Let The Arguing Begin!
October 15, 2019 12:58 PM   Subscribe

 

By Emily Hughes for Thrillist.
posted by bq at 12:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Please note that this is 'in no particular order'
posted by bq at 12:59 PM on October 15, 2019


Hitchhiker's made it in. I'm satisfied.
posted by SansPoint at 1:02 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not a bad list. Missing Book of the New Sun and Riverworld in my opinion, but it's a better mix of cultures and new and old than you usually get on these.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:03 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


Yeah, there's definitely stuff that's not to my taste, but I'm just so happy to see things like Machineries of the Empire on there that I'm not willing to argue.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah I was all primed to disagree with everything but on the whole this is a reasonable list.
posted by Pyry at 1:07 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Missing Book of the New Sun and Riverworld in my opinion

It's very 90s-kid. Shows in the choices of the the-best-thing-ever-when-I-was-13 series.

Not to criticize, we all have those. But it marks the youth of the author.
posted by bonehead at 1:09 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


Totally on board with Pratchett. Tried the Temeraire series, and though I adore Novik's Spinning Silver and Uprooted, I'm kind meh about Temeraire.
posted by Peach at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser will chop and slice this list to threads!
posted by sammyo at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


Missing Book of the New Sun and Riverworld in my opinion

I would put Riverworld on the second-tier version of this list (along with about a third of this list).
posted by Etrigan at 1:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have to say, I Just Don't Understand the enduring popularity of Cixin Liu. He leaves me cold. It's the same reaction I used to have from Asimov, too. Big ideas acted out by human-form robots.
posted by bonehead at 1:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [29 favorites]


It's a reasonable list, agreed, although unsurprisingly I have my disagreements with it.

I'm slightly surprised not to see Dune, or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, but honestly I think both of those have a great first book and then ... not so much for the rest, so I'm not appalled by their absence from a best series list. On the other hand, by that logic I think Northern Lights and Machineries of Empire shouldn't be on the list either. I'm sure I could come up with of other notable absences if I care to think about it.

Of the ones I've read, Temeraire is the only one that made me raise my eyebrows and go, "Really?" Novik has some great books, but those are only OK. And Foundation is the only one that made me sigh and go, "I suppose."
posted by kyrademon at 1:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Very much on board with the Vorkosigan series and also His Dark Materials.

I would add Garth Nix's Sabriel books and Kage Baker's Company books.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:15 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


The "good first book, then drop off" applies to Riverworld, too. It's a neat idea, and the first book (or two - Fabulous Riverboat is pretty fun) are good, but the later ones are feh.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Dune isn't on the list because it's a list of series, and Dune was a great book followed up by mediocre sequels.
posted by sotonohito at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


I’m very glad to see this list has a lot of women and nonwhite authors. I only started being more aware of how white and male my fiction was a few years ago. Seeking out female authors of sci-fi has lead me to some of my favorite books and novellas ever.

Also I had not heard of the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafo and will have to check that out.

I’d also add Tade Thompson’s Rosewater series (he’s Nigerian) and Fonda Lee’s Jade series.

Possibly unpopular opinion, but Wheel of Time sucks and I’ll fold my arms under my breasts and pull on my braid to make my point.
posted by affectionateborg at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [22 favorites]


Foundation is really uneven. Once you've adjusted for being written circa WWII, the three books are enjoyable. Asimov was not a character writer, but the overarching idea was clever, and there are fun set pieces.

We shall not discuss the later volumes.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I'm afraid to revisit Foundation; Asimov had some great ideas but his writing is pretty stilted and his characters are cardboard cutouts.

I liked the Riverworld series until the last one which had total fizzle of an ending.
posted by octothorpe at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I dunno about Machineries of Empire. Interesting worldbuilding but it was all in service of a story with one atrocity after another. I felt like every viewpoint character was a villain, or following the orders of a villain, and I'm not in a place in my life where I want to read that.

Also I think that having the Pern books on here makes it not nineties-kid, Pern was pretty important to me as a Gen-X teen.
posted by egypturnash at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have always loved the Death Gate Cycle (as well as a lot of other books by Weiss and Hickman). I never seemed to meet anyone else who had read it, though!

Dramatic world-building, new types of magic and technology, and footnotes with all sorts! The designs of their magic tattoos, the chords for the spell songs! I still love it, but my books have been spread over too many houses so I might need to buy them again to read.
posted by fizban at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


We shall not discuss the later volumes.

I didn't even know that there were more than the three.
posted by octothorpe at 1:20 PM on October 15, 2019


Dune had some good books but as a whole it’s batshit. And I like it. I’m willing to admit it’s batshit. The House trilogy of back stories is quite good though. Much more readable than day God Emperor or Butlerian Jihad stuff.
posted by affectionateborg at 1:20 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Was Deathgate better than Dragonlance? Dragonlance was...not great.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:20 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have to say, I Just Don't Understand the enduring popularity of Cixin Liu.

I'm with you there. I actively disliked The Three-Body Problem.

The Black Company seriously needs to be on this list.
posted by Foosnark at 1:21 PM on October 15, 2019 [12 favorites]


Well, the second trilogy was all right.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:21 PM on October 15, 2019


Yeah this list is all "very good" but I'm not sure about "best."

Asimov was not a character writer, but the overarching idea was clever, and there are fun set pieces.

Once upon a time you could get plaudits for writing "they was a city - but it covered the whole planet! omg!" but that time has passed. Foundation remains a classic but is it good in an absolute sense by modern standards? No. It's like watching a black and white Bogart film.

Also no Ringworld series? Again, it is in many ways terrible, but it's super foundational to a whole sector of "hard" science fiction.
posted by GuyZero at 1:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think before we start we should decide, once and for all time, what is science fiction and what is fantasy.
posted by zzazazz at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


The Black Company seriously needs to be on this list
I tried to read The Black Company earlier this year. I got through about 4 chapters before all the homophobia, racism, and sexual assault made me bail out.
posted by haileris23 at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ha ha I will totally fight you, while recognizing that Emily Hughes has done us all a service by providing the framework for the fighting so I am not actually criticizing her work - 21 is simultaneously too many (so much scope for arguing!) and too few (because really, while The Realm of the Elderlings, for instance, is no doubt excellent in its way, can it really be literally better than Samuel Delany's Neveryona books, those difficult, complicated and queer-centering novels?)

1. Presentist bias, which is sort of forgivable because prior to about 2005, science fiction and fantasy series were associated more with the pulpier end of the spectrum and now everything fucking has to be a series. This means that there's a higher percentage of ambitious series published recently than in the past, but still.

(You can win my heart right now by just writing a goddamn standalone novel. Just write one. Make it good, make it compact, don't make there be three. I will reread your novel if I like it.)

2. I wish list-makers would read more deeply among SF and fantasy writers of color and have less of a presentist bias. Samuel Delany, of course, but Steven Barnes's Insh'Allah series is definitely as strong as some on this list, and then if that Elderlings series makes it, why not Aliette de Bodard's Xuya universe, etc etc etc.

3. It's difficult to get things in translation, but if we're counting Le Guin's Hainish stories as a series, which they're not exactly, surely we need to count the Strugatskys' Noon Universe.

And then if these, why not Gwyneth Jones's work?

I feel like because these lists have to be clickbait, they are almost always "some good books that everyone has heard of plus a few books by white guys that are slightly more obscure".

And! You know what we need? The 21 Best Lists of Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels! A list of lists! (Lord knows there are enough.) To start, here's Fifty SFF books every socialist should read, compiled by China Mieville - a good list although the politics are stretching it on some of them. Like, Lud In The Mist is one of my favorite novels but I don't find it particularly mobilizing or educational.
posted by Frowner at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


I think it is much better, with much less of the creepier bits from dragonlance. However, this could just be the memory lying to me! It was just a much richer, more interesting universe. But I’d be interested to hear if anyone else read it...
posted by fizban at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I liked the Riverworld series until the last one which had total fizzle of an ending.

I read it a very long time ago but from memory the big reveal was that the author didn't know what the fuck was going on with Riverworld either. It was a great way to put Mark Twain and Jesus on a riverboat together though.
posted by GuyZero at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I had a friend who loathed the Death Gate books, and by extension every single book Weiss and/or Hickman ever wrote because he felt absolutely burned by them. I never read them, but his explanation of why he hated them so much was that there was this incredible world, detailed worldbuilding, and then at the end just as there's supposed to be a final battle a bunch of tanks appear out of nowhere with no warning and kill everyone.

He taunted a mutual friend of ours who was deeply into Dragonlance by insisting that some day the tanks would come for Krynn too.
posted by sotonohito at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lensman by E. E. "Doc" Smith maybe? After all, it was runner up for the Hugo Award for best all time series behind Foundation.
posted by Fukiyama at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


what is science fiction and what is fantasy.

"Science fiction is rockets, chemicals and talking squids in outer space."

So, if it has any of those elements, it's SF. Simple.
posted by bonehead at 1:26 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Lensman by E. E. "Doc" Smith maybe?

Another contender for "it influenced everything you ever read and also it's just terrible."
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on October 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


I think before we start we should decide, once and for all time, what is science fiction and what is fantasy.

good grief, no.
posted by GuyZero at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2019 [15 favorites]


If w're going to allow Dire 70s SF we'll soon be debating the merits of Titan vs. Midnight at the Well of Souls.
posted by bonehead at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Sotonohito - do you know if he meant big metal vehicles with guns, or like in a computer game? Because I have no memory of that at all. Maybe I need to betray myself and read Wikipedia...
posted by fizban at 1:29 PM on October 15, 2019


(Actually Lud In The Mist is not on Mieville's list. I wonder if it was on an earlier version? I would have sworn that I read it because of that list. But in any case The Iron Dragon's Daughter has utterly crap gender politics and is only about "class" in a very phony way and does Not Belong On The List.)
posted by Frowner at 1:30 PM on October 15, 2019


This has that feature of all lists where if your favorite obscure series isn't on it then it's worthless

"What no Heechee this is bullshit"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Id add His Dark Materials to the list of great starts and then fizzle...

The last book was a stupid waste of time and made me angry.
posted by Windopaene at 1:31 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


A lot of my favorite series are not on the list, but in the list-creator's defense, they're not very good.
posted by General Malaise at 1:34 PM on October 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


If I were making a list under these guidelines (completed SFF series or subseries with at least three books), I would probably have gone with:

The First Law Trilogy, Joe Abercrombie
The Hitchhiker's Guide, Douglas Adams
The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander
Oz, L. Frank Baum
Lewis Barnavelt Books, John Bellairs
The Divine Cities, Robert Jackson Bennett
Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold
Xenogenesis, Octavia Butler
Chanur Series, C. J. Cherryh
The Tripods, John Christopher
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Windrose Chronicles, Barbara Hambly
The Broken Earth, N. K. Jemisin
Imperial Radch, Ann Leckie
The Hainish Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin
Narnia, C. S. Lewis
Newford, Charles de Lint
Elemental Logic, Laurie J. Marks
Pern, Anne McCaffrey
Riddle-Master, Patricia McKillip
Five Children, Edith Nesbit
Chaos Walking, Patrick Ness
Discworld, Terry Pratchett
Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling
The History of the Runestaff, Michael Moorcock
The Nanotech Succession, Linda Nagata
The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkein
The Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer
Fairyland, Catherynne M. Valente
Murderbot, Martha Wells
Oxford Time Travel, Connie Willis
The Chronicles of Amber, Roger Zelazny
posted by kyrademon at 1:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [21 favorites]


I find those sorts of lists a lot more fun: favourites, but not, to be honest, really all the good.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2019


Brust's Vlad novels should be here. He does so many different things in them.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:36 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: "Also no Ringworld series? Again, it is in many ways terrible, but it's super foundational to a whole sector of "hard" science fiction."

