Back to previous post: Small furry Monday

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: …this report of my death was an exaggeration.

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

August 17, 2011

Science Fiction, History of
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 08:04 AM *

First, promoted from a Particle: The history of Science Fiction in Pictorial Form.

Next, a new textbook (full disclosure: Doyle and I are in it; authors’ copies arrived yesterday): Sense of Wonder, edited by Leigh Grossman

Third, just in from NPR: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

Things I haven’t done: Counted the numbers of works by women and persons of color, either as absolute numbers or as percentages of works listed/mentioned.

The NPR list has excited comment on the order of “Sword of Shannara is listed? Say what?!” The textbook has excited comment on the order of “No Bradbury? Say what?!

Other than that … our beloved genre!

Comments on Science Fiction, History of:
#1 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 08:38 AM:

Really, NPR--Eddings' Belgariad ranked above LeGuin's Left hand of Darkness?

#2 ::: Peter Hentges ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 08:44 AM:

In NPR's defense, "Top 100" should be read as "100 Most Popular (based on Internet voting)". So ranking on the list isn't necessarily an indication of quality.

#3 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 09:20 AM:

Anyone who thinks Grossman could have afforded a Bradbury story is welcome to identify the other five or six stories they would have dropped to include yet another copy of "The October Game" or "The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse."

#4 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 09:25 AM:

Btw, is The Sword of Sha-Na-Na coming in at #67 really the worst thing someone can say about the NPR list? Apparently, the way to make the top of the list is to have a popular movie made from the book.

#5 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 09:36 AM:

There is of course a recency effect bias; not-so-great books published in the past decade or so tend to rank higher than older but better ones.

#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 10:13 AM:

13 books by women on the NPR list, with Frankenstein scoring highest at #20. LeGuin got two books onto the list.

Neil Gaiman is all over it, which is interesting. Just heard American Gods is going to be on HBO (and one of my second cousins is very involved with it, I think as a director).

#7 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 10:50 AM:

I found it irritating that the NPR list was inconsistent with respect to series: the entire Vorkosigan saga counts as one, but there are individual entries for 2 (only 2??) Discworld books and for Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion.

#8 ::: Steve C ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:28 AM:

What? Not ONE Twilight book??

#9 ::: HArai ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:39 AM:

Ken Houghton@4: Even for what amounts to a limited population popularity contest, "it's because of the popular movie" is a little cynical I think. Looking at the top 10, as far as I can tell with spot research at imdb, Lord of the Rings and Hitchhiker's Guide are the only ones with movies made in the last 20 years and I don't really think you could say they weren't widely popular before the movies were made. Stretching the argument to TV, again A Song of Ice and Fire was hardly unknown to fantasy readers before the HBO show.

After the top 10, I suspect the ordering is to some extent an artifact of the inconsistency of the nominations (series/individual books,etc) and also that relatively small numbers of votes may be having relatively large effects on where the books place.

#10 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:47 AM:

We Locusites fuss over the utility and functionality of N-best lists every year when we write our wrap-up pieces--we did so in public (or as public as the Locus Roundtable ever gets) a couple years ago. For my money, if there's anything more useless than a reviewer's N-best list, it's one compiled by minimally-controlled popular vote. As Theophylact @5 points out, the NPR poll is strongly biased toward relatively recent work (particularly after the top nine), followed by books whose profile has been raised by a film/TV version. Not surprising in a general-readership popularity contest, and of sociological rather than literary interest. Not that there's anything wrong with that--the facts of popular taste are part of the literary environment. It's about what you'd expect of an internet-based survey--and the comment thread is as revelatory as the list itself.

#11 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 12:13 PM:

As far as the NPR list goes, I'm just happy that the Book of the New Sun made it. Though it's in at No. 87 while the Dark Tower series is (unsurprisingly) in at No. 24. :(

#12 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 12:40 PM:

Of course the NPR list is an English language centred list as well, with Jules Verne being the only representative of the rest of the world as far as I can tell.
But still for a popular vote list it is doing as well as can be expected. Which is a bit sad.

