NPR Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy

Over at NPR, genre experts Gary K. Wolfe, Farah Mendelsohn, and John Clute winnowed the history of science fiction and fantasy down to a list of 237 well-loved titles and series. The list was controversial in some quarters, because it excluded short stories (which removed the best work of a good chunk of the classic era authors from consideration) and works marketed to young adults and children (which I suspect they’re saving for a future list). That ballot then went out to the public, and over 60,000 of us voted. So many great choices, and you could only pick ten!

Now the votes are tallied, and the final 100 have been selected. Of course, The Lord of the Rings is at the top, but it’s a list of riches. How can you use this in your book group? If your group doesn’t incline toward genre reading, let your readers make their own choice from the full list or the top 10 for a meeting. If your group is open to science fiction and fantasy, many of the individual titles would make fantastic choices. But science fiction and fantasy are tricky for book groups, particularly fantasy–often too long or too integrated into a larger series to make good group choices.

To that end, I’d like to make suggestions for books groups–filtering the list to 49 titles that can be finished in a month by most people, have themes that would support discussion well, and are either stand-alone books or first books in series that conclude relatively cleanly. These aren’t necessarily the best of the best (I had to exclude many of my favorites from the list because of series or length issues), but for book group purposes, these are most likely to succeed:

SCIENCE FICTION

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Dune by Frank Herbert

1984 by George Orwell

Fahrenheit 451 or ???The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (I’m not sure why Bradbury’s stories were allowed when other authors’ weren’t. I guess because they were mainly issued as well known collections, not as individual stories in magazines that were then anthologized in multiple reprints.)

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Slaughterhouse-Five or Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Snow Crash or The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Childhood’s End or Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Contact by Carl Sagan

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

World War Z by Max Brooks

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Shards of Honor or The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Mote in God’s Eye or Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Consider Phlebas or The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

A Fire upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

FANTASY

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Once and Future King by T. H. White

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Small Gods  or Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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