Saturday, August 6, 2011

NPR's Top Ten

So, a few days back I learned from Jeff's blog (
about the current poll on NPR for people to vote for their top ten science fiction and fantasy books. And not long after, the MythSoc list started up several threads about the list, most of which revolved around definitions of what was (and was not) 'science fiction' or puzzlement where all the newcomers (books published within just the past few years) came from.

My first thought, when I skimmed through the books listed, was that half of my own top ten weren't even available as options. That's when I went back and adjusted my expectations: this wasn't the ten best books ever, it was ten best out of the pre-selected pool, as adjusted by Wolfe, Mendlesohn, & Clute. I'd completely missed the original round, but that didn't mean it wdn't be interesting to see what I thought was the best out of what remained.

Here are the ten I wound up voting for:

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

of these, the only iffy one for me is the Hitchhiker's Guide, which I chose not for the novelizations but the original radio programs for which he wrote the scripts; that sort of puts it in a different medium from the rest.*

As for Bradbury being on my list twice: if you're going to pick a top ten among writers of science fiction and fantasy, you might as well include the best writer of science fiction of them all among your choices. And I suppose they can stand respectively for his work in science fiction (THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES) and fantasy (THE ILLUSTRATED MAN), more or less.

Jeff mentioned how he had trouble trimming his list down; in contrast, my runner-ups were relatively few:

The Deeds of Paksennarion by Eliz. Moon

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

of these, Fionavar got edged out by Kay's TIGANA, while THE SILMARILLION got edged out (in my mind anyway) by THE HOBBIT, wh. shd have been on the list. Whereas the first and last book in Moon's series and the Willis wd have made it into my top dozen.

As for books that SHOULD have been on the list, had its compilers's judgment aligned more with my own, here are the ones I think they really missed the boat by not including:

The Book of Three Dragons by Kenneth Morris

The Books of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Hobberdy-Dick by Katharine Briggs

The Hobbit by JRRT

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

The Night Land by Wm Hope Hodgson

The Well at the World's End by Wm Morris

Of these, I suspect THE HOBBIT and the Pullman got bumped as 'young adult', but there's really no excuse for the others not being better known and more highly valued, alas. Those of us who know and appreciate them really need to spread the word better.**

--John R.

*Gaiman's SANDMAN doesn't post the same problem for me; here I think the impact comes almost entirely from the literary quality of its scripts, not their 'performance' by various illustrators. And it's a masterful working out of a whole new mythology, which is pretty impressive all by itself.

**the same goes for Clark Ashton Smith's TALES OF AVEROIGNE -- if anyone had ever actually published such a book (i.e., collected his 'Averoigne' stories into a single volume).


David Bratman said...

Two of your choices - not surprisingly, it's The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down - would also make mine, and another two are maybes. I also heartily endorse at least three of your not-listed choices.

I haven't voted myself, merely because I do not relish looking through a list of 100 or more books.

I disagree about Sandman - I think the graphic medium contributes a lot to its effect, something I noticed when considering how changes of artists (sometimes in the middle of a story arc) altered my reaction. I expect that, written as a novel, it would feel somewhat thinner.

Cosmic Bob said...

I did not see Bridge of Birds when I voted on this. Because I really enjoyed that book and the follow-ups.

I thought it was bad that they mixed SF and Fantasy into one list. Too many people think that they are one and the same.