T-Minus 100, and Counting

My elder sister has requested that I write a blog post about this.

One ought to always show respect to one’s elders, so here it goes.  This is long, and it doesn’t break up well for the front page, so you’ll have to go below the fold…

First thought: I like it when people make top lists, because their top lists tell you something about the way that they think, right now today. Surveys that turn into top lists have a tendency to reflect mob behavior. Case in point, I like Neil Gaiman quite a bit but no one single author deserves four entries in the top 52 of a science fiction/fantasy list, not even one of the gods of the golden age of science fiction, one of which, of course, Neil ain’t. Heck, no one author deserves 4 entries in the top 52 of any top 100 list for any genre unless his initials are W.S. So in that sense this list interests me less than, say, William Shatner’s list of top 10 novels (no, he’s not the W.S. I was thinking of – madeyathink!)

Shatner probably hasn’t written such a list, but if he did… I bet he’d have his own book in there somewhere. Which, of course, tells you something about Shatner, which is why the list would be interesting – or at least entertaining – in the first place.

Second thought: it’s very difficult to fairly lump multiple-volume stories in with single novels, just like it would be to lump novels with short stories or novellas. “I Am Legend” is a good story, but let’s be honest, it’s obviously only on this list because it was recently made into a movie. There’s plenty of incredibly badass short stories and novellas in the science fiction genre – just check out the yearly returns for those categories in the Hugos and Nebulas for candidates – and it would be hard to put “I Am Legend” in the top 50 of a list of novellas, alone. There is no Harlan Ellison on this list (okay, he’s a self-admitted a-hole, so I can see that as a normal consequence of a popularity contest), but “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” blows “I Am Legend” away, leaving nothing but a small eddy of fine dust in the air.

Second and-a-half thought: If you’re going to make a list of epic stories (series), make that its own list (again, barring consistent criteria). Make novels their own list. Dune belongs on one, the Dune Chronicles belongs on the other. The Song of Fire and Ice might make it on the one list, but none of those books stands alone the way Dune did and that’s all there is to say about that. Come to think of it, none of the other Dune Chronicles stood alone the way Dune did. Martin’s not writing a series of stand-alone novels. Of course if you’re going to have pretty strict criteria (mine’s below, but you can’t have that on a democratically composed list), you can mash ’em up.

(edited to add/clarify) Second and-three-quarters thought: In the SF genre – in my opinion – a serious chunk of the best work is in the novella and short story format.  If I was doing a top 100 SF list alone, I’d expect even before I got into the rating process that over half of my entries would be non-novels.  Really, next to horror fiction, SF lends itself very, very well to those two formats.  This is almost totally the reverse case for fantasy.  So if I was putting together a hybrid list like this one, I’d come out the other end with something that looks totally different.

Third thought: really, George R.R. makes number 5? Seriously, people, you need to read more of these genres if you’re going to cast votes in something like this. I like Mr. Martin’s current opus, mind you. It might even make my top 100 list but it’s nowhere near the top half, let alone the top 10.

Fourth thought: I really like fantasy literature. I really like science fiction literature. I lump them both in the category “speculative fiction”, which includes a lot of other sub-genres like historical fantasy and horror lit, but they aren’t the same breed of cat. This has been pointed out by the NPR folks themselves. I think we just have to accept that these two genres are going to be stuck together for another twenty years or so. I blame brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Fifth thought: I haven’t read all these. One really nice thing about any lists like this is that it gives us an idea of stuff out there that deserves checking out. For that, thanks to everybody that nominated and voted for this stuff I haven’t read!

Okay, final thoughts on this particular list, for now:

The top twenty is not bad, slightly adjusted. Getting past the quibbles already mentioned, the top two are certainly credible contenders for their respective spots. While The Lord of the Rings is hardly the best written book ever, if you’re looking at my rating system below you can see how it would net a very high (if not the highest) score. While I think less of Hitchhiker’s Guide than most SF fans, it rates pretty high on the list – it probably doesn’t make my personal top 10, but it’s close. A Song of Fire and Ice doesn’t cut the mustard for a top 20 list, neither does The Wheel of Time series or The Princess Bride. I haven’t read American Gods or The Kingkiller Chronicles, so I can’t pass judgement on that score. If you take out the three mentioned , you bump in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which is the only P.K. Dick book that deserves to be on the top 100 lists and is a candidate for a top 20. I haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “The Dark Tower” series, but based upon the rest of his work, I’m okay with saying no Stephen King belongs here. Sorry, Mr. King, you’re eminently readable but largely fluffy in substance at novel length – stick to the short stories. Probably surprising to some, I would leave The Watchmen on the list of 100. Both Jules Verne and H.G. deserve to be much higher than they’re ranked on this list, I’d probably push both The Time Machine and 20,000 into these spots.