#13 ::: Marek ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 12:48 PM:

I keep stumbling into lists like this and all I can ever say is "seriously?". I mean, how can you claim a list is comprehensive if you do not include the numerous non-English speaking authors out there? Seems a bit Britain/America-centric.

#14 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 12:55 PM:

Marek @ 12: "I mean, how can you claim a list is comprehensive if"

Did they?

#15 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:03 PM:

Steve C@8:

What? Not ONE Twilight book??

Children's and YA titles were deliberately excluded. (To stop them taking it over, I suppose.)

#16 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:12 PM:

Steve C @8

What? Not ONE Twilight book??

From the introduction of the list:

You'll notice there are no young adult or horror books on this list, but sit tight, dear reader, we're saving those genres for summers yet to come.

The Horror! The Horror!

Also I'll note that when I read the Belgariad I would very much have put it ahead of most of the list* as it suited me very well. Now, not so much.

* or at least that part of the list I'd read at the time. Even Lord of the Rings. Less songs and no Tom Bombadil, who, even now, seems to have escaped from the myths of Middle Earth into it's history.

#17 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:13 PM:

Andrew, yes, and also horror. And the Twilight books are nothing if not horrible!

#18 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Joris @11 and Marek @12--Since the list was part of a set-up by NPR, which is an American radio network, and so probably received most of its input from Americans, this Anglo-American-centric focus isn't surprising to me--unfortunate, but not surprising. Given that most of us aren't comfortable enough in another language to have read widely (even among NPR's core listeners, who tend to want to think of themselves as among the intellectual elite), and the limited amount of non-Anglo-American SF/F widely available in English translation, we get the sort of results you see here.

That doesn't mean we aren't missing out on some great books, and shouldn't try to read more widely. Especially if people were to make some suggestions in some convenient place--like right here in this list.

There's a strong tendency among Americans to regard study of a foreign language as something possibly useful but terribly tedious, possibly even onerous, rather like eating one's spinach, instead of acquiring a useful tool that could make the world more interesting and colorful, as well as allowing us to get to know the other folks in the neighborhood better. We do whine an awful lot over doing things other people take for granted.

#19 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:57 PM:

fidelio @ 17
I am fully aware it was a list by an American source, and sadly I would have a difficult time myself to add more international books to a list like this.
Mainly it is a bit sad that apparently few books are translated into English, never mind how good they are. I read most of my genre in English, with a few in my native Dutch and I am limited by availability in those languages.
I have started to pay more attention to gender-balance in my reading recently, and that has also made me a bit more sensitive to the nationality-imbalance in what I am reading.

#20 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 01:59 PM:

fidelio @17: While I hate to say it, all my experience with the teaching of non-English languages in the United States has only supported the idea that it's an onerous, unpleasant task. I enjoyed my just-for-fun geology class far more than my Spanish class in community college, and not merely because at least half of the students in the latter class clearly loathed the necessity of being there.

And this is me, who quite loves languages. Somehow, my classes in dead languages never seemed to fall into the same horrible grind; Attic Greek is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than Spanish, but I know which one I'd rather retake if necessary. There's just something about the grim determination of the Spanish textbooks to try to make things Exciting and Colorful and Accessible and Relevant To Your Interests, while the Greek and Latin books quite happily accepted that this was all going to be a bit of a slog for several weeks, but, look! You'll eventually get to read Lysias's speeches, and isn't that what this is all about?

(I learned rather more about Spanish when I started reading some YA books in the original Spanish, dictionary at hand, and enjoyed it far more than the horrible grind of the classes.)

#21 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 02:11 PM:

There are a lot of really good books on that list. There are a lot of really good books off that list. I can't really say I'm surprised.

#22 ::: Melanie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 02:16 PM:

There are 15 (not 13) books by women on the list. On the other hand, 21% of the nominations list was by women.

