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The most significant SF and Fantasy books of the last 50 years (or thereabouts)

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Jan 20, 2008 08:55 PM |

Picking up the meme-let from Nazgul, I've taken the Science Fiction Book club's list of The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002, and filtered out the ones I haven't read.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune, Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

To tell the truth, among the remaining items are several that I might have read, but I didn't remember the book as such. That's probably because I haven't actively read science fiction for about 10 years. How you get from being a complete SF&F nut to someone that never reads fiction is another story.

Making rankings like this is always going to be controversial, but I suspect that my own approach would be to choose the authors I wanted to have represented, and then try to figure out for each which was their master work, and decide whether they need to be represented more. So Lord of the Rings represents Tolkien quite adequately, but surely the Silmarilion (which I never read) was only for the people whose appetite wasn't sated by multiple re-reads of LOTR. The Foundation trilogy is a good start, but I, Robot clearly outranks some of the rubbish that's been included. Yes - for prolific core SF authors like Asimov and Clarke you need to have more than one entry. (For Clarke, I'd add the Fountains of Paradise).

For some of the other authors, the book listed is clearly not their master work. Starship Troopers for Heinlein? Surely not. I agree with Le Guin being represented for both F and SF, although for the latter, I'd have said The Disposessed was a better choice. Whatever - Earthsea was her master work.

Why is Harry Potter in there at all? Surely you could toss in a few Harry Harrisons and a few extra Nivens to push him off the bottom of the list. I guess somebody thought "significant" had something to do with box office. In that case, let's have Star Wars.

Maybe one of these days I'll start reading again... but I wouldn't know where to start. I think mostly what stops me is the thought that I won't be able to get sufficient momentum to actually get through a book, let alone give it respect.