Well, there's just the one book.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I loved Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga when I was young, and I reread it many times. I don't know if I would like it at all nowadays. It's hard to look back at books that influenced you when you were young objectively.
posted by Quonab at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


GuyZero: "Once upon a time you could get plaudits for writing "they was a city - but it covered the whole planet! omg!" but that time has passed. Foundation remains a classic but is it good in an absolute sense by modern standards? No. It's like watching a black and white Bogart film."

Also, I find this position absurd. Casablanca is a wonderful film, and better than 95% of what will be released this year.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:41 PM on October 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


Casablanca is a wonderful film, and better than 95% of what will be released this year.

It's Key Largo then? Maybe this is a bad analogy.

My point is that it's very difference from science fiction as it's written today in spite of being a much-loved classic.
posted by GuyZero at 1:44 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Well, there's just the one book.

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt folks, yes, bad sequels exist and you can't say they don't.

There's a real clickbait list - "21 Science Fiction Sequels That Shouldn't Exist"
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


is it good in an absolute sense by modern standards? No. It's like watching a black and white Bogart film.

This seems to imply that black and white Bogart films aren't " good in an absolute sense by modern standards" which has to be up there with Most Completely Wrong MetaFilter Comments.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:47 PM on October 15, 2019 [15 favorites]


GuyZero: "Also no Ringworld series? Again, it is in many ways terrible, but it's super foundational to a whole sector of "hard" science fiction."

Well, there's just the one book.


I think you mean "just the two books".
posted by hanov3r at 1:51 PM on October 15, 2019


which has to be up there with Most Completely Wrong MetaFilter Comments.

well OK that's what I said but not what I meant and if this gets me into the Hall of Fame somehow so be it.

It's not how movies/novels are made/written today or something.
posted by GuyZero at 1:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


One and a half then?

Ringworld - certainly has Niven's usual flaws, but the idea itself is pretty breathtaking, especially at the time (plenty of other BDO novels have come since).

Ringworld Engineers - Um, it gives a look at what seems to be Niven's sex fantasies, I guess. And it fixed the fact that the Ringworld was unstable (which Mr. Hard Science Fiction should have realized himself, without fans pointing it out to him).
posted by Chrysostom at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2019


Maddaddam. Earthsea.

And I don’t think you can reasonably omit Harry Potter.

Otherwise it’s a great list!
posted by simra at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Frowner, are you thinking of Miéville’s recommendation of Enid Blyton? (Weird, I remember Blyton being on that Socialist SFF list too, maybe he revised it…?) Anyway, he sorta recommends her Faraway Tree series despite its politics in another brief New Yorker list:
“but what strikes you at this first reading is the disparity between her tone of comfortable and sedate fabulism and the shocking alterity she depicts. No matter how rumpty-tum her diction, nothing can domesticate the freakish Land of Topsy-Turvy, dilute the glacial awe of the Land of Ice and Snow, or still the fear invoked by the fucking Land of Smack—an entire world whose quiddity is pain. The weirdness of these settings makes Blyton indelibly part of the speculative-fiction tradition, and it’s through them that you’ll first start to realize that writers aren’t in full control of their creations.”
Gaiman often talks about Lud-in-the-Mist, that’s how I first heard of it.
posted by miles per flower at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is dragon lance problematic in some way that I’m not remembering bc I was unaware of stuff back when I read it? All I remember is recognizing I loved Raistlin but he was also very very bad. Depressed nightmare boy, that one.

I don’t recall it having rape or graphic violence so I probably ignored more subtle issues I didn’t know about at the time.
posted by affectionateborg at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2019


I think before we start we should decide, once and for all time, what is science fiction and what is fantasy.

A bunch of white supremacists tried this a couple years back. It...didn't go well.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:59 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


A bunch of white supremacists tried this a couple years back. It...didn't go well.

It didn't go any better for Margaret Atwood when she tried to do it either and she's a little more qualified for the job than those clowns.
posted by GuyZero at 2:01 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


It was a PERENNIAL topic on rec.arts.sf.written. There was an entry in the FAQ that was basically, "Okay, how do you classify *these* books, then, smartypants?"
posted by Chrysostom at 2:02 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I really can't take a list seriously that has any Brandon Sanderson on it. The guy and his writing workhouse are the McDonalds of fantasy - they pump out huge portions of perfectly okay stuff. Fine, and enjoyed by a lot of people, but I don't think anyone could seriously call it the "best" anything.
posted by FakeFreyja at 2:02 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


Not including The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Erikson is almost a crime. I’ll second Brust, though for his Khaavren Romances rather than the Vlad books. And where are the Bas-Lag books by Miéville?
posted by bouvin at 2:03 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


So okay, what does make a series the GOAT, right? Obviously it's different things for different books - the Broken Earth books have a little overlap with Book of the New Sun (ambitious, both could be discussed as Dying Earth books, both full of surprises) but in general they're great for really, really different reasons.

Some starting thoughts:

Novelty/genre-resetting qualities - so some books that were genre-resetting don't seem like such a big deal now because they did reset the genre
Does something interesting with the prose (which to me lets out a lot of the doorstopy GoT/Wheel of Time books)
More than just a story about adventures across a landscape - works out a bigger theme with some depth and originality
Striking and original characterization - whether in the mimetic-bourgeois-novel way, the weird hieraric way of M John Harrison or something else
Absence of significant defects - prose doesn't lapse into the awfuls, characters may be richly drawn or hieratic but don't strike you as wildly implausible given the style of the book, plot may be slow, rapid, etc but you don't find yourself thinking "this needs more exposition" or "why are we still at the castle...And so on.

Some of this is necessarily time-bound, and some of it is culture-bound - a really morally repulsive series that is novel, innovatively written, has a large repulsive theme and so on really isn't going to be on my list of greats even if it is well-received in some circles or was well received upon writing. And of course, the beautiful prose of genre fiction in 1890 isn't the beautiful prose of today.

But anyway.

Talking about greatest novels seems like it always has to be referential - I can explain why I think the Neveryona books are so brilliant partly by talking directly about them, but I also need to compare the brilliance and ambition of their prose with less brilliant and ambitious sword and sorcery novels and to explain why I think they have more to say about, eg, war and economics than other sword and sorcery novels, or why they are a richer and more direct exploration of some of the themes that are only implied in others. So I do always need a list - or two lists, really, the Best and a phantom list.
posted by Frowner at 2:03 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I'll go ahead and defend Temeraire's inclusion: if you ignore the click-bait "best" modifier, what are the actual themes linking these series? One connection that jumps out at me is an unusual number of entries with post-human and non-human perspectives-- The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Culture Series, Machineries of Empire, Imperial Radch Trilogy, Discworld, probably others that I've missed or haven't read (Murderbot Diaries would be a good fit here too).

So from that angle, Temeraire's inclusion makes perfect sense: it's one of the few 'dragon' series which considers the dragons' perspectives rather than treating them as props for the human beings (e.g., Toothless is basically coming-of-age training wheels for Hiccup).
posted by Pyry at 2:04 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


I find it fun and instructive to try to separate fantasy from SF - it can't be done, obviously, but the attempt is a great way to explore what fantasy and science fiction do and how they do it, plus examine a bunch of assumptions about what makes something "science".
posted by Frowner at 2:06 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Is dragon lance problematic in some way that I’m not remembering

It's a piece with a lot of YA fiction of that time (David Eddings, Robert Jordan) where "race" or some other signifier was the main determinant in personality. There were no Kender that were anything by childlike theives, wizards wear their moral affiliation, etc... It's full of sterotypical shorthands where a character's entire ethos is immediately obvious.

That's less problematic than it is a mark of juvenile-centric writing.
posted by bonehead at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Needs Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos. That is all.
posted by bassomatic at 2:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [13 favorites]


Earthsea.

I love love LeGuin but I just don't enjoy the Earthsea books the way I do her Hainish stories. But I don't know that you can really call the Hainish stories a "series" either. Very few of them share much of a connection, most of them are short stories instead of novels, and she herself never tried to retcon things to make them line up or planned them as a series.

(I know many people love the Earthsea books but they never clicked with me the same way).

The Pern books were so important to me as a teen and yet I remember enough about their gender roles and conclusion that I have never gone back to read them since.

Murderbot, Martha Wells
YES although they are pure fluff, but YES

Oxford Time Travel, Connie Willis
Oh man I love these, but to enjoy them you absolutely must convince yourself they are set in an alternate timeline where time travel was invented, but cell phones weren't. Soooo many phone-related complications.
posted by emjaybee at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's a piece with a lot of YA fiction of that time (David Eddings, Robert Jordan)

Wait, what? When did those get reclassified to YA? I'm assuming you mean Eddings Belgariad/Mallorean/Eleni/Tamuli serieses and Jordan's Wheel of Time.
posted by hanov3r at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2019


That's less problematic than it is a mark of juvenile-centric writing.

Speaking of which, no Piers Anthony on this list? For shame. It made NPR's sci-fi/fantasy list.
posted by GuyZero at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Piers Anthony is shite, I'm sorry to say, and that author's view of women is more horrifying the more you look at it. I like puns as much as the next person, but they're not an excuse for gross sexist rapey plots.
posted by emjaybee at 2:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [17 favorites]


I should probably state explicitly that I was being sarcastic there. It's shocking he's ever made it onto anyone's list of great books.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Speaking of which, no Piers Anthony on this list? For shame.

I assume this is a joke? Dude is a straight-up pedophile at best.

On preview: D'oh, it was a joke.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:19 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh Lord, just the mention of Piers Anthony summons an instant image of green giggling and capricious nymphs. Bleah. Even as a preteen girl in the 80s, I knew those books were rapey and sexist.
posted by frumiousb at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh: a joke. Sorry.
posted by frumiousb at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2019


It makes me cringe that Wheel of Time is on this list. I've never read about so many arms folded across so many breasts. /sniff.
posted by simra at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2019 [14 favorites]


I have feelings about this list. Big feelings. For example, I think Wheel of Time did almost immeasurable damage to the field which has taken decades from which to recover.

I am ready for the flames.
posted by Justinian at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


Wow, two WoT haters posting simultaneously! Either there are more of us out here than I thought or that's some coincidence!
posted by Justinian at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sorry GuyZero! Where's that sarcasm tag...
posted by emjaybee at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2019


/me tugs braids.
posted by bonehead at 2:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Was Deathgate better than Dragonlance? Dragonlance was...not great.

Death Gate was probably the best thing Weis and Hickman did (faint praise, I'm afraid...). The first 4 books are pretty excellent whenever the recycled clueless god from Dragonlance isn't hanging around. The last 3 kind of lose their way but have their moments.

his explanation of why he hated [Death Gate] so much was that there was this incredible world, detailed worldbuilding, and then at the end just as there's supposed to be a final battle a bunch of tanks appear out of nowhere with no warning and kill everyone.