  • There is no H. Beam Piper on this list, which is criminal.
  • There is no Howard Waldrop on this list, which calls into question the sanity of the process.
  • There is no Esther Fiesner or Karen Joy Fowler on this list (not to mention scads of other eminent female SF writers), which goes to show that popular lists are tools of the patriarchy. Women authors are represented pretty well in, say, Nebula categories.
  • The absence of a certain drab mouse and his brawny companion pains.
  • The absence of a certain shiny rat also pains.
  • Haldeman’s Forever War is ranked *way* too low.
  • I’m surprised that Farmer’s Riverworld series didn’t make the list. I don’t know if this is genuine surprise or not.
  • I like Alan Dean Foster’s “For Love of Mother-Not” enough that it makes the list even though one can criticize Foster as writing too fast and not deeply enough, just like Stephen King. It’s my list. Nyah.
  • James White belongs on here for Star Healer. The Sector General series isn’t overall gold, but Star Healer has all of the best bits of the whole series, and the best bits of the series are gold when assembled thus.
  • You can’t stretch the horror genre into consideration far enough to include Frankenstein (which belongs) and exclude The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for crying out loud, which *is* one of the classic archtypes  in science fiction.  The scientist who experiments on themselves to bad end?  Sheesh.
  • Thank god Battlefield Earth didn’t make the cut.
  • Cryptonomicon barely makes my list. Stephenson can’t end a book to save his life, and this always kills me when I read him. Painfully.

Here’s how *I* would rate candidates if I were making my own list.

Personal Opinion: did I actually enjoy reading the thing? Or, more accurately, did I feel particularly impacted by the work? Example: I didn’t really enjoy Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, but I’m very glad I read it. (1-40 points)
Impact: how big of an impact did it make in the genre itself? Tolkein gets huge points for this. (1-20 points)
Narrative: how well does the narrative thread of the book play out? Tolkein loses points for this, LOTR is not great on this ranking. (1-20 points)
Characters: how well developed are the characters? Tolkein’s characters aren’t terribly interesting; the two best characters, Frodo and Sam, get very little actual explication except through Sam. Gandalf, for another example, is close to the same character as Allanon from the Brooks Shannara series, and Allanon is better written by half. However… important side note… if you invent an archetype in your novel, you get huge bonus points even if I don’t like the particular character development, in a literary sense. Tolkein gets huge points for this. (1-20 points plus arbitrary bonus if applicable)
The MacGuffin/Gadget/Sidekick: if there is one, is it cool? Tolkein yes (the Ring) on both counts. Bonus points if your MacGuffin is itself an archtype – H.G. Wells gets points for his time machine that no other time traveler story gets. First counts!  (1-10 points plus arbitrary bonus if applicable)
Meta: Everything else. Sorry, this is lazy naming, I don’t have forever to get this post up. Does the book contain social commentary that’s particularly cogent, pithy, or deep? Does the book bring up questions of existence or the human condition that are interesting? In the SF genre, is the particular bit of technology that makes the book an SF book in the first place treated in a way that seems plausible, in terms of how it has integrated with or driven human society? (1-20 points)

I might get around to making my own list(s), but to do it properly will take about 50 times as much time as I have to spend right now…

(edited to add)

Erik defends Game of Thrones in the comments. I feel the need to clarify. If you’re trying to make one big list, and you’re putting novels, novellas, short stories, and epic series all in the same giant mixer – as is the case with this list – then Game of Thrones cracks pretty high on the list of epic series but that only gets it somewhere around number 65. Novels, novellas and short stories would dominate the top 50, and only one novella even gets play here. And while I’d consider “Dune” to be really high on the list of *novels* and really high on a hybrid list, “The Dune Chronicles”, as a series, would rank *lower* than Game of Thrones on a series list, or on a hybrid list. Come to think of it, “The Dune Chronicles” probably wouldn’t even make my top 100 hybrid list.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. Well, some good observations in here Patrick, but you’re just wrong about Game of Thrones. This not only has huge points for impact, as it has remade or at least majorly shaken up, the fantasy genre, it also gets high scores for narrative and characters. No, none of the books stand out all by themselves, but as a series of epic fantasy there are very few that rival it. Though there is, of course, no accounting for taste.

