50 Most Significant SF & Fantasy Novels (of the past 50 years)

This particular meme has been spreading through the blogging community I frequent, especially scienceblogs (of which I read about 1/3), and I thought I would chime in.

First off, here’s the list:

  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

It’s important to look at this list with the title in mind. The 50 most significant novels, not the best-written or most engaging. That being said, I’d love to find the originator of this list and argue with them, because some of the items are very very odd. (21:10 Edit: Apparently this list was created by the Science Fiction Book Club)

  • The Lord of the Rings belongs on this list, but the Silmarillion? No. Only true Tolkien fans read that book (and I have, 3 times), but it’s only a significant book from the perspective that it is the whole backstory and world-building-basis for Tolkien’s philology. I don’t think it belongs here.
  • The Caves of Steel, by Issac Asimov? Again, I question the relevance. I, Robot would have been a better selection.
  • The Colour of Magic, by Terry Pratchett? It’s the first Discworld novel, so that gives it some gravitas, but it’s not the best one by far. I would have picked a different Terry Pratchett book, because I do agree that he should be represented.
  • Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice? Nah. Is this a claim that Anne Rice founded modern gothic writing? Because the quality of the novel certainly does not place it on this list.
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven. I’m a HUGE fan of Larry Niven, but I was about to go off about why I don’t think he belongs on this list. But then I realized that he does belong on this list, and I couldn’t decide which novel it should be. Ringworld is as good as any other, although Footfall or Mote in God’s Eye are contenders.
  • Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein. It is a great story, but Most Significant? Negative.
  • The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Goodkind. This is the worst example of rehashed Tolkien in all of the world. Elfstones and Wishsong had all of the good writing of Sword, and none of the blatantly stolen themes! Pick one of them…

As always with one of these lists, you can argue for years about it, and everyone will have a different opinion. However, “Most Significant” is easier to quantify and can lead to some good substantial arguments

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