Ah, that's not the Death Gate cycle, it's the Darksword trilogy. Easy mistake to make.
(What? We all misspent our youths in different ways. Mine involved terrible fantasy novels.)

Is dragon lance problematic in some way that I’m not remembering

Well, the blatant Mormonism in the first book of the original series has, as its primary saving grace, the fact that most people don't know Mormon mythohistory well enough to even realize it's there. But to those in the know, the whole bit about the blue-eyed blond-haired Native American-esque Noble Savages who are the only ones who know the great religious truths encoded on solid gold discs is... well, it's about as transparent a reference as the whole bit in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan comes back from the dead (which, as a tiny Jewish person, I found completely inexplicable).
posted by jackbishop at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm a fan of the whole Shapers/Mechanist universe from Bruce Sterling - but I'll admit the concepts were better than the prose. But still, I'm sorry it's not on the list simply as a fanboy.
posted by helmutdog at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really enjoy Nnedi Okorafor on Twitter and also her Black Panther books (Shuri and Wakanda Forever) and her comic series LaGuardia -- I think I need to read her Binti trilogy ASAP.
posted by robotmachine at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Now is an opportune moment to share the list I compiled the last time we had a best-of-scifi thread on the blue:
https://github.com/simra/MefiScifi
posted by simra at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I really liked Varley's Gaia Trilogy. The first book and a half are brilliant, novel ideas with relatable and interesting characters. The last book and a half are a writer's playground of crazy, just a half-baked batshit mishmash of unexpected and weird character and narrative twists. Frustrating but ultimately fun.

+1 Amber, Zelazny - yep, I'm an old.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:27 PM on October 15, 2019 [10 favorites]


Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser can kiss my ass. I tried to finish reading The Knight and Knave of Swords, the last book in the series, several months ago and stopped in disgust after it began spending pages describing sex scenes including an entire chapter devoted to an orgy. How did this end up in these lighthearted stories of sword and sorcery? Did Fritz Leiber begin having issues as he got older? How in the world did his editor and publisher let that crap get published? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books and stories can definitely be added to the growing list of "It started off great and then went off the rails."

I'm also much more interested in more focused lists or at least ones that are clear about the author's criteria. This list seems to be just a listing of the author's favorite book series which is fine but it's not a defensible way to define "best."
posted by ElKevbo at 2:32 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I like puns as much as the next person, but they're not an excuse for gross sexist rapey plots.

Don't forget the one where the world is saved from sort of tentacley-monster by pedophilia!
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm of the opinion that the first book in the Binti trilogy is much, much better than the next two, but the first one is so good that it's worth checking them all out.

Earthsea series should only be considered due to the way that Tehanu interrogates the earlier books.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


> "... Aslan comes back from the dead (which, as a tiny Jewish person, I found completely inexplicable)."

I thought it was cheating and it pissed me off.
posted by kyrademon at 2:33 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I really liked Varley's Gaia Trilogy.

I remember liking it, but it wasn't good enough to be a classic on its own merits and it's not groundbreaking enough to be a classic either. It's just sort of there.

Did Fritz Leiber begin having issues as he got older?

Like, what author doesn't? Is he worse than Heinlein?
posted by GuyZero at 2:34 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


bassomatic: "Needs Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos. That is all."

Does it? The first book was amazing, but I feel like it was steadily diminishing returns from there on.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Uplift is not in there? Disappoint.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:39 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Rowling? Some people liked her books. Oz?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:40 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


dinty_moore: "Earthsea series should only be considered due to the way that Tehanu interrogates the earlier books."

Oh, I disagree. I understand the Le Guin came to regret how the original trilogy privileged the male viewpoint, but I think they were interestingly boundary-pushing all the same. The original are very much not "find the plot coupon" fantasy.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:40 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Since we talked about SF vs fantasy, here's the entry from the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ for "What is the difference between science fiction and fantasy?" Keep in mind all of these example are necessarily on the older side.
This also has been done to death. Virtually every answer you give will fail to clearly indicate which category a large number of books belong to. Familiar books mentioned that test the boundary conditions include Anne McCaffrey's "Dragon" series, Piers Anthony's "Apprentice Adept" series, STAR WARS, and anything that uses FTL. The most concise definition I've heard was given by John Clute in a radio broadcast 22 March 1997: " "Science fiction: the model is that it is a kind of story which argues from this world a kind of possible outcome. It's possibly an improbable outcome, but it is arguable. Fantasy essentially, as I have been seeing it, is a series of stories, self-coherent stories (a term we use, kind of a bad neologism to describe stories which as [it] were understand themselves as stories; they're told stories), that are set in worlds that are technically impossible, that we can't argue. We may believe in them, but we can't argue them."

A more complete listing of the borderline cases includes:

* Poul Anderson's "Operation" stories, in OPERATION CHAOS
* Piers Anthony's "Apprentice Adept" series
* James Blaylock's "Elfin Ship"
* Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" series
* David Brin's PRACTICE EFFECT
* Rick Cook's "Wizard's Bane" series
* L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt"s "Incomplete Enchanter" series
* Charles de Lint's SVAHA
* C. S. Friedman's "Coldfire" series
* Lyndon Hardy's "Master of the Five Magics" series
* Robert A. Heinlein's MAGIC, INC.
* Rosemary Kirstein's STEERSWOMAN and THE OUTSKIRTER'S SECRET
* Julian May's "Pliocene Exile" series
* Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonrider" series
* Walter M. Miller's CANTICLE FOR LEIBOVITZ
* James Morrow's THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS
* Kristine Kathryn Rusch's ALIEN INFLUENCES
* Robert Silverberg's "Majipoor" series
* Christopher Stasheff's "Warlock" series
* Michael Swanwick's IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER
* Sheri Tepper's "The World of the True Game" books
* Lawrence Watt-Evans's "Three Worlds" series
* Lawrence Watt-Evans's CYBORG AND THE SORCERERS and THE WIZARD AND THE WAR MACHINE
* Walter Jon Williams's METROPOLITAN and CITY ON FIRE
* Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun"
* Roger Zelazny's LORD OF LIGHT
* (anything with faster-than-light (FTL) travel, time travel, parallel worlds/universes, psionics, or shoddy science)

(Often someone suggests that fantasy and science fiction can be easily divided and this list is brought up, the original poster responds by saying they haven't read any of these so they can't say which category they go in. This is not likely to convince people that such a division is possible. :-) )
posted by Chrysostom at 2:43 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


I am still of the opinion that the Challion Books are ever so slightly better than the Vorkosigan books but don't get the same level of attention because there are fewer of them (three novels, 7 or so novellas) and because the Challion books are fantasy, not science fiction.

Speaking of China Mieville, his Bas Lag series (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council) is made of two excellent books and one rather disappointing one. I'd still nominate it.

Also, this seems to explicitly exclude YA books, as dances_with_sneetches points out, there's no Rowling.
posted by Hactar at 2:45 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I felt Zelazny's Amber series fizzled after the first two, as if it was just churning. Didn't like the Chalion books at all, adore the Vorkosigan series. Fascinating reading all these opinions and finding out that it's just like art school, where people whose opinions you respect turn out to like things you think are not good at all.
posted by Peach at 2:45 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Okay but how is Seth Dickinson's The Masquerade not on here. The Traitor Baru Cormorant makes fantasy economics heartbreaking.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:46 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


I mean, there's only (thus far) two books? So it doesn't really qualify as a series as yet?
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


All the Fafrd and the Grey Mouser books are sleazy, though. (Recent re-read of like the first four while I was sick.) The last one is something special, I grant you, but they all have very young women who have sex with the heroes at the drop of a hat, creepy fetishy plot elements (lots of...shaving, for instance), way more nipples - sometimes on the same woman - than even your average sword and sorcery, more rape than I remembered, some sinister gay people....

The funny thing is that the lighthearted elements are still there, there are some good female characters, running alongside the rapey bits there are a some decent plotlines which prioritize female sexual desire - Fritz Leiber could pull a Michael Moorcock and revise them a little bit and they'd be a lot more of the "erotic fantasy romp" than they are now.
posted by Frowner at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


ElKevbo: "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser can kiss my ass. I tried to finish reading The Knight and Knave of Swords, the last book in the series, several months ago and stopped in disgust after it began spending pages describing sex scenes including an entire chapter devoted to an orgy. How did this end up in these lighthearted stories of sword and sorcery?"

The earlier books are a lot of fun. KaKoS is not fun, and gross besides. Try the first two or three books, you might enjoy them.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:49 PM on October 15, 2019


That's fair, Frowner, there are some not great elements.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:49 PM on October 15, 2019


> "Fritz Leiber could pull a Michael Moorcock and revise them a little bit ..."

I have to say that I consider Fritz Leiber (1910–1992) very unlikely to do this.
posted by kyrademon at 2:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Although Leiber won't be revising anything at this point, having died in 1992.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, I'll jump in and recommend Octavia Butler's prescient Earthseed series. She literally invented the demagogue campaigning on the slogan "Make America Great Again".
posted by simra at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


It was a PERENNIAL topic on rec.arts.sf.written.

pop quiz: Which well known and sadly deceased RASFW denizen was known to regularly quote John W. Campbell, Jr.'s (bad) definition consisting of:
It's Science Fiction, if, presuming technical competence on the part of the writer, he genuinely believes it could happen. Otherwise, it's FANTASY.
This definition is obviously as problematic as you might expect of something coming from John W. Campbell, Jr.
posted by Justinian at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Re: Seth Dickinson's The Masquerade - Maybe it's just me, but I thought the second one went off the rails. A real let down after the first volume.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:52 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


also, amateurs argue about the definition of SF vs Fantasy. Professionals argue about the definitions of Hard SF vs Soft SF.
posted by Justinian at 2:53 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oh thank god, I thought there was something wrong with me Chrysostom. I absolutely loved the first volume and gave up 2/3 of the way through the second.
posted by Justinian at 2:54 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


also, amateurs argue about the definition of SF vs Fantasy.

Right? Give the wizard a laser gun! That's what the people want!

Professionals argue about the definitions of Hard SF vs Soft SF.

Hard SF is when there's a paragraph about how the crystal makes the laser shoot
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


> "Professionals argue about the definitions of Hard SF vs Soft SF."

Please. I am a pointless argument *connoisseur*. I'll be over in the corner splitting hairs about the differences between Slipstream, Magical Realism, and the New Weird.
posted by kyrademon at 2:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


See in my head it's SciFi = anything where technology makes the impossible possible; whereas Fantasy = anything where magic makes impossible things happen.

And the books where technology AND magic occur simultaneously? Simple. We place those on the shelf right in between the SciFi and Fantasy shelves.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Don't forget the New Wave! Where does Aldiss's Report on Probability A fit in?
posted by Chrysostom at 2:59 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Although Leiber won't be revising anything at this point, having died in 1992.

I'm so old! The last book in the series just came out! Recently! I'm telling you, it was very recent.
posted by Frowner at 3:01 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Is there WiFi in your CliFi SciFi?
posted by kyrademon at 3:02 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I still intuitively think of Dan Simmons as being a relatively fresh voice, when he's been around long enough to go full on right wing shitlord.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:03 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


No one weighing in for Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series yet? (I mention it partly in hopes that the more people talk about it, the sooner The Thorn of Emberlain will come out...)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:05 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not including The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Erikson is almost a crime.

