Thursday, October 8, 2015

Discuss: Amazon's 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels to read in a lifetime

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Karen: Amazon published a list of 100 science fiction and fantasy books you should read in your life. I checked it out. I have read 36 of them. It's not a bad list, as these things go. It includes many of the usual suspects -Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, McCaffrey, LeGuin, Tolkien - along with some more recent selections (including Richard Kadrey, a personal favorite of mine). 

However, there are also some omissions -for me, the most glaring is that of Roger Zelazny, author of the Amber series and Lord of Light. Also, not a single novel by the prolific Andre Norton?

If you can muster the time, take a look at the list and share your thoughts about it. No list like this is perfect and all are subjective, but I do feel that some more worthy titles were overlooked for perhaps trendier ones.

And if you don't have the time to peruse the list, what is your own personal handful of indispensable science fiction and fantasy novels?


pfgavigan said...


A pretty good list; some I've read, some I intend to and some I will never touch.

I always get the fans of George R.R. Martin so mad at me whenever I tell them that I have no need to read his Game of Thrones stuff as I had already read the original some forty years ago. And that Robert Graves did it better.



Martinex1 said...

I think it is a good list also. I was glad to see "A Wrinkle In Time" there; I had forgotten about that book from my youth. Also I like that Ursula Le Guin is fairly high up the list; I enjoy her writing. A few surprises. I don't really think of the Wizard of Oz as sci fi...I would classify that differently but it's been many decades since I've actually read it. Jules Verne not making the top 100 was unexpected. I'm a bit of a traditionalist, but if it is a list of novels of all time I thought for sure he would have something there. Journey to the Center of the Earth or 20,000 Leagues? That's my dad's (and old movies')influence on me coming through.

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Humanbelly said...

Hunh-- I was very surprised to find that I've read 31 of these, 'cause I don't consider myself nearly as well-read as Karen. And there are 4 or 5 that I started and ultimately put down 'cause they seemed to defy engagement for me (GOLDEN COMPASS springs immediately to mind). And there are a few others that I have, and just haven't gotten around to reading (I may in fact go pull SOLARIS off the shelf tonight-- always been fond of Stanislaw Lem-!).

Some thoughts on the list:

-Darned tootin', Karen! How could the grande dame of SF/Fantasy not find a spot in here?? Okay, she did tend towards being formulaic-- and her target audience was sometimes a little hard to define. Daybreak: 2250 A.D. (or "Starman's Son") is probably her best & best-known old-school hard SF novel. . . but her fanbase clearly reveres her much more for her later fantasy-realm work, which may be what she's most famous for-- the zillions of books sprouting out of her WITCH WORLD series/franchise. The problem there is that the first WITCH WORLD novel is relatively long and. . . hoo-boy. . . not the most gripping thing she ever wrote. A couple of good cross-over options for her would be either DREAD COMPANION or HERE ABIDE MONSTERS. Sooner or later, someone in Hollywood is going to discover that these novels are ripe with CGI Blockbuster potential.

-The list likes to stick with First Books for a franchise, which usually makes sense. It does Terry Pratchett a SERIOUS disservice. While Sir Terry enjoyed the straight-up goofball parody that was his first Discworld novel, he himself considered it far, far from his best work. SMALL GODS is a brilliant stand-alone, and has changed the lives of troubled individuals. NIGHTWATCH is incredibly compelling, even when you don't know the world already. THIEF OF TIME, SOUL MUSIC (well, Death's half), WYRD SISTERS, WEE FREE MEN--- ah man, so many other, better works could be chosen here. Very glad to see GOOD OMENS, though.

-No, no, MX1--- 20,000 Leagues is there-- you're okay!

-Agreed on Planet of the Apes.

-Uh. . . Michael Chrichton, anyone? What, knuckle-whitening hard-science pot-boilers can't make the list-?? ANDROMEDA STRAIN? JURASSIC PARK?

-Hmm, and although it started as a long short-story, and was expanded to become a short novel, how about FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON? That's still a staple in a lot of middle-school/freshman literature classes.


jeirich said...

At first I missed the inclusion of Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series. I'm not sure I'd call the last four books "essential," but certainly the first six (and most especially the second trilogy) are.

I'd also put in a plug for Little, Big by John Crowley. One of my all-time favorites.

Humanbelly said...

Oh man-- how did I skip over my all-time-favorite--?

Tad Williams' OTHERLAND series, starting w/ the first book: CITY OF GOLDEN SHADOW.

But really, the whole series is pretty much a 3000-or-so page novel (which is how Williams himself described it), and the level of investment is so deep that my immediate reaction was that I didn't want it to be over yet. It may not be "literate" enough of a work to be included on this list (which may be a weakness of the list, now that I think of it), but it is a reading experience that took me back to reading LION, WITCH & THE WARDROBE for the first time in 3rd grade. A complete surrender to the world of the story.