    • I think GoT was hugely set up by Wheel of Time. The two series themselves have reinvigorated epic fantasy, so they get lots of points for that, no doubt.

      It’s not that they’re not good, mind you, Mr. K. They are – they’d both make my top 100 list pretty easily. It’s that there are, like, 60 years of awesome stories that rate higher up in the pantheon.

      I’m just saying.

      Also: GoT and WoT both suffer from a cross pollination of narrative and character development. Most authors use one or the other as the main driver for their story, because trying to do both at the same time while doing both well is really freaking hard. Both Jordan and Martin get lots of props for trying (mostly successfully) to pull this off.

      But there are times in both series where the narrative need forces character development that is… ah, out of character. And there are also times in both series where the character development forces narrative changes that are jarring.

      When you’re writing either way, this is obviously less notable than when you’re trying to do both at the same time.

      If we were just rating *series* of epic fantasy, then yes they’d both be much higher up on the list, I’ll totally give you that – they might even crack the top 10, I’d have to think seriously about this. In the pantheon of just epic fantasy series, they’re both very well done.

      • “But there are times in both series where the narrative need forces character development that is… ah, out of character. ”

        i.e. “why is Ned Stark such an idiot?” “Because if he’s smart then the story ends halfway through Book 1.”

        • Yes, I almost put a link into that whole thread in the comment.

          There are others. Tyrion is easily the most complicated character in the first three books, but there are times when I was reading ’em (before I went on hiatus for the series to end) when I wondered if he’s more complicated than he actually should be because Martin manipulates him to move the story in certain directions.

          And some of the backup characters are really less developed than the others. Which would be okay in a narrative-driven book/series, but in a character-driven book/series they’d have to hit the editing floor.

          Again, trying to do both at the same time is really hard, I can’t imagine anyone pulling it off perfectly, so I may be sounding more critical about this than I actually *am*.

          • My critique on The Song of Ice and Fire. I will not read the sixth book. I just read 1000+ pages of nothing happenning until the last 100 or so pages in book 5 and I am done. There is no way this series is close to top ten and Martin needs a better editor that will tell him to chop out 400+ pages of nothing.

  2. Like I sorta said on your Off the Cuff post, this is the kind of thing that could tumble into a huge comment fest if the ball gets rolling. I mean, there’s plenty of fodder in these sorts of lists and then even more when someone gives a strong opinion on such lists.

    I agree with you about voted/committee lists completely. The main problem is the vast majority of people voting will surely not have read even a quarter of the books on the nomination list (heck. I think I’d only read maybe 40), so the top must inevitably weight toward the super popular.

    The criteria are really important. To me there’s this massive distinction between what ‘Best’, ‘Greatest’, ‘Most Influential’, ‘Most Popular’ or what have you, yet such lists always seem to conflate them all or try to prop up one items as ‘great’ and another as ‘influential’.

    I don’t have time at the moment to write up a ton of nitpicks, but how can you not say ‘The Man in the High Castle’ isn’t worthy. DADoES is good, but I think it’s maybe Dick’s fourth or fifth best novel.

    That and I always get in arguments over ‘Dune’, it seems that everyone always rags on the rest of the series, but I think to call ‘Dune’ a standalone work is akin to preferring LoTR without the Scouring of the Shire. Dune Messiah and Children of Dune are fundamentally necessary to the work Herbert was doing and I think often gets misread by people that dismiss the others of the first three books (and maybe ‘God Emporer of Dune’).

    I can definitely agree the last two real books are really bizarre and unnecessary (though the weird sex stuff was pretty titillating to me at 14).

    • I haven’t read “The Man in the High Castle”. I’ve read… er, five of his books? I think? I’d have to review the list.

      They all seemed to focus on the same underlying disjoin between reality and perception in a very major way (maybe this is an unfair generalization) – this is mostly why I haven’t read all of his stuff. It’s not that this isn’t something worth exploring, it’s just that I don’t need N examples of the subject for N > 5.