No, writing The Malazan Book of the Fallen is almost a crime. That series grows increasingly morally repugnant as it goes on.

By contrast, Mistborn is merely dull and mechanistic.

Machineries of Empire is weird. Great setting, some really good scenes, but a flat narrative voice and a lack of direction leave it less than the sum of its parts. In its defense, I listened to it on audiobook, where it’s narrated by the somehow simultaneously flat and overly dramatic Emily Woo Zeller. Let’s say she did the series no favors.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


GOR
posted by biffa at 3:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also, a basic rule for series Writers: If your work runs more than 3000 pages, it seems like you think you have more to say than Proust did. I will suggest you do not.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


There's probably more *plot developments* than in Proust, though....
posted by Chrysostom at 3:14 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Gentlemen Bastards is an excellent example of a book starting off gangbusters, but the quality of the sequels drop precipitously.

I find that the Elric books are rather poetic, but definitely a work strongly influenced by the time. And probably psychedelics.

Amber holds up ok, but it's definitely from the 70's and very early 80s.

I just finished listening to the entirety of The Black Company during my morning commutes. It definitely gets better as the series progresses and I actually got kind of emotional over the ending.
posted by porpoise at 3:15 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


So that's an interesting question - what series actually got BETTER as they went along?
posted by Chrysostom at 3:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Whoa, cool I started a small Fafhrd fight, I win! Anyway, there is a most recent bias to most lists (omg best film) and probably half of on that list would be not even considered in a few years, but a few like Foundation, Lensnmen or Dune will be remembered, as problematic but great. (ok not Fafhrd)
posted by sammyo at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean, let's not get into trying to decide what is Fantasy and what is Science Fiction and instead let us pontificate on what is "a series". I seem to recall that N.K. Jemisin suggested that fans not nominate the Broken Earth for the new best series award because she thinks of it more as a single narrative rather than a series and that got me thinking about whether certain things are series or not. I think it's actually pretty helpful to distinguish single epic narratives (trilogies, often with some notable extra long examples: e.g. WoT) from series of novel-length narratives since they're very different reading experiences. Of course, there is some shading in the middle of Series vs. Epic, but maybe the key distinguishing factor would be if you would feel comfortable handing someone a middle-ish book in the sequence.
posted by 3j0hn at 3:25 PM on October 15, 2019


> "So that's an interesting question - what series actually got BETTER as they went along?"

Lots. I mean, I can think of several series where you can basically see the author improving as a writer as the series continues -- ranging from authors who went from meh to pretty good, like Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, to authors who went from pretty good to great, like Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet.
posted by kyrademon at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


The Vorkosigan books definitely improve, but then fall off, which I feel is a fairly common situation in long-running series.
posted by tavella at 3:26 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


So that's an interesting question - what series actually got BETTER as they went along?

Murderbot Diaries?

but per 3j0hn, it's arguably not a series so much as a long novel that got broken into a bunch of pieces for some reason.
posted by GuyZero at 3:27 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


LOTR is, famously, just a very long novel.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


No love for the Kushiel books? They are like the most decadent candies — kind of silly, and bad for you in quantity, but just so rich. They are so sincere about being emotionally overwrought that they pass through ridiculous and come back around two… well, a comfort read, if nothing else.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


what series actually got BETTER as they went along?

Discworld is the canonical example here, I think.
posted by hanov3r at 3:32 PM on October 15, 2019 [13 favorites]


Oh thank god, I thought there was something wrong with me Chrysostom. I absolutely loved the first volume and gave up 2/3 of the way through the second.


I finished but I wasn't thrilled by it. And I loved the first one! It was almost enough that I'm not certain if I am going to read the 3rd, it's tough.
posted by Carillon at 3:32 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I tend to define a series as a set of separately published works that share either 1) a single protagonist and/or set of main characters, 2) a coherent plot arc, or 3) both. By this definition, the Hainish Cycle is not a series (it's a set of standalone books that share a setting), Discworld as a whole is not a series but there are series within it (e.g. the "Night Watch" series and the "Rincewind" series), and Lord of the Rings is a series even though the author did not intend it that way because of the manner in which it was published.
posted by kyrademon at 3:32 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


not a series so much as a long novel that got broken into a bunch of pieces for some reason

I'd almost put Binti into that category too. If we weren't in this era of Tor.com pushing novellas (perhaps this is a brilliant marketing decision to capitalize on the publicity of "Best Novella" awards) the original Binti story would have been reworked into the first third of the Binti novel that concludes with the single narrative of the second and third novellas.
posted by 3j0hn at 3:34 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


How on Urth can Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun not be on this list.
posted by Auden at 3:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


ctrl-F:

Marge Percy
Greg Bear
John Brunner

NOT FOUND.

*backs out of thread*
posted by loquacious at 3:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Mmm, re Discworld: they got better in the middle, but were falling off at the end. I guess I was asking for a consistent rise, with last book the crowning triumph kind of thing.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


What Brunner series are you talking about, loquacious? He wrote some great stuff in the 70s, but there were standalones.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:38 PM on October 15, 2019


Where's that sarcasm tag...

I'm really very surprised that there isn't more outrage about the Gor novels making the list.
posted by thelonius at 3:39 PM on October 15, 2019


GOR

NO
posted by loquacious at 3:39 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Speaking of China Mieville, his Bas Lag series (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council) is made of two excellent books and one rather disappointing one. I'd still nominate it.

But everyone disagrees about which one is the disappointing one.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:40 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


The ending of Perdido put me off of that series permanently.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:42 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


What Brunner series are you talking about, loquacious? He wrote some great stuff in the 70s, but there were standalones.

The Sheep Look Up, The Jagged Orbit and The Stone That Never Came Down along with (maybe) Netrunner are all pretty much the same technocratic dystopian overpopulated late stage capitalist world and time frames in the same way the Sprawl Trilogy does, and many others.

I'm not entirely sure why they aren't considered a series in the same way.
posted by loquacious at 3:43 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


For Greg Bear the Inifinity Concerto books are fucking amazing, and reside somewhere between fantasy and SF.

For Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time has 1-2 similar time travel oriented companion books that I'm struggling to remember the names of that also seem to be roughly set in the same world similar to the Hainish Cycles or The Sprawl Trilogy, and they were also really amazingly good.

Yes I am stretching the definition of series and SF, did you want an argument or not? :D
posted by loquacious at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2019


Hmmm, I don't think those are the same setting. I'd say his 70s dystopias are a *thematic* series (I'd put Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar in there), but it's not the same world, and the plot developments don't fit together, IMHO.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2019


The Scar is legit amazing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Vorkosigan books definitely improve, but then fall off, which I feel is a fairly common situation in long-running series.

I dunno, _Mirror Dance_, _Barrayar_, and _The Vor Game_ are some of the best SF of the 90s (at least). Two of them are dual Nebula/Hugo winners. It seems unfair to expect her to keep improving from that mark.

Plus _A Civil Campaign_ is one of the last couple of Vorkosigan novels and I think pretty clearly marks Bujold's high water mark as a master. The only reason, imo, it is considered a bit more slight is because a lot of the fans of her work are afraid of girl cooties.
posted by Justinian at 3:55 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


Chanur Series, C. J. Cherryh

In preference to either the Alliance/Union universe or the Foreigner sequence depending on how one's taste in SF runs? That's bold.

I have theories as to why Cherryh isn't put on the level with Heinlein etc and you can probably guess what they involve from my previous comment about Bujold but I'll let it go.
posted by Justinian at 3:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I will say that, like the Oscars, winning the Hugo/Nebula is not necessarily a guarantee that it was that year's best work.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:59 PM on October 15, 2019


Wheel of Time is basically what I call ‘garbage fantasy’.
posted by bq at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


winning the Hugo/Nebula is not necessarily a guarantee that it was that year's best work.

That's true, but I feel like the novels which have won both are a pretty dang good list? Much better than the winners of either individually. There's only a couple of really idiosyncratic winners and one can see why those won (like Jo's love letter to fandom.)
posted by Justinian at 4:04 PM on October 15, 2019


Hello I am here to also fold my arms underneath my breasts and voice my opinion that the Wheel of Time series is long-winded bunko, adding +1 to the total of WoT-haters!

(Source: how I remember almost nothing from the half-dozen books in the series I read in high school so I could have something in common with one of the few irl friends who could discuss genre fiction with me when we weren't busy with AP classes and other school things)
posted by rather be jorting at 4:06 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


> "[Chanur]... in preference to either the Alliance/Union universe or the Foreigner sequence depending on how one's taste in SF runs? That's bold."

I am a bold bold rebel.

Also, KITTIES!
posted by kyrademon at 4:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


So that's an interesting question - what series actually got BETTER as they went along?


Pratchet didn't find his voice until he found the Witches and met Vimes.

Vlad mostly stomps and romps about (entertainingly) for the first few books. Brust starts being reflective a half-dozen books in.

Consider Phlebas is the weakest Culture Novel.

The Book of the New Sun is great, but The Books that follow... don't get less rich.
posted by bonehead at 4:11 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


That's true, but I feel like the novels which have won both are a pretty dang good list?

Huh, there are more than I thought!

I Have Opinions about some of these, maybe I'll just leave it at that.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Plus _A Civil Campaign_ is one of the last couple of Vorkosigan novels

There are four after it, and the three I have read are all weaker than any other entry in the series. (I skipped _Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen_ because... that was a train wreck I wasn't signing up for.) The strongest is _Captain Vorpatril's Alliance_, but it still has a huge gaping hole in it; where once she would have grappled with the moral consequences of a Cetagandan war criminal returning to Barrayar, and where she would have had her characters react according to their histories, it is all thrown away for comedy. That was always her great gift, to go there, to have the worst thing happen and then react to it with depth of characterization and writing.
posted by tavella at 4:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


rec.arts.sf.written used to call series composed of doorstops Extruded Fantasy Product.
posted by bonehead at 4:14 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


...were falling off at the end

We Will Have Words about Tiffany Aching.
posted by bonehead at 4:16 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Count me in as someone actually kind of shocked by the omission of Book Of The New Sun. (Going in, I assumed that they’d specified “science fiction and fantasy book series” just to include it.)

Earthsea series should only be considered due to the way that Tehanu interrogates the earlier books.

As someone else noted, Le Guin expressed regret about her gendering of magic in the first book, but it’s still amazing: it’s a beautiful, very lightly sketched world, very well written; the protagonist and other main characters are POC; there’s a great deal about the responsibilities that come with power; and it starts as a typical bildungsroman but then gets bored partway through and becomes something much less triumphant and much more interesting. Then she followed it up with a book where the badass archmage from book 1 is a minor character who spends 90% of the story embarrassingly failing in his quest, and the book is about a bored and lonely girl who’s been given a load of symbolic responsibility she doesn’t want or need in a desert backwater and focuses mostly on her relationship with the dysfunctional adults in her life. The early books were unusual in their time, and being as objective as possible (admittedly not very), I think they retain a lot of value.