#23 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 02:56 PM:

Joris M @18--I wasn't sure if the selection bias of the poll was apparent to people not familiar with US media networks. I agree it's unfortunate that so little gets translated, when there's so much good work available. I doubt, for example, we'd have Andrezj Sapkowski in English, lacking the video-game tie-in, and I wonder if we have Kalpa Imperial in English mostly because of Ursula LeGuin.

#24 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 03:10 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 6, Melanie S @ 13: A friend in Turkey pointed me at
this list the other day, which does something to redress the gender balance. (Although, to continue the theme of the original post, it might excite comments along the lines of'No Margaret Cavendish? Say what?!')

#25 ::: SarahS ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 03:30 PM:

@praisegod barebones #23


#26 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 03:31 PM:

Educational interjection: New York State recently eliminated passing a statewide test in "a language other than English" as a requirement to graduate from high school.

My guess is that this will result in fewer public (non-charter) high schools teaching languages other than English, which will have a trickle-down effect into middle and elementary schools.

dd had no language-other-than-English instruction in elementary school, though she had almost two years of French in middle school (minus one semester, when she was in a Spanish class).

Her high school had two language teachers two years ago but one retired and was not replaced. Students in dd's high school get 1 year of Spanish if they are lucky. They get to skate on the graduation requirement because they take an exam in their artform, which is an acceptable substitute. (Interestingly, NYS is considering adding a arts exam to high school graduation requirements--it would not require students to produce art, but to provide some kind of response to a piece of performance or fine art. Details are, ahem, sketchy as of this writing.)

#27 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 04:43 PM:

It should not be surprising that an Anglophone radio service, addressing a mostly-Anglophone audience* about reading preferences should get responses pointing exclusively to Anglophone books or easily accessible in translation.

On the matter of familiarity with languages other than one's first: It's one thing to have enough Spanish or French or whatever to get along on vacation, but maintaining reading skills sufficient to make reading novels pleasant and rewarding requires a pretty high initial level of competence *and* regular practice. I studied one living and two dead languages up through grad school. My Old English was good enough to sight-translate *Beowulf* without a dictionary. And when Old English proved unnecessary to my professional life, I fell out of practice and now couldn't even struggle through a few lines of *Seafarer*. My French and Latin never got to the level that would have made reading something more than a newspaper (or wax tablet) anything but a chore. My teaching experience showed me that even native English speakers can lack the chops to be competent readers of fiction--so godhelp those of us with where's-the-bathroom foreign language skills.

Many educated Europeans have excellent English skills, thanks in part to well-designed educational systems and in part to the practical need to deal with the status of English as an international language. Nevertheless, on our visit to the non-touristy city of Sezze in Italy a couple years back, we found very few ordinary folks whose English was much better than my primitive Italian. (Our lifesaver was a bilingual repatriated Italian who grew up in upstate New York.)

I deplore the decay of even the half-assed foreign/dead language education that I grew up with, but it would require a cultural revolution (and a couple of decades) for Americans to become multilingual enough to read non-Anglophone fiction.

*Yes, the internet is effectively international, but NPR is a USian organization with a USian listener base--so should a USian cultural bias raise any eyebrows?

#28 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 06:24 PM:

You know, I read Sword of Shanana first, before LOTR, when I was in about 7th grade. It really wasn't bad, as books go. I rather liked it. Of course, when I read LOTR the next year, I saw that SoS was a ripoff, but so what? Looking at the Amazon reviews, 13-year-olds love it. As an intro to massive fantasy, on a larger scale than the Hobbit, it seems a suitable gateway drug. Also, it stands on its own better than, say, "The Fellowship of the Ring", all of which makes it more approachable than the 6-books-plus-appendices of LOTR.

Re Bradbury - a commenter on the SF-Signal announcement for the textbook says that s/he knows Grossman, and it was a rights issue.

#29 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 07:10 PM:

I'm happy to dismiss any 'Top 100 Fantasy/SciFi/Etc List' which doesn't include anything by John Crowley.