      Of the books of his that I’ve read, DADoES did that just as well as the others, and it is more influential cross-platform.

      Re: Dune

      Dune has probably sparked more religious wars in SF fandom than anything else except possibly The Foundation Trilogy. I just came down on one side of the fence on that one and stopped giving it further thought.

      One reason why I put the criteria on there is because I wanted to show, with some subjective handwaving, how I would rate these books in a “best” list.

      • I think it all makes sense, mainly I’m just trying to stir things up. Maybe I should dis Ender’s Game since I always thought it’s easily the most overrated novel in the genre.

        On Dick, The Man in the High Castle is probably the most different of this books from the rest (not to mention it won the Hugo), I’ll recommend that really highly even if you feel you’ve gotten his mode down from what you’ve already read.

        On Dune, I see where you are, I think the first three/four shine bright enough to let me forget the rest, but I guess it’s all in how offended you are by where it ended up going. I hope you can just pretend the Brian Hebert/Kevin J. Anderson books didn’t happen because they’re beyond terrible.

        • Okay, I’ll add The Man in the High Castle. So far, I’ve never picked up a Hugo or Nebula and said at the end, “Well, that wasn’t damn fine writing”.

          I never got to the end of the Dune Chronicles (on purpose), so that doesn’t have to get wiped from my mind.

  3. My first thought on seeing the list was, “100 best sf from NPR? Really?”

    Then as I looked at the list I had to wonder about how the voting was tabulated. Why does Martin’s Ice & Fire series get counted as one entry but Pratchett’s Discworld series gets individual entries. The Dune Chronicles? Well, maybe Dune and Dune Messiah but not the whole cycle.

    Brave New World as high as number 9?

    Have people really read these books or did they approach it as “can you name 10 sf books?”

    Oh, I also agree E.D. Kain about Game of Thrones. I just read this a couple of months ago and, so far, it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

    • There were three rounds: submission, a weeding out by a panel, and then voting on the final list.

      So the voting was counted by what the entries were actually codified as, in the final round of voting.

      Yes, it’s haphazard.

    • Why does Martin’s Ice & Fire series get counted as one entry but Pratchett’s Discworld series gets individual entries.

      Each Discworld novel is a standalone plot (the only exception is The colour of Magic / The Light Fantastic), while ASoIaF is one giant story.

      At least, that’s my guess.

      • I’ve always thought of Discworld as individual novels that pretty much tell a chronological story. So in one book Sam Vimes gets married. In later books he has a kid. I’ve also wondered what someone new to Discworld thinks when picking up a book in the middle of the series. How many in-jokes are missed because they are not familiar with the history of the series? For example, new readers may not understand the significance of the character who speaks in ALL CAPS but experienced readers know that DEATH is speaking and get the joke.

        Dune can be read as a standalone novel. I have to wonder why it came in as Dune Chronicles since the prequels and fill-ins by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson are way less than stellar.

      • By that criterion Iain M. Banks’ Culture series should be separated, since each is a standalone plot in the same “world.” But then no single Culture book might have gotten into the top 100, which would have been a shame.

    • The voting entries were done by submissions and then edited by a three-person board.

      So my guess is that they looked at the entries and then haggled over how to quantify them into single categories. I suspect the conversations went something like this:

      “There’s 10,431 votes for Dune Chronicles, and 4,502 votes for Dune. Okay, we’ll put ‘Dune Chronicles’ in as one vote. There’s 3,450 votes for *this* Discworld book, and 2,103 for this other one, but no votes for the Discworld series. Well, we think they’re all standalone books so we’ll just put those two books in there as individual entries.”

      This, of course, skews results heavily for series in voting, because if you liked Dune and thought it was a landmark book but thought books 3-5 were dreck, you’re probably still going to vote for Dune Chronicles.

  4. Novels, novellas and short stories would dominate the top 50

    Does anyone read SF novellas and short stories these days? (Older ones, anyway). I grew up on anthologies of older SF stories (Robert Silverberg’s alone are a university course on the history of SF), but I don’t see many these days. Even the anthologies of Hugo Winners died out over a decade ago through lack of sales.

    So, yeah, while I might argue for Bester’s classics or A. Bertram Chandler’s Giant Killer, or Howard Schoenfeld’s Built Up Logically, I’m afraid I’d be talking only to myself.