Oh, and has anyone mentioned The Once And Future King yet?
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:17 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


I just have to say, you nerds you, that this thread is fucking GOLD.
posted by zardoz at 4:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


bonehead: "We Will Have Words about Tiffany Aching."

That's not core Discworld, though. I'm talking Snuff/Raising Steam.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:21 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I wasn't a fan of Cixin Liu's trilogy either (but diligently read all three books for my book club anyway). The books were so incredibly dour and pessimistic and full of unmemorable & unsympathetic characters, though there were various interesting concepts brought up, and I did somewhat detachedly find myself engaged in pondering some of the issues raised by the very end. Kind of like if I had encountered a momentarily fascinating wikipedia page or jstor article.

I wanted to like the series very much because of its various landmark accolades, and as a Chinese American reader, I felt somewhat obligated to give the books a chance because hey, fellow person of Chinese descent (albeit from a much different cultural context ofc), but man, the series just left me super cold.

(In contrast, my much more pessimistic friend thought the series was worth every bit of praise heaped upon it, and actually preferred many of the plot developments I did not enjoy, lol.)
posted by rather be jorting at 4:21 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


btw bq, I love your title for this post. The one and future title for any and all such posts about such listicles, imo.
posted by rather be jorting at 4:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Give the wizard a laser gun! That's what the people want!

Laser swords. Only rogues would use such inelegant and uncivilized weapons as blasters.
posted by bonehead at 4:24 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'd definitely include Wolfe's _Book of the New Sun_, and possibly Vance's _Dying Earth_ series. Does this date me? Well, then it dates me. The idea of something being "best" is inherently problematic, though: Heinlein's juveniles were "best" for 12-year-old me, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend them to anyone today. That's more for the gender politics and incipient Engineer's Disease than anything else, and I don't know that other kids' series are necessarily better. I mean, the Harry Potter series really does have to be included, but I think it's pretty dreadful.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


What do the Pern and Foundation books have in common?

They are adolescent twaddle with terrible gender politics that our tween memories gild with roses.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Only rogues would use such inelegant and uncivilized weapons as blasters.

Gunslingers, maybe. Rogues use daggers.
posted by The Tensor at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


rec.arts.sf.written used to call series composed of doorstops Extruded Fantasy Product.

I actually think I may have coined that term though with the archives gone forever I can't be certain.
posted by Justinian at 4:36 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


They are adolescent twaddle with terrible gender politics that our tween memories gild with roses.

But how can Foundation have gender politics if it doesn't have any women?????

Anyway, Caves of Steel (the series) is at least as iconic.
posted by GuyZero at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Searching online indicates I probably stole it though. Awww.
posted by Justinian at 4:38 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


But how can Foundation have gender politics if it doesn't have any women?????
.
Bayta Daryell is quite important in the plot of Foundation and Empire.
posted by thelonius at 4:42 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Science fiction is fiction I will have written in the future. Fantasy is fiction I'm only thinking about writing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:43 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


I’ve tried several times with Cixin Liu’s trilogy and never made it very far into the second book. Especially in SF, I’m willing to overlook very indifferent writing in service of ideas, but I really think he’s actively a bad writer, not just “not a good writer”. Normally I might blame that on translation, but I’ve read other work by Ken Liu (e.g.) and other translations of his (e.g.), and you can see that the awful stilted style isn’t coming from him. The translator’s note at the end of Book 1 feels like a huge relief after slogging through the rest of it! And that’s to say nothing of the unrelenting grim seriousness, 2-D characters, puerile setpieces (the Panama canal thing, for example??) and incredibly weird pacing. The books just feel like they’re written by a very clever, very angry 14 year old.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:43 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


You know what's a really good series that a lot of people don't know about? The Logic series by Laurie Marks. Here is a Tor piece about the first book.

It's queer, it's political, it's surprisingly well-written, -engaging and -plotted and it's really not how you think - I'd assumed from the titles that it was one of those wretched by-the-numbers "everyone has a capital-G Gift and it's related to the elements/stars/animals/spirits/food groups and they all get Special Magical Training" series, but it's actually not! And no one has heard of it!

~~
The thing is, it really helps to have someone with a long-time and scholarly background or at least a consuming, obsessive fan's interest write these lists - that's why Mieville's has fifty books, is focused (sort of) on socialist matters rather than being a mere best-of and is full of books that one hasn't read, at least unless one is pretty darn serious about the field.

There's really quite a lot of good science fiction out there, an astonishing amount - and I'd say that since the mid-nineties really good new books have appeared at an accelerating rate, both because SFF is more popular/respectable now and because more women/BIPOC/queer/international writers are getting published (in English) so new themes and styles have been generated. When I started to read science fiction with some sustained attention in the mid-nineties, I felt like I could keep up with most of the new books I liked (some literary pretensions, left-leaning, usually by women/queer/BIPOC writers). Even with two very good science fiction bookstores in town, it was sometimes difficult for me to find something I wanted to read. But now - now just keeping up with the popular books is a full time job, never mind reading more broadly.

My point being that it's really, really difficult to be a non-professional/non-obsessive and have any deep sense of the field, even restricting the field to, like, "cool recent books whose politics aren't garbage and which are fairly well-written".

~~
A series that got better as it went along: L Timmel Du Champ's Marq'ssan Cycle. The writing is never what I'd call lyrical, but it's notably clumsy in places in the first book and a lot better by the end. These books gripped me from the start, though, to the point where I actively pestered the people at Aqueduct Press in a way that I find extremely embarrassing in retrospect to find out if they'd shipped my order of the rest of the series. If you are an anarchist or activist or leftist, if you have any kind of connection to South and Central American solidarity work, if you have some patience for a book being kind of weird...these may be a pretty astonishing experience. They are really weird and have a lot of violence including sexual violence, but they are really deeply feminist books - you never get the sense at any point that the violence is glamorized or exciting or fetishy or sexy or a thrilling plot moment. It's part of the political struggle that runs through the books and it's horrible; it is not minimized. There is also a really incredible female villain.
posted by Frowner at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Caves of Steel, though. 👍🏼Even now, I remember the series' intricate rituals of human-android detective partnership being very appealing and probably formative for my adolescent pre-TNG-watching self.
posted by rather be jorting at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


written by a very clever, very angry 14 year old.

SFnal fundamental right there, though fortunately not the only note in the chord.
posted by clew at 4:51 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Not the worst list (high praise in context)

re: Cixin, (what is the appeal of?) it's hard to explain. I liked the series a lot, and I'm not usually a fan of physics hard SciFi. I liked the crisp & flat style of his writing in translation, which is maybe not for everyone. ('Ball Lightning' novel also recommended).
re: Atwood, Madadam series qualifies. She approaches SciFi via old pulpy roots, which is funny.
re: Moorcock, Erekose series & Hawkmoon series (& maybe The Dancers at the End of Time) are classics. There's some nice writing in there.
re: Pratchett, I quite liked the later Discworld books, some of them are my faves. But they're all good. (Actually, I don't really like the early Rincey stuff that much);
posted by ovvl at 4:56 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


> "You know what's a really good series that a lot of people don't know about? The Logic series by Laurie Marks."

It is the best.
posted by kyrademon at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Good yes, HHGTTG.

No Valis? I mean it's not a "Series" per se, but it's the VALIS Trilogy. I'm sorry but this is utterly essential PKD. Not that there aren't good ones on here, but... And I know Pern gets all sorts of pop culture cred, but... really? Dragonriders and not PKD's Valis?

ZEBRA Frowns.
posted by symbioid at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Cixin
physics hard SciFi

Cixin is about as physics-hard as Dan Brown is history-hard
posted by Pyry at 4:58 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's so easy to forget about really incredible series - The Virga series (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, etc) are amazing. Old enough (2006) that I can't really remember if they made a huge splash at the time or not.

But as others have noted, this list has its biases and it's definitely not biased towards books like Sun of Suns.
posted by GuyZero at 5:06 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Cixin is about as physics-hard as...

Look he doesn't throw everything out, just the stuff that gets in the way of the plot.

FTL telepathy really helps move the plot along.
posted by GuyZero at 5:07 PM on October 15, 2019


Speaking of China Mieville, his Bas Lag series (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council) is made of two excellent books and one rather disappointing one. I'd still nominate it.

Yeah, regardless of the series quality consistency, Bas Lag is such a deliriously imaginative and cool world with so many amazing stories in it. I sorely wish for another book in the world.
posted by Ouverture at 5:30 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


what series actually got BETTER as they went along?

I think this is rare simply because it takes an enormous amount of willpower to stop when you're at the top of your game. Short series often have fairly consistent quality throughout, in no small part because they're written as a single work and then cut up semi-arbitrarily (e.g. Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring and Jemison's Broken Earth), but it seems most series improve as long as the writer is getting into the groove, and decline as they get overconfident or sloppy or bored. For some series this is particularly obvious: Rowling peaked after 3 books, Zelazny after 4, Goodkind after 0.5 (maybe less).
posted by jackbishop at 5:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


For me, the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books are great examples of short stories that should have remained short stories. It's clear to me that Leiber never really figured out how to write a book, at least not using the same characters and world as his short stories. They're a lot like some of our favorite Saturday Night Live sketches: fantastic in short doses and very important in the history of their genre but completely dreadful when stretched out in a longer medium.

On a different note, I definitely applaud the inclusion of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series in this (or any other) list. They were a lot of fun to read and they've really stuck with me. I've only read them twice but I know that I'll re-read them many more times.
posted by ElKevbo at 5:35 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


("Physics-hard" in terms of fictional physics sleight of hand for puny humans enjoyment. If you want real physics-hard, just stick to the real world;)
posted by ovvl at 5:48 PM on October 15, 2019


what series actually got BETTER as they went along?

Joe Abercrombie's 'The First Law' series and standalone followups come to mind. He improves as a writer and the less of the "evil gandalf" character we see, the better the quality. The three standalones are much better than the original trilogy, which was at least decent - good.

All three of them are solid, but I enjoyed the heck out of 'Best Served Cold' and 'Red Country' - both feature strong women characters pro- and ant- agonist. The other, 'The Heroes' is very humanistic, as is 'Red Country.' 'Cold' is, predictably, about revenge and betrayal but does a thoughtful job of it. Cameos from the original trilogy employed very well, without requiring pre-knowledge. 'Cold' and 'Red' feature women as the main character, and 'Red' also has a character-growth-out-the-wazoo Logan Ninefingers.

The current trilogy that just started is set in the 'First Law' world and seems like there's no regression so far (1/4 into first book, continues with even more multifaceted women characters).

His other unrelated trilogy ("Shattered Sea") is YA, and you can see him hone his craft by trying his hand at YA (and features primarily girls/ women).


Mark Lawrence's 'The Broken Empire' also ("Thorns"), but the follow up trilogy ("Red Queen") was same-same and he seems to have peaked/ cashing in. His current unrelated trilogy ("Ancestors") shows a little bit of continuing improvement, but still waiting for the conclusion book (oh, I see it's out now).

"Ancestors" is also a tiny bit YA.

"Thorns" is a great example of an excellent opening book (first as a published author, coming from a STEM researcher background) being followed by a better 2nd, then a masterwork capstone 3rd. He spends a lot of time on #2 playing around with prose/ poetry and experimenting with his voice/ imagery, then reins it in and polishes that in #3.

