The OF Blog: Personal top 10 lists

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Personal top 10 lists

Just an idle thought in-between working on an unexpected new surge of paperwork and reading more books in the Fantasy Masterworks series (hopefully, a slew of short commentaries will be up by the weekend on at least 4 books that I've read/am reading): What are 10 speculative fiction (the definition of which is left up to you, of course) would you say are among the best ever?

I'm curious to see what readers here would say, as I'd like to compile the results into a super list and put it over in the sidebar. Also, I think it'd be neat if other bloggers were to post something similar and provide a link, so there can be a comparison of sorts. Of course, this likely has been done to death in several places, but if it's (relatively) new here, it's still good, right?

My own list will appear later, so I won't influence the results any, if that were possible.


Oliver said...

I'll dare to advance:

- James Branch Cabell: Jurgen - A Comedy of Justice
- Haruki Murakami: Wind-up Bird Chronicle
- Viktor Pelewin: Empire V (afaik it hasn't been translated into English)
- Jorge Louis Borges: Collected Fictions
- Franz Kafka: Metamorphosis
- Michael Ende: The Neverending Story
- David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
- Stanislaw Lem: Solaris
- Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
- Russell Hoban: Amaryllis Night and Day


Liviu said...

It all depends on the meaning of "best" since for me at least is very hard to compare books that are wildly different, so I will stick with the books I loved the most at the time however dated I may feel them now.

These books influenced all my reading experience and I read them many, many times and I still look for "books like them" but maybe more modern in sensibility and style.

One author per title also.

The Odyssey - Homer

Arabian Nights - Richard Burton translation in 10+ volumes

Joseph Balsamo - A. Dumas

20 000 Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

The Voyage of Space Beagle - AE Van Vogt

Foundation and Empire - I. Asimov

Rendevous with Rama - A. Clarke

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - R. Heinlein

Use of Weapons - IM Banks

Night's Dawn - PF Hamilton

Liviu said...

And to add one more - in the cliche what book would you take on a deserted island - the above (or some more modern versions) will be my choices first and foremost with a sprinkle of pure historical fiction to the mix

Terry Weyna said...

I'm going to stay contemporary with my list. I have to agree that The Odyssey is one of the greatest works of literature ever, for instance, but it's kind of an artifact, you know? This does pose some problems for me, because you don't get all of the resonance of A Once and Future King if you haven't read Le Morte D'Arthur, but I'm still not putting Le Morte D'Arthur on my list. Nor am I throwing in Tolkien, because I've found I can no longer read him (though I loved his stuff when I was in college). I guess I'm thinking more of a list of books I'd recommend to people who wanted to read some fantasy and weren't familiar with the genre.

In no particular order:

T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Tanith Lee, The Flat Earth cycle

Roger Zelazny, the first Amber quartet

Jorge Luis Borges, The Collected Fictions

Neil Gaiman, Sandman

Italo Calvino, If On a Winter's Night a Traveler

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials

Ray Bradbury, Collected Stories

Harlan Ellison, The Essential Ellison

George R.R. Martin, The Song of Ice and Fire

Had I read them, I'd probably be throwing in some of John Crowley's works (I don't know why, but I've yet to finish one of his books; even Little, Big has defeated me -- I'll try again someday). Similarly, Murakami might make the list if I'd read him (he's on the list for my translated fiction project). If Jeffrey Ford's stories were all collected in one place, he'd be on the list, but no single collection carries quite the weight I want here.

As usual in these exercises, I'm left sighing at how much there is to read, and how little time there is in which to read it.

MatsVS said...

Mr. Liviu, is there a review of Night's Dawn by yourself somewhere on the intraweb, by any chance? I'd enjoy reading your reasoning behind listing Hamilton's work next to other such fantastic acts such as Banks and Clarke. Personally, I've always found him - especially that particullar trilogy - extremely puerile, with lackluster prose and characterization. Of course, there was no denying the enthusiasm inherent in the work, but not even that could excuse that terrible deus ex machina which was the ending.

Anyways, apologies for the derailing, just my $0.02.

On to the list, though I am unsure if I can even do ten...

Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian
Dan Simmons - The Hyperion Cantos
Robert E. Howard - The Conan Chronicles
H.P. Lovecraft - The Cthulhu Mythos
Gene Wolfe - The Book of the New Sun
Iain M. Banks - The Culture Books (a vop-out, I know)
M. John Harrison - The Pastel City (thanks to no other than yourself, Larry, absolutely fantastic)
R. Scott Bakker - The Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Well, that's eight, and I think I'll settle with that. I'm pretty surprised at the amount of sci-fi in there, though, I gotta say, although the term "speculative fiction" does confuse me. Had it been a little broader, I may have put in some Hemingway, Faulkner and/or Dickens as well.

Anonymous said...

Top three the greatest of the great, the rest in no particular order:

- Sun books (all of them), Wolfe
- Blade of Tyshalle, Stover
- The Wizard Knight, Wolfe
- Titus Alone, Peake
- The Fortress of Solitude, Lethem
- Behold the Man, Moorcock
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Twain
- A Storm of Swords, Martin
- The Sandman, Gaiman
- The Hobbit, Tolkien

I have a taste for "secondary worlds" and time/reality displaced travelers

- Zach H

Eileen said...

I haven't read as much speculative fiction as others here, but I absolutely love Dan Simmons's Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion. They're the books I wish I could write.

Liviu said...

Night's Dawn is sense of wonder at its best - even today after many other novels in its mould - I read all books on UK first publication in the late 90's and re-read them many times, or at least parts since it's like 3000 pages long - there are passages that resonate strongly while Quinn is the best villain in sf imho that is still human (sort of).

Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and VanVogt I find very dated today but when I read them the first time they influenced my reading a lot, and I could argue that almost all core-sf of today is a mixture of Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein with maybe a modern sensibility from the New Wave...

I am thinking of doing a FBC piece on PFH when the last Void book comes out and discuss Night Dawn in more detail

But again that's me and for 20 years now I have regarded sf as the most interesting literature of our age with historical fiction coming second and fantasy a distant third, while the rest do not really rate that much for me with few exceptions...

Terry Weyna said...

Well, shoot, I'm too tired to have noticed that Larry said "speculative fiction" instead of "fantasy." My list is all fantasy. Now I have to think about what I'd say if I put all "speculative fiction" in there.

Jose said...

Here is my list:

Borges's stories
The Man in the High Castle (PK Dick)
Stone(Adam Roberts)
A Scientific Romance (Ronald Wright)
The Time Machine (H.G. Wells)
The Door into Summer (Heinlein)
Permutation City (Egan)
Cryptozoic (Aldiss)
The Difference Engine (Gibson& Sterling)
Childhood's End (Clarke)

There are many more, but these are the ones I've reread with pleasure

Adam Whitehead said...

Top ten spec fic works ever? Hmm.

Brian Aldiss - Helliconia Trilogy
Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
Peter F. Hamilton - Night's Dawn Trilogy
George RR Martin - Song of Ice and Fire
Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast Trilogy
Christopher Priest - The Separation
Koushun Takami - Battle Royale
J.R.R. Tolkien - Silmarillion
Jack Vance - The Dying Earth
Gene Wolfe - Book of the New Sun

I will, of course, give a different list if you asked me tomorrow ;-)

"that terrible deus ex machina which was the ending."

No it isn't. A deus ex machina comes out of nowhere, is not explained and is the writer pulling a conclusion out of their ass because they have no idea how to finish the story. Erikson does this a lot, for example. The conclusion to the Night's Dawn Trilogy was set up before Book 1 even ended, was discussed a lot in Book 2 and again repeatedly in Book 3. The search for the device which solves the problem is one of the major storylines in Book 3.

They find out this device can solve the problem. They go looking for the device. It solves the problem. That is not a deus ex machina by any definition.

I'm so tired of hearing this complaint. It's a blatant plot device, yes, and its a touch anti-climatic, yes. It is not a DEM, however.

Quin said...

Here they go (in no particular order):

Tim Powers: Declare
Jeff Vandermeer: Shriek, An Afterword
Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun
M. John Harrison: The Course of the Heart
John Crowley: The Solitudes
Michael Swanwick: The Iron Dragon's Daughter
Felix Gilman: Thunderer and Gears of the City
Haruki Murakami: Wild Sheep Chase
Jeffrey Ford: The Well-Built City Trilogy
Nick Mamatas: Move Under Ground / Under My Roof

MatsVS said...