You'd think _Little, Big_ would go over pretty well with the NPR set.

#30 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 08:05 PM:

I have read 15 out of 100 npr picks and bogged down in the middle of two more.

#31 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 08:06 PM:

A.J. @28:

Little, Big and John Crowley in general are not on your average* NPR listener's radar. Having known many an NPRphile, a fair number simply do not read anything that might be mistaken for fantasy or science fiction. And if they did, it was by accident and they like that one book they read with magic in it, in spite of themselves. This list not withstanding**, the Venn Diagram of NPR readers and Oprah Book Club readers looks like a full moon.

We're talking people who don't know Neil Gaiman, even. And despite Howard Bloom's best intentions, John Crowley remains the best undiscovered fantasy author in the English speaking world. Crowley would be right up their alley, but first someone with Oprah's clout will have to smack them upside the head with one of his books to get them to pay attention. At the very least, NPR will have to do a story on him because these are the people who may have heard about Google but hardly do anything on the Internet except email.

*Yes, yes, I know, averages aren't average. You know what I mean.
** This list is the result of Internet savvy sci-fi fans who just happen to occasionally listen to NPR hitting a web poll like it's a pinata.

#32 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 08:16 PM:

#23: redress the gender balance

What kind of dress is it going to wear?

#33 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 10:04 PM:

HArai @9:

While there have been 2 film adaptations of Dune, neither of them has been particularly "popular" (to use Ken's term). The Lynch film was a flop, and the SciFi TV series wasn't particularly a hit.

Ken @4:

I would in fact say that the causality runs in the other direction for the top books on NPR list. Most of those are books that have sold hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies and are perennial high-selling backlist.

Of the top 20, I would say that at most 3 fought their way into the top 20 on the strength of other-media adaptations, and even those are questionable. Hitchhiker's Guide had the radio show first, but was massively popular in the US before the show was available here, and I don't think either the TV show or the much later movie did all that much to boost it. A Song of Ice and Fire was placing high in fantasy best-of lists for years before the HBO series.
The only where I think that *maybe* the film proceeded the canonization was The Princess Bride; though the novel was a best-seller, I don't think it was all that well-known within the f&sf readership until the film. (I know that when I worked in an sf bookstore in the 1980s, I got a lot of "gosh, I've never heard of that" reactions when I recommended it to people. That changed after the movie.)

I'm not particularly defending the list--the absence of Guy Kay and John Crowley automatically means it doesn't reflect *my* tastes.

#34 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 10:06 PM:

Oh, and any list that includes Ray Feist's Riftwar without an asterisk is worthy of contempt. Praising it is rewarding plagiarism, even more appallingly than praising The Sword of Sha-na-na is.

#35 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 10:17 PM:

i feel almost competent to comment - I've read all or part of at least 37 of the hundred. (I can't say that I enjoyed or even liked all of them, and there are a several of which I would say that once was enough, thankyouverymuch.) It's pretty much the kind of list that would be handed out in an English class as suitable for writing book reviews.

#36 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:03 PM:

Kevin @34: Plagiarism? Haven't read them, but what's the story there?

I tend to like "Top N" lists because I tend to burn through authors I like very quickly. The various "best of 20xx" lists tend to give about 2 good for every 1 bad, which is far better than chance. I'm guessing this one will work even better simply by virtue of drawing from a larger pool.

On the other hand, any recommendations on where to find really good books by non-[white Anglo men] or books that otherwise push the boundaries of traditional F/SF would be greatly appreciated.

#37 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:30 PM:

For "foreign" SF, you can't go wrong with anything by Stanislaw Lem or Jorge Luís Borges. Brilliant stuff, thankfully available in English via sufficiently brilliant (but never sufficiently appreciated) translators.

#38 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2011, 11:32 PM:

Dave@36: The Riftwar books were based on a D&D campaign that drew from another RPG called Empire of the Petal Throne, by M.A.R. Barker. Here's an article that talks about some of the ripoffs similarities. I imagine it's not hard to find others.