Jorg of Ancrath is a very interesting character and the reveals and the character's growth is delicious. There are women characters pro- and ant- and in-between- agonists with a good amount of depth. Not perfect - lots of missing mothers - but the characters that go along with toxic patriarchy contrast with those who fight against it/ won against-subverted it/ ostensibly wasn't under the thumb of it.

'Ancestors' shares the "hard SF plausible" DNA from 'Broken Empire' but in a completely different way - despite all three series being ostensibly Fantasy.
posted by porpoise at 6:07 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Another complaint that Earthsea wasn't there. "But then there would be two series by LeGuin!" So be it. She was a better writer than anybody else on that list, and she wrote two of the greatest series of books that SF/F has ever seen, and that's a fact.
posted by escabeche at 6:10 PM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


* Rick Cook's "Wizard's Bane" series

These are not high literature, but they're a hell of a lot of fun
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Damn, there are a lot of Cooks...

Rick, Hugh, Glen...
posted by porpoise at 6:19 PM on October 15, 2019


I still intuitively think of Dan Simmons as being a relatively fresh voice, when he's been around long enough to go full on right wing shitlord.

(googles to figure out if this is a joke or not)

Dammit.

Hyperion was a mind-blower for me, even if Simmons is far too impressed with his literariness ("Get it? I'm referencing Keats AND the Canterbury Tales!"). Fall of Hyperion was a largely disappointing pile of plot mechanics and loose-thread-tying, though the climactic moment -- the president's snap decision at the very end -- almost made it all worth it.
posted by HeroZero at 6:22 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, please.

And it’s a loose series, but Stanislaw Lem’s Ijon Tichy books. Or the Pirx the Pilot stories. Or any three random Lem books.
posted by rock swoon has no past at 6:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


The Machineries of Empire books are really fun, but IMO they don't really hold up. They have a ton of really interesting ideas that aren't explored at all because the author ultimately decided to write a fairly standard military SF series with all-new, all-different technobabble horseshit. Also it's a series that wants to point out that the military and political leaders are a bunch of psychotic murderers, then it wants you to like them anyway.

Anyway I really liked them, but I don't think they belong on a best of list.

I also really enjoyed the Culture books but I always felt like Banks became a better writer as he went along but also lost the bleakness that gave Consider Phlebas its texture and we never ended up getting the "best" Culture book. The Player of Games is the closest to me.

Ursula Le Guin is the best author on this list but the Hainish books have nothing to do with one another, Earthsea would be a better choice.

Anyway, stuff that would be on my list, mainly in the interest of providing a broader historical scope:
The Southern Reach, Jeff Vandermeer (or Ambergris, whichever you like)
Neveryon, Samuel R. Delany
Vergil Magus, Avram Davidson
The Biography of the Life of Manuel - James Branch Cabell
Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe (I actually don't like these books, but I agree they are brilliant and significant)
Jack Vance (The Dying Earth, or any Vance series you like really)

With the except of the first two authors these are all extremely old white men so adding them to a list is sort of lame. But I like a "best of all time" list to include all time. I'd like to also shoehorn Patricia McKillip on there but I feel like her best novels are not in series.
posted by selfnoise at 6:44 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Glen Cook's 'The Black Company' is interesting - there's a bunch of meta- / fourth-wall- going on late in the series to excuse why the writing had improved over the years.

The series is ostensibly the annals of a mercenary company with several hundreds of years of history, kept by the Company's annalist. The annalist changes over the course of the series and one of them exposits on why there were inconsistencies in previous volumes (two previous annalists grew up in very different geographies/ times so units of measurement used similar words [the annals over time were written in different languages and what we're reading is potentially a translation of a copy of a translation, etc. - in fact, literacy - and literacy in the company's current majority language, and literacy in the company's previous majority language - is part of several major plot points]).

The annalists also snark at/ about previous annalists in the text, too.

A lot. Especially later on.

One annalist returns late in the series as the annalist, but had half a lifetime of experience since they last were annalist.

"Soldiers live, and wonder why." and "It's immortality, of sorts." approaches "crossed her arms under her breasts" territory in the final book, but the reader can chalk that up to the annalist approaching dementia/ senility.


There are basically only two women characters of any note in the series, though, but one started out high status, lost status, regained status and the other gained status through competency. Both end up as first-person annalists for at least one book.

The former, though, is written kind of skeevy - virgin bride of the Dominator, ends up fighting her ex husband several times, sacrifices her powers, finally loses her virginity at 200-something years old, etc.

There are a couple of women characters added late in the series, but that's also kind of skeevy - kidnapped young women who were essentially sacrificed but were adopted by their kidnappers; one flees and is subjugated by her kin but are rescued by her kidnappers.

Early in the series there's some seriously messed up human/ soul trafficking. Lots of ethnic/ racial shortcuts (Vietcong, Indian subcontinent and caste system, Sparta-like warriors from Africa) and in the second half, a few remaining "White" survivors reforming the company with native/ local peoples. Cook does try to use the concept that there are a bunch of different "White" folks, too and there are expats (pale skinned and dark working together) that are themselves expat from the local population.


But gosh darn, the worldbuilding is incredible and takes a solidly/ stereotypically 70's type military fantasy story and really matures over a decade+ in terms of wordcraft, storytelling, and sensibility.

The first book is very very very uneven (and maybe even the second), but the series improves substantially quickly.
posted by porpoise at 6:48 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Anyway I really liked them, but I don't think they belong on a best of list.

I mean, if you really liked them, why shouldn't they be on a 'best of list', a concept we all admit is on some level inherently ridiculous? The idea that these lists should be reserved for Anointed Official Canonical Classics is how we get the same predictable lists populated entirely by novels written decades ago.
posted by Pyry at 7:01 PM on October 15, 2019


Reading Caves of Steel a few years ago is what finally made me feel totally fine about never reading any more Asimov again. Man, the sexism. Oof. No more.
posted by nat at 7:03 PM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


pop quiz: Which well known and sadly deceased RASFW denizen was known to regularly quote John W. Campbell, Jr.'s (bad) definition consisting of:
It's Science Fiction, if, presuming technical competence on the part of the writer, he genuinely believes it could happen. Otherwise, it's FANTASY.


Pretty sure that was Gharlane of Eddore (or Mister of Eddore for those sensible enough to be polite to him)
posted by Sparx at 7:03 PM on October 15, 2019


I know, I know, everyone complains about these lists, so why add to it?

However: Robert Jordan? Are ... are you joking?

When I was very young and had read very little, I really liked the first few books of The Wheel of Time. At some point though it became clear that:

(a) Jordan was an unoriginal hack largely pulling ideas from Tolkein or just appropriating them from real-world (non-white) cultures.

(b) Jordan lost control of his story about 1.5 books in and never got it back.

I am 100% baffled how a series of books most notable for spiraling out of control, going from trilogy to quadrilogy no 5 books no 7 no 10 no 13 no 15, which literally failed to be finished in the author's lifetime, which had a book like 4 or 5 in that managed in about 800 pages to advance the plot 2 whole days while also opening up new cans of worms that would take another 10 books to resolve is on a list of anything remotely supposed to be good.

The Wheel of Time is basically peak fantasy author out of control and in need of editing.
posted by tocts at 7:06 PM on October 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


Anyway I really liked them, but I don't think they belong on a best of list.

I mean, if you really liked them, why shouldn't they be on a 'best of list', a concept we all admit is on some level inherently ridiculous? The idea that these lists should be reserved for Anointed Official Canonical Classics is how we get the same predictable lists populated entirely by novels written decades ago.


I really like a LOT of books. I love reading! I just don't think they're brilliant. They didn't leave me astonished or wrecked, or deeply happy the way the very best books do. And I think a lot of that is the way the books don't really pick up their best ideas and themes and roll them up into something more than a fun diversion, when you can see the potential right there.

Anyway I don't agree that we got "Anointed Official Canonical Classics" because people really liked books, but not enough to put them on a list. Those stale lists are a byproduct of people categorically dismissing newer work that they don't feel rates with the old because they have a static conception of the genre.

In my case, I've just read books in the last year that were written in the last few years that I liked more, so there's no way they would make my list.
posted by selfnoise at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I recall the sexism in The Caves of Steel being explicit to that society rather than implicit from Asimov's personal sexism. But it's been a long time, and I could be mistaken.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:14 PM on October 15, 2019


(b) Jordan lost control of his story about 1.5 books in and never got it back.

That's how we know ASoIaF is a lot better than WoT: Martin made it through 3 books before he spun out. That's twice as many books!
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Thought about Dune but as upthread, it's one amazing first novel and then dross afterwards.
Thought about Chronicles of Amber also, but I re-read the first book awhile back and it's one of the worst-written fantasy series of all time, only with an absolutely killer hook.

I also believe the Gormenghast Trilogy should have made this list somewhere.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:02 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've only read the first two Gormenghast, but isn't the third volume supposed to be a serious fall-off in quality?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:04 PM on October 15, 2019


Peter Beagle wrote the best Gormenghast novel anyway.
posted by bonehead at 8:26 PM on October 15, 2019


Where does it say YA is excluded (or children or middle grade)? Narnia is YA. And the comment on Narnia is frustrating: this did not establish the doorway entrance. Alice falling down a rabbit hole or passing through the looking glass was a portal. The tornado or balloon to Oz was a portal.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:37 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am still of the opinion that the Challion Books are ever so slightly better than the Vorkosigan books but don't get the same level of attention because there are fewer of them (three novels, 7 or so novellas) and because the Challion books are fantasy, not science fiction.

I'm massive Vokosigan fan, but I would go further: Bujold's Chalion books are the flourishing of a mature writer at her best. But I think they don't fit as a series in people's minds because they aren't a series: they are stories in a shared world, but each one stands alone (and just about perfect) on its own. Whereas the Vokosigan books take you through the lives of the people, dipping in and out.

I do think Vokosigan is another series that got better as it went on. Even the silly one (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which I adore for the delicious fluff it is - and Simon!) is better realised than some of her earlier books. They all have great heart, but her writing and plotting did sharpen over time. (That said, "Borders of Infinity" was pretty early, and it still packs such a punch).
posted by jb at 9:00 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


There are four after it, and the three I have read are all weaker than any other entry in the series. (I skipped _Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen_ because... that was a train wreck I wasn't signing up for.)

I think Cryoburn is better than Cetaganda or The Vor Game - and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is really worth reading. It's completely unlike anything you've ever read before and it is absolutely not a Miles book. But it left me thinking more than any other in the series. It's not my favourite, but very worth it.

In fact, I'd say that Cryoburn isn't really a Miles book either - it's Jin's (the kid's) book. At a certain point in the series, I think she realised that you can't keep sending the same people through life-changing moments - you have to let them rest, and other people's lives can change. It's why I don't really want more stories about Miles (though I do need to get a hold of "The Flowers of Vashnoi").
posted by jb at 9:18 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm suddenly reminded of one of my grade school teachers who gave us a simple advice on finding a good fiction—pick up any novel, maybe look at the back cover, then read through the first chapter, flip through it and read some pages in the middle. Then decide if you want to continue.

I feel like it would be a fun weekend activity to just take one of these lists and read through the first chapter of every book in the list.
posted by polymodus at 9:26 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have to say, I Just Don't Understand the enduring popularity of Cixin Liu. He leaves me cold.