    • Oh, no. Schilling & I both dig Bester and Silverberg. There is hope for the world afterall.

      [See lengthier comments @ Pat’s “Off the Cuff” crosspost.]

      • Cool. The old ones (edited by Asimov until he died) had only the winners, covered several years, and tended to come out when the stories were several (at least) years old. This one is like the Nebula anthologies: winners and runners-up from last year. Much smarter and more likely to sell, I think

        • … or you COULD just buy Analog. It’s what, twenty bucks a year?

    • @ Mike:

      > I’m afraid I’d be talking only to myself.


      • That was supposed to come off as enthusiastic, not commanding.

        • It did.

          A couple times now, I’ve contacted E.D. suggesting a guest post. He was (as you’d expect) encouraging and enthusiastic each time, in spite of which I never found the time to write it. Next time, I’ll take Hemingway’s advice, and just write the damned thing instead of discussing it.

  5. I was a bit bemused to see Slaughterhouse Five on the list — is that really considered fantasy? I’d classify it as magic realism, quite a different thing.

    • It’s not uncommon for Slaughterhouse Five to wind up on these sorts of lists.

    • Slaughterhouse Five is sci-fi, not fantasy. I mean, it has aliens in it.

    • I think Slaughterhouse Five is sf. Time Travel, planetary travel. Or, it’s a literary novel that uses sf tropes. I think many of Vonnegut’s novels fall into the sf category even if he said in an article to the New York Times that he doesn’t write sf.

      Margaret Atwood is another writer who disavowed the sf genre even though The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake are sf novels. She later back pedaled and admitted that she writes sf but that the sf stood for speculative fiction. She has a book coming out in October where she further expands on the notion of the fantastic in literature (the book is based on a series of lectures she gave which may still be available on iTunes).

  6. I really like Neil Stephenson, but there’s no way he deserves as many entries as he got on this list. (I really loved “Cryptonomicon,” though.)

    I think “The Lathe of Heaven” should have made this list.

    Oh, and I agree about “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” which gave me the serious fantods.

    • I loved Cryptonomicon for the first 6/7ths of the book.

      And then I realized two things: I’d been reading for a very long time, and there wasn’t much of the book left, and I had no idea where he was going.

      Then the last 100 pages were something of a gigantic train wreck. Since then I’ve read two more of his books and the same thing happens: he gets going, gets a full head of steam, starts really rocking the house down, and then suddenly pokes his head up bewilderingly and says, “What the hell happens next? Oh, okay… uh… ‘The End’!”

      • I remember that sinking feeling as I approached the end of “Infinite Jest” and realized that there was zero chance all the loose ends were going to get tied up, and that there were tons of questions that wouldn’t get answered. I don’t recall the same feeling as I approached the end of “Cryptonomicon,” but I definitely felt that the ending of “Snow Crash” kind of petered out.

        • I think that Neil Stephenson is one of those authors where the first book that you read of their work turns into your favorite and it is hard to shake. I think that’s why I like Cryptonomicon.

          This is how I feel about P.K. Dick, come to think of it.

        • Ever read Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor? It’s a fairly long book, the first 90% of which appears to be a loosely plotted picaresque adventure. Then, you find out what was really going on, he ties up every single loose end, including a bunch you’d forgotten about, and you realize it was as tightly plotted as any detective novel you’ve ever read. Fishing amazing.

          • No, I haven’t read it.

            This thread and the articles that spawned it are ballooning my reading list.

        • You know, a lot of “Infinite Jest” questions are effectively answered if you go back and read the first chapter.

          Actually, considering the amount of influence it’s had on mainstream culture, “Infinite Jest” is a striking absence from the list, but I’m guessing people don’t think of it as sci-fi (even though it’s clearly more sci-fi than “A Handmaid’s Tale” or “1984,” for example).

          • I agree that “Infinite Jest” is just as much sci-fi as “1984.” Also, I think that a lot of the questions get answered by reading the book again (I’ve read it twice). “Infinite Jest” is one of my two favorite books, and I think it’s a masterpiece. But I do wish David Foster Wallace had written a piece of fiction ( any piece of fiction) that resolved by the end.

      • I’ve only read one of his books (The Diamond Age) and that’s exactly how I felt after I’d finished it.

