March 05, 2003

The Most Significant Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ian Hamet has some comments. I have some comments of my own, some of which are comments on his comments. To wit, he says,

Now let's peruse 11 through 20. I read SF avidly, and am utterly unfamiliar with The Children of the Atom (number 14), or Cities in Flight (number 15), though the title of the former sounds familiar, and I've read some stories by the author of the latter. But then we have number 16, Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic. I've never gotten into Pratchett, but isn't this one of his lesser works?

I can only assume they wanted to reference Pratchett's Discworld series and rather than choose between the many excellent possibilities, they just chose the first one. It's OK, but Pratchett gets much, much better. Me, I'd have chosen Wyrd Sisters instead.

Cities in Flight is a collection of four short novels, of which the first is marginal, the middle two are pretty good, and the last is OK (it's basically a continuation of the third one). The first novel talks about the invention of a space drive that's capable of lifting entire cities into space effortlessly, providing both motive power and pressure containment; the remaining three take place in the world that results. It's dated; in one book germanium is a treasure metal because they make transistors out of it, and the drive on particular city is so old it still uses vacuum tubes. But it's good stuff, a book I discovered in my teens and still pick up now and again.

I have never heard of The Children of the Atom, and I've been reading this stuff voraciously for thirty years.

Ian also wonders where Poul Anderson is, and mentions Three Hearts and Three Lions; I have to agree. If you're speaking of influence, I don't see how you can omit it and still include Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer. Moorcock made a career out that one book by Anderson. He also thinks that Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress should be there, and again I agree.

But I've got some problems of my own with this list. I can't argue with the inclusion of Neuromancer, given that it spawned an entire sub-genre, even though I found it possible to read. Including John Crowley's book Little Big is silly; it's got lots of style, but it didn't make much sense the first time through and I've never managed to get through it again. The most significant thing about Dhalgren is that most people can't get through it. I never saw anything special in either Timescape or Gateway, and whatever the author has done since, The Sword of Shannara is an egregious piece of derivative hackwork (an opinion I've held since I read it as a young, not particularly discerning Tolkien fan).

And then there are the omissions: where is Lois McMaster Bujold? If I'm not mistaken, she's won more Hugo awards than anybody but Heinlein; surely at least one of her Miles Vorkosigan books should be listed (I nominate A Civil Campaign). Where's C.S. Lewis? They might be kid's books, but any of the seven books in "The Chronicles of Narnia" is a darn sight better than The Sword of Shannara. Where's Steven Brust? Where's Neil Gaiman? Good grief, where's L.E. Modesitt? And though I've given up on Robert Jordan, you can't deny his presence in the field.

I'm glad to see Cordwainer Smith listed, though. The book The Rediscovery of Man is a fairly recent anthology of all of his short fiction, and deserves a spot on your shelf.

Posted by Will Duquette at March 5, 2003 04:45 PM