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Anonymous said...

The list seemed weighted toward film, which I guess is fair enough - its what you'd expect from that kind of thing.
That must be why they included Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, rather than something better by Philip K. Dick. Like The Man in the High Castle or Ubik or.... well, you get the idea.

So I was surprised to see three different books by Ursula le Guin. Not that there shouldn't be three on that kind of list - she's great and I'm all for getting more people to read the Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness. It was just a (welcome) surprise.

Didn't expect Delany's Dhalgren either.


Garett said...

I recently reread Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy--it's as funny and sharp as when I read it as a kid. I continued to Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and then part way into Life, the Universe and Everything before running out of steam. The sequels don't have quite the same snap.

Humanbelly said...

And Garett, I'm going to suggest that there's a point where a final book in a series can be so weak that it necessarily cancels out the perceived strength of the first, and should trigger its elimination from the list. I'm thinking HUNGER GAMES, here. Sean's film-influence point is very well-taken. The first book was certainly a gripping, harrowing, and thought-provoking read. The second had the expected middle-installment drop-off, but was fine. MOCKINGJAY, though, seemed so poorly thought-through, and dreadfully paced and. . . clumsy, maybe?. . . that it made me angry at Suzanne Collins herself. Like she'd put off writing her final term-paper until the night before it was due, and this was the best we were gonna get, like it or not. Gnrgh.

Also, if Anne Rice is on the list, doesn't that open the door to a lot of other horror/supernatural novels? Do vampires & werewolves leave off at a point before ghosts and witches begin?


Edo Bosnar said...

Hm, I've read 30 of those listed, which for me is pretty good, because I usually tend to score low on these lists of books I should have read. (Although it's worth mentioning that about a half-dozen of the others I actually have sitting on my shelf but have yet to read.)
Anyway, the list does seem to be skewed toward some more trendy and film-based stuff. So Sean took the words right out of my mouth (or the key-strokes from my keyboard?) when he mentioned Dick's Man in the High Castle as a better choice - although I do think Do Androids... is nonetheless one of his better works as well.
In a similar vein, I think there are better books by Lem than Solaris. Just off the top of my head, I think the novel Fiasco is a much better exploration of a similar theme, i.e., the impossibility, or near impossibility, of ever being able to meaningfully communicate with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe even if we do find it.
I also agree that the omission of anything by Norton (Starman's Son is excellent!) and, especially, Zelazny, is criminal. I would add to that list James Tiptree, Jr. alias Alice Sheldon - I know she mainly wrote short stories, and this list mainly focuses on novels, but there's a collection of Lovecraft stories, so Tiptree should have been included.
Other authors and/or books I think definitely should have been included: John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, either Cities in Flight or the less epic but still quite outstanding A Case of Conscience by James Blish, The Female Man by Joanna Russ, and - if we're talking about more recent authors - anything by Nnedi Okorafor, but especially Who Fears Death.

There's a few that I think shouldn't be on the list at all, like The Princess Bride (that's one of those rare instances where I think the movie is better) or American Gods - it's an enjoyable enough book, but it has some real glaring flaws which to my mind preclude it from being on some kind of "must-read" list.

What I liked in the list:
1. All of the much deserved attention accorded to Ursula Le Guin, simply one of the best writers ever, in my opinion. I would just add that instead of only A Wizard of Earthsea, the list should include the entire Earthsea cycle, which is far superior to other popular fantasy series, like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia books.
2. Handmaid's Tale by Atwood and Kindred by Octavia Butler - there's a few more books by the latter that should be included, as well.
3. Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (or Tiger! Tiger!) - a fantastic, very ahead-of-its-time novel, like much of Bester's work.

I could go on and on, as SF is something near and dear to my heart, but I'll cut it off here...

Karen said...

Isn't it funny how quickly we notice the omissions? While I was glad to see many of these titles, including Haldeman's Forever War and LeGuin's Earthsea, I was surprised to see no Norton, no John Varley, no Roger Zelazny, no Philip Jose Farmer - I'm sure I am leaving out some folks. It makes me wonder about whether certain authors are no longer being read, or if the voters on the list belonged to a specific demographic.

I would agree with HB, Interview with the Vampire is certainly horror and not fantasy. Sometimes the demarcation is not entirely clear. Sandman Slim, by one of my new favorite writers, Richard Kadrey, is probably best classified as paranormal or urban fantasy and not horror, even though it has demons and other creatures in it. Oh, HB, for Norton, my favorite series of hers is the Time Traders.

