Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: science fiction

Top 100 SF/F books…sort of

Via many people, NPR’s list of the top 100 SF/F books is out.

My thoughts on it:

  • There are far too many books on this list I haven’t read. But several of them are on my list (thanks, Ryan! thanks, Josh! thanks Annie!), so that’s good.
  • Hard to argue too much with the top two as the most popular fantasy and SF books, respectively. A little surprised to see “Ender’s Game” at #3, but I guess when you’re famous for one book/idea rather than a body of work (as Bradbury and Asimov are), it biases the results on a poll like this. Bradbury and Asimov make it into the top ten, anyway.
  • Why are most series listed as series, but Dragonflight listed by itself? Have the “Dragonriders” books become so diluted that the original three are no longer thought of as a trilogy?
  • 8% of the list books were authored by someone whose first name is a homophone for “kneel.”
  • As other people have said, why mix SF and fantasy? Perhaps because then you could include spec-fic like “Watership Down” and “Flowers for Algernon,” which aren’t properly fantasy nor SF, respectively. Though honestly, as much as I love “Watership Down,” I don’t think of it as a genre book. I mean, why not “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” if we’re going that route? This is probably part of a longer meandering about how some more mainstream spec-fic is getting genre-y, and some genre books are getting more literary, and there are lots of people who have put a lot more thought into that than I have (though in my case it is perhaps informed by a confusion over what the hell to call much of what I gravitate toward writing–what are the New Tibet books? SF, sort of? But there’s no hard science element. Fantasy? Well, it’s too real-world grounded for that. Furry? Yeah, but…).
  • Congrats to Clarion instructor Scalzi for the inclusion of “Old Man’s War.”
  • Thomas Covenant (the first series): still popular at #58. That series was a topic of much discussion at Clarion, and most of the discussions went something like this: “<list of horrible things that happened in those books>” “Why would anyone read them?” <pause> “The worldbuilding was really pretty spectacular.”

Anyway, lists like this aren’t supposed to be definite. They’re supposed to be discussion points. I have been so far away from the genre that I can’t even properly think of books that should have been on there and weren’t except for “Cloud Atlas” and “Never Let Me Go,” and people are tired of hearing me talk about Mitchell and Isiguro already. Also interesting was that the last book on the list got just over 1,500 votes (I think). Toward the end, it looks like there are definitely a few books whose authors pushed fans to vote, because there are great books left off in favor of books I’ve never heard of. I do think it’s a crime that Kim Stanley Robinson and Connie Willis and China Mieville only appear in the 90s, but that’s better than not appearing at all.

What Makes Good Science Fiction?

Still forging through 2666, so even though I have a Bill Bryson book to review, I will hold off for the moment on reviews and give you this Roger Ebert blog post. Since his cancer and therapy have prevented him from speaking, Ebert has been writing a long and thoughtful blog. He’s met a lot of interesting people and has some great stories to tell.

This entry made me think, not about the subject per se, though that’s interesting too, but about the one line he writes, that Arthur C. Clarke was often prescient in his science fiction. And I thought about Clarke and Bradbury, extraordinary storytellers who turned their gifts to science fiction, and I thought that the key to understanding science fiction is to understand, not science, but people. The yearning for communication that Ebert describes is at the heart of many good science fiction stories about merged minds and telepathy; the curiosity about what is Outside is the foundation of a library of excellent SF; the need for companionship and our social nature informs much of the “softer” SF of the sixties.

These are parts of people that remain constant through the years. Good science fiction imagines how they might react to new technologies like cell phones, like the Internet, like flying rocket cars. And because people bend technology to their desires, rather than the other way around, the really good science fiction becomes, eventually, truth.