12 March 2007

SF Classics I Have Read

Five Public Opinions and The Lippard Blog both have a list of the fifty most significant SF and fantasy books of the past fifty years. The idea is to reproduce the list with the titles you yourself have actually read in bold. Okay, here goes:

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
Dune, Frank Herbert
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer, William Gibson
Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Little, Big, John Crowley
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
Timescape, Gregory Benford
To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I know I've started both The Sword of Shannara and Neuromancer, but I don't remember finishing either. I was pleased to see some of my personal favorites here: Stand on Zanzibar, The Man in the High Castle, The Stars My Destination. There are others that surprise me in the other direction--why on earth is Starship Troopers included and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress omitted? My personal list would have included Silverberg's To Open the Sky, Sheckley's Mindswap, and maybe Pohl & Kornbluth's Gladiator at Law.

A few specific comments:

Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien): Overrated, but still amazing. I don't know how many times I've reread it, or for that matter how many different ways I've read it; the thing that amazes me about it is the illusion of depth. If the characters (say) pass over an ancient battlefield, it doesn't just lie there--you can research it and find out who took part in that battle, what it was about, and what happened to the participants. You don't have to, of course, but it's one of the things that made the book fascinating. On the other hand, Tolkien is a mediocre writer and a truly dreadful poet. He is at his worst in bits (like the Tom Bombadil sequence) when his poetic impulses come to the fore, especially with allegedly comic poetry. Somebody should shut Samwise up for good.

The Foundation Trilogy (Isaac Asimov): "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." The Mule. The second Foundation at the opposite end of the galaxy. This series had a profound grip on me at one time, and the events still have a mythic quality in my mind--a mythic quality, alas, not justified by the actual work. For me it came as a series, by the way, and I didn't read it in sequence. I read the first and third volumes before I had the second. What impressed me is that the hero of the sequence is not a person, or even an institution, but an idea. The Seldon plan. These words still resonate with me. Anyway. The trouble is that Asimov was still learning his craft when he wrote these stories, and some of them are far superior to others. When you add in the later volumes the change in skill level feels actually painful.

Dune (Frank Herbert): This was never one of my favorites, but virtually everybody else I knew was really excited by it. It's been far too long since I've read it for me to make any serious comment on it.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein): I deliberately didn't read this book for a number of years, mostly because so many people I knew were enthusiastic about it. No, it wasn't the number of people--it was the kind of people I knew who liked it. They didn't inspire me with confidence in their literary tastes. Guys who insisted that we could live on what grew naturally in our back yards and who thought that the finding of Noah's Ark (as if it had actually been found) somehow disproved Darwin. Also I grew apart from Heinlein after a while--I liked The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag and some of the Future History series, but as he delved further and further into Crazy Capitalist Fantasies I quit reading him. Well, not altogether, but that's another story. When I finally did read Stranger in a Strange Land, I was actually rather pleasantly surprised. It still wouldn't be on my list of fifty SF books, but it's not a bad little story. I've always pictured Jim Backus as Jubal Harshaw and Goldie Hawn as Jill.

The Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin): I have a very positive sense of this book--wasn't this a series?--but it's actually been so long that nothing is coming to mind about it. If my collection wasn't packed up somewhere I'd take a quick look at it and refresh my memory a bit; I know what the cover looks like anyway. I enjoy Le Guin's work anyway--it's irritating that this won't come back to mind.

Neuromancer (William Gibson): I never finished it, and I wasn't impressed by what I read of it.

Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke): Now Clarke actually can write, and his ability, I think, makes Childhood's End look better than it is. If I were going to pick one of his early works, it would be The City and the Stars (rewritten from his first novel Against the Fall of Night).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick): Brilliant.

The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley): Okay, I really didn't care for this one--maybe I was over-sold on it or something. I read it I think at about the same time as Clan of the Cave Bear and for about the same reason, and I didn't care for either of them. On the other hand, I knew a number of people whose taste in literature is reasonably sound who liked it. Go figure.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury): Bradbury at his worst. Bradbury really is not a novelist at all; he is a great short-story writer. For reasons that have never been obvious to me, one of Bradbury's repeated themes was his notion of a conspiracy of clinical rationalists banding together to stamp out fantasy. Here he goes that one better, and has them stamping out all books of any kind. A much better choice would have been The Martian Chronicles.

The Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe): Not only have I never read this one, I've never even heard of it.

A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr.): I remember this as outstanding, but you know, I haven't read it in a long time. I probably should look at it again.

The Caves of Steel (Isaac Asimov): A favorite of mine, but I like a lot of Asimov probably beyond its desert. I liked another one of his detective-like stories better; it was called something like The Currents of Space.

Children of the Atom (Wilmar Shiras): This one I was surprised to see here; it's been awhile since I read it, but the last time I did I was rather disappointed. There is some interesting speculation here about future developments of the human species, and the idea of a multi-bodied being is interesting, but the story line is really not compelling.

Cities in Flight (James Blish): I remember enjoying this when it came out, though

The Colour of Magic (Terry Pratchett): I haven't read it.

Dangerous Visions
(edited by Harlan Ellison): Pretentious crap.

Deathbird Stories (Harlan Ellison): I haven't read it.

The Demolished Man
(Alfred Bester): This, I think, is usually regarded as Bester's masterpiece, but I personally like The Stars My Destination better.

Dhalgren (Samuel R. Delany): I've never read it, mainly because I don't like Delany. Or if I have, I seem to have forgotten it.

(Anne McCaffrey):

Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card): I've never read it.

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (Stephen R. Donaldson): I don't think I've read this; the title is familiar however.

The Forever War (Joe Haldeman): I've never read it.

(Frederik Pohl): I enjoyed this when it came out, but I thought it was over-hyped. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't come to it with such high expectations. I've never felt the desire to reread it, however, and as I recall there was a sequel? I haven't read it, if there was.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
(J.K. Rowling): Rowling is competent and a genuine story-teller, and the Harry Potter series deserves its success. So do a lot of children's books that have been neglected, however. And if Rowling makes the list, why doesn't C. S. Lewis? Still, that's nit-picking, I guess.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(Douglas Adams): The original BBC series was amazing, ***

I Am Legend (Richard Matheson): I either haven't read this or don't remember it; I've read a lot of Matheson and probably something of his should be on this list.

Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice): I haven't read it.

The Left Hand of Darkness
(Ursula K. Le Guin):

Little, Big (John Crowley): I haven't read this one.

Lord of Light
(Roger Zelazny):

The Man in the High Castle
(Philip K. Dick):

Mission of Gravity
(Hal Clement):

More Than Human
(Theodore Sturgeon):

The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith

On the Beach, Nevil Shute

Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

(Larry Niven):

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys

The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson): I never read this.

Stand on Zanzibar
(John Brunner):

The Stars My Destination
(Alfred Bester): This is one of my favorite books period. Gully Foyle's convoluted revenge on Vorga, the ship that abandoned him in space, is ultimately breathtaking. Or something like that. The Scientific People. Synesthesia. The Burning Man. Quant suff.

Starship Troopers
(Robert A. Heinlein): I can think of any number of Heinlein titles I might have included in a list like this, and this one wouldn't be one of them. In Starship Troopers, as in Glory Road, Heinlein is practically reduced to self-parody.

Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks): I never finished this one, and don't even have much of an impression of it.

Timescape (Gregory Benford): Never read it.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Philip Jose Farmer):

1 comment:

Tito said...

The Foundation Trilogy, for that matter, "almost" anything by Asimov is pretty good reading.



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