#39 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 12:13 AM:

David@38: Empire of the Petal Throne is just the tip of the iceberg. Barker created a whole world arguably as rich as Tolkien's, almost contemporaneously. Unlike Tolkien, Barker lived into the age of RPGs, and used his setting in fantasy campaigns. (Imagine Tolkien as a DM!)

Barker's Tékumel is a conworld tour de force, and Feist's Kelewan is transparently the same world with the serial numbers filed off. It's a shame that Feist has never publicly acknowledged the transgression. After all, I liked the Magician books. They aren't deep, but they are well-written and engaging... and of course, the story of Pug is not Barker's, even if Kelewan is.

#40 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 12:25 AM:

Keith Kisser @31....Um, this rant does not coincide with my experience of NPR listeners. At least here in NC, I'd say SF/F readers and NPR listeners have quite a lot of overlap. I am one, and I know I'm not alone.

I have no idea how many submitters to the nominations, or eventual voters, do or do not read a lot of SF or fantasy. But I don't think there's a basis for quite your characterization of the situation.

I guess I'm taking your unflattering characterization of NPR listeners rather personally -- because that set includes me, my family, and most of my friends, and those are some awfully sweeping, and incorrect, generalizations about us.

And to the thread in general: I guess I just don't see the NPR list as making enough of an authority claim to be very bothered by it. I mean, nominations were done by having people list books in comments, and you could make as many comments as you wanted. And eligibility rules were really flaky -- the original call for nominations specified novels, but they clearly decided to let in short story collections, and then there's the bizarre sometimes listing series and sometimes individual books thing. Basically, this was not a rigorous process and NPR doesn't seem to be claiming otherwise. I really see the purpose as just getting people to make those comments and start talking with each other about relative merits of various books.

#41 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 01:33 AM:

I voted in the NPR poll, and consider myself lucky to have had 9 of my 10 selections place in the top 100. The sole exception, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, has been out of print lately but was reprinted by Tor just this past Tuesday. The long list of 237 nominees had a lot of good stuff but left out several personal favorites, including Gregory Benford's Timescape (I'd have figured that one for a certain nominee) and Connie Willis's Passage (not that she needs more titles in the top 100, but for me this is the book she was put on earth to write).

I've read 49 of NPR's top 100, and of the 51 unread titles 24 were multi-book series (mostly fantasy). Of the 27 unread stand-alone novels I noted a disproportionate amount of "out-of-genre" sf/fantasy including Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid's Tale, The Road, The Time Traveler's Wife and Wicked.

Add to that several proto-sf titles from Shelley and Verne and several others from genre writers "adopted" by the mainstream (e.g. Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and maybe you could throw in Neil Gaiman too) and it starts looking like well-read non-genre fans had a fair amount of input on NPR's list (though I'm sure all the titles/writers I've cited got a fair amount of in-genre support).

So now what I really hope to see some time is SFWA soliciting votes from its membership for the top 100 genre novels, especially if they also do top 10 lists for various subcategories (e.g. "hard sf", "time travel", "sword & sorcery", "humorous fantasy") the way the (British) Crime Writers Association and the Mystery Writers of America both did for crime/mystery novels back in the 1990's. (If SFWA does subcategory lists then they should probably do separate top 100's for sf and fantasy, though I have no objection in principle to mixed lists such as NPR's.)

#42 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 01:59 AM:

@Fade Manley #20

I decided early on in grad school to study live languages much the same way I study dead ones, with the addition of finding OS: Star Trek versions in the language, preferably with both voice and text caption.

Sesame Street and similar programs work well, as do Trek films, Star Wars IV and V, and cooking shows.

#43 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 02:01 AM:

Keith Kisser @31: Another NPR listener here, and many of my friends and family listen to NPR. Some of them read a lot of SF (like me), and some don't. No pattern that I can see. That said, I think the 'NPR' aspect of the list is a red herring. How many of the people who hit the story on the web do you suppose heard the story broadcast on the radio? I saw a link to it in social media, and then linked to it myself. I suspect that most of the people who commented and voted found out about it on a computer, and clicked a link, rather than heard a radio broadcast and remembered what to search for the next time they were at a keyboard.

