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August 3, 2011 8:55 PM   Subscribe

NPR Books is asking people to vote for their ten favorite science fiction / fantasy books of all time. The list is exhaustive; the picking only ten is hard.
posted by mygothlaundry (521 comments total) 115 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating random social media thing: I saw this on BitterOldPunk's G+ feed earlier. It's (exactly, admittedly) like seeing a meme in real time.

Mefites on G+ is fun, btw - someone should totally make a list.
posted by jaduncan at 9:00 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I assume they listed The Number of the Beast simply so they could throw out any submissions that included that one.
posted by justkevin at 9:03 PM on August 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


the picking only ten is hard.

Not really. I've always felt that sci-fi was an over-regarded genre. That said and in no particular order ... three titles spring instantly to mind:

Dune
3 Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Ender's Game
posted by philip-random at 9:04 PM on August 3, 2011


Well, I just skewed that poll something weird... any other surveys you'd like me to fuck with today?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:04 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, I confess, I totally got it from Metafilter's own John Scalzi's google+ feed yesterday. I've been waiting ever since for somebody to put it on the blue - I am shy about posting - but nobody has and I've had enough beer now to be bold. Plus it's very fun. Except that you run out of votes by like F if you are me and then you start reassessing your criteria and then, well, hours go by.

This is where I die on a hill, but honestly, Ender's Game is a terrible book. Really, Ender's Game? Eeeurk.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:07 PM on August 3, 2011 [13 favorites]


I filled it out after seeing it on BitterOldPunk's G+ as well. I was surprised both to see how many women were listed and how many recent authors were listed. I think for it to be a favorite for me it has to stand the test of time, and I don't know how I could name a series that's incomplete as a favorite. (See: N.K. Jemisen, whose first two books in her trilogy were really good, but she could still botch it in the third. Lev Grossman would have fit in the same category if they hadn't listed the first book specifically.)
posted by immlass at 9:08 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ubik was my PDK choice. I wish they had included something from Gregory Benford, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2011


What, nothing by L. Ron Hubbard? He so often tops the polls, too.

More seriously, I assume no Narnia or Harry Potter because they're "children's books?"
posted by tyllwin at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gravity's Rainbow, but no Ada or Against the Day? Boooo!
posted by Bigfoot Mandala at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2011


Whoops. No Man Who Folded Himself.
posted by CarlRossi at 9:09 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


What, nothing by L. Ron Hubbard?

Battlefield Earth was listed.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kind of love that they included "Venus of the Half Shell" by Kilgore Trout.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 9:12 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


What, nothing by L. Ron Hubbard? He so often tops the polls, too.

Unfortunately, Battlefield Earth is on the list.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:12 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and opening myself up:

Star Maker - Stapleton (Oh, oh, oh so good)
A Scanner Darkly - PKD
Flowers For Algernon - Keyes (I struggle to really think of this as a genre novel, though; it's more a character study).
A Fire Upon The Deep - Vinge
Mote in God's Eye
We -Zamyatin
The Book of Skulls - Silverberg
Stranger in a Strange Land - Heinlein (I read this at 4 or so and it touched me - I don't want to read it again as I think it might disappoint)
1984 - Orwell (obviously)
I, Robot - Asimov
posted by jaduncan at 9:12 PM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


More seriously, I assume no Narnia or Harry Potter because they're "children's books?"

I'm guessing so. There's no Earthsea Trilogy either, though there are several other LeGuin books there.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't count either Gravity's Rainbow, or the Baroque cycle as legitimate choices, as they didn't fit into my, admittedly limited, rubric of sci-fi/fantasy. Next week, I hope, we'll have an "historical fiction" top 100, which will be much easier for me to parse into favorites.
(Patrick O'Brian triumphs all!)
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:13 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Battlefield Earth

Oh my God. I missed it. I'd bet a quarter we have our winner there.
posted by tyllwin at 9:14 PM on August 3, 2011


It would be quite interesting if they had a single write-in slot, and analyzed that (most people chose to write-in x, here's the aggregate profile of writers-in versus not, etc).

Also that way I could write in Blindsight, because seriously people.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:14 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


That was so hard. Either too much or not enough cross-genre stuff happening. And just the fact that I had to combine my sci-fi and fantasy interests (which are apparently rigidly demarcated in my mind) almost broke my brain.

I think I got some answers wrong.
posted by freshwater at 9:16 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ubik was my PDK choice.

... and thus the PDK vote split in various directions. And The Man Who Japed and Martian Time-Slip didn't even get shortlisted (both worth it for their titles alone).

This list seems doomed to be slanted in the direction of authors with only one entry
posted by philip-random at 9:16 PM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think you should get to vote for ten and then cast some sort of anti-vote for another ten. Because yeah, Battlefield Earth, but also Terry Brooks's Shannara travesty.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:17 PM on August 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Any list that can contain Conan, Watchmen, and A Handmaid's Tale I suspect is an overly broad list.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:19 PM on August 3, 2011


I read Blindsight based on a Mefi recommendation and really liked the book. I recommended it to two people, and neither of them has forgiven me. One hated the book, the other one stayed awake all night reading it and then had nightmares for a week.

I would definitely write it in.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 9:19 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there were a number of odd choices and omissions - Gravity's Rainbow is in, but not Against the Day? The only Banks book listed is the Algebraist, instead of any one of the vastly superior Inversions, Player of Games, or especially Use of Weapons? Kraken is listed, but not the Scar? I couldn't even find The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and ended up voting for VALIS instead.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:19 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I voted but...Piers Anthony? David Weber? This is so full of wrong.
posted by N-stoff at 9:20 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is kinda pointless if people just treat it as a referendum on what they really dig, so I looked at it thinking, "What spec fiction books do I recommend to (read: foist upon) people who 'don't like spec fiction?'"

So...

1984
The Dispossessed
Ender's Game
The City and the City

...got my votes.

Well, those plus Neuromancer. Cuz, Neuromancer.
posted by Mike Smith at 9:20 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh my God. I missed it. I'd bet a quarter we have our winner there.

Clearwater's outreach team doesn't have quite the resources it used to. Also it's easy to ensure it wouldn't win in that situation; just turn up on 4chan and mention who was in the lead.

Admittedly, 5 minutes later the organisers would be wondering which of them put LOLSQLINJECTION in as one of the form choices.
posted by jaduncan at 9:20 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there any book in the last 30 years more preposterously overrated than Ender's Game?

On the other hand, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is simply one of the greatest literary works in any genre over the same period, and it's sort of sad it isn't held in much higher popular regard within SF fandom, though I understand why, given what a challenge Wolfe can be and how much close reading he requires.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


Because yeah, Battlefield Earth, but also Terry Brooks's Shannara travesty.

... not to mention Stephen R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant crap (Tolkien with self-loathing and long periods of boredom)
posted by philip-random at 9:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is there any book in the last 30 years more preposterously overrated than Ender's Game?

yes.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


The only Banks book listed is the Algebraist, instead of any one of the vastly superior Inversions, Player of Games, or especially Use of Weapons?

They include 'The Culture Series', for some reason. So they have those books, but...
posted by dragstroke at 9:25 PM on August 3, 2011


They have Children of God, but not The Sparrow? They have the Foreigner series, but not Cyteen? They have an awful lot of books that it's a stretch to consider fantasy or sci fi. This is a very weird list.
posted by willnot at 9:26 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


The only Banks book listed is the Algebraist

I thought that too and then I saw that they had all the Culture books listed as a series - which they clearly aren't, so big argument there, and I wish I'd heard about this when they were accepting nominations instead of now - but anyway I voted for them as that instead of just voting for the Algebraist.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:26 PM on August 3, 2011


Also it's easy to ensure it wouldn't win in that situation; just turn up on 4chan and mention who was in the lead.

Good to know there's a bat signal we can use.

Admittedly, 5 minutes later the organisers would be wondering which of them put LOLSQLINJECTION in as one of the form choices.


By that old favorite author Robert ');DROP TABLE Students; ?

They must in fact be excluding YA books. No Hunger Games or Dark Materials either.

Nor Twilight, but they look to be excluding anything with vampires. No Dracula nor Anne Rice either. Not that I really think those should be in the top ten, but it's odd to include "fantasy" and exclude that.
posted by tyllwin at 9:29 PM on August 3, 2011


I couldn't even find The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and ended up voting for VALIS instead.

and thus the PKD vote split in even more directions ...
posted by philip-random at 9:29 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ctrl+F "Ursula K LeGuin" Ok now to choose stuff for the other seven slots!
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:29 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there any book in the last 30 years more preposterously overrated than Ender's Game?

You've seen the plotlines for Twilight, right?
posted by jaduncan at 9:29 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


AND THERE WAS NO FUCKING HARLAN ELLISON
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Watership Down

Sci-Fi? Fantasy? Really?

(I still voted for it.)
posted by oddman at 9:33 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yesss Watership Down! I just came to post about how glad I was to see it on that list. It isn't sci-fi, it's fantasy. Seriously, it embodies every single thing that makes fantasy novels what they are, it's like the perfect fantasy novel.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:34 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was on there.

Go read Solaris, everybody.
posted by Rinku at 9:35 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Such a pleasure just to review that list -- thanks for this post.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:35 PM on August 3, 2011


So pleased to see The Sparrow there. A quiet little gem.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:37 PM on August 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


The challenge for me was differentiating between "books that I enjoy" and "books that I think embody the genre".

And, yes, unfortunately, that list was woefully incomplete.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:38 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right at this exact moment in time, World War Z is easily my favourite science fiction-slash-fantasy book. One by Conrad Williams would be second.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:38 PM on August 3, 2011


Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time" is missing -- and it is better than Atwood's 'Handmaiden' -- and I say that as a real fan of Atwood. AND ... what? ... No Doris Lessing?? Seriously??

Yeah, put me in the "'Enders Game' - HUH??!" crowd.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:41 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


They have Children of God, but not The Sparrow? They have the Foreigner series, but not Cyteen? They have an awful lot of books that it's a stretch to consider fantasy or sci fi. This is a very weird list.

What bothers me is that they included a lot of contemporary work, some of which is iffy at best, but left off quite a bit of classic SF & fantasy. It's odd that they cherry-picked books (Barry Hughart, for example, wrote three books involving Master Li and Number Ten Ox, but they only listed one - and not even the first one, at that.)

It's rough when NPR screws up like this - I mean, I'm grateful that they're looking at the genre, but, damn, whoever assembled that list skipped a lot of work folks like myself would consider seminal.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:44 PM on August 3, 2011


Scanning the comments on the NPR site--I found that the decision on what titles to include specifically excluded YA books (someone had asked why His Dark Materials wasn't listed):

Hi Katha: Flameraven42 is correct. the Pullman series was a popular suggestion. But the books were disqualified under this year's rules, which bar young-adult fiction. We'll do a young adult contest most likely next summer.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:44 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Per the original rules, Stephanie Meyer was also (thankfully!) excluded.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:47 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Consider Phlebas?

Wow
posted by the noob at 9:47 PM on August 3, 2011


The challenge for me was differentiating between "books that I enjoy" and "books that I think embody the genre".

That's why I only ended up voting for nine books. I'm pretty strict when it comes to defining sci-fi. Vast Alien Living Intelligence Systems -- yes. Rabbits -- no.

But nice to see Stand On Zanzibar in there. Damn but that book has proven darkly accurate. Muckers for instance.
posted by philip-random at 9:48 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


nice to see leguin and octavia butler well-represented. needs more sam delany, though.
posted by jjoye at 9:50 PM on August 3, 2011


I had to leave this uncompleted. Any "100 Best" that excludes Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren is very sadly lacking.
posted by Grayjack at 9:51 PM on August 3, 2011


I checked off the ones I liked, but all most of my favorites are YA, and they don't count.

It's kind of bullshit what's YA and what isn't in this sort of context. Drizzt and Ender aren't technically YA series but I'm pretty sure they're overwhelmingy read by teenagers, for example. It's all part of a broader attitude that doesn't take YA seriously, which is total bullshit in a post Harry Potter, Twilight, His Dark Materials and Hunger Games world.
posted by NoraReed at 9:52 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had to leave this uncompleted. Any "100 Best" that excludes Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren is very sadly lacking.

dhalgren was included, actually.
posted by jjoye at 9:52 PM on August 3, 2011


But nice to see Stand On Zanzibar in there. Damn but that book has proven darkly accurate. Muckers for instance.

It's why I always liked "speculative fiction" as a name for the genre, rather than "science fiction", but that's my personal preference. It's fun when the speculation hits close to the mark. YMMV.
posted by FormlessOne at 9:53 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did I get a special list that no one else can see? 'Cause I see a some of the books that you guys are complaining about not being there--The Sparrow, Dhalgren....
posted by thebrokedown at 9:53 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


AND THERE WAS NO FUCKING HARLAN ELLISON

Deathbird Stories is there.
posted by bobo123 at 9:53 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


AND THERE WAS NO FUCKING HARLAN ELLISON

fuccckkkk. DEATHBIRD STORIES. c'mon

I'm only on C and I'm used up half my choices. The Callahan Series got me through some rough stuff. that, Dune, Book of the New Sun....

No M John Harrison? wtf Elric but no Behold The Man?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:56 PM on August 3, 2011


My beef? No Andre Norton.
posted by Alles at 9:56 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there any book in the last 30 years more preposterously overrated than Ender's Game?

That would be Battlefield Earth. It is completely impossible to adequately underrate that book. Why it is even on such a list makes the entire thing questionable imho. And what is with all the Gaimen entries. Granted I love the guy but I don;t think he rates 6 or so entries on a top 100 of all time list.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:57 PM on August 3, 2011


1984 is now considered science fiction? Really? Must be the Newspeak definition of science fiction, I guess.
posted by Decani at 9:58 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That would be Battlefield Earth. It is completely impossible to adequately underrate that book. Why it is even on such a list makes the entire thing questionable imho. And what is with all the Gaimen entries. Granted I love the guy but I don;t think he rates 6 or so entries on a top 100 of all time list.

Gaimen is a modern darling, has a huge cult of personality and has a devoted horde of Internet followers. I used to be one of them, but really only Sandman should be up there.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:58 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is impossible. I'm up to Gormenghast and I'm tapped out. I'm in love with half this list. Fahrd and the Grey Mouser!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:59 PM on August 3, 2011


Yeah, Dhalgren's on there - I voted for it - but oddly enough just this afternoon I was talking to a young friend who reads a lot of SF in my living room. I started to hand him my copy of Dhalgren and then I just sort of stopped and thought, wait, this is perhaps more dated than I'm thinking it is, maybe it isn't something that a 22 year old would get? It was a defining book for me but nowadays maybe not so much? I got all kind of odd about it, which I would not have if it was Canticle for Leibowitz - also voted for, I mean, how can you not? - or something.

I gave him Vurt instead. Gods have pity on my soul.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:00 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good thing I got 10 picks, I'm picking Neuromancer 10 fucking times!!!
posted by Ad hominem at 10:01 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]



No M John Harrison?


I swear I saw Viriconium when I filled it out earlier in the week.

Hmmm. I hope that mefites read the comments here a little more exhaustively than they've displayed perusing this list! lol.
posted by smoke at 10:02 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Discworld series?

How??
posted by contessa at 10:02 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


1984 is now considered science fiction? Really? Must be the Newspeak definition of science fiction, I guess.

Why would it not be? This isn't snark either, I'm genuinely curious.
posted by jaduncan at 10:03 PM on August 3, 2011


Glad to see, though, that PJ Farmer's Riverworld Series was listed. I often think about those books.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:06 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I could pick Dhalgren, but I'm still confused.... Ok fuck it, Neuromancer 9 times and Dhalgren.

Oh crap Riverworld, took me 10 years to find a copy of Gods of Riverworld, even longer than it took me to find a copy of Chapterhouse: Dune.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:09 PM on August 3, 2011


Cryptonomicon ?? Wow, someone actually got to the end?

and yeah no Discworld series?
posted by the noob at 10:11 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


WTF. George Orwell's Animal Farm is not a fantasy or sci-fi novel! I mean, really??? there are people who read it who think it is?
posted by Bwithh at 10:16 PM on August 3, 2011


Wow, Stand on Zanzibar but not Shockwave Rider?
Dhalgren but not The Fall of the Towers?

There is TOO some Ellison, KokuRyu: Deathbird Stories.
posted by jet_silver at 10:17 PM on August 3, 2011


Discworld isn't on there as a series, but there are a couple Discworld books as options.

Also, not that either series should be top 10, but how is Codex Alera up there instead of The Dresden Files?
posted by tau_ceti at 10:18 PM on August 3, 2011


No Discworld series?

Going Postal and Small Gods were both in the list I saw. Small Gods is a fair choice, but almost anything from the first 10 or so of the series would have been stronger options.
posted by rh at 10:18 PM on August 3, 2011


Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is definitely more "fiction-about-science" than science fiction, but I clicked the button HARD for Anathem, which is one of the few SF books I've read where the author actually takes it upon themselves to teach you the freaking science during the course of the story. It makes the book about twice the length that it might've been if it were some standard Crichtonesque technobore airplane novel, but Stephenson's mathematical dialogues were so appealingly written that it actually inspired me to relearn higher math after having all of the enthusiasm for it beaten out of me by my AP classes in high school.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:19 PM on August 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Discworld is preemptively addressed: In cases where connections among series members are looser, we tended to list some of the more prominent titles in the run (e.g., Small Gods, a "Discworld" novel).

And no, don't read Solaris. Listen to it!
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 10:19 PM on August 3, 2011


Yeah, put me in the "'Enders Game' - HUH??!" crowd.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

I suspect that the core audience for Ender's Game are people who were once slight, timid, intellectual and badly bullied children who resonate deeply with a character who (1) killed his tormentor (but didn't know it, so can't feel guilty about it), (2) was found by an adult who appreciated his unique qualities and gave him a chance to excel in a new setting, and (3) did excel, and was hailed as a hero, (4) but in a way that caused a lot of personal angst to obsess about and give him a new, redemptive purpose in life. It may not be high on literary merit, but there's a certain class of abuse-surviving nerds with rescue complexes who are irrationally drawn to it.

I love that book.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:19 PM on August 3, 2011 [30 favorites]


This is list more like "the ten best sci fi books you could walk into barnes and noble and probably find on the shelves to buy". Its terribly front loaded toward recent books, decent ones to be sure, but the best ever written in sci fi? No.

Anyway, two votes for Zelazny (Lord of Light, Amber), two votes for Bester (Demolished Man, Stars My Destination)
posted by Chekhovian at 10:22 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


willnot: "They have Children of God, but not The Sparrow?"

The Sparrow is there. I voted for it.
posted by deborah at 10:23 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


A bit of a frustrating list. They have Frederick Pohl's Heeche Saga--I assume all of the books--as a single selection. The first book, Gateway, is easily one of my favorites, and I wouldn't hesitate to make that one of my choices. The following, what?, seven or so books? Not so great. Some are quite bad, in fact.
posted by zardoz at 10:23 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


philip-random: not to mention Stephen R Donaldson's Thomas Covenant crap

One of my best friends, J, recommended that series to me and leant me the first book. We've been reccing stuff to one another going on 20 years now; and our tastes in reading and viewing material overlap a scarily large amount of the time.

I called him after I'd read about ten pages.

J: Hello?
Me: Um... I want to be certain I understand this. The hero is a leper.
J: Yes!
Me: Unexpected! I'm not sure I'll be able to handle how upsetting this might be--I'm going to be in a *constant* state of suspense that he's injured an he doesn't know it!
J: Trust me! It's worth it!
Me: I do trust you!

I hang up, and keep reading.

Ten pages later:

J: Hello?
Me: Um.
J: What?
Me: He's a leper... and a rapist.
J: Trust me! It's worth it!
Me: J, the hero is a rapist.
J: Trust me!
Me: Does someone rip him apart, slowly, flaying his skin and then taking off fingers, and then forearms, maybe an eye, bottom lip, etc., as the book progresses?
J: Er--
Me: Because, if not, then no, nothing is worth reading a book in which the hero is a rapist.
J: But--
Me: The HERO. Is a RAPIST.
J: ...yeah. I hadn't thought about it that way.
Me: OBVIOUSLY.

That was, I think, the only time we disagreed on whether or not a book was worth reading.
posted by tzikeh at 10:25 PM on August 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


Well... that was random. Some good stuff listed Bester's two mind blowing books, Zelazny's Amber Chronicles and Solaris pop to mind as being very formative to me.

But, if they lumped all of Amber together they should do the same for Discworld, and honestly, as with all "best of" lists I think nothing from the last ten-twenty years should be included. Not because of quality, there is some great stuff int hat time frame, But I would argue that it is too soon to judge those works historically.

(and yeah, Battlefield Earth? great for a 14 year old, but even Piers Anthony is better then that and you quickly outgrow old Piers)

finally, I kind of despair that Ender's Game will win the poll, it has such a huge cult following. I don't think it is a bad book, but again, it has always struck me as an adolescent wish fulfillment book.

Chronicles of Amber
The Demolished Man
The Forever War
Hitchhikers Guide
I, Robot
The Man in the High Castle
Slaughterhouse Five
Solaris
The Stars My Destination
Small Gods

I could have picked about another 7-10 from the list and another 10+ not on the list. (no Dirk Gently?)
posted by edgeways at 10:25 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's some fucked up "we will list a series" vs. "we will list individual novels" vs "we will do both to fuck with you" right there.

Through steely discipline I got to Neuromancer before running out of ticks the first round.

List (from memory):
Dhalgren
Neuromancer
Demolished man
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel
Dune series
Book of the new sun
Mars trilogy
Sandman series
Fafhrd & grey mouser
... something else I can't remember, grumble.
posted by feckless at 10:26 PM on August 3, 2011


I'm refusing to vote because of the absence of:

The Earthsea books by LeGuin
The Dark is Rising books by Susan Cooper

But too round out my ten with eight they do have that I think are worthy:

The Sarantine Mosaic
The Gormenghast Trilogy
The Sandman series
Cat's Cradle
The Dune Chronicles
Contact
Neuromancer
Oryx and Crake
posted by neuromodulator at 10:26 PM on August 3, 2011


I'm in the last book of the Dan Simmons's Hyperion series. The first two are masterful. The second two are mostly good fun, but set in the same rich universe. The series is definitely on my list.

I'm glad so many people are gaga for LeGuin - The Dispossessed affected me more deeply than any book I've ever read. If you like LeGuin and haven't read Four Ways to Forgiveness yet, please do. It just might be the best of the Hainish series of books.

Also, you know, Vonnegut. The Sirens of Titan is great.

So after composing this post, I actually RTFA and see that most of my picks are mostly covered, except for Four Ways to Forgiveness. That definitely wins my "unappreciated genius" award.
posted by heathkit at 10:27 PM on August 3, 2011


damn it, "to" round out my ten
posted by neuromodulator at 10:28 PM on August 3, 2011


Pleasantly surprised to see Eyes of the Dragon in there, it was an attempt by Stephen King to write a fantasy novel with dragons and castles and evil wizards; it actually worked out quite well.

And for all of you complaining about Battlefield Earth being on the list... you should be happy that Atlas Shrugged isn't there. Although I'm sort of curious who would win in a battle between those two novels.
posted by bobo123 at 10:31 PM on August 3, 2011


If you do not vote for the Lensmen series you cannot be my friend.

Come on! It's pure pulp adventure that should be read at night under the covers with a flashlight while making "Bzzzzzzt! Pew pew pew! Varooooom!" noises.

But now that I reread my list I am sad to have excluded Alfred Bester, so maybe don't listen to me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:31 PM on August 3, 2011


The Yiddish Policemen's Union...???

Happy to see A Clockwork Orange. Great book. Slaughterhouse Five is a classic as well.

Snow Crash is what I think of when I think sci-fi, though.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:32 PM on August 3, 2011


Actually, after a bit more thought, if they're including comics I think not having Akira is inexcusable.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:32 PM on August 3, 2011


I think Sci Fi, as a genre, is trumped up too far, and Fantasy unjustly denigrated. Many of the Sci Fi classics read as children's books, while the Fantasy classics are more artful. IMHO, of course. Here is my ballot:

Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser
Elric
Conan
Lord of the Rings
A Song of Ice and Fire
The Culture novels
Snow Crash
Sirens of Titan
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
posted by gyp casino at 10:32 PM on August 3, 2011


Also, shit, The Stand is an amazing book but I don't really see how it fits in. It's horror.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:33 PM on August 3, 2011


Also, shit, The Stand is an amazing book but I don't really see how it fits in. It's horror.

It's about an epic battle between Good and Evil, with Good having almost equal resources to Evil. The villain is the same villain that appears in the two other King fantasy books on the list, and the whole thing has a pretty standard fantasy structure.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:34 PM on August 3, 2011


Ya but there's no elves.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:36 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


"A bit of a frustrating list. They have Frederick Pohl's Heeche Saga--I assume all of the books--as a single selection. The first book, Gateway, is easily one of my favorites, and I wouldn't hesitate to make that one of my choices. The following, what?, seven or so books? Not so great. Some are quite bad, in fact."

I feel the same way about Brin's Uplift Saga. Startide Rising is wonderful, but by book five or six the quality's not there anymore. And of Stephen Baxter's infinitymillion books the only ones they picked are the Manifold Trilogy? Not even close to his best work. No Greg Egan, L. Sprague de Camp, Cyril Kornbluth, Gardner Dozois, Poul Anderson, or many other authors I'd consider classic. It's a pretty random collection of titles.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:36 PM on August 3, 2011


A list of the mefites who don't have Neuromancer on their list would be interesting :-)

... as well as a list of those who got all the way through Cryptonomicom

(I loved them both!)
posted by Surfurrus at 10:37 PM on August 3, 2011


Only ten!? Fuck me with an ansible wrapped in a tesseract.

In no particular order if only because my brain will explode, and eliminating most majorly well known favorites and classics to offer something unique:

The Word for the World is Forest - Ursula K. LeGuin

Jem - Frederick Pohl

Kesrith: The Fading Sun - C. J. Cherryh

The Smoke Ring - Larry Niven

A Touch of Strange and/or More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon

Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy

Grass - Sherri S. Tepper

In The Days of the Comet - HG Wells (free public domain ebook here)

Blood Music - Greg Bear

Gateway - Frederick Pohl


(Insert a list 200 entries long here.)
posted by loquacious at 10:37 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also feel A Wrinkle In Time belongs on the list, although to be honest I can't recall it too clearly. I'm sort of placing trust in twelve year old neuromodulator's opinion (or however old I was).
posted by neuromodulator at 10:40 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


A list of the mefites who don't have Neuromancer on their list would be interesting :-)

It's probably about 15 on my list.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:41 PM on August 3, 2011


Man oh man, this thread is a KEEPER.
posted by zardoz at 10:41 PM on August 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Yiddish Policemen's Union...???

Makes sense, it is an alternate history book along the lines of "what would happen if the Nazis won World War 2" but I guess it is closer to the speculative definition of SF.

Also, shit, The Stand is an amazing book but I don't really see how it fits in. It's horror

The Stand is part of the Gunslinger/Eyes of the Dragon/Talisman/that other book I never read universe.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:43 PM on August 3, 2011


Yeah, "The Word for World Is Forest" is incredible. That was the first LeGuin book I ever read, in Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions collection. It was truly haunting.

In response to BitterOldPunk, I didn't vote for the Lensman series, but would have voted for the Skylark series in a heartbeat. Reading those books made for one hellava summer back around age eleven.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:43 PM on August 3, 2011


The Genocides recently blew my mind.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:45 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


There must be something wrong with my browser - cause the whole Bruce Sterling Shaper/Mechanist Schismatrix series seems to missing. And that can't be right - there must be a system glich. Or China has hacked the site.

Right?
posted by helmutdog at 10:47 PM on August 3, 2011


I also feel A Wrinkle In Time belongs on the list,

absolutely. a kid's book, no argument. But it was the first serious sci-fi I ever stumbled upon. I was hooked. For life.

... even if I can only come up with nine titles from the list ...

A list of the mefites who don't have Neuromancer on their list would be interesting :-)

It didn't make mine. I've always bowed to the mind behind Neuromancer, but not the author ... on that one at least. Count Zero's a way better read.
posted by philip-random at 10:48 PM on August 3, 2011


The Stand is part of the Gunslinger/Eyes of the Dragon/Talisman/that other book I never read universe.