PF, you gave me a chuckle with your comment. I read Graves after watching I, Claudius on PBS many years ago. I can see the bloodline. I enjoyed the first two books in the Fire and Ice saga but after that, I am afraid the padding became too dense. It felt too much like a chore. I wound up skimming sections in later books that seemed to consist of nothing but riding in carriages with drunken characters, bemoaning their fate. For 30 pages. Not exactly scintillating stuff.

Anonymous said...

I didn't notice any Poul Anderson or Frederik Pohl, but maybe they're not to everyone's taste. I would've had something by Burroughs on the list...Tarzan or John Carter; and no Conan! They got Lovecraft, but forgot Howard. More by William Gibson would've been nice too; in a lot of ways, the sequels to Neuromancer are better than the first book (especially Mona Lisa Overdrive).

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

Y'know, a title NOT on here that you often see included on yer more high-brow "must read" literature lists is Neville Shute's ON THE BEACH. But I think those folks choose to brush over the fact that it is, technically, science fiction. And its tone and utterly bleak point of view put it in good company with the majority of "serious" literature from this past century, which is what those lists tend to be crammed with.

(I forced myself all the way through Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT a few years back, and for the life of me couldn't understand what I was supposed to have taken away from it. . . I wanted to throttle the protagonist most of the time. . . and EVERYONE was too rich, too privileged, too self-absorbed, too selfish, and absolute pimply leeches on society. . .

*apologies to any Fitzgerald buffs out there though, eh?*)


Simon B said...

As Karen says, all "Best Of" lists are subjective. Also, the fact that this list was published by Amazon makes me wonder how much commercial motives outweighed critical evaluation...
As for omissions, I have to agree that Zelazny is an obvious stand-out. No Lord Of Light? Crazy. And, as a Brit, I can't help notice a lack of British "New Wave" authors like Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, Ian Watson, M John Harrison or JG Ballard. Give me these idiosyncratic, stylish authors over the latest formulaic fantasy epic any day :-)

The Prowler said...

Just to jump on what a lot of other posters (posties?) have been saying, I don't think Amazon is saying this is a "Best Of" list but more what you should read in your lifetime, which we also have in stock, in book form, that we need to move, make room for the Christmas rush, list. Mostly. I've read 4!!! FOUR!!!! I am a neo-God amongst men........ mostly. I would claim more because when I read Lord Of The Rings, it was as three separate books. So neiner.

Speaking of lists (and we were): DOUG!!! Cheap Trick is on the list for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame this year!!! (But I guess that would be next year for induction?)

(They say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you).

pfgavigan said...


Hey Karen and Doug; sense we're getting closer to Halloween do you think we could have a day when we all submit a favorite Horror/Supernatural author and a sample of their work?

And as a side note, I now celebrate Christmas's onslaught on Thanksgiving and Halloween by not shopping at any stores that put up the tinsel in September until the after holidays sales.



Redartz said...

A bit behind the curve here today; I couldn't see the list on my phone. Had to wait until this evening, and found 14 that I've read. Guess I need to get busy...

Garrett- second your love for "Hitchhiker's Guide". There aren't many books that make me laugh out loud while reading (which provokes the occasional odd look from bystanders), but this one sure did.

Doug- congrats on your Cubbies; we won't mention the Reds'season (or lack of same)...

PFG- bravo on your holiday boycott! Would love to see it spread; I certify no Christmas music is heard from me until after Thanksgiving!

Rip Jagger said...

I've read forty or so of these, and many of the others I've never heard of. I'm not sure who that's a reflection on, me or the folks who cobbled the list together. I'm not seeing a lot of what I'd consider classics on there. I'd have to double check but I don't see any Fred Pohl on the list, nor Poul Anderson who's one of the writers who best crossed over into both SF and fantasy. Was Hour of the Dragon on the list, I don't think so. I detect a slight anti-pulp bias and a teen lit emphasis.

Rip Off

Martinex1 said...

I have no idea what list I initially looked at. There was no Verne on it and it had Wizard of Oz... Sorry for any confusion. Weird. Like some alternate reality sci fi list. Ha.

Humanbelly said...

Wizard of Oz wouldn't have been inappropriate, really-- same w/ Alice's two adventures, MX1.
But what that does shift my thinking to is that Greg Maguires original WICKED might be another pretty glaring omission from this list. That. . . was such a heartbreaking read, and pulled off the almost-impossible trick of making you forget that you KNEW all along how it would ultimately turn out.
If I'm not mistaken, though, Maguire isn't particularly identified with the fantasy/SF fold, and his works are most often shelved with general Fiction in bookstores. (Or at least that was the case a few years ago.) But how could most of those books be classified as anything other than fantasy, y'know? Personally, I would definitely pull HUNGER GAMES in favor of this book.


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