That SFBC list - Livre d'Or








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livredor
That SFBC list
Saturday, 18 November 2006 at 04:32 pm
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Can't resist lists...

Bold = read; * = loved; italic = started but couldn't finish; underline = on my shelf waiting to be read. Links to previous journal posts where I've talked about the respective books.
  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
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
  12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*
  13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
  14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
  15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
  16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
  19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
  22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
  24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
  29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
  30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin*
  31. Little, Big, John Crowley
  32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
  36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
  38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
  40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
  41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
  45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
  47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
  48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
  49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
  50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
So, I've read about a third of them. Other comments:

The Lord of the Rings: well obviously! It ought to get some kind of special exemption for these lists, like the Works of Shakespeare for Desert Island Discs. "The hundred greatest books apart from The Lord of the Rings". OTOH I really don't think The Silmarillion belongs here; only serious Tolkien geeks have read it, and it's interesting in the sense that a Michelangelo cartoon is interesting, in that it reveals a stage in the construction of a masterpiece, but in its own right it is an unfinished and flawed piece which hasn't influenced anything much.

Representing Asimov by the Foundation books I suppose is fair enough, but if they can include collections of stories by Harlan Ellison then why not some of the short stories which are a much more significant part of Asimov's output than his novels. And I don't know what The Caves of Steel is doing in this list; I rate it as pretty forgettable. I am not foolish enough to claim I've read everything of Asimov's but I've read a fair deal and nearly all of it is more worthwhile than Caves.

The two I've heard of most often but not read are Stranger in a Strange Land and Ender's Game; should I bother with either of those?

Childhood's end: what on earth is that? I don't even recognize the title, and Clarke has written a number of genre-defining books. Rendezvous with Rama is fair enough; I'm surprised not to see 2001 given that "influence on Hollywood" seems to be a major criterion for much of the list.

I've seen Bladerunner but not read the book.

The mists of Avalon didn't work for me, mainly because I made the mistake of reading it straight after Jo Walton's The King's Name which shows up its flaws like nothing else. But it makes sense to call it influential, I admit.

A canticle for Leibowitz and The left hand of darkness are the only two standouts here apart from LotR. I feel like a top 50 should be a bit more inspiring than this, somehow!

I've only read Triton of Delany's and absolutely adored it; if Dhalgren is a fraction as good I need to read it.

Thomas Covenant is one of only two books I've deliberately left unfinished because I wanted to stop reading them more than I wanted to know how they'd turn out. (The other is William Mayne's Sand, and I can remember the feeling of revulsion, though not much else about the book, clearly 20 years later.)

Harry Potter: blah. Unarguably influential, but I was underwhelmed by the first couple of books. Didn't hate them, they're ok, but no more than that.

On the beach: I don't think of Shute as an SF author, but I suppose this one is set in an imaginary future. I read almost all of his when I was a teenager, and I have somewhat muddled the plots in my head.

I've read some other stuff by John Brunner, notably The shockwave rider which was decades ahead of its time. I am not sure of the titles of the others I've read, and I haven't got round to Stand on Zanzibar.

The most fun thing to do with a list like this is to note the glaring omissions. I'm going to talk about books that seem like they ought to be on the list rather than books that I think are better, which means books that are a major influence on SF and fantasy and the culture in general. The list really needs HG Wells, say The Time Machine or War of the Worlds (I've only read the latter), and Jules Verne, perhaps 20000 leagues under the sea or Journey to the centre of the earth. Probably HP Lovecraft and ER Burroughs too, even though the latter is a crap writer; they helped to define the basic expectations of what SF means. Leaving out Brave New World pretty much makes the list worthless right there.

It may be just my prejudice but I would have thought Day of the Triffids ought to get a mention (though personally, I like The Chrysalids and The trouble with lichen better). 1984 and The handmaid's tale I guess are excluded because people argue about whether they're "really" SF, but if On the beach counts then they ought to.

Gaiman I assume missed out because they're too snobby to include graphic novels, and Sandman is clearly the main reason Gaiman is so important. But even something like Neverwhere would have made a lot of sense.

And, you know, something published in the last ten years wouldn't be so much to ask! I nominate Accelerando and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but I'm not necessarily up to the minute with recent SF/F.


