There are a lot of top-100 genre book lists out there. Some are voted on, some are the opinions of one ‘expert’, or a small panel of experts. There’s certainly no need for any more of them.
So I made another one.
Confession first: it’s not new. It’s been hanging around on my blog almost since the beginning. But it’s not really been presented all that nicely, and I posted it way back when nobody at all was reading this blog (as opposed to the ‘nearly nobody’ I get in now!), so I thought it was time to give it a make-over. The whole point is to help people, after all, and it’s no good for that if people can’t see it or understand it…
So here’s what I’ve got:
101 SF&F Works You Might Love: A Recommended Reading List – all published prior to or during 2000
10 Recent SF&F Works Worth Reading – published between 2001 and 2010
Now, two caveats are needed. Firstly, this isn’t just my opinion. In fact it’s barely my opinion at all. The list is the product of a poll of nearly 100 genre readers on the Literature subforum at the Westeros.Org A Song of Ice and Fire fan-forums. There is inevitably going to be a bias toward epic fantasy in general and Martin in particular – but in fact, the participants were a remarkably diverse and well-read lot, and they nominated over 600 works in total. There can’t be many polls where votes for Homer and Mallory and Luo Guanzhong sit happily alongside votes for Paolo Coelho, Robert Asprin, Gore Vidal, Astrid Lindgren, Isabel Allende, Warren Ellis, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Enid Blyton, Geoff Ryman, Raymond E. Feist, Mark Twain, Fred Pohl, and Kelly Link. It helps, I think, that Martin sits at the crossroads of many tendencies, with an appeal that reaches out to both men and women, and to both ‘literary’ and ‘escapist’ readers. Undoubtedly you can argue with this list – you can argue with any list. But I hope you find it a thoughtful list, an interesting list, and an intriguing list.
Secondly, this isn’t a ranked and ordered top-100 best books in the world list. You can’t meaningfully derive a list like that from such a wild diversity of readers. Instead, these are recommended reading lists that try to respect the diversity of genre fans, rather than trying to find a single majority view.
The essence of that can be summed up in a simple aspiration: something for everyone, and every thing for somebody. I hope that every genre fan, or prospective genre fan, who looks at this list will find a book that they might just love; and I hope that every book on this list is a book that has its own perfect reader out there. I didn’t want a list of consensus opinions and uncontroversial middle ground: I wanted books that people love.
And yes, that means unfortunately that there are some books on the list that you probably won’t love. It’s an eclectic list. And that’s good, I think, because SF&F fans are an eclectic list, and I think that’s something we should be proud of.
And if you’ve read through those caveats and are now muttering dismissively about how a popular vote can’t possibly produce a list like that, or if you’re just curious about how I tried to go about doing it – or if, wonder of wonders, you’re just a fan of electoral systems and collective decision-making and want to see how I tried to find a system that was appropriate to these specific circumstances, or if you’re planning on creating a similar list and aren’t sure how to go about it, or just if you don’t understand why a lot of thought sometimes goes into electoral systems and why it’s a lot more complicated than just writing down what people say and tallying up the votes…. for any of you people (and believe me, it’s a fascinating subject!), I’m going to write up how I saw the problem and what solution I chose and why I chose it. But not right now.
For everyone else… go read those three lists!