A few years back, there was a thing going around the atheist blogosphere where people would take a list of 50 science-fiction and fantasy “classics”, and mark which ones they had read. I’m a decade-and-a-half late to the party, sure, but why not?
It looks like it all started with a post by blogger Steve Gilliard (who, tragically, passed only a month later). The post offers “DrBopperTHP”’s list of “Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years”.
It’s an interesting list, though of course, with any such list, there will inevitably be criticism of what got in and what got missed. Given the original publishing date was , “the last 50 years” would presumably cover 1957–2007. The list doesn’t actually play by those rules, though: Fahrenheit 451, Childhood’s End, Mission of Gravity, The Caves of Steel, and More Than Human are all from 1953, and The Demolished Man is from 1952. Asimov‘s Foundation dates back to 1942 (though, to be fair, the actual “Foundation Trilogy” arguably starts when those stories were collected into the first book in 1951).
Temporal nitpicking aside, the list does explicitly say that it’s about the most significant SF&F titles… not the best, or most original. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the inclusion of The Sword of Shannara, for example… but derivative though it may be, one can’t deny it was incredibly significant to the SF&F genre. Still, I can’t help but note a few surprising omissions, like The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, and Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis.
Meh, whatever. The list is what it is, and in accordance with the meme, I’ve marked up the ones I’ve read. There are a couple in there that I might have read, years back, but am not 100% sure of, and I’ve noted them specifically.
So, here it is:
- definitely read
- possibly read
- The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (*)
- The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov (*)
- Dune – Frank Herbert (*)
- Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein (*)
- A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin
- Neuromancer – William Gibson (*)
- Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke (*)
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (*)
- The Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (*)
- The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe
- A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr. (*)
- The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov (*)
- Children of the Atom – Wilmar Shiras
- Cities in Flight – James Blish
- The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
- Dangerous Visions – edited by Harlan Ellison
- Deathbird Stories – Harlan Ellison (?)
- The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester (*)
- Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delany
- Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey
- Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (*)
- The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson
- The Forever War – Joe Haldeman (*)
- Gateway – Frederik Pohl (*)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling (*)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (*)
- I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
- Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
- The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin (*)
- Little, Big – John Crowley
- Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny (?)
- The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick (*)
- Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
- More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
- The Rediscovery of Man – Cordwainer Smith
- On the Beach – Nevil Shute
- Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke (*)
- Ringworld – Larry Niven (*)
- Rogue Moon – Algis Budrys
- The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien
- Slaughterhouse-5 – Kurt Vonnegut (*)
- Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson (*)
- Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner (*)
- The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
- Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein (*)
- Stormbringer – Michael Moorcock
- The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks
- Timescape – Gregory Benford
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer (*)
So 27 out of 50, 54%, if I’ve read all the ones I think; 25 out of 50—an even 50%— if I haven’t read any of them. Not bad. And honestly, I’ve probably already read 2⁄3 or more of The Rediscovery of Man (it’s a collection of short stories, and I have a different Cordwainer Smith collection).
The ones on the list I have on my “must read someday soon” shortlist are: Cities in Flight, Dangerous Visions, Mission of Gravity, More Than Human, Rogue Moon, and The Stars My Destination. Actually, it was searching for info about Dangerous Visions that brought the old meme to my attention again.
I’d love to see what other people have read, either using this same list, or a new one (perhaps one made up the current “last 50 years”, so 1970–2020). And I’d also love recommendations for what I really need to hurry up and get to reading.