Science Fiction and Fantasy, part II

August 16, 2011

Let’s see how much farther down the list I get tonight.

33. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonflight. When I’ve read McCaffrey’s books I generally get really caught up in them, but when I finish I always feel that something was missing. I think her plots are so good that you don’t notice the basic emptiness of her characters.

34. Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. This is one of his better books. Unlike Starship Troopers, he shows his political ideas rather than lectures about them.

35. Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz. I’m pretty sure I read this once, but it didn’t stick with me.

36. H. G. Well, The Time Machine. I know I’ve started reading this several times, but I don’t think I ever finished it.

37. Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I haven’t read this since I was a kid, but I remember it being pretty fun.

38. Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon. I don’t know what to say without spoiling the story, but this is a “must read.”

39. H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds. I remember enjoying this one.

40. Roger Zelazny, The Amber Chronicles. My selfish reaction when I heard Zelazny had died was “Oh no, no more Amber books.” I’ll have to agree with Tim Bray that Lord of Light was better, though.

41. David Eddings, The Belgariad. OK, these are not bad books, but they’re not all that great, either. Well, you can only read The Lord of the Rings so many times, and if you’re hungry for that kind of thing you have to get it where you can.

43. Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn Trilogy. Great characters, compelling moral dilemmas, totally unexpected plot twists: these are great books. (This applies to Elantris and Warbreaker too.)

44. Larry Niven, Ringworld. A pretty good book, but nothing to write home about.

45. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness. Again, I’ll agree with Tim Bray that the Earthsea books are her best. This one is certainly a strong book, though.

46. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarilion. Did you read all the appendices at the end of Return of the King? And enjoy them? Then you’ll like this book too. But if you’re not a big Tolkien geek, you’ll probably find The Silmarillion hard to get through.

47. T. H. White, The Once and Future King. I feel about this book about the same way I feel about Watership Down. Be sure to read it if you haven’t already.

48. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. Creepy but really, really good.

49. Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End. My favorite book by Clarke; haunting and mind-blowing.

53. Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon. One of my current projects at work involves cryptography, so I ate this up. It is pretty geeky, though.

55. Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. It’s a good book, but I think a bit overrated. It feels like Beagle couldn’t make up his mind how serious he wanted to be.

57. Terry Pratchett, Small Gods. I love the Discworld books. I’m not sure how you’d pick out particular ones above the others. This was certainly a good one, but I think I prefer the ones with Sam Vimes or Granny Weatherwax.

58. Stephen R. Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I didn’t really care for these books at all. I found the “anti-hero” Thomas Covenant too whiny and self-centered to be worth reading about.

60. Terry Pratchett, Going Postal. See Small Gods above.

64. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. A very good book; Clarke captures the feel of a 19th century novel quite well.

67. Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara Trilogy. Whenever I saw these books in the bookstore, I thought they looked like cheap Tolkien imitations and passed them by. Then Sam bought a copy, so I decided to give it a try. ”Cheap Tolkien imitation” doesn’t begin to cover it. I read about halfway through the first book and gave it up. Poorly motivated cardboard characters, random plot complications: I’m still astonished the books ever got published, much less considered some kind of classic.

68. Robert E. Howard, The Conan the Barbarian Series. Pulp fantasy at it’s best.

69. Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy. As it happens, my current pleasure reading is The Tawny Man Trilogy, a sequel to this one, so as you can guess I’ll recommend this.

71. Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings. I’m afraid Sanderson caught something from Robert Jordan while trying to complete The Wheel of Time. This is a very long book, and at the end it’s clear that the story has barely started. Sanderson’s a great writer so I trust that in the end it will be a great story, but it looks like it will go on for quite a while.

72. Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I remember enjoying this when I was young, but I suspect the science would probably drive me crazy now.

76. Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama. I remember enjoying this one, too.

78. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed. I know I’ve read this, I think at least twice, but it didn’t really stick in my memory.

79. Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. This is my favorite Bradbury book.

82. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair. The Thursday Next books are all a lot of fun; grab them if you get a chance.

87. Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun. I’ve been meaning to reread this to see if it makes more sense the second time. These are very engrossing books, but pretty different from what you’re probably used to.

88. Timothy Zahn, The Thrawn Trilogy. Yea, these are Star Wars novels, but they’re the best Star Wars novels ever written. Zahn created a fully realized character in Admiral Thrawn.

90. Michael Moorcock, The Elric Saga. I thought these were pretty good the first time I read them, but they didn’t hold up so well when I reread them.

91. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man. I’d pretty much say the same about this as I did about The Martian Chronicles.

94. Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel. They should have made a movie of this instead of I, Robot. With the sequels (The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn), perhaps Asimov’s best books.

99. Piers Anthony, The Xanth Series. Don’t even think of reading this if you don’t like puns. I enjoyed the first few books, but after a while it got tiresome. Also, I felt a little uncomfortable because I sensed an undercurrent of misogyny in most of these books.

100. C. S. Lewis, The Space Trilogy. OK, I enjoyed these books, but more for the theology than the storytelling. The Narnia books were better.

So, that’s everything on NPR’s list that I’ve read. I’ll just add one series that wasn’t on their list: Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott. Besides strong characters and interesting moral choices, she really nails the medieval milieu.

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2 Responses to “Science Fiction and Fantasy, part II”

  1. Annette Says:

    Hey! I actually read the Thrawn Trilogy. I enjoyed them. I’ve also read two of C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy recently and found them interesting–mostly because of the theology, same as you. I’ve read Wizard of Earthsea too. My favorite Ray Bradbury book is Dandelion Wine. It’s not sci fi / fantasy, but it’s delightful; you should try it if you haven’t read it already. Brought back great memories of being a kid in the summer! Reading your reviews has made me want to try some of those books out,

  2. Hans Says:

    In the spirit of the post, I will comment only on the books I’ve read that you didn’t comment on, and thus presumably haven’t read.

    59 Vorkosigan Saga – These are great books. You can check out the series at no cost by going to the Baen free library and reading the short story “The Mountains of Mourning,” which is a powerful distillation of many of the themes of the whole series. It’s a little short on the humor that pervades the novels, though. The free library also has “The Warrior’s Apprentice.” I believe that is the first book with Miles Vorkosigan as the main character (in terms of the series chronology; I’m don’t think it was written first.) It definitely does take place before the short story. There’s also a book or two about his parents before he was born, they were good but Miles really drives the series so the prequels suffer for his absence. (I call them prequels although I’m not sure they weren’t written first.)

    61 The Mote in God’s Eye – I enjoyed this one, and it was definitely the best of the three Pournelle/Niven books that I read recently.

    74 Old Man’s War – This was also an enjoyable read, although I was a little frustrated by some of the aspects of the technology that the author seemed to think no one would question but that I certainly did.

    95 Mars Trilogy – I read the first of these. I made it to the end, but wasn’t inspired to go on to the next one.

    96 Lucifer’s Hammer – entertaining, but too many coincidences in the plot. It’s a small world, but not that small.

    97. Doomsday Book – Despite not being a fan of time travel stories, I really like Connie Willis. This was far and away the most serious of her books that I’ve read. It was good, and interesting, but for pure enjoyment I preferred “To Say Nothing of the Dog.” And yes, that book is to some degree an homage to one of my other favorite books.

    98 Perdido Street Station – I enjoyed this, but it wouldn’t make my list of the top 100.


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