1. (in ancient Greek and Roman drama) a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.
2. any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.

Does it really matter that it was introduced early on? Anyways, nit-picking...

Eddie C said...

I'm glad you said 'among' the best ever, Larry, because I think a definitive list is almost impossible and mine, at least, will change every week. Off the top of my head, without being able to see my library:

- Borges - Collected Fictions

- Banks - Use of Weapons

- Le Guin - The Left Hand of Darkness

- Jim Grimsley - Dream Boy (its not out and out sf/f like some of his books, but its a wonderful, lyrically surreal story).

- Vandermeer - City of Saints & Madmen

- J M McDermott - Last Dragon (I loved, loved, loved this book, and I'm sorry his WotC imprint closed, and that more people didn't seem to see this book last year).

- Tolkein - LotR. Unfashionable, but it is good! It does gravitas and a slow sense of decline in a wonderful way.

- Maureen McHugh - China Mountain Zhang (everything she's ever written is great, but I think this is the best)

- Stephenson - Snow Crash (superior to Neuromancer because it is actually enjoyable as well as prescient.)

- Gaiman Sandman

List subject to change - haven't read Wolfe since I was 14 and I didn't get it then, need to revisit. Same goes for Crowley. Only finished Shadow of the Wind last week so need more time with it to properly assess. And in the middle of 2666... its a very big middle!

Anonymous said...

Sticking to just fantasy novels, still pretty tough to limit it to ten:

Watership Down - Richard Adams
Imajica - Clive Barker
Little, Big - John Crowley
Moonwise - Greer Ilene Gilman
Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock
Lavondyss - Robert Holdstock
Fourth Mansions - R. A. Lafferty
Lilith - George MacDonald
The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Once and Future King - T. H. White

Even with just fantasy, it seems like some of these could be bumped by some other books, like the Tredana trilogy of Joyce Ballou Gregorian, or at least one by Tim Powers (Stress or Anubis?), or Bradbury's Something Wicked. It gets very arbitrary when you're talking about books in this class.

Terry Weyna said...

This is much harder when you need to consider all speculative fiction. I can only really do this at all by cheating and including series.

Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun

Theodore Sturgeon, Collected Stories (Volume 13 comes out this October, so we're talking lots of stories here)

Harlan Ellison, The Essential Ellison

James Tiptree, Jr., Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Roger Zelazny, Collected Stories (2 volumes so far, more to come)

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles or Farenheit 451 or Something Wicked This Way Comes -- I just can't decide which

Isaac Asimov, The Complete Robot

George R.R. Martin, GRRM: A Retrospective

Dan Simmons, The Hyperion Chronicles

My love for short fiction comes through here much more than before. It's also a good way of sampling, I think -- though I note that several of the authors I count among the best are really known primarily for their short fiction (Ellison, Tiptree, Sturgeon).

I'm concerned that I can't seem to come up with a novel or two I consider representative of the best that horror has to offer. If Stephen King's short fiction had been collected, I'd probably put that in there, but it hasn't. It's tempting to add Ghost Story by Peter Straub, but that doesn't quite fill the bill either.

And once again, I'm hampered by not having read some things I suspect are among the greatest, like Crowley's Aegypt Cycle, all of China Mieville's Bas Lag works, and, I fear, much else that I should have read by now. It hurts to admit this, so I think I should get extra points for honesty above and beyond the call of commentary.

Mihai A. said...

I am going to make a post tomorrow about this, Larry.
You challenged us once again ;)

Adam Whitehead said...

"A deus ex machina (literally "god from the machine") is a plot device in which a person or thing appears "out of the blue" to help a character to overcome a seemingly insolvable difficulty."

"An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot."

"Does it really matter that it was introduced early on? Anyways, nit-picking..."

You complain the ending is horrible because it is a DEM. It is factually not a DEM in any way, shape or form. How is that nit-picking?

K.C. Shaw said...