I had fun reading the list of nominated books, and voting, and hearing what friends picked. I didn't take the list, or the results, very seriously. I'm never big on "Top X" lists, and one generated by people hitting a website is bound to be particularly scattered. It looks like a list of what people loved, and what they think is excellent -- sometimes those overlap, and sometimes they don't.

#44 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 02:15 AM:

Lisa Spangenberg@42 : I'm not sure if you actually meant to imply this, but if there is Sesame Street in Latin, that is both hilarious and awesome. If nothing else, contemplate Ernie and Bert in togas.

Now I'm imagining Schoolhouse Rock in Latin. Whoa. Admittedly the "I'm just a bill" song would be shorter.

#45 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 03:17 AM:

I voted in both the nomination and final phases (I expect Rob Thornton will be happy to know I voted for The Book of the New Sun both times). You could nominate up to five books and vote for up to ten; I expect that people's second and third etc. preferences is a factor for what ended up winning. The main point of the exercise was to generate a list of books worth reading while on your summer vacation. Overall I think the results are decent given that goal. All of the 53(!) titles on the final list that I've read are worth reading, IMO.

FWIW the books I voted for that didn't make the finals are:

Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

#46 ::: Joris M ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 03:59 AM:

@32 I'd petition for any clothes other than robes, jeans or military dress. I am trying some leather pants with tops, but should try some sensible or even frolicy dresses as well. Or alternatively power suits, either in business or SF sense.

#47 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 10:59 AM:

Re the NPR list, I voted and many but not all of my votes are in the top 100. For the most part I voted on some combination of my propensity to reread and how influential the book had been to me personally, which is not at all the same as literary merit, significance to the genre, etc.

I took a pass through the top 100 and counted, I think, 42 I had read and another 10 or 12 that I had tried and bounced off (including series where I read the first one and didn't want to continue), and another half dozen that I'm pretty sure on the basis of general buzz that I don't WANT to read. But there are a few that I haven't tried and might.

#48 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 11:26 AM:

Re #44 by mjfgate:

"V! V! V! V! Let's sing a song of V! How many is V?"

#49 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 11:34 AM:

Aye, aye!
Ay yi yi!

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 12:26 PM:

Keith Kisser #31: As an NPR listener/member and an SF/F reader, I really don't understand your point.

#51 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 12:40 PM:

Fragano @ #50: and as a member of both categories who has also never watched Oprah's show nor read her magazine, neither do I.

#52 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 03:40 PM:

Given that Ms. Winfrey reportedly doesn't read SF at all....

#53 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 05:08 PM:

Some of the NPR plot descriptions are... wrong. Not hugely wrong, but also not something that would be written by a person who had read the book. Who came up with them?

Also, I second the surprise at what counts as a "book". The whole Culture series? All of Elric?

#54 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 07:05 PM:

Oprah has presumably read The Road, #63 on the list. At least, it was a selection for her book club and she had McCarthy on her show to talk about it. So you never know.

It's also interesting that the fantasy and SF survey had around 60,000 voters compared with the 16,000 voters in previous surveys.

#55 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 07:14 PM:

Indeed, Oprah had The Road on her list. But it wasn't published as science fiction, nor was it marketed as science fiction, nor did any of the reviews mention that it was standard post-apocalyptic science fiction. I doubt Oprah recognized it for what it is.

#56 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2011, 08:06 PM:

Mark J. Reed @ 39: "(Imagine Tolkien as a DM!)"

Is this where the people who haven't yet seen DM of the Rings have to make their saving throw against being distracted for several hours of reading interrupted frequently by laughter?

#57 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 01:51 AM:

Damn you, JMO @ #56. I'd never seen that before now, and I'm afraid the several hours are upon me.