I guess so. I haven't read those, but Stephen King has a lot of books where they share something supernatural but they're not really sets or grouped together.

Desperation, for example, has phrases and other minor things that are also used in other books as well as significant overlap with The Regulators.

I don't know that these kinds of recyclings mean much besides Stephen King being creepy and super productive.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:52 PM on August 3, 2011


A Wrinkle in Time is on my multi-dimensional not really a top ten top ten list. Maybe even Narnia and other so-called young adult fiction. Though I'm not sure what the Silmarillion or LoTR is doing on there, and why Robert Lynn Aspirin's Sanctuary isn't.

There's a lot of stuff on my above top ten that's not on the NPR list, and there's a lot of stuff I'd actually have to include.

I mean, almost everyone's list goes something like Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Dick, Niven, Pohl or something like that. I can't not include Huxley or Vonnegut or Orwell's 1984. Or Yevgeny Zamyatin's We. The entire 2001 series is great, so is the Foundation series. I love Dune, too. I like most of the cyberpunk/mirrorshades stuff, though it's at once dating itself badly and all too prescient. I even like me some Heinlein as cheesy at it is. Ellison is marvelous if brief.

A top ten is nearly impossible. Such hubris, but I approve.
posted by loquacious at 10:52 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]



I went with: I put Pattern Recognition in over Neuromancer on basis of their respective trilogies; it's sort of unfair because the Bigend books were written twenty years after The Sprawl ones but the way in which they highlight the futurity of our present (or something dangerously close) stuck with me. The rest of my choices, I suspect, are pretty straightforward.
posted by heeeraldo at 10:53 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Stand is part of the Gunslinger/Eyes of the Dragon/Talisman/that other book I never read universe.

I guess so. I haven't read those, but Stephen King has a lot of books where they share something supernatural but they're not really sets or grouped together.

Desperation, for example, has phrases and other minor things that are also used in other books as well as significant overlap with The Regulators.

I don't know that these kinds of recyclings mean much besides Stephen King being creepy and super productive.


It's very explicit. I don't want to get into it for fear of spoilers. Pretty much every King book is part of The Dark Tower universe in some form, but all the books I mentioned (plus The Talisman) are VERY closely linked. Think of it like Moorcock's Multiverse.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:55 PM on August 3, 2011


Ah. After reading the wikipedia article I guess that King wanted to redo The Lord of the Rings in a modern American setting so I'll believe him that it's fantasy.

FOR FUCK'S SAKE, though, I read through the synopsis for Desperation and I am going to be freaked the fuck out all night. That is one scary fucking book. Damn.

(Oh and if you didn't vote for LOTR you are whack.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:00 PM on August 3, 2011


C. J. Cherryh is due for a critical reappraisal, isn't she? I was always put off by the lurid covers of her books (I know, I know). Then I somoehow found myself marooned for a long weekend with nothing to read but a friend's copy of Downbelow Station, and I was a convert.

I have dim memories of reading a novel, by her I think, that was set on a planet where every plant and animal could tune into your head and blast you with pure, mind-curdling fear. The protagonist was a courier who delivered material between the several huddled human settlements, and much of the book was about his relationship with his mount, a native horse-like creature that could, if properly mentally finessed, keep the madness away. I may be confused about the details, it's been decades since I read it. But it was one of the strangest and most effortlessly creepy novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:01 PM on August 3, 2011


FOR FUCK'S SAKE, though, I read through the synopsis for Desperation and I am going to be freaked the fuck out all night. That is one scary fucking book. Damn.

It's less scary if you actually read it.
Do I vote for the lesser known favorites like Bridge of Birds and Virconium?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:02 PM on August 3, 2011


The absence of LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy is unforgivable. Together with the LOTR and Narnia, it fairly defines "high fantasy". Oh wait, those other two weren't on the list either? Pffft...
posted by Roachbeard at 11:08 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel the same way about Brin's Uplift Saga

Brin has some amazing stories (Uplift, Earth, Kiln People), but time and time again the endings to his stories frustrate me. It feels like he is writing and then suddenly realizes, "oh, hey I gotta finish this" and pulls out some fantastical Deus ex machina. If he would just finish it more in line with the rest of the story I would sing his praises high and low. As it is the praise is qualified
posted by edgeways at 11:08 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish I could really get into fiction - I chose all the PKD books I've read because... well, I like him. His endings leave me feeling a little empty, however. HHGTTG, of course.

Neuromancer. Umm... Snow Crash.

They have Watchmen, I didn't really like it that much, but if they'd had Invisbles, I'd've voted for it.

I envy people who can get into fiction. I really do.

I want to read We and Solaris. Those are the other two I plan to read someday.

For now I'll stick with my popular physics books. *sigh*
posted by symbioid at 11:09 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh wait, those other two weren't on the list either?

LOTR is indeed on there.

read carefully people.
posted by edgeways at 11:11 PM on August 3, 2011


The Sheep Look Up is missing. Clearly the list is b0rked.
posted by flabdablet at 11:13 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


LOTR is indeed on there.

shouldn't be. it's about as sci-fi as The Bible.
posted by philip-random at 11:13 PM on August 3, 2011


It's less scary if you actually read it.

I read Desperation when I was home sick from middle school with a fever of 102. Good parenting, parents. It still freaks me the hell out. The bit with the washing machines...
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:15 PM on August 3, 2011


That's a good point about Brin, edgeways. A lot of his fiction is afflicted with gigantism, which might even be editorially mandated these days. He'd be better off with fewer pages, and if there was less room to ramble it might even be easier for him to come up with endings that don't involve deus ex machina.

symbioid, have you heard about the new english translation of Solaris? Apparently it's much better than the previous version, but it's only available as an audiobook right now.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:16 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's been a while since I read The Regulators/Desperation but I remember they were pretty lackluster os I never bothered to re-read them, I will have to pick them up again.

But since this is now a Stephen King thread, his use of characters appearing in different books, in different periods of their lives (did you know Jack from The Talisman appears in The Tommyknockers?) is an example of in depth characterization pioneered by Honore de Balzac, La Pere Goriot contains 20+ characters that would appear in later works. Or at least that's what they told me in college.

It is a bit baffling that they could pick The Stand but not The Long Walk or The Running Man.

I want to read We

We is very good, after you read it you should read B.F. Skinner's SF novel Walden Two.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:19 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where the 100 titles listed came from.

"No young-adult or children's titles, please. We plan to devote a poll to YA next summer."

Putting aside my rant on both the good and the bad of having a category called "YA," that does explain the lack of the Narnia and Potter and Wrinkle series, I bet. So we'll have to wait for next summer.

I'd be curious to see the first, full list was, and compare it to the couple hundred that are on this ballot, which was created by a "panel of experts" who narrowed down the complete list of entries submitted.
posted by tzikeh at 11:20 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Ender's Game makes the list, I'm going to punch some nerds.

My votes:

Dhalgren
Lord of the Rings
Thomas Covenant
Neuromancer
Illuminatus!
Stranger In A Strange Land
Chronicles of Amber
Watchmen
Sandman
Slaughter-House Five
posted by empath at 11:21 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Augh - not "the 100 titles" - "the titles."

(Also I wrote "leant" instead of "lent" in my earlier comment. Bah.)
posted by tzikeh at 11:22 PM on August 3, 2011


Oh wait, scratch Amber, replace with Dune.
posted by empath at 11:22 PM on August 3, 2011


If anyone hear likes fantasy and hasn't read The Saratine Mosaic I'd like to strongly recommend it. The first book is okay but the second book is just beautiful.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:23 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kevin Street, at first I didn't think so, but upon further reflection, I might have - wasn't the original translation done via Polish->French-> English or something like that?
posted by symbioid at 11:23 PM on August 3, 2011


What about Have Spacesuit, Will Travel? That was required reading in Grade 8
posted by KokuRyu at 11:24 PM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


shouldn't be. it's about as sci-fi as The Bible.


I guess that is why it is called: "Vote For Top-100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Titles". Might be a valid argument to spilt them off and have 100 o each, but that ain't this link.

And Dune is about the only one I would like to see separated from the series. I'd vote for the book, but not the series.
posted by edgeways at 11:24 PM on August 3, 2011


"No young-adult or children's titles, please. We plan to devote a poll to YA next summer."

But Eyes of the Dragon is YA....

finally voted:

Bridge of Birds
Dark Tower
Book of the New Sun
Dune
Callahan
Virconium
Elric
Cat's Cradle
Deathbird Stories
Sandman
Lord Of Light
Man In The High Castle
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:26 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given the background of the panelists, I'm really disappointed that they didn't include YA. That ghettoizes the whole 'genre'.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:26 PM on August 3, 2011


I really wish Fredric Brown could have somehow been included. (I know, short, short stories... but they rock)
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:28 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It looks like it was NPR's choice to split YA from the voting, not the panelists'. NPR prohibited people from suggesting YA novels in the original poll (the call for nominees).
posted by tzikeh at 11:28 PM on August 3, 2011


Dhalgren is one of those books you give a friend - and watch it change their life.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 11:34 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one here disappointed that John Myers Myers' Silverlock didn't make the list? I hope not.
posted by sardonyx at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was... Harder than I expected it to be. I went in with an expectation that I could just breeze past most of the titles, select the important ones and get out...

...then I ran out of votes. After shuffling votes between books, I ended up with:

The Culture Series
The Dispossessed -- my first vote, and the one with the highest chance of being my sci-fi recommendation to anyone.
Illuminatus!
The Martian Chronicles -- Bradbury needs to be on the list.
Memory and Dream -- This is my iffiest pick, as it got my Guy Gavriel Kay vote. In the end, it's because De Lint is interesting enough to put in, and CRTC regulations require that I include some cancon.
Perdido Street Station
The Princess Bride -- In part because it's great. In part because I wanted a 'light' book on the list. In part because I disagree with the 'no YA content' choice.
A Song of Ice and Fire
Watchmen
We

My runners-up were:
Book of the New Sun
Tigana -- Over the Sarantine mosaic because it's self-contained.
Neuromancer
Grass
The Diamond Age
Dune
The Mars Trilogy
Forever War
House of Leaves
And it pained me to not vote for Lem, Vonnegut, C.j. Cherryh or Robin Hobb.

I thought this would be easy, and it ended up taking me 2 hours and reminding me that there were books that I need to get around to reading. Also, I've never read Dhalgren, but have added it to the crazy-long list of things I need to read before I die.
posted by frimble at 11:42 PM on August 3, 2011


(My second pick, after The Dispossessed was the Strugatsky brothers, but they weren't on the list. An understandable shame.)
posted by frimble at 11:44 PM on August 3, 2011


found myself wondering which authors showed up most often on this list and decided to find out. here's everyone with at least 3 entries, in case anyone else happens to find it interesting:

heinlein - 6
gaiman, stephenson, dick - 5
asimov, clarke, cherryh, bradbury, mieville, butler - 4
king, leguin, vonnegut, gibson, niven, kay - 3
posted by jjoye at 11:45 PM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks Metafilter.

I had only read Bridge of Birds from a stack of zip-tied photocopies left behind in a guest house in Croatia. I loved that book, but had no idea who the author was, and I had forgotten the title. I was starting to think I had dreamed the whole thing.

I just ordered it plus Eight Skilled gentlemen, for about $12 new each. The Story of The Stone is over $50 new in paperback, and the used copies are listed as "fair" and "good". Is the book good enough for the price, or is this one of those Amazon pricing artifacts?
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 11:46 PM on August 3, 2011


So Xanth is an adult series?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:48 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Vance.
posted by jamjam at 11:50 PM on August 3, 2011


No J.G. Ballard? This is a silly list.
posted by CCBC at 11:50 PM on August 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


symbioid: "...at first I didn't think so, but upon further reflection, I might have - wasn't the original translation done via Polish->French-> English or something like that?"

Yeah, that's the most common version of Solaris. Lem hated it.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:54 PM on August 3, 2011


It may not be high on literary merit, but there's a certain class of abuse-surviving nerds with rescue complexes who are irrationally drawn to it.

I'm an abuse-surviving, badly bullied nerd who found it cheap and exploitive, and just vile morally.
posted by empath at 11:54 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


They made me chose between Asimov's Foundation Triology and The Caves of Steel - I wish they had just put down "Asimov's Robot-Foundation Universe", and it would have covered it all. As it is, there is some serious Asimov vote-splitting going on. A lot of other authors just had a whole series listed.

Seriously, I found it hard to whittle my choices down to 10, but I did end up chosing not necessarily favorites (I have some very old and beloved friends whom I recognise are not the pinacle of the genre), but the novels that really impressed me when I read them, or which were simply so influential on me and the whole genre (ie Asimov) that no one can ignore them. Zamiatin's We for sure - both astounding and so very influential. Probably should have picked 1984 over The Moon is a harsh Mistress, but I always felt like that was more of a political book than a SF book, and The Moon is such a perfect example of great mid-century SF.

My dark horse runners? Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverburg. Seriously underated novel, with so many fascinating layers. Also, The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge - blew me away when I finally read it this year.
posted by jb at 12:09 AM on August 4, 2011


Dhalgren is one of those books you give a friend - and watch it change their life.

I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right? And when I say "unreadably" what I mean is "not actually unreadable, because I finished it, but so close to unreadable that I regret the hours of my life I'll never get back." Just dull, overwrought, meandering, etc.

But given how many people on the internet seem to love it, maybe I should give it another chance?
posted by louie at 12:15 AM on August 4, 2011


so much love here for 2 of my 3 favorite sf writers (delany, leguin) but none for octavia butler? metafilter, i am disappoint.
posted by jjoye at 12:17 AM on August 4, 2011


The Curse of Chalion is the Bujold gateway drug.
posted by jb at 12:17 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite recent sci-fi novel is Ian McDonald's Desolation Road. Firefly meets 100 Years of Solitude.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:20 AM on August 4, 2011


[x] I would like to complain about this poll.

This whole series for some, single books for others thing confuses me, and I think there's several older series that would be categorized YA if published today. I am impressed at the mix of classics, high brow and low brow works - with a few exceptions this is an excellent reading list.

I'm also surprised Norstrilia's on here. I love Cordwainer Smith's short stories, but the novel wouldn't go on my top ten list. I'm also kinda baffed over choosing Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide over Vacuum Flowers.

And as jamjam points out, there's a criminal lack of Jack Vance.
posted by dragoon at 12:31 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, this post is like a black hole of justinian bait. So many comments made my eyes hurt! Why did you post this? Whyyyyyyyyyyy? Can't... stop... myself....

strangely stunted trees: On the other hand, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun is simply one of the greatest literary works in any genre over the same period, and it's sort of sad it isn't held in much higher popular regard within SF fandom

Wolfe's corpus in general and the Sun cycle in particular are widely considered Science Fiction's greatest literary works. I don't know in how much higher regard science fiction fandom could possibly hold it. It's like saying that it is sad that James Joyce isn't held in higher regard among literary types.

decani: 1984 is now considered science fiction? Really? Must be the Newspeak definition of science fiction, I guess.

1984 has pretty much always been considered science fiction and rightly so. What reasonable definition of science fiction would exclude it? 1984 and Brave New World are considered the prototypical science fiction dystopias.

philip-random: Not really. I've always felt that sci-fi was an over-regarded genre

Over-regarded? By whom?!? Science fiction has long been held to be pulp escapism at best and, more commonly, the pseudo-literature of pimply faced maladjusted teenage boys. It is only very, very recently that this has begun to change. The only way science fiction could, historically, be considered over-regarded is if you think science fiction is actually some sort of tool of the devil destined to bring about a literal hell on earth. All that said; Your list being comprised of Dune and Ender's Game does not give one confidence as to your judgment on this matter.

strange interlue: Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is definitely more "fiction-about-science" than science fiction

Except for, you know, the immortal alchemist who carries around the philosopher's stone and uses it to bring people back from the dead.

BitterOldPunk: C. J. Cherryh is due for a critical reappraisal, isn't she?

While not on the level of Wolfe, Cherryh has always been very highly regarded, so she doesn't need to be re-appraised. In fact, it is my opinion (humble or otherwise) that Cherryh should be the next pick for SFWA Grandmaster. I've felt that way for at least a decade, and she deserves it. This suggestion was met with widespread agreement when I made it a while back on rec.arts.sf.written or rec.arts.sf.fandom.

tzikeh: The HERO. Is a RAPIST. (re: Thomas Covenant)

This one really would require more of an essay but suffice it to say that it is not that simple. Short version: My favored reading of the first Covenant trilogy is that the entire thing exists, as Covenant is convinced, in a fever dream or hallucination while Covenant lies injured or comatose. Covenant is no more a rapist than I am a murderer because I killed somebody in a dream once. Even were we to leave that aside, things aren't as simple as you make them out. Redemption is a driving force behind lots of literature.

Also, applying the term "hero" to Thomas Covenant is a great misunderstanding of the books. He is not a hero and never claims to be; in point of fact he vehemently denies he is a hero or that The Land exists at all. And, as I said, my favored reading of the first trilogy agrees with him.

In any case, Covenant is (along with Shannara) the very foundation of the modern fantasy genre so it can't really be dismissed. As much as one might like to dismiss Terry Brooks. And, yeah, Donaldson uses the word "clench" a lot. He isn't going to surpass Nabokov as a prose stylist.

Now, everyone stop posting in this thread so that my brain doesn't explode.
posted by Justinian at 12:41 AM on August 4, 2011 [14 favorites]


No! People are still posting!

My favorite recent sci-fi novel is Ian McDonald's Desolation Road.

Desolation Road is more than 20 years old. It doesn't even post-date cyberpunk!
posted by Justinian at 12:43 AM on August 4, 2011



My favorite recent sci-fi novel is Ian McDonald's Desolation Road.

Desolation Road is more than 20 years old. It doesn't even post-date cyberpunk!


'Recent' = newer than the 70s/80s weird sci-fi I usually read. But thanks.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:45 AM on August 4, 2011


Covenant is no more a rapist than I am a murderer because I killed somebody in a dream once.

One of the themes in the book is whether we must be moral in a world which may not be real.
posted by empath at 12:47 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


So Xanth is an adult series?

Sure! Don't you remember that bit in Source of Magic when Bink is riding the hot lady centaur and has to grab her bountiful tits to keep from falling off, and procedes to get very hot and bothered?
posted by fight or flight at 12:49 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Didn't vote because too many books were missing. Also because your favourite sci-fi and fantasy authors suck.
posted by daniel_charms at 12:49 AM on August 4, 2011


One of the themes in the book is whether we must be moral in a world which may not be real.

Yes, it is. Like I said the question of Covenant's moral culpability is not something one can some up in a bumper sticker like "THE HERO IS A RAPIST".
posted by Justinian at 12:51 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Weird to see Watchmen and Sandman on there and not other skiffy-ish comic books like The Invisibles or Transmetropolitan. The lack of any Morrison at all is a shame considering he's thrown the likes of We3, The Filth, Flex Mentallo and Seaguy at us over the years.

I tried the Thomas Covenant stuff when I was a kid after I shot through all the Arthur C Clarke in the school library. I couldn't get into it at thirteen and since my teenage self was right about beads as a fashion accessory I'm going to trust her on Thomas Covenant.

No Peter Watts! No Jeff Vandermeer! (City of Saints and Madmen is a masterpiece.) The Algebraist (Banks dumping a bunch of fun ideas that wouldn't fit into the Culture universe into a fun-to-read but patchy story) merits its own entry but Whit, Feersum Endjinn, The Bridge and The Wasp Factory don't? The Culture books as a series but the Discworld books represented by one from the end of the crap era and one from Pratchett's "every damn one of these is actually a great book on its own merits and not just 'a good Discworld book' with the possible exception of Monstrous Regiment" period? Noooo!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:52 AM on August 4, 2011


one can some up

Sum up, not some up. Idiot.
posted by Justinian at 12:53 AM on August 4, 2011


Weird to see Watchmen and Sandman on there and not other skiffy-ish comic books like The Invisibles or Transmetropolitan.

I felt the lack of The Invisibles as well, and decided that the best way to make up for it was to vote for both Watchmen and Illuminatus!. Though I checked hopefully for it, I know that Morrison doesn't have the level of name recognition of Gaiman or Moore, and tempered my disappointment accordingly.
posted by frimble at 12:59 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Fred Brown (you got here first, bighappyfunhouse) and no JG Ballard . . . oh well, I didn't make the list.
posted by Nabubrush at 1:03 AM on August 4, 2011


Is there any book in the last 30 years more preposterously overrated than Ender's Game?

No, not really. I find it kind of wierd that so many people on MeFi can get so exercised about how BAD AND WRONG Heinlein is and enjoying him is the sign of a mind mired in CREEPY ADOLESCENT FUCKED UP FANTASIES but Enders came usually gets uncritical adulation.


C. J. Cherryh is due for a critical reappraisal, isn't she?

For me, personally, she's an anti-adolescent-power-trip kind of author. I knew she was a Big Name when I picked up a bunch of her stuff around at 19, 20-ish, and found it pretty 'meh'. I've been re-reading the same books (Downbelow Station, Heavy Time, Cuckoo's Egg, Rimrunners) and really, really enjoyed them; I honestly think there's simply an element of age, maturity, life experience (having had more relationships, marrying, having kids) that cause me to enjoy her more; yes, she has plenty of good sci-fi, but she's also writing a lot about characters and the human condition in a way I simply wasn't equipped to appreciate at 19.

Given the background of the panelists, I'm really disappointed that they didn't include YA. That ghettoizes the whole 'genre'.

It's also complete bullshit when you have shallow wankfodder like Ender's Game, but not Dark Materials or Narnia.
posted by rodgerd at 1:32 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My 10:

A Canticle for Leibowitz
Man in High Castle
Hyperion Cantos
The Dispossessed
Dune Chronicles
The Stars My Destination
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Foundation Trilogy
More Than Human
A Fire Upon the Deep

A few that I was thinking of including:

The Windup Girl
Old Man's War
The Thrawn Trilogy
The Diamond Age


One that I was looking for but wasn't on the list: Kate Wilhelm's Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. Wanted to vote for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by PKD, but High Castle will do. Interesting that they included Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy on there...interesting in a good way, that's one series, along with The Hyperion Cantos and Donaldson's The Gap Cycle, that I reread every couple of years--good fun, brain candy, written well, and set in the Star Wars universe.
posted by snwod at 1:34 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


pfft i don't even read fiction *pulls out this thing that is like a phonebook about airplanes/trains and owls*
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:37 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having to choose between dropping Difference Engine and Eyre Affair to fit Neuromancer hurt.

(Also looking at all the Stephenson on the list reminds me that there is serious competition for Ender's Game in the overrated stakes...)
posted by rodgerd at 1:39 AM on August 4, 2011


You… uh… can totally vote more than once. Just sayin'.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:52 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Really glad to see Riddley Walker on here -- it's not nearly as well-known as it deserves to be. One of my top ten books, I'd say -- a genuinely great novel.
posted by bokane at 1:57 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I couldn't ever pick a top ten, but pulling out of my hat the titles of some really great sci-fi and fantasy that deeply moved me (and/or that I read recently and really enjoyed):

Endymion/Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, all his other books I listed in my earlier comment, and Batman RIP, Seven Soldiers, Final Crisis, Animal Man and All-Star Superman
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis
Use of Weapons and Whit by Iain Banks
The City and the City and The Scar by China Miéville
Pollen by Jeff Noon (I've never found another writer who reads so much like music)
Basically all of Jeff Vandermeer's output since City of Saints and Madmen: Shriek, Finch, The Third Bear, The Situation and a dozen other short stories
The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston
1984 because it was almost the first "adult" book I read as a kid, and having been raised on Narnia it made quite an impression and left me with a deep love for authoritarian creepiness and jagged as fuck prose.

My popcorn authors, who don't really make high art but whom I love to read and re-read in bed or on the tube or any other place where I might be yanked out of the page at any moment and so don't want to be attempting to digest profundity: Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffrey, Stephenie Meyer (eat me!), Brian Vaughan and Brian Bendis.

My to-read list is as long as eight people's arms but from it I'm going to pluck either Charles Stross' Atrocity Archives or Miéville's Embassytown next.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:57 AM on August 4, 2011


To repeat what others have said:

No J.G.Ballard...what the hell?
Watership Down? What the hell?

But I still voted for Watership Down...
posted by Jimbob at 2:04 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


for serious, though, no Borges?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:07 AM on August 4, 2011


for serious, though, no Borges?

I can't tell if you're serious or not. Yeah, Solaris is on the list as a token to non-Englsh SF (along with Verne and We) but, really, this is a list of works which are solidly in the English SF genre; Borges doesn't fit in the same way. Might as well put Gabriel Garcia Marquez in there at that point.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, for my part I voted for Gene Wolfe 10 times and called it a day.
posted by Justinian at 2:17 AM on August 4, 2011


i actually was serious

incidentally is it embarrassing to have found marquez's stuff kind of boring
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:39 AM on August 4, 2011


I'm going to pluck either Charles Stross' Atrocity Archives

Do this. I've spent the last little while reading through pretty much everything (metafilter's own) Stross has written. And while I like it all, the Laundry series seem to perfectly fit his style as an author.
posted by markr at 2:40 AM on August 4, 2011


No one else mentioning the Vorkosigan Saga? The first eleven novels (through A Civil Campaign) are all superb - although Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn don't measure up*. That said, The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls by the same author are even better (The Hallowed Hunt suffers from being Godfather Part III - a pretty good book in its own right but when you have the first two to compare it to it doesn't measure up).

* The (legal) link I provided was to omnibus editions - two novels per volume. Diplomatic Immunity is the second volume of Miles, Mutants, and Microbes - the first part is the stand alone Falling Free, her only hard SF novel. And it misses out Memory which is pivotal and fits before Miles In Love.
posted by Francis at 2:45 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Windup Girl
posted by Wolof at 3:42 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wish I could have seen some Keith Laumer and Robert F. Sheckley.
posted by insulglass at 4:02 AM on August 4, 2011


for serious though, no Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

for seriouser though, no Neverness? or even the Chung Kuo series, as I still reckon it's one of the scenarios most likely to come to pass (apparently it is getting a re-release as a 20 volume series with > 500,000 words of new content, this is not going to be good for the stability of my to-read pile)...

I'd of found it easier to pick 10 to exclude.
posted by titus-g at 4:16 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the list is way overbroad. I'd separate it out into two genres, maybe three - Fantasy, Horror and SF. Horror should be a hefty subset of Fantasy, perhaps.

Also, pick an exemplar of the series rather than the series, unless it's designed to be a single tale told in multiple volumes. Small Gods and Neuromancer, or The Lord of the Rings and Baroque Cycle (which is really historical fiction, and doesn't need to be on this list at all, except for Enoch Root, which makes it fantasy, sorta, and a gold isotope, which makes it SF, sorta. Just saying, if this book is on the list, a lot of Toni Morrison should be on the list, too.)

- Stross' best work is Accellerando, and "A Colder War" as a standalone short story. Atrocity Archives takes A Colder War too far, is poorly written, diminishes its source material, and is what a talented author does to pay the bills and get free drinks at cons between real novels. That they missed Accellerando, a touchstone of modern post-singularity SF, puts the entire list into question.

- It makes me angry that the City and the City is even on the list. It's a happy, pat ending, an oversimple and not very well thought out attempt at world building, and mildly insulting to Eastern European cities in much the same way mystery authors writing about smalltown New England without actually having ever been to a small town in New England. On the back of the mindblowing genius of Perdido Street Station and Embassytown, it simply needs to be forgotten as a failed attempt to reign in the author's explosive imagination to market him to "slipstream" audiences.

I kind of lost interest in the checkboxes after that.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:40 AM on August 4, 2011


Was gearing myself up to whine "NO LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA???", assuming NPR would judge it to be too recent and "fluffy" to be on the list, but there it was! FUCK YES!

