Lists, lists, lists, lists. Everyone likes lists. NPR are doing one here. They have cunningly called it a “Top-100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Titles”, which can mean either favourite or best. First they asked people to nominate titles. Then they asked Giant SF Brains Gary K Wolfe, Farah Mendlesohn and John Clute to whittle down those picked to a list of “several hundred” titles on which people can vote. It is a… strange list. The usual suspects are there, of course. There are, happily, a number of women sf writers, though less than expected – I make it 22%.
Anyway, here is the list. Annotated. I’ve also put in bold those I’ve read, and in italics those I have on the TBR.
The Acts Of Caine Series, by Matthew Woodring Stover – I’ve never even heard of these.
The Algebraist, by Iain M Banks – not his best book by a long shot, not even his best non-Culture novel either.
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan – that Morgan’s debut novel was chosen doesn’t surprise, though I’d have said Black Man is the better novel.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman – I don’t get the appeal of Gaiman.
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman – see above.
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson – I don’t much understand the appeal of Stephenson, either.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell – this is a bit, well, slight, isn’t it?
The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers – I’d say this is a contender.
Armor, by John Steakley – really?
The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson – I read first two and then gave up.
Battlefield Earth, by L Ron Hubbard – probably the worst sf book ever written, liked only by Scientologists and idiots.
Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress – I’ve read the novella, but never the novels.
The Belgariad, by David Eddings – I read the first last year; I am thirty-five years too old to think these books are good.
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook – never read any of them.
The Black Jewels Series, by Anne Bishop – never heard of them.
The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe – excellent, though The Fifth Head of Cerberus I think is better.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley – I didn’t like it when I read, and I fail to understand why it is considered a classic.
Bridge Of Birds, by Barry Hughart – never read it.
The Callahan’s Series, by Spider Robinson – I’ve read a few of these; one of my pet hates is the “stories told by regulars in a bar” type of story; plus, these are really quite rubbish.
A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller – never read it.
The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, by Robert Heinlein – well, RAH on the list somewhere is no surprise: he casts a giant shadow across the genre – but isn’t this one of his later crap books?
Cat’s Cradle , by Kurt Vonnegut – never read it.
The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov – another giant of sf, but one I consider among the most over-rated writers in the genre. He is the McDonald’s of sf, and his books are all burgers.
The Change Series, by SM Stirling – I know nothing about this series.
Childhood’s End, by Arthur C Clarke – one of Clarke’s better ones, but not my first choice.
Children Of God, by Mary Doria Russell – not as good as The Sparrow, and that I thought was somewhat overrated.
The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny – they started well enough, but they tailed off towards the end.
The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R Donaldson – I’m not a big fan of epic fantasy, and I suspect these would not survive a reread.
The City And The City, by China Miéville – a good novel, and a multi-award winner.
City And The Stars, by Arthur C Clarke – also one of Clarke’s better ones.
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess – Burgess wrote several novels that were much better, though they weren’t genre.
The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher – never read them.
The Coldfire Trilogy, by CS Friedman – have never read anything by Friedman.
The Commonwealth Saga, by Peter F Hamilton – I did read his Night’s Dawn trilogy – it was enough.
The Company Wars, by CJ Cherryh – I like Cherryh’s fiction, but I’d sooner chose individual books.
The Conan The Barbarian Series, by Robert Howard – I’ve read loads of these but I’ve no idea how many; but… they’re pulp: the character has transcended his origin, the stories haven’t.
Contact, by Carl Sagan – I suspect the popularity of this rests more on its author than the book itself.
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson – I remember enjoying this; mostly.
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart – never read it.
The Culture Series, by Iain M Banks – an excellent series, but the individual books are variable; I’d sooner have voted for one of the books.
The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King – never read it.
The Day of Triffids, by John Wyndham – never read it.
Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison – anoterh sf giant I consider greatly overrated.
The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon – never read it.
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester – I hated this book when I read it.
The Deverry Cycle, by Katharine Kerr – never read it.
Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany – one of my favourite sf novels, definitely a classic.
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson – I seem to remember this being better than Snow Crash.
The Difference Engine, by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling – individually, both have written better books.
The Dispossessed, by Ursula K LeGuin – a bona fide sf classic.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K Dick – to be honest, I prefer the film.
Don’t Bite The Sun, by Tanith Lee – never read it.
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis – it was okay, I guess; I don’t understand all this award-love Willis receives.
Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey – never read any of them.
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre – never read it.
The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert – the prose in Dune may not be very good, but it’s still the premier piece of world-building in the genre and Paul Atreides is the best teenage special snowflake in literature; the later books are better written; the sequels by Kevin J Anderson and Brian Herbert are about as literate as used toilet paper.
Earth, by David Brin – this is a bloated techno-thriller.
Earth Abides, by George R Stewart – it was okay, I guess; though it hasn’t aged well.
The Eisenhorn Omnibus, by Dan Abnett – these are Warhammer books, right?
The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock – I’ve read some of these but I don’t recall which – like Conan, Elric has transcended his pulp origin but many of the books haven’t.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – never read it, never will.
Eon, by Greg Bear – a neat central premise, I seem to recall, spoiled by clumsy geopolitics and a dull story.
The Eyes Of The Dragon, by Stephen King – never read it.
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde – I thought this was terrible: a neat idea, but really badly written.
The Faded Sun Trilogy, by CJ Cherryh – I loved this when I was a teenager, but I wouldn’t call it a favourite now.
Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser Series, by Fritz Leiber – never read it.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – hated it; the film is far superior.
The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb – read the first one, and thought it readable but dull.
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ – another bona fide classic; a recent reread only increased my admiration of it.
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay – I caguely recall these as being interesting, if a bit bland, secondary world fantasies.
A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge – a bit of an uneven work, but I think this qualifies.
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie – read the first book and was unimpressed.
Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keyes – a classic, certainly.
The Foreigner Series, by CJ Cherryh – read the first one, and have the next eight on the TBR; solid work, but not worthy of a place on the Top 100.
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman – another classic.
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov – I think my opinion on this is known: it is, in a word, shit.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley – never actually read it (though I have seen lots of films).
The Gaea Trilogy, by John Varley – I much prefer his Eight Worlds fiction.
The Gap Series, by Stephen R Donaldson – this is a superior space opera, though it is grim and not entirely successful.
The Gate To Women’s Country, by Sheri S Tepper – never read it.
Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett – never read it.
The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway – I started it, but gave upl one day I will return to it.
The Gormenghast Trilogy, by Mervyn Peake – one day I will read it.
Grass, by Sheri S Tepper – I can never remember what actually happens in this novel.
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon – is on the TBR.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – another classic.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End of The World, by Haruki Murakami – never read it.
The Heechee Saga, by Frederik Pohl – like many series, it’s diminishing returns with each additional book; Gateway is good, but the rest?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams – mildly amusing, I suppose.
The Hollows Series, by Kim Harrison – never heard of them; urban fantasy, is it?
House Of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski – is on the TBR.
The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons – these are very good, though I do need to reread them sometime.
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson – was okay, I suppose.
I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov – nope.
The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson – read the first, but gave up.
The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury – never read it.
The Incarnations Of Immortality Series, by Piers Anthony – have read a couple of these, though I forget which; I remember them as light, forgettable reads – hardly the qualities of a classic.
The Inheritance Trilogy, by NK Jemisin – this trilogy isn’t even completed yet – how can it be a classic?
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke – is on the TBR.
A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne – seen the film, not read the book.
Kindred, by Octavia Butler – is on the TBR.
The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss – another trilogy that has yet to be completed…
Kraken, by China Mieville – is on the TBR.
The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey – never read it.
Last Call, by Tim Powers – I remember this as being entertaining, but I don’t think I’d call it Top 100 material.
The Last Coin, by James P Blaylock – never read it.
The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, by Mercedes Lackey – never read it.
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle – never read it.
The Lathe Of Heaven, by Ursula K LeGuin – I wasn’t overly taken with this one when I read it.
The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K LeGuin – definitely a classic.
The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by RA Salvatore – never read it; but isn’t the bloke who wrote “‘You killed me,’ said the surprised man”?
The Lensman Series, by EE Smith – everyone who nominated this should be ashamed of themselves.
The Liaden Universe Series, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller – I’ve read some of these but they’re, well, fluff.
The Lies Of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch – is on the TBR.
Lilith’s Brood, by Octavia Butler – never read it.
Little, Big, by John Crowley – a classic fantasy, though I think the Ægypt Sequence is much better.
The Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb – never read it.
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny – interesting, possibly borderline Top 100-worthy.
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by JRR Tolkien – not much you can say about this really, is there?
Lord Valentine’s Castle, by Robert Silverberg – entertaining fluff; Silverberg has written much better books.
Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – never read it.
Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees – is on the TBR.
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman – never read it.
The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson – read the first and gave up; I’m not into reading RPG campaigns.
The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K Dick – one of Dick’s better ones, though I need to reread it.
The Manifold Trilogy, by Stephen Baxter – surprised by this choice: Baxter has written better.
The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson – a classic of the genre.
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury – didn’t like it when I read it; wishy-washy and twee.
Memory And Dream, by Charles de Lint – never read it.
Memory, Sorrow, And Thorn Trilogy, by Tad Williams – never read it.
Mindkiller, by Spider Robinson – never read it.
The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson – never read it and never will.
The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley – never read it.
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein – is on the TBR (because it’s in the SF Masterworks series)
Mordant’s Need, by Stephen Donaldson – I remember being better than the Thomas covenant books.
More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon – is on the TBR.
The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – is pretty much indicative of everything that was wrong with best-selling sf in the 1970s.
The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov – and again, nope.
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, by Robert J Sawyer – never read it.
Neuromancer, by William Gibson – I’m told this has not aged well, but I plan to reread it soon
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – never read it.
The Newsflesh Trilogy, by Mira Grant – never read it.
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, by Peter F Hamilton – if classic status were measured by weight, this would be a contender.
Novels Of The Company, by Kage Baker – never read it.
Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith – to be honest, I can remember Smith’s short stories much better than his only novel; there may be a reason for that.
The Number Of The Beast, by Robert Heinlein – perhaps the one novel that epitomises RAH’s late bloated crap novel phase.
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi – never read it.
On Basilisk Station, by David Weber – mildly entertaining fluffy rip-off of Hornblower; top 100? I think not.
The Once And Future King, by TH White – I read it so long ago, I remember nothing of it.
Oryx And Crake, by Margaret Atwood – is on the TBR.
The Otherland Tetralogy, by Tad Williams – never read it.
The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan – never heard of it.
Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia Butler – never read it.
The Passage, by Justin Cronin – last year’s mega-hyped coming-to-a-cinema-near you blockbuster, which started well but then turned dull and derivative; oh, and it’s the first book an unfinished trilogy.
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson – never read it.
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville – this was something special when it first appeared, but has time been kind to it?
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest – good, but I wonder if it’s appearance here is more due to the film – because Priest has written better.
The Pride Of Chanur, by CJ Cherryh – it’s nice to see all this love for Cherryh, but a little more variety might have been preferable; there are, after all, other women writers of space opera and hard sf.
The Prince Of Nothing Trilogy, by R Scott Bakker – never read it.
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman – the film is better; this is a list of books.
Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge – never read it.
Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C Clarke – if I had to pick a Clarke, it would be this one – because the central BDO more than makes up for the cardboard characters and dated futurism.
Replay, by Ken Grimwood – a fun book and certainly worth reading… possibly top 100 worthy, I think.
Revelation Space, by Alistair Reynolds – why not the series? Banks got his series on the list – because there are better books in the Revelation space series than this one.
Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban – never read it.
The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E Feist – I’m fairly sure I read one of these many, many years ago; I remember nothing about it.
Ringworld, by Larry Niven – unlike the Clarke, I don’t think the central BDO makes up for the novel’s other deficiencies – like a lack of a plot.
The Riverworld Series, by Philip Jose Farmer – the central idea is a good one, though having reread the first book a couple of years ago, I’m less sure about the use to which Farmer puts it.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy – certainly one of the best-written books on this list.
The Saga Of Pliocene Exile, by Julian May – I remember enjoying these in my teens; one day, perhaps, I will reread them.
The Saga Of Recluce, by LE Modesitt Jr – I have only ever read one Modesitt novel – I had to review it for Interzone: it was pants.
The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman – nope.
The Sarantine Mosaic Series, by Guy Gavriel Kay – never read it.
A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick – Dick’s best novel, and a sure-fire classic.
The Scar, by China Miéville – never read it.
The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks – never read it, never will: they look horribly derivative and twee.
The Shattered Chain Trilogy, by Marion Zimmer Bradley – never read it.
The Silmarillion, by JRR Tolkien – never read it.
The Sirens Of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut – not a big Vonnegut fan, to be honest; it was okay.
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut – as above.
Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett – never read it.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson – when this was published, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about; I still can’t.
The Snow Queen, by Joan D Vinge – I’m planning to reread this soon, though a recent quick dip into it demonstrated it was a lot more romancey than I’d remembered from my original read all those years ago.
Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem – I suspect I read a bad translation, because this was surprisingly dull; Tarkovsky’s film is greatly superior.
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury – is on the TBR (because it’s in the Fantasy Masterworks series).
Song for the Basilisk, by Patricia McKillip – never read it.
A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin – I read first three, but I will not be reading the rest – despite all the current hype; I might watch the television series, though.
The Space Trilogy, by CS Lewis – never read it.
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell – I remember the fuss when this was first published; I didn’t get it.
The Stainless Steel Rat Books, by Harry Harrison – I loved these as a kid; I reread the first a year or two ago, and found it absolutely terrible – dreadful, dated, misogynistic crap.
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner – is on the TBR (SF Masterworks series, natch).
The Stand, by Stephen King – never read it.
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman – never read it; seen the film, though.
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester – if I had to pick and early-ish sf novel, it would be this – because its sheer verve more than compensates for its datedness.
Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein – a crypto-fascist polemic thinly-disguised as a novel; the film is infinitely superior.
Stations Of The Tide, by Michael Swanwick – a very good novel, though I was mildly disappointed when I reread a few years ago; but as the genre’s premier Southern Gothic sf novel, it is certainly top 100 worthy.
Steel Beach, by John Varley – I like the Eight Worlds, but I wouldn’t say this is the best novel – The Ophiuchi Hotline is.
Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein – I reread this recently; it was awful.
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley – never read it.
The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind – I read the first book many years ago; I thought it derivative and unimaginative; I’m told the series later turns very weird and offensive.
The Swordspoint Trilogy, by Ellen Kushner – never read it.
The Tales of Alvin Maker, by Orson Scott Card – never read it.
The Temeraire Series, by Naomi Novik – never read it.
The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn – aren’t these, like, shared world? Star Wars? Should they even be on this list?
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay – I remember this as being quite good.
Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein – more late period bloated wankery from RAH; next, please.
The Time Machine, by HG Wells – it never ages.
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger – never read it; but the film was creepy: he stalks her, folks; that is not good.
To Say Nothing Of The Dog, by Connie Willis – never read it.
The Troy Trilogy, by David Gemmell – never read it.
Ubik, by Philip K Dick – one of his trippier novels: I’m not sure if that makes it good or bad.
The Uplift Saga, by David Brin – if you distilled the story of this series down, it would be quite potent; as it is, it’s a good example of its sort, and perhaps belongs near the bottom of a top 100.
The Valdemar Series, by Mercedes Lackey – never read it.
VALIS, by Philip K Dick – another good Dick, I seem to recall.
Venus On The Half-Shell, by Kilgore Trout/Philip Jose Farmer – wasn’t this just a silly joke/gimmick?
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust – never read it.
The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold – I’ve read a couple, they were okay.
The Vurt Trilogy, by Jeff Noon – I read the first one when it was published, but didn’t really get on with it.
The War Of The Worlds, by HG Wells – no one would have believed… yup, a classic.
Watchmen, by Alan Moore – a graphic novel, with superheroes, in a list of sf and fantasy books; it’s good but does it really belong here?
Watership Down, by Richard Adams – the best book about talking rabbits ever written.
The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson – never read it and never will – why should I support someone who says they’re prejudiced but asks me to respect their prejudice?
Way Station, by Clifford D Simak – I used to be a big Simak fan, but this was never one of my favourites.
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin – never read it.
The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan – these are big, probably about four metres tall if you stacked them one on top of the other; that is the only notable thing about them.
When Gravity Fails, by George Alec Effinger – a possible contender for the top 100, though my memories of it are somewhat hazy.
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire – never read it.
Wild Seed, by Octavia Butler – never read it.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi – is on the TBR.
World War Z, by Max Brooks – never read it.
The Worm Ouroboros, by ER Eddison – is on the TBR (Fantasy Masterworks series).
The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony – you must be joking: these pervy books? bad puns and dodgy sexual politics? for shame.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon – better-written than many other books of its ilk, and with an interesting alternate history… a possible contender.
1632, by Eric Flint – never read it.
1984, by George Orwell – still a classic.
2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C Clarke – the film was better.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne – I think I read a bad translation of this because it was surprisingly dull.
So there you have it. I suspect that when Top 100 is revealed, I will end up grinding my teeth. Again. Oh well.