    • The Baroque Cycle actually came to a satisfying conclusion. And for my money it’s both better than and related to Cryptonomicon. Anathem also reached a structured rather than a sudden conclusion.

  7. Wow, I’m embarrassingly giddy about the fact that I got linked from Kevin Drum @Mother Jones. Right up there with when Bruce Schneier included my old blog in one of his monthly Crypto-grams.

      • Like Plinko said, everybody likes to pounce on lists.

        Never occurred to me: you weren’t going to write about this list this week, were you? Did I bogart your topic?

          • Heh heh heh.

            Still working out the dynamics of co-blogging. I’m paranoid enough about stepping on somebody’s toes that it’s the first thing that jumps to mind. Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.

          • A general rule of thumb:

            Try to imagine me saying “OH MY GOD I AM SO FREAKING GLAD THAT I DON’T HAVE TO TRY TO COME UP WITH A TOPIC TONIGHT” when you press the submit button.

            No matter the day. No matter the subject matter. No matter what.

            (I will say that Wednesday is probably my favorite post of the week… but, even then, feel free to bogart.)

          • Assume that I’ll post at least one post on either Thursday or Friday for the near future (I’m shooting for both, but I’m not reliable).

            Just for the sake of you getting to look forward to a beer earlier.

  8. You haven’t read The Handmaids Tale?

    Really? Having not read it makes your list look like a 100 best movies list without ever having seen a Scorsese film.

    Also, yes, Lathe of Heaven

    • No, I haven’t. I haven’t read a few of the things on the list, a couple of which are embarrassing omissions.

      I guess I now have to publicly swear to catch up on some of these.

  9. Just a few thoughts.

    1) I haven’t read even close to everything on the list, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

    2) Perhaps I am alone in this, but I actually greatly enjoy King’s writing, especially when he tilts a bit more towards fantasy. I thought The Dark Tower series definitely deserves a spot on this list, though the last two books were a bit of a letdown. But, for me at least, the series ranks right up there with some of the better fantasy series I’ve read (especially the first four books).

    2) The Kingkiller series is a good page turner, but I don’t think it should have that lofty of a position. It benefits because the second book came out recently, and it’s one of the more popular recent fantasy series. I am now waiting for the author to announce the trilogy actually needs five more books to properly tell the story and the books will take 5 years apiece to write.

    3) I thought Robin Hobb’s book should have been a bit higher, as I loved those books. I burned through all three of the trilogies, and think they are some of the better fantasy books out there.

    4) Am I the only one who thought the ending to Perdido Street Station was lacking?

    • 4) I doubt it, Mieville seems to provoke extreme responses. I enjoyed Perdido Street Station thoroughly myself, though I was weirded out that the last third was more or less a bug hunt. His prose is pretty much what got me through that end.

      I’d like to read the rest of the New Crobuzon books, The Scar is very good, and takes off on a fair amount of things that start up with P.S.S., though it’s ending is probably even less satisfying.

  10. ” I haven’t read “The Handmaid’s Tale” or “The Dark Tower” series, but based upon the rest of his work, I’m okay with saying no Stephen King belongs here.”
    1) The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t by Stephen King, it’s by Margaret Atwood. It’s not her best sf book – imho that goes to The Blind Assassin which has an sf story-within-a-story-within-a-story.
    2) I really disagree with the idea that not liking some of an author’s works disqualifies other works. For example, I’ve read a lot of Orson Scott Card books that I thought were absolute rubbish. But Ender’s Game definitely deserves a place on the top 100 (albeit not #3).

    • 1) Yes I know. I’ve heard good things about Atwood.

      2) Fair enough, but I’ve read a *lot* of Stephen King. I’d be surprised if The Dark Tower series is so much mo’ bettah than Carrie, The Shining, Skeleton Crew, The Stand, Cujo, Night Shift, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, The Running Man, Pet Sematary, Thinner, Misery, Needful Things, Dolores Claiborne, and Dreamcatcher that it would make my list.

    • The Blind Assassin is pretty good, I have to admit I’ve not read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale ” either, though I did see the movie.

      The Dark Tower series is considerably better than everything else King has written, though the last two suffer from a lot of the problems of The Stand and Needful Things (i.e. way, way too long and loaded with belabored metaphors).

      • Five different people have now singled out the last two books in The Dark Tower series for less enthusiastic reviews than the remainder of the series.