#58 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 06:06 AM:

In following up on one of the 100 I found that some people have a poorer grasp of the history of SF than might be good in their chosen profession. Plume, a part of the Penguin group, are advertising their new centennial editions of Animal Farm and 1984 as "two of the most iconic books in American literature" and "a must-have for any appreciator of American literature". I suppose Airstrip One has always been a part of Oceania but I remember when it was called [REDACTED].

JMO @ 56: Tee hee... and there goes another hour I couldn't spare.

#59 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 03:50 PM:

My *guess* is that's an overeager global-search-and-destroy script, rather than a misprint (in the Newspeak meaning of that word). But I Could Very Easily Be Wrong.

#60 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 06:38 PM:

Looking at the NPR list, I'm oddly encouraged that a popularity-based list of SF&F has Lord of the Rings as #1 and Hitchhiker's as #2. Hitchhikers was one of the most life-changing books I ever read, and it's one of an extremely small number of books that I adored when I was thirteen and still pull out to reference or reread today. Heck, the entire top 10 is pretty great, could be more diverse, but not a single eye-roll in the lot, for me at least.

The list as a whole is pretty reassuring, from the standpoint of someone who has read widely within the popular SF&F canon. There are a number of series in there that are... well... is there a term for books that you devour happily before you develop sophistication, but which lose their shine after you've read too widely or grown up too much? There are some of those, but that's to be expected.

There are only a few that really bother me. One of the titles a book I hated so much that it made me believe I actually hated the entire genre of Fantasy for several years. I didn't pick up another "serious" fantasy novel until ASoIaF, at which point I realized I don't hate fantasy, I just hated that book.

All that is made up for by the fact that The Last Unicorn made it onto the list, which is something I never expect. It's the kind of book that always feels like your own personal private undiscovered treasure, despite the fact that there's an animated classic based on it.

#61 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2011, 07:21 PM:

Re the Sense of Wonder anthology. I thought the table of contents looked great. Wow, look at all that classic stuff I remember, in one place, plus things I haven't read, plus essays.

I ordered one.

It does indeed have lots and lots of content, plus essays. It didn't occur to me until the book arrived that to have all that content without being a foot thick, it would have very small print. But it does. I can read it in really excellent light, but may have to go for a magnifying glass.

But, yeah, good stuff.

#62 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2011, 09:37 PM:

Disclaimer: been disinclined to post because been busy & unmotivated, plus it's been cold & wet*.

*waves* to Xopher Halftongue. Glad to see your words; even more glad that surgery went well.

On topic: I can't take the NPR list seriously, but then lists like that are inherently flawed anyway. It's even worse because of inconsistencies like treating some series as a book but not others. What?

@Dave #36:
Apart from personal recommendations, and trusted online sources, a place worth looking is the Hugo longlist which this year is included in the statistical breakdown of the 2011 Hugo voting (it's in the latter part of the pdf). It lists other works that have received nominations, but for whatever reason**, not nearly enough to make the final ballot.

*The lawn got mowed after three months of waiting for enough rainless days for the ground to firm up. Finally gave in. Result: backyard looks less like a jungle but has acquired ruts. On the plus side, the last three days have been gloriously sunny. Oh sun, how we missed you. Please stay a while.

**Whether it was just not good enough, or it wasn't available to enough potential voters, or it was too removed from mainstream voters' taste.

#63 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 11:01 AM:

Huh. I finally got around to looking at the list, and I'm pleased that I hit a good 30-40%. Three authors: Gibson, Stephenson, and Gaiman, are frustrations because their stuff is, by all accounts, very good, but is stuff that I've bounced off of for various reasons.

#64 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 11:25 AM:

I've read an alarming amount: 68, if I count a successful read of more than one book in the series as having done the series. There's also a few things that I counted separately as being on a (sometimes very long-running) TBR pile, and the other 24 seem to involve people like Sanderson, Goodkind, Eddings, King, Brooks and, surprisingly, Jules Verne.