I started a list of my favorite ten but only got this far:

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones

when I was overwhelmed with the impossibility of narrowing it down to just six more books. I got stuck mostly because I love so many of DWJones's books that I could easily populate the entire list with hers only.

MatsVS said...

Not in "any way, shape or form"? Really? From a linguistic standpoint, it'd surely qualify. God in the machine... I read the wikipedia article, too. Does it provide a "sudden" solution to roughly 3000 pages of build-up in about 1 page? Yes, it does. I'll concede the point that it was introduced early one, which does tell of some foresight from Hamilton's side (which begs new questions, really), so it may not be a dem of the worst sort, but in some vague way, shape and form, it most surely is.

So yes, nit-picking about terminology.

Mihai A. said...

I posted my favorite top 10 readings of all times. I don't know if all are a speculative fiction, but like Liviu's list these are the readings that had the biggest impact on me :)

The Mad Hatter said...

I've put my list up as well as criteria:

The Mad Hatter

Anonymous said...

I'd like to contribute, but I don't think I know enough books. Most of the 'great' books, I haven't read. Many other books I have a conception of in my head having read them, but due to how long ago I read them I no longer have faith in those judgements.

I'm currently trying both to read good books and to reread books I used to read to get a better idea of where I can and can't trust my old opinions - maybe if you ask again in a year, I'll have ten for you.

For now, I don't know about 'top ten', but I very cautiously venture to say that the following are great works:
- Book of the New Sun
- The Silmarillion
- Ficciones
- Garcia Marquez, Collected Stories
- One Hundred Years of Solitude
- A Canticle for Leibowitz

Jared said...

Terrific challenge. Took ages, but put together a (slightly over-thought) list of my own.

Liviu said...

I forgot two books that were seminal for me but I read them as samizdat under the communist regime and I just do not think of them of speculative fiction (1984 and Master and Margarita) so they just did not pop in a quick sff book think about- those two and The Gulag Archipelago will be on any top 10 books for me ever...

I also did not include a Romanian book which comes under speculative fiction (has Fr and Engl tr and I have all 3 incl Rom original) since it's less well known and it's very "Romanian"

Forbidden Forrest or St. John's Night (alt title) by M. Eliade

I did not include any title read less than 8 years ago since only time can give perspective - eg right now the Kushiel series, Anathem and some other recent novels or read recently eg Pavic - could go there but I need some years to see how they stand the test of time for me

Daniel Soler said...

Despite - or perhaps, due to - a lack of coffee I'm having trouble keeping to ten books. Still here are books that rocked my world:

--"Use of Weapons", Iain M. Banks
--"Gormenghast", Mervyn Peake
--"Hyperion", Dan Simmons
--"The Big Jump", Leigh Brackett
--The "Faded Sun" books, C.J. Cherryh
--"Dr. Bloodmoney", Philip K. Dick
--"The Shining", Stephen King
--"Foucault's Pendulum", Umberto Eco
--"The Master and Margarita", Mikhail Bulgakov
--"Hiero's Journey", Sterling Lanier
--"Banner of Souls", Liz Williams
--"The Snow Queen", Joan D. Vinge
--"The Man Who Fell to Earth", Walter Tevis
--"The Cyberiad", Stanislaw Lem


Anonymous said...

I'm not a blogger or a reviewer, just a regular person...this list was easy - I just went to my library and wrote down the books I reread time and again. So:

1)Richard Morgan: Kovacs trilogy (Altered Carbon/Broken Angels/Woken Furies)

2) Iain Banks: Matter

3) C J Cherryh: Morgaine Trilogy

4) Alastair Reynolds: Century Rain

5) Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore

6) Pournelle/Barnes: Legacy of Heorot

7) Iain Banks: Consider Phlebas

8) Richard Morgan: Black Man/13

9) Poul Anderson: The Broken Sword

10) Steven Erikson: Gardens of the Moon

Greyweather said...

Not easy choices to make.

The Land of Laughs - Jonathan Carroll
Last Call - Tim Powers
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr.
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
The Love We Share Without Knowing - Christopher Barzak
Dark Harvest - Norman Partridge
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
Northern Lights - Philip Pullman
Watchmen - Alan Moore
Territory - Emma Bull

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