Science Fiction and Fantasy
August 15, 2011
Tim Bray posted on an NPR survey on the top Science Fiction and Fantasy works. Instead of second-guessing the choices, I thought I’d just comment/review the ones I’ve actually read. (If you notice missing numbers, those are the one I haven’t read.)
1. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. From what I’ve read about Tolkien, I’ve learned that in the 1920s there was a big argument at Oxford about what an English department should be teaching, and how. The side that won gave us English as a subject as we know it today: literary fiction, decoding symbolism, postmodernism, etc. Tolkien was on the losing side (which wanted to teach philology and traditional literature) and when it was clear what the outcome would be he devoted himself to writing The Lord of the Rings. I think it definitively shows that we’d be a lot better off if his side had won.
2. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adams was a brilliant, clever man who unfortunately didn’t really have faith in anything. His books are funny and occasionally thought-provoking, but in the end leave you empty. (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them.)
3. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game. Another book that deserves its high rating, but I’m having trouble separating it from all the other books Card has written. I think I actually prefer Hart’s Hope, although I’m not at all sure I really understood that book.
4. Frank Herbert, The Dune Chronicles. I read Dune and maybe one other of these books. I had trouble believing you could do all that with drugs.
6. George Orwell, 1984. It’s been a really long time since I read this. As I recall, it was pretty good, but We by Yevgeny Zamyatin was better.
7. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. Pretty good, but not my favorite Bradbury. (That’s farther down the list.)
8. Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy. This is a great story, but when I compare it to current politics it strikes me as a bit sinister. It ends with a perfect progressive fantasy: a wise, educated elite manipulating the masses to create a perfect society. Psychohistory doesn’t work in the real world.
10. Neil Gaiman, American Gods. I enjoyed this immensely.
11. William Goldman, The Princess Bride. One of the best movies of all time, but if you haven’t read the book you’ve missed out on half the fun.
12. Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time Series. What can you say about a twelve-volume series (each volume eight or nine hundred pages long) when the author dies before finishing the last book? And then when Brandon Sanderson is picked to finish it, he decides he’ll need three more books to do it. Epic doesn’t begin to cover it.
13. George Orwell, Animal Farm. I liked this better than 1984. I think the characterization was better.
16. Isaac Asimov, I, Robot. It’s hard to compare this to the other books, since it’s a collection of short stories. I still don’t understand why anyone thought they could make a movie out of it. (I never saw the movie.)
17 Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land. A great book, but I liked Citizen of the Galaxy better.
18 Patrick Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicles. I’ve only read the first book, The Name of the Wind. I thought it was mostly well written, but at several points it really did feel like a first novel.
21. Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This is the best book by Dick I’ve read. Like most of his stuff, it can make you feel pretty uncertain about reality.
22. Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Better than the movie, but the original short story was even better. Not my favorite Clarke book (it’s farther down the list.)
26. Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash. I really enjoyed this book. It’s interesting to compare it to how the Internet is really turning out.
27. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles. Another short story collection. I enjoy Bradbury’s almost poetic style, but still not my favorite of his.
31. Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers. He got way too preachy in this one.
32. Richard Adams, Watership Down. One of my absolutely favorite books; I’ve tried to read it to all my children. I once took a class just because this book was on the reading list. If you haven’t read it, don’t procrastinate.
Well, it’s getting late. I’ll save the rest of the list for another day.