Glad you said this because I couldn't get through the first book (edit- Three Body problem). I don't know if it's an issue with the translation but the dialogue is so clunky and unnatural and the characters so unconvincing. It's like a Nolan film- the world feels like its underpopulated and the characters feel like robots. The science is interesting but you can tell that's all he cares about, but that's not enough for me.
posted by Chaffinch at 12:22 AM on October 16, 2019


I'm bit late to the party, and came mostly to pick the hivemind, but I'd add Terra Ignota by Ada Palmer starting with Too Like the Ligtning - it's fresh, bold, deeply humanist and original.
And I too stopped reading Cixin Liu after suffering through 2/3 of Three Body Problem, although I have a friend who read it all and went to enjoy the rest.
posted by hat_eater at 12:33 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


I appear to be unusual in thinking that Bujold's debut novel is actually one of her best.
posted by kyrademon at 1:07 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend, who doesn't read much Sci Fi, bought me the first volume of the Broken Earth series last birthday and Ancillary Justice of the Imperial Radch Trilogy this birthday. Suffice to say my girlfriend is very good at picking presents for me. Ancillary Justice gave me a bit of a headache towards the end and you'll know why if you've read it (spidermanpointing.jpg) but I really love it and the universe it paints, and the characters feel real and human and it mixes sadness and humour and I love it.

I'm about to start book two (Ancillary Sword) but I kind of miss one-off books so I'm looking forward to the next thread about individual Sci-Fi fantasy books to argue about (I'll still slag of Cixin Liu).

WRT the sci-fi/fantasy debate there's an in-between where things like Star Wars live and it's called Science Fantasy. Star Trek is Science Fiction, Star Wars is Science Fantasy. Simple.

I said simple.
posted by Chaffinch at 1:30 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


No, writing The Malazan Book of the Fallen is almost a crime. That series grows increasingly morally repugnant as it goes on.

Interested to hear more about this, if you (or others) have thoughts - Malazan has been sitting on my To Read list for a while, and I'm loath to put a lot of time into something I'll end up dropping (although my threshold for moral repugnancy might not be in quite the same place).
posted by inire at 3:27 AM on October 16, 2019


Is there a thread like this for one-off Sci-Fi/Fantasy books?
posted by Chaffinch at 4:42 AM on October 16, 2019


Late to the party, but having just attempted to reread the Foundation series last year, it’s still fresh in my mind, and my disappointment was profound. There is *a* female character in whichever book involves them on the run from The Mule, and she’s a respected and accomplished mathematician... who serves the two male characters dinner on their space ship, and when dinner is done, clears away the dishes and cleans up in the galley while the men smoke cigars and decide what to do.

Products of their times, sometimes, should be left in their times.

I agree with Loquacious that Brunner deserves more recognition, but I never really thought of the books as a shared world (though somehow I missed The Stone that Never Came Down), more as a series of meditations on “The World is Fucked Because of _____________.”* The terrifying thing is how much he seems to have gotten right without it even being a key part of things, down to the muckers from Stand on Zanzibar which seem to have become such a part of every day life that it’s hard to remember a time when mass murder wasn’t common.

*The World is Fucked Because of____________”
Pollution —> The Sheep Look Up
Overpopulation—> Stand on Zanzibar
Proliferation of Guns —> Jagged Orbit
Holy Shit, he was right about the Internet, too!—> Shockwave Rider

posted by Ghidorah at 5:00 AM on October 16, 2019 [9 favorites]


I can’t believe no one else got here first, but —

MetaFilter: written by a very clever, very angry 14 year old.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:26 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Malazan — Three points:

1. It does the usual thing and that military science-fiction fantasy tends to do which is assume people are going to be terrible, and then show people being terrible, often with some glee, without ever really addressing why that’s happening or whether it’s a good idea or not. It’s dramatic but it’s cheap and unthoughtful drama.

2. Healing magic seems to exist in the world so that the author can describe, with great and inventive detail, the continual injuring and maiming of characters, while still being able to have them functional for the next scene. Where they will usually be maimed again. After a while it’s numbing, and definitely not in a good way.

3. The place where I finally lost all patience with the series was, I think, book 5, where a woman is raped and tortured extensively, then has her memory erased to “deal with her trauma” but really so she’ll be ready to marry one of the male Character, despite the fact that they haven’t shown any significant interest in each other. It was a weird authorial choice, and an upsetting one.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:34 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


Btw, I have an SF Ask up, if there's anyone familiar with older SF who can help.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:40 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


May I recommend a blog? People who like fantasy qua fantasy should read The Black Gate, a simply excellent site for reviews of past and present fantasy. They publish quite a lot about older books and about pulpier books of interest as well as reviewing more Serious Literary Fantasy, so it's a great place to get some sense of the depth of the field.

~~
About lists: The whole question is "what is the list for? A "best of" list without a purpose is going to be incoherent, even if it's not already in trouble because it's over-broad. (It's silly to say that you can rank or even select the 20 best SFF series, because there are simply too many excellent ones that can't be compared without stupid logic-chopping: Is Book of the New Sun better than the Neveryon books? Are the Broken Earth books better than Lord of the Rings?)

A best-of list for someone who hasn't read any fantasy, or hasn't read any space opera, or really enjoys Virginia Woolf but has read relatively little SFF (Joanna Russ and M John Harrison will be your friends)...those are all going to be different lists, and deeper than a generic list.

I'd kind of like a list of influential fantasy and science fiction, which wouldn't be the same as a best-of list although there'd be some overlap. Octavia Butler is a titanic figure and a great writer, for instance, but surely a lot of pulpier stuff that isn't read much today was widely read and had a lot of impact on the field. (And of course, sadly, there are wonderful sort of chamber SFF books like The Winged Histories which don't have the influence that they merit.)
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Thanks GenjiandProust - food for thought.
posted by inire at 6:39 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean, maybe I'm wrong, but one of the things I liked about Three Body Problem was that it was written and set in a culture that is NOT US/Western. So yeah, the people in it act differently than how the folks in what I'm used to reading do... that was super interesting to me! Similar to the Chanur series, in how well the alien cultures were written/explained.

Also, I kinda liked the weird ideas and crazy long timeline for the series. It was different! Not the same old tropes with a slight twist.
posted by Grither at 7:04 AM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


Frowner: An old list of influential works, or at least works that were cited by Gary Gygax as being influential in the development of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (which in turn has been hugely influential itself), is in Appendix N of the 1st edition (1979) Dungeon Master's Guide. Like several other people have already done, I am slowly working my way through the list. Much of the material is very dated - sexist, racist, simplistic in many ways, etc. - but it is really interesting to read books and stories to see precisely how some specific ideas infiltrated AD&D e.g., the alignment system (Poul), abilities of specific classes like thieves (Leiber), the magic systems (Vance).

I haven't looked but I'd be equally interested in an updated version of that list which adds books and stories that have been influential in fantasy gaming systems since the 1970s. For example, there are references to influential books (e.g., Canticle of Liebowitz) and movies (e.g., the Madmax series) influential in the development of the first Fallout game scattered throughout the Fallout Bible; I seem to remember seeing those references compiled together into one list and I enjoyed reading some of those books.
posted by ElKevbo at 7:11 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's a piece with a lot of YA fiction of that time (David Eddings, Robert Jordan) where "race" or some other signifier was the main determinant in personality.

I think it actually goes a bit beyond that.

D&D has a particularly problematic view of race to this day in that it's really race-essentialist in uncomfortable ways (and I say this as someone who has been playing D&D for 25+ years). Go back far enough and it's not just subtext, it's in the rules -- e.g. in early editions of D&D a human could be a fighter or a wizard or a thief or a cleric but all elves were just elves, all dwarves were just dwarves, etc. Non-humans were extremely monolithic.

And you might think: OK but those aren't really races in how we think of races, they're really species (or subspecies? they can inter-breed, so who knows). The problem is, it becomes painfully apparent with a little looking that across all versions of D&D, humans (regardless of skin color) are coded as the white, and as the default, while all the other races are the exotic "other". Humans could have all sorts of societies but then elves all lived a certain way, dwarves all lived a certain way, etc.

Which is not to say things are as bad today as they were 25 years ago. I think there's more sensitivity to it, more understanding that you can't just say "oh but these are elves and gnomes and orcs, not real races, so they can't possibly be read as at least partially metaphorical for real world races" and brush it all aside. But: it's still there.

And so in terms of Dragonlance, a lot of what's there that's offputting isn't so much "because it's YA" but "because it's D&D", and D&D still has a ways to go on that front.

(The writing also ends up being quite bad on re-read as an adult, which doesn't help matters)

(No lie, I'm currently considering running a 5e campaign set in the Underdark and good lord I'm not really sure how to handle the fact that it's full of races that are just canonically, racially evil -- not like, there's specific cultures that have specific traits, but straight up "members of this race are evil and do evil things because evil". This is material published like 3 or 4 years ago, and it is seriously problematic)
posted by tocts at 7:25 AM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


> "the alignment system (Poul)"

Huh. I would have guessed Moorcock for that.
posted by kyrademon at 7:33 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


"members of this race are evil and do evil things because evil"

In all my years of D&D, I've never allowed this in a campaign. I've always taken a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach to alignment. "Evil is as evil does," whether you're a human, an orc, an elf, a dwarf or a vampire. You want to massacre that goblin village? Fine, but don't dare call yourself "good" after that.
posted by SPrintF at 7:49 AM on October 16, 2019


I made it all the way through Wheel of Time and the last book made the slog through the middle section totally worth it.
posted by Billiken at 7:50 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Earthsea series should only be considered due to the way that Tehanu interrogates the earlier books."

Oh, I disagree. I understand the Le Guin came to regret how the original trilogy privileged the male viewpoint, but I think they were interestingly boundary-pushing all the same. The original are very much not "find the plot coupon" fantasy.


Yeah, there should be an 'if only' in my original statement - but I still think that while the original trilogy was good, Tehanu is what made it worthy of the best of list. It's not as simple as male/female perspective, either - it's that LeGuin was able to go back and treat her older work with kindness even as she was interrogating it. It's one thing to allow yourself to grow and change, it's another to do so and allow for compassion for your younger self. That sort of mix of compassion and striving to be better is really what made LeGuin a great writer, and that feeling permeates all of her books.

And with Machineries of the Empire - dealing with sexuality and gender in the most conservative subgenre of science fiction is already laudable but I absolutely fucking love the fact that in the midst of a genre that absolutely loves to overexplain and footnote and appendix everything with military description porn, Ninefox Gambit essentially tells you 'math is magic, deal with it' and expects you to get the rest of it as you go along. The fact that there's technobabble that only makes sense through context is the point.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:10 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Wheel of Time doesn't belong on the best of list for anything.

And, frankly, much as I sort of liked Pullman's books, if for no other reason than tweaking religion, they don't belong on the best list for anything either.

And Sanderson... Well, yeah. He's just not all that. He's serviceable, but not exceptional.

