Friday, 12 August 2011

A List of Books

I'm taking a break from dog variants to do something else: rant about literature.

Brian and Lord Gwydion have both recently blogged about the USA National Public Radio's Listener Poll of the Top 100 SF/F Books of All Time.

These polls are always a bit silly. They never actually represent public opinion, because the shortlist is always decided upon by 'experts' who get to tell you which 100 books you are allowed to like and in what order. And they are always dictated by fashion: A Song of Ice and Fire is in there mostly, I think, because it has become a popular TV series. (I loved the first 3 volumes, but it's gone awry since then, and more importantly it hasn't even been finished yet.)

Some absolute greats are conspicuous in their absence. There is no Jack Vance, for one, which seems like a horrific omission: Jack Vance is easily in the top half of the best 100 writers of all time, full stop, let alone the best 100 SF/F writers. And although it is churlish to dispute the order of the list, given that it was decided by popular vote, are we seriously saying that R. A. Salvatore is a better writer than Gene Wolfe or Kim Stanley Robinson?

There are also some plain head scratchers. Animal Farm just isn't science fiction or fantasy, unless you're also going to include Aesop's Fables in the list. And the Outlander series (setting aside the fact that it's awful) is surely a series of historical novels. As for Wicked... the 80th best science fiction or fantasy book of all time?


  1. Agreed. I do hate to be snobby given some of the insipid crap I enjoy, but yeah, agreed.

  2. I think these lists are a lot more palatable if they label themselves as the "Most Popular..." As opposed to Best or Top....

    Most won't do it because I think they want to represent the list as some sort of critical list or the like. Popular does not imply significance or indicate longevity though so they use Top or Best.

  3. It's not a terrible list, but there are some odd choices given some of the missing names, especially from older science fiction. I was surprised to see I've actually read about 90% of that list.

  4. How do you define "best" in a subjective field? Its like saying "Best" foods. We (almost) all might agree that used kitty litter is bad food, but a debate between Vindaloo and Lasagna is going nowhere fast.

  5. The really surprising thing to me (as opposed to like Vance where I was like "Of course these rubes forgot Jack Vance") was the lack of JG Ballard.

    How you construct a middlebrow all-bases-covered list of sci fi authors and forget Ballard is beyond me.

  6. My personal wth list from this list
    The Kingkiller Chronicles
    The Belgariad
    The Mistborn Trilogy aka thinly veiled Mormonism
    Thomas Covenant *blech*
    The Sword of Truth aka thinly veiled objectivism
    Kushiel's Legacy aka sweet valley high mixed with BDSM
    Xanth, which for sheer guts at being a dirty old man probably deserves a place on some list somewhere :P

  7. Yeah, The Belgariad is pretty awful, as is the follow-up (The Mallorean, I think it's called.) David Eddings is on the record as saying he doesn't even like fantasy and doesn't read it. It shows. But fantasy fans are so lacking in discernment they gobble it up anyway. (I include myself in this, because I read all 10 books across the two series.)

  8. I've never read any Piers Anthony though. I picked one up and couldn't get past the first few pages.

  9. @Ryan I'm completely baffled by your statement. Sanderson doesn't hide his religious beliefs, but he rarely mentions them in either his blog, through his twitter, account, through his podcast, and certainly not in any of his fiction that I've read. I'm particularly confused by your claim that Mistborn is thinly disguised Mormonism; I was unaware that Mormons believed in the power of Allomancy.

    If you wanted to point to an author's who writes books that are thinly disguised retellings of Mormonism, look no further than Orson Scott Card and the early books of the Alvin Maker series, as well as The Homecoming Saga.

  10. @john
    Sorry that was supposed to be somewhat tongue in cheek, the religious texts written in metal and the character becoming a "god" are somewhat reminiscent of some themes in Mormonism.

  11. I really have to avoid these lists wherever they appear. They almost seem like traps created by extradimensional beings who feed upon nerd-woe.

  12. I agree - it's all controversy-seeking nonsense really. There is something fun about them, though.