Today I will be a sheep looking up... or something along those lines

>> Friday, August 12, 2011

Aha! This is something that will serve as (a) a post that doesn't reference politics, (b) a post I don't really have to put much thought into, (c) a post that spreads an Internet meme and (c) a post that segues nicely from yesterday's mention of best-of lists. One, two, free, four!

This week, NPR published the results of their audience poll for the 100 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. I've come to have some ambivalence about best-of lists: they tend to be pretty worthless as actual rankings of worth, but they're often good shopping lists for what you haven't read/seen/heard. (The 100-best-albums list Rolling Stone threw together when I was in high school remains one of the best buyer's guides I've ever seen: their rankings may have been dumb and sometimes trollish, but I can thank that list for introducing me to Richard and Linda Thompson, convincing me to listen to the brilliant Every Picture Tells A Story despite the fact it was by a guy who was a creepy cheeseball by the time I was old enough to know who he was, pointing me to the album that would make me a Miles Davis fan, and more.) So I didn't pay all that much attention to the list when NPR announced they were polling or when they announced the results; I think I may have left a comment online somewhere that the rules seemed a little silly or something like that.

But then the awesome Michelle posted a list of which ones she's read (or abandoned) and this was followed by the incredible Janiece posting her list and saying it was a meme. And that, my friends, seems like fun. So here's my posting of what I've read.

Books I've read are in bold red type. Janiece and Michelle included books they've abandoned, which doesn't exactly apply to me (with a couple of sort-of-exceptions arising from a common issue that will be explained): unfortunately or not, I'm congenitally incapable of actually abandoning a book instead of reading through to the bitter end. I may put the book down for a long time, so long that I've forgotten where I was, and start reading other things, but the book I put down will gnaw at me and wear me down and sit on a table and get moved around to various places where I'm supposed to pick it up (e.g. the nightstand, next to the door, on top of a more interesting book I'm also reading) until eventually it gets finished, even if the book is awful and I hate myself for not doing the sensible thing and getting rid of it somehow. I'm not bragging when I say I don't abandon books: I consider it a fault. Anyway, for formatting reasons, I think we'll put those books in blue italic (I'm anal about italicizing specific titles--as opposed to series titles--another fault, I'm afraid.)

The other thing Janiece and Michelle did that I won't be following is marking the ones that would make my own top-ten or best-of list. Mostly because that would involve more thought than I'm willing to put into it this morning. Sorry.

Anyway, the list:

1. The Lord Of The Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
Note: I've read the first four books and not the fifth. Most likely I'll get around to it, but I'm in as much of a rush to pick it up as G.R.R.M. seemed to be to get it out. Sorry. It's not that I feel he owed me anything, but that still didn't keep me from getting pissed that I paid full price for half a book with a promise that the other half was almost finished and would be out in a year, and you know the rest. No, he didn't owe me anything. But that's a reciprocal relationship.

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Note: the NPR list improperly admits artist Dave Gibbons' credit.

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss
Note: and here's another unfinished series being treated as a single book. And another instance in which I've read everything that's been out (one book) but not what's recent. And another case in which I'm not in a rush to get the new one, though I may get around to it eventually. I'm afraid to say that while The Name Of The Wind was a fun read that kept me engrossed and turning pages, it's not one that had me slavering for more at the end. It was good. It wasn't great. It wasn't close. It doesn't belong on a list of the hundred best SF/F novels, and I don't care if thirty Helens agreed that it did.

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Note: this is in the to-do stack. Atwood's Oryx And Crake and The Year Of The Flood both belong on this list more than a number of other entries.

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
Note: and here we get to the first series I actually gave up on after completing, I don't even remember anymore--the third book, maybe? Possibly the fourth? The Gunslinger was devastatingly brilliant, a beautiful mash-up of Westerns, Tolkien and post-apocalypse SF, and the fact that it was essentially a trunk novel that King thought was too cool to leave in a trunk despite its flaws just made it even cooler, somehow, like a really unbelievable b-side. If only he'd left it with that unresolved cliffhanger, but no, he had to go and write a sequel, and then another, and then another, and then it wasn't enough to be writing sequels, no, every subsequent "unrelated" story had to be a Dark Tower story and all the old stuff had to be retconned into the Dark Tower universe whether it made any sense or not, and argh. Really, I stopped reading Stephen King altogether around the time I stopped reading the Tower books, and while I eventually came back around to him, I never did pick up the Tower series again, and I really can't think I ever will.

