NPR’s sci-fi/fantasy poll, while not perfect, is less dumb than you might expect.
Apart from a few glaring omissions, an NPR reader poll to find the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy books is surprisingly astute — proof that geeks are smarter than readers of literary fiction.
For a list of upcoming activities at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, visit the center’s website. And mark your calendar: This year’s Miami Book Fair International runs Nov. 13-20.
Yeah, I said it: Sci-fi and fantasy geeks are smarter and have better taste and are less likely to behave like sheep than readers of literary fiction. Duh! You wanna makes something of it? Please?
Ah, what’s a list like this for if it can’t stoke some good old-fashioned arguments? Fisticuffs are probably out of the question for this crowd, but some slappy-fights might be possible. Ow! You poke me with your pocket protector!
To arrive at its list of 100, NPR received nominations from 5,000 readers/listeners. In the final tally, an impressive 60,000 voted.
The results are far from perfect. I would have separated science fiction and fantasy into different categories, to begin with. While sci-fi started out as a mutant offspring of fantasy, it’s long since gone it’s own way. Also, sci-fi aficionados hate the loosey-goosey plotting made possible by the presence of magic in fantasy.
Plus, 100 justifiably great books could easily be found for science fiction and fantasy.
First the omissions: Most glaring is the absence of any book by that ur-triumvirate of writers without whom we would have no modern fantasy. I’m speaking, of course, of Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Dunsany, and H.P. Lovecraft.
I’m also baffled by the non-appearance of primordial science fiction writers Karel Capek or Olaf Stapledon, not to mention seminal literary works like Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.
And what? No Dracula? No Narnia, or Harry Potter? No Bruce Sterling? No William Burroughs? No Doris Lessing?!?
How could a list like this omit China Mieville’s The City and the City, the best novel of any category I read in 2009, or Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, the best book I read in 2010?
I’m sure you have favorites that didn’t make the list, too, and I hope you’ll use the comments section below to make your argument. Check out NPR’s list and report back. If we hear no word by tomorrow, we’ll assume the orcs ate you.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I do have to say the list is full of surprises — most, if not all, good ones. Speaking of orcs, the number spot is held down by The Lord of the Rings, which, come to think of it, is no surprise at all.
But to my astonishment Stephen King, who’s proven his mettle in both categories, doesn’t show up until No. 23, with The Dark Tower series, yet lit-crit bad boys George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Aldous Huxley all make the top 10. (Yes, I will defend to the death Bradbury’s literary bona fides).
Golden Ager Robert Heinlein makes the first of several appearances at No. 17 with his weird and uncharacteristic counter-culture masterpiece, Stranger in a Strange Land. Kurt Vonnegut shows up at 19 (with Slaughterhouse Five), Philip K. Dick at 21 (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and Margaret Atwood at 22 (The Handmaid’s Tale).
Genuine surprises: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at No. 2 (!), The Princess Bride at No. 11, or Richard Adams’ rabbit revolution fantasy Watership Down at No. 32.
Of course, there’s some mediocre pop stuff ranked higher than it deserves: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game at No. 3? Robert Jordon’s Tolkien knock-off, The Wheel of Time series, at No. 13?
I could go on — Michael Moorcock doesn’t show up until No. 90? And where’s Brian Aldiss? Stanislaw Lem? J.G. Ballard? Philip Pullman?!? But I yield the floor.
Please, tell us what books should have been added to the list, or subtracted, or — please, please, please — explain how full of crap I am. And if anyone is foolhardy enough to defend the superiority of literary fiction, by all means: Be my guest.