Saturday, January 24, 2009

Teh Grauniad's Must-Read Skiffy

Noted British fishwrap The Guardian has been adding up the thousand novels you should read before you die, and they've recently published a portion of that list containing SFF books. Neth Space picked up on that list as a meme -- it's not original to him, but it's where I saw it -- and I'll do it, too.

(Though I do have to say: a thousand novels? No poetry, short stories, or nonfiction of any kind? That's awfully limiting for such a whopping great list.)

The rules of the meme are familiar: bold the books one has read, italicize the ones on the pile to be read, and -- this one is my addition -- strikethrough the ones you wouldn't be caught dead with and/or violently disagree with.

1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)

3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)

4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000) -- She doesn't consider it SF, so I don't see why I should.

5. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)

6. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)

7. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)

8. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987) -- I had a copy for a long time, but not anymore, I think. I did read the first three Books of Blood, which I'd consider more essential.

9. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007) -- A book I'd never even heard of before.

10. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995) -- Nice, but not essential.

11. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999) -- I can think of three Bear books off the top of my head that are more important than this.

12. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)

13. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)

14. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)

15. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966) -- Though not in the recent translation (it's on the pile).

16. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)

17. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)

18. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)

19. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912) -- To my sorrow; I found it a dull chore.

20. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959) -- I read Junky instead.

21. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)

22. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)

23. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957) -- This is a remarkably idiosyncratic list, he said, shaking his head.

24. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)

25. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

26. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

27. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)

28. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)

29. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)

30. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

31. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)

32. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)

33. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)

34. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)

35. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996) -- Another book I've never heard of.

36. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)

37. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

38. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)

39. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)

40. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000) -- the description on the list fills me with a deep yearning never to read it.

41. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)

42. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)

43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973) -- I've had it on my "find to read" list for at least a decade, though. Don't think I've ever seen a copy in person.

44. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

45. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)

46. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)

47. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)

48. M John Harrison: Light (2002)

49. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)

50. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)

51. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943) -- I came out of my Hesse phase, age seventeen, just before reaching this book.

52. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980) -- I don't know how likely it is that I'll read it, but I do own a copy.

53. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

54. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)

55. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)

56. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995) -- My faith in The Guardian is partly restored; they chose this great dreamlike novel rather than the turgid and silly Never Let Me Go.

57. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

58. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898) -- I loathe James. This is better than What Maisie Knew, but that's like saying being castrated with a rusty knife is better than if they used a spoon.

59. PD James: The Children of Men (1992) -- Another writer who indignantly denies writing SF, and so should get no benefit from it.

60. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885) -- I was looking for this for a while in college, but I don't think I actually read it.

61. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)

62. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)

63. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)

64. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)

65. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)

66. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)

67. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)

68. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)

69. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) -- Though, now that I come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure I have a copy.

70. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008) -- MacLeod is a fine writer, and has done some excellent books. But putting his brand-new novel on a "before you die" list is just silly.

71. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)

72. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)

73. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)

74. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)

75. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992) -- Another book I had the intention to read for quite a while, so that now I can't quite remember if I ever did or not.

76. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)

77. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007) -- More special pleading for the Guardian's particular brand-new favorites.

78. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)

79. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)

80. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)

81. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)

82. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)

83. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)

84. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987) -- For me, life is too short to read Toni Morrison.

85. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)

86. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)

87. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003) -- It might be wonderful, but I'll never read it.

88. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970) -- Though I have read two of the sequels.

89. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993) -- I suspect it's only become more minor and trivial with the passage of time. Nicely written, though.

90. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)

91. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)

92. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996) -- I have less than no interest in Palahniuk's oh-so-trendy outrages.

93. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818) -- It's the kind of book I might read someday, but I don't think I have a copy.

94. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)

95. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)

96. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)

97. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)

98. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) -- I intend to read it someday, but I don't own a copy.

99. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000) -- Not at all the best choice for Reynolds.

100. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)

101. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)

102. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988) -- I think I still have it; I got it as one of my enrollment books from Book-of-the-Month Club when I was in college twenty years ago.

103. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943) -- I don't think a forty-year-old man can read this for the first time. And I don't have much desire to, either.

104. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)

105. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)

106. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818) -- I read an abridged version, long ago.

107. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)

108. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937) -- I've tried to read Last and First Men several times, and, if I ever get through that, Star Maker is right after it.

109. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)

110. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) -- I know I own it, and I'm not sure if I've read it.

111. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)

112. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)

113. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)

114. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)

115. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)

116. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)

117. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)

118. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)

119. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)

120. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)

121. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)

122. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)

123. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)

124. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

So I've read fifty-one of them, and intend to read eighteen more. That's not a bad ratio -- I don't intend to die any time soon.

I note the gaping hole where The Lord of the Rings should be. (I suspect the influence of a Mr. Moorcock there.) Other missing books: A Wizard of Earthsea (no Le Guin at all), Fahrenheit 451 (no Bradbury, either), The Caves of Steel, Cities in Flight (despite my loathing for it), Lord of Light, Mission of Gravity, and anything that would indicate that the genre of high fantasy exists.

That's a very particular list, and by "particular" I mean "closely conforming to the prejudices of a small number of very literary and very British newspaper editors."

Update: Well, apparently the sidebar books do count, since they're included in the giant overall list. I think a famous communications outlet like The Guardian could have made that somewhat clearer, but it does mean I can withdraw my complaints about Le Guin and Bradbury. (Though not the other complaints.)

I also note, with bemused puzzlement, that the other categories of this very long list are comedy, crime, family and self, love, state of the nation, and war and travel. Remind me never to try browsing in the Guardian's bookstore...

And here are the SFF books I missed the first time through:

Best Dystopias: (excluding We and Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange)
  • George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
  • Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  • Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)
  • Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
  • Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
  • Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (1985) -- See above for my opinion of Atwood.
  • Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975) -- Thought I had it unread, but I actually have And Chaos Died.
Radical Reading: (the gender-bending kind of radical)
  • Virginia Woolf: Orlando (1928) -- I probably will read it one day; I've really liked everything of Woolfs I've read.
  • Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)
  • Ursula K Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  • Geoff Ryman: Air (2005)
Imagined Worlds: (unlike 90% of the main list? This is the dumping ground for series.)
  • CS Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56)
  • JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937)
  • JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
  • Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000) -- Read the first; have the other two.
  • Terry Pratchett: The Discworld series (1983- )
  • Ursula K Le Guin: The Earthsea series (1968-1990) -- If it were my list, I'd specify just the first three books, possibly with Tehanu as an optional object lesson.
The Best Gothic Novels: (not including Frankenstein or Udolpho or Nightmare Abbey -- these sidebar sub-lists don't make much sense)
  • Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1764)
  • William Beckford: Vathek (1786)
  • MG Lewis: The Monk (1796)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
  • Charles Brockden Brown: Wieland (1798)
The Best of J.G. Ballard:
  • The Drowned World (1962)
  • Crash (1973)
  • Millennium People (2003)
And the revised total, with 19 novels and 6 "imagined worlds" (totaling 19 non-Discworld novels and 36 novels and various ancillary Discworld books; I'm counting each as one thing) added to the original total of 124, equals 149.

Of those, I've read 62 1/3, and intend to read another 21 2/3.


Jess Nevins said...

I thought, and think, that "Under the Skin" was remarkably well done and one of the five best sf novels of that year.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was an odd list as well and the absence of any LeGuin, Left Hand of Darkness as much as Earthsea, was criminal.

I'm interested in your Reynolds comment. All I've read is Revelation Space and I wasn't overly impressed. What's better?

Ian Sales said...

For the record, the list that originally propagated throughout the blogosphere didn't include some of the titles included in sidebar articles - such as Lord of the Rings, 1984, Fahrenheit 451... I have the full list on my blog.

Incidentally, I agree that I thought Under the Skin was poor, but I did like Ascent.

moonrat said...

wow. i've read 28. that's amazing, considering i don't read with this particular agenda.

interesting choices... i didn't realize anyone else in the entire world had read, for example, michael marshall smith's ONLY FORWARD. also, AFFINITY? it's historical fiction.

Kathleen Dante said...

43. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973) -- I've had it on my "find to read" list for at least a decade, though. Don't think I've ever seen a copy in person.

Interestingly enough, lists two copies available in the U.S., each for a dollar plus shipping.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why Fight Club is considered a SFF title. Haunted by the guy certainly is, but Fight Club doesn't make sense.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Nick: I think Revelation Space is a promising first novel, but Chasm City is immensely better, and Pushing Ice massively more readable.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Kathleen: Well, I do differentiate between "books someone told me were good, which I'd like to pick up and look at for myself" and "books I'd buy sight unseen." I've never read Garner -- I have one or two of his YA fantasy on the to-be-read shelves -- so he's in the former category.

Adam Whitehead said...

I found the comment about the editors to be interesting, as one of the people responsible for choosing this list was a certain M. John Harrison.

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