Tuesday, June 06, 2006

What Are The Great SF Novels of the 1990s?

I just posted a (very slightly different version of) this on rec.arts.sf.written, but it might spark some responses here, as well, so here it goes). Following RASFW standard, "SF" refers to "Speculative Fiction" and covers Science Fiction, Fantasy and most anything else with a speculative element.

Our previous installments, as seen in Google Groups:
1950s
1960s
1970s
1980s

For those who came in late, I'm an Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club, and we've been doing a multi-year series of some great books of SF/Fantasy. We started in 2003 (our 50th Anniversary year) with 8 books from the '50s, and have continued, eight books for each decade, in the years since then. 2007 will be the year for the '90s.

I'll be reading for this series (or just looking over books I read not all that long ago, this time) over the summer, so now is when I'm gathering suggestions.

As usual, I'm hoping this will spark some general discussion (as well as giving me some datapoints), so I don't want to constrain things too much, but here are some of the considerations I'll have to take into account with the final list:
  • I only have eight books to cover the whole decade.
  • I want to choose books that club members are at least somewhat likely to buy.
  • Books already in the club in another edition (or, probably, books that were in print in the last year or two) won't end up on my final list.
  • All eight will be single books (novels, collections or anthologies) -- the SFBC does a lot of omnibuses, but not in this series.
  • I'm trying not to repeat authors if at all possible, to give a fuller picture of the field.
  • I'm not specifically choosing books to exemplify movements and trends in the field, but it would be great if it works out that way -- but, conversely, I won't be doing more than a book or two in any given area.
  • I have no objection to using something that's part of a series, but a book needs to make sense on its own outside the context of the series.
  • I'm generally looking for books published between 1990 and 1999, but I've bent that rule several times in the past, so books from 1989, 2000 or thereabouts aren't necessarily disqualified (but they should have a really good reason to be on the list).
The earlier books in the series are:

Year One (2003): The 1950s
1 The Door Into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein
2 The Space Merchants, Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth
3 The City and the Stars, Arthur C. Clarke
4 Three Hearts and Three Lions, Poul Anderson
5 City, Clifford D. Simak
6 Under Pressure, Frank Herbert
7 The End of Eternity, Isaac Asimov
8 The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

Year Two (2004): The 1960s
9 To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer
10 Norstrilia, Cordwainer Smith
11 The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
12 The Dream Master, Roger Zelazny
13 Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
14 A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
15 The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
16 Rite of Passage, Alexei Panshin

Year Three (2005): The 1970s
17 Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
18 Gloriana, Michael Moorcock
19 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
20 Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr.
21 Wild Seed, Octavia E. Butler
22 The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge
23 The Mote in God's Eye, Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
24 Deathbird Stories. Harlan Ellison

Year Four (2006): The 1980s
25 Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
26 The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
27 Blood Music, Greg Bear
28 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock
29 Courtship Rite, Donald Kingsbury
30 Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
31 Schismatrix Plus, Bruce Sterling
32 Startide Rising, David Brin

So, what are the best books of the 1990s?

33 comments:

Ran said...

Vinge's _A Fire Upon the Deep_ and Martin's _A Game of Thrones_. I'm partial to Butler's _Parable of the Sower_, too.


Hrm ... and a couple more fantasy entries: _Thomas the Rhymer_ by Kushner and Guy Gavriel Kay's _Tigana_.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter said...

I'm thinking (deleted previous post because of egregious error, now corrected):

Iain M Banks - Use of Weapons (of course)
Greg Egan - Distress (my favourite) or Permutation City (highly influential)
Kathleen Ann Goonan - Queen City Jazz
Paul McAuley - Fairyland (since the Confluence books are a trilogy; this is in any case also highly influential, with its transformed-yet-familiar near-future Europe)
Linda Nagata - The Bohr Maker
Jeff Noon - Vurt
Terry Pratchett - Small Gods
Neal Stephenson - Snow Crash

Apart from the fact that both the Goonan and Nagata are pioneering nanotech books of the highest order, it'd be great to have more women. And in addition, the Nagata desparately needs to be in print again!
Naturally, the Vinge mentioned by ran deserves to be there too; I just thought I'd throw in a few more interesting choices - but all of the above were/are highly important to me as a reader.

Sadly Al Reynolds' first novel is from 2000, and China Mieville's Perdido Street Station is too (to mention two I thought could be on the cusp), so I guess the noughties will be a vintage decade ;)

shsilver said...

More than eight, but...