Man, what a fucking great, swashbuckley, caper-heavy, fun-as-hell book. I'm convinced it would be a bestseller if it was placed on the regular Fiction shelves and didn't have the shittiest paperback cover of all time.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:07 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


It makes me angry that the City and the City is even on the list. It's a happy, pat ending, an oversimple and not very well thought out attempt at world building, and mildly insulting to Eastern European cities in much the same way mystery authors writing about smalltown New England without actually having ever been to a small town in New England. On the back of the mindblowing genius of Perdido Street Station and Embassytown, it simply needs to be forgotten as a failed attempt to reign in the author's explosive imagination to market him to "slipstream" audiences.

Hi, I'm the other citizen of Earth who likes Mieville but doesn't like The City and the City, I'm so glad I've found you! I think our critiques are pretty different but it's a strangely overrated novel given how pat it is and how thin much of the worldbuilding.

That list isn't as bad as most other lists, but it sure skews white, male and contemporary, doesn't it? I'd almost rather pick favorite authors and have a wider range - like, Le Guin and Butler are two of my favorites, but for Always Coming Home and the Lilith's Brood books, and Delany for Neveryona and Stars In My Pocket--Dhalgren is amazing, but I'm just not drawn to it as much. (And the list skews English-language, but there isn't that much translated SF and it's an English-language paper in a very monolingual society, so that seems like a lesser flaw.) Nice to see ol' Joanna Russ finally getting a look-in.

If I had to evaluate the list, I'd say that it's a much smarter and better-faith effort that most of them, since at least there's some gestures toward including women writers and writers of color.

Except that Bridge of Birds is really racist, for crying out loud. (It's funny, it has sweet parts, it was mindblowing to me at age 10 - China, a developed imperial power! Wow! - but it's not science fiction for one thing and it's racist and hated by all the Chinese-American fans I've ever met.)

Not really. I've always felt that sci-fi was an over-regarded genre. That said and in no particular order ... three titles spring instantly to mind:

Dune
3 Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Ender's Game


Look, if those are the absolute best science fiction novels you've ever encountered, no wonder you think SF is over-rated. 3 Stigmata is pretty good, Dune is....very large, and obviously memorable and moving to a lot of people, Ender's Game is (except for the creepy, creepy love of child-suffering that's a huge theme in Card's work) a great book to encounter when you're 12, and lots of people love it for the intensity of their first experience reading it. It's not that they're godawful books, but there's a lot more complex and interesting work out there.

Science fiction doesn't generally set out to do the same things as, say, a Jane Austen novel (although there's some overlap with Dickens, I think) or Norman Mailer, or your average Margaret Atwood, or Henry James. (Delany has written some really interesting essays on language and genre.) Dhalgren isn't just a failed Pynchon novel, for example; The Scar isn't aiming to be like Stendahl and failing through lack of charactertization. There are lots of people for whom what science fiction does isn't very interesting. (I'm actually one of them in many respects, which is why I like so little good-quality popular SF. I'm quite happy with Henry James in space, though.)
posted by Frowner at 5:11 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except that Bridge of Birds is really racist,

I would be interested to hear more about this opinion.
posted by smoke at 5:14 AM on August 4, 2011


I'm glad I'm not the only one who threw in a vote for Grass, which hits Tepper's strongest themes without resorting to her repeated use of aliens as judgement for humanity's ecological sins. Gate to Women's Country was also on the list. I find it a little bit too wrapped up in post-apocalyptic polemics, but it's a worthy read once you get past the idea that someone in a novel must serve as an author's mouthpiece.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:27 AM on August 4, 2011


I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

I did too, but shortly after reading it, I was listening to The Killers' All These Things That I've Done and realized the lyrics fit perfectly as a reference to Dhalgren's protagonist. I'm sure it's unintentional, but still, I now can't hear the song without thinking of Dhalgren, so I have kind of a soft spot for the book.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:28 AM on August 4, 2011


Upthread there is a lot of "Hurf Durf Test of Time" stuff that I really don't understand. There is no point in time where someone can say "OK, there, now it's been X number of years and the book is still read by Y number of people, so it passes." Take Gormenghast - there is a book that has most assuredly *not* withstood the test of time. It's still a great book, but under appreciated, under read, and only appeals to a specific audience.

On the flip side are Asimov, Heinlein, etc. Their works were influential, great, powerful, whatever, at the time they were written... but now they mostly instill hokey old-timey, anti-cold-war, small town values through the clicking of transistor circuits. In a word, dated. They might have been great one day, but in another few generations, people might not have the correct frame of reference to stomach them.

Seriously, my belief is that for a lot of nerds, when it comes to making lists of what "the best" book, movie, videogame, etc, is, they frequently judge them based on nostalgia, and not on actual merit. If you indeed do spend most of your time reading literature from +30 years ago, bravo. But if you think you can have a list of "best" where Tolkien doesn't rub shoulders with Pratchett, or Asimov with Stephenson, then you are not participating in the genre.
posted by rebent at 5:37 AM on August 4, 2011


I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

I didn't actually finish Dhalgren, but it's still one of my favorite books of all time.
posted by empath at 5:38 AM on August 4, 2011


BitterOldPunk, you're probably thinking of The Faded Sun Trilogy, although you skewed it a tad.

I haven't checked the list yet, but CJ Cherryh and Neal Stephenson are my favorites (though I didn't see Diamond Age mentioned in the thread - damn I love that book). Also glad to see someone mention Ubik. Did anyone mention Jack Chalker? Ten seems too little.
Arrgh, now I'm late for work.
posted by Glinn at 5:39 AM on August 4, 2011


Their works were influential, great, powerful, whatever, at the time they were written... but now they mostly instill hokey old-timey, anti-cold-war, small town values through the clicking of transistor circuits.

Well, not always.
posted by empath at 5:43 AM on August 4, 2011


ake Gormenghast - there is a book that has most assuredly *not* withstood the test of time. It's still a great book, but under appreciated, under read, and only appeals to a specific audience.


"A writer's ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years' time and for one reader in a hundred years' time." - Arthur Koestler (ironically, imho, cause Darkness at Noon is so very much an artefact of its time in a negative way, imho).

That's what the test of time means. For me, it also means seminal to the genre, ground-breaking in some respects, surprisingly contemporaneous in some cases.

Bester's first two clearly make that grade - The Demolished Man is astonishingly contemporary. Leiber's Fafrhd and The Grey Mouser is essentially exactly the same as Locke Lamora - except in the main better written, punchier, and circa fifty years older. Octavia Butler, arguably The Black Company, LeGuin. There are dozens.

But when you chuck in a bunch of bestsellers from the last ten years, the critical field lacks the distance required - and the knowledge of where the genre will go - to make those calls convincingly. Further, the idea that the last fifteen years has produced more seminal fantasy that the fifty before that is... bold. Very bold.
posted by smoke at 5:48 AM on August 4, 2011


I don't feel qualified to vote on the top 100 books. I am more than comfortable coming up with a list of books that I adored, either they changed the way I saw the world, or the way I saw myself. I realize that doesn't make for quite as much "Your favorite [x] sucks" conversations, but here we go.

The Sparrow (I've given away 25 copies as gifts)
The Diamond Age
Vurt
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Foundation
Rendezvous with Rama
The Postman
Ringworld
A Fire Upon the Deep
Armor (I was very happy to see it on the list. So much more powerful than Starship Troopers)
posted by DigDoug at 6:01 AM on August 4, 2011


If you do not vote for the Lensmen series you cannot be my friend.

I cannot be your friend. Most older SFF doesn't do it for me because it's so dumb in its operating assumptions about women. For instance, I love the Chronicles of Amber, which was on my list, but I wouldn't recommend it to a younger (female) reader except in a Mad Men kind of way. Corwin's too much of pig for a modern woman to enjoy him as a POV character. And don't even get me started on Robert Heinlein.

Like I said the question of Covenant's moral culpability is not something one can some up in a bumper sticker like "THE HERO IS A RAPIST".

It's worse than "the hero is a rapist". The author uses the rape of a female character, real or not, to make a plot point. And as a big fan of Dickian mindfuckery, the "it may be only in his head" doesn't wash for me. Covenant does it in a world that appears to be real with people that appear to be real. That he doesn't give a shit doesn't make him an anti-hero, it makes him a sociopath. And don't plead his health, either; I understand the power fantasy of getting out of a crippled body like nobody's business and did when I read it the summer after my own diagnosis. Covenant is a disgusting excuse for a human being and I think less of Donaldson for writing Covenant's story the way he did.

(Yeah, I put Mists of Avalon on my list. Wanna make something of it?)
posted by immlass at 6:01 AM on August 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yes, but seminal to whom? And when? Seminal today? Yesterday? Tomorrow? Why must a book be judged on how the future sees it? Judging a book based on "where the genre will go" seems just as reasonable as judging a book based on how it would have been understood ten years before it was published.

I guess I'm arguing with the definitions everyone else agrees on :p I just think that, like memes, all forms of art are continuations and reactions of/to what came before. If anything, I would much rather see this list broken into decades or half-decades, etc.
posted by rebent at 6:02 AM on August 4, 2011


And I felt really bad for leaving Animal Farm off my list.
posted by DigDoug at 6:03 AM on August 4, 2011


It's worse than "the hero is a rapist". The author uses the rape of a female character, real or not, to make a plot point. And as a big fan of Dickian mindfuckery, the "it may be only in his head" doesn't wash for me. Covenant does it in a world that appears to be real with people that appear to be real. That he doesn't give a shit doesn't make him an anti-hero, it makes him a sociopath

Appears to be real to who? He's a leper who gets hit by an ambulance who believes that the Land is an invention of his own mind trying to destroy him. He didn't believe that that world is real or that the woman he raped was real. There's no question of that in the book.

I don't think that people are morally responsible for what they do in dreams. If he had woken up and never visited The Land again, he couldn't have gone his entire life not giving a shit because it wouldn't have been real.

It took him a long time to come to terms with the fact that The Land was going to persist, and that it had a reality of its own and that his actions there mattered, and when he did, he felt guilty about what he did, and tried to do what he could to make up for it.
posted by empath at 6:13 AM on August 4, 2011


Most older SFF doesn't do it for me because it's so dumb in its operating assumptions about women.

I was pondering this earlier when I was looking down the list and seeing title after title that I've either never read or have started and then abandoned, for similar reasons. I think it's one of the most insidious forms of objectification, literally not to see women as a subset of "people" such that you can write entire books without including a single named female character and not really notice until someone points it out.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:15 AM on August 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

Really? Really? A series of D&D tie-in books? Okay, I suppose one set of that sort of media-related thing on the list is--

The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

Oh, come on. All right, I suppose I can put up with two of that sort of thing. At least there's no Terr--

The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

FFFFFFUUUUUU---
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


And don't even get me started on Robert Heinlein.
Well, don't look to me to nominate "Stranger in a Strange Land" (ugh), but I have always loved "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and its story of a computer who wakes up and wants to learn jokes.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:19 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't actually finish Dhalgren, but it's still one of my favorite books of all time.

Me too! Every couple of years I read parts of it, skipping around. I'm not sure I ever want to finish it - there's part of my brain that says "no matter how boring things get, you still have the mysterious unexplored parts of Dhalgren waiting for you". Also, to me it contains some of the best and sharpest writing about a certain kind of life in a big city - the part at the underground publisher's apartment, for example. And Delany is one of very, very few people who write about sex in a way that doesn't depress and alienate me, whether he's writing about the whole rent-boy/casual sex thing in New York or the light S/M in the Neveryona books; even the really gross parts in Hogg don't make me despair of actually enjoying sex with another human being the way most blah-blah-her-milky-skin-exploding-stars sex writing does.

Bridge of Birds and racism...well, I think "orientalism" would be a better word.

My feelings about that book are kind of complicated. I read it when I was ten and I loved it. I remember sitting in a leather chair that no longer exists in a room that no longer belongs to my family among people who are mostly, sadly, dead and reading that book and laughing and laughing. I also remember being absolutely dazzled by all this stuff about China that I totally had not known - the big, sophisticated cities, the trade routes, the way peasant life is actually depicted as complex and entwined with the city and with larger social forces, plus the helicopter and the escape from the city in the desert. Oh, I loved that book. Honestly, I don't think I would have studied Chinese history or gone to China if I hadn't read it.

At the same time...just from a "books are social artifacts" standpoint, I've heard from so many, many Asian-American fans about how much they hate that book, with the cutesy stereotyped "oriental" female characters - they're almost all stereotypes and bad ones at that, from Pretty Ping (who falls into the "female characters have pretty names that get translated! So do peasant men with funny names!" trope) to what's-her-name the Empress wanna-be. Plus a lot of the dialogue is kind of orientalist cliche (funny, pastiche cliche, but still you don't get to be whitey and write that stuff - because you end up doing it in ways that are offensive). Plus it's just this sort of weird reified nostalgia. On the cover it says "a story of an ancient China that never was....but oh, it should have been!" and I think that's a problematic statement about a book written in the West for a Western audience. (Note that I have not read this book in probably twenty years but can still almost quote from it.)

The whole book is kitsch, even though it's well-paced and well-plotted kitsch. I'll see if I can find some critiques of the book to link - I've read a bunch.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


How is Pattern Recognition science fiction? Obviously Gibson's famous for writing in the genre but that novel (and the other two Bigend books) are set in the present day and don't have any tech more exotic than cell phones and web sites in them.
posted by octothorpe at 6:22 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Riddley Walker was nominated and therefore I approve.

I'm not even sure I need it to win. I just am happy it got some love. Because that book is the shit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on August 4, 2011


Funny to see people who like Diamond Age more than Snow Crash. I thought it was notably not as good.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:29 AM on August 4, 2011


More about Bridge of Birds - all the women are prostitutes, peasants or dragon ladies (with some peasant prostitutes and some dragon lady prostitutes for variety!), which is precisely what writers like Maxine Hong Kingston complain about in depictions of asian women. Also, it's kind of a sexist book, not so much in the women-prostitutes bit but in the Henpecked Ho part and the glee with which the evil fiancee gets murdered. And the neverending "let's rescue the attractive young women forced into prostitution!" parts. And the sinister monks! And the endless "confucious says"-level proverbs everyone quotes.

I really wish it were possible to do a little bit of a rewrite - fix up the dialogue a bit, revise the characterization of the women, maybe write the Evil Tiger Emperor part a little differently so it doesn't read like such a Ming the Merciless evil-oriental-empire cliche...and keep the Key Rabbit and the mazes and the Hand That No One Sees (and honestly I liked the part with the dancing girl who could use the swords)...
posted by Frowner at 6:33 AM on August 4, 2011


No CS Lewis space trilogy - Out Of The Silent Planet, Peralandra and That Hideous Strength. List fail.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:33 AM on August 4, 2011


ake Gormenghast - there is a book that has most assuredly *not* withstood the test of time. It's still a great book, but under appreciated, under read, and only appeals to a specific audience.

I've rather got the feeling that it's popularity has been growing, not diminishing, helped quite a bit by the TV adaptation in 2000. Its amazon bestseller rankings
Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
#1 in Books > Fantasy > Classics
#2 in Books > Fantasy > Historical
#4 in Books > Fiction > Science Fiction > Classics
almost seem to suggest that it might even fairly popular...


Admittedly I am rather biased, for obvious reasons.
posted by titus-g at 6:33 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never mind. They lumped them together. Whew.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:35 AM on August 4, 2011


The YA distinction is bogus! His Dark Materials is no more "YA" than Lord of the Rings.
posted by diogenes at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2011


I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

As someone who has often recommended Dhalgren over the years, my observation is that it's a book that either clicks with someone or doesn't, regardless of whether they like literary sf or not or how hard they try to finish or like it.

I didn't actually finish Dhalgren, but it's still one of my favorite books of all time.

It could of course be argued that it's not actually possible to "finish" Dhalgren, even if you read all the words between the covers.
posted by aught at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And since this is obviously The Thread Where We List Our Favorite Science Fiction, I will list mine, in no particular order:

Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin
Marq'ssan series, L Timmel Du Champ
Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Delany
Extraordinary People, Joanna Russ
Lilith's Brood series, Octavia Butler
Inversions, Iain Banks (So under-rated because it's not epic space opera)
Mother London, Michael Moorcock (only sort of SF)
Birth of the People's Republic of AntarcticaBatchelor (possibly the only right-libertarian novel I own)
The Gold Coast, Kim Stanley Robinson
The Scar, Mieville
Neveryona series, Delany
Floating Worlds, Holland (so boring and yet so right)

I think The Book of the New Sun is amazing - and can probably quote from it since I've read it, oh, fifteen times since I was nineteen - but the sexism and the right-wing politics get me down.

....huh, I'm having trouble coming up with a tenth that I really, really like. A lot of my favorite books are fantasy...and hey, that's something that bugs me about the linked list - there's a lot of fantasy smuggled onto it. Which is okay, but let's name that.
posted by Frowner at 6:42 AM on August 4, 2011


Oh, wait, Lovecraft in Brooklyn suggests the Viriconium books. Those are the tenth (since they finish before Harrison slides off into icky gender essentialism and "the secret of the plot is that the sexy young woman was sexually abused!!"-ism)
posted by Frowner at 6:46 AM on August 4, 2011


I wasnt going to bother, but then I realized I could vote against Ender's Game so off I go!
posted by shothotbot at 6:47 AM on August 4, 2011


Me too! Every couple of years I read parts of it, skipping around. I'm not sure I ever want to finish it - there's part of my brain that says "no matter how boring things get, you still have the mysterious unexplored parts of Dhalgren waiting for you"

Right, to me it's just this timeless place without a beginning or an ending that you can start reading anywhere and finding something fascinating. I have no idea if the book ever forms a coherent story or just meanders in circles.
posted by empath at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2011


Another oversight is that they appear to have missed off the best selling (by several billion copies) fantasy book of all time.
posted by titus-g at 6:51 AM on August 4, 2011


The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

I have that somewhere. Yet to read it. Multiple people enthused about it and I was going through a bit of a book devouring phase so I picked it up just in case and, well... Normally I don't care about that sort of stuff and I believe good stories can come out of any setting (and I was reminded that other people's boundaries lie in very different places in another recent thread where someone complained that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books, which I love, are just "fan fiction", and I decided there and then that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with fan fiction and nothing to say that amazing, insightful, beautiful tales can't be told with characters you didn't create), but it's Star Wars and if there's one global media phenomenon that's left me cold and alienated, and there are many but if I were to pick only one, it's the incredible popularity among people my age of bloody Star Wars. I don't mind it, I've nothing against it, and Knights of the Old Republic was good, but... eh.

Inversions, Iain Banks (So under-rated because it's not epic space opera)

I can't believe I forgot to list that myself. One of my favourites.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2011


Just came here to say that whoever got Terry Goodkind added to this list needs a swift kick. Those books were/are terrible.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2011


No CS Lewis space trilogy - Out Of The Silent Planet, Peralandra and That Hideous Strength. List fail.

It's on there -- listed as "Space Trilogy".
posted by chowflap at 7:02 AM on August 4, 2011


Funny to see people who like Diamond Age more than Snow Crash. I thought it was notably not as good.

Pfft, says you. Snow Crash is outstanding, and I'm not arguing the technical merits. Both immensely enjoyable, but I get more personal enjoyment from Diamond Age.

And if by "funny" you mean to say that such people have no taste/don't know what they're talking about/are dumb, all I can say is that certain secret ingredients are highly subjective. Also, you're dumb. :P
posted by Glinn at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2011


And I may be outing myself as a pseudo-hipster, but no Jonathan Lethem?
posted by chowflap at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2011


Judging by how many classics are on there -- like Frankenstein, I'd be really surprised if any of the lesser-known gems stand a chance of the top ten.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:06 AM on August 4, 2011


AND THERE WAS NO FUCKING HARLAN ELLISON

As someone who read a lot of Ellison when he was first publishing his books, I feel like they broke a lot of ground for the genre, but haven't really stood the test of time. Also, he didn't write any novels, so that makes people take him less seriously (and tend to leave him off "top books of..." lists, since for many "books" = "novels"). Also^2, his endless tantrums over the years made a lot of people pretty tired of him.

That said, I just picked up a battered pb copy of the collection The Beast the Shouted Love at the Heart of the World the other day at the book sale tent at a nearby county fair. I'm curious if I'll find Ellison readable after all these years; I still have a copy of Deathbird Stories, but I haven't really looked at his stuff since the mid-80s. Relatedly I found a copy of the complete Starlost series on the tubes earlier in the year but haven't mustered the courage to watch any eps.
posted by aught at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2011


Alright, I'll admit it, I just ticked stuff I like instead of stuff that's representative of the genre. I'm not an expert on the genre, so I didn't vote like one. That being said, from memory because they don't give you a way to see what you voted for (I definitely expected a version of your list with a "share this to facebook" option, because what better way to advertise your thing than the vanity of nerds?):

Neuromancer - Gibson - Pretty much invented a genre and coined words that are common to everyday use among normal people. Good pulp novel to boot.

The Handmaid's Tale - Atwood - Probably one of the best dystopias I've ever read.

ASOIAF - GRRRRRRM - I don't like sword and sorcery that much (this is going to be really funny when you read a little down the list) but this puts enough meat on that particular bone to make it worth my while.

Slaughterhouse Five - Vonnegut - Mostly sentimental reasons. Does SciFi in an understated and funny way that still manages to be personal.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Dick - I don't remember seeing "The Man in the High Castle" on there, and this is #2 of his, so there you go.

Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Murakami - Tells two stories that both manage to sculpt complete and believable worlds, with Murakami's usual quirks thrown in.

The Magicians - Lev Grossman - Does both satire and worldbuilding well in equal measures.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell - Clarke - The Faerie world is one of the best systems of magic I've ever seen in a book, and manages to make the usual unbearably twee Victorian alternate history (I'm looking at you, Steampunk) and make it dark, threatening, and mostly historically accurate.

Fahrenheit 451 - Bradbury - Sort of regret this one. I'd replace it with A Clockwork Orange in a heartbeat, but I didn't see it on the first run through. I'd replace it with ACO because it's a totally complete work of World Building and still manages to be a work about the future even through a modern view-point. I guess the same thing drew me to Fahrenheit, but in a lesser measure.

And the only pick that I can say I'm slightly ashamed of:

The Belgariad - Eddings - I won't read these books as an adult because I read them through about 10 times between the ages of 12 and 16. Towards the end it was mostly just going through the motions, but man, did I ever love them. I hope it gets the HBO (or Lifetime) miniseries treatment at some point.
posted by codacorolla at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

There are, maybe, three books that I can think of that I've not finished reading once I've started and Dhalgren is one of them. The amount of love that book gets boggles my mind to the point where, if it held the slightest interest to me, if I could find some infinitesimal thing that I remember liking or being intrigued about in it, I'd go back and try again. But I can't see me wasting more time on it, ever.

And to add my two cents to the Covenant defenders' comments — the repercussions of the rape of Lena echoes throughout the entire rest of the series and nearly destroys The Land and everyone in it. Meanwhile, once Covenant comes to a grudging acceptance of The Land as real he arguably spends every moment in it trying to make up for what he did. However, I don't begrudge anyone who can't get past the rape, it's a pretty horrific thing for a main character to do.
posted by papercake at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2011


Next to the various works of Gene Wolfe, the Strugatsky brothers, PK Dick and LeGuin on my list of favorite books is one that almost nobody has heard of or read (and has long been out of print):

On My Way to Paradise, by Dave Wolverton.

Orson Scott Card reviewed it for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and called it "One of the deepest and most powerful science fiction novels ever written." Despite this, the book never came out in hardcover and really didn’t sell much overseas. The only language it was translated into was Russian, and in a vote for the "Best Science Fiction Novel of All Time," it was ranked at #2 in that country.

Wolverton (who writes fantasy under the name David Farland) has stated on his site that he's re-edited the book and is preparing to sell it in ebook format, but I can't seem to find it... . Anyway, I so highly recommend this book; I've bought it many times because invariably it isn't returned.
posted by Auden at 7:10 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there were a number of odd choices and omissions - Gravity's Rainbow is in, but not Against the Day? The only Banks book listed is the Algebraist, instead of any one of the vastly superior Inversions, Player of Games, or especially Use of Weapons? Kraken is listed, but not the Scar? I couldn't even find The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and ended up voting for VALIS instead.

I think they purposefully included all of the Culture books as a single row to avoid ruining the poll with all of his books being at the top, since, obviously, they're the finest bits of scifi around.
posted by odinsdream at 7:16 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frowner: I think The Book of the New Sun is amazing - and can probably quote from it since I've read it, oh, fifteen times since I was nineteen - but the sexism and the right-wing politics get me down.

That bothers me a bit as well. What makes it go down easier was coming to the interpretation that Severian is both an unreliable narrator and a monster. I really should give it another read though.

I think Gate to Women's Country requires the same thing, although I didn't clue into it until I read Tepper argue against gender essentialism in Sideshow and Raising the Stones. Then it becomes obvious that you have a biased narrator championing a tragically dystopic response to a man-made apocalypse.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:17 AM on August 4, 2011


How the hell did The Black Jewels series end up on this list? Good grief, that series has several of the worst Mary/Marty S(t)ue characters I've run into, up to and including all the fanfic that I read. Yeesh.
posted by ashirys at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2011


This Perfect Day by Ira Levin is one of the most underrated books in the world. I really wanted it to be on this list but alas...
posted by 8dot3 at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2011


Nor Twilight, but they look to be excluding anything with vampires.

The Passage is about vampires and it's on the list.
posted by odinsdream at 7:23 AM on August 4, 2011


No Shockwave Rider.

I found myself voting for content/enjoyment rather than style/influence.
posted by warbaby at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cannot be your friend. Most older SFF doesn't do it for me because it's so dumb in its operating assumptions about women. For instance, I love the Chronicles of Amber, which was on my list, but I wouldn't recommend it to a younger (female) reader except in a Mad Men kind of way. Corwin's too much of pig for a modern woman to enjoy him as a POV character. And don't even get me started on Robert Heinlein.

I, too, have this problem with a lot of older SFF. I haven't been able to get through a lot of the books that are considered SF classics, and I've decided that I'm okay with that. Life is too short for me to force myself to read sexist books just because they're pinnacles of the genre. I have to read enough sexist works for my profession that I simply don't want to read them in my free time.

However, this means my list looks rather unlike the lists presented so far. There's some overlap (The Sparrow, Grass, and Small Gods), but I also have To Say Nothing of the Dog and The Eyre Affair.

However, there are quite a few books on this list that I haven't read. What on here should I check out given that I don't want to have to deal with sexism?
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2011


JustKeepSwimming, have you tried Octavia Butler?
posted by chowflap at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2011


Otherwise known as "your favourite speculative or fantasy books sucks."
posted by clvrmnky at 7:40 AM on August 4, 2011


I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

You and me both. I acknowledge that because it is unreadable for me does not make it a bad book - but I would like to see an explanation that justifies the high regard that this one generates.
posted by krtzmrk at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


What on here should I check out given that I don't want to have to deal with sexism?

Inversions - Banks isn't a perfect writer, gender-wise, but he tries and he's smart and imaginative enough to write female people as real people with complex motives. In Inversions, he even writes some sad love story stuff that both....wait for it...involves female people and is written as if those female people were normal humans with normal brains instead of mysterious/nurturing/helpless/hormonal-nutcases.

Jesus, this list skews male. And straight, ZOMG.

But also, The Last Unicorn (and the underrated Folk of the Air, also by Beagle). Again, not perfect on the gender stuff but very good. LU also has a truly nebbishy, dorky magician protagonist who is well-matched by Molly Grue instead of either being himself a superhero or getting/wanting the hot chick with pneumatic breasts.

Kim Stanley Robinson does gender pretty well. Mieville does gender very well, is hit-and-miss with queer characters but I give him a lot of points for effort.

Obviously Joanna Russ (although hey, transphobia in The Female Man harshes the squee just a bit although she apologized for it later.)

I need some more queer science fiction, now that I think about it.
posted by Frowner at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think that people are morally responsible for what they do in dreams.

Covenant isn't having an uncontrolled dream. It's a lucid dream and he's doing shit because he can. He is responsible for what he chooses to do consciously, and consciously, he chooses to commit rape. Bad cess to him and worse cess to Donaldson for using rape as a cheap way of making his hero wangsty. As author he could have chosen to make the point you're getting at another way.
posted by immlass at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for mentioning Blindsight, people who mentioned Blindsight. I just finished it and it was amazing(ly fucked up). I have this distrust of free fiction on the internet (due to its awfulness) but that book was probably some of the best scifi I've read, like, ever.
posted by Ictus at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Chekhovian, edgeways, snwod, the young rope-rider, codacorolla --
tzikeh's criteria disqualifies The Stars My Destination and A Clockwork Orange from consideration.