#65 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 02:30 PM:


I've not only been a public radio listener for years, but until the innertubz brought us television and newspapers, along with the NY Times this was all my source for news, and provided much entertainment -- of course here we had and still do have a spectrum of public radio stations, AM and FM, and they each have a unique personaility and style. It is also the home of the largest NPR station in the country, even larger than D.C.'s, home to CPB. I heard the station here do a 100% flip over socially and politically the moment Reagan was sworn into the office of POTUS.

Moreover, the Spouse has done a great deal of work on public radio over the years, and has been interviewed as a source and as an artist many times.

I've read all these books, or made a deliberate choice not to read them after starting them or even justing looking at the first and last pages. Yes, I have been a life-long reader of Sf/F -- and I've published some too!

There sure are a lot of SF/F authors who get interviewed on the syndicated public radio programs and not all fo them are Michael Chabon, Jonathan Letham or William Gibson. Paul Levinson, for instance, gets himself on these programs as much as possible -- as well any writer, for those slots sell a LOT of books.

Love, C.

#66 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 02:39 PM:

That said I didn't vote in the thing -- I never do. Lists of this nature are of the very mildest personal interest.

And, that said, this doesn't seem a bad list at all, though I would like to have seen more women on it. But there ya go.

Mostly the voters I'm guessing are the kind of readers who comment at (I am one of those though!) and other places that also encouraged people to vote -- rather than people who listen to NPR. All the research says that young people don't much listen to the radio, which is why so many nostalgia music stations. I've met kids who don't know what a radio is, even!

Love, C.

#67 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 02:47 PM:

Constance 66: I've met kids who don't know what a radio is, even!

Tell them it's a wireless device that streams high-quality stereo sound.

#68 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 03:12 PM:

Xopher Halftongue #67:

Clearly you didn't have any of my transistor radios from the 60s. It's been a whole string of revelations, over the years, to almost literally hear with new ears things I first heard on the radio as a teenager. There was about a decade there when I had no idea what a bass guitar was for.

#69 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2011, 04:51 PM:

Joann @68: I vividly remember getting an actual _stereo_ and hearing completely new things on an album I had previously played only on a monaural record player. (it was a hand-me-down of Jesus Christ Superstar)

#70 ::: Mark J. Reed ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2011, 10:56 AM:

JMO@56: that was a good place to mention DMotR, indeed. You may or may not that after it ended, a different creative team was inspired to create a sequel of sorts: Darths and Droids (which has almost finished the entire prequel trilogy and will soon be starting on the real movies).

#71 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2011, 09:42 PM:

Mark @39:
--Empire of the Petal Throne is just the tip of the iceberg. Barker created a whole world arguably as rich as Tolkien's, almost contemporaneously. Unlike Tolkien, Barker lived into the age of RPGs, and used his setting in fantasy campaigns. (Imagine Tolkien as a DM!)

What's more, Barker wrote _fantasy novels_ set in Tekumel; I own two, Flamesong and The Man of Gold. Apparently three more were published in 2003.


#72 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2011, 10:35 PM:

#71: While I intend to get them someday, I've read that the later Tekumel novels were "eh" travelogues.

The first two, I really loved. Heck, I was thinking about them this morning. Great fun.

#73 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2011, 12:32 AM:

Rather surprised that I've read 53 of them, and also surprised at the incoherence of the list. I am also surprised and pleased that enough people out there read "Perdido Street Station" for it to be included.

As to the overlap between NPR listeners and F&SF readers, I'm not too sure it's much different than the general public. There is that upper-middlebrow element that won't read fiction that hasn't been branded as literary fiction, and it's their loss.

My wife had a bit of that snobbish streak, but then she started reading Scandinavian police procedurals...

BTW - if you like that sort of thing, I highly recommend anything by Arnaldur Indriðason, especially "The Draining Lake" and "Jar City". And since he's Icelandic, you can test your local bookseller's cultural literacy by whether it's filed under A like it should be, with a pointer card in the shelf in the I's,

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.