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King
Note: raise your hand if you think the original version was better. Not only was it immediately obvious why the cut stuff had been cut from the original, but then he also went through and updated all the dates and tried to throw in some current pop-culture references that were just jarring and sometimes nonsensical. And, while I'm ranting, let me point out that while the character of Larry Underwood and the style of music he apparently performs (rock with a dominating dose of blue-eyed soul) make perfect sense in the context of 1970s pop music, the character is an incomprehensible anachronism in the context of 1980s pop. Obviously, this bugs me even though it's far from the only fuckup created by the ill-conceived and half-assed attempt to bring the book up to speed. It's not just that I'm a music geek, it's also that Stephen King is a music geek, and he ought to know better. And the bitch of it is how hard it is to find copies of the original text these days.

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman and various artists
Note: another case of dissing the artists, man. I think I did read a spinoff graphic novel they did about Death--The High Cost Of Living, maybe? Not enough to mark this one, in my mind.

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Note: okay, funny story, or at least I've laughed about it for more than twenty years: when I was in high school, I had a friend who'd lived in England around the time the movie version of Watership Down came out, and she claimed that one day she walked past a butcher's shop and in the window they had a nice display of skinned rabbits and a sign that read, "You've read the book and seen the movie, now eat the characters."

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
Note: okay, see, and this is bugging me. A number of these entries will list a series as a "book", but then we get to Anne McCaffrey and we have just the one. Is that because of the way readers submitted nominees? Is it because the Dragonriders Of Pern series was one of quickly-diminishing returns and the first one stands out in ways the following books don't? Should we make anything of the respective authors' genders or is that oversensitive reaching? Anyway, I read a bunch of the McCaffrey dragon novels and then I didn't, so if this were the series instead of just the first book, it would be an incomplete.

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
Note: another problem with listing a whole series as one entry? When these were just five books, I read 'em all. And then when those became "The Corwin Cycle" and there was "The Merlin Cycle" and the series eventually doubled to ten, well, I don't think I read any of those because I thought Zelazny had sort of shot his wad by the middle of the first series and I didn't care too much for the last books. Anyway, I feel sort of like a guy who says he's seen all the Star Wars movies but never watched Revenge Of The Sith, know what I mean?

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Note: okay, now that I noticed this with the McCaffrey book(s), this is starting to get weird. Men write epic sagas, girls write little stories? Am I missing something? Is this just me?

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
Note: okay, maybe it's just me--there were shitloads of these books and Ringworld was just the first one and I'm pretty sure Larry Niven has a penis.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
Note: Another one that's actually in the stack to be gotten-to when time permits.

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
Note: so I start to do this one in bold red when I remembered that he's now working his way through a third trilogy that I haven't touched. Gahddamit!

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Note: wait... "Lois"...? "Saga"...? Yes! About damn time we had an actual serial by a woman listed instead of just one book. Thank you. What? Read it? No, I hadn't even heard of it until just now, I don't think.

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
Note: oh dear gods. Seriously? No, I haven't read it and maybe I'm being unfair, but I did read a Star Wars novel by Salvatore and remember how I said finishing a worthless novel was a fault? Hoo, boy, yeah, that was a fault, alright. That book sucked balls. And here we come to a package of books about a D&D character originally written as part of a synergistic marketing campaign to promote the Forgotten Realms game setting? And I haven't seen any John Brunner on this list, only one Margaret Atwood novel, only one Philip K. Dick novel, no Pynchon or David Foster Wallace (though that's hardly surprising).... Am I allowed to say that some of these candidates really suck and don't belong on a best-of list if I didn't vote?

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
Note: "Jacqueline" is a girl's name! Hooray! I just hadn't gotten far enough through the list!

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
Note: and now we're back--there were at least three of these books, though, granted, Crystal Cave was by far the best of them.

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
Note: I think the Charlotte public library system thinks I still owe them overdue fines for the first book in the series. I dropped it in the goddamn box out front in 1991, you bastards, and what happened after that is your own damn fault. And this is why when I went to the Plaza Midwood branch for early voting in 2008 I was pretty sure I was going to get arrested by the Library Police; fortunately for me, my fake moustache and wax nose had 'em fooled. Anyway, I returned the book--I'm innocent!

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
Note: I think I read all of these. I'm pretty sure I did. I'm going to say I did. Look, Moorcock wrote, like, 9,000,000 of these and then he decided to do that damn shared multiverse thing where Elric became an incarnation of the Eternal Champion, which means that (from a certain point of view) there are, like, 10,000,000 more stories that aren't explicitly about Elric, except that they are because they're about the Eternal Champion and that's Elric, among other people, and we're not even counting the fact that Moorcock has written songs and comic books and shit, some of which (I think) have been about Elric/the EC, and... look, fuck it, I'm just saying I read the whole saga and bite me, okay?

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
Note: When I was in junior high school, everybody seemed to be reading these. So I tried it one time because I wanted to fit in and be cool like they were. It was a bad experience. Kids, just say "no".

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis
Note: I read Out Of The Silent Planet (which, incidentally, is a totally metal title, amirite?). There are books that cause one to cherish the gift of literacy. It isn't one of them.

Whew! Well, that took longer and was more work than I expected! Comments, anyone? And please, if you have a blog, share the meme, or post it to a Facebook page or whatever. An easier-to-use version of the list can be found here.

Other participants:


Random Michelle K Friday, August 12, 2011 at 2:59:00 PM EDT  

Notes about your comments about series/books by women.

I alluded to my issues with McCaffery in my list. The first books of any series are good, but then everyone falls in lurve and gets married. Ugh.

As far as MZB, Mists of Avalon was a stand alone book for several decades. Only when there was a resurgence in it's popularity did she add books on making it a series. And really, none of them were any good (in my not so humble opinion). If you wanna talk about MZB getting shafted, it should be for no Darkover mentions.

And now I think about it... I think the way they were mentioned is a GOOD thing.

"Mists of Avalon" and "Dragonriders of Pern" are--in fact--stand alone books. You don't have to slog through fifteen freaking books to get one single story arc.

Same thing goes for Terry Pratchett. Two discworld books are listed, and they are stand alone story arcs.

Where as David Eddings The Belgariad or other series--you can't read just one book. You are FORCED to invest in every stupid book in the stupid series, even if the author writes one book a decade and leaves you hanging and...

Sorry. Personal moment.

So I actually see that as a GOOD thing. That the authors are capable of writing a story that can be contained within a single book. Even if, like Mists of Avalon, that book is a freaking tome.

Random Michelle K Friday, August 12, 2011 at 3:08:00 PM EDT  

Yeah, 1979 was when Mists was Published. The next book in the series came in 1993.

I think that qualifies it to stand on its own merits as a book, rather than as part of a series.

Warner Friday, August 12, 2011 at 3:24:00 PM EDT  

I would point out that Hitchhiker's guide is the first book in at least a four book trilogy ('Where is it written that a trilogy only has four books?' Adams).

Eric Friday, August 12, 2011 at 4:00:00 PM EDT  

Michelle: and Foundation stands on its own without reference to the other books, but is listed as a series. Several of the Elric books stand alone and Dune works as a completely stand-alone novel. I didn't mention it in the main post, but there's no such book as "The Conan The Barbarian Series by R.E. Howard"; the "series" referred to consists of a number of short stories and novellas in a loose (and not always internally consistent) continuity which have been anthologized in a number of books in various sequences and sometimes with editorial changes made by subsequent authors and editors to try to "fix" continuity "errors" (in this regard, "The Conan The Barbarian Series" is a construct not wholly dissimilar from "The Cthulhu Mythos"--well, actually, they're the same thing: here's an amusing and, yes, accurate explanation from Cracked).

