting them up, I've only read 28 out of the 50, which is fairly disappointing. What the hell have I been doing with my life?!

Much more satisfying is perusing my personal list of the most moving sci-fi & fantasy I've ever read is here on That's a bit different from a "Best of" list, though.


GeoPoet said...

Can't argue a whole lot with the list, especially JRR Tolkein's epic and genius work and the Dune work. These certainly would be at the top of my list.

Although these may not be "significant", I personally just really enjoyed the following:

1. Hiero's Journey. Sterling Lanier. Just an excellent read and a fun genre mix of fantasy and SF that, for some reason, just clicked with me.

2. For significance mainly, I really loved CS Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" when i was quite young, waaaay before the movie. Probably didn't make it becauase it is obviously written for certain age.

3. Raymond Feist: Magician: Apprentice. A tale done just right.

4. Why didn't any of the Conan novels make it? For significance it was a catalyst for interest in the 70's, but I especially loved the Marvel comic series issues 1-15 or so.

5. Lawrence Watt Evans: The Lords of Dus books. Loved em.

6. Barbara Hambly: The Darwath Trilogy; couldn't wait to read the next one.

7. Nancy Springer: Chance. The very way she writes is mystical, almost enchanting as if you're transported into a primevil forest just with the language.

8. Okay, I'm embarrased to admit it, but those Xanth novels were just a heck of a lot of fun to read. I can't be the only one.

9. Patricia McKillip: Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy. Cool characters, moves along and she sings when she writes.

10. Kind of surprised neither the Berserker series by Saberhagen nor the Foundation Earth series made it only because they seemed so popular.

11. Recently re-read "The Invisible Man" and, for its day, was a classic and I was reminded why when I read it again; it uses the timeless secret of using a genre to look into the human psyche. Was there some kind of time cutoff or something?

Thanks for the list; there's a lot of good recommendations here - so little time, so many good reads.

Trey M. said...

I'm not much for lists, but I'd certainly like to add a few choices to these. And yes, ENDER'S GAME, and the rest of the Xenocide series should be much higher.

HYPERION, by Dan Simmons. Great ensemble of characters and a complex story, which merely gets more complex with subsequent books.
Elements of fantasy, cyber-punk, and sci-fi.

Two short stories by Harlan Ellison have also stayed with me for years. "REPENT, HARLEQUIN!" SAID THE TICKTOCKMAN, and I HAVE NO MOUTH, AND I MUST SCREAM are chilling, wonderfully written fiction.


John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

Am I the only person who thinks Hitchhiker's Guide is grossly overrated? I remember reading it when it first came out and being less than overwhelmed by it, as the prevailing popular opinion seemed to be just ga-ga about it. I read some of Adams' Dirk Gentry PI stuff, and thought is was just lame. I re-read Hitchhiker's a couple of years ago, thinking I would go see the movie, and I was surprised to find that I still didn't think it was all that great. Overstretched, shooting for a "silly" that just comes off as "stupid," it reads like a spastic 13-year old wrote it. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is just about right.

(and no, I didn't go see the movie.)

Jeff Hebert said...

Good additions to the list Geo and Trey, thanks.

And yes, John, you're the only one who doesn't like Hitchhiker's. Nyah!

It's fundamentally a humorous series, not to be taken too seriously, and like all humor it hits different people in different ways. Not everyone finds the same things funny, so it's understandable that you didn't like it as much as others do.

Bah, that's too nice. You're wrong wrong wrongity wrong!!


adam H said...

i totally have to agree about ender's game. i've read it a million times, and i finally read ender's shadow last week, which was fantastic. i liked speaker for the dead too, but for some reason the later wiggin books were lost on me.

oh, and douglas adams was amazing. think of his work as monty python for sci-fi.