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Locus Poll of Best Novels

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Locus have published the results of their online poll of the best sf and fantasy novels of the 20th and 21st centuries, and as ever with these things they are a mixture of the expected and the facepalm. I give the lists below, with the usual bold if I've read it, italic if I started but did not finish, and struck through if I did not like the book.

20th Century SF Novel:
1 Herbert, Frank: Dune (1965)
2 Card, Orson Scott: Ender's Game (1985)
3 Asimov, Isaac: The Foundation Trilogy (1953)
4 Simmons, Dan: Hyperion (1989)
5 Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
6 Adams, Douglas: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
7 Orwell, George: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
8 Gibson, William: Neuromancer (1984)
9 Bester, Alfred: The Stars My Destination (1957)
10 Bradbury, Ray: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
11 Heinlein, Robert A.: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
12 Heinlein, Robert A.: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)
13 Haldeman, Joe: The Forever War (1974)
14 Clarke, Arthur C.: Childhood's End (1953)
15 Niven, Larry: Ringworld (1970)
16 Le Guin, Ursula K.: The Dispossessed (1974)
17 Bradbury, Ray: The Martian Chronicles (1950)
18 Stephenson, Neal: Snow Crash (1992)
19 Miller, Walter M. , Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)
20 Pohl, Frederik: Gateway (1977)
21 Heinlein, Robert A.: Starship Troopers (1959)
22 Dick, Philip K.: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
23 Zelazny, Roger: Lord of Light (1967)
24 Wolfe, Gene: The Book of the New Sun (1983)
25 Lem, Stanislaw: Solaris (1970)
26 Dick, Philip K.: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
27 Vinge, Vernor: A Fire Upon The Deep (1992)
28 Clarke, Arthur C.: Rendezvous with Rama (1973)
29 Huxley, Aldous: Brave New World (1932)
30 Clarke, Arthur C.: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
31 Vonnegut, Kurt: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
32 Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris: Roadside Picnic (1972)
33 Card, Orson Scott: Speaker for the Dead (1986)
34 Brunner, John: Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
35 Robinson, Kim Stanley: Red Mars (1992)
36 Niven, Larry (& Pournelle, Jerry): The Mote in God's Eye (1974)
37 Willis, Connie: Doomsday Book (1992)
38 Atwood, Margaret: The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
39 Sturgeon, Theodore: More Than Human (1953)
40 Simak, Clifford D.: City (1952)
41 Brin, David: Startide Rising (1983)
42 Asimov, Isaac: Foundation (1950)
43 Farmer, Philip Jose: To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
44 Dick, Philip K.: Ubik (1969)
45 Vonnegut, Kurt: Cat's Cradle (1963)
46 Vinge, Vernor: A Deepness in the Sky (1999)
47 Simak, Clifford D.: Way Station (1963)
48 Wyndham, John: The Day of the Triffids (1951)
49* Keyes, Daniel: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
49* Delany, Samuel R.: Dhalgren (1975)

20th Century Fantasy Novel:
1 Tolkien, J. R. R.: The Lord of the Rings (1955)
2 Martin, George R. R.: A Game of Thrones (1996)
3 Tolkien, J. R. R.: The Hobbit (1937)
4 Le Guin, Ursula K.: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
5 Zelazny, Roger: Nine Princes in Amber (1970)
6 Lewis, C. S.: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
7 Mieville, China: Perdido Street Station (2000)
8 Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
9 Crowley, John: Little, Big (1981)
10 Adams, Richard: Watership Down (1972)
11 Goldman, William: The Princess Bride (1973)
12 Martin, George R. R.: A Storm of Swords (2000)
13 Beagle, Peter S.: The Last Unicorn (1968)
14 White, T. H.: The Once and Future King (1958)
15 Pratchett, Terry (& Gaiman, Neil): Good Omens (1990)
16 Kay, Guy Gavriel: Tigana (1990)
17 Gaiman, Neil: Neverwhere (1996)
18 Wolfe, Gene: The Book of the New Sun (1983)
19 Vance, Jack: The Dying Earth (1950)
20 Bulgakov, Mikhail: The Master and Margarita (1967)
21 Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
22 Tolkien, J. R. R.: The Silmarillion (1977)
23 Leiber, Fritz: The Swords of Lankhmar (1968)
24 Jordan, Robert: The Eye of the World (1990)
25 Donaldson, Stephen R.: Lord Foul's Bane (1977)
26 Bradbury, Ray: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
27 Peake, Mervyn: Gormenghast (1950)
28 Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
29 Powers, Tim: The Anubis Gates (1983)
30 Martin, George R. R.: A Clash of Kings (1998)
31 Bradley, Marion Zimmer: The Mists of Avalon (1983)
32 Hobb, Robin: Assassin's Apprentice (1995)
33 Pratchett, Terry: The Colour of Magic (1983)
34 Holdstock, Robert: Mythago Wood (1984)
35 King, Stephen: The Stand (1978)
36* L'Engle, Madeleine: A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
36* Pratchett, Terry: Small Gods (1992)
38 Ende, Michael: The Neverending Story (1983)
39 Peake, Mervyn: Titus Groan (1946)
40 Howard, Robert E.: Conan the Barbarian (1950)
41 McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight (1968)
42 Orwell: George: Animal Farm (1945)
43 Feist, Raymond E.: Magician (1982)
44 Silverberg, Robert: Lord Valentine's Castle (1980)
45 Lovecraft, H. P.: At the Mountains of Madness (1936)
46 Swanwick, Michael: The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993)
47 King, Stephen: The Shining (1977)
48 Garcia Marquez, Gabriel: One Hundred Years of Solitude (1970)
49 Saint-Exupery, Antoine de: The Little Prince (1943)
50 Hughart, Barry: Bridge of Birds (1984)

21st Century SF Novel:
1 Scalzi, John: Old Man's War (2005)
2 Stephenson, Neal: Anathem (2008)
3 Bacigalupi, Paolo: The Windup Girl (2009)
4 Wilson, Robert Charles: Spin (2005)
5 Watts, Peter: Blindsight (2006)
6 Morgan, Richard: Altered Carbon (2002)
7 Collins, Suzanne: The Hunger Games (2008)
8 Gibson, William: Pattern Recognition (2003)
9 Mieville, China: The City & the City (2009)
10 Stross, Charles: Accelerando (2005)
11 Mitchell, David: Cloud Atlas (2004)
12 McDonald, Ian: River of Gods (2004)
13 McCarthy, Cormac: The Road (2006)
14 Harrison, M. John: Light (2002)
15* Willis, Connie: Black Out/All Clear (2010)
15* Chabon, Michael: The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)

21st Century Fantasy Novel:
1 Gaiman, Neil: American Gods (2001)
2 Clarke, Susanna: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
3 Rothfuss, Patrick: The Name of the Wind (2007)
4 Mieville, China: The Scar (2002)
5 Martin, George R. R.: A Feast for Crows (2005)
6 Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)
7 Bujold, Lois McMaster: The Curse of Chalion (2001)
8 Mieville, China: The City & the City (2009)
9 Fforde, Jasper: The Eyre Affair (2001)
10* Bujold, Lois McMaster: Paladin of Souls (2003)
10* Pratchett, Terry: Night Watch (2002)
12 Gaiman, Neil: Coraline (2002)
13 Wolfe, Gene: The Wizard Knight (2004)
14 Pratchett, Terry: Going Postal (2004)
15* Gaiman, Neil: The Graveyard Book (2008)
15* Lynch, Scott: The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)

One of the things about these polls for me is to spot gaps in my own reading. I have read all but 9 of the 132 books listed above, which is not too bad (and a clean sweep in 20th century SF), but I have some more titles to add to my Amazon wishlist now.

One should not engage in too much analysis of what is basically a poll representing only the preferences of those who voted (I didn't) and whose voting system is somewhat obscure ("algorithms that reward a 1st place vote twice as many points as a 5th or 10th place vote, but not 5 times or 10 times as many", which seems to mean two points for a first place and one for every other placing). But I can't completely refrain from comment.

The 20th century sf list feels rather old-fashioned. The average (and median) year of publication is 1969 (compared to mid-1970s for the fantasy list). But perhaps it is a better reflection of staying power than the other lists. Eleven of the 20th century fantasy list were published after 1990, compared to five of the sf list.

I find it difficult to believe that Old Man's War won the 21st century sf category. My own problems with this book are well-known, but even putting that aside I cannot understand how anyone could rate it ahead of most of the others on the list. Having said that, this was the list where I struck out fully a quarter of the books on it, so clearly my tastes are out of whack with the times. Also note that most ballots were received in the last four days, and that both Scalzi himself and Tor (whose readers also liked Old Man's War) published blog posts on 27 November urging people to participate. There is nothing wrong with that, of course; I offer the explanation not as criticism of the self-promotion of Scalzi and his publishers, but as a partial explanation of my own bafflement.

The nine books I have not read are:

Beagle, Peter S.: The Last Unicorn
Bradbury, Ray: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Howard, Robert E.: Conan the Barbarian
Silverberg, Robert: Lord Valentine's Castle
Swanwick, Michael: The Iron Dragon's Daughter
King, Stephen: The Shining
Collins, Suzanne: The Hunger Games
Rothfuss, Patrick: The Name of the Wind
Lynch, Scott: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Any particular recommendations / disrecommendations from among those?

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Comments

scott_lynch
Dec. 23rd, 2012 12:56 pm (UTC)
I just recently read -The Last Unicorn.- I suspect it might be a 'YMMV' book, but I will say that if it's the sort of thing you're susceptible to, it will explode in your mind like crystals of pure wonderment. Beagle's language, on a sentence-by-sentence level, is incredible. If I had to offer any criticism, I'd say that the first half of the book lands a bit more of a punch than the second, but that's about the worst I can say.

I have never really been able to get into -Lord Valentine's Castle,- though I mean to, and have tried before. I might just be more inclined to SIlverberg's brisker work.

There is a raw passion and verve to Howard's original Conan stories that elevates them, I think, above so much of the other stuff he wrote... there is also a reflective melancholy that has not been captured in any translation of the character to film. He doesn't have the sly playfulness of, say, Fritz Leiber, or the flexibility of Leight Brackett, but he was working a few years earlier than they did. Conan stories can make great apertifs (or digestifs, as you prefer) interspersed with longer readings.

Any recommendation of -Lies- from me would have to be suspect. I do think I can safely assure you that it's a heartbreaking, bittersweet tapestry of life itself and that you'll promptly re-name your children after the main characters. Also, any copy of the book will cure gout with a touch and can transmute lead into gold once every 24 hours. The eBook version, in any language, has a special feature where 1 in 50 lucky readers will be transported to the Death Zone on Gallifrey and get a chance to play the Game of Rassilon.

(Actually, silly as I find this whole sort of poll in general, I had no idea -Lies- had made the list until I saw it here. I am pleased, for what it's worth.)

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