Thursday, August 11, 2011

The NPR top 100 SF/fantasy books

The list.

The rank ordering is not very helpful; I immediately set out to classify them, and found that, by my determination, 56 were SF and 44 fantasy (including a couple that were really horror). That's more a publishing category separation than a theoretical separation of what counts as SF or not.

Of the 56 SF, 39 were published "in genre", that is, they were by authors associated with the SF community, who published their short fiction (and sometimes these books) in the SF magazines and anthologies, and whose novels generally came out in the SF lines; 17 were by outsiders or predated the genre. Only 5 were series, though a couple others were individual books that were part of series. I've read 31 of the 56.

It's harder for me, at least, to determine what's part of the fantasy publishing genre, partly because a good half-dozen of the fantasy titles I'd never heard of, which was not true of any of the SF titles. But I note that a good 24 of the 44 are series. Of those series, only about 4 predate the Big Fantasy Pat Boom.* Of the series, only 3 - Sandman, The Book of the New Sun, and Lewis's space trilogy (if you consider that fantasy) - are ones I actually enjoyed and finished. (I don't count The Lord of the Rings as a series.) Several others I started and gave up in dismay, and as that includes such well-regarded authors as Donaldson, Zelazny (I like his other work, just not Amber), Robert Jordan, and GRR Martin, I don't have much hope for the others. On the other hand, I've read 10 of the 20 non-series fantasies, and they include most of my favorite books on the list. Overall, then, I've read twice as many of the SF than of the fantasy, so though my favorite books are fantasy, may it actually be fairly said that I like fantasy better? I have narrower tastes, and perhaps that could be said to be better tastes, but even if it is, it is not reasonable to say that someone who likes a field should have broad tastes?

Recently after reading a New Yorker article on the complex algorithms used by computer dating services, I looked at one of the better-rated interest quizzes - just out of curiosity as to what the questions would be, you understand; I am emphatically not in the market - and got stuck on the first question, which was: Do you like dancing? Well, what kind of dancing? I really like Regency and English country dancing, though I'm no longer physically up to it, and I met B. that way, so I'm not likely to put it down. I've done other types of choreographed folk dancing with enjoyment. I can do old-fashioned ballroom dancing, or at least I could when I last tried, thirty years ago, but I don't like it much. But what most of my contemporaries have called dancing for most of my life - flailing one's limbs impromptu to hard-driving rock songs - is completely alien to me. I just don't move that way, even on the rare occasions that I actually like the songs. So, do I like dancing, or not?

*Damon Knight once wrote a story called "The Big Pat Boom", and if you've read it, you'll know what I think.

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