Michael Bishop, Brittle Innings 1994
Charles de Lint, The Little Country 1991
Paul di Filippo, The Steampunk Trilogy 1995
Parke Godwin, Sherwood 1991
Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne 1993
Jonathan Lethem, Gun, with Occasional Music 1994
James Morrow, Towing Jehovah 1994
Kim Stanley Robinson, Antarctica 1998
Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow 1996
Robert J. Sawyer, Factoring Humanity 1998
Sean Stewart, Mockingbird 1998
Harry Turtledove, Guns of the South 1992

Brad Holden said...

My readings for the 90s are incomplete, so there are people I will miss. That said, my favorite authors of the 90s are Vinge, Banks, Egan, Lethem, and Brust.

For Banks, Use of Weapons, of course. Pick whatever Egan you think best. Brust is pretty hopeless because his best work does not stand alone and Lethem is too obscure in the sf field. For Vinge, I would suggest A Fire Upon the Deepness in the Sky. Pick one or the other, you cannot go wrong.

I am guessing that there has to be some Bujold and some Willis, some Neal "Books do not have endings, they just stop" Stephenson and possibly some Kim Stanley Robinson. Of those authors, for Stephenson I would suggest Snowcrash just because it is so iconic. I did like To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I am not well read in Willis.

RobB said...

The Physiognomy Jeffrey Ford (1997)

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (1998)

A Game of Thrones (1996)

The Sparrow Mary Dora Russell (1996)

The Subtle Knife Philip Pullman (1997)

The Vor Game Lois McMaster Bujold (1990)

A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge (1993)

The Prestige by Christopher Priest (1996)

Yollege said...

Snow Crash hands down.

Chuck said...

Seconding (and thirding, in cases) Snowcrash and The Prestige. Adding Matt Ruff's Sewer, Gas & Electric. Not sure if Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves counts as SF or not, but it could. Glimpses by Lewis Shiner would be a great add.

Chuck said...

Oh yeah, add Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman to my list...

Anonymous said...

The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)
Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
The Giver (Lois Lowry)

Ben Thompson said...

Neverwhere
Snow Crash
Beggars in Spain (Nancy Kress).

I know that Beggars ends up as a trilogy but the initial book does stand alone.

dan said...

off the top of my head:

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Spares by Michael Marshall Smith

christy said...

Caitlin Kiernan, "Silk"

Neil Gaiman, "Smoke and Mirrors" (it's easy to forget what a talented short story writer he is, until you sit down with one of his collectins and say "Oh, I forgot about this!")

Neil Gaiman, "Stardust"

Diane Duane, "A Wizard Abroad" (although the Young Wizards Series has been going strong since 1983, this is a great mixture of fantasy and mythology. it took Harry Potter to get this wonderful series the attention that it has deserved all along)

Koji Suzuki, The Ring Trilogy (although the movies didn't make it to the US until this decade, the first book in this series was published in Japan in 1991. the series ranges from straight-ahead horror to pure science fiction, and is well done in both areas, as well as in the shadow-lands in between)

Ray Bradbury, "From the Dust Returned" (although not published in this form until 2001, the stories collected here span so many decades that it's hard to place them in just one, so I might as well try to sneak it in here. Fantasy, horror, humor, family chronical...you can't say exactly what it is, but it's fabulous)

Janet Craig said...

Hyperion by Dan Simmons (was that 89 or 90?)
Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson
Any of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books
All of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (although I am not sure if those qualify as sci fi or not)

Oh, and leaving William Gibson's Neuromancer off of the 80's list is just about unforgiveable.

jill said...

I'll add another vote for Snow Crash, but more importantly:

Julian May - Jack the Bodiless

jill said...

To add to my previous post, yes, I know Jack the Bodiless is part of a trilogy, but it is possibly the finest book by the author, and in my opinion can stand alone.

kangeiko said...

Another vote for Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Mars' trilogy and for Gaiman's 'Smoke & Mirrors'.

Anonymous said...

The Iron Dragon's Daughter, by Michael Swanwick

Kim U said...

Linda Nagata - Any of her early books really, but I'd agree on The Bohr Maker. Pioneering work and it's a huge shame that it's out of print.

Michael Swanwick - I think any list of the 90s bests would be incomplete without him. I'd suggest either Iron Dragon's Daughter or Stations of the Tide.

Connie Willis - Doomsday Book or Bellwether (two very different books)

Iain M Banks - Use of Weapons

Neil Gaiman - Neverwhere

John Barnes - A Million Open Doors

Nancy Kress - but I felt like her best work in the 90s was in short fiction rather than novels. Beaker's Dozen was an excellent collection of works. I loved the Beggars in Spain short story, but it didn't hold up for me when expanded to novel length.

