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05 March 2003 @ 10:56 am
Best Lists  
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the Science Fiction Book Club (of which I've been a member for over 15 years), has just published its list of the most significant SF&F books of the last 50 years.

First, I'd like to point out that they chose the term "most significant." I like this because it allows for acknowledging works that creak and moan with age, but are still important to genre fiction. Cities in Flight is an excellent example of this. I read it a couple years ago and while it remains an example of fine writing, the book has plenty of moments, such as the mention of mimeograph machines, where the technology is noticeably out of whack. Yes, it is an unavoidable weakness in SF, but there truly isn't anything you can do about without becoming overtly vague.

Another way using the term "most significant" works is that it allows them to get away with neglecting a couple works that otherwise deserve mentioning if you are putting together a list of "best" works. Yes, either way you are making some sort of value judgment, but somehow it seems to me that there is a significant difference in terminology, thus making it harder to engage in the inevitable nitpicking and commentary (such as this one) that results from such lists.

I'd love to comment intelligently on the whole list, but since I've read relatively little fantasy over the years, I'll just have to stick to the SF titles. The only title that struck me as a bit odd was Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras. I like to think that I am pretty well versed in the history of the genre, but I actually had to do a Google search to see what it was about.

Beyond that, the only thing glaring in my mind was that the last 20 years or so seem woefully underrepresented. I do feel that you need that you need a space of at least a few years to properly assess the historical merits of a work, but surely the '90s gave us more important books than Snow Crash and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

I'd be interested in seeing other's thoughts on the list.
 
 
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ericasco on March 5th, 2003 11:29 am (UTC)
Yup, that's a list...
I know there's stuff missing on that list, but it's difficult to make the call to chuck stuff off, because there's stuff on there that I haven't read.

I would think that Jurassic Park would make it on the list from the last few years. There's stuff wrong with the book, and probably more wrong with the movie, but it did have a significant impact on the genre, I think, getting things like DNA and chaos theory more into the mainstream of popular fiction.

And, of course, stuff that I like isn't on the list, so it must be flawed :-)
"The Big Apple"mattapp on March 5th, 2003 12:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Yup, that's a list...
I know there's stuff missing on that list, but it's difficult to make the call to chuck stuff off, because there's stuff on there that I haven't read.

That's a problem I frequently encounter when I look at these lists. Again, I like to think I am well informed about the history of genre literature. However, there are plenty of classics that have sat unread on my bookshelf for a number of years. Although I don't read much fantasy, I have heard of nearly all the novels on the list, as well as their respective merits.

And, of course, stuff that I like isn't on the list, so it must be flawed :-)

Ah, the familiar cry of anyone who's examined any sort of "best of" list.
El Coyote Gordosupergee on March 5th, 2003 11:59 am (UTC)
Good list. I suppose "made into a huge movie" counts, so Do Androids Dream? belongs there (and perhaps even *feh* Jurassic Pork. The main omission that comes to my mind is Silverberg's Dying Inside.
"The Big Apple"mattapp on March 5th, 2003 12:38 pm (UTC)
I Don't Know...
I don't know if being made into a massive money-making film makes a book significant, but if it does then Jurassic Park certainly belongs (Androids did make the list at number eight). Upon further review of the list, I am left scratching my head at the exclusion of Stephen Baxter's Time Ships, Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and Vernor Vinge's Fire Upon the Deep.

Just a thought, but could the lack of representation of the '80s and '90s be the result of the increasing number of new titles published and the resulting fragmentation of the sf reading audience over the past 20 years? Or is it that result of the feeling that the work before the '80s was more groundbreaking?
El Coyote Gordosupergee on March 5th, 2003 01:28 pm (UTC)
Re: I Don't Know...
Partly that, and also that we haven't had the time to digest some of the newer stuff. Also, I assume we're being value-free and including Sword of Shannara because it did have an influence. I've always said that the Del Reys made science fiction what is today. That is of course not a compliment.
Scottsmille on March 5th, 2003 12:00 pm (UTC)
I find it more impressive that you've been a member that long.
That seems so... optomistic.

You've been able to find new material from the SFBC monthly for 15 years? Me? I quit every couple years or so, get wooed back for 5 more cheap-o books, do my duty and go. Nothing you can't find at a bargain book store, and rarely anything out of the mainstream.

Why am I so bitchy?
"The Big Apple"mattapp on March 5th, 2003 12:28 pm (UTC)
Re: I find it more impressive that you've been a member that long.
Actually, that says more about inertia than anything else. A number of years ago, I called SFBC and had them start sending me reply cards that I didn't need to be sent back unless there was something I wanted to order. Most people don't know you can do this, and companies such as this one don't want to advertise that. There have actually been a couple different times I went over a year without ordering a book.

I suppose it would be more cost effective to do things your way, but that would involve to much additional planning on my part.
(Anonymous) on April 3rd, 2004 10:31 pm (UTC)
Children of the Atom
A new "facsimile" reprint of the original 1952 printing of CHILDREN OF THE ATOM is due out in May 2004. It's a terrific book, and this looks to be a handsome edition.
(Anonymous) on April 3rd, 2004 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Children of the Atom
...of course, that would have been a more helpful comment if I had told you where you can find it: <http://www.redjacketpress.com> is the publisher's web site.