The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years

The Science Fiction Book Club has made a listing:

It’s quite a good one, with a real knowledge of the genre and its history.

How many have you read? I count 33, plus the movie version of another I haven’t read.

Wow! Only 25 out of 50 for me. That’s almost half.

24 for me. But I’ve got to say, “greatest”? For my money “Mission of Gravity” was unreadable, yes, it presented, perhaps for the first time, an alien point of view, but for me at least it was crap. Same for “Lord of the Rings”, plasphemy I know, sue me.

And a final word about “Dangerous Visions”, please, some of the stories in it are memorable, but for the most part not so good. Come on, Ellison set up to find stories that “would not be published”, and published them, maybe that pushed the boundaries of published sf, and that’s why it’s in the list, but for me that does not make an “influential work”.

That being said, I have printed the list and will go to my favorite used book store to find the ones I haven’t read yet.

I’d put Stranger in a Strange Land on top though. Yes, I’m a Heinlein fan. But that book took the whole genre out of the pulps, away from the BEM’s and ray-guns and put it in a social context.

So maybe Orwell was earlier with 1984, but it wasn’t considered to be SciFi - it was literature. And SciFi was not.

If Stranger is the best book, is another question. Certainly, Lord of the Rings isn’t (terribly bad literature), but Stranger is without doubt the most significant.

As with all such lists, memory is short. Many people judging today have no idea about the social context and impact when the book (or movie) was released. I wonder if the list would have looked the same, if not done, when LoTR is getting a whole new audience, due to the movies (which I think are better than the book).

Pratchett, another of my favourites, gets in with The Colour of Magic. The first in the series, but if we’re judging by significance, then Small Gods should be there.

Wow, I’ve read 16 of them (sort of - I only read the first ‘Foundation’ book). That’s a lot more than I thought it would be.

NO WAY! 2001 A Space Odyssey isn’t even listed! That list just lost all creditability with me.

19 for me. Some of the ones I read, I wouldn’t put on a top 1000 list but somehow they made it (Thinking of Thomas Covenant…bah I hated those books).

That was a movie, not a book (yes, I know Clarke wrote a novelization, but it was the movie that was influential, not the book).

23 - not too bad…yeah 2001 not on there, that does baffle me…why do some many people have issues with Thomas Covenant?

Too bad it doesn’t list;
Hamilton - “Nights Dawn Trilogy”
Vinge - “A Fire upon the Deep/A Deepness in the Sky”
Simmons - “Hyperion”

I read about 35 of them, and think it’s generally a pretty good list. I don’t think I’d put Sword of Shannara there – it seemed wayyy too derivative of Lord of the Rings, and I don’t think I’d call it influential (except to influence others to write LOTR-derived books). I’m not sure about including Dangerous Visions, but it’s a quibble – DV is important and good and influential, but it’s an anthology, and I would’ve restricted the listing to single-author books.

What about Dan Simmons’ Hyperion? I could live with that in place of Shannara.
Mission of Gravity unreadable? Them’s fightin’ words!

  1. One could pick a few nits.

For example Alfred Bester may be over-represented with two entries, but I’m willing to be talked out of my position on that.

I almost hate to see Rowling get a slot, but if we’re talking “significant”, I guess she deserves it.

Bradley IMHO is not best represented by Mists of Avalon - Her Darkover series was more influential in the SF/Fantasy field. But they may be saying MofA had a greater impact on the public at large and that is probably true.

There are a few other borderline calls as you go down the list. Still you’re always going to have disagreement on these sort of things.

I will say that Tolkien probably does deserve the top slot ( assuming they’re ordered by importance - if so, I can pick a whole slew of new nits ). His influence in the fantasy field is all-pervasive. If we’re talking significance period ( and you’d have to be to include Rowlings on this list ), I’d say he had a much wider impact than even Heinlein ( I love Heinlein by the way, but Stranger isn’t a personal favorite ).

  • Tamerlane

23 for me, plus two which I started but didn’t finish. It’s a great list, I can’t think of anything to complain about.

I think the omission of 2001 is reasonable. The movie is clearly one of the most significant but not the novel - Clarke wrote better ones, two of which are in the list (Childhood’s End and Rendezvous with Rama).

Yeah Sword of Shannara should be tossed. Even in the public eye, no way it is in the top 50.

  • Tamerlane

I’ve read 37 out of 50. Most of the ones I’ve missed were fantasy titles (not my favorite genre).

My complaints: No Brin, no Vance, no Turtledove (almost no AH at all), only two horror novels (if the genre is going to be on the list, it should have more than two items), and too many “classics” (the list seemed a lot more skewed to 1953 than 2002). That and the fact that I doubt more than twelve people have actually read “Dhalgren”.

32 for me. I need to do a little digging at the library, some of those I definitely should have read. I’d throw Cryptonomicon in, and definitely toss Shanarra and Thomas Covenant. Too much fantasy on this list. I suspect some of these entries are an effort to empty their warehouse of some titles.

I’ve read 19(including 7 out of the top 10), read parts of 5 others (usually, as with More Than Human, reading only the novella version), and own 4 but haven’t got around to reading them.

They overlooked some major books, IMO, enough that the list is worthless:
Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Past Through Tomorrow. I would also haven nominated Double Star before Starship Troopers
Pohl & Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants
Blish’s Black Easter
Andre Norton’s Witch World. How in !@#%% could you put Rowling and Terry Brooks on a list and then omit the author of Witch World? I'm willing to bet you that more people have read Norton than Brooks The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury Tau Zero, The Earth Book of Stormgate, The Night Face, A Knight of Ghost and Shadows, The Dancer from Atlantis by Poul Anderson. I find myself asking what cretinous !@#%% could put together a list of supposedly top fantasy & SF books and omit Anderson?
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
The Last Unicorn, A Fine & Private Place, Tamisin, The Folk of the Air by Peter S. Beagle. Sorry, but any list of top fantasy books that omits Beagle is worthless to me.
The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
The Shining and The Dead Zone by Stephen King
A Mirror for Observors by Edgar Pangborn
Tea With the Black Dragon by R.A. McAvoy

I agree, Nemo. Guns of the South should definitely be on there. And Red Nails.

Actually, my big quibble with the list was that they put “The Demolished Man” ahead of “The Stars My Destination”. Both deserve to be ther, IMAO, but I’d have them in reverse order.

Rowling and Brooks should both be gone (Rowling is too recent for real objective analysis, Brooks’ Shannara stuff is popular but not esp. significant beyond “The Sword of Shannara”'s initial sales numbers).

Lao Tsu: I think if you are considering the most influential authors on modern fantasy, then J.R.R. Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard are clearly the big 3. I agree with you that Red Nails is excellent, but the problem is that the SFF Book Club was picking the most significant books of the past 50 years, and Conan was written in the 1930’s.

The requirement that the books come from the past 50 years is the reason I wasn’t bitching above about the omission of Fritz Leiber, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, and A.E. van Vogt from the list.

Man, 17.5 (only half-way through Foundation Trilogy) Gotta get crackin!