= = =

I can't be the only lover of good, rich, complex, challenging scifi who found Dhalgren unreadably tedious, right?

I didn't actually finish
Dhalgren, but it's still one of my favorite books of all time.

I was around when the book came out, and what I remember is that you got more points the earlier you bailed on Dahlgren.

But given how many people on the internet seem to love it, maybe I should give it another chance?

I would not use that as a guide.

philip-random: Not really. I've always felt that sci-fi was an over-regarded genre

Over-regarded? By whom?!? Science fiction has long been held to be pulp escapism at best and, more commonly, the pseudo-literature of pimply faced maladjusted teenage boys. It is only very, very recently that this has begun to change.


Come come. This is playing the victim. Your 'very recently' means 'since the late 1970s.' That's a long time. Look in the average US university English Department course list and you'll see the Science Fiction courses listed right along with the Madonna Studies ProSeminar and Science as Social Construct.
 
= = =

All that said -- top ten lists are for suckers.

 
posted by Herodios at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2011


You and me both. I acknowledge that because it is unreadable for me does not make it a bad book - but I would like to see an explanation that justifies the high regard that this one generates.

I love the way it's written, the prose is super new-wave ("to wound the autumnal city") but to me it's very beautiful and very distinctive.

I love the way Delany describes things. He sees physical objects and physical experiences the way I do, with their flaws and irregularities but without disgust at or resentment of these things. He's not trying to create a seamless world that's "better" than what we live in.

He writes sex and bodies really well. I can't explain it better than this, but he manages to write sex and bodies by describing flaws, irregularities, uniquenesses without either being disgusted, giving himself cookie points for describing a beautiful person with a "flaw" or trying to recuperate them into some "and he was beautiful anyway" story. He writes bodies like someone who's seen a lot of them and is interested by all. His sex writing is very queer to me, not just that it's about queer sex but that it has a "queer" perspective.

I love the suggestion in the book that people are being drawn to Bellona to have similar-but-different experiences, different iterations. The Kid is a young man in the novel; the Kid who seems to be entering the city at the end of the story is female.

There's so much equality in how he writes men and women - he writes all kinds of very different characters, some of whom are mainstreamily-gendered/feminine/masculine but he writes all with equal weight and complexity. As someone whose interior life isn't filled with a deep consciousness of "femininity" I find his writing very welcome and home-like. Donaldson, on the other hand, writes women characters whose interior life is very much "and I am feminine!" (...a good analogy would be how Land's End produces a bunch of different polo shirts for women, fitted and baggy and so on, but some of the fitted ones are specifically labeled a "feminine" polo shirt because for it's assumed that for women there is this natural experience called "femininity" that is good and normal and valuable. But the constant reiteration of "feminine" this and that actually shapes women's interior experience, precedes it. Women in general aren't any more often consciously intentionally "feminine" in their interior lives than men are "masculine".)

I love the weird objects, the chains and the lenses. I love the description of this strange part-capitalist part-anarchist part-scavenger society that persists in Bellona.

Maybe I'll start reading Dhalgren again when I get home tonight.
posted by Frowner at 7:59 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I mean seriously, what precisely do people dislike so much about Dhalgren? If you get can through the intense sentimentality and masochism of a Card novel - and there's quite a lot to recommend, say, Wyrms (his best except for the incredibly fucked-up and misogynist Hart's Hope or Ender's Game - what's wrong with Dhalgren except that it's difficult and has an unusual structure? It has a lot of plot and a lot of skillful description and characterization, some interesting use of SF tropes..."It was difficult prose and I like transparent prose" isn't the same as the hostility that the book evokes.

(Hart's Hope is really vivid; I can see so much of the city as described and I could probably quote short passages although I haven't read it since maybe 2000. It's certainly a much better written book than almost anything else Card has done.)
posted by Frowner at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2011


Funny to see people who like Diamond Age more than Snow Crash. I thought it was notably not as good.

I found them both notably crap. His love of awful similes, kitschy gimmicks and butchered third acts makes them terrible novels, even if some of the ideas are fun (if not terribly original). Anathem, on the other hand, I liked.

Too bad there's no Black Blossom on this list. Timeless, that.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


tzikeh's criteria disqualifies The Stars My Destination and A Clockwork Orange from consideration.

tzikeh's free not to read something if it makes her uncomfortable or she finds it morally repellent, but as an absolute bar to considering something great literature it's preposterous, and I'm not sure what tzikeh even intended. Would we say that Lolita is not a great book because the protagonist is not only just a rapist but a child abuser?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2011


This thread is ok but no Pseudoephedrine? Willnot? KokuRyu? No Grayjack whatsoever? Bah, I say.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2011


No Saberhagen, no Cherry Wilder, no R. A. MacAvoy, no Sorcery and Cecilia, no Simak, no Nina Hoffman, no Schmitz-- no Tiptree!
posted by jamjam at 8:15 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Either I'm reading a different thread than everyone else or Pseudoephedrine posted near the beginning.
posted by frimble at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2011


Covenant isn't having an uncontrolled dream. It's a lucid dream and he's doing shit because he can. He is responsible for what he chooses to do consciously, and consciously, he chooses to commit rape.

Are you seriously suggesting that it's immoral to commit rape in a lucid dream?
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on August 4, 2011


And I mean, really the rape is never considered as anything in the book but as A Bad Thing, unlike, for example, Ender's Game, which justifies genocide and all kinds of brutality.
posted by empath at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2011


It would be interesting to see a MeFi project which asked people to submit their top fifty and listed every work with the number of votes received.

I'd submit my fifty.
posted by jamjam at 8:28 AM on August 4, 2011


Are you seriously suggesting that it's immoral to commit rape in a lucid dream?

That does sound awfully like thoughtcrime, yeah.


It's interesting (for me personally) that I find the single rape in the Covenant books more troubling than the multiple rapes in the Gap Cycle.
posted by elizardbits at 8:36 AM on August 4, 2011


It would be interesting to see a MeFi project which asked people to submit their top fifty and listed every work with the number of votes received.

This would work best with allowing both write-ins and seeing others' write-ins, though. I'm going to toss something together. If you have requests or pre-emptive complaints, memail me?
posted by frimble at 8:37 AM on August 4, 2011


Are you seriously suggesting that it's immoral to commit rape in a lucid dream?

I'm saying it's immoral to consciously choose to commit rape ever and the fictional circumstances of Covenant's conscious choice to rape a human being--even if he believes she's not one--don't excuse it. YMM and apparently does V.
posted by immlass at 8:42 AM on August 4, 2011


what's wrong with Dhalgren except that it's difficult and has an unusual structure? It has a lot of plot and a lot of skillful description and characterization, some interesting use of SF tropes..."It was difficult prose and I like transparent prose" isn't the same as the hostility that the book evokes.

I didn't find it particularly difficult, but I did think the characterization was sort of dryly inhuman in a way that I found boring as shit, so nothing about it really pulled me in except for the echoing mystery of the book's atmosphere. I certainly didn't feel like any of the characters drew me into wanting to know more about their motivations or desires. I also disagree that it has "a lot of plot"; I think "a lot of pages" would be more accurate.

What I found super-frustrating about Dhalgren is that the aforementioned atmospheric sense of mystery was so entrancing, and Delaney's joy in human bodies so idiosyncratic, that I really WANTED to like the book. So I kept pressing on, no matter how boring I continued to find it.
Which had the immediate effect of making me DESPISE the book.

But: it had the longer-term effect of making me think back somewhat fondly on it, because I've sort of synthesized the parts I loved into a novel that's very different from my actual experience of reading Dhalgren. I read your comment, Frowner, and it makes me once again wish that I did love Dhalgren.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:42 AM on August 4, 2011


The point is that Covenant is a rapist. Not to defend a series I'm mostly meh about, but Donaldson was trying to examine what "heroic fantasy" would do with an unlikable, depressive, selfish asshole. Covenant comits rape in the first couple dozen pages because he's a horrible human being. That's the point. It's a valid complaint about the book to criticize Donaldson for making the choice to use rape as the plot point for doing so, but he's trying to set-up an instant dislike for Covenant using one of the worst crimes he can put to paper.

He does this again in his Gap series, which are better composed, IMO. The moral conflicts are even more stark.
posted by bonehead at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2011


I went down the list marking my faves and then, figuring I had some choices left, started again from the top. Turned out I had used exactly 10 in the first go-round.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:55 AM on August 4, 2011


As a lover of well written speculative fiction, I find this list deeply disappointing. It is not exhaustive. It is the best argument I think I've seen in a while that SF and fantasy are, in fact, sub-genres for nerds and teenagers.

Now, I venerate PKD and Vonnegut as much as the next reader, and it's nice to see Riddley Walker and Oryx and Crake up there. But there is no excuse for excluding Doris Lessing when half her output is arguably SF, and she won the Nobel Prize for it, for pity's sake!! And where, oh where, is J.G. Ballard? Why can't I vote for Salman Rushdie? Because if Midnight's Children wasn't fantasy, I don't know what that shit was. And before you shout "Magical realism!", I would happily have cast my vote for Lucius Shepard's mind-blowing Life During Wartime. Except it wasn't there.

Instead, I'm invited to choose between Harry Harrison and L. Ron Hubbard. Oh, and Audrey Niffenegger, in case I wanted some chick-lit. Thank you, List.

I need some more queer science fiction, now that I think about it.

@Frowner, may I politely recommend The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman, and The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter? I'll see you in the reading group with the space ship and Henry James.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:55 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently that Covenant committed rape makes him exponentially worse that Ender who committed genocide. So if a book contains rape it cannot be a good book, but if it contains genocide, slaughter, torture, regicide, misc-cide, that's okay?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2011


and yes I was thinking of the Simpsons quote:
"(Bart calls for help.)
911 Recording: If you know the 3-digit number of the crime being committed, please enter it now.
(Bart enters code)
You've entered the code for regicide. If you know the name of the King or Queen being murdered..."
posted by Chekhovian at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2011


In all seriousness, I read about 2/3 of Dhalgren and felt like there was no plot whatsoever. The entire book seemed like a series of vignettes that went nowhere. And I didn't care about the main character at all.

Think I'll check out the ol' Wikipedia and see what plot I was missing.
posted by papercake at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2011


Welcome to MetaFilter, Chekhovian.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:59 AM on August 4, 2011


I was pleasantly surprised that somebody had the taste to put Cordwainer Smith on the list, and Norstrilia happens to be my favorite of his (although "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal" runs a close second). So I took the time to vote. But I don't much care about the results. Voting on something like this is pretty pointless.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2011


I would happily have cast my vote for Lucius Shepard's mind-blowing Life During Wartime.

Sounds like a fun book, thanks for the recommendation. Too bad about your "nerds" slur.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2011


Crabby Appleton: "Welcome to MetaFilter, Chekhovian."

Where everyone miss-reads everyone else!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:12 AM on August 4, 2011


No one's taking my books away, they're just failing to validate my choices.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:12 AM on August 4, 2011


Also, this whole project needed to happen 3 months ago so that people would be buying these for summer reading in the Northern Hemisphere.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:13 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


In a list this long, it is unconscionable to include only one Stanislaw Lem book. Star Diaries? His Master's Voice? The Cyberiad? I could fill a top ten list with his books alone, and they pick the one with the worst translation. The lack of Ballard is simply bewildering. Nothing from Calvino, Borges, Cortazar, Poe, Lovecraft, and Garcia Marquez is on there, which is utterly bizarre--I can't think of a definition of fantasy that wouldn't include at least some of their work, and their stuff is better than every single fantasy novel on that list that I've read.

Oh, and where the fuck is Roadside Picnic?

Rage.
posted by IjonTichy at 9:19 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently that Covenant committed rape makes him exponentially worse that Ender who committed genocide.

Ender doesn't know he's committing genocide, and wouldn't have done so if he'd known. Covenant commits rape intentionally. So yeah, while genocide is worse than rape, Covenant can still be an exponentially worse person than Ender.

Not that that leaves either book within on the same continent as 'good'.
posted by emmtee at 9:24 AM on August 4, 2011


I've always assumed Dhalgren was a kind of homage to Gravity's Rainbow.

This interview gives Delany a perfect opportunity to say so, however, and he does not, though he's clearly read it, yet he does assert that the paperback outsold GR by 100,000 copies in a given publisher's editions.
posted by jamjam at 9:26 AM on August 4, 2011


Apparently that Covenant committed rape makes him exponentially worse that Ender who committed genocide.

I wouldn't know. I've only ever read one book by Card and it wasn't Ender's Game. It did feature enough of Card's skeevy sexual politics that I knew better than to read another book by him. Life is too short to drink bad beer, or keep reading books by authors whose work you don't enjoy.
posted by immlass at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2011


To say something positive about Delaney (if not Dahlgren):

Science nerds howl with mixed horror and mirth -- and rightly so -- when modern SF violate known laws of physics, but what about when it violates what's now known about language?

A linguistics prof once recommended a book written by a linguist and science fiction fan (cannot recall title or author) surveying the application of linguistics in science fiction works. Overall, it reflected very negatively on most SF authors' understanding of how language works and how languages change. It goes far beyond making up hokey slang terms for future teens, universal translators, and populating the universe with OSV languages.

The prize winning loser was Arthur C. Clarke's The City and The Stars, wherein, the spoken language of the two remaining cities on earth have neither changed nor diverged in a billion years of isolation, despite very different societies.

A perhaps surprising loser was Orwell's 1984. I believe a majority of linguists would agree that even under oppression and survelliance, forcing a reduction in vocabulary from above and eliminating 'thoughtcrimes' by eliminating words in which to express them are doomed to failure.

Among the notable works of SF thought to have got it right were Lem's Solaris, and several of Delaney's.

Babel-17 was judged particularly good, and in fact hangs on a mystery that is ultimately solved by understanding sociolinguistics and language change.

Perhaps not the Great Literature of his mature work, but still, Recommended.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:37 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Card's skeevy sexual politics. Yeah, Mormons are fucked up.

So if we're mainly going to talk about what's not on the list, here's my trump card (not an Amber Pun)

Michael Swanwick. The best sci fi out there ever. Many of his books are "genre" books in that they occur in a genre setting, high fantasy, or space opera, or whatever. But each of his books somehow manages to transcend its genre and do so in such a way so as to put to shame every previous book in that genre. Fucking Outstanding everyone of them.

Jack Faust (alt hist)
The Iron Dragon's Daughter (high fantasy)
Vacuum Flowers (space opera)
Bones of Earth (time travel and dinosaurs)
posted by Chekhovian at 9:41 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I voted pretty quickly and didn't give it a whole lot of thought, because otherwise you could spend hours mired in decisions. Comfort reads over classics of the genre? Epic worldbuilding vs. small, perfect domestic books? Books that were good in and of themselves but belong to a series that went downhill in a bad way? Underrated classics? The obvious choices that everybody expects to win? I ended up blending things, picking some big things I genuinely love, like LOTR and Frankenstein, and also less juggernaut-y ones I love, like Robin McKinley's Sunshine and Hugart's Bridge of Birds. Threw in Vorkosigan for good measure.

Reading this thread is much more entertaining!
posted by PussKillian at 9:43 AM on August 4, 2011


I think the best way to view this is like a Hugo nomiation list: it's got a bunch of "classics", a whack of well-selling, but thin recent stuff that will be forgotten in a couple of years and misses some of the best wrok of the last 10-20 years that hasn't been discovered by the mainstream yet (and those ideosyncratic ones that everyone has that will never be discovered).

Salt in a few unreadable-as-an-adult, but dimly-remembered crack-for-preteens books like Eddings and Anthony and Salvatore and there's your list. I'd have voted for some pretty embarassing stuff (now) as a teenager too.

The list has the greatest disappointment to me is that most entries are novels in a genre where much of the best work has been done in shorter forms. Ted Chiang isn't on it, for example, and he's probably one of the best writers of the last decade. Much of Zelazny's best work was shorts, but none of his collections are on the list. Bradbury and Ellison and Cordwainer Smith get only lesser works nominated and peripheral mentions for exactly this reason. There are some collections on there, but only a few.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Swanwick's Stations of the Tide is on there. Many consider that his best work. I'd have gone with Iron Dragon's Daughter, but SotT is a worthy choice for him, I think.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2011


The Princess Bride is Science Fiction? Inconceivable!
posted by ericbop at 9:55 AM on August 4, 2011



That word 'science fiction'. You keep using it. . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Covenant commits rape intentionally.

In what he thought was a dream.
posted by empath at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hothouse by Brian Aldiss has withstood the test of time since I read it as a 13-year-old 25 years ago...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:07 AM on August 4, 2011


You… uh… can totally vote more than once. Just sayin'.

I deliberately set out to pick ten with no intention of "rounding out" the list with another set of votes (or vote stacking the original picks), with this completely naive idea that I'd like to see an actual popular vote rather than the results of a lot of vote stacking. But of course, that's not going to happen.

Anyway, I suppose the fair thing to do is to open myself up to fire, so here were mine:

- The Algebraist
- The Demolished Man
- The Forever War
- LOTR
- The Martian Chronicles
- Neuromancer
- Solaris
- A Song of Fire and Ice
- Ubik
- guilty choice: The Vlad Taltos series (Steven Brust)

Yeah, I intentionally avoided voting twice for the same author, and at the same time, did not vote for authors on the basis of titles absent from the list. I also feel like I can't do the votes justice without reading several titles on here I've been meaning to get to and can reasonably predict I will enjoy (eg: The Scar, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel), but so it goes.

On preview: yeah, bonehead, the lack of Chiang is palpable, but I wouldn't ask people to vote short stories against novels -- completely different demands and arguably payoff. Not that the parameters selected didn't make this difficult enough. (I imagine they didn't split sci-fi from fantasy because of the shitstorm of categorization complaints that would result)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:08 AM on August 4, 2011


I like Swanwick a lot, a lot a lot. I think he excels best in short stories though, and some of his longer books feel like short stores stitched together Iron Dragon's Daughter especially. . I think Stations of the Tide is his best book, it felt cohesive and still had that element of strangeness Swanwick can bring to a story. (it also pre-minded me of aspects of the Culture series)
posted by edgeways at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2011


The problem with Covenant is not that he's a rapist. It's not that he raped intentionally, either in what he did or didn't know was a dream or in reality. It's that he raped by default, without provocation and without caring about pretty much anything.

Look, I self-identify as a sadist and I'm not very much interested in sex, either fictional or otherwise, that doesn't include some element of coercion to keep it interesting. I loved A Clockwork Orange and I generally love a scene full of well-done sexual violence. And I could not make it past Covenant's rape scene.

Covenant doesn't know he's in a dream or that Lena's not real; in fact, he can't know those things because they ultimately turn out not to be true. At the point when he rapes Lena I didn't get the impression that he had thought it out that far; he was in a state of confusion, having had an accident but suddenly finding himself healthy, whole, and in a strange place. While still trying to sort that out he encounters a girl and decides, apropos of not much, to try out his shiny new dick because he can.

He's not being cruel. Cruel would have been interesting, because it would have suggested that he at least cares what she is feeling, even if what he wants is to make her feel hurt and humiliated. He's not expressing that he believes it is unreal because he puts an awful lot of energy into guiding it along for an experience he thinks is fake. The thing that makes it completely unsympathetic is that he just doesn't care. He is completely uninvolved with what she is feeling, except for physically subduing her so he can masturbate with her body.

So I can't identify with Covenant as either a sympathetic or interestingly evil character. He is no longer worth building up, but there is nothing of him to take down. And I cannot figure out how this character's poor impulse control in a moment of confusion is a big enough thing to hook on which to hang thousands of pages of consequences.
posted by localroger at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I second the idea that Swanwick's short stories bring out the best in him, even if I can't read some of them a second time for being grimmer than Peter Watts. Speaking of Stations of the Tide, a while back someone accused it of being a Gene Wolfe ripoff - any idea where that came from?
posted by dragoon at 10:22 AM on August 4, 2011


Any SF list that includes Riddley Walker gets my seal of approval.
posted by rtimmel at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2011


philip-random: Not really. I've always felt that sci-fi was an over-regarded genre

Over-regarded? By whom?!?


By its rabid fans -- the folks I've known over the years who will read pretty much anything in the genre and pretty much ONLY stuff in the genre. I didn't really discover sci-fi in a meaningful way (ie: non superhero comic book, non b-movie) until high school when a cool teacher steered me toward some great stuff, so maybe I just got started off with overly high expectations. Not that there aren't many, many good reads out there (this thread attests to that); I've just grown tired of picking through all the chaff looking for them.

Your list being comprised of Dune and Ender's Game does not give one confidence as to your judgment on this matter.

Well, I did say they were titles that sprung instantly to mind. When I went through the short list, I did find nine titles I could get genuinely excited about. That is, stories that didn't just open my mind but which were also riveting, rich, novel reads. This is where the likes of Snowcrash and Diamond Age just didn't cut it. All kinds of fun at first but man did they fall apart, as if the writer couldn't wait to get started on his next thing. Likewise, Neuromancer -- I acknowledge its standing as one of the great prophetic pieces of the sci-fi genre, but it's just not that well written. In fact, I found its follow-up Count Zero a way more rewarding (albeit less ambitious) work.

That word 'science fiction'. You keep using it. . .

Not pointed at me but it might well have been, as I am definitely outed as the kind of idiot who doesn't read instructions. ie: I missed the part where it said it's a list of sci-fi and fantasy. Which should piss y'all off anyway. I mean, isn't lumping sci-fi and fantasy together akin to lumping Americans and Canadians together, Brits and Scots, Aussies and Kiwis?
posted by philip-random at 10:25 AM on August 4, 2011


Any SF list that includes Riddley Walker gets my seal of approval.

Great book but I read its inclusion as begging for exactly the kind of approval you're giving it, particularly given much of the obvious dross that is on the list. I mean, if you want to get serious about it, where's Russel Hoban's Pilgerman, which if you haven't encountered it, is every bit as masterful as Riddley Walker, though it's a little bit more subtle in how it stylistically presents itself (but only a little bit)?

Pilgermann is a brilliantly conceived historical fantasy which deals with the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the time of the book's setting Islam was the more technologically and culturally advanced of the three cultures and this is reflected in the comparatively sympathetic portrayal of Bembel and Muslim society as opposed to the brutality and hardship of European, Christian life.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 AM on August 4, 2011


Covenant doesn't know he's in a dream or that Lena's not real; in fact, he can't know those things because they ultimately turn out not to be true

He's a leper who has just been hit by a vehicle. Why on earth would he assume that if he woke up in a fantasy world where he was cured that it would be real? Morality only matters if there are irreversable consequences on real beings. Fantasy is called fantasy for a reason.

If you kill someone in a video game, that doesn't make you a murderer in real life, and I can't believe I need to say this, but if you imagine yourself raping someone that you've also imagined, that doesn't make you a rapist. He simply couldn't have known that The Land was real.

And I cannot figure out how this character's poor impulse control in a moment of confusion is a big enough thing to hook on which to hang thousands of pages of consequences.

You didn't read the rest of the books, obviously.
posted by empath at 10:39 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went with:

Xanth
The Sword of Truth
Riftwar Saga*
Acts of Caine*


Seriously:
The Anubis Gates
The Black Company series
Bridge of Birds
The Lensman Series
The Malazan Book of the Fallen
The Princess Bride
Snow Crash
Tigana
Vlad Taltos series
Vorkosigan saga

* Nothing against Fiest and Stover. I've read and enjoyed those books, I just don't think they're that strong and find their inclusion on this list puzzling.


And Codex Alera but no Dresden Files?
posted by jefftang at 10:43 AM on August 4, 2011


Ender doesn't know he's committing genocide, and wouldn't have done so if he'd known.

The situations seem very analogous to me. Covenant doesn't know he's committing rape, either. Ender thinks he's playing a simulation and Covenant thinks he's dreaming. (And, in the first trilogy at least, Covenant may be correct). How is one's moral culpability greater in a dream than in a video game?

Jesus, this list skews male.

Eh, wot? Kress, Bshop, MD Russell, CS Friedman, Cherryh, Mary Stewart, Moon, Kerr, LeGuin, Tanith Lee, Willis, McIntyre, Hobb, Russ, Shelley, Tepper, Atwood, Kim Harrison, Jemisin, Clarke, Butler, Carey, Lackey, Sharon Lee, Mirrlees, Bradley, Grant, Baker, Gabaldan, May, Vinge, McKillip, McKinley, Kushner, Novik, Niffenegger, Bujold, and so on. Often multiple titles. I can't see this objection as anything but kinda knee-jerk.

Seriously, that's a pretty freakin' comprehensive list of female SF authors. Tiptree isn't there, but that's because she was primarily a writer of short SF and her novels are not necessarily superb. Andre Norton... but while important to the field none of her work individually is in contention as one of the "greatest" works of SF. Other than that? Really, if anything this list skews female.
posted by Justinian at 10:48 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Covenant doesn't know he's committing rape, either.

That's one of the chanracter's ways of excusing himself for his deeds, yes. The difference between Covenant and Ender is that Covenant knows full-well what he's doing, he just doesn't try to stop himself. Ender is deceived by his handlers; Covenant lies to himself.
posted by bonehead at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2011


Thanks, Frowner, for the Dhalgren explanation. Sort of reminds me of myself trying to explain to otherwise intelligent folks why Infinite Jest is worth the effort.

Speaking of, as a near future, vaguely dystopian piece of fiction....
posted by krtzmrk at 11:14 AM on August 4, 2011


The problem with Covenant is not that he's a rapist. It's not that he raped intentionally, either in what he did or didn't know was a dream or in reality. It's that he raped by default, without provocation and without caring about pretty much anything.

That's kind of an interesting take. If Sam Tyler (to switch medium) suddenly found himself in what appeared, impossibly, to be the 1970's -- conspicuously, after being hit by a car -- if his impulse was to rape the first "imagined" woman he saw, we'd take a different view of him *regardless* of our view of the reality or unreality of his other/past-worldly experience.

But yeah, something still very out of whack by what people place off-limits due to sexual violence in contrast to any and every act of non-sexual violence. Certainly no objection to using non-sexual violence as a "plot point" (though I greatly admire authors who do without).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:14 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is America after all, you can show as many men and women you want being chopped up into little pieces in Saw X, but don't dare to show any boobs or wieners while you're doing it. That might offend people.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:20 AM on August 4, 2011


That's one of the chanracter's ways of excusing himself for his deeds, yes. The difference between Covenant and Ender is that Covenant knows full-well what he's doing

I don't understand this view. Ender also knows exactly what he's doing; he deliberately targets the alien homeworld with a weapon he knows will destroy it. He's just under the mistaken belief that he's playing a simulation. Covenant, on the other hand, believes he is hallucinating and, frankly, that's the correct belief for him to hold.

Seriously; if you "woke up" and found yourself in a stereotypical fantasy world with elves and giants and shit, wouldn't you believe you were hallucinating? Anyone who wouldn't is mentally ill. And remember, Covenant is a writer of pulp fantasy and The Land looks (to him) familiar as the type of place he writes about. The only reason folks have trouble accepting the validity of Covenant's conviction on this point is that they know they are reading a novel and we are conditioned to suspend our disbelief as to the reality of fantasy worlds in a novel.

But Covenant, in the context of the story, is not a character in a novel. He is a human being and, like any other non-mentally ill human being comes to the "correct" conclusion that when one finds oneself in a cheesy pulp fantasy world, one is either dreaming or hallucinating.

