Now That’s Significant

Anybody who knows me (or who’s been bored enough to peruse the archives of obsolescence) knows that I’m a sucker for the book list. Some of those same folks know that I’m teaching a class this semester on science fiction.

You can imagine my excitement, then, to discover this list of the Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years (a moniker then qualified by the years 1953-2002, which is good to know), put together by the good folks at the Science Fiction Book Club. Note that the top ten seem to be, in fact, the Top Ten; 11-50 are in alphabetical order by title, which would be a mighty coincidence, if these were actual rankings.

Of these 50, however, I’ve read very, very few. My interests run a bit more to the cyberpunk, on the one hand, and to the feminist/”minority”/queer, on the other, than do the interests of the SFBC. But I’ve thus far this semester taught 6, 8, 30 and 43, and we just today finished up 20 (whew). I suppose I’ll have to spend some of the summer filling in some of my listy gaps. Any advice about the list from the more knowledgable — which books on the list are vastly overrated; which books have been criminally forgotten — would be greatly appreciated. (Link via defective yeti.)

3 thoughts on “Now That’s Significant

  1. That word “significant” is a tough one there — so hard to know how to parse it. “Best” is actually easier, in a way.

    I’d vote for the removal of, say, Terry Pratchett in favor of Kim Stanley Robinson’s outstanding Mars trilogy. There’s been little recent science fiction so comprehensively devoted to some of the genre’s deepest original concerns: the political future of human society, the application of “science” to the terrain of the imagination. It’s also epic without being utterly fantastic — a combination one rarely finds anymore.

    Anyway, sounds like a good class. I’ve never read #20, though — only Delany’s brilliant short stories.

  2. #20 is a long, insane ride, but (I think) worth the trip — though I’m today having the same debate that I had with myself two years ago: when I teach this class again, should I drop Dhalgren in favor of a more manageable (or more traditionally SF, or less pornographic, or… insert any number of possible terms here) Delany? I’m not sure.

    One of my students recently recommended the Mars trilogy, of which I’ve read none. I’ll add it to my own personal list.

  3. I’d recommend Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’ over ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ (but that’s also good, and given your stated interests I expect you’ve already read it). My favourite PKD is ‘A Scanner Darkly’, but ‘Man in the High Castle’ is good too. Pratchett’s first Discworld book was definitely not the best; although I ran out of steam with the series years ago, I still remember ‘Mort’ and ‘Small Gods’ fondly. What else… Snow Crash is great, and a good place to start on Stephenson’s work. I preferred The Martian Chronicles to Fahrenheit 451. Dune is a good read, the sequel isn’t, and so I never got beyond that second instalment. Timescape is one of my favourite SF novels, so it’s pleasing to see it make the list – one of the best depictions of real scientists in SF.

    Others? I enjoyed The Space Merchants by Pohl and Kornbluth, which used to make these lists regularly; Robert Silverberg had a great run of novels in the 1970s; Heinlein’s later ‘grown up’ novels are tedious libertarian stuff, but his earlier ones are fun – ‘Have Space Suit, Will Travel’ was one of my childhood faves. My favourite shameless space opera would probably be Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series.

    I could go on all night…

    [And now I’ve checked your numbers, and see that you have in fact not only read but taught two of the above.]

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