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List of the 100 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels

NPR are currently running a poll to determine the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books. Last month they took nominations, and an expert panel assembled a ‘short’ list of contenders:

Scrolling through the list of great science fiction and fantasy reads below will feel like a journey back in time for some of us, a voyage of discovery for others. But novice or veteran, everyone loves a contest. So, let the voting begin!

Here’s how: Everyone gets 10 votes. Select your top 10 favorite titles, and then scroll down to the bottom of the poll and click “Submit.” Feel free to lobby for your favorites in the comments. We’ll be back in about 10 days with the results.

It’s a great list, though I’m sure there’ll be plenty of debate about some of the inclusions and exclusions. I have to say also that I’m not sure that it should have been one list for science fiction and fantasy – while the genres sometimes approach each other, they also differ enormously at the other ends of the spectrum.

For what it’s worth, here’s the ten I picked (in alphabetical order). Fairly mainstream I have to say…perhaps I need to start digging in to some more obscure titles in future.

  • American Gods
  • The Day of the Triffids
  • The Dune Chronicles
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • Neuromancer
  • The Road
  • Solaris
  • Watchmen

The final results will be announced on August 11. So, what’s your top 10? And: what books *aren’t* on the list that should have been there?

  1. Best Of lists are always subjective
    One reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure, afterall.

    A few surprising omissions:

    • Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.
    • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.
    • Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.
    • A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin.
    • The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
    • Little Big by John Crowley.
    • I Can See Russia by Sarah Palin.

    … and on and on and on…

    Oh, and some series about a boy wizard who wears glasses and likes owls. 😉

    I agree with some commenters though, mixing fantasy with sci-fi is a bit odd. I know Australian scifi writer Damien Broderick gets pretty annoyed when his books are shelved in the same section as Tad Williams.

      1. A Song of Ice and Fire
        It’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I wish these lists would get the titles right.

        Not that it matters. The final top ten will be made up of every Neil Gaiman book on the planet. I like his work, but some of his fans are in cult territory.

        My top ten, in no particular order:

        A Song of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin.
        Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart.
        Contact, Carl Sagan.
        Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K Dick.
        Dune, Frank Herbert.
        Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.
        Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami.
        Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint.
        Neuromancer, William Gibson.
        The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien.
        The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley.
        … ok, that’s eleven. I love them all equally.

  2. My top ten….
    Lord Of The Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
    Dune chronicles – Herbert
    Naked God Trilogy -Hamilton (nights dawn)
    Void trilogy Hamilton
    Battlefield earth – hubbard
    Dark Sword Trilogy Wies/hickman
    Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy – Adams
    Princess Bride – s. Morgenstern ;o)
    Song of ice and Fire G.R.R.Martin
    Lucifers hammer – niven/pournell

    I am surprised that Weis & Hickman are all but forgotten..


    Regards from Iceland.

  3. Lord of the Rings
    The Case of

    Lord of the Rings

    The Case of C.D. Ward – Lovecraft (not sure if this counts because its not a full novel)

    The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World – Harlan Ellison, which is a collection of shorts all published together. it’ll blow your mind.

    Colony – Ben Bova… anything by Ben Bova, great action Sci-Fi

    A Scanner Darkly – PKD

    I need to look at my vast collection at home because I’m drawing a blank for some reason, but those are some of my personal favs.

  4. Our list is remarkably similar.
    One that is rarely mentioned: Imajica by Clive Barker.

    I believe it is one of the best fantasy novels ever written.

    I have also become enthralled by Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora recently.

  5. A worthy selection to choose from
    -American Gods
    -The Black Company series
    -The Dune Chronicles
    -The Hitchhiker’s Guide
    -The Martian Chronicles
    -The Shannara Trilogy
    -Something Wicked This Way Comes
    -War of the Worlds

    I am currently in the last few hundred pages of the Black Company saga and it has been one of the most enjoyable reads I have come across. To me, it stands apart from any other sci-fi/fantasy, but I can never quite pin down why that is.

    As for books that were not on the list, I enjoy H.G. Wells’ short stories even more than his novels, but the list seems limited to standalone novels and not compilations. Along that vein, October Country, a collection of Bradbury’s short stories would be another worthy contender. The unlisted novels that immediately come to mind are the Vampire Earth series (particularly the first three) by E.E. Knight and the Mayfair Chronicles by Anne Rice. That trilogy is her masterpiece in my eyes, which I highly recommend even if you are not a fan of her Vampire Chronicles.

  6. Just basic commentary:
    I added my two cents, but don’t see them in the results just yet.

    * I do find that Neil Gaiman is pure genius, although I don’t know if I would categorize him as ‘mainstream’.
    * No list like this should be complete without Robert Heinlein somewhere
    * I have honestly tried 3 times and find any of the Dune Trilogy books essentially unreadable.
    * Patrick Rothfuss is going to the top of my must read list.
    * I may be one of the few who thoroughly enjoyed all 8 of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but didn’t add them to my top 10.

  7. #1
    #1: The Mexican Constitution

    (sorry, it’s been one of those days…)

    OK, how about

    • Lord of The Rings
    • 1984
    • 2001
    • Dune
    • Jurassic Park
    • Sphere
    • Childhood’s End
    • Narnia Chronicles
    • Brave New World
    • Interview with The Vampire
  8. from the Epic-Dept-of-Deportment-Dept.
    Solaris — Stanislaw Lem

    The Magna Carta

    The US Declaration of Independence

    The Torah Anthology

    Bhagavad Gita

    Epic of Gilgamesh

    A Universal Declaration of Human Rights

    The Number of the Beast by Heinlein

    Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

    The Book of Urizen by William Blake

  9. Books!
    I am very happy they included Gene Wolfe’s Books of the New Sun
    but also should have included his Knight/Wizard duology.

    I would almost consider Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to be sci-fi but in todays day and age it is probably more satire of current events and is why it wasn’t included.

    Donaldsons Gap Series I found very inferior I read up to the third book hoping it would get better, but it never did so I had to ptu it down when there are much better books out there.

    Delany is a magnificent writer, Dhalgren was very dense stuff but his other more conventional sci-fi, if you can say that at all when referring to Delany, is very engrossing.

    Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series is also very very good.

    Peter F. Hamilton’s Nights Dawn Trilogy was very good but his commonwealth sage is even better showing great developement as a writer.

  10. well…
    I’ll add to the common, “why must they lump sci-fi and fantasy in the same bin?” line. Two different things, in fact, why don’t they lump most horror in as well? Ah well, the unwashed masses speak, and public libraries listen.

    I have a hard time putting Tolkien and Asimov on the same list, but for the most part my vote was this:

    A Canticle for Leibowitz (shocking, I know.)
    Conan (old stuff)
    The Dark Tower series (hands down a gut thumping kick in the butt)
    Fahrenheit 451
    Martian Chronicles (I adore Bradbury…some of the time)
    The Foundation Trilogy
    Something Wicked This Way Comes (winner for best book title evar, thank you Shakespeare)
    The Stand

    Some ones I might have added:
    Starborn, Andres Norton
    Mythagos Wood, Holdstock

    umm, there’s more, just drawing a blank.

    lists like this are fun, but don’t really mean much since much can be left off, and some included are questionable. (I do like me some classic Elric at times though….)

    After growing up on plenty of Heinlein, Wells and Asimov in the 1960’s; Farren hit me like a brick in the 1970’s and I was never the same again.

    The DNA Cowboys Trilogy by Mick Farren is a must for the list.

  12. I would go with:
    The Book of

    I would go with:

    The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe

    1984 George Orwell

    A Scanner Darkly Philip K. Dick

    Brave New World Huxley

    Star Maker Olaf Stapledon

    The Time Machine HG Welles

    The Fifth Head of Cerberus Gene Wolfe

    The Atrocity Exhibition JB Ballard

    Valis, Philip K. Dick

    I love science fiction, but I also kind’ve hate it. I think Robert Anton Wilson was right: “90 per cent of sci-fi is adolescent junk, but the rest is the only great and real literature of the modern world.”

    1. True
      [quote=Tristan Eldritch]
      I love science fiction, but I also kind’ve hate it. I think Robert Anton Wilson was right: “90 per cent of sci-fi is adolescent junk, but the rest is the only great and real literature of the modern world.”[/quote]

      Same goes for “fantasy”. Most of it is derivative of LOTR on some level.

      1. What really bugs me about the
        What really bugs me about the genre is that so many of the works are so amateurishly written from a purely literary standpoint. Compared to what we call “literature” they read like childrens’ books even though the ideas may be intriguing. With Lem however we have someone writing literature too which is to say that his use of language is more the product of centuries of literary development and sophistication. That he also had a great scientific imagination just makes him all the greater. I even heistate to classify him as a “sci-fi” writer. He is just a writer which is not something that can be said of many sci fi practicioners who strike me more as awkward purveyors of sci-fi ideas that would be better handled by writers brought up in the literary tradition.

        1. The difference between litrature and LITERATURE
          Standard literature is just entertaining story-telling. Nothing wrong with that.

          LITERATURE with capital letters, is when the author uses the story as an excuse to discuss something profound and significant about the human condition. And this might very well be completely unintentional and unconscious!

          Herman Melville might have just wanted to tell the story of a white monster whale, but in the end drew a portrait about Man’s obsessions to conquer Nature at any expense.

          Getting back to the subject, IMO one author that successfully brought Sci-Fi/Fantasy to that level was Frank Herbert. Take out the worms and the spice and the Fremen, and you are still left with a very profound philosophical discourse about the balance between Ecology and Society.

          I love Clarke’s 2001 books, but I don’t oversee the fact that he is more worried about finding solutions to his fictional scenarios that do not violate the laws of Nature, than in portraying characters you can actually empathize with. His most memorable character is a fraking computer, for Pete’s sake!

          With Tolkien, well… who didn’t cry when they reached the last phrase of the book? 😉

          1. Sci-fi and Fantasy
            Personally, I don’t think the two genres belong on the same shelf – if only because they usually attract a different readership. If I’m looking for a good sci-fi read, I don’t want to shuffle through dozens of elves-and-dragons titles before I find something by P.K.D. or his like.

            I read Lord of the Rings almost 40 years ago and still look back and recognise those few weeks as probably the most enjoyable and intense reading experience I have ever had. Nevertheless, I had never read that kind of fantasy fiction before then and have never felt any pressing desire to do so since.

            On the other hand, I came to science fiction by way of DC and Marvel comics in the 60’s and still browse the Sci-fi section before any other when choosing a new novel to take to my bed.


          2. from the Teasingly-Simple-Dept.
            One of my bookstore friends (who has since passed) had a wonderful sense of humour. She would put the Bible in the erotica section :3

            One of my favourite bookstores is a used one and I went in not knowing the title or any of the authors or the editor and they were able to find the book for me :3

    1. from the Garcia-Marquez-Dept.
      Yeah, they’re both terms invented by the publishing industry. I believe it all started with Tolkien.

      And since then, endless academics have ‘proven’ and made ‘truth’ out of these publishing terms.

      We are a powerful species and endlessly entertaining :3

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