Seriously, you wouldn't believe you were hallucinating if you started talking to elves and shit?
posted by Justinian at 11:22 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, seriously.
posted by Justinian at 11:22 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I feel the same way about Thomas Covenant that I do about Roland the Gunslinger and Severian from Book of the New Sun. The fact that they're the protagonist doesn't make them nice guys, and I don't get the feeling we're supposed to endorse, forgive, or rationalize their crimes. My primary objection is that rape is a bit overused as the puppy-kicking moment to inspire loathing of a character.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:23 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


given much of the obvious dross that is on the list

Yes it does, but it has a very high wheat to chaff ratio (to move the metaphor from metal to foodstuff). Hoban is the guy that I always look for first in any list of SF, because Riddley Walker is one of the least-know great pieces of science fiction written. And its hard to knock a list that includes Delany's Dhalgren, Keys' Flowers for Algernon, Murakami's Hardboiled Wonderland, Blaylock's The Last Coin, Swanwick's Stations of the Tide and even digs so deep to include The Illumanatus! Trilogy. Do I have quibbles? Of course. But the point is that NPR assembled a list that I can look at and say "Yes, it has some of the greatest science fiction written." In fact, I printed it out so that I can look into some of the authors that are unfamiliar to me.
posted by rtimmel at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, you wouldn't believe you were hallucinating if you started talking to elves and shit?
posted by Justinian


seriously? Now you've got me wondering about last night. seriously.
posted by philip-random at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2011


My primary objection is that rape is a bit overused as the puppy-kicking moment to inspire loathing of a character.

Like torture. If Banks never again uses that too-easy tool from the workbench of villany I'll not be displeased one bit.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:29 AM on August 4, 2011


That's one of the chanracter's ways of excusing himself for his deeds, yes. The difference between Covenant and Ender is that Covenant knows full-well what he's doing

He doesn't excuse himself for it. The character is an asshole, and you're meant to consider him an asshole, and once he realizes what he did, he considers himself an asshole.
posted by empath at 11:31 AM on August 4, 2011


He is a human being and, like any other non-mentally ill human being comes to the "correct" conclusion that when one finds oneself in a cheesy pulp fantasy world, one is either dreaming or hallucinating.

Right. And his first volitional act in such a context is to indulge in rape. It's ok though; he couldn't help himself.

Ender thinks he's playing a video game, what he thinks is a logic puzzle devoid of moral consequence. In fact, he's trying to piss-off his handlers into letting him quit by "cheating".

You can't be a criminal unless you have intent. Thomas Covenant intentionally rapes someone (or a dream of someone), Ender Wiggan kills a civilization acidentally because he's being deceived.
posted by bonehead at 11:31 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And Ender goes out of his way to excuse his 'xenocide' even after he knows what he did. The whole first book is basically an exercise in justifying Hitler.
posted by empath at 11:31 AM on August 4, 2011


Seriously, you wouldn't believe you were hallucinating if you started talking to elves and shit?

I'd probably be all, "Fuckin' FINALLY" and then go quaff an ale with some hot elf peeps.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't be a criminal unless you have intent. Thomas Covenant intentionally rapes someone (or a dream of someone), Ender Wiggan kills a civilization acidentally because he's being deceived.

I'm still not seeing the difference. Ender killed what he thought was a simulated civiliation. Covenant raped what he thought was an imagined person. It was an act of SELF loathing, because he thought the entire thing was an extension of his own sickness.
posted by empath at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


A great list, and a good find - I'm happy to have voted.

That being said, I was amazed that not a single Lethem book was on the list, nor anything from Thomas Disch. His The Genocides stuck in my lungs for a good month before I was finally free of it. And he's got a handful of other amazing titles, many of which won awards, so I guess I expected him to at least be on the list.

But whatever, I will be curious, and likely disappointed, to check back on the 11th.
posted by hank_14 at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2011


Thomas Covenant intentionally rapes someone (or a dream of someone)

That's a parenthetical?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2011


The Worthing Saga, by Orson Scott Card. I would add that to the list. Man, that is one awesome and epic sci-fi book.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2011


Incidentally, I've had one dream (in decades of playing, largely fantasy, rpgs) where I got to hang out with dwarves, gnomes, and an elf. It was fricking AWESOMESAUCE.

I did not rape any of them. It didn't even occur to me to do so. But neither did it occur to me to cleave in someone's head.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and seriously, I'm with the "what the hell is Goodkind doing on this list !?!" crowd.

Terrible plotting, derivative plot elements, Ayn Rand fueled political ranting, coupled with the standard Randian fetishization of violent sex, and with it the almost constant presence of rape, rape, and more rape.

Legend of the Seeker was one of the few times the cheesy tv adaptation was thrice as good as the original.
posted by hank_14 at 11:37 AM on August 4, 2011


Durn Bronzefist: "Like torture. If Banks never again uses that too-easy tool from the workbench of villany I'll not be displeased one bit."

We should crowdsource hire a professional domme for him so he can get it out of his system once and for all.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:37 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't be a criminal unless you have intent. Thomas Covenant intentionally rapes someone (or a dream of someone), Ender Wiggan kills a civilization acidentally because he's being deceived.

I think you're so squicked out that you're not looking at this objectively.

Let's try this; Is it immoral to murder someone in a video game? Is it immoral to rape someone in a video game? If the answer to those two questions differ, why?
posted by Justinian at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, serious question prompted by the banksness: would the conversation about Thomas Covenant be any different if his first act in the fantasy world was to torture someone? Like yeah, okay, not real and he knows it, but still, he just ups and tortures someone.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2011


Wow, I'm surprised by how many of these I've read...great to see Bester and Farmer on the list. Also: I would like to kick Kim Stanley Robinson in the nuts.
posted by malocchio at 11:46 AM on August 4, 2011


It's impossible to choose the top 10 science fiction books of all time. It's a huge, varied genre, and there are so many different criteria you could use. What's more important, quality or influence? Is the age of the work a factor? How many points do you remove when the work is tremendously influential but shot through with misogyny or racism?

I've seen people saying they're going to vote for the books they enjoyed the most, which is not a criteria I would personally use.

I settled for choosing the top 10 science fiction books in my life--the ones that influenced me the most, but I don't expect that this reflects some sort of universal "top 10." I haven't even read a lot of others' top choices yet.

I still love these lists, though. Hurrah for lists of things I must read.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:49 AM on August 4, 2011


Wow, I'm surprised by how many of these I've read

Me too. I've been going through the list marking off those that I've read to start of list of ones to look at, and I have read exactly 100 of the list (mind you, that is more than 100 bookS, because it contains things like the Sandman series).

I HAVE VERY LARGE NERD-PARTS!!!
posted by rtimmel at 11:53 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's try this; Is it immoral to murder someone in a video game? Is it immoral to rape someone in a video game? If the answer to those two questions differ, why?

I haven't read either work, so I can't really contribute too much, but from my own opinion a lot of killing in games is killing in self defense. It's hard to claim rape in self defense. I can see the case being made between casual killing, just for fun, like the GTA series promotes with its sandbox world of pedestrians and bystanders.

A book I just remembered that explores similar ground is Fermatta by Nicholson Baker. The protagonist has the power to stop time, and often uses it for sexual reasons, but he draws a line in the fact that he never engages in direct sexual contact, but rather strips and admires women. The reader is left with the uncomfortable job of deciding what the difference is, and I think the ultimate conclusion is "not much".
posted by codacorolla at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2011


MY PARTS ARE LARGER THAN I EVEN THOUGHT1

in going back to knock out authors I know I do not want to read -- John Streakley for example -- i saw that i missed six books that I read, bringing my total to 106.
posted by rtimmel at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2011


And Ender goes out of his way to excuse his 'xenocide' even after he knows what he did. The whole first book is basically an exercise in justifying Hitler.
posted by empath


Man, you're giving young Ender an uncharitable read. I didn't get that at all from Ender's Game which, as I recall, ended with the poor kid torn apart with guilt at what he'd been duped into doing by his handlers. Methinks that maybe knowing what you do of Orson Scott Card's dubious beliefs, you can't separate him from his work.
posted by philip-random at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


if his first act in the fantasy world was to torture someone? Like yeah, okay, not real and he knows it, but still, he just ups and tortures someone.

Impression: this guy is twisted, possibly psychopathic. Pretty much the same if we discover that Riker likes to use the holodeck for torturing holographic Romulans. Sick fuck.

Then if we discover, whoops, it was somehow real, and the protag spends the rest of his days feeling like shit and trying to atone? Not exactly endorsing the act, this author. Cynical use of real-world violence as a plot point, sure. Distasteful and hackneyed, yes, except that at least Donaldson is exploring the issue of your discomfort. Banks just uses it to make his villains villainsier.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2011


Also, serious question prompted by the banksness: would the conversation about Thomas Covenant be any different if his first act in the fantasy world was to torture someone? Like yeah, okay, not real and he knows it, but still, he just ups and tortures someone.

My opinion wouldn't have changed if he straight up killed someone. Or if he heroically saved a drowning puppy from a stream. If he thought it was dreaming, it means less than it would if he thought it was real.

I've 'saved the world' multiple times in video games. That doesn't make me a hero. I've also gone on killing sprees in GTA IV. That doesn't make me a murderer.

You destroy entire worlds every time you wake up from a dream.

It is an interesting and relevant question about whether one is obliged to be moral in a world which you don't know to be real and why, and the novel explores that (after all -- many world religions say that that the 'real' world is illusory or false on some level). The novel explores it by making the main character perform an act which everyone knows to be vile and unforgivable (even Thomas Covenant himself thinks that) and forces him to deal with the consequences of it -- without ever having proof that any of it is real. He has to decide the reality of what's happening to him, and the reality of his acts, and the reality of his guilt for them.
posted by empath at 12:04 PM on August 4, 2011


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell - Clarke - The Faerie world is one of the best systems of magic I've ever seen in a book, and manages to make the usual unbearably twee Victorian alternate history

"Happens in the 19th century" and "Victorian" are not synonymous.
posted by rodgerd at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2011


I always thought that the Covenant series was an experiment to see how unlikable Donaldson could make a protagonist and still have him be a "hero." While he provided Covenant with a bit of a defense, I thought Donaldson wanted the reader to see him as someone with rape in him.
posted by rtimmel at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


However, there are quite a few books on this list that I haven't read. What on here should I check out given that I don't want to have to deal with sexism?

Snow Crash has of one of the only well-written female main characters out there.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:07 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Happens in the 19th century" and "Victorian" are not synonymous.

My mistake. I always mix up the exact time frame that the Napoleonic wars happened within.
posted by codacorolla at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2011


at least Donaldson is exploring the issue of your discomfort. Banks just uses it to make his villains villainsier.

Well, the Culture and Culture allies have been shown to be willing to torture (in both Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward), and I wouldn't call them villians, exactly.
posted by IjonTichy at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2011


Because the internet needs more lists …

With Anathem I really enjoyed the concept and especially the theory of ideas at the end, but I think that The Diamond Age was a better story - more compelling characters and a more absorbing world.

A Canticle for Leibowitz I'm listening to the NPR audio adaptation this week and enjoying it as much as the book. Canticle feels similar to the later Anathem, too.

The Culture Series Inventive, enjoyable page turners, but not the focused work of a demented author (for that, see Banks's The Wasp Factory) Similarly, Going Postal. I love the Discworld series, and Going Postal is one of my favorites, but what I like about it is the characters and Pratchett's wry commentary on human nature, than I do the science or the fantasy.

The Demolished Man This, ten times over.

The Difference Engine I could not get into this at all. I think I'm allergic to Sterling engines.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep I'd really be voting for the movie if I picked this. But yes, The Man in the High Castle (haven't read VALIS yet).

Way Station I'd rather pick Simak's City because: a) devoted robots and dogs, b) pastoral scenes, and c) parallel universes. Simak is unique and City is his best.

And speaking of unique and animals, Norstrilla. I will never think of sheep snot the same way again.

Neuromancer, Neuromancer, and Neuromancer let me type that once more onto my jet-black deck for good measure.

The Martian Chronicles and The Left Hand of Darkness.

Also A Hard-Boiled Wonderland I initially didn't want to call the latter science fiction or fantasy, and then realized it didn't seem to fit because it is … so well written. Really dreamy, weird, and compelling. Murakami explores similar ideas to Philip K Dick, but is a much better writer.
posted by zippy at 12:16 PM on August 4, 2011


Seriously, that's a pretty freakin' comprehensive list of female SF authors.

No, no it's not. Seriously, I did a poor-quality count (difficult to do because multiple works by one author aren't grouped together and got somewhere in the upper thirties for women authors, then counted up from the bottom and got to 45 men before I was 1/3 of the way up the list.

Suzette Hayden Elgin, Nalo Hopkinson, Rebecca Ore, Eleanor Arnason, Suzy McKee Charnas, Gwyneth Jones, Karen Joy Fowler, Judith Merrill, Carol Emshwiller....holy crap, there are a ton of important women authors who aren't on the list. (Note that I've purposely left off writers who haven't published much or have only published very recently despite the fact that they are awesome - Andrea Hairson, Nisi Shawl.) You could make a case for including Shirley Jackson - in fact, if this is a fantasy list, Shirley Jackson should absolutely 100% be on there.

Science fiction as a genre appears to be male dominated precisely because even when women write durable, popular books - especially if those books are durable, popular and substantially deal with women's concerns, as with Carol Emshwiller who has such a large, significant and high-quality body of work (which I don't especially like, but oh well...) - even when women write durable popular books, those books are officially invisible until and unless they are recognized by male arbiters of taste. (The politics around "What I Didn't See" Karen Joy Fowler's award-winning short story that riffs on "The Women Men Don't See" are a perfect illustration of this.) Jesus, the long hard ideological slog to get The Female Man visible in the world!

(Just to make this somewhat more friendly - this is not to say that male arbiters of taste have terrible taste or prop up undeserving work because it's by men - there are lots and lots of Canonical Popular Important SF books that are really good, and there are many that while maybe somewhat less sheerly awesome do a lot for the genre - the Foundation series springs to mind, for example, and probably lots of space opera that I've never even read.)

Like torture. If Banks never again uses that too-easy tool from the workbench of villany I'll not be displeased one bit

See, I think that torture is frequently a more complicated theme in Banks's work than it appears. (God, what a gross-sounding, excuse-making sentence that is.) I say this because of reading the absolutely nauseating Complicity (which, yeah, is by the guy's alternate persona), and Matter, books in which descriptions of physical violence work, respectively, to make you think about how violence works in politics and who is culpable for what and to create horror and dismay at a social structure rather than a specific villain. But the whole evil torture guy with the diamond teeth part in The Algebraist? I would have been 100% able to believe in the evil of the fundie civilization without any of the torture parts.
posted by Frowner at 12:18 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it immoral to murder someone in a video game? Is it immoral to rape someone in a video game? If the answer to those two questions differ, why?

Essentially, I think you'll find the answer to that is yes, there is a difference. It's possible to set up game situations where it's socially acceptible, even heroic, to kill someone. War, being a good example. It's hard to imagine any situation in which it would be ok to rape. there are lots of virtual killing games all the way from the personal FPS to the mass Civilization-type games. At the time, Ender thinks he's exactly as culpable as someone playing Master of Orion. In contrast, how many rape simulators are for sale in Best Buy?

I think this is exactly one of the reasons Donaldson chooses to have Covenant rape Lena than have him drown a puppy or something.
posted by bonehead at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2011


And Ender goes out of his way to excuse his 'xenocide' even after he knows what he did. The whole first book is basically an exercise in justifying Hitler.

I don't think that's a good read on the story. In the ongoing narrative of the series, Ender struggles with what he did, although it is quite arguable that he was not morally culpable. The struggle is between him not knowing what he was doing, and yet feeling continually responsible, and thus trying to rectify the rather grievous mistake. Additionally, statements like this blur the description/prescription distinction. A story can be about something without the author having the intent of justifying something. To get at an intention of Card being a Hitler apologist needs to go a bit further than the story itself, I would think.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2011


Suzette Hayden Elgin, Nalo Hopkinson, Rebecca Ore, Eleanor Arnason, Suzy McKee Charnas, Gwyneth Jones, Karen Joy Fowler, Judith Merrill, Carol Emshwiller....holy crap, there are a ton of important women authors who aren't on the list.

A bunch of those women don't belong on the list. They may be important but one can't make an argument for "greatest". And for every one who could be on the list but isn't, one could name several male authors who didn't make the list. The issue isn't whether there are female authors one could put on the list, the issue is whether female authors are underrepresented, and it doesn't appear to me that they are.

Early SF was heavily male-dominated. So a poll like this is going to have more male authors than female ones. That's not the poll skewing male, it is (early) SF skewing male.
posted by Justinian at 12:26 PM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't believe there is a serious discussion about Thomas Covenant in this thread. What utter schlock (although I did read the first 6 books as an adolescent and enjoyed them then).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:26 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Essentially, I think you'll find the answer to that is yes, there is a difference. It's possible to set up game situations where it's socially acceptible, even heroic, to kill someone.

I didn't ask about socially acceptable or heroic killing, I asked about murder. Is it morally wrong to flat-out murder someone in a video game, as in GTA IV. Walk up to a random stranger and beat them to death with a crowbar.
posted by Justinian at 12:27 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> The YA distinction is bogus! His Dark Materials is no more "YA" than Lord of the Rings.
> posted by diogenes at 9:39 AM on August 4 [+] [!]

Agree agree agree. By YA they must specifically mean "stuff that was marketed by the publishers as Young Adult and shelved by Barnes and Noble in the YA section." Because there are books and series on the list that are YA by any remotely reasonable real-world definition (Earthsea trilogy, The Dark is Rising, Ender's Game) so it really seems borked to allow these but then not allow wonderful things like His Dark Materials or A Wrinkle in Time. Or (ahem) Harry Potter, which I thought was wonderful from beginning to end but YMMV.) It may just be that they felt they had to finagle the rules to keep Harry from inevitably being #1. Exactly that, after all, is what made the New York Times boot YA titles out of their normal bestseller tabulation and into its own statistical ghetto.

Besides, there are farking comic books on this list. If Sandman, why not Uncle Scrooge? High literary art and talking ducks. Fantasy fans can be proud!


> Are you seriously suggesting that it's immoral to commit rape in a lucid dream?

From Covenant's POV it might have been a real live rape-rape or it might have been a wish-fulfillment rape dream. A person's wish-fulfilment dreams speak as clearly as anything I can think of, barring real physical actions, about who and what that person is. Though I would not hold him responsible in the criminal sense (I would not cry out "Arrest that man! He dreams about raping chix!") I wouldn't want to so much as shake hands without at least two, maybe three rubber gloves. Ew! And I certainly wouldn't want to read a long series of novels about such a character. I know it's possible to read and enjoy a novel about an unsympathetic character without needing to identify with the, uh, hero (I didn't much identify with Raskolnikov or Humbert Humbert) but if I'm going to put out that level of reader effort I do expect the rewards to be up at the Dostoyevsky/Nabokov level. For fantasy escapist reading, spare me.


> incidentally is it embarrassing to have found marquez's stuff kind of boring

I couldn't put it down as long as Marquez stayed with the village in the jungle. Then the narrative moved to the city and I started to struggle and bog down. Also, for killing off that little girl I'd like to shake him very warmly by the throat. Talk about shooting the dog!


> Yesss Watership Down! I just came to post about how glad I was to see it on that list. It
> isn't sci-fi, it's fantasy. Seriously, it embodies every single thing that makes fantasy
> novels what they are, it's like the perfect fantasy novel.

I loved every page. But there's not much sex (except with rabbits.)
posted by jfuller at 12:27 PM on August 4, 2011


I can't believe there is a serious discussion about Thomas Covenant in this thread.

Because it's one of the foundations of the modern fantasy genre, along with the even schlockier Terry Brooks. That is independent of Donaldson's merits as an author.
posted by Justinian at 12:27 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: Thomas Covenant. I read the first six books, too, and enjoyed them - as an adolescent.
posted by hank_14 at 12:27 PM on August 4, 2011


I read Gone Away World last year and it is now one of my all-time favorite books, science fiction and otherwise. This was the first novel by Nick Harkaway and am eagerly awaiting his next book. (This prompted me to check, and Angelmaker is due to be published next year.)
posted by mach at 12:31 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Covenant's POV it might have been a real live rape-rape

No it couldn't! Once again, you only believe this because you have out-of-character knowledge that you are reading a fantasy novel.

Are you saying that if you "woke up" tomorrow morning and started seeing elves and giants and evil sorcerers that you would decide you might have been transported to a magical fantasy land? Rather than deciding you were dreaming and/or mentally ill?
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2011


A bunch of those women don't belong on the list. They may be important but one can't make an argument for "greatest".

Seriously? Seriously? We can't put Eleanor Arnason's work on the list but we can have a role-playing game tie in series like those Drizz't books? (Not to be snarky about those - I read the first ever Drizz't book when I was about 12 and loved it to death; for several years my dream was to write for Tor.)

The Shannara Trilogy, which is god-awful? And I'm supposed to believe (remember that we're talking books, not total bodies of work) that a lesser (albeit fun and beloved by me) Banks novel like The Algebraist belongs on the list but Motherlines doesn't? Midnight Robber doesn't? The Time-Traveller's Wife, which is weirdly sentimental and slishy, belongs on the list, Oryx and Crake (which I like but which isn't very good) belongs on the list but The Haunting of Hill House and Becoming Alien doesn't?

There is no absolute qualitative argument to make on those grounds. There's a cultural argument - to wit, that the Drizz't book and the Shannara Trilogy are considered more worthy and important in fantasy and science fiction discourse because (among other reasons) they don't deal with women's concerns.

Now, if we want to talk about bodies of work and the Best! Ever! science fiction writers, I would actually accept a list that skews male (although not nearly as male as it would inevitably be skewed) because, yes, science fiction writers with long careers and lots of high-quality books are somewhat more likely to be men.
posted by Frowner at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2011


(I actually think it's great that people are arguing about Thomas Covenant. Metafilter is a better place to have these nerderie arguments than almost anywhere else.)
posted by Frowner at 12:37 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


A person's wish-fulfilment dreams speak as clearly as anything I can think of, barring real physical actions, about who and what that person is.

Complete nonsense. And also, I don't think the description of him raping her was anything like wish fulfillment.
posted by empath at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2011


I haven't yet READ all these books... how could I possibly choose?

I now have my new library list!
posted by _paegan_ at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Are you saying that if you "woke up" tomorrow morning and started seeing elves and
> giants and evil sorcerers that you would decide you might have been transported to a
> magical fantasy land? Rather than deciding you were dreaming and/or mentally ill?
> posted by Justinian at 3:32 PM on August 4 [+] [!]

Am I a man dreaming he is a butterfly? Or a butterfly dreaming he is a man? At least I certainly would not overlook either possibility, as a possibility.
posted by jfuller at 12:41 PM on August 4, 2011


Well, the Culture and Culture allies have been shown to be willing to torture (in both Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward), and I wouldn't call them villians, exactly.

That's a good point, and Banks stocks the Culture with a lot of moral ambiguity as it is.

I say this because of reading the absolutely nauseating Complicity (which, yeah, is by the guy's alternate persona), and Matter, respectively, to make you think about how violence works in politics and who is culpable for what and to create horror and dismay at a social structure rather than a specific villain.

You're not exactly hitting me with the hard sell, here, but I haven't read either of those and firmly believe Banks capable of that kind of craft.

It's possible to set up game situations where it's socially acceptible, even heroic, to kill someone.

Which is why torture is by far the better comparator. But that leads me to the uneasy conclusion that those who see a vast difference between rape as a plot point and torture as a plot point admit a possible utility (let alone justification) of torture...?

Yes, if I suddenly find myself in a lucid dream (for example), I will *not* entertain the possibility that it is "real". Anyone who argues otherwise is, I suspect, being wilfully obtuse. I will also probably see my surroundings as a largely morality-free zone in which to do whatever I please. That might mean I choose to play with things I would never really do. Maybe carry out a bank heist. Maybe get in a fistfight. I would agree that the things I choose to do are perhaps a reflection of my values, but, I think, a very pale one.

Now I realize I haven't had a lucid dream since the invention of Minecraft, and I want one badly...
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2011


(tiny point of contention - I don't think he saw any elves or giants when he woke up in the Land. just lord foul in some huge dark cloud, right?)
posted by elizardbits at 12:43 PM on August 4, 2011


And I have had many, many lucid dreams and I have never tortured nor raped anyone.

I did kiss someone, though, just to see what that would be like in the dream. A passing stranger. Something else I wouldn't ordinarily do.

So yes, there are the seeds of sexual assault lurking darkly within me.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2011


I could add to your list Frowner (Maureen McHugh! Lisa Goldstein! R.A. MacAvoy! Kate Wilhelm! Pat Cardigan!) but you're arguing for the mid-list: good writers that appeal to a fairly small audience. What's on the NPR list are received classics that make every list, the really popular stuff much of which is really crap, and recent stuff that's still in peoples' heads. The interesting feature of this list is that some of the mid-list appears on it at all. I don't think this is a specific attempt to exclude female writers so much as a) a feature of the generational shift in authors and b) a reflection of commercial popularity. Were this list to be done a few year hence, I'd expect to see more Charlene Harris and the like on it, but no more of the Wilhelms and the Merrils.

Equally, there are quite a number of interesting writers not on that list who happen to be male. (Jon Walter Williams! Kurt Schroeder! Sean Williams! etc...)
posted by bonehead at 12:46 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


murder isn't that bad; everyone eventually dies anyway
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:47 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't believe there is a serious discussion about Thomas Covenant in this thread.

Because it's one of the foundations of the modern fantasy genre,


Well, yeah, and Bon Jovi's one of the foundations of 80s Hair Metal. That doesn't mean we need to take either seriously.
posted by philip-random at 12:49 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could add to your list Frowner (Maureen McHugh! Lisa Goldstein! R.A. MacAvoy! Kate Wilhelm! Pat Cardigan!) but you're arguing for the mid-list: good writers that appeal to a fairly small audience

I think my point is precisely that "good writers that appeal to a fairly small audience" is not a natural category - not a category like "biped carbon-based life forms". It's constructed by a specific network of publishers, reviewers and book-sellers that basically guarantee that a lot of good work by women SF writers is less well-known, less well-compensated and less awarded than similar or even inferior work by men.

This should bug everyone. Okay, I admit, it bugs me for feminist reasons. But it also bugs me for desperately need more books reasons - if there are great books out there that are out of print, published on poorly distributed small presses that don't get reviewed often, overlooked by ignorant or sexist book-buyers at SF bookstores....well, then I have even fewer awesome books to read and have to work harder for the ones I find. Awesome women writers...seriously people, where is the SF-adventure fan who wouldn't like Nicola Griffeth's Ammonite? It's an exciting, dramatic, violent saga with a planet full of wild-and-crazy civilizations, an evil corporation and a stoic, ultra-competent hero - but with lesbians!...anyway, awesome women writers need to have as good a shot at self-sustaining careers as awesome men writers, and they don't. And "best ever" polls like this one are a small thing that perpetuates this.
posted by Frowner at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't ask about socially acceptable or heroic killing, I asked about murder.

That's a side issue then, because that's not what Wiggin is set up to do. He thinks he's playing a fancy strategic wargame.

Your question is germane to what he does in the Giant game, come to think of it. That literally is beating a virtual being to death (without consequence). That's the only time he intentionally kills anyone in Ender's Game. Interestingly, that's not what he's blamed for, though I would argue, killing the giant is the only act for which he's in any way morally culpable.
posted by bonehead at 12:58 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as I was looking to see if Ammonite is still in print, I realized that it is - except the original swashbuckling interstellar SF cover (which actually conveyed something about the book) has been replaced by a pretty but wishy-washy watercolor cover which as good as says "this book is a deeply meaningful book about feelings for women". Now, I have many deeply meaningful books about feelings which are marketed to women, but dude, Ammonite has a scene where the martial-arts and firearms expert heroine slashes the belly of the riding beast she's stolen from the scary vaguely-Scandinavian tribe in order to crawl inside out of the blizzard and survive by her mastery of biofeedback. It has a scene where the secondary heroine - a member of the military police - organizes a rebellion against the evil corporation while wearing her sinister mirrored helmet.
posted by Frowner at 1:03 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


to wit, that the Drizz't book and the Shannara Trilogy are considered more worthy and important in fantasy and science fiction discourse because (among other reasons) they don't deal with women's concerns.

Shannara belongs on the list because it is one of the two pillars of the modern genre. Not because of what it does or does not deal with. The Drizzt books do not belong on the list and including them is a black mark.

We can't put Eleanor Arnason's work on the list

Eleanor Arnason most certainly doesn't belong on the list. What novel are you saying belongs? The Sword Smith? One of the greatest of all time? No way.

Banks novel like The Algebraist belongs on the list but Motherlines doesn't?

The Algebraist doesn't belong on the list, no. Charnas could have been on the list, yes. But then... Use of Weapons should also be on the list and isn't.

Midnight Robber doesn't? The Time-Traveller's Wife, which is weirdly sentimental and slishy, belongs on the list, Oryx and Crake (which I like but which isn't very good) belongs on the list but The Haunting of Hill House and Becoming Alien doesn't?

Midnight Robber doesn't belong. I don't understand the next question. Time Traveller's Wife is by a woman. If you want to take it off the list I'm not sure I'd argue but... I'm not sure what the point is. There are mediocre books by men on the list too. Hill House doesn't belong on the list not because it isn't good but because it is pure horror, and this list is science fiction or fantasy and pure horror is generally seen as a separate genre. Note that Stoker's Dracula isn't on the list either. Becoming Alien is decent but not one of the greatest ever.

The list is definitely idiosynchratic but what I'm saying is that there doesn't appear to be a systemic bias against female authors on it. You can come up with some women who maybe could have been on the list (Charnas, etc) but you can come up with a lot of men who could have been on the list as well (Ballard, etc). That simply means that the list is a little wonky, not that the list skews male.

on preview: This should bug everyone.

Ah, okay. Your issue is with the taste of the audience in general, then. Hey, I sympathize. I mean... Robert Sawyer? Really? Come on, people! But that's a different issue than this list being skewed, that's the taste of the audience being skewed.
posted by Justinian at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Covenant scarcely heard her. He was pacing out his agitation on the sand, enraged and undercut by an unwanted memory of Joan. Beside his lost love, Lena and the silver night of the Land failed of significance. The hollowness of his dream became suddenly obvious to his inner view, like an unveiled wilderland, a new permutation of the desolation of
leprosy. This was not real―it was a torment that he inflicted upon himself in subconscious, involuntary revolt against his disease and loss. To himself, he groaned, Is it being outcast that does this? Is being cut off such a shock? By hell! I don't need any more.

...

After a moment, she whispered, "What happened to your wife?"
Covenant's shoulders jerked. Thickly, he said, "She's gone."
"How did she die?"
"Not her―me. She left me. Divorced. Terminated. When I needed her."
Indignantly, Lena wondered, "Why would such a thing happen while there is life?"
"I'm not alive." She heard fury climbing to the top of his voice. "I'm a leper. Outcast unclean. Lepers are ugly and filthy. And abominable."
His words filled her with horror and protest. "How can it be?" she moaned. "You are not―abominable. What world is it that dares treat you so?"
His muscles jumped still higher in his shoulders, as if his hands were locked on the throat of some tormenting demon. "It's real. That is reality. Fact. The kind of thing that kills you if you don't believe it." With a gesture of rejection toward the river, he gasped,
"This is a nightmare."
Lena flared with sudden courage. "I do not believe it. It may be that your world―but the Land―ah, the Land is real."
Covenant's back clenched abruptly still, and he said with preternatural quietness, "Are you trying to drive me crazy?"
That is what he was thinking moments before he raped her. And this was led up to with pages and pages of misery about being dying, being cast out by society, being divorced by his wife, and he thinks his own mind is torturing him, taunting him with this perfect world to escape into, so his real body will die. So he tries to defile it with the disease he carries, to make it so it's appeal as an escape route for him is gone. He wants to make that world disappear. He wants to wake up. He doesn't see her as another being, he sees all of it as an extension of his diseased mind.
posted by empath at 1:06 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't ask about socially acceptable or heroic killing, I asked about murder.

That's a side issue then, because that's not what Wiggin is set up to do. He thinks he's playing a fancy strategic wargame.


We're specifically asking about a murder in a game. Whether it's one person or a billion, murder is murder.
posted by empath at 1:07 PM on August 4, 2011


Yeah, that's a complete dodge of the question. I don't understand why this is like pulling teeth.

Is beating a pedestrian to death with a crowbar in GTA IV morally wrong? Why is this so problematic to answer?
posted by Justinian at 1:11 PM on August 4, 2011


Let's try this; Is it immoral to murder someone in a video game? Is it immoral to rape someone in a video game? If the answer to those two questions differ, why?

I guess, I'm not that certain that there's a hard line there, making the Thomas Covenant question much more ambiguous and interesting. I can imagine that there's a level of verisimilitude at which actions like killing and rape do become problematic. When your observed reality becomes more real than real, if the person in front of you demonstrates every indication of being an authentic human being, at what point does the empathy to do no harm kick in?

In a way, Covenant is faced more with a problem akin to p-zombies and mind-blindness. We condemn people for violently acting on the belief that other people are not really human in this world. Do we do the same for Covenant? (Note, I don't have an easy answer to this.)

I see the problems of video games and abstract war to be radically divergent from what Covenant faces. The soldier in the silo is faced with an utterly depersonalized means to kill millions. Covenant maintains disbelief in spite of being confronted with stimuli and people who are just as authentic, if not more so, than what he experiences on Earth.

Certainly if I was to find myself in Covenant's shoes, I'd doubt my sanity. But there are a few reasons why I wouldn't take it as license to do anything for the following reasons:

First, knowing nothing about what kind of delusion I'm having or the extent of my disassociation/simulation, I'd be very cautious about doing anything with ontological and moral consequences. Perhaps the people I see are shadows or avatars of real people. Perhaps they are real people ala the Matrix. I can't know.

Second, without a way that allows me to conclusively say that you're not a real person, I'm going to treat you as one regardless.

Third, if you are an aspect of my subconscious, then I think I should treat you well, because those trips are a heck of a lot of fun.

Fourth, I'm not convinced that actions are only right or wrong for the effect they have on others.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:13 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is this so problematic to answer?

It's a genuinely interesting question, that's why. Which is why we need sci-fi/fantasy like Thomas Covenant to ask it.

For example -- what if you found out that the AI controlling the pedestrians in GTAIV were fully sentient and felt pain?
posted by empath at 1:14 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is what he was thinking moments before he raped her.

So? Halucination makes rape ok?

We're specifically asking about a murder in a game. Whether it's one person or a billion, murder is murder.

Is chess murder? That's what Wiggin thinks he's doing. Death in the game he thinks he is playing is an explict way of keeping score.
posted by bonehead at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2011


Fourth, I'm not convinced that actions are only right or wrong for the effect they have on others.

I'm not convinced of that either, nor does the book suggest that. It's really the whole question of the book. He doesn't become a psychopath, does he? He becomes convinced that what he did is wrong, and at some point decides to act heroically in The Land despite not knowing that it's real.

It's a complicated, difficult question, and people reading it as a pure power fantasy or something done flippantly simply don't understand the book or they object to depictions of rape in fiction entirely.
posted by empath at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2011


Shannara belongs on the list because it is one of the two pillars of the modern genre.

But it's an awfully shoddy pillar. Were the list in question, The Most Important Sci-Fi/Fantasy of all time, you'd probably have a strong argument, but the NPR words it as such:

the best science fiction and fantasy ever written.

Which puts Shannara and Thomas Covenant (and likely a few others) not even on the same planet as the likes of Dune (book one), much of Philip K Dick's stuff, Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin etc.

And again, it puts into question something like Neuromancer which really did change the world (if any single book ever has), but I still have a hard time recommending it to someone as a particularly good read. Gibson himself has topped it a bunch of times.
posted by philip-random at 1:19 PM on August 4, 2011


So? Halucination makes rape ok?

Surely if the rape and more importantly, the rape victim are both hallucinated, that makes a difference.

There's no reason to believe that anything that happened in The Land was real, at least as far into the books as I read.
posted by empath at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2011


Eleanor Arnason? Ring of Swords. Hugely important and influential. I think it's ungodly boring, myself, but I have had tons of conversations with, um, Big Name Fans in which they cite it. Secondary case for A Woman of the Iron People, also a bit boring.

And why not Midnight Robber? Or failing that, why not the more-award-winning Brown Girl In The Ring?

**
The point about "there's mediocre books by men and women on this list" is that there isn't a qualitative argument. This list isn't composed of "great" work and so suggesting that Ring of Swords or Midnight Robber doesn't belong on the list because it's inferior is silly. There's some sleight of hand involved in the whole "contest" thing anyway; we're not voting on the "best"; we're voting on the "most popular from among a certain selection". And of course there is systemic bias against women writers. I don't know how you can read the history of science fiction publishing (you can start with Asimov's idiotic letters about women fan) and think anything different.

I can't help but view this as a particularly stupid artifact of patriarchy, since in general guys who read science fiction do not actually enjoy the effects of patriarchy in their lives or in the lives of the women they care about - to wit, advocates of patriarchy cut themselves off from books, culture and relationships that they would actually enjoy, make things harder for the women fans in their lives and are generally not rewarded very much socially.
posted by Frowner at 1:20 PM on August 4, 2011


Is chess murder? That's what Wiggin thinks he's doing. Death in the game he thinks he is playing is an explict way of keeping score.

You are still avoiding the question.

Answer this:

Is murdering someone in GTAIV morally okay or not?
posted by empath at 1:21 PM on August 4, 2011


bonehead: "The list has the greatest disappointment to me is that most entries are novels in a genre where much of the best work has been done in shorter forms. Ted Chiang isn't on it, for example, and he's probably one of the best writers of the last decade. Much of Zelazny's best work was shorts, but none of his collections are on the list. Bradbury and Ellison and Cordwainer Smith get only lesser works nominated and peripheral mentions for exactly this reason. There are some collections on there, but only a few."

No time for a proper comment right now, but I needed to quote bonehead here because he's totally right. So many of the greatest works in SF are short stories, novellas or novelettes, and so many of the greatest authors did (and do) their best work at shorter lengths, it makes the whole concept of a greatest science fiction novels list at least a little questionable. There's a lot of wonderful novels, but opening the list to collections of shorter work would make it at least twice as rewarding.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:21 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is murdering someone in GTAIV morally okay or not?

I'm "avoiding" it because it's a non sequitor. That's not the question Card is trying to ask. If you think it is, then we have drastically divergent undertandings of the book and there's really nothing more to say.
posted by bonehead at 1:24 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to believe that anything that happened in The Land was real, at least as far into the books as I read.

There s no reason at all to believe The Land is real in the first trilogy. As I said earlier, my preferred reading of that trilogy is that The Land is not real and this is all a product of Covenant's disturbed mind.

That interpretation becomes more or less untenable during the second trilogy but that doesn't change it as a valid interpretation of the first.

And of course there is systemic bias against women writers. I don't know how you can read the history of science fiction publishing (you can start with Asimov's idiotic letters about women fan) and think anything different.

I don't think anything different. There used to be a strong bias in publishing against women authors (not just SF publishing). That's a skew in publishing, not in the list. That's all I'm saying. That this list, warts and all, accurately reflects a pretty decent cross-section of SF. There are women who maybe belong on it and are not there. There are men who maybe belong on it and are not there. There are women on the list who shouldn't be. There are men on the list who shouldn't be. There does not appear to be a bias in one direction or the other that was not present in the field itself before the last decade or two.
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2011


I can't believe there is a serious discussion about Thomas Covenant in this thread.

>Because it's one of the foundations of the modern fantasy genre,

>>Well, yeah, and Bon Jovi's one of the foundations of 80s Hair Metal. That doesn't mean we need to take either seriously.


Interestingly enough, at about the time I was reading Thomas Covenant at the age of 13 or so, I remember sitting in math class listening to Mike D rant about how awesome Bon Jovi is. I said something like "Bon Jovi sucks!" and Mike said "What the fuck did you just say?" in a very menacing way.

He now is the music columnist for the local daily, the lucky bastard.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Is murdering someone in GTAIV morally okay or not?

I might think I'm playing a game. I might think I'm mad or dreaming. But (just in case I'm wrong, which is not a possibility I am allowed to ignore) if I'm confronting something that passes the Turing test--or even comes close--I'm not going to rape it. Or, unless it's attacking me with a deadly weapon then and there, kill it.
posted by jfuller at 1:28 PM on August 4, 2011


I don't think it is morally wrong to kill in a video game, but it is morally wrong to want to do so. Covenant thought he was in a true sandbox world -- he could do anything. Having rape be your number one go to in that situation shows a certain lack of moral underpinnings.
posted by rtimmel at 1:28 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and near as I can tell, the collections on the list are actually "novels" in the sense that they have some thin connective tissue linking the stories. (Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, for example.) So somebody like Ted Chiang does get left out.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:28 PM on August 4, 2011


Eleanor Arnason? Ring of Swords.

Eh, not so much. Now if you had said Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, I might grant your point.

That is the point though: we're arguing fine point of writers who, while producing good work, loved by many, never rise to true commercial sucess. These best of lists really don't serve those sorts of authors well, male or female.
posted by bonehead at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2011


I'm "avoiding" it because it's a non sequitor. That's not the question Card is trying to ask. If you think it is, then we have drastically divergent undertandings of the book and there's really nothing more to say.

I think you're avoiding it because answering the question honestly explodes your position. This isn't just about Card, we're comparing Card and Donaldson.

If murdering someone in GTA IV is not morally wrong, then it is very difficult to maintain the position that doing anything in a video game is morally wrong. It then follows that doing something in a dream is not morally wrong as dreams are no more real than video games; In fact, I would argue that you have less volition in a dream. If doing something in a dream cannot be morally wrong, then Covenant's actions were likewise not something for which he is completely morally culpable.

So you're avoiding the question because you don't like where it brings you.
posted by Justinian at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Covenant thought he was in a true sandbox world -- he could do anything. Having rape be your number one go to in that situation shows a certain lack of moral underpinnings.

I don't think you've read the book.

He raped as a way to destroy the dream because he thought his own mind was trying to kill him, not as a power fantasy. His first instinct was to go along with the logic of the dream, and he did so for several chapters.
posted by empath at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2011


I don't think it is morally wrong to kill in a video game, but it is morally wrong to want to do so.

Thoughtcrime? And I don't understand the distinction in any case. It's not morally wrong to bludgeon a pedestrian to death with a crowbar in GTA IV, but it is morally wrong to load up GTA IV and decide to bludgeon someone to death with a crowbar? How else could it happen? You just happen to suddenly bludgeon a pedestrian to death with a crowbar without actually wanting to do it?
posted by Justinian at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2011


Lists!

The Sandman - I have these in comic book, trade paperback and hardcover format. Surprised Good Omens didn't make the list.

Neuromancer

Snowcrash (his other books were more historical fiction than scifi/fantasy)

LOTR (kind of had to, since I've read them so many times)

Elric (since Corum Jhaelen Irsei wasn't an option)

Song of Ice and Fire (even though I'm not done with his latest book, and he's not done writing it)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Submarines and SCUBA diving before either existed, with a nod to nuclear power.

Frankenstein - Is this either SciFi or Fantasy? Hmmm...it's on there.

Altered Carbon - Because Takeshi Kovacs is a badass.

Ender's Game - Not a fan of the author, but this is a solid book.
posted by Chuffy at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is the point though: we're arguing fine point of writers who, while producing good work, loved by many, never rise to true commercial sucess.

I don't think the poll says anything about "commercial success indicates that these are the best novels". Lud-In-The-Mist would still be a great, great novel even if Neil Gaiman didn't have a thing about it, causing it to be republished and more famous now. I mean, if we want to vote on what we think are the best best-selling science fiction novels then that's fine, but let's call it that.
posted by Frowner at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2011


Is chess morally equivalent to beating a game character to death with a crowbar? That's where I see the difference: personal, emotional intent.
posted by bonehead at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2011


In short - all "best of" lists are always political and need to be discussed as such; there is no such thing as a neutral, objective "best" list of writing. (There may be a plausible and non-controversial "best" list of netbooks or hiking socks, etc.)
posted by Frowner at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2011


Arrrgh. I don't care if Ender was morally culpable; he was not. I care whether Covenant was. Why are you stuck on Ender?
posted by Justinian at 1:33 PM on August 4, 2011


By the way, bonehead, you know that Ender actually murdered a kid, right? I mean... he beat him to death with his bare hands.
posted by Justinian at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2011


Because the claim was made up thread that Ender==Hitler.
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on August 4, 2011


He kills at least two barehanded, if I remember correctly. Card very carefully (and I think unrealistcally) sets things up so that Ender doesn't realize that though.
posted by bonehead at 1:37 PM on August 4, 2011


By the way, bonehead, you know that Ender actually murdered a kid, right? I mean... he beat him to death with his bare hands.

There's another question which clarifies this - does the structure of the book suggest that we are supposed to sympathize with Ender in his child-murder? Not "is it a plausible action" but "are we supposed to believe it is not a culpable action"? I think we are; I think we're supposed to believe that Ender did not fall; he was pushed - sin-wise, that is. The creepiness of Card's work lies in the reiteration of "and I just had to do this awful genocidal/violent/gross thing, I had no choice" when the whole plot is set up very elaborately to bring us, the readers (and Card) to that moment of justified violence.

In a way, Card is a lot like Lars Von Trier, particularly Dancer In The Dark. There's a lot of sleight-of-hand in his plotting to bring us to the point where we get our emotional buttons pushed by something awful. We're allowed to enjoy the justified violence or the depiction of grotesque violence against women because the author has built up this extremely carefully crafted plot so we can feel that it's inevitable - we're not choosing to read/see this violence; it's being done by the laws of the universe. Card likes a certain kind of emotional pornography but he doesn't want to cop to that.
posted by Frowner at 1:41 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Right, in contrast with Thomas Covenant, where you are supposed to think badly of the protagonist.

FWIW, I think that there he is in some way morally culpable for what he does in The Land, but I'm not quite sure why I think so. I think only the persistence of The Land in the face of disbelief makes it so.
posted by empath at 1:46 PM on August 4, 2011


In essense this boils down to volition.

Covenant chooses rape, regardless of the consequences. He doesn't, at that point, know for certain that the Land is a dream or whatever. He does it anyway, as an act of rage and to assert control.

Wiggan, in contrast, has no control. He's forced to play a game which, unknowingly, causes him to kill an entire race. He does what he does becasue he's a slave and powerless. The only being he does kill knowingly (and it is exactly as you say above, an AI driven game character) is the Giant. So maybe he is a murder in intent as well as fact then.

Actually, I think both situations are so contrived as to be repellant, the Card book in particular. It's hard to believe that Ender could be as naive about the manipulation he's undergoing as Card writes him to be.
posted by bonehead at 1:47 PM on August 4, 2011


Let's try this; Is it immoral to murder someone in a video game? Is it immoral to rape someone in a video game? If the answer to those two questions differ, why?

It doesn't have to be immoral. For me, for example, that scene just turned me off the book to the extent that I couldn't keep picking it up.
posted by Chuckles at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2011


He doesn't, at that point, know for certain that the Land is a dream or whatever. He does it anyway, as an act of rage and to assert control.

You would have to be a lunatic to think The Land was real given his circumstances.
posted by empath at 1:53 PM on August 4, 2011


We're allowed to enjoy the justified violence or the depiction of grotesque violence against women because the author has built up this extremely carefully crafted plot so we can feel that it's inevitable

I feel the same way about Frank Miller, too.
posted by empath at 1:57 PM on August 4, 2011


> Actually, I think both situations are so contrived as to be repellant, the Card book in particular.

I felt the same when I read it. Willing suspension of disbelief took a big hit.

If you want a young person with way-far-remarkable natural abilities who also gets exactly the way-far-remarkable training he needs to realize them then Paul Muad'Dib's your guy and Dune's your book.
posted by jfuller at 2:01 PM on August 4, 2011


He doesn't, at that point, know for certain that the Land is a dream or whatever.

This is the point at which I am forced to conclude you are arguing in bad faith.

On the other hand, I’m now imagining Picard in an alternate “The Inner Light” where, in a rage against the delusion, Picard slaughters the whole colony and then slowly learns that he must live a lifetime with his crime.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 2:04 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


You would have to be a lunatic to think The Land was real given his circumstances.

We have very different psychologies. You may as well call mental health services for me then.

There's nothing, sensorially, concretely in his experience of that moment, hinting to him that he is dreaming or halucinating. Indeed, it's explicity stated in the book that he feels more alive at that moment than he has in years. He doesn't believe the evidence of his senses. I would, in his place, have had at least some doubts of my own sanity or memories.
posted by bonehead at 2:14 PM on August 4, 2011


I would, in his place, have had at least some doubts of my own sanity or memories.

Did you read what I excerpted above? He did doubt his own sanity. That's the exact reason that he acted out.
posted by empath at 2:15 PM on August 4, 2011


There's nothing, sensorially, concretely in his experience of that moment, hinting to him that he is dreaming or halucinating.

There doesn't have to be; the very fact that he is in a fantasy world is prima facie proof that he is dreaming or hallucinating.
posted by Justinian at 2:16 PM on August 4, 2011


That is my point. He choses to rape Lena to assert control because he's angry. He does it not knowing fully if this is just a dream or not. He does it without care of consequence. He doesn't really know if Lena is real, if Lena is a halucination of a real person incorporated into his delirium or if Lena is just a fever dream. He rapes her anyway, because he's confused, aroused, angry and wants control.
posted by bonehead at 2:25 PM on August 4, 2011


> the very fact that he is in a fantasy world is prima facie proof that he is dreaming or hallucinating.

New Yorker cartoon from way back: two guys in prison fatigues with numbers, standing in beautiful landscape with tame deer, fuzzy bunnies, lovely ladies with wings bathing under a waterfall, cherubs flying around, etc. One says to the other, "Holy smoke, Al, we've REALLY escaped!"

It probably influences my attitude that if I were in Covenant's situation I would be going "If this be madness... KEWL!"
posted by jfuller at 2:27 PM on August 4, 2011


One of the things the Top Ten voting made me think about were the authors who don't really have a single *great* book, but have an excellent body of very good works, none of which stand above the rest... I'm thinking of writers like Adam Roberts, Greg Egan, Gwynyth Jones, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Charles Wilson, Elizabeth Moon, Chris Moriarty, Paul J. McAuley, John Barnes, Ken Macleod.
posted by aught at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


empath: Surely if the rape and more importantly, the rape victim are both hallucinated, that makes a difference.

Ultimately my reading of the first trilogy is that it's about how disassociation is a big problem from Covenant in both Earth and The Land. The fact that he responds to a burning-bush moment, regardless of its ontological reality, with an act of violence establishes how emotionally and morally broken he's become.

"He believed ..." merely strikes me as an argument for diminished capacity ala Andrea Yates. Regardless of what he believed, regardless of whether the dream is a hallucinatory, spiritual, metaphoric, or alternate reality, the causes (disassociation), guilt, and consequences are something he can't escape.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2011


Eh, not so much. Now if you had said Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint, I might grant your point.

Swordspoint? It's so schlocky!!! It's jumped-up fanfic! I lent it to a friend who'd read about it on some GLBTQ list and was expecting a cerebral experience...I warned her, but she was still distinctly non-plussed when she returned it.

Sort of makes you wonder what "great" means...I'm much more inclined to say that Swordspoint belongs on some kind of best-of list than I am to say that the Shannara books do...but for what? Oh man, that book is schlocky. Perhaps I'll reread it this weekend...I practically had it by heart when I was fourteen and it was a very big deal to a lonely queer child in the burbs.
posted by Frowner at 2:44 PM on August 4, 2011


Here's Thomas Covenant, much later in the book, facing what he did for the first time:
Mhoram came forward quickly, stretched out a restraining hand. "Softly, Covenant," he said. "What is wrong? We are guests."

But even while he protested, Covenant knew that Atiaran had not been wrong. He had seen himself kill at the battle of Soaring Woodhelven, and had thought in his folly that being a killer was something new for him, something unprecedented. But it was not something he had recently become; he had been that way from the beginning of the dream, from the beginning. In an intuitive leap, he saw that there was no difference between what the ur-viles had done to the Wraiths and what he had done to Lena. He had been serving Lord Foul since his first day in the Land.

"No!" he spat as if he were boiling in acid. "No, I won't do it anymore. I'm not going to be the victim anymore. I will not be waited on by children." He shook with the ague of his rage as he cried at himself, You raped her! You stinking bloody bastard! He felt as weak as if the understanding of what he had done corroded his bones.

Mhoram said intently, "Unbeliever! What is wrong?"
..

"Who are you?" Manethrall Lithe hissed through taut lips. With a quick shake of her head, a flick of her wrist, she pulled the cord from her hair and held it battle-ready. Prothall caught her arm. His old voice rattled with authority and supplication.

"Forgive, Manethrall. This matter is beyond you. He holds the wild magic that destroys peace. We must forgive."

"Forgive?" Covenant tried to shout. His legs failed under him, but he did not fall.
Bannor held him erect from behind. "You can't forgive."
The lesson of the book is not that rape is okay or forgivable. Unlike Ender's Game, it doesn't seek to justify what he did by removing choice. It's a book that doesn't ask easy questions or provide easy answers, imo. He's not a hero and he's not a villain. He's a deeply flawed human being.
posted by empath at 2:59 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


unlike Ender's Game, it doesn't seek to justify what he did by removing choice.

Which is why the divergent reactions to Card and Donaldson interest me so much; Card's work is clearly the more morally repugnant, but people react as if Donaldson's is the one beyond the pale. Because Ender's Game is so much more seductive to an audience which has historically been made up of people who align themselves far more closely with the wish fulfillment aspects of Card. Donaldson is the anti-Card; Covenant explicitly rejects The Land as a dangerous wish-fulfillment fantasy while the audience generally runs with those aspects of Card. Bullied, socially isolated genius turns tables on bullies and saves the day, destroying bullies in the process! Hooray!
posted by Justinian at 3:07 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My fault for trying to be pithy. First, I have read the book, but it was a very long time ago. I remember he was a rapist as part of remembering him as being very much an antihero, not in much more detail. "Wanting" to kill in GTA deserves more explanation. Actually, the use of GTA is a bit of a distraction. I don’t think you are talking about the killing associated with the game, i.e. the story-based objectives, but are talking about the bystander deaths. While the goals of the game are sometimes reached through killing someone, there is no real reason to kill bystanders. Sometimes those deaths just happen (especially if you're crappy at driving), but I think what you are talking about is the deliberate killing of bystanders for its own sake, divorced from the rest of the game, i.e., a murder simulator. And I think that buying and using a computer murder simulator is morally wrong. Not legally – there is no thoughtcrime involved – but morally.

Clearly, killing bystanders in GTA has little moral impact. Why, I don’t know – maybe because FPS’s have degraded murder as a moral issue in video games or because there are other objectives in GTA? But a pure murder simulator, or a rape simulator, would be morally wrong. Or I was trying to say, would be using GTA solely to kill bystanders.
posted by rtimmel at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2011


I once had an interesting conversation with a medical doctor. He had a patient who complained that whenever she was interacting with another person, as soon as that person started to talk she would see instead of their actual face an incredibly vivid talking animal head. She saw my doctor friend as a fox. She wanted help (which AFAIK he wasn't able to give her) because it was becoming distracting.

Hallucinations can incorporate real elements. In Covenant's case it was very possible that Lena could have been a real life passerby trying to help, EMT, or nurse. The real person might have been saying very different things than Lena, but violence to Lena could be violence to some real person for whom Lena was an avatar. If you know you are hallucinating it is dangerous to make any assumptions at all about the reality of what you are perceiving.

Maybe Covenant didn't know that. But I do, and I thought what he did was really dangerous and stupid and not in a fantasy sandbox way.

Anyway, as I said before I generally don't have a problem with fantasy rape, but I do have a problem with fictional devices that don't make any sense. If Covenant was trying to smash the illusion the sensible thing would be to destroy shit. The particular act he chose was only destructive if the girl was real. Killing her would have made much more sense. It's as if he knew he was in terrible danger and had to smash his way out of a locked room as quickly as possible, so he finds a RealDoll and instead of throwing it through the window he fucks it.
posted by localroger at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Donaldson is the anti-Card; Covenant explicitly rejects The Land as a dangerous wish-fulfillment fantasy while the audience generally runs with those aspects of Card.

Right -- I think it's clear that Covenant dearly wants The Land to be real, but rejects its reality as a means of self-preservation. The Land is everything he wants the world to be, and his importance to it is how he dearly wants to be seen in the real world. He does a terrible thing that he knows is terrible so he can contaminate The Land, to destroy its power to distract him from reality.

And even while he is accepting responsibility for what happens in The Land in the last excerpt I posted, he still persists in calling it "the dream." He feels guilty and he feels his act was unforgivable even though he still believes that it wasn't real.
posted by empath at 3:33 PM on August 4, 2011


Just out of curiousity, how do you all feel about the copious amounts of rape in the Game of Thrones books? I'm curious why all the vitriol directed at this particular book.
posted by empath at 3:37 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good to see the 'Riverworld' books on the list. Personally I think Philip J. Farmer's World of Tiers to be just as good.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:50 PM on August 4, 2011


Take Gormenghast - there is a book that has most assuredly *not* withstood the test of time. It's still a great book, but under appreciated, under read, and only appeals to a specific audience.

Yes, they have. But I tend to read sci-fi and fantasy for it's use of language more than it's world-building. I still need to read Dhalgren, but I love the rest of Delaney's work that i've read.
Need to read Thomas Covenant, but I know I'm not culpable for what I do in dreams and games. That's just silly.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:08 PM on August 4, 2011


The particular act he chose was only destructive if the girl was real.

No; Covenant wasn't trying to tear down the illusion, he was trying to render it no longer dangerous to him. By doing something he considered unforgivable Covenant believed he would eliminate (or at least reduce) the chance of the Land seducing him with its promise of respect and hero worship. Just smashing some stuff wouldn't have done that.

Covenant (correctly from his point of view) believed that acting the hero would destroy him. So he made sure he couldn't possibly be a hero by doing something terrible.
posted by Justinian at 4:11 PM on August 4, 2011


Need to read Thomas Covenant

Yeeeeah.... if you read SF for its use of language and style I don't think it's gonna be your thing. Donaldson used the most purple prose since Doc Smith, and his early work (which includes the first Covenant trilogy) was just that; the early work of a writer. His later stuff is more mature style wise but lacks the import and stature of the first Covenant books. He also uses the word "clench" an awful lot and occasionally seemed to flip randomly through a thesaurus when trying to come up with a word.

But his style is certainly unmistakeable and original. That doesn't, however, necessarily translate to "good".
posted by Justinian at 4:15 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Herodios: Be fair. That's not my criteria; it's my reaction to one book.

And philip_random, I get what you're saying, I do -- but *for me*, writing the protagonist of the series committing rape in the first twenty pages does not lend itself to convincing me to continue reading, regardless of whether the book is well-regarded or not. It might have fascinating characters and a great theme, but dude I'm supposed to follow through the series=rapist? No.
posted by tzikeh at 4:15 PM on August 4, 2011


strangely stunted trees: Would we say that Lolita is not a great book because the protagonist is not only just a rapist but a child abuser?

I never said the Thomas Covenant book wasn't a great book--I wouldn't *know* if it was great or not. I said I stopped reading it because the protagonist I was supposed to follow through the entire series committed rape in the first few pages of the book.

Please, everyone, stop misinterpreting what I thought was a pretty clear explanation of *my* reasons for not reading the book.
posted by tzikeh at 4:17 PM on August 4, 2011


I don't like the Thomas Covenant series because I don't think it's well-written. The reason people are able to argue about Covenant's mental state prior to committing the rape is not that it's complex and multi-faceted, but that it's badly narrated and explained. I also don't think the consequences are depicted in a particularly interesting way that could somehow redeem its occurrence. The first trilogy suffers from a lot of underwriting IMHO, not just on this point.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, howdy Durn!
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 4:32 PM on August 4, 2011


I never said the Thomas Covenant book wasn't a great book--I wouldn't *know* if it was great or not. I said I stopped reading it because the protagonist I was supposed to follow through the entire series committed rape in the first few pages of the book.

It happens in the 6th chapter, not the first few pages of the book.

The reason people are able to argue about Covenant's mental state prior to committing the rape is not that it's complex and multi-faceted, but that it's badly narrated and explained.

I think it's because they haven't read the book, or don't remember the book. The explanation is completely on the nose and not subtle at all.
posted by empath at 4:35 PM on August 4, 2011


Yep. As I said, Donaldson isn't the greatest prose stylist SF has ever produced. By a mile. But Covenant's motivations are not ambiguous.
posted by Justinian at 4:39 PM on August 4, 2011


Just out of curiousity, how do you all feel about the copious amounts of rape in the Game of Thrones books? I'm curious why all the vitriol directed at this particular book.

I've not read the Game of Thrones books largely because I don't think they're my kind of fantasy at this time. And it's not so much vitriol at the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but vitriol at the silly argument that the rape didn't matter because it's just like GTA IV.

In general, I think it depends a fair bit on how rape is handled. Anne Rice pissed me off for having a drug-induced rape in the opening to one of her novels in which the magic yoni cures both heartbreak and a heart condition. I read between the lines, and saw 400 pages of rape as kink ahead of me, and threw the book back on the shelving cart. Cherryh's Cyteen has rape and three off-screen murders near the start of it, but but most of the first half of the book (a bit too much IMO), is about how the whole incident turned the adolescent victim into a deeply scarred adult.

It is a topic that can be a trigger for me, although writing is almost always safer than television. I couldn't get through the first episode of Jeckyll and I've walked out of diners when certain events have hit the news. I've got Windup Girl on standby for a mood when I can tackle it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2011


It's not a question of ambiguity about Covenant's motives, but of their plausibility. The "unbelief" of Covenant is not handled skillfully for most of the series. As I said, it's underwritten, and it wobbles between goofy and idiotic.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:02 PM on August 4, 2011


Also, the leprosy thing strikes me as melodramatic, considering leprosy was curable when Donaldson wrote the book.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 5:03 PM on August 4, 2011


Covenant (correctly from his point of view) believed that acting the hero would destroy him. So he made sure he couldn't possibly be a hero by doing something terrible.

Look, I could see that's where Donaldson was headed, and it just didn't work for me. The problem is that rape is a horrible crime in a personal sense, if the person you're raping is really a person, in which case what he did was just fucked up. But compared to serial or mass murder, nuking a city, or jeopardizing the existence of the entire world, it is pretty small beer. If you genuinely believe the person you are fucking isn't even really a person, it's masturbation.

Let me put it another way: If I was depending on Covenant's help for salvation, and I was facing something that threatened to kill or enslave everyone I'd ever known, I would give precisely one pico-rat's-ass that he raped the first person he met in the Land because he thought it was an illusion he was trying to escape.

I am not complaining about the rape per se. (I'd have to be a hell of a hypocrite to do so, since I personally wrote a book that starts with zombie and neo-Nazi rape, proceeds through serial killer seduction with fond reminiscences and the main character torturing an old nemesis essentially to death just to find closure, finishes with destruction of the entire universe as the entree and parent-minor child incest for dessert. Nobody will publish it, but lots of people who read it like it, which I find rather amazing.) My problem with Covenant's rape is that it doesn't make sense at the point it happens. I don't have the benefit of reading the rest of the series because that scene turned me completely off it, and I'm the kind of person who is generally not bothered by this sort of thing.

Covenant isn't on a power trip, which I could understand. He isn't actually angry with Lena or trying to dominate her, which I could understand. He isn't taking pleasure in what he does, which I could understand. He is essentially saying YOU'RE NOT REAL, YOU'RE SO NOT REAL I'M GONNA STICK MY DICK IN YOU AND PUMP BACK AND FORTH WHILE YOU SO UNREALLY TRY TO ESCAPE UNTIL I FILL YOU WITH MY FAKE JISM, AND THAT WILL SO SHOW YOU THAT YOU'RE NOT REAL. (And yes, I hear him shouting that.) And that just does not make any sense to me. He goes from angsty to rapey with really no reason that I find believable and while I'm sure Donaldson made it work in practice, in brief description I find the idea that this one act then became the basis for civilization-risking levels of future angst just ridiculous.
posted by localroger at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2011


Accellerando is really a glaring omission.
posted by FeralHat at 5:14 PM on August 4, 2011


Also, the leprosy thing strikes me as melodramatic, considering leprosy was curable when Donaldson wrote the book.

You didn't read very closely. The bacteria which causes Hansen's disease can be killed by antibiotics. And Covenant's was so killed. But the peripheral nerve damage caused by the disease is irreversible.

Leprosy doesn't cause lesions and your bits to fall off and such. It kills your nerves such that you can't feel when you get cut or injured, and infection does the rest.
posted by Justinian at 5:25 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It happens in the 6th chapter, not the first few pages of the book.

I thought the rape was explained in the first pages of the book.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2011


Justinian>Leprosy does however, take a fairly long time to develop, especially before major nerve damage results, and it seems implausible that he wouldn't go to a doctor and get himself investigated once he started to notice numb patches and discolorations.

Let's face it, Covenant is a leper not for any logical, medical reason, but just so that:

a) He has some sort of excuse for being a self-loathing asshole who treats other people like shit. This is so he can be "redeemed" later in the story.
b) It contrasts the misery of his everyday life with the wonder of the Land. He can feel!

His disease, therefore, doesn't really make sense, nor does his response to it, except insofar as it allows Donaldson to push those themes, which I think he does clumsily, and which I don't think the disease actually helps him do. The crappiness of Donaldson's writing means that the Land never comes to life - he's too busy making it a parodic inversion of LotR to really make it plausible. So we don't feel the change in sensitivity or vivacity that Covenant is supposed to.

As for the first point, everyone IRL is an asshole to Covenant because he's a Marty Stu. I don't really think people are so familiar with leprosy anymore as to be viscerally afraid of it and of lepers.

localroger> Yes, it's a very weird response to try and rape a dream. I would think that attacking it in a general way might be more plausible.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:31 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The argument was never about the overall quality of the Thomas Covenant series. Rather it was about whether that a rape was portrayed in the book automatically disbarred it from consideration. Certain early posters seemed to claim that "ZOMG, this series has this incident in it, therefore the entire thing is vile and can have no value whatsoever as literature".

Now while the Covenant rape is a terrible thing (even modulo the quasi-imaginary nature of its setting and his later extreme repentance) many of the other books that these same people heaped with praise were full of no less heinous things like torture and genocide.

The question is how they reconcile these nominally contradictory views.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:50 PM on August 4, 2011


I think Donaldson's attitude towards leprosy was formed largely by his experiences as the son of a medical missionary in India. Hence the attitudes which seem out of time and out of place.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 6:50 PM on August 4, 2011


Wow, it's really not OK for people to not like rape in their pretendy funtimes books, is it?
posted by immlass at 7:21 PM on August 4, 2011


Leprosy does however, take a fairly long time to develop, especially before major nerve damage results, and it seems implausible that he wouldn't go to a doctor and get himself investigated once he started to notice numb patches and discolorations

But if we're really getting into the details... Lord Foul's Bane is from 1977. There were antibiotic therapies at that time, but the effective treatments which worked quickly and reliably weren't around until the early or mid 80s. So Donaldson wasn't inaccurate at the time he wrote the book, it's just that even more effective treatments came about in the next decade.
posted by Justinian at 7:25 PM on August 4, 2011


And while I'm thinking about it, I should add that I'm not sure what discussion Chekovian is reading, but it's not the one I've been popping in and out of all day. I thought the Covenant books were a shitty series in part, but not solely, because of the rape, both the lousy reasoning behind why Covenant does it and the lazy use of the rape to make Covenant "bad" and then redeem him later because he felt bad about it. All this other stuff about other books and the implication that it's unfair if readers don't react the same way to whatever other nasty things other authors put in their books is a red herring.

I think it's a shitty series. If you think it's high art or needs to be on your best 10 list or is your favorite book, more power to you. You're entitled to your opinion, but so are those folks who didn't like the book or found it not worth continuing over rape or any other plot point or any other reason. It's not a personal insult if someone disagrees with you about the enjoyability or literary merit of a particular book.
posted by immlass at 7:38 PM on August 4, 2011


Was The Child Garden on the list? If so, I missed it - but both it and The Warrior who Carried Life are astounding.

For people who don't like sexism or just bad/boring female characters -- this is why I'm heavily drawn to the female authors of the New Wave Sf (along with the fact that I'm more into social issue than science) -- Marion Zimmer Bradley has some great stuff and Anne McCaffrey has good female characters (until they have kids). Bujold is, of course, brilliant - Ista in Paladin of Souls is the best middle-aged female character I've ever read.

And there are male writers who write women well -- Terry Pratchett (his Hat full of Sky actually has a dearth of male characters, if you don't count the Nac Mac Feegles). Geoff Ryman (The Child Garden, the Warrior who carried life) is good too.

Elisabeth Vonarburg's The Maerlande Chronicles is a brilliant (though slightly flawed, plot-wise) book.
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on August 4, 2011


Speaking for myself, Covenant is so far from my top 10 list that he's not even in the same solar system. I just hoped people would understand the thing before dismissing it because of how important Donaldson is in the history of the genre. Brooksish second artist effect stuff dominated for, what, two decades and I'm glad the pendulum swung away from him in the last 15 years. Even if the big thing now is shitty fangfuckers.
posted by Justinian at 8:59 PM on August 4, 2011


Cryptonomicon ?? Wow, someone actually got to the end?

3 times now. The System of the World trilogy once, and perhaps only once through the rest of my life time.

Still haven't been able to get through Tristram Shandy however.
posted by juiceCake at 9:01 PM on August 4, 2011


I'm sorry . . . no Olaf Stapledon? Author of Odd John, Sirius, Last and First Men, and Star Maker? Unparalleled bogosity.

" . . . Star Maker may be, like the universe we happen to live in, a flawed masterpiece, but it is still a masterpiece. It is a classic work of imaginative literature, speaking to our modern age. It should be on the list of Great Books that anyone claiming to be educated should read. It is worthy to be compared . . . with the Divine Comedy of Dante." -- Freeman Dyson
posted by 0rison at 9:58 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


immlass, I was speaking about the thread within this thread that debated Ender's Game vs Thomas Covenant. Most of the pertinent comments have been between bonehead, empath, and Justinian. Should I make you some kind of hyperlinked walkthrough?

I never said it wasn't okay to dislike this stuff. The seed question was why do people dislike one thing in a book but gloss over other things in other books that are pretty damn bad too. Was that too subtly put?

Personally I don't think Thomas Covenant is great literature, but if you want to dismiss its literary merit on the grounds of one issue, then self consistency demands you dismiss many other things as well. I think this is the issue some of us have been discussing.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:23 PM on August 4, 2011


Justinian> Actually, the drugs in question did exist, they just weren't used as part of a multi-drug cocktail. That cocktail was being tested in the 60's and 70's though (which is why it became available in the 80's).

While I don't expect Donaldson to be a medical expert, P&R's explanation pretty clearly explains what's going on - Donaldson transposed the fear and hatred of lepers in whatever part of mid-century India he spent time in to a context in which it doesn't make a lot of sense: Contemporary America. Leprosy is just a medical condition, albeit one that provokes mild feelings of disgust in many people, in America. It doesn't have the strong cultural associations that Donaldson tries to pretend it does.




And to make my argument a little clearer: Though I am not one of the people who discount the TC books solely because of the rape, the poor writing that makes the books awful junk is evident in the rape scene, as well as throughout the rest of the text, including Donaldson's poor handling (really, exploitation) of the leprosy issue (which was the earliest indicator for me, though I slogged through anyhow). One can point to the rape scene as an early indicator of how the book is going to handle emotionally charged situations and complex characterisation (viz. badly).
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:56 PM on August 4, 2011


Card's work is clearly the more morally repugnant, but people react as if Donaldson's is the one beyond the pale.

Donaldson's Covenant shit is beyond the pale because it's shit. It really isn't very good. The deep concepts may be sound but the prose is thick and syrupy to the point of turgid and the protagonist is a f***ing pain to spend time with. I read the first book in my mid-late teens because the cover made it look like Lord of the Rings. I didn't enjoy it but I did finish it because that's what I generally did in those days. The second book I came across in a University English class so I had to read it. I thought that being more mature now, maybe I'd get more out of it. I got less. Just sub-sub Tolkien by way of interminable self-loathing. What an ordeal! Lord Foul indeed.

Hate on Orson Scott Card's alleged immorality all you want, the man can write a compelling story, which redeems him a lot in my particular moral universe.
posted by philip-random at 11:11 PM on August 4, 2011


How do those of you who violently object to the Coventant books feel about Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun if you've read it? It always surprises me that Covenant gets so much hate compared to Severian, who seems to me a much less forgiveable protagonist.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 11:19 PM on August 4, 2011



How do those of you who violently object to the Coventant books feel about Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun if you've read it? It always surprises me that Covenant gets so much hate compared to Severian, who seems to me a much less forgiveable protagonist.


I'm still not 100% sure what happened in the Book of the New Sun - how much was truth and how much was lies. But it stays with me.

I didn't examine Ender's Game much as a kid. I guess it appealed to me for the same reasons you'd imagine it would.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:29 PM on August 4, 2011


The deep concepts may be sound but the prose is thick and syrupy to the point of turgid

Ok, now we're getting into the weeds but that prose is part of the point. It is actually evidence for my favored interpretation of the first trilogy. Most people forget (or overlook) that Covenant is himself a writer of pulpy, turgid fantasy. That the Land appears and is described in that way is evidence that it is a product of Covenant's mind. It is thick and syrupy because the metaphors that come out of the fevered mind of a hack fantasy writer are thick and syrupy.

That doesn't make it any more pleasant to read, nor should someone who hates the style force themselves to read it. I can barely stand the style myself. But it is obviously deliberate on Donaldson's part. Check his Daughter of Regals if you don't think so.

Just sub-sub Tolkien

Exactly; Covenant was a writer imitating writers imitating Tolkien.

The weird thing is that I don't actually like the Covenant books much. But I feel compelled to defend what Donaldson was doing in the same way that someone who loves (say) electronic music would feel like they had to defend what a historically important early pioneer of that genre of music was doing even if the music itself isn't necessarily brilliant. Because if people are going to hate on it they should at least hate on it for the reasons it should be hated on, not because it is "just noise" or whatever.
posted by Justinian at 12:08 AM on August 5, 2011


Marion Zimmer Bradley has some great stuff

She does, but I've never been able to hold her "feminist revisionism in sci-fi and fantasy" in quite the same high regard when I discovered the whole covering-up-for-and-enabling her kiddy-raping husband. I know, I know, art not the artist, but it would be like discovering Margaret Atwood had a lucrative sideline in providing underage surrogate mothers for wealthy single men or something.
posted by rodgerd at 12:58 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


is genocide really that bad?

consider: the suffering a living person will experience is necessarily more than that which a cadaver will endure.

in that light, from a utilitarian point of view, murdering an individual is not only, but the only moral action. the suffering of the dead's relatives and friends may be cited as countering this.

however, genocide solves this by including them in the action.

therefore, genocide is the most moral possible action, as it permanently ends the suffering of many.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:16 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Earlier The Stars, My Destination was deemed vile and despicable because the main character rapes someone.

Yet The Demolished Man is entirely focused on how one man can plot how to stick a gun barrel in someone's mouth and blow out his brains and get away with it, and it is considered a great work of literature.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:47 AM on August 5, 2011


Proof and Refutations: How do those of you who violently object to the Coventant books feel about Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun if you've read it?

I already answered this question. The idea of the protagonist as an insufferable asshole goes all the way back to the Gilgamesh.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:03 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know, I just had a thought on this whole violence-in-SF versus rape-in-SF thing: average men and women are far more likely to suffer sexual assault than murder, to perpetrate sexual assault than to commit murder and to know someone who has committed or suffered sexual assault than to know someone who has committed murder or to have a friend murdered. Additionally, there's a strain of discourse which tries to normalize actually-existing rape (she was wearing a short skirt/guys just can't help it, etc) and this strain of discourse is far, far more widespread and has more traction than any of the various discourses which try to normalize murder.

And books are read as dialogue - they're relevant because we read them in relation to what we know of the world and as commentary on it. This is realistic, that is not; this is fun, that is depressing - that stuff is all contingent on culture and experience. A rape in a novel is read as part of popular culture discourse on rape, and popular discourse on rape is far nastier and meaner than popular discourse on murder. It's not surprising that people have much stronger reactions to writing about rape than to writing about intergalactic genocide.

(For an illustration of what I mean about reading in discourse with the world - after seeing my friends brutalized in jail I read L. Timmel DuChamp's Marq'ssan books (which contain some very solid, very political descriptions of imprisonment and brutality) very differently because I read them in dialogue with both my experience and how popular media narrated my experience ("They deserved it! And it wasn't that bad anyway, even the head injury and the near death part!") I couldn't read Iain Banks's novel Matter at all because of the opening. I read these books very differently than before, and very differently than I would expect someone else to read them.)
posted by Frowner at 5:08 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


A large part of the problem is that the human mind can't deal with tragedy on a large scale without focusing on individuals. This happens with rape as well. We can't wrap our minds around genocidal rape or murder except in the abstract. And genocide also gets bound up in utilitarian calculus and just-war doctrines. Is it acceptable, as is the case in Footfall, to threaten the annihilation of species that dropped a large asteroid in the Indian Ocean as part of their invasion plan?

But I think that literary treatment of both is difficult to generalize.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:43 AM on August 5, 2011


She does, but I've never been able to hold her "feminist revisionism in sci-fi and fantasy" in quite the same high regard when I discovered the whole covering-up-for-and-enabling her kiddy-raping husband.

Really? I don't know much about her personal life, but she was a) a single mother (ie no husband - divorced at a time when that was very difficult for women and she struggled to support her kids - this doesn't sound very "enabling") and b) later wrote realistically about child molestation and the horror of it in one of the Darkover books.
posted by jb at 5:47 AM on August 5, 2011


also - it was the 60s. She may have covered up to protect her kids from the shame. Things were different then - but I think even now, a parent might cover up that their child had been molested for the child's sake.
posted by jb at 5:51 AM on August 5, 2011


How do those of you who violently object to the Coventant books feel about Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun if you've read it?

I enjoyed them as books/a story but was frequently creeped out by Severian. It's entirely possible I'd go back and read them now and dislike them despite the things I enjoyed on early readings (prose styling, alien world, etc.). I'm currently rereading the Chronicles of Amber for an rpg-related project and I know I'm much more sensitive to Corwin's issues about women than I was the last time I read the books all the way through.

In answer to an earlier question about Game of Thrones, I never got into it when the first one came out and I'm now dubious about whether it would be my cuppa for a variety of reasons. Some of the sexual stuff I've read about gets a side-eye, but I'm also not sure I have the time and/or interest to commit to an ongoing series that shows no sign of ending and takes so long between books that I'm likely to forget what happened.
posted by immlass at 6:32 AM on August 5, 2011


Covenant commits rape intentionally.

In what he thought was a dream.

So his answer to the classic sophomore bull-session question, "Would you commit rape if you knew you would never get caught and never be punished?" is "Yes!"
posted by not that girl at 7:06 AM on August 5, 2011


jb, Marion Zimmer Bradley was married twice. Her second marriage was to Walter Breen and they were together for 15 years, but didn't officially divorce until 1990. Breen was a pedophile. He died in prison in 1993 while serving a 10 year sentence for molesting a 13 year old boy. Marion knew about his pedophilia before she married him in 1964. She knew about and covered up his molestation of several boys. Details here.

That said, she's a great writer and I still like her books, except for the Mists of Avalon. I can't stand that one.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:49 AM on August 5, 2011


So his answer to the classic sophomore bull-session question, "Would you commit rape if you knew you would never get caught and never be punished?" is "Yes!"

As we have said multiple times, that was not his motivation. And the idea that dreaming about committing a rape is immoral is just mind-blowing to me.
posted by empath at 8:17 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The classic sophomore bull-session question is whether or not you would commit rape if the victim were imaginary?

Oh wait, I was reading in good faith argumentation.

Sorry the thread has taken this turn, and sorry to have contributed to it at all.

Great additions to my reading list, though, this post and thread, so thanks to all for that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:17 AM on August 5, 2011


So because this provokes a visceral reaction in some people, just thinking about it becomes thought-crime?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:22 AM on August 5, 2011


Walter Breen was a pedophile?

i guess selling humanity down the river to the fucking Combine just wasn't shitty enough for him, huh
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:22 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


It always surprises me that Covenant gets so much hate compared to Severian, who seems to me a much less forgiveable protagonist.

What is it that Severian does that you find unforgiveable?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:37 AM on August 5, 2011


What is it that Severian does that you find unforgiveable?

For one thing he's a rapist, which is where this line of discussion started.
posted by Justinian at 8:53 AM on August 5, 2011


For one thing he's a rapist, which is where this line of discussion started.

I think there are several factors:

1. The Book of the New Sun is so much better written and constructed than the Thomas Covenant books that it gets an ideological pass from a lot of people, basically including me. I'm creeped out by quite a lot in the books but unable to resist the world.

2. The rape (rapes?) occur much later in the books and are not as clearly signposted, possibly because Wolfe himself doesn't think of them as rapes - which makes Wolfe creepier than Donaldson, doesn't it? Almost all of Severian's sexual experiences are in situations of dubious consent where I think Wolfe expects us either to be unconcerned by consent (the rape of Jolenta, which I didn't realize was rape the first five or six times I read the books) or to think that consent has taken place even though the situation renders consent kind of impossible (the girl Severian rescues from the Land People, for example; the woman in the horse guard Severian joins).

3. Possible diminished culpability of Severian based on the world having horrible norms - ie, Covenant is more culpable because he lives in a world in which there's a fairly bright line with regard to sexual assault; in Severian's world, there's no bright line and a LOT of sexual assault. I think this is a weak argument though because we readers live in our world and not Severian's.

I think that basically Severian is viewed as more sympathetic because 1. Wolfe writes him as sympathetic (though strange to us) whereas Covenant is written as a jerk (and a familiar type). Also, the narrative does not signpost the sexual assaults so that it's possible to be confused or to ignore them. I count myself second to none as a PC thug who was critical of Wolfe from the moment I picked up The Shadow of the Torturer, but I honestly did not see the sexual assaults in the story until multiple re-readings later.

(Also, the world of BotNS is so weird and rich that it can be hard to pick up all the plot points - I remember having only the haziest grasp of the plot the first time I read the books.)

Covenant may be creepier than Severian, but I think that Donaldson may be less creepy than Wolfe. "Rape is really evil so I will use rape to show that my protagonist is really evil" is probably a less sexist thing to think than "in this amazing far future world, consent is largely irrelevant because everyone is just so brutal!!!".

(Also, is anyone else really tired of the "evil wife divorces her husband, is horribly punished by disease/gets eaten by an ancient shark god/gets impaled by a monster" trope in Wolfe's stories?)
posted by Frowner at 9:45 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Kind of" impossible?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:54 AM on August 5, 2011


"Kind of" impossible?

Huh?

I'm not sure how possible consent is in the rescue situation; and the horsewoman was basically awarded as a prize to Severian, IIRC. Not sure what we're arguing - if you're implying that by saying "kind of " I am engaging in rape apologetics then you're misreading my argument, which is anti-Wolfe. I'm interested in why the rapes in BotNS don't attract the condemnation that some other SF sexual assaults do; I'm not asserting that they aren't rape or that they should be passed over.
posted by Frowner at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2011


And what about the many icky sexual relationships in Heinlein's books? Why do they get a pass? They don't even have the excuse of taking place in a world with different cultural standards.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on August 5, 2011


And what about the many icky sexual relationships in Heinlein's books? Why do they get a pass?

Do they? Late-period Heinlein is often subject to pretty sharp criticism because of it's sexual politics. From the time of publication on, he's been widely regarded as treating incest and pedophilia too lightly. Alexi Panshin is probably the most widely read of the Heinlein detractors (see, for example Heinlein in Dimension) , but L. Sprauge de Camp and Damon Knight were vocal critics too of things like Farnhams Freehold and Methusala's Children. Heinlein's adult stuff has never had an uncontested reception, even from inital publication.
posted by bonehead at 10:24 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I meant that construction doesn't shed any light. If you believe consent impossible under the circumstances put forth in a given episode of Book of the New Sun, state so. If consent is possible, but you believe it was not given, why not? I admit I don't recall the situations you are speaking of clearly.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:40 AM on August 5, 2011


Severian is simply better handled than Covenant, I think is the real answer. It's not out-of-bounds to have a monster as a main character, rape is probably the least of Severian's many atrocities, but the author has to handle it carefully. The clumsiness of the Covenant rape is the problem, as can be seen in this thread. A lot of people throw the book across the room at that point.