        This does not bode well for my opinion of it. It’s one thing to have a troubling time finishing a novel. Finishing a series badly is stink eye territory.

        • Stephen King spent a long time between the first five novels in The Dark Tower series. Then he had his brush with death and decided he had to finish the series before he died. The last two seem hurried and the ending is not what anyone was expecting or hoping for. In fact, King steps in as writer of the book and tells his reader that they probably want to stop reading the last section since it’s going to disappoint them.

          I feel that if he had given himself time to let the last two books “gel” he might have been more successful. On the other hand, the entire quest to the Dark Tower was probably going to disappoint more than a few since it’s the type of quest that cannot have a really satisfying end.

          That said, I still think The Dark Tower is just as good as The Stand and both suffer from King’s general faults as a writer but succeed with his strengths as a storyteller.

          • > both suffer from King’s general faults
            > as a writer but succeed with his strengths
            > as a storyteller.

            That’s a nice turn of phrase that pretty accurately sums up my feelings about King.

            The only three novel-length books of his that I’ve read that really seemed to jell together were The Stand, The Shining, and Misery – which I think is his best book, actually.

  11. Heartening that they mention A Canticle for Leibowitz. Sad the list doesn’t include H.P. Lovecraft who did write good science fiction rather than cult potboilers and Dunsany pastiches.

    These lists are cute but they’re always weighted towards modern and popular fare. Always struck me as funny when ten years into a new millennium (and century) seeing enthusiasts compiling their “Best of the 21st Century” lists. A certain SF community attempted one and this is my response poking good natured fun of their premature endeavor.

      • I see very few movies with Jason these days, so I zealously guard against wasting our movie time together with a bad, or even so-so one. My research into Moon paid off, because we both loved that movie and were talking about it for days.

        • I don’t know if I liked it.

          I think I have to see it again which, I suppose, is higher praise than “I liked it”.

  12. Uh…World War Z and the Thrawn Trilogy? Don’t get me wrong. They’re both really good, but great enough to be on a top 100 list? You’ve got to be kidding me.


    • The voting system was kind of odd, since you were allowed to vote for your top 10 in no particular order out of the short list, so there’s no substantive difference in value between your opinion of the 11th-best and the worst of all-time. The inclusion of some popular mediocre stuff reflects that there’s a large set of votes that had probably only read 10 or 12 items on the list, including some current pulp.

      • Well, I haven’t read everything on the list but if you haven’t read enough sci-fi to know that the Thrawn Trilogy doesn’t really deserve to be in the top 100, you probably shouldn’t be voting in the first place. I appreciate that this is a list of books people actually read (Starship Troopers!) and not esoteric crap, but World War Z and not Cyborg by Martin Caidin?


        • Apparently the final voting eligibility criteria were to be logged into facebook and willing to spend 3 minutes checking book titles on NPR’s website. I say this as someone that did actually vote in the final round (but not in the nominations process and obviously not in the expert panel middle portion).

  13. One of the authors who gets really disserved by the lack of short stories and novellas is Gene Wolfe. 87 is way too low for Book of the New Sun under any rubric, but he is quite possibly the best short story writer in the history of the genre, so most of his really amazing work is just disqualified from go.

  14. I’m embarrassed to ask, but what was the reference to the mouse and a brawny friend, as well as the one to the shiny rat?

    • The former is Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, not sure about the latter.

    • The shiny rat was probably The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison.

    • Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series.

      Which, honestly, aren’t great SF. Harry does have some great SF in his body of work, but James Bolivar diGriz is by far one of the most entertainingly readable characters out there, especially for the 12-18 year old male crowd. You must suspend a lot of disbelief to read the Stainless Steel Rat stories, as they are about as handwavy as you can get from the science standpoint, but there’s a lot of subtle messaging buried under the ridiculous action and near-magical gadgets in the story.

      Angelina’s story is one that really messes with people’s preconceptions.

  15. Where was the Dresden Files on this list? Or where these considered a different genre?

  16. Mildly infuriating. They put that joke of a series by Piers Anthony on, and didn’t put a single work of Brin’s. That said, many of the authors on that list deserve to be read in full. And other than Heinlein (Starship Troopers? really?) people have picked good books to sample. Sad that Asaro didn’t get on there… My list would include Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, somewhere on it… And no Lovecraft? No Campbell?

Comments are closed.