Warner points out that Hitchhiker's is listed as one book despite being a five-book "trilogy" (six, if you count And Another Thing... as canonical). While Hitchhiker's (the book) can stand on its own, it and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe are actually meant to be taken together as the adaptation of the radio series; the first book can stand on its own, but it was never really meant to and it only covers approximately half of the material it was based on. Only, see, Restaurant also ends on a cliffhanger, so it actually doesn't stand up without Life, The Universe And Everything. Which sort of makes the suggested rule about "can you read it without the others?" sort of broken by item #2 on the list.

Also, if you really want to be picky and pedantic (who, me, picky and pedantic?!): while the full version of the NPR list appears to correctly list The Lord Of The Rings as a single book, the printable version calls it a trilogy; properly speaking, it's only a "trilogy" because it was split into three independently-titled volumes for the sake of the publisher and the limits of 1950s binding technology. Point being: it's a sloppy list.

So: I disagree that the way NPR organized books from series is right or consistent. You can make arguments for this book or that, sure, but I think what really happened is that the submissions and voting process was just too haphazard and loose for them to be accurate about that kind of thing.

Random Michelle K Friday, August 12, 2011 at 6:04:00 PM EDT  

I'll take your word on Foundation. (That whole SF thing, you know.)

And I don't disagree that the selection of books versus series *was* haphazard. But I definitely don't think it was a girl thing, which you first intimated.

As far as Hitchhikers, I'm not particularly fond of the rest of the books in the series (as with Mists), and although you can read Hitchhikers without the rest of the series, it's not the vice versa.

I'm mostly just saying that their arbitrary decisions work well for me: you can read the first book in the 'series' but don't have to read the rest of the series if you don't want. But you can't pick up, say, the The first book of Thomas Covenant be satisfied with that first single book. (Or, in my case, any of it, since I hated that book.)

Of course, I can't really complain to much about Terry Pratchett & Discworld, since it got two of his books on there.

And as to the questions I forgot to respond to earlier--they did have an open call for books, and the entries I saw (there were an overwhelming number of comments; I couldn't keep up) people did list the mixed. I'm pretty sure I listed the Sandman series, the Discworld series, the Mists of Avalon, and Swordspoint, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as some of my recommendations.

And I listed them like that for reasons above. I loved Mists and the first Hitchhikers, but the following books? Bleh.

Maybe lots of people felt the same way I did?

Warner Friday, August 12, 2011 at 7:20:00 PM EDT  

I happen to like the Dragon books after the first, up until her son joined in. Don't like his work.

On the other hand I only like Dune, although I've read all of the originals and most of the son's work.

Nathan Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 2:06:00 PM EDT  

You've never heard of The Vorkosigan Saga? You've obviously been ignoring some of your friends when we've blathered on and on and on about it. Kindly remedy the situation, forthwith. (They're terrific books.)

Also...when Watership Down came out, I didn't read it for a couple/few years and I, somehow managed to not hear a thing about it's plot. When I finally started reading it, I realized that hearing "Watership Down" the same way one hears "Blackhawk Down" was a mistake on my part. :) But I'd still like to read the book I thought I had picked up.

Eric Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 3:31:00 PM EDT  

You've never heard of The Vorkosigan Saga? You've obviously been ignoring some of your friends when we've blathered on and on and on about it. Kindly remedy the situation, forthwith. (They're terrific books.)

Sorry, Nathan: I've probably just skimmed through posts regarding a series I'm unfamiliar with and unlikely to pick up and it just didn't register. I certainly didn't mean to slight any friends with the attempt at a witty comment....

Nathan Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 6:32:00 PM EDT  

I don't feel slighted. I just thought you should know that there's a hole in your reading that should be filled.

BTW, I noticed that Janiece started and abandoned The Outlander Series and nobody else seems to have read any of those books. The first book in the series is really fantastic and can stand alone if you don't feel like investing any time in the rest of the series. The other books are hit or miss...some of them pretty much stink, but I've read them all. You'd find them in the Romance section, but the time-travel theme gives them scifi cred and they stack up well as historical fiction (It starts in 1945 and travels to 1743.) Later books continue in both time lines over 20-30 years.

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