Severian is better compared to Humbert Humbert than Covenant, IMO. He's sympathetic enough and handled skillfully enough to be compelling reading. Donaldson is using a "girlfriend in a refrigerator" cheap manipulation on his readers. It's called out for the many of the same reasons, I think.
posted by bonehead at 10:41 AM on August 5, 2011


> How do those of you who violently object to the Coventant books feel about Gene Wolfe's
> Book of the New Sun if you've read it?

I read a ways into the first one and did notice that his I-spent-the-summer-at-the-Bread-Loaf-writers'-conference prose was several cuts better than John Norman. Then I started to see where he was going with Severian and threw it across the room. It's not enough better for that.
posted by jfuller at 3:08 PM on August 5, 2011


empath: And the idea that dreaming about committing a rape is immoral is just mind-blowing to me.

This still strikes me as a misleading analogy, for many of the reasons you, yourself, have admitted.

Greg Nog: What is it that Severian does that you find unforgiveable?

He's an unreliable narrator. There are a few too many holes, inconsistencies, and improbable coincidences for us to take what he writes at face value, especially when he goes to great lengths to protest his veracity. Once he retcons a soft-focus love scene with a casual admission of rape, the other parts of his heroic journey start looking less than credible. Wolfe adds another layer of textual ambiguity through the fictional translator notes.

empath: And what about the many icky sexual relationships in Heinlein's books? Why do they get a pass?

This is just stupid. What about Gor? What about The Diamond Age? What about Conan the Barbarian (film version)? What about Accellerando? What about Cyteen? What about Gate to Women's Country? What about a hundred other speculative fiction works that have icky sexual relationships?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:20 PM on August 5, 2011


And what about the many icky sexual relationships in Heinlein's books? Why do they get a pass?

That isn't even true in this thread.

Having sat down and thought about New Sun some more, I remember why the rapes aren't what I remember most clearly as skeevy about it: the brain-eating and the feast where Severian consumes part of Thecla's body with the alzabo stuck harder in my memory. The skeevy sexual thing I remember best is his obsession with his own grandmother, which was creepy enough before the reader clues into who she is.

The big skeevy thing in the Covenant books, which is an underlying problem with the rape scenario apart from the rape and its use as a cheap teachable moment, is the way Donaldson ties together Covenant's antiheroism and his leprosy. No matter how you slice the cause and effect/metaphor chain, it comes out looking like some bizarre downside of the prosperity gospel interpretation of the outward signs of inward grace. Linking disability directly with moral failures and mental illlness is touchy stuff and Donaldson doesn't handle that any better or more sensitively than he does the rape.
posted by immlass at 4:35 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


What about Gor?

I have got to admit to having mixed feelings about John Norman. In college I knew a guy who was absolutely enthralled with Gor and his total abdication of responsibility via the Gorean philosophy deeply creeped me out. (The series itself did this starting with the eighth book.) Yet in those days you could walk into Barnes & Noble B. Dalton and there would not infrequently be cardboard display racks of the latest Gor novel, not to mention at least a full shelf of the back issues, and should a twelve year old boy wander into the store and plonk one of those puppies down by the cash register they had no qualms about taking his money for it.

Nowadays if you want to buy one of Norman's books, early or recent, you have to order it from a publisher that normally specializes in porn -- and for some years you had to look for it used. This strikes me as a rather stupid way for an industry to treat someone who brings them a proven reliable audience, and as shallow and bad for the public image of my kink as I think Norman is I don't like the fact that he and his fans are so thoroughly dissed.

Then again, at least he didn't have to self publish.
posted by localroger at 4:40 PM on August 5, 2011


immlass: is the way Donaldson ties together Covenant's antiheroism and his leprosy

It is Covenant who made the link between leprosy and being "unclean" and such. But that's not remarkable; that's been the way lepers have been viewed for thousands of years. Remember, Donaldson spent much of his early life in India with his father, a medical missionary working closely with people afflicted with leprosy. He saw firsthand how people view others with leprosy and how those with leprosy would view themselves. It may be unfortunate but it is realistic.
posted by Justinian at 7:24 PM on August 5, 2011


Wow. So much discussion of Thomas Covenant. I think it's important to get a few facts straight.

First of all, Covenant is probably NOT an author of fantasy. His first (only) published novel is titled "Or I Will Sell My Soul For Guilt", and the only real description of it we get comes early in the first book: "for five months in one long wild discharge of energy that seemed to create the landscapes of the earth out of nothingness by the sheer force of its brilliance -- hills and crags, trees bent by the passionate wind, night-ridden people, all rendered into being by that white bolt striking into the heavens from the lightening rod of his writing." Over the course of the books, the impression that is given is that it's a modern life novel, not fantasy. But there isn't enough evidence to really characterize the book into any genre.

As far as the rape is concerned, Donaldson himself has had quite a bit to say on this topic over the years of his Gradual Interview. As far back as 2004, he was confronted with this reader's comment:
I've given many friends of mine the TC novels to read, and some of them gave me Lord Foul's Bane back after TC rapes Lena, saying that they will not read a story where the main character is a rapist. What would you say to people who want to quit reading at that point of the story?
And his response was the following:
I'm always saddened to hear that someone has quit reading when, say, Covenant rapes Lena, or Angus brutalizes Morn. I certainly understand such a reaction. When I get the chance, I say several things. 1) I write about tormented characters because no one else could possibly *need* the story as badly as they do--and it is in the nature of tormented characters to do tormented things. 2) If you quit reading, you'll never find out *why* I wrote what I did. If you do go on, you'll discover that what I did is not gratuitious; that, in fact, the whole subsequent story is about the terrible consequences of such violence. 3) Terrible things happen in the real world all the time. God knows they happen to me. If I'm not willing to write about those things, I pretty much have to give up my claim on being a serious writer.

I've been known to say other things as well, but only when I get really worked up.
Another reader later that same year writes this question:
I'm in the first part of "Lord Foul's Bane" (which I have been completely enjoying) and have come to the part where Thomas rapes Lena, the young woman who saves his life. He is now about to set off on his journey led by her mother Atiaran (upon whose wisdom and experience I assume he will be dependent). Before I decide what I will do with the remaining 5 books, it would be helpful to me if you would tell me if Thomas recognizes his violent betrayal of Lena beyond his sense that Lena "purchased precious time for him" (in not speaking of her violation). "Clearly the people of this Land were prepared to make sacrifices --". Does he return to her and make restitution?
To which his response is:
I would like to assure you earnestly that during the course of the first "Covenant" trilogy he has his nose rubbed deeply in the consequences of his crime against Lena, that he learns to understand just how vile his actions have been, and that he does put his feet on the road to redemption.

HowEVer--

The author may not be the ideal person to respond to your concerns, feeling (as he does) a fairly natural human desire to justify himself. You might get more useful answers from fellow readers. May I suggest that you post your concerns on kevinswatch.com? The good people there will give you honest reactions from a wide variety of perspectives.
Which I find to be an interesting response, acknowledging that he may not be the right person to talk to about the twists and turns of his own creation and directing the reader toward an informed and interested community who have been discussing this issue for quite a while.

The GI contains 58 mentions of the word "rape" across the 7 years of its existence. You can peruse the back and forth with Donaldson at your leisure.

SRD is a huge favorite author of mine, and his work is challenging and rewarding in equal measure. He uses violation -- physical, emotional, mental -- as a recurrent theme in his work because he is trying to explore Very Big Issues which require examples of really dark things in order to examine properly. His characters are regularly raped, possessed, mentally controlled, magically shut-down or manipulated, all to various ends or reasons. They all have deep, carefully depicted inner moral struggles about actions they want to take or have taken, and they often spend long amounts of time frozen into inaction as they try to find a moral thread through what they are planning or have just done.

Anyone who read Donaldson's books as an adolescent and thinks they're done with them now that they're grown up should revisit them with an adult eye and appreciate the marvelous language. SRD's descriptive powers are truly amazing, and he creates a three-dimensional world that hangs in front of you like a well-painted cyclorama. His "Big Ideas"... What Is Real (Thomas Covenant, first series), or What Does It Mean To Be Human (The Gap Cycle) or (a smaller series but still a big idea) What Is Personal Redemption (The Man Who... series) are well explored and never feel polemic or forced.

Above all else, his writing has improved by leaps and bounds across the decades. Reading The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, it's amazing to see an author whose style has grown so much return to an earlier universe of ideas and have such a clear glimpse of exactly how much better he is now than he was when his career began.

Anyway, I completely understand people who don't like Covenant. His prose is a bit florid, his vocabulary tryingly precious and precocious, and his plotting kind of plodding. But he also has a wond'rous way with world creation, an amazing attention to detail (he devoted a couple of hundred pages to a 24-hour period in his latest series), and his imagination moves from universal to intimate with a freedom very few authors have. Hate him or love him, his books have already inspired a huge amount of serious scholarship, and they will be read a century from now. That is pretty much all any author can hope for his work.
posted by hippybear at 8:05 PM on August 5, 2011


Also... Dhalgren, but not Stars In My Pockets? That's a fucked up list that includes the one but not the other. (I'd suggest it should include The Mad Man, but only a handful have read that and escaped with their psyche intact.)
posted by hippybear at 8:35 PM on August 5, 2011


It is Covenant who made the link between leprosy and being "unclean" and such.

I'm not talking about Covenant's self-perception of uncleanness, which is a different issue. I'm talking about the thematic link in the narrative, outside Covenant's head, between Covenant's disability and his antiheroic nature, and the way in which the themes of powerlessness (dis-ability, literally) and freedom in the novels play into that.
posted by immlass at 8:45 PM on August 5, 2011


re the Walter Breen timeline - that is seriously messed. Maybe she was in denial and/or thought he had learned to control himself? But even so, she shouldn't have let him be unsupervised with young boys.
posted by jb at 9:49 PM on August 5, 2011


Remember, Donaldson spent much of his early life in India with his father, a medical missionary working closely with people afflicted with leprosy. He saw firsthand how people view others with leprosy and how those with leprosy would view themselves. It may be unfortunate but it is realistic.

On consideration, after sleeping on it, I don't need to have this discussion with someone who's issuing Donaldson a ghetto pass for writing a disabled character for reasons that boil down to "some of his best friends growing up were lepers". That's not appropriate unless you, yourself, are disabled (and if you are, I apologize). I'm bowing out now and will not be reading or commenting further.
posted by immlass at 6:07 AM on August 6, 2011


That's an insulting and basically bullshit characterization of what I said and if that's the best reading you can give it then, yeah, I don't need to discuss it with you.
posted by Justinian at 8:00 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's an insulting and basically bullshit characterization of what I said and if that's the best reading you can give it then, yeah, I don't need to discuss it with you.

Cool. Does this mean we can talk about something other than Thomas Fucking Covenant now? How about the decision to include all the Dune stuff as a single entry? I found that odd as Dune (the original novel) is just so standalone brilliant and visionary and it resolves in such a way that it doesn't need to be added to. Not that I've read much of what follows -- just Children Of Dune, which was good, but nowhere near the original. Mixing the two together is like mixing a single malt Scotch with a blend. Mixing them all together is probably like adding some Rye to the mix, and Bourbon ... and probably even some ginger ale.
posted by philip-random at 11:10 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel the same way about the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The first book was amazing. The last two have been...really not amazing. I couldn't vote for it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2011


Cool. Does this mean we can talk about something other than Thomas Fucking Covenant now?

You've been free to talk about anything you wished the entire thread.

How about the decision to include all the Dune stuff as a single entry?

The list is very inconsistent; sometimes books which are part of a larger sequence are listed independently and sometimes the entire sequence is listed. Maybe they've tried to differentiate based on how much a given novel works as a standalone vs being heavily serialized. But not entirely. For example Banks has "The Culture series" despite most of those novels being self-contained. Hell, some people don't even realize Inversions is a Culture novel at all. And yet The Book of the New Sun is listed by itself despite being much more tightly bound to the rest of the cycle than is any single Culture novel.

Hell, Rothfuss has "The Kingkiller Chronicles" listed. Until like a month ago that was one book! One! How can "The Kingkiller Chronicles" be included when the story isn't even finished? It doesn't make any sense. And so on. When Gravity Fails? Independently listed. Cyteen? BAM! No Cyteen for you! Only listed as "The Company Wars". Revelation Space? By itself. Hyperion? BAM! Nope, only the duology.

Upon further reflection there isn't much rhyme or reason to it.
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on August 6, 2011


Actually I take it back; The Book of the New Sun is less tightly bound to the rest of the cycle. I meant to swap in a better example from the list, of which there are plenty. Ender's Game, Beggars in Spain, etc etc.
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2011


Rhyme and/or reason, from the FPP linked page:
How to list series was a big topic of debate among our judges. In general, works that tell a more or less continuous story are listed collectively (e.g., "The Song of Ice and Fire"). In cases where connections among series members are looser, we tended to list some of the more prominent titles in the run (e.g., Small Gods, a "Discworld" novel). If you don't see your favorite series listed as such, try looking for individual novels.
posted by Herodios at 1:03 PM on August 6, 2011


Cool. Does this mean we can talk about something other than Thomas Fucking Covenant now?

What's ironic is that TC was not the original focus of the discussion you're complaining about. The seed issue was that some books were summarily outlawed because they contained one sort of vile action while other books containing other sorts of vile actions were judged to be perfectly acceptable and in fact excellent books.

But rather than accept reductio ad absurdum the people advocating this view doubled down on their perspective, claiming that vile actions that occur in a dream or video game were just as immoral as their real world/actual real victim counterpart. That was fascinating.

A lot of time was spent analyzing Covenant's motivations for his actions rather than ever really getting back to the core question. While this was an interesting digression it was still unrelated to the main point.

About the list, as I said before I think that someone wrote it by going to BN (not a borders anymore) and copying down titles of books on the shelves. Its heavily weighted toward very recent books and classics that are still published. Older more obscure stuff just isn't there.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:06 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's not completely surprising. The greatest SF novels tend to become classics. Classics tend not to be obscure.
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on August 6, 2011


As it happens I was in B&N yesterday and I checked on a few things. Their entire Iain M. Banks collection consisted of one copy each of Excession, Matter, and The Algebraist. On the other hand you could have overfilled a U-Haul with the contemporary vampire fad crap.
posted by localroger at 6:32 AM on August 7, 2011


It isn't just vampires anymore! It is all manner of undead and supernatural beasties. Hell, the new thing is Zombies. Don't ask me. But it is. See also: Working Stiff. Really, zombies.
posted by Justinian at 1:59 PM on August 7, 2011


Working Stiff

I like how it's billed as "a revivalist novel." Published five days ago, already part of a series.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:06 PM on August 7, 2011


Chekhovian: But rather than accept reductio ad absurdum the people advocating this view doubled down on their perspective, claiming that vile actions that occur in a dream or video game were just as immoral as their real world/actual real victim counterpart.

That's even dumber than empath's "what about Bob?"

philip-random: I have a soft spot for God Emperor of Dune, largely because it suddenly shifts focus from the big galactic events back to Leto's predicament of being a human trapped both in the body of a worm and a singularity of prophecy. So he keeps cloning new Duncan Idahos and building resistance movements with his favorite genes in the hopes that one of them will have the abilities to finally kill him.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:52 PM on August 7, 2011


Which to be clear, although Donaldson isn't one of my favorite authors, I think the moral dilemmas posed by the trilogy deserve better than handwaving them away with, "it's just a dream/video game."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:07 PM on August 7, 2011


I don't think I handwaved it as a dream. I simply said that he thought it was a dream, which leads to all kinds of interesting questions re: morality, since, as I said, many world religions argue that this world is a dream. Obviously what you do in dreams must matter on some level, as TC himself decided later in the novel.
posted by empath at 6:37 PM on August 7, 2011


KJL: That's even dumber than empath's "what about Bob?"

If the reasons you hold something to true are purely emotional for you, something triggers strongly whereas other somethings don't, that's just fine. Just don't make it out to be some logically derived proof when in fact the foundation is feeling.

Regarding the point the poor quality of Covenant's writing makes it the actions it protrays unacceptable, whereas the same actions could be acceptable in books with better writing, well I don't need to say anything about the ethical integrity of that argument do I?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:49 PM on August 7, 2011


Dune.

Fantastic book. But is it really the best of Sci Fi literature? For me the best SF takes the standard problems of human existence and the meaning of human life and explores them in some new way, in some new sort of setting that allows you to look at the problems differently than you did before. Examples:

Amber:
Magic and multiple universes aside, its really about family relations. There's this moment 3/4 of the way through when one of his brothers descirbes how he's always seen Corwin, and you really feel this different perspective drop down and see a family from all sides at once.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter:
This is high fantasy with dragons and elves, but its really more like someone has taken the emotional eigen vectors of our world and literalized them eg when Jane is in college the bottom 10% of the class is ritually sacrificed every year. That doesn't happen in the real world, but that's sort of how it feels.

Dune. Great world building, but what questions does it really answer? How does it explore the human condition in ways that Jane Austen never could?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:57 PM on August 7, 2011


Dune. Great world building, but what questions does it really answer? How does it explore the human condition in ways that Jane Austen never could?

Is this a joke? The first book handles ecology, terreforming, gurellia warfare, imperialism, the nature of religion, the idea of prescience among others. One of the sequels is basically a philosophy text. The Dune books are mind-blowing, and an omniscent worm-man can make larger points than Jane Austen.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:03 PM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


ecology, terreforming, gurellia warfare, imperialism, the nature of religion, the idea of prescience

Dunes does a great job at those large issues. It doesn't really talk about the nature of "being alive" though, unless you're just a run of the mill Kwisatz Haderach.

I suppose what I was trying to get at was SF literature that competes with and overtakes conventional literature. I love books that are detailed explorations of quantum mechanics as much as the next guy, but the soft parts of life are important too.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:09 PM on August 7, 2011


Perhaps not everyone reads for the same reasons as you, Chekhovian. Some of us enjoy the exploration of "those large issues".
posted by adamdschneider at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2011


... and in the case of DUNE at least, those large issues would not be so compelling if there weren't very real and believable characters (young Paul Atreides in particular) exploring them. Seriously, dig into the human side of what's going on in the first DUNE novel and you find a lot of stuff similar to what Shakespeare wrestled with.
posted by philip-random at 8:43 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian: I find your summary of the arguments, and my posts in specific to be laughably wrong. So in the interests of clarity:

1) I've already raised one argument that the verisimilitude/non-falsifiability of The Land separates it from dreams and games. There are more arguments that can be made against the "it's just a dream" excuse. Covenant's actions have consequences, therefore they have moral value. Covenant's moral character is a metaphysical reality in The Land, therefore, it has moral value. Probably the most relevant argument can be summed in one sentence:

It's a redemption story in which an anti-hero learns to take responsibility for his actions.

Trying to rationalize or excuse Covenant's moral failures renders the central conflict of the novel incomprehensible, and strikes me as about as futile as trying to turn Gilgamesh, Roland the Gunslinger, or Severian into nice guys. The whole point of anti-heroes in fiction is that we don't always approve of what they do.

2) Most of us can separate our emotional reactions to an artistic work from critical evaluation of it. An assumption of good faith that we can make the distinction between "piece of crap" and "not my thing" strikes me as important here. Brazil freaks me out, but it's a brilliant movie.

3) Criticizing the writing of a scene is criticizing the writing of a scene. It has no bearing on the moral role of the character in the narrative. A badly written rapist is a rapist, as is a well-written rapist.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:47 AM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


> 3) Criticizing the writing of a scene is criticizing the writing of a scene. It has no bearing on
> the moral role of the character in the narrative.

Nuh-huh. When you say "John Singer Sargent is a great painter" you mainly mean he handled pigments very skilfully; but when you say "Picasso is a great painter" you're referring to the great number of astonishingly evocative images he found in his head to paint, more than to his (very great) technical skill at painting them down. When you say "Tolstoy is a great writer" you're talking about a lot more than just his grammar, syntax and prosody. You're also referring to the imagination, insight, and human feeling readers find in his writing, all of which are beyond the range of all but a small handful other writers.

If some not-Tolstoy writer narrates a rape scene with scant insight and little sympathy, pointing that out is criticizing the writing even if you don't mention anything about pacing or sentence fragments. And the "scant insight and little sympathy" bit tends to stick to the character from then on, so that it's hard not to think he eats sammiches with scant insight and little sympathy.


> Dune. Great world building, but what questions does it really answer? How does it explore the human
> condition in ways that Jane Austen never could?

Extends and validates. it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in need of a wife. Now in space too.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 PM on August 8, 2011


jfuller: I guess I still see "scant insight and little sympathy" as the fault of the writer. To use Cyteen as an example since I just read it, Ari Emory rapes a 17-year old kid and (probably) stages her own murder as part of a plan to insure her clone gets the right mentor. It's C. J. Cherryh's job to sell that motivation to the reader. The character of Emory is a rapist whether Cherryh sells that plot to the reader or not.

Certainly a badly-done rape scene can violate that relationship between writer and reader more than a badly-done sandwich scene.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:38 PM on August 8, 2011


Kirk, well what can I say? Perhaps we're not really talking about the same thing at all, so I will forgive you for misunderstanding my comments. My goal has never been to excuse Covenant's actions. Rather I wanted to understand why people were so offended by some terrible things and not by others. You and Frowner did attempt to answer my question but the tide of conversation swept us away from that issue.

very real and believable characters (young Paul Atreides in particular)
I'm trying to imagine a Dune remake where Michael Cera or Jonah Hill is tasked with playing that apparently real and believable young Paul Atreides, the scion of the only honorable house in the landsraad, the product of centuries of carefully managed breeding, someone vastly skilled in many martial and mental arts, the kwisatz haderach. A normal schulb playing him would be very believable indeed.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:13 PM on August 8, 2011


Dune was never conceived or written to be held to the standards you are holding it to. You are criticizing a dog for not being a cat.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:27 PM on August 8, 2011


Here are the results.
posted by curious nu at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2011


No Philip K Dick in the top twenty. My theory stands.
posted by philip-random at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2011


The Song of Ice and Fire books are so not better than A Clockwork Orange. Goodness.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:35 PM on August 11, 2011


No unfinished series belong on the list. That the so-called Kingkiller "Chronicles" made it to the voting is a joke. Wheel of Time? Ugh.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:47 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Song of Ice and Fire books are so not better than A Clockwork Orange. Goodness.

You can't do that with this list or you'll go mad. It's not just one or two mis-placements. Think of it as the popularity contest that it is.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2011


I am mildly surprised that Jules Verne made it onto the list at all.
posted by localroger at 3:58 PM on August 11, 2011


Think of it as the popularity contest that it is.

A sloppily organized one at that.

I am mildly surprised that Jules Verne made it onto the list at all.

A token classic.

That said though, is the Ice + Fire stuff genuinely worth reading (ie: entire make-believe universes of literary quality beyond the likes of Thomas Convenant and Shannara), or should I just finally get around to downloading me some Game Of Thrones?
posted by philip-random at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2011


Well, just my $.02, but I'm two chapters away from finishing the first book, and I'm sad that I didn't discover it when it came out. I worked at a bookstore just a few years before and would certainly have encountered it, but by the time AGOT came out, I'd given up on fantasy because it was all the same pap to me.

It's not perfect, but I'd put it in perhaps the top 5% of fantasy I've read (my former predominant genre). But then, 95% of fantasy out there is insipid.

I've been holding off watching AGOT because I want my own conception of the characters before the producers' vision runs roughshod over them, so I can't compare, but I definitely don't see the books (at least the first one) as a waste of time. I see it pretty much a gem of mainstream fantasy -- but it is that.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:31 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


is the Ice + Fire stuff genuinely worth reading? Great political plotting, workman like writing. The last couple books seem to be treading water. There's maybe one moderately significant event every 400 pages. The arc toward conclusion is bending only very slowly.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:11 PM on August 11, 2011


Every time I see someone reading A Game of Thrones in public I want to run up to them and knock it out of their hands like it's a free sample of heroin.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:17 PM on August 11, 2011


I want to run up to them and knock it out of their hands like it's a free sample of heroin.

so it's that good?
posted by philip-random at 6:13 PM on August 11, 2011


I think the first two or three books are great. Book four started feeling a bit like Jordan's Wheel Of Time series, with very little happening. I have book five, but haven't felt like opening it yet.
posted by markr at 6:19 PM on August 11, 2011


The results are out.

No. 5: As the Seven Kingdoms face a generation-long winter, the royal Stark family confronts the poisonous plots of the rival Lannisters, the emergence of the Neverborn demons, the arrival of barbarian hordes, and other threats.

What a synopsis, eugh.
posted by ersatz at 8:25 PM on August 11, 2011


A science-fiction series by the author of the Wasp Factory features a symbiotic human and machine society that is engaged in a galaxy-wide battle to the death between the Idrians, who fight for their faith, and the Culture, which defends its right to exist.

That is the worst description of the Culture books I've ever seen.
posted by odinsdream at 8:43 PM on August 11, 2011


Well that list is a pile of shit.
posted by empath at 8:47 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read all of those except for A Song of Ice And Fire. at least Dune made the list
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:07 PM on August 11, 2011


Am I the only person (besides my mother) who thinks The Hobbit is far superior to The Lord of the Rings?
posted by neuromodulator at 9:48 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a story, I agree with you. As an idea, however flawed in execution, fuck no.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:25 AM on August 12, 2011


That said though, is the Ice + Fire stuff genuinely worth reading (ie: entire make-believe universes of literary quality beyond the likes of Thomas Convenant and Shannara), or should I just finally get around to downloading me some Game Of Thrones?

For what it's worth, I started reading the first book and started watching the first season of the show at about the same time. I thought the acting and visuals of the show were far superior to the fairly uninteresting prose of the novel, so I abandoned the book and just ended up watching the show instead.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person (besides my mother) who thinks The Hobbit is far superior to The Lord of the Rings?

The Hobbit is amazing for ten year olds.
LOTR is for older kids and adults.
posted by philip-random at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2011


I agree with you, but also think it's correct that "amazing" was only applied to one of them.
posted by neuromodulator at 9:49 PM on August 12, 2011


Well, by the time I read LOTR (age fifteen-sixteen in 1975), "amazing" was no longer in my lexicon (too teeny bop). I would've termed it, R.F.C., (rather fucking cool) which was just one notch short of A.F.W. (absolutely fucking wild), which no book could ever achieve. That was reserved almost exclusively for rock concerts of which, by age 15, I'd only seen a handful, but two were definitely A.F.W. (Yes + Jethro Tull). And then JAWS came out. Jaws was definitely A.F.W.
posted by philip-random at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2011


Yes + Jethro Tull

Nice. I saw ELP + Jethro Tull. A.F.W., indeed.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:12 PM on August 15, 2011


I can't believe there's two Steven King novels and a god damned comic book in the top 25 and not a single Brunner work on the whole god damned list.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:03 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, did I not see Stand On Zanzibar listed while searching for TSLU?

No, there it is. I was pretty certain I would have rated the list worse than "b0rked" if it had missed Brunner altogether.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 AM on August 24, 2011


flabdablet: "Wait, did I not see Stand On Zanzibar listed while searching for TSLU?

No, there it is. I was pretty certain I would have rated the list worse than "b0rked" if it had missed Brunner altogether.
"

As ersatz, pointed out above, the results are out. Not a single work by Brunner was voted into the Top 100.

Drizzit Motherfucking Do'Urden comes in at #74, but Stand on Zanzibar didn't make the cut? I would have accepted any of Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, or The Shockwave Rider. That Brunner was shut out completely is an outrage.

Christ, the Timothy Zahn Thrawn Trilogy came in at #88! It's a scandal I tell you.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:28 PM on August 24, 2011


Well there you go. One more wrong thing to ignore.
posted by flabdablet at 5:14 PM on August 24, 2011


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