While I agree the list is very presentist, I'd also argue that's part of the nature of the genre(s). SF tends to get dated really quickly, and to be honest a lot of the past greats really weren't excellent writers. Asimov was never anything but clunky, and while Heinlein was better at prose he was nothing special and his characters were generally pretty flat and copies of a set of Ur-Characters he used all the damn time just changing hair color and the like. The Heinlein Heroic Male is always basically the the same whether they're named Lazarus Long or Johnny Rico. Likewise the Heinlein Heroic Female and the Heinlein Antagonist Male and his counterpart the Heinlein Antagonist Female. Plus the obsession with reproductive incest...

The quality of writing in SF has improved dramatically in the past few decades so it isn't really surprising that any best of list would tend towards the modern.

As for Lieber, well like Heinlein he wore his fetishes on his sleeve. Lieber really liked BDSM, implied rape, and women who were hairless or had shaved heads. His Nehwon series was explicitly built as a sleazy world filled with sleazy characters the best of which you can say weren't as bad as all the others because it allowed him to indulge his various fetishes. Like Lovecraft they can be fun if you're able to ignore the horrible parts, but I wouldn't say they really belong on the best of list for anything.

As for SF vs Fantasy, it's clear that they get lumped together because unlike pretty much every other form of literature they take place in settings that are explicitly not our world. Romance novels (well, barring SF/Fantasy influenced romance novels) take place in basically our world, mystery books take place in basically our world, literary novels take place in basically our world. SF and Fantasy don't, so it's natural for them to be lumped together.

I'd agree that the difference is that SF at least pretends it's faintly possible its fictional world might, sort of, be based in our current understanding of physics while fantasy abandons that pretense. I'd argue that really it's more of a spectrum than a binary. Star Wars falls really close to the middle of the spectrum, probably a bit more towards the fantasy end than the SF end. Stuff like The Martian fall far towards the SF end and well away from the fantasy end.

And, much as a lot of SF fans would like to deny it, the vast majority of SF falls closer to the midpoint than towards the hard SF end. Anything with FTL is pretty much out of the running for really hard SF given our current understanding of physics.

fizban Whoops, as jackbishop pointed out it was in fact the Darksword series, and they were tanks as in big metal vehicles powered by technology. IIRC my friend said that through the series there was, as part of the background, this wall of energy in the big city that no one could ever understand. And, as background, every now and then it would be mentioned that the wall changed color, or sparked, or did whatever and people would wonder about what it might portend. Then, just as the climax of the entire series came a bunch of big metal tanks came pouring out of the wall and blew everyone up the end. He said it seemed as cheap as making the whole thing a dream that someone woke up and ended.
posted by sotonohito at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


> I mean, maybe I'm wrong, but one of the things I liked about Three Body Problem was that it was written and set in a culture that is NOT US/Western. So yeah, the people in it act differently than how the folks in what I'm used to reading do... that was super interesting to me! Similar to the Chanur series, in how well the alien cultures were written/explained.

Grither, you're not wrong for liking what you like (and, by and large, I get what you mean about the appealing novelty of reading works written and set in very different cultures than what you're used to - new is interesting!), but for me at least, "not US/Western" is a low bar that's been met by plenty of other books already (including older Chinese literature I read as a kid), so that alone's not going to have much of an impact on someone's who's read a lot from and about people outside the US/West.

Now, FTL telepathy, the incredibly long span of timelines, the short-term pretty accurate-feeling dystopic reactions world leaders had to the prospect of hostile alien violence, and a bunch of other concepts brought up, were indeed pretty neat! But the overarching doomer atmosphere wasn't my bag, nor the lack of charismatic-to-me characters to anchor the concepts and plots in my mind with more interest.

(I also actively disliked the plot point of one of the male characters longing for a perfect woman, describing her like one would the desired features on a car or laptop, and then... receiving her, more or less. Weirded me out! But I generally don't like reading most male authors' depictions of women nowadays, anyway, and likely would be more bothered by Asimov and older SF/F writers I read when I was younger, since fiction does hit different when you're an adult woman vs a naive adolescent hyperfixating on anything but the sexism embedded in older works.)
posted by rather be jorting at 8:50 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have to say, I Just Don't Understand the enduring popularity of Cixin Liu. He leaves me cold. It's the same reaction I used to have from Asimov, too. Big ideas acted out by human-form robots.

Agreed, I really wanted to like his works but I don't.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:53 AM on October 16, 2019


I'm glad to see Yoon Ha Lee on the list. I just tore through that series and it is fantastic - space opera with sweeping settings but really focused on some very interesting characters and an interesting twist in regards to the physics of their universe, as well as some very progressive sex and gender politics.

Lee, Leckie, and Rajaniemi are my space opera go-to's these days.
posted by thecjm at 8:56 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Cixin Liu left me cold, except for the flashbacks to the Cultural Revolution in the first volume which I found fascinating.

Brunner's distopian quartet is still very relevant today, and should be much more widely read than it is.
posted by monotreme at 9:16 AM on October 16, 2019 [8 favorites]


Brunner reminds me a bit of Silverberg, in that he had a career writing low-quality stuff, then in the 70s wrote a bunch of challenging novels that were influential on the field (*), and then stopped, and went back to writing lesser novels.

(*) Brunner - Dystopian novels. Silverberg - Tower of Glass, Dying Inside, Downward to the Earth, Nightwings.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:24 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


kyrademon: "Huh. I would have guessed Moorcock for that."

Both, I think? Anderson deals with Law/Chaos in Three Hearts and Three Lions.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:27 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Majipoor books are a major achievement that you never hear about on any of these lists. Silverberg has largely not survived his time well. Joan Vinge, too, is horribly known considering her output. Considering both were more or less contemporaneous with Wolfe's publication of the New Sun, that's always been a bit puzzling to me.

Without knowing either, there's much richness lost to equally deep narratives like Meville's or Jesmiin's works.
posted by bonehead at 9:44 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't agree on Majipoor? The first book was a fun, sprawling science fantasy. Not necessarily ground-breaking, but enjoyable. The second was a kind of mixed bag short story collection. The third was disappointing. After that, meh. So I don't feel that it lived up to the promising start.

(obviously, just my views)
posted by Chrysostom at 10:42 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to say that I'm very happy to see Robin Hobb's "Assassin Apprentice" series on here. That series is definitely in my personal "Best of" reading list.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:46 AM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Of the ones I've read, Temeraire is the only one that made me raise my eyebrows and go, "Really?" Novik has some great books, but those are only OK.

I thought they were brilliant, but the brilliance kind of reveals itself slowly so by book four you're like WAIT WOW THIS IS AMAZING but the first couple of books were just good fun.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:09 AM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Thanks for this list and thanks for the thread, which as usual is brimming with very compelling recommendations! It's bittersweet that I'll only be able to read a finite number of books in my brief time on Earth.

And I just want to underline Frowner's point about how I will give my kingdom for more stand-alone novels. Like I said, there's too many books. If you insist on making everything a series, at least make the first book self-contained. I can't tell you how many books I've read that start a plotline and don't finish it, and I'll never know how those wars/romances/schemes turned out (without googling spoilers, anyway.)
posted by zeusianfog at 11:45 AM on October 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


Chrysostom: "Both, I think? Anderson deals with Law/Chaos in Three Hearts and Three Lions."

Yes, that sounds right; I was offering a few examples, not an exhaustive list. Zelazny is also in Appendix N and it seems likely that he also influenced the alignment system, too.

I'm sure that others have done research into this and written about it. For example, I had big hopes for Jeffro Johnson's book "Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons" but it's a terrible book poisoned by his own stupid, backward opinions (he really comes across as a Sad Puppy or someone who agrees with many of their views).
posted by ElKevbo at 12:16 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


What I just could not stand about the His Dark Materials trilogy was that the machinery of the plot was lubricated with the tears and blood of tormented children.

I stopped reading after The Subtle Knife, and I don't think I could bear finishing it.

I really wonder what the Hell Pullman thought he was doing.
posted by jamjam at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2019


Tormented children are bread and butter for many successful authors. In not-totally-unrelated news, I’m glad this list didn’t have anything by OS Card on it.
posted by bq at 1:00 PM on October 16, 2019


I loved His Dark Materials because I thought it was awesome that an atheist wrote one of the most religious series I'd ever read and because armored bears and steampunk shit, yo.

HOWEVER, if you read the follow-up novels, be warned that Pullman really goes a lot farther with making Lyra a Chosen One That Everyone Loves Because She is the BEST and also apparently in the latest one, talks about how much her older teacher finds her hot* and...yikes ya'll.

*have not read it yet, so going only by Twitter quotes
posted by emjaybee at 1:14 PM on October 16, 2019


Jamjam, I agree. I find the books very well written but the product of a dark mindset I can't identify with.
posted by selfnoise at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2019


> "I thought [the Temeraire books] were brilliant, but the brilliance kind of reveals itself slowly so by book four you're like WAIT WOW THIS IS AMAZING but the first couple of books were just good fun."

Since I stopped after reading the first two, I may be greatly underestimating the series, then!

> "The Majipoor books are a major achievement that you never hear about on any of these lists. ... Joan Vinge, too, is horribly known considering her output."

Both Majipoor and Snow Queen would be on my list of "great first book, later ones don't hold up" series. "The Snow Queen" as a single book would certainly be on any of my "best SFF books of all time" lists, though.
posted by kyrademon at 1:40 PM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I tried to read the first Temeraire and ended up giving the thing away to a friend. Dragons aren't ponies. As you can imagine, I'm not a Pern fan either.

Sanderson's Mistborn was another I couldn't get past. Just tepid stuff. But I did read four or five chapters into the first of his Stormlight books and it was a gigantic improvement. I definitely will return when the reading pile gets manageable.

I'm glad someone mentioned Joe Abercrombie/Lord Grimdark because he just keeps getting better. Yeah, it's pretty dark stuff but he creates some truly great female characters and is committed to burning every fantasy trope to the ground.

Max Gladstones's Craft Sequence is another must. I really can't believe on MeFi no one has brought up Saint Charlie's Laundry Files. I'm still torn about the ending but our own Scalzi's Old Man's War is SOOOOOO entertaining. Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin is truly epic fantasy that absolutely sticks the ending. And speaking of Mr Abraham, there's that small series called The Expanse...

Um...Malazan. It is a big love/hate thing for me. The world building is enormous yet somehow shallow. Some characters level up to ridiculous levels. Trying to make sense of the timeline will lead to madness. There's the raping with a particularly awful one in book nine that might be Erikson's justification for wiping out an entire tribe but, no, just no. And yet there's these 'fuck yeah' moments that are just awesome. And despite books 5-8 being weak, he nailed the ending 9 and 10. I can't recommend it but some parts of it I loved.

Not including the Potter series in that list is a major infraction. I have hope that Scott Lynch with correct the course on the Gentleman Bastards. Then again, I retain hope that an older man living in Santa Fe will still finish his two remaining novels to wipe away the bad taste left by a certain TV series.
posted by Ber at 1:58 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Brent Weeks' Lightbringer series has not been mentioned, but I think it is quite good, where magic is based on light, which is channeled in a semi-liquid state.

I'd also be grumpy about not including Tim Pratt's The Axiom trilogy, but since the third one just came out, I'll let it slide.
posted by Marticus at 2:18 PM on October 16, 2019


I tried to read the first Temeraire and ended up giving the thing away to a friend. Dragons aren't ponies. As you can imagine, I'm not a Pern fan either.

Dragons aren't ponies in either series. Termeraire, for example, is a brilliