The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The Key:
Bold the ones you've read.
Strike-out the ones you hated.
Italicize those you started but never finished.
Put an asterisk beside the ones you loved.

1. The Lord of the Rings(*), J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
3. Dune(*), Frank Herbert
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein
5. A Wizard of Earthsea*, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer*, William Gibson
7. Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?*, Philip K. Dick
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
17. Dangerous Visions*, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories*, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
24. The Forever War*, Joe Haldeman
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling
27. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy*, Douglas Adams
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion*, J.R.R. Tolkien
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
43. Snow Crash*, Neal Stephenson
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

I can't really say I've hated any of them, although The Sword of Shannara left me pretty underwhelmed even at 15, and I found On the Beach a bit dry,
and The Book of the New Sun still felt like a chore after 150 pages, so I let it lie. Lots of portentous foreshadowing going on, which was irritating - "I meant this promise at the time, though I have broken it since, as with so many others" - that kinna thing. Howandever, John Clute and Ursula Le Guin among many other heavy-hitters think it's hot stuff, so I may well give it another go at some point. It does have a genuine sense of strangeness, of other-worldness, which most fantasy, ironically, doesn't.

Can't say I've really loved any of them either, except A Wizard of Earthsea and, at the time I first read it (age 12?) and for a couple of years afterwards, The Lord of the Rings. I have quite a few doubts now about many aspects of LotR, both in concept and execution, though the scale of it is still awesome, and its essence, which seems to me to be a fable about hope versus fear, and the pitfalls of pride, is laudable. These things are pretty much lost on a 12 year-old though, for whom it's just a very long, satisfying and totally involving story.

So an asterisk in brackets for it, then, and for Dune. Again, I loved at 15, but recently read a few pages at random and found it pretty long-winded, which made me understand a little better those who, like Harlan Ellison, have made many attempts on it with the best intentions, and have simply found themselves unable to get through it.

The other asterisks indicate either that I would recommend the book, or that I simply enjoyed it. If this seems an unnecessary distinction, I recently finished Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy Maclean, and while I'm glad to have read it, and think it's got a lot of good stuff in it, and would happily encourage other people to give it a go, I didn't actually have that great a time reading it - there's something rather flat about Maclean's writing - weird, when you consider how adventurous his life was between the ages of 25 and 34: Foreign Office, Paris, Moscow, Stalin's show trials, SAS in North Africa and Persia, with the partisans in Yugoslavia, liaising between Churchill and Tito.

A chance for Joe to get his own back, and (rightly) take me to task for not having read Alfred Bester. Of the rest, I would like to have read or attempted the Clarkes (I have Childhood's End somewhere), Sturgeon (ditto), Farmer, Smith and Bradbury.


At 20 December 2006 at 11:00 , Blogger James Long said...

This is a fun list - I've had a go over here.

I really enjoyed Gene Wolfe's New Sun series, although I couldn't get on at all with anything else that he wrote. But, fun as it was, I'm not sure how profound the whoel things was, although it clearly took itself to be quite profound indeed.

At 21 December 2006 at 22:08 , Blogger Joe said...

Al Bester and Ursula Le Guin were the first authors to feature more than once on the menu at our SF book group (usually picked by others since we all take a month each, so not just me). Glutton for punishment I'm trying to set up an offshoot graphic novels meet now. Guess that means I will need to think about a list of important GNs some time now...

At 18 January 2007 at 14:09 , Blogger Yvonne said...

Interesting list. I've read 26 of them - partly because they came up as choices in our SF reading group. I would definitely recommend Bester (better than Dick in my opinion). Ursula Le Guin is a towering genius of course. And Canticle for Leibowitz is a wonderful book, but the sequel wasn't up to much. Also I wouldn't have chosen Colour of Magic as the most significant Pratchett novel. And Neil Gaiman should be on the list somewhere.


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