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Locus Poll of Best Novels

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?



( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2012 09:27 am (UTC)
The Last Unicorn is very charming and definitely a classic. The Hunger Games is a quick and absorbing read and, in my opinion, definitely worth the relatively small time investment required to get through it (though I've heard the rest of the books in the series aren't as good, so I haven't bothered to read them). I've heard very good things about The Lies of Locke Lamora, though I haven't read it.

Didn't like Neuromancer, huh? I have to admit it didn't quite live up to its reputation for me, but I wouldn't say I disliked it.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 09:39 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed The Hunger Games. It was a taut, well-constructed sci-fi thriller. I liked the sequels, too, but they weren't as good. I believe Collins took several years to write the first book, and then had to knock out the sequels in 12 months.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 09:50 am (UTC)
I would recommend The Name of the Wind, while noting that only 2/3 of the story has yet been published. But since you didn't like Little, Big or Blindsight, it's clear that our tastes are somewhat divergent.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter is an exceptionally grim and nihilistic deconstruction of fairyland fantasy. I enjoyed it, but it may be too nasty for your taste. It may come across as misogynistic in the fury of its attack on female-coded fantasies of being sooperspeshul if you don't also read its thematic sequel Jack Faust, which has no plot or worldbuilding connection but is equally nasty about male-coded fantasies about being a Heinleinian Competent Man.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 10:35 am (UTC)
Beagle, Peter S.: The Last Unicorn
Bradbury, Ray: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Howard, Robert E.: Conan the Barbarian
King, Stephen: The Shining
Collins, Suzanne: The Hunger Games
Lynch, Scott: The Lies of Locke Lamora

I have read all of the above, and liked all of them for various reasons.

We read Something Wicked this way Comes for our book club recently and I was surprised to realise how my point of view changed due to age. I first read it as a teenager (I lived near Waukegan where Bradbury based his Green Town stories) and then more than 40 years later and went from identifying with the 2 boys to identifying with the father.

I was pleasantly surprised to like The Hunger Games and The Shining is one of King's best books. Love the topiary garden segment (not seen in the film)!

Dec. 22nd, 2012 10:43 am (UTC)
Nicholas, you are the first person I have come across who, like myself, did not like Neuromancer.

Now I am not alone in this vast universe.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 10:47 am (UTC)
The Last Unicorn is the only book on your list of nine I have read, but I can definitely recommend it.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:20 pm (UTC)
Of those you have not read, I would give strong recommendations to Something Wicked This Way Comes, Lord Valentine's Castle, and -- for historic purposes if nothing else -- one of the Conan the Barbarian collections (technically Howard wrote mostly short stories in that universe). I haven't gotten around to Something Wicked yet, but I have written entries on my blog for both Lord Valentine's Castle and for Conan, so that'll give you some detail on why I liked them and possibly why you would, or would not.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is my favorite Bradbury. It's a coming of age Halloweeny horror novel, I guess, dealing with choices made and choices regretted and a supernatural force that plays with people through these things.
Dec. 23rd, 2012 08:44 am (UTC)
I taught myself to juggle because of Lord Valentines Castle and grew to love Majipoor. Good review btw.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
I would also recommend Something Wicked This Way Comes. I haven't read the others of those you haven't read.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
The Shining I read during my teenage read-all-the-King phase, and I remember liking it but it hasn't stuck with me in the way other King books have. The Hunger Games is a good bit of YA with a great lead character and interesting setup, the sequels are not quite as good. The Name of the Wind is a surprisingly readable fantasy doorstop about a hero who is great at everything but mostly not annoyingly so, I hear the sequel tips further into full-blown Mary Sue-ness. The Lies of Locke Lamora is better - a very fun fantasy romp about a pair of thieves.

I would say one thing many of the above have in common is that they are very fast, page-turning reads, which I'd also say is true for Old Man's War, and this is clearly a help in building a fanbase who vote for your books.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC)
The Last Unicorn is absolutely lovely. I'd also recommend The Iron Dragon's Daughter, with some reservations. It is grim and the ending is relatively weak.
Dec. 22nd, 2012 09:09 pm (UTC)
I disliked THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER violently. I had big problems with the worldbuilding in THE HUNGER GAMES, but OTOH, I read it and its two sequels in 2 days. :) I loved LOCKE LAMORA. :)
Dec. 23rd, 2012 12:42 am (UTC)
Of those you haven't read, I've read only the last two, The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora. I would highly recommend both - great world-building, fast-paced plots and good characters, with unresolved mysteries to keep narrative tension - unless, that is, A Song of Ice and Fire has made you disinclined to start reading series which the writer hasn't yet finished writing, and where the release date of the next book is uncertain.
Dec. 23rd, 2012 08:41 am (UTC)
I found Lord Valentine's Castle enormously absorbing as a teenager... It was a fantasy setting that was actually SF and nicely done... I often wish he'd written stuff about the rest of that universe and not just the corner Majipoor is in.

As others have said The Hunger Games is a short and entertaining read.

I found The Last Unicorn hard going but I don't think it's really my cup of tea.
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.)
Dec. 24th, 2012 09:06 am (UTC)
Land's sakes, go and read _The Last Unicorn_. And then read _Iron Dragon's Daughter_; it's really, really good.

I'm unsurprised that OMW got the #1 slot; it's a nice fit to exactly the sort of fan likely to vote in this sort of thing, and then of course Scalzi is really astonishingly good at self-promotion. (This is no sort of slur. I'm impressed by his competence.)

We're in agreement on M. John Harrison and Connie Willis -- Willis descended into self parody a long time ago, and really hasn't written anything worth reading in at least 15 years. _Little, Big_ is a book that many people dislike, and I can understand why, though I like it very much -- it's one of the few books where the author quite deliberately slows things down for long stretches of the book /and makes it work/. That's hard, and I give Crowley mad props for it. As to _Neuromancer_, well, it's just the best SFnal retelling of Dante's Inferno we're ever likely to get. If that doesn't do it for you then, well, it doesn't.

Doug M.
Dec. 25th, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
I haven't gone the survey in detail myself, but I admit that I was unimpressed by Old Man's War, though more for the reason that I just don't think it's terribly well written than anything else (I've just finished Redshirts which I enjoyed more for its concept, but still thought the writing was workmanlike at best.)

I guess I just have to put Scalzi down as one of those writers who I find perfectly readable, but whose great success I find rather baffling. Having said that, I do enjoy his non-fiction writing rather more.
Dec. 26th, 2012 09:58 am (UTC)
I highly recommend Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind and Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and their respective sequels.
Dec. 28th, 2012 08:40 pm (UTC)
I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora. It dropped you into an alien, yet somehow familiar fantasy city and introduced the universe the story took place in without lecturing. Peopled with characters you loved or hated from the very start. The sequel was good, but my joy at reading it was tempered by finding the bugger hasn't published the third book yet.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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