Charles de Lint - Someplace to be Flying. Set in the same locale as some of his other stories, but stands well alone too.

Bonus recommendation (because I'm not very confident on the John Barnes):
Kage Baker - In the Garden of Iden

FYI for anyone interested in the Nagata out of print books, you can still purchase them directly from her: http://www.mythicisland.com/explore.php

Andy said...

I'd pick The Time Ships or Voyage or Titan or Moonseed by Stephen Baxter. Dead Romance by Lawrence Miles. Heir To The Empire by Timothy Zahn. Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. and Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams.

cathydalek said...

For me top books of the 1990s would include:

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman
A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Anonymous said...

My only suggestion:

"The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order" by Stephen Donaldson. (1994)

Possibly the best book in an already incredible series.

Do yourself a favour and go read it.

Anonymous said...

My only suggestion:

"The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order" by Stephen Donaldson. (1994)

Possibly the best book in an already incredible series.

Do yourself a favour and go read it.

David said...

Red Mars. I love all his books, but this is Robinson's masterpiece.

Agree with the emerging consensus re Use Of Weapons.

Stephenson's The Diamond Age (far more original and interesting book than Snow Crash). Actually, wasn't Cryptonomicon 1999? Can we have that?

Le Guin's Four Ways To Forgiveness (despite the title).

Bujold's Mirror Dance.

To the poster who said "it'd be great to have more books by women": lousy reason to include a book. How about we just use excellence as a criteria... it isn't like there's a shortage of excellent women writers in the field.

jenwa said...

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book (1992)
Snow Crash (1992) [The Diamond Age is also acceptable (1995)]
Garth Nix, Sabriel (1995)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance (1994) or Memory (1996)
Emma Bull, Bone Dance (1991)
George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones (1996)

Dan Simmons, Hyperion (1989)
Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2000) [though it would also make sense to use Smoke and Mirrors (1998)]
Tim Powers, Declare (2000)

Seraphim said...

Snowcrash - Neil Stephenson

Vigilant - James Alan Gardner

Dreams Underfoot - Charles De Lint

Game of Thrones - George RR Martin

When Demons Walk - Patricia Briggs

Archangel - Sharon Shinn - The original Samaria Triology is fantastic, but the first book, Archangel is the best of the three, and one of the greatest books written.

Deerskin - Robin McKinley

The Real Story, Gap Into Conflict Book 1 - Stephen Donaldson

Michael Tree said...

I would choose:

Charles de Lint, Dreams Underfoot. The first collection of his Newford short stories, and one of the best magical books ever written.

Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow

Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors

Kim Stanley Robinson, Mars trilogy

Papilleau said...

Here are my picks for the best of the 90's:

The Difference Engine, by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn
Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I agree The Diamond Age was far and away more memorable than Snow Crash. Bujold's Vorkosigan novels definitely deserve a slot. Ishmael is maybe more magical realist than SFF, but its social impact earns it a spot. Not to mention that it's an unforgettable read. Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week, from her Chrestomanci cycle helped set the bar for the YA fantasy boom in the 2000's. A strong runner-up to this list is Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome, a 1997 Arthur C. Clarke Award winner and a furiously fun genre-bender just waiting to be rediscovered.

Vera Nazarian said...

Waking Beauty by Paul Witcover

Amy H. Sturgis said...

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book (1992)
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992)
Lois McMaster Bujold, Mirror Dance (1994) or Memory (1996)
Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996)
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (1996)

LuckyWanderBoy said...

I'm not yet into the nineties SF. This site really gives me some reading tips. Thanks! Here are some of my favourites from 1900-1990:

* The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)
* The Time Machine (H.G. Wells)
* Grass (Sheri S. Tepper)
* The Many-Coloured Land (Julian May)
* And of course: Philip K. Dick

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, best books of the 90's?

Although it misses by a year I think, Daniel Keys Moran's The Long Run is still one of the best sci fi books ever.
I also think that Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog is another book that deserves more recognition, as much as I love Doomsday, I think Nothing is the better story.
Illusion by Paula Volsky is an excellent fantasy.
Lethem's Gun with Occasional Music, and Sean Russells World Without End would also rank high.(actually, any of Russells first two duologies as a complete volume would make my list.)

Rosie said...

These comments have been invaluable to me as is this whole site. I thank you for your comment.

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