November 23, 2005

The Twenty Best Geek Novels? Huh?

The Guardian's Tech Blog has posted a list of the 20 best "geek" novels of the last century, as voted on by their readers, and frankly it's a travesty. Given that I've been writing software in C, the original geek language, for almost twenty years, I figure I qualify as a member of the geek demographic. Here's the list, with my comments.

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams 85% (102)

Personally (sorry, Ian) I think Adams is overrated; on the other hand, I've got hardcover editions of most of his books, the first four of which are signed. And I've never met a geek worthy of the name who hasn't read them. So while I'll quibble with its placing, this book certainly deserves to be on the list.

2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell 79% (92)

OK, it's a great book; but what makes it particularly a "geek" book? I don't see why it's on the list.

3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley 69% (77)

Huxley's vision is all too probable, but I hated the book.

4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick 64% (67)

I know there are people who enjoy Dick's work; I don't understand them. But then, I don't understand Dick either. Anyway, I suspect that this seriously overstates his popularity.

5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson 59% (66)

Gibson deserves to be on the list as the seminal "cyberpunk" author. I hate his stuff, though.

6. Dune -- Frank Herbert 53% (54)

Now this one, I've no quibble with. I've read it many times with great enjoyment. I've tried to read its immediate sequel a number of times as well, and have never gotten through it. Go figure.

7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov 52% (54)

Not Asimov's best work; but he's got to be on the list somewhere, and given the theme this is almost certainly the right book to choose, what with the Three Laws of Robotics and all.

8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov 47% (47)

I'm less certain about this one. It's a fun book, and a seminal book, but it hasn't aged particularly well.

9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett 46% (46)

OK, I'm a big-time Pratchett fan. But this, the first book in his ever-expanding Discworld series, is easily the weakest, and it's not at all representative of the bulk of the series. I can only assume that it was selected to represent the series as a whole.

10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland 43% (44)

As a novel about geeks this qualifies for entry; I've not read it, so I can't vouch for its quality.

11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson 37% (37)

I read this, and failed to understand what all of the hoopla was about.
The pizza delivery bits were fun, though.

12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons 38% (37)

I've not read this, though I've heard of it.

13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson 36% (36)

Stephenson's big right now, but I still don't understand what all of the hoopla is about.

14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks 34% (35)

I'm glad to see that Banks made the list; I've have picked The Player of Games over this one.

15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein 33% (33)

Now we're starting to get a bit of a 1960's vibe going. I've read this book with enjoyment, but ultimately there's not much there there. I'd have chosen Time Enough For Love, or perhaps The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over this one; at least both of those involve self-aware computers.

16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick 34% (32)

I don't care for Dick's stuff. Lather, rinse, repeat.

17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman 31% (29)

Gaiman's cool. I might have picked a different book, but he's cool.

18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson 27% (27)

Sure, he's popular now, but will anybody be reading him in fifty years?

19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson 23% (21)

OK, now we've got a major '60's vibe going. Illuminatus! has certainly added some in-jokes to the geek joke-book, along with some remarkable silliness, but it's rather dated, isn't it. Still, the phrase "They're immanentizing the eschaton" makes me giggle--not that I understood when I read the books years ago.

20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham 21% (19)

OK, now I'm at a total loss. I've heard of John Wyndham; I've read some of his books, though none recently; but although I've been a science fiction fan since the early 1970's I've never heard of this book. The list was produced by the Brits, and Wyndham was (is?) a Brit himself; perhaps this is a book that simply didn't make much of a splash over here?

Significant Omissions

Where's The Lord of the Rings? Where's The Shockwave Rider? Brunner invented the term "worm" for programs that propagate themselves over the 'net. For that matter, where are Niven and Pournelle, and Arthur C. Clarke?

Update:Ian has some comments.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 23, 2005 04:24 PM