Top 100 SF and Fantasy Picks?

by John Holbo on August 19, 2011

Here’s NPR’s list. (Kevin Drum is musing about it, among others. He points out: no Pohl, Bester, Delany.)

The Silmarillion beat The Hobbit? Fer reals? (Drum is wondering about that, too.) And a D&D Forgotten Realms book is on the list. So it, too, beat The Hobbit?

No Greg Bear or David Brin? Seems we need at least one of those hard sf ‘killer B’s’. No Uplift books? No Forge of God/Anvil of Stars or Moving Mars? (I understand why Larry Niven is on the list, but couldn’t we drop a Niven/Pournelle book to make room for Bear or Brin?) No Bova neither.

No John Crowley, Little, Big? Seems a crime to omit that one.

No Fritz Leiber?

I’m trying to think what multiple Hugo and Nebula-winning authors have gotten the boot on this list.

Take it away!



John Holbo 08.19.11 at 6:10 am

No Narnia? That’s gotta be a typo. But the C.S. Lewis space trilogy squeaks in at 100? Also, no Madeleine L’Engle, no “Swiftly Tilting Planet”?


Evan 08.19.11 at 6:14 am

So, I mean, are we supposed to take any effort of this type seriously other than as a measure of public awareness of particular works?


nigel holmes 08.19.11 at 6:17 am

Children’s books were excluded.


Sprizouse 08.19.11 at 6:23 am

No A Deepness in the Sky? They did get A Fire Upon the Deep at 93, but Deepness is a better book. Not to mention much more deserving of this list. MUCH more. And both of Vinge’s books not only deserve to be on this list, but much higher as well.

And although I’m not the biggest fan of Harry Potter, it’s absence is as conspicuous as The Hobbit’s, and it’s definitely a better series than some of the other schlock on here.


John Holbo 08.19.11 at 6:27 am

“Children’s books were excluded.”

OK, that explains it.

“Watchmen” and “Sandman” are funny inclusions. It seems either that comics should be excluded, or else there should be quite a few more on the list.


Nick 08.19.11 at 6:32 am

I think I’d reverse “Ender’s Game” and “Anvil of Stars” places on the list…


John Holbo 08.19.11 at 6:35 am

“So, I mean, are we supposed to take any effort of this type seriously other than as a measure of public awareness of particular works?”

No! Yes! This is our day to lord it over the ignorant fools! (A definite maybe, then.)


Darragh 08.19.11 at 6:44 am

I can’t beleive Wheel of Time came in at 12. the series started great but lost its way round book 5.


Darragh 08.19.11 at 6:49 am

Also no Guy Gavriel Kay here. Tigana is probably the best stand alone fantasy book I’ve ever read (and I’ve rea d alot). The Empire trilogy by RE Feist and Janny Wurts is also brilliant.


Nick L 08.19.11 at 6:52 am

No Olaf Stapledon, not worth bothering with.


Evan 08.19.11 at 6:52 am

I suppose I deserved that. But to dig the hole deeper, it seems to me that any popular contest of this sort is going to turn up just this sort of mix of seminal (and thus widely known) but quite bad work mixed with things that have been wildly popular over the last 10-20 years. Of course there are some good things mixed in, but that, I think, is because being good and being popular are not mutually exclusive.

So I wouldn’t say that the whole thing is useless, but bemoaning the things you like not being more popular is not something that I try to allow myself to do anymore (most of the time).

That said, I am human: No Reynolds, no Ian McDonald, no Ian McLeod, no Ken MacLeod? One day there will be a Joss Whedon movie of The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, and it will propel that book onto a list like this one.


CarlD 08.19.11 at 7:39 am

Jack Vance, my favourite!!!


Frances 08.19.11 at 7:59 am

Slightly over 10% women authors! Not sure if I should celebrate or …


Metatone 08.19.11 at 8:49 am

Have to say I find the high ranking for George RR Martin’s bloat typical of this kind of exercise – and just wrong on so many levels.

Ways the boosters are wrong:

1) The scope of the saga isn’t original – it’s just padded out a lot.
2) The “harsh realism/dystopian” angle isn’t new – there are books on the list that precede it.
3) After one book it becomes boringly predictable, it may use a different set of rules to the majority of fantasy works (a set closer to the storylines of The Wire) but it doesn’t actually subvert it’s own rules. So it’s just predictable in another direction.


phosphorious 08.19.11 at 9:34 am

“Children’s books were excluded.”

Then wherefore “Watership Down?”


Bruce Baugh 08.19.11 at 9:58 am

Okay, Tiptree’s best work is all short length, but…

No Joanna Russ.
No Andre Norton.
No Eleanor Arnason.
No Nicola Griffith.
No Jane Yolen.
No Kate Wilhelm.
No Nalo Hopkinson.

I was happy to see the Kushiel series on the list, and Atwood, and two worthy works by Le Guin, and while it’s not the best work in the world, the McCaffrey deserves some recognition of influence, and like that, but…gosh, it’s almost like this list mostly reflects the tastes of a rather limited demographic! *look of astonishment*


chris y 08.19.11 at 10:14 am

This list is not even wrong.


Chuchundra 08.19.11 at 11:38 am

One of the best reasons for NPR to create a list like this is so that we can all enjoy ourselves by getting outraged about what’s been left off. I’d like to complain about the lack of Greg Egan or Robert Charles Wilson, but realistically I know that they never had a shot. Vernor Vinge does sneak in at number 93, so that’s something.

I am so very tired of George RR Martin, though. A Dance With Dragons has moved his never-to-end series completely out of the realm of Epic Fantasy. It would be more properly categorized now as merely a soap opera with swords.


ajay 08.19.11 at 11:49 am

gosh, it’s almost like this list mostly reflects the tastes of a rather limited demographic!

Are you referring to NPR listeners (46% women, according to NPR) or American SF readers (45% women according to the ABA)?
Top tip; women buy more books than men; women read more books than men; women are a majority of the population; unsurprisingly, women are in the majority of the readership for pretty much every genre. SF is an exception but, as you can see, 45% is a pretty huge minority.

So assuming that SF is only for lonely male nerds just won’t do…


Russell Arben Fox 08.19.11 at 11:56 am

Here’s my take on the NPR list. Jacob Levy, Tim Burke, and a couple of other CT-commenters show up in the thread. (Tim has got to be one of the best-read SF/Fantasy fans on the planet.) I have several complaints with the list, which I mention in the post, but I agree that the absence of Little, Big is as serious an oversight as any of the others I mention there.

Oh, and Phosphorious (#15): I read Watership Down as a child, as surely many others did as well. But it is absolutely not children’s (or even “young adult”) literature. The stylistic and narrative distance between WD and the Harry Potter books (which I love, by the way) is enormous. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a story which stars rabbits must be a cute kids bunny tale.


Zamfir 08.19.11 at 12:02 pm

One of the best reasons for NPR to create a list like this is so that we can all enjoy ourselves by getting outraged about what’s been left off.
It usually goes like
– Hey, I made a 100 best X list
– Yeah, those are the best 100. Perhaps switch 79 and 78 around?
– Right, fixed it. We still need something to publish, before 5 o’clock.
-Why not publish your list?
– We’re not wikipedia?! Who’s going to pay for a list?
– Let’s just print some jokes. We don’t have time for better.


Marc 08.19.11 at 12:32 pm

This list was generated by popular votes, not by critics. That’s why it prominently features some books turned into movies and some odd representatives for the genre (such as Stephen King novels.)

Having said that, there are a lot of superb SF/fantasy books on that list. I’ve read 15 of the top 20, 20 of the top 30, and I’d recommend almost all of them. It’s good to see that good books are recognized as such by a mass audience.


tomslee 08.19.11 at 12:35 pm

ajay: assuming that SF is only for lonely male nerds just won’t do

Maybe it’s just lists of SF that are for lonely male nerds?

Plus, it’s not an assumption that 87 out of 100 on the list are male-authored. And, just to live the contradiction for a moment, not one of them is John Wyndham when it clearly should be.


andrew adams 08.19.11 at 1:14 pm

No Ballard? Or Gormenghast?

Nice to see Eddings on the list though – his books make me laugh.


Dewey 08.19.11 at 1:20 pm

I am very surprised to see Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera Series and not the Dresden Files on the list.

It would also appear that being named Neil (or Neal) is an advantage as a science fiction writer. Perhaps when I enter the field, I will assume the pen name ‘Neil Nealsburg’ or ‘Neal McNeilly’. Well, I’ll work on it.


norbizness 08.19.11 at 1:21 pm

Nothing to say about the list (I’d only start cringing and yelling when the average NPR’s music picks got put out there), but happy to see minimal representation by two of my favorites, Joe Haldeman and Vernor Vinge, the latter to whom I’d like to express my appreciation for not dumbing down his ideas to the level where I’d begin to understand them.


mozzie 08.19.11 at 1:31 pm

Should have …

Stanislaw Lem
More of Gibson
Jules Verne
EE ‘Doc’ Smith


yt 08.19.11 at 1:35 pm

lists: when you want to generate page-views and don’t want to do work.

also: the under-representation of women is particularly striking at the top of the list, where Shelley finally clocks in at 20.


DA 08.19.11 at 1:39 pm

Hey, the Amber books made it! Only the first half of them (the ones narrated by Corwin) are actually very good, and Lord of Light is probably a better book by the same author anyway, but I’m tickled nonetheless. I like the Platonic riffing making up their universe.

My main complaint is that Ender’s Game is way overrated.


DA 08.19.11 at 1:53 pm

I spoke too soon. Tons of weird inclusions and missed opportunities in the lower half of the list. At least the Red Mars books snuck in at 95.


roac 08.19.11 at 2:04 pm

(1) My first reaction when I saw this elsewhere was: Where’s Earthsea? I guess no-children’s-books may be the explanation. But the last three books aren’t that.

(2) Where-are-the-women? is not high on my list of reflexes, but my No. 2 is Left Hand of Darkness and my No. 3 is Strange/Norrell, and I have to wonder why the masses take a different view.

(3) I did finish A Fire on the Deep, which puts it in the top five or ten percent (pick your version of Sturgeon’s Law), but Banks is a far, far better writer, and his output suffices to meet my minimum yearly requirement of Gigantic Space Opera, so I don’t see myself reading any more Vinge.

(4) I am not against stretching genre boundaries, but Animal Farm is not fantasy, it’s a beast fable, which is a totally separate entity.


John Whitfield 08.19.11 at 2:06 pm

Not sorry at the absence of Ben Bova: his ‘Privateers’ put me off science fiction for two decades.


Henry 08.19.11 at 2:11 pm

bq. No Eleanor Arnason.

An occasional CT commenter, I’m happy to say (as is Ken MacLeod of course).


MattF 08.19.11 at 2:26 pm

I agree more-or-less with the items at the start of the list, but right around ‘five-volume epic fantasy’ I opt out. How about Bear’s ‘Blood Music’ ? If that’s not a classic, I’m a sibling of an anthropoid parent.


Poicephalus 08.19.11 at 2:26 pm

No John Brunner?

Really lame list.



Cian 08.19.11 at 2:27 pm

Has there ever been a list voted for by the public that was particularly good? Especially if it was voted for by the dullard listeners to NPR. Of course its even worse with SF/Fantasy. Do we mean well written (in which case most of the classic stuff should be written off), “important” (in which case you get crap like Conan and EE Doc Smith), stuff the mainstream have heard of, fun, whatever the hell doorstop fantasy series are (people read those for fun?), or actually good.

Omissions from the list are too many to count. But Crowley, the lack of LeGuin (an SF writer who can write very well – not as rare as it used to be, but still), Phil K. Dick, Mythago Wood, Ballard will do for a start. And while the Amber series is okay, Pratchett is superior in every way possible. The lack of Brits probably isn’t that surprising though (Alistair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, etc).


Andrew Burton 08.19.11 at 2:27 pm

My congratulations to roac at 31 for putting down in words what I’ve often thought for 52-odd years: “I have to wonder why the masses take a different view.”

I’m sorry not to see my favorite Alternate Histories anywhere – Pavane by Keith Roberts, Bring The Jubilee by Ward Moore, and The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K Dick.


Daragh McDowell 08.19.11 at 2:31 pm

The presence of the execrable Wheel of Time on the list at all, never mind in the top 20 devalues it significantly IMHO (I used to be a fan till it became clear Jordan was just padding the damn thing out into retirement, as well as turning 16 and realising his prose is simply bad.)

I don’t know WTF Jasper Fforde is doing on the list, and I’ve always regarded Animal Farm as most definitely a children’s book.

The lack of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, as well as Earthsea seems to be indicative of complaints elsewhere that the list is overly male, especially since they made room for some Star Wars fan-fiction…


ajay 08.19.11 at 2:40 pm

I’ve always regarded Animal Farm as most definitely a children’s book.

It wasn’t written for children, it wasn’t published by a children’s publisher, it wasn’t reviewed as a children’s book, it wasn’t marketed as a children’s book, bookshops don’t stock it in the children’s section… why on earth would you think that?


Daragh McDowell 08.19.11 at 2:52 pm

@ajay 39

Because I read it and was taught it in 4th grade.


mike shupp 08.19.11 at 2:56 pm

No CJ Cherryh?
No Andre Norton?
No C L Moore?
No Poul Anderson?
No Clifford Simak?
No John Wynham?

And if you’re going to include WATCHMEN aren’t you ethically required to include SUPERMAN and maybe BATMAN as well?

I think the moral here is that a list of “the 100 best” requires serious constraints. There shouldn’t be any works begun after say 2001 for example. Maybe there should be a requirement that each decade of the 20th century should have at least 5 representatives. Maybe one in ten authors should be non-English-speaking.


phosphorious 08.19.11 at 3:00 pm

“Oh, and Phosphorious (#15): I read Watership Down as a child, as surely many others did as well. But it is absolutely not children’s (or even “young adult”) literature. The stylistic and narrative distance between WD and the Harry Potter books (which I love, by the way) is enormous. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a story which stars rabbits must be a cute kids bunny tale.”

Same could be said for Narnia, no?


MPAVictoria 08.19.11 at 3:04 pm

“Especially if it was voted for by the dullard listeners to NPR”

Really? Having a go at public radio listeners? Snob.

“Because I read it and was taught it in 4th grade.”
We did it in 8th. It seems a little bit advanced for 4th grade.


Daragh McDowell 08.19.11 at 3:10 pm


What can I say? Canadian public school in the early 90’s was very big on warning its students of the dangers of Bolshevism.


MPAVictoria 08.19.11 at 3:13 pm

“What can I say? Canadian public school in the early 90’s was very big on warning its students of the dangers of Bolshevism.”

I also went to a Canadian public school. Must have been a different curriculum.


ajay 08.19.11 at 3:27 pm

4th grade is how old? Nine or so?


KedneduB 08.19.11 at 3:28 pm

what on earth did the expert panel use as criteria for inclusion?


Marc 08.19.11 at 3:31 pm

@36: Tastes differ; the second part of Amber is needlessly complex, but the first few are an absolute blast. I did like Lord of Light as well.

Pratchett did get on the list (twice), which is the actual point; it’s pretty hard to take the precise rank ordering in a list like this one seriously, no?


roac 08.19.11 at 3:45 pm

I’m not sure why those particular Pratchett books made the list. I worry that some people picked Small Gods because they are impressed with Pratchett’s intermittent aspirations to profundity. To be fair, though, it is one of his best stories, just as a story. So is Going Postal, for that matter.

My favorite has always been Wyrd Sisters, but I’ve never found anyone to agree with me.


Sufferin' Succotash 08.19.11 at 3:51 pm

Unless I’m mistaken, no John Wyndham.
The triffids are not amused.


bianca steele 08.19.11 at 3:54 pm

I don’t know anyone who’s read Watership Down, I don’t think. I do remember a book about an English girl who gets a copy of the book when what she really wants is a paintbox and a recording of Debussy (the American equivalent is a girl who gets a little brother when what she really wants is a horse).


bianca steele 08.19.11 at 4:30 pm

Anyway Oryx and Crake is the Atwood I’d recommend to a male reader, I think it’s the only thing she’s written that has a male protagonist. I somehow doubt The Handmaid’s Tale was nominated mostly by men.


Sprizouse 08.19.11 at 4:41 pm

The presence of the execrable Wheel of Time on the list at all, never mind in the top 20 devalues it significantly IMHO (I used to be a fan till it became clear Jordan was just padding the damn thing out into retirement…)

This could be applied to GRRM’s series as well. ASoIaF came off the rails after the third book, WoT after the fourth. But Martin’s crash-and-burn is more disappointing since he’s capable of writing decent prose. But in his fifth brick, he managed to turn the most interesting characters and plot lines into some of the most boring passages of prose I’ve ever had the pleasure to read to slog through.


MPAVictoria 08.19.11 at 4:46 pm

“4th grade is how old? Nine or so?”
Yeah about that ajay.


mijnheer 08.19.11 at 4:46 pm

Others have already made some of my points, but:
Dick, The Man in the High Castle
Stapledon, The Star Maker
Lem, Solaris
Bester, The Stars My Destination
Stewart, Earth Abides
Moore, Bring the Jubilee
Benford, Timescape
Harris, Fatherland

Ballard is a notable omission; a problem for voters might have been that no one particular book of his stands out from his others, and much of his best writing is in his short stories. Also, Christopher Priest is a favourite of mine, though his books are for some obscure reason difficult to find in my corner of North America.


Bruce Baugh 08.19.11 at 4:51 pm

Ajay: I’m aware of the demographics of sf readership, and of NPR listenership. But the thing is, self-selecting polls cannot be assumed to be representative of the population they draw on, and sure enough, this one isn’t. It happens that I know several women who write sf/f/h, and see some more online, and know that they made an effort to get out the vote among their readership. But the effort went on elsewhere, and this is clearly a list representing one part of the sf-reading, NPR-aware audience.


Bruce Baugh 08.19.11 at 4:55 pm

Mijnheer, since the list makers were willing to aggregate (which I like, a lot), I wonder if Ballard might have gotten a slot for, say, the apocalypse trilogy of Drowned World, Burning World, and Crystal World, or something like that.


mijnheer 08.19.11 at 5:06 pm

Bruce Baugh: Shouldn’t that be the apocalypse quartet? There’s The Wind from Nowhere, which I always thought should have been called The [Windy?] World, to align it with the other three. Elementary, really.


Sam Hankins 08.19.11 at 5:07 pm

Oh, please please, let’s see some alternative lists. Let’s start with the moderators. For my money CT has the best adult discussions about sf on the webz. There a few better uses for the internet than the aggregation of top xxx lists.


phosphorious 08.19.11 at 5:08 pm

Lem’s Cyberiad should be there.

And “Do Androids Dream. . . ” is not the Dick I would have chosen.

And a 2:1 Discworld/Hitchhiker’s ratio seems a bit high.

(God, I love complaining about other people’s taste!)


Nine 08.19.11 at 5:11 pm

Too many fantasy titles, & given the prevalence of fantasy Moorcock is all the way down at 90 ? No J. G Ballard, only one Philip Dick. No Clarke in the top 20 ! Pavane by Keith Roberts should be in there. No A .E Van Vogt.


bianca steele 08.19.11 at 5:14 pm

I’ve read many of the top 30, fewer of the later ones. That doesn’t seem surprising for a list like this.

The description of The Stand is interesting, though. (I haven’t read it, was too scared by Christine to read anything by Stephen King after that.) It sounds like a ripoff of Zenna Henderson. Why is it on the list and Pilgrimage not? These are maybe top 100 crossovers.


Daniel Nexon 08.19.11 at 5:17 pm

“EE ‘Doc’ Smith”

Of great historical important to SF? Yes. But also has a critical liability. His work is mostly garbage.

And yes, the list is titled to two categories sure to incite CT readers:

1. Officially-approved-Literary-SF; and
2. Readable but irrelevant “popular authors,’ e.g., Eddings.


Daniel Nexon 08.19.11 at 5:20 pm

Oh, and the lack of YA and Kid’s fantasy (how is that defined, anyway?) pretty much guarantees the exclusion of some of the most vibrant stuff in the genre.


Sam Hankins 08.19.11 at 5:41 pm

Ridley Walker probably could’ve used a spot, and anything by Wyndham, but my pick would’ve been Re-Birth, which I think was The Chrysalids in the UK.

There’s a fair amount of controversy about the merits of Van Vogt. I loved him as a kid, but Damon Knight seemed to make it his mission in life to slag him off at every opportunity.

Of all the omissions, the one that stings the most is Bester. If only people knew what a pleasure they were denying themselves…

I saw above that David Brin was mentioned. A quick anecdote about Brin. I was going to Reed College and found myself at Powell’s Books in Portland one afternoon. David Brin walked in and asked to see the store’s book buyer. It seems he had a box of The Postman in the trunk of his car and was hoping the buyer would put some copies on Powell’s shelves. I couldn’t believe a giant like Brin was having to drive around and flog his books. Weird.


Henry 08.19.11 at 5:42 pm

In the late Robert Jordan’s favor is the fact that he did an awful lot to help John M. Ford (someone whom I didn’t expect to be on the list, but who very obviously deserves it).


rick 08.19.11 at 6:05 pm

No one has complained Battlefield Earth is on the list??? L. Ron Hubbard had to be one of the absolute worst sci fi writers of all time.

And, Robert L. Forward’s Dragon’s Egg should be included. One of the most interesting looks at what alien life could be in the environment of a neutron star.

Also, Niven’s Integral Tree should have made the list.


Martin Bento 08.19.11 at 6:07 pm

One thing I liked about the list, and I think this would not hold for most critics’ lists, is that it includes anything that would qualify as sf/fantasy on the basis of its literal content without respecting the genre/literary divide. Mostly “genre” fiction, but Vonnegut, Atwood, Orwell, etc., are mixed in, just as though they would normally be shelved on the sf isle.


Tangurena 08.19.11 at 6:08 pm

I somehow doubt The Handmaid’s Tale was nominated mostly by men.

I think of it as a future documentary of the political rise of the Dominionists in America.


sbk 08.19.11 at 7:07 pm

Excluding children’s/YA lit is a weirdly incoherent move anyway, given that for the vast majority of people I know, SF/F is the fiction you read in childhood and adolescence, regardless of whether it’s written for children or not. The truly adults-only wing of the genre is pretty confined in popularity. I’d be happy to bet that, for 75% of the books on this list, the people who voted for them read them before turning 19 — or is that too high an estimate? (Nearly everything I’ve read on the list I read in my first two decades…)


Donald A. Coffin 08.19.11 at 7:21 pm

Zelazny’s Amber books are fine. But no Lord of Light? No Creatures of Light and Darkness?

The omission of Samuel Delany is, well, thoughtless. Dahlgren and The Einstein Intersection are amazing books.

Piers Anthony, but not Philip Jose Farmer? The Riverworld and World of Tiers books are extraordinary.

Maybe the problem is that any list of 100 books in any genre would exclude things just as good as the things that do make the list…


bianca steele 08.19.11 at 7:24 pm

@sbk: But for me at least the same is true of “women’s fiction” (family epics, people like Helen Van Slyke), and middlebrow writers like Michener, and for the most part, the best SF holds up better, in terms of quality, than those. Now that may be in part because those books deliberately excluded anything that could have been labeled “pretentious,” so anything of a higher quality, getting better reviews, having higher aspirations attached to it, didn’t get into my field of vision (or was incomprehensible to me at that age if it did).


ECW 08.19.11 at 8:03 pm

Excluding Octavia Butler is almost criminal.


roac 08.19.11 at 8:09 pm

Who would you prosecute?


spark 08.19.11 at 8:10 pm

Plenty of Vance imitators, but no Vance? Nuncupatory!


DaveL 08.19.11 at 10:01 pm

The list is kind of a mish-mash to me. Some individual works, some series, some series made up of sequels, etc.

Some things I’d have liked to see:

The Man in the High Castle or Ubik, P K Dick
Little, Big or Engine Summer, Crowley
Gateway, Pohl
Schismatrix, Sterling (although much of his best is short stories)
The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Swanwick (although I have a soft spot for Vacuum Flowers)
The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin
The Dying Earth “Series”, Vance
something by Delany (even Dhalgren)
The Stars My Destination, Bester
Rogue Moon, Budrys
Cities in Flight Series, Blish (or dare I say it, Black Easter)

Lots of others that would be good replacements for recent pop-F/SF have been suggested above; my list is just the ones that really must be there.

I’d like to find something by Poul Anderson or Clifford Simak. Maybe Tau Zero and City, respectively. Neither wonderfully well-written but compelling nonetheless.

I can tell I’m getting old. Get off my genre, you kids!


roac 08.19.11 at 10:36 pm

Left Hand of Darkness is on there.


AntiAlias 08.19.11 at 10:46 pm

No list can claim to have anything to do with SF without Ken Macleod, Richard K.Morgan and Iain Banks in it. In this order.


JakeB 08.19.11 at 11:11 pm

My experience with the Dune books was:
quality of book n = 1/2 * quality of book n-1

With Robert Jordan, there’s more of a discontinuity along around books 5 and 6, where one suddenly realizes things are going very wrong. Almost everyone I know who’s read that series loves the first two or three books, and gives up around books 7-9.

And yes, Jack Vance, Guy Gavriel Kay should be there. And putting Terry Goodkind’s series above Susannah Clarke is about as bad an insult to literature as I can imagine.


parse 08.19.11 at 11:14 pm

I’m disappointed the Thomas Disch isn’t on the list, and more disappointed that no one else has complained about that.


Alan White 08.19.11 at 11:51 pm

He’s been mentioned above, but the exclusion of Stanislaw Lem is simply unforgivable. Though best known for Solaris (which is great), I recommend The Star Diaries and Memoirs of a Space Traveller, as well as Tales of Pirx the Pilot, The Cybriad, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, and others, many of which are available only in Polish (which unfortunately I cannot read). His A Perfect Vacuum is very comparable to the best work of Borges, and his non-fiction body of work is world-class as well. The greatest shame is that though he received many prestigious awards, he did not receive the Nobel. As I guess you see, he’s my favorite sci-fi writer.


Bruce Baugh 08.20.11 at 12:06 am

Mijnheer, right you are about The Wind From Nowhere.

My own pick for Lem would probably be Fiasco, but I’d cop to feeling it’s most directly a poke at what’s wrong with my own country right at the moment, as well as just plain liking it.


Jared 08.20.11 at 12:27 am

Has CT not discussed this list, which is a year and a half old now? Marred by a lack of William Gibson, and very heavy on Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, and Ursula LeGuin, but otherwise probably better than the NPR list.


Roger 08.20.11 at 1:24 am

No HP Lovecraft, ER Eddison, CJ Cherryh, Poul Anderson, Cordwainer Smith or Harlan Ellison!

Seemingly dozens of the fantasy doorstops by Brooks, Donaldson et al that I remember China Mieville characterising as the cheeseburgers of literature.

If it actually meant anything this would be a deeply depressing list.


John Quiggin 08.20.11 at 1:44 am

A mildly fun question: Which is the highest ranked entry such that you’ve never heard of either book or author

In my case: Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan – judging by comments I haven’t missed much.

After that, there are a fair number which all seem to be summarised as: Young Marie Sue (of Race X and Character Class Y) grows up to discover hir mystical powers and Use Them for Good, becoming well-loved, rich and powerful in the process.


John B. 08.20.11 at 2:04 am

I recently read a couple of the Narnia books to my five-year-old daughter, and came away realizing that, wow, Lewis was not nearly as smart as he thought he was.

Unless he was actually a closet atheist, and the books were really a feint.

Two chapters into Wardrobe, and he actually rolled out the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument, apparently without recognizing the irony of having it spelled out by a fictional character.

Putting the whole Christian mythology side-by-side with the Greek mythology makes it just so easy for my daughter to do the same thing. Unfortunately, that also means that she’s caught onto the whole Santa Claus thing as a side effect…

I followed it up with “Charlotte’s Web”, and the different in the prose was tremendous. Reading Narnia aloud was a chore. Charlotte just flowed.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:11 am

Certainly never heard of Brandon Sanderson or ever seen his books in a UK bookshop – but he makes the list twice.

And Orson Scott Card at #3!

Although he blurb does make it sound vastly more fun than any book by a right-wing Mormon can conceivably be:

‘Young Andrew “Ender” Wiggan, bred to be a genius, is drafted to Battle School where he trains to lead the century-long fight against the alien Buggers’.

OK I may be British but surely Bugger must mean the same in the States as it does over here?


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:15 am

Ah – Brandon Sanderson is another Mormon and is finishing the execrable but much loved Wheel of Time series.

Wonder if there are any other Mormons lurking in the list?


JanieM 08.20.11 at 2:26 am

OK I may be British but surely Bugger must mean the same in the States as it does over here?

Not necessarily.

See here for other senses, which (in my admittedly idiosyncratic personal experience) are fairly common in the U.S., including among people who don’t even know that there’s another usage of the term. Among the people where I grew up, “He’s a cute little bugger, isn’t he?” doesn’t carry any vulgar connotation. People would be shocked……

See also here for more specifics on the use of the term in Ender’s Game, which I haven’t read.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:27 am

Also never heard of John Scalzi, Jim Butcher, Diana Gabaldon, Connie Wills, Robin McKinley or Jasper Fforde (although Fforde’s book does sound interesting).

Plus there are several books there which I only recognise because they are the names of films.

Whether this means I am hopelessly out of touch or just an SF/fantasy snob I don’t know.


Donald A. Coffin 08.20.11 at 2:36 am

To answer John Quiggin’s question–the highest rated entry on the NPR/IndieClick lists I had never heard of:
NPR: Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series (#12)
IndieClick: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana (#5)

Here’s another question: The NPR list is an attempt at the “wisdon of crowds” approach, whereas the IndieClick list is the one person approach. So–wisdom (or ignorance) of crowds?


Fraction 08.20.11 at 2:40 am

Roger, no, bugger over here doesn’t have any particular meaning, except to the
extent that people know what it means in the UK. Extending “bug” to “buggers”
doesn’t raise any eyebrows, except possibly a faint disquiet that it sounds like
the “n” word perhaps.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:43 am

Jamie #89

So no connection between bugger and buggery at all?

Pity – the idea of someone called Ender fighting evil gay aliens did rather appeal to me.

And I am now rather intrigued by whether there is some peculiar Mormon propensity to the writing and consumption of SF and Fantasy .

Other than Card and Sanderson there’s also the Twilight woman, Tracy Hickman of Dragonlance infamy and the great tabletop and computer RPG designer Sandy Petersen – plus a long list of people I’ve never heard some of whom are frighteningly prolific listed at


JanieM 08.20.11 at 2:47 am

As for this: A mildly fun question: Which is the highest ranked entry such that you’ve never heard of either book or author

For me this happens right away — at #5 with George R. R. Martin.

I’m not a very faithful or systematic reader of fantasy/sci-fi, so I’m surprised at how much on this list I’ve actually read, especially if I just note names of authors I’ve read something by. And then there are the whole sets, like the Hyperion series, that I’ve read more than once.

Most extreme case in point: I think I’ve used up what might have been my GRRM time rereading LOTR approximately once a year since I was 15. (That’s a long time ago.) I can’t imagine anything that would convince me that it wasn’t time well spent.


Cuchulain 08.20.11 at 3:01 am

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, definitely deserves a place in the Top Ten. Another great dystopian novel is Karin Boye’s Kallocain.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials deserves its place among the best. A brilliant trilogy. I’m still hoping someone gets back on the bus and turns the last two books into movies.


Roger 08.20.11 at 3:01 am

I’d say the NPR list actually reflects three main factors:

1) literary respectability – Orwell, Vonnegut, Atwood , Bradbury and Huxley rate so highly necause they are precisely the SF writers that general NPR listeners will have heard of and maybe even read.

2) name recognition of popular films (how many NPR voters have really read the Princess Bride or the Time Travellers Wife – or for that matter 2001, I Robot or I am Legend?)

3) sheer volumes sold – all those fantasy cheeseburger tomes do sell huge numbers as do Star Wars and DnD tie-ins (and if this had been a British list you probably would have got a bunch of Warhammer books as well).

Given the apparent power of these three factors it is impressive that some first class SF books got in at all.


Frank Ashe 08.20.11 at 3:15 am

OK, The Wheel of Time was derailed somewhere after book 4-7 (your choice). Who is going to do the necessary job of writing the proper final novel of the series?

I get down to #43 Mistborn Trilogy for never-heard of, #23 Dark Tower for never-read, and #5 Song of Ice and Fire for shouldn’t-be-there


Dave Maier 08.20.11 at 3:19 am

First one I’ve never heard of: #18, Patrick Rothfuss, the Kingkiller Chronicles.

I also miss Lem, but I am surprised to hear that there are a number of untranslated works. Which ones would they be? Are they early or recent? (My faves: Imaginary Magnitude and The Chain of Chance).

Also, I agree with John H. that some Brin would be nice. I really liked the second Uplift book, Startide Rising.


sg 08.20.11 at 3:27 am

I had never heard of Rothfuss, at number 18.

Some of the choices are weird: American Gods, by Gaiman is in above anything else he’s done? It’s one of his weakest works. Also, Watchmen is tedious crap. I’m glad I’ve never read Ender’s Game, but its position at number 3, with Watchmen in the top 20 tells me about the sensibilities of the voters: ageing neck-beard sf men who love reading books about genius men who save the universe with their brilliance, but are also becoming increasingly aware that their own masculinity is being pushed out to the periphery by age and their own burgeoning waistlines.

You see these people in role-playing circles too much …

you can also tell they aren’t academic versions of same. If they were, Wyndham would be on the list – his books are all about a middle-aged academic who shows a young woman the way of the world, in a crisis, and is flawlessly able to do anything despite his middle age and previously cushy lifestyle.


Roger 08.20.11 at 3:32 am

Leaving out a a mumber of books that I’ve owned but can’t recall actually reading my stats are:

Read 8 of the top 10 (+ Huxley as an owned but not read)

16 of the next 40

17 of the last 50

So 41 of the 100 in all.

Of the 59 others only a few strike me as worth either retrieving from the bookshelves where they’ve been languishing unread for decades or seeking out – and at my stage of life I really don’t want to waste weeks of whatever time I may have left on anything that has a silly title and the dread words series, saga or trilogy attached to it.

Couple of interesting recommendations of stuff that should have been on the list above though.


Henry 08.20.11 at 4:00 am

Lavie Tidhar on Ender and the buggers …


JakeB 08.20.11 at 7:27 am

Unless I’ve missed it, noone else has linked to this piece in which Orson Scott Card explains his views on, if you will, buggery (if they have, I apologize):

What a detestable little man he is.


Britta 08.20.11 at 8:50 am

I’m only a sci-fi dabbler (mostly before age 20), but I was also surprised by the dearth of Philip K Dick and the lack of Lem and also L’Engle. While her adult stuff isn’t as good as her kid’s stuff, it definitely beats out some of the stuff on that list.


Nigel 08.20.11 at 9:24 am

For what it’s worth, here’s the list of finalists, which, at least, includes many of the omissions lamented above, but also some astonishing crap.
Still no Disch, dammit, nor Bill The Galactic Hero. Given the preponderance of doorstopper epic fantasies, it’s odd the Mary Gentle’s Ash isn’t anywhere, given that, not only was it hugely popular, it’s also a damn sight better than any of the others, and sneakily science fiction, to boot.


Nigel 08.20.11 at 9:27 am

Gwyneth Jones (another author notable for her omission) on Ender’s Game:


John Quiggin 08.20.11 at 9:38 am

@Nigel I agree, if Heinlein is in, balance requires Bill the Galactic Hero


garymar 08.20.11 at 9:47 am

The list doesn’t look that bad to me — it’s just somebody else’s, or some other group’s, list. Not mine.

Still, it’s fun to whinge! Where’s Charles Stross?


Robert 08.20.11 at 9:53 am

Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos is explicitly sf and has tons of literary cred. Shouldn’t it be on the list?


Roger 08.20.11 at 10:36 am

Jake B @ 102

I’ve never read any of his books but was well aware of Card’s fear and loathing of homosexuals as expressed in that and IIRC other pieces – which is precisely why I raised the question of whether he really is comparing what I presume are evil alien hordes who we must exterminate or die to teh gays.


bigcitylib 08.20.11 at 10:55 am

Much crap on that list. Too much Gaiman. Too much Stephenson. Hardly anything before 1960. Anything by Simmons (or Card–the Mormon’s in space guy) is a puker.

Try adding Linday’s Voyage to Arcturus, maybe The Haunted Woman. Try adding Hope Hodgson’s House on The Borderland. M Peake’s Gomenghast Trilogy.


Roger 08.20.11 at 11:08 am

Re Mary Gentle’s Ash in the absence of actual sales figures it may be worth comparing and rankings. doesn’t even have the big single volume collection in paperback that other than the Gollancz UK edition as an import which tells you straight away that it can’t have sold that brilliantly.

It does have the hardback single volume and as US consumers are much fonder of buying hardbacks than us Brits here are its rankings:

426,899th bestselling book
4.5 stars
8 reviews
12 copies available on amazon marketplace ( IMO a not insignificant metric) priced $0.01 to $50.00
Appears to have been OOP since 2001

The first book of the of 4-volume paperback has a lot more reviews (36 averaging 4-stars), copies in marketplace (52) but a lower sales rank of 860,969 and also seems to have gone OOP a long time ago.

So on this evidence Ash just didn’t sell enough US copies when it came out in pieces to justify a single-volume paperback edition and never really got a mass readership

On you have the 1-volume hardcover edition

300,072nd best selling book
4.2 stars
45 reviews
20 copies on marketplace ranging from an eye-watering £92.00 to £00.1

And the 1-volume paperback has the same reviews (which are merged with the hardbacks) and a sales rank of 104,556.

Its also long OOP BTW which makes one of those 1p (+£2.75 p&p) secondhand hardbacks look a very attractive proposition.

So given that the US market must be what: 4 times the size of the UK’s? Ash clearly sold a lot less well there than it did over here – unsurprisingly given that IIRC it is a very English book which is most fun to read if you have at least a passing acquaintance with the Wars of the Roses period and of the way we teach ancient and medieval history and do field archaeology in UK universities…

So quite understandable that it is not in a US top 100 while a great deal of absolute dreck that is unaccountably popular in the US is.


Roger 08.20.11 at 11:35 am

So Where is Charles Stross? (and the two McLeod’s and Reynolds and Morgan etc) .

Although he has delivered a weighty set of fantasy tomes aimed directly at the US mass market Stross is clearly just not American enough (yet).

And it is a very American list.

On a very quick scan down I see about 20 to 25 non American authors at least half of whom are the literary or classic writers (Orwell, Huxley, Wells, Verne, Atwood, AC and Susannah Clarke etc) which your general NPR reader will be familiar with.

I’d also hypothesise that a lot of the American authors we pointy headed intellectuals love and are scandalised aren’t there (Delany, Disch, Spinrad, Sheckley, Ellison, Silverberg etc) were in fact always more popular (in relative terms) here in the UK anyway thanks to the influence of New Worlds (and of the relatively high-minded Gollancz) on our mass market.

So given that there are a lot of authors with multiple books on the list I’d guess we have a maybe two-thirds American dominance.

OK SF (but not fantasy) is a very American genre but this still seems disproportionate.

(I am however being very lazy in my counting here and am assuming that with the possible exception of a Jasper Fforde every writer whose name I don’t recognise is an American too….and I am probably doing several Canadians a disservice – but they must be used to that by now).


Roger 08.20.11 at 11:54 am

So weird though it looks (and assuming that I haven’t wildly miscounted author’s nationalities) this list actually may indicate something quite interesting – that when you ask a really big sample of people who are not for the most part hardcore SF fans what they like the result is far more nationalistic if not parochial than I at least would have expected.

Maybe the reason all these Jordans and Brooks’s and Goodkinds and Sandersons and Feists and Donaldsons and Salvatores do so well in the list is because they really do understand what many American readers want – the literary equivalent of a Big Mac or a KFC Bargain Bucket that delivers a high page count to dollar ratio and entertains within strictly defined parameters of what constitutes a fantasy novel.


Bill 08.20.11 at 12:40 pm

The omission of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber makes it hard to justify the inclusion of much fantasy at all.

Also Dunsany’s novels are completely omitted, which is disappointing if not precisely surprising.


Roger 08.20.11 at 12:58 pm

Spending way too much time on this but just did a more detailed count.

Of the 100 books 26 are by Brits, 2 by a Frenchman (Verne) and 1 by a Canadian (Atwood) – so 71% are by people who are AFAICT without checking every ones wiki page American writers.

But of the Brits 9 books are by writers who I’d describe as literary (in that they are not primarily known as genre SF/fantasy writers – i.e. Orwell, Huxley, Burgess, Lewis, Wells, Shelley) or which are only dubiously SF/Fantasy at all (R Adams, S Clarke)

So if you only count the genre writers and discount for multiple books by single authors (with Gaiman getting 4 and Tolkein and Pratchett 2 entries each) the American preponderance here looks like its at least three quarters.

As I said much more biased nationally than I’d have expected.


Roger 08.20.11 at 1:22 pm

One final point.

Could it just be that the listeners to NPR who voted are just more honest and less pretentious than you’d expect a socially similar segment of Brits (i.e. Radio 4 listeners or BBC4 viewers) might be?

A glance at the bookshelves in any Waterstones or at the rankings suggest that we also consume many more books from the likes of Brooks, Feist, Goodkind, Hobb, Donaldson, Salvatore and Eddings than we do from the likes of Mieville, Priest, either McLeod, Morgan, Reynolds and Stross.

But I suspect we are far more furtive about such guilty pleasures and would never admit to them in such a survey.


someguy 08.20.11 at 1:32 pm


Since Americans make up 3/4 quarters of the English speaking world, I think 25 non American authors on the list, sounds about right.

You have never heard of Sanderson yet you know the quality of his work? Neat trick.

Also I guess Donaldson’s Unbeliever series fits into guy goes to another world and saves it but the world is original, extremely richly imagined, and leper rapist refuses to believe and take action to save world is bit different not sure it fits into the mass produced cheeseburger category.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:09 pm

There is what looks like a well-sourced table on wikipedia which totals all English speakers as 949m – of whom 251m or somewhat over a quarter live in the US.

When you look at the English as first language column it totals 335m of whom 215m or just over two-thirds are in the US.

That’s not my point though – some of the comments here are why isn’t x (with the best examples of x given being British, Russian or Polish nationals) present?

My answer is precisely because it is an American survey dominated by American authors and that this undermines any assumptions I/we might have had about SF/Fantasy being a relatively cosmopolitan (for want of a better word) genre.

For an American this might well be no s h i t sherlock territory, but it is interesting for a British fan who assumed that the British and American markets would be considerably more similar than in fact they appear to be.

And I’d be very interested in whether we can explore those differences further and attach some harder sales data to the discussion.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:26 pm

Like Mieville who I got the analogy from I am not saying that that cheeseburgers are a bad thing – sometimes there really is a cheeseburger-shaped hole in your life.

The trick is how you balance your consumption of cheap, filling and satisfying junk food with healthier and/or more adventurous fare.

And not all cheeseburgers are alike – Donaldson (who I have read) is obviously one of those exotic this month only specials with chipotle chillis or whatnot and GRR Martin is that artisanal establishment whose burgers and service used to be fine enough to fool you to pay fine dining prices for them but who for some reason has completely lost his touch since he took that long vacation.


DaveL 08.20.11 at 2:28 pm

First one not read: #12, The Wheel of Time Series.
First one never heard of: #18, The Kingkiller Chronicles. (Though I have heard of the author).

After that, it’s not until #43 that I find another I haven’t read or heard of (a two-fer!).

At a rough count I’ve read all but 18 of the picks, and these are concentrated in the Whopper Fantasy genre.

I do want to push back on the critics of A Song of Ice and Fire; while it has definitely acquired a case of bloat in the last book or so, it is head and shoulders above all the other Whopper Fantasies on the list (pleading that LotR isn’t a Whopper Fantasy.)

roac@77: /oops! In that case, I’d swap The Dispossessed out and put Earthsea in.


Eveningsun 08.20.11 at 2:35 pm

Where’s The Island of Doctor Moreau? It didn’t even make the list of 237 finalists. Samuel Butler’s Erewhon should be on there as well, if only for “The Book of the Machines” chapters.


BruceK 08.20.11 at 2:45 pm

This looks as much like ‘Most heard of Authors’ as ‘Best Books’, but even so I am amazed not to see the ‘Demon Princes’ on the list.


Roger 08.20.11 at 2:51 pm

Sorry to go on and on but another key factor seems to be currentness (currency?).

Other than the literary classics that I assume got in because it was a survey of NPR listeners and not just of genre fans, there aren’t that many ‘old’ books in it – and there are a hell of a lot of very recent books/ongoing fantasy series that are still properly in print and being actively marketed (or which are linked to either recent or perennially popular films).

So not only are Lem and Zamyatin and Stapledon and Lindsay foreigners they are very dead foreigners and not being promoted other than as part of some worthy Masterworks series.

Ditto for a lot of the the American greats of the golden and silver ages (the latter being Vance, Leiber, Bester, Anderson, Cordwainer Smith etc) – unless like Howard they created something that has a much wider cultural resonance these authors just don’t register any more at this level now that popular taste has shifted towards bloated fantasy epics and graphic novels.


bianca steele 08.20.11 at 2:58 pm

“Booger” is the closest colloquial US word I can think of. It means what you take out of your kid’s nose with a tissue, esp. the solid matter. I think “cute little bugger” could be used with this pronunciation.

@sg: “neck beard men”
I like this (the phrase not the beard–I had a coworker who claimed CRTs were medically proven to pull hair in through the scalp and out at the chin, but that was twenty years ago, not sure you see so many beards these days).


Ed 08.20.11 at 4:03 pm

One big problem with these lists, other than those pointed out above, is that they are much too long.

By analogy, over a couple hundred players are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But they didn’t select all of those players at once, they put in two to five players a year, every year, for eighty years to get to the current list. And there are people who complain that too many players are enshrined in the BHOF, or about this or that player being excluded, pointing to a similar player that is included.

Since no one can be familiar with over a hundred science fiction books (you might have read all of those books but you certainly won’t remember all of them), trying to put together a best one hunded list all at once will always be a botched effort, including lots of marginal at best selections which will lead to criticism about why some other marginal selection wasn’t included instead. If you do it by a poll where everyone votes for their five favorite books, that solves some of the problem, but you will wind up on books getting into the list with a handful of votes.

This can be avoided by doing a top twenty list, which also has the advantage in that more people will actually wade through the list in one sitting.


BruceK 08.20.11 at 4:44 pm

Another comment, if I may:

A lot of the SF is quite old (Asimov, Heinlein) but most of the Fantasy seems new, or at least from writers still active (GRRM, Hobb, Feist etc etc – but for instance no Lovecraft).

If so, why might that be?


bianca steele 08.20.11 at 5:00 pm

Was L’Engle meant seriously (way up at @1)? I don’t think she’s written any adult fantasy. The Other Side of the Sun has seriously meant black magic, but I wouldn’t think it counts, and A Severed Wasp has some Dan Brown-esque anticlerical conspiracy theorizing, and references to black magic and IIRC something like a Svengali relationship between some characters, but it isn’t fantasy either.


Nigel 08.20.11 at 5:15 pm

Re: Ash; I always thought it did quite well on both sides of the pond. Personally, I’d rate it above GRR Martin, and I quite like GRR Martin.

To do a certain amount of justice to the current fantasy doorstopper glut, it is a genre that’s been revitalised of late, partly thanks to GRR Martin and partly (I reckon) to Michael Swanwick’s Iron Dragon’s Daughter. Even as the Wheel of Time turns lugubriously to its post-mortal close, you have Joe Abercrombie’s (a Brit) First Law Trilogy, which takes every fantasy trope and convention and cliche it can get its hands on and decapitates it and mounts its head on a pike. You have R Scott Bakker’s alarmingly dark, dense, possibly nihilistic series based around a huge religious crusade and Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, cheerfully marrying epic fantasy with the heistthriller – Fritz Lieber would approve. There are others of varying quality, but those, at least, sit more comfortably next to China Mieville’s radical fantasies than people might imagine.


Sprizouse 08.20.11 at 5:17 pm

Wow, lots of CT commenters haven’t heard of Rothfuss and the Kingkiller chronicles. I think I envy you. Here’s a link to the FerretBrain review of the second book… it should tell you all you need to know–and make you wonder how this series made it to 18th.


Marc 08.21.11 at 1:13 am

@124: Neckbeard is only a phrase that I’ve heard from people who detest fantasy. There are many things that I don’t enjoy, and yet I can avoid inventing insults describing the people who do.

On the bright side, it did feature in a hilarious “review” of Game of Thrones

For those who haven’t read or seen Game of Thrones, the review above is the equivalent of someone writing a review of Hamlet by announcing that they hated theater because of the extended musical numbers and dancing.


Marc 08.21.11 at 1:26 am

@129: Or, equivalently, that most fantasy series degrade in quality over time, some faster than others. The reviews of the first book are very strong. It appears that the author of the review of the second book desperately wanted a dark, Game of Thrones style and was angry that he was getting traditional fantasy conventions.


Bill Murray 08.21.11 at 1:58 am

Where’s Charles Stross?

Still trying to find Portland?


sg 08.21.11 at 2:06 am

Marc, I was actually using the phrase as a shortened form of “neck-breathing fatbeard,” which is the precise type of person I was aiming my description at. In case you aren’t sure, I’m a fantasy role-player. I think the behavior of a certain type of role-player is a scourge on our hobby and part of the reason it’s gone down the gurgler in the past 20 years. I don’t detest fantasy and I don’t detest RPGers, but I do get the shits with the conservatism of the fantasy doorstopper and the reflexive curmudgeons who maintain its prominence in the genre. Though much maligned for it, Mieville was right when he described Tolkien as “the wen on the arse of fantasy” and the negative aspect of his influence is clear in these kinds of lists.


someguy 08.21.11 at 2:20 am


There were a lot of good points in that review but the main argument was pretty weak.

There is not a lot of wish fulfillment in [ambigiously] unrequited love for what appears to be a semi whore/gold digger.

Instead of noble scullion boy pining for chaste princesses we get

Two characters who are very sexually active with other people and yet they are involved in a classic type romance. All part of Rothfuss undermining pulling the current back on a heroic fantasy and yet still writing a standard heroic fantasy. I have my doubts about how that will turn out.

But whatever. Believe the worst about Rothfuss and his readers and wish fulfillment.

I think I must be a cheeseburger eater, so, it really doesn’t make a difference to me.


Greg Hays 08.21.11 at 5:20 am

Any list of 100 should include at least three Philip K. Dick titles, of which one should be Ubik.

Lem and Bester, of course.

John Gray’s Park.

The Moon Pool.

If historical importance is a criterion, then surely Looking Backward.


sg 08.21.11 at 5:55 am

That Ferretbrain review sums up so many of the traits of modern fantasy that make it such a turn off for me.


Sprizouse 08.21.11 at 6:19 am

@ someguy,

Firstly, Dan Hemmens and the FerretBrain people are not me, and I’m not them. So your comment is probably better served on that site, rather than this one.

To address your post, however… I think there were signs of extreme Mary Sue-ism developing in Rothfuss’ first book. Personally, I had hoped the second book would dampen them, not ratchet them up to fanfic levels. I think your understanding of Mary Sues (and wish fulfillment) is lacking. The definition of a Mary Sue is that they are author self-inserts. They are characters created to do things the author would like to do. And by this definition Kvothe is nothing but a Mary-Sue. He is good-looking, adored by others, can sleep with anyone he wants without impunity, and is the most powerful being in the universe.

Yet you believe the “unrequited” love by Denna might somehow “cancel out” all of this? But I submit that, based on the first two books, it’s inevitable that Kvothe eventually “gets” Denna, and if he does, then what? Will you admit that Kvothe is the all-time King of Mary Sues?

Look at it this way… Kvothe is Rothfuss’ self-insert and Denna is Rothfuss’ insert for the girl he didn’t get in high school (or college or wherever). But in the Kingkiller World, I’m wagering Rothfuss will get her. How can you think he won’t? Who else is “worthy” of Kvothe… who else could he end up with? And if you don’t believe Kvothe is Rothfuss’ self-insert, take a moment and read a quick bio on Rothfuss and then get back to me.

Look, it’s okay for a person to have personal fantasies, but it’s not okay for the world to worship an immature author’s self-insert as the “next great thing” in the genre, be that genre fantasy, sci-fi or what have you. And I think Hemmens’ review does a pretty good job of laying that out.


George Berger 08.21.11 at 9:47 am

I am quite annoyed at the omission of Stapledon’s “Last and First men” and “Star Maker.” Olaf Stapledon was the direct descendent of Wells, and a writer of brilliantly thought-experimental SF. These two books were written a few years after 1930. Does the omission reflect the taste of today’s historically impaired readers? Does it reflect the negative American reaction to the opening chapters of “Last and First Men?” Those chapters are critical of some aspects of the American Way of Life, from which I escaped. They ring true to me. Whatever, these are masterworks.


chris y 08.21.11 at 10:28 am

J.G.Ballard, who he?


Marc 08.21.11 at 1:17 pm

@137: I found the review obnoxious, especially the political part. It isn’t enough that the reviewer hates the book. He also has to fold in gender politics to make the author, and the reviewers, “bad people.” You see, people mock writing where the protagonist is treated in a certain way (“Mary Sue”), and this is an extremely common problem in fan fiction written by women. People like this book, and it’s guilty of the same crime. Therefore all of those reviewers (and the people who like the book) are sexists. Neat trick! If you disagree with the tastes of the reviewer you’re a bigot too. I have complete intellectual contempt for games like this – where you project bad motives onto people whom you disagree with based on a distorted thread of evidence.

There certainly are valid critiques buried in the review. It doesn’t sound like my sort of book (as gauged from other reviews too.) But that book review reads like a lot of bad music criticism (e.g. explaining why band X is “over-rated”).


skidmarx 08.21.11 at 1:46 pm

Obviously the three Dick titles should be Galactic Pot Healer, The Game Players of Titan and Martian Time Slip.[Reserves option of completely changing mind in Dickian fashion]

The Handmaid’s Tale has many of the flaws pointed out in Vonda N.McIntyre’s “The Straining Your Eyes Through the Viewscreen Blues”, most notably Excessive Capitalization.

I don’t know if someone has pointed this out upthread, but while the Amber series is entertaining, This Immortal, Lord of Light and for manyThe Dream Master are far better books


Cian 08.21.11 at 3:08 pm

Neat trick! If you disagree with the tastes of the reviewer you’re a bigot too.

I don’t think he made the final leap. I’m not sure I’d draw the same conclusions as him, but it is extraordinary that a poorly written piece of wish-fulfilment has received rave reviews from people like Ursula K. Le Guin.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 08.21.11 at 3:24 pm

“Americans make up 3/4 quarters of the English speaking world”

This is a much-promulgated phony statistic, arrived at by combining Americans who speak English as a first language and Americans who speak it as a second language, and then counting the result against only the worldwide total of people who speak it as a first language.

When you compare Americans who speak it as a first language with people worldwide who also do so, the percentage is about 66%.

When you add in the (well over) 300 million people who speak English as a second language — Indians, Filipinos, Nigerians, and not incidentally 36 million Americans and 7.5 million Canadians — Americans who speak English as a first language are about 35% of the “English speaking world.”


bianca steele 08.21.11 at 3:36 pm

It’s funny that you never hear people say, “That Chasing Amy . . . it’s nothing but a Mary Sue.” I don’t recall John Gardner giving any strictures against “author inserts.” (Virginia Woolf’s complaint about Jane Eyre is, more or less, that it suffers from Mary Sue-ism, though.)

@sg, marc
Sorry, I didn’t mean to take a side in someone else’s argument.


bigcitylib 08.21.11 at 3:39 pm

Having gone over the list again, one redeeming quality is –no E.R. Eddison!


Chuchundra 08.21.11 at 4:21 pm

No L. Ron. Hubbard either, which was a pleasant surprise.


Marc 08.21.11 at 4:25 pm

To be honest, I don’t read much modern fantasy – as a result, I’m perfectly prepared to believe that it leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve never read Kingkiller, for instance – I’m simply reacting suspiciously to a poison-pen review. (LeGuin was fond of the first – any specifics about her opinion on the recent one?)

The ones that I’m fond of are Lord of the Rings, Mists of Avalon, Earthsea, etc. And I do admit to having really liked the Elric series (although it has been many moons since I last read any of them.) I’m more of an SF guy, really (Brin, Reynolds, etc.)

So I don’t think that sg and I are necessarily in disagrement per se – there is just something in the lingo that triggered a button for me. The fantasy genre can provoke a really arrogant and dismissive attitude among some (especially female) reviewers – probably the mirror image of male reviewers of romantic comedies and romance novels, I suppose. I’m more inclined to let people enjoy what they enjoy and not try to lay my tastes and standards on them.

I will, however, defend Lord of the Rings vigorously against slurs….


J. Goard 08.21.11 at 4:34 pm

Frankenstein is a stunningly unreadable novel, overwrought in sentence style, filled with unneccessary and (unlike Hugo, say) boooooooooooring asides, characters who talk just about like you’d expect a pretentious teenager surrounded by the same to expect them to talk. Probably the worst famous novel I’ve ever read. Every Steven King book should be on there before Shelley.


Cian 08.21.11 at 4:36 pm

Dunno, only read the first book. That was bad enough. I wouldn’t really care if I hadn’t been suckered into reading it by all the hype.


J. Goard 08.21.11 at 4:38 pm

Cryptonomicon is SF/fantasy?


roac 08.21.11 at 4:46 pm

Mary Sue comes in different grades. The adult Tenar looks like one to me, but the books are fine. (Well, not Tehanu actually, but I like The Other Wind.) But I quit on Riverworld as soon as “Peter Jairus Fisher” made his appearance.


Sebastian H 08.21.11 at 5:17 pm

“Frankenstein is a stunningly unreadable novel, overwrought in sentence style, filled with unneccessary and (unlike Hugo, say) boooooooooooring asides, characters who talk just about like you’d expect a pretentious teenager surrounded by the same to expect them to talk. Probably the worst famous novel I’ve ever read. Every Steven King book should be on there before Shelley.”

What a deeply weird criticism. I almost think we’re getting sarcasm/trolled but in case not: it was written in 1817. The sentence style is actually rather crisp for its time. The plot is also fairly straightforward for the time. Ever read Clarissa?


someguy 08.21.11 at 6:00 pm


‘Firstly, Dan Hemmens and the FerretBrain people are not me, and I’m not them. So your comment is probably better served on that site, rather than this one.’

Are you serious? You placed a link to a caustic, unfavorable, review of the Wise Man’s Fear and claimed that review ‘ it should tell you all you need to know—and make you wonder how this series made it to 18th.’ And now you are all like go direct your comments to the month’s old review and comments thread that was last updated a month ago instead of on the thread were you just brought up the topic?

‘ I think your understanding of Mary Sues (and wish fulfillment) is lacking. ‘

Why do you think that? What did I say that makes you believe that? I mean I thought it was a pretty simple concept to get

‘A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader’

But hey I am wrong all the time. So, please, explain it to me.

‘Look, it’s okay for a person to have personal fantasies, but it’s not okay for the world to worship an immature author’s self-insert as the “next great thing” in the genre, be that genre fantasy, sci-fi or what have you. And I think Hemmens’ review does a pretty good job of laying that out.’

If it makes the author and the readers happy I am really confused as to why it isn’t ok.

‘Look at it this way… Kvothe is Rothfuss’ self-insert and Denna is Rothfuss’ insert for the girl he didn’t get in high school (or college or wherever). But in the Kingkiller World, I’m wagering Rothfuss will get her. How can you think he won’t? Who else is “worthy” of Kvothe… who else could he end up with?’

We really won’t know until the series ends. But you already know. So much so that you can say all you need to know about the series is contained in the extended virulent rant you linked to.

If at the end the Chandrian show up and Kvothe is all like ah ha I have you now and rips folly off the wall and starts tearing it up as Denna comes around the corner using the power of names and then it is back to the happy university I am going to be bummed. But in the meantime I am going to give Rothfuss the benefit of the doubt.

Also, I don’t think it is ratcheted up in the second book as much as you do, yea he does a faerie queen and learns ninjitsu, but he fails at math, chemistry, and a lot else, the failed designs in the lab and comments about Kilvin’s help , the failure to learn Ylish, etc, struggles to even master the name of the wind. But in the end that really doesn’t matter it is the ending that will decide it.

{Which is a pretty good reason to leave the series off the list at this point}


Bruce Baugh 08.21.11 at 6:10 pm

I re-read Frankenstein just a few weeks ago and enjoyed it quite a lot. Sure, it’s verbose and flowery and running at an emotional pitch that starts at fever and goes up from there…and y’know, I like fauvist artwork and music by Verdi and Copland and Rush, too.


someguy 08.21.11 at 6:13 pm

Patrick Nielsen Hayden,

I got 71.6% as a first language which is pretty close to 75%.

And if you go with English language and interent access to vote for the NPR list and awareness of the NPR list you would probably find the percentage of voters that were American to be greater than 71.6%.


bianca steele 08.21.11 at 7:01 pm

I really wish I had not come across these discussions on the Internet. Because now I’m not even sure “All Summer in a Day” is supposed to express any moral condemnation of the actions of the Venusian schoolkids.


djr 08.21.11 at 7:49 pm

someguy @ 155

The Wikipedia page you linked to suggests 215 million native speakers of English in the US, and somewhere between 309 and 400 million worldwide, i.e. somewhere between 54% and 70% of native English speakers being in the US.


dave heasman 08.21.11 at 8:57 pm

A pity they excluded children’s stories. “Citizen of the Galaxy” is my favourite Heinlein.


sg 08.21.11 at 9:48 pm

Marc, if it helps you deal with the ferretBrain review, bear in mind that it’s contrasting the treatment of Kingkiller’s character Kvolthe to Bella Swan. Its anger at least partially derives from the fact that reviewers would not treat a female-authored Mary Sue with the same respect.

And, as her failure to sell the film rights to Earthsea to Miyazaki Hayao in the ’70s shows, Le Guin is capable of mistakes of critical interpretation.


sg 08.21.11 at 9:48 pm

and how come the number of English speakers is relevant? I hear they have these things called “translators” in some parts of the publishing industry.


Western Dave 08.23.11 at 1:49 am

I’m not sure why Orson Scott Card is a horrible person for believing that one should not be unabashedly out as gay and sexually active and Mormon simultaneously at the current time (barring the type of revelation that opened up all levels of the Priesthood to African Americans in the 1970s – always a possibility in the Mormon church..) Which, if you understand how the LDS church works, is pretty much the only possible outcome. Of course, being a believing Mormon requires you to believe a bunch of other things that would seem to me to be patently ridiculous, but then again, I’m not a believing Mormon. Should the Church’s prophet wake up tomorrow and declare that he had a revelation and that homosexuality would now be tolerated and homosexual marriages would henceforth be sealed in the temple for eternity, Card would immediately change his tune.
And Ender’s Game is a kid’s book. Especially compared to Speaker for the Dead which is far, far better. But both pale compared to the Maker Alvin series which is just plain fun, even if it marked the turn from Card being a decent writer to losing his mind.

From the linked article:
“It is quite possible for me to regard homosexuality as a temptation toward a difficult sin, much to be avoided by members of my religious community, and at the same time recognize that others feel differently about it — and that even those homosexuals within my religious community (which means most of those I have known in my life) are people of value, as they either struggle to control their desires or, despairing of that, leave the religious community that requires of them what they no longer desire to do. The only people I have contempt for are those who try to remain inside Mormonism while denying the validity of guidance from the prophets, and I oppose them, not because they live as homosexuals, but because of the hypocrisy of claiming to be Mormon while denying the only reason for the Mormon community to exist. If they prevailed, it would destroy our community. Homosexuals themselves pose no such threat, provided that those who are Mormon admit that a homosexual act is a sin as long as the prophet declares it to be so, while those who do not accept the prophet’s authority refrain from pretending to be Mormon. “


Substance McGravitas 08.23.11 at 3:19 am

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