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adrian_turtle: default
From:adrian_turtle
Date:November 18th, 2006 04:59 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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The list specified a time range. It isn't trying to be "all sf," it's "sf since from 1953 to 2002." So _Lord of the Rings_ just barely makes it in, as it was published in 1954. Nothing by George Orwell, HG Wells, or Jules Verne is recent enough, though I expect the SFBC would include them if they did a similar list for a longer time period.

This is from the Science Fiction Book Club. You know, the Book of the Month people. It makes sense for them to focus on the books that were immediately recognized as science fiction or fantasy, and that sold like crazy. If a book was published as mainstream, or as a children's book, or as a romance, it's not what the list is trying to track. Neither is critical acclaim, nor the devotion of a small handful of devoted fans. James Nicoll wrote about this a few weeks ago when the list was published.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:November 19th, 2006 07:49 am (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 07:49 am (livredor's time)
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Thanks for this. You're right, I should have traced the meme to its origins before I started complaining about it. I assume 1953 is when said book club was founded, rather than being a completely arbitrary date? Triffids is too old for that, though not some of the later Wyndham.

I take your point about it being a book club list. I was trying to keep to the spirit of that with my suggestions: stuff which is generally agreed to be SF, and which is popular and influential rather than merely of good quality in my opinion (or that of critics or fans).

Off to read the discussion chez james_nicoll. Thanks for the pointer.
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From:dsgood
Date:November 18th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 11:02 am (dsgood's time)
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Nitpick: Jonathan Strange, not Strand.

There might be a good reason for not including anything published in the last ten years: giving time to see how important/influential they're likely to be.

For a couple of books on that list, the original short or intermediate-length story is better than the book as a whole.

And yes, there are short stories at least as important as any of these books.

Stranger and Ender's -- I would say they're worth looking at. Whether they're worth continuing to read is a matter of taste.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:November 19th, 2006 08:11 am (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 08:11 am (livredor's time)
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Nitpick appreciated and fixed, thank you.

I do understand why lists of greats exclude everything recent. But I think it's rather a cowardly choice, honestly. By the time something the listmakers mistakenly considered important has been consigned to oblivion, the list itself will be even deeper in oblivion, so it's not as if they need to fear embarrassment!
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:November 18th, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 06:04 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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The two I've heard of most often but not read are Stranger in a Strange Land and Ender's Game; should I bother with either of those?

The first half of SiaSL knocked my socks off; the second half was okay but not outstanding. He's often quoted as an influence on Daniel Keys Moran, if that helps.

Ender's Game is okay, but not outstanding. It's also supposed to be from a child's PoV, and doesn't read like child PoV at all IMNSHO. (You should read Cyteen as a good example of a PoV that reads realistic all the way up from three up to over a hundred (amongst many other reasons).)

I've only read Triton of Delany's and absolutely adored it; if Dhalgren is a fraction as good I need to read it.

Nah, it's lousy. He set out, I have heard, to write a book which is neither science nor fiction; this about says it all.

I've read some other stuff by John Brunner, notably The shockwave rider which was decades ahead of its time. I am not sure of the titles of the others I've read, and I haven't got round to Stand on Zanzibar.

SoZ is in much the same vein as tSR.
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From:curious_reader
Date:November 18th, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry
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I am a very slow reader and still have not read my phantasie series. I read the Interview with a Vampire and The Lord of the Rings but not in English. The Lord of the Rings is an absolutely amazing phantasie story better than any films. Interview with a Vampire is even better than the film. Worth reading it.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:November 19th, 2006 11:17 am (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 11:17 am (livredor's time)
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Even though I'm quite a fast reader I don't like long fantasy series either.

A few people have recommended me Interview with a vampire so maybe I should look out for it. Thanks.
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From:curious_reader
Date:November 19th, 2006 01:44 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry
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"The Lord of the Rings" is not a series. The story simply continues. You actually need to read "The Hobbit" first as it is the story how everything begun. I don't know if read that. Something like Harry Potter and Narnia is a series or Anne Rice vampire stories. I was just distracted by other books I have as well. The best book was "Memoir of a Geisha" which I just borrowed from somebody. I have never been that fascinated of a story. I am a bit disappointed by the book "In search of an impotent man" by Gaby Hauptmann. She is a German author but I bought it in English. I expected it to be funnier. The beginning was funny but not the rest of the book. Well, what can you expect from new German writers, comedians, films or whatever. They lost their sense of humor. They used be funnier before the 2nd world war.
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pir_anha: default
From:pir_anha
Date:November 18th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, 01:41 pm (pir_anha's time)

Re: That SFBC list

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SiaSL has aged badly; i'd only read it if you have a list of "should read because the book mattered greatly at the time" and can suspend all sorts of modern sensibilities. slaughterhouse five is in that category as well, though has aged better.

ender's game doesn't fit into that category, but it's also not aged that badly (and isn't that old to begin with). it's alright; i wouldn't say that anyone "must" read it.

dalghren, yes, definitely. that's a regular re-reader for me, and i don't re-read a lot.

in addition to the ones you asked about:

for me, any sturgeon is a must read.

also, ellison stories, and dangerous visions. yes, he is an asshole. but man, could he once write, and he was sharp.
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (11/19/06 12:45 am)
cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:November 19th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I won't bother commenting what isn't here, it's impossible to have a sensible view :)

I loved Ender's Game. Apologies to lethargic man who may like things more similarly to you, but it resonated with me (and apparently many people of all ages). I think it's an interesting classic worth reading anyway, and very easy to read. The scifi is a lot a background to watching Ender's life as young boy thrown into military training for space battles.

I read Stranger in a Strange Land because I wanted to read a Heinlien. It was interesting, but I didn't really enjoy it for itself. It had some great ideas and writing, but mainly seemed to be pushing propaganda I half already found obvious and half thought was stupid, in a way I found a bit blatant :)

I see Snow Crash on the list. Cryptonomicon is one of *my* favorites, I think one roughly loves it in direct proportion to how much you love mathmos :)

I haven't read any Anne Rice, but have heard enough jokes about most of her novels that I haven't ventured in. I assume the first couple are the best, and I assume worth trying if you like vampire noir, but don't know.
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From:curious_reader
Date:November 19th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry
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I read other Anne Rice books but was very disappointed. The best book is still "Interview with a Vampire". I still have the "Chronicles of Narnia" on the shelf. I only borrowed before I bought it "The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe". I heard it the best book. I guess I will be disappointed by the rest of the series. I read the first Harry Potter book but did not bother reading any other in the series.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:November 19th, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 12:39 pm (rysmiel's time)
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The two I've heard of most often but not read are Stranger in a Strange Land and Ender's Game; should I bother with either of those?

Stranger is very much of its time, as pir_anha said, and a lot of what felt innovative about it at the time may seem dated now. if you were tempted to read a Heinlein for significance, I think Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Starship Troopers stand up a lot better, but the basic rule is, no paperback thicker than a centimetre.

Ender's Game is IMO very good.

Childhood's end: what on earth is that? I don't even recognize the title, and Clarke has written a number of genre-defining books.

Childhood's End is really brilliant for its time and genre, and definitely very influential; I really like it, though I know it strikes some people as vast and cool and unsympathetic.

I've seen Bladerunner but not read the book.

They are very very different things.

I've only read Triton of Delany's and absolutely adored it; if Dhalgren is a fraction as good I need to read it.

Dhalgren is very experimental and not like anything else and seems to be a book people either love or hate; on balance, I think it would be worth your while.

I've read some other stuff by John Brunner, notably The shockwave rider which was decades ahead of its time. I am not sure of the titles of the others I've read, and I haven't got round to Stand on Zanzibar.

Stand on Zanzibar does probably the most amazing medium-term future in all of SF - I've talked to you before about my theory that close range and far futures are both easier than medium-range, yes ?

And, you know, something published in the last ten years wouldn't be so much to ask! I nominate Accelerando and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but I'm not necessarily up to the minute with recent SF/F.

I think picking something published in the last ten years as "influential" would be a bit dubious; it seems too soon to tell, but I'm not aware of anything out there on which Jonathan Strange is a visible influence in the same way as there are genres forming in the wake of many of the books on this list. except possibly the recent success of the film of The Prestige.

Oh, and while Interview with the Vampire has flashes of talent, there's a lot of angstmuffinery and general self-indulgence in; to my mind, it's a real shame it became a bestseller, because a good editor might have been able to nurture said flashes had Anne Rice not been in a position to be a prima donna about her stuff and have it sell anyway; there are none of those flashes visible in any subsequent volumes, that I have read, and the author falling in love with a major character seems a very bad sign. It just about made the cut for me to keep when I moved here, but I'd not recommend it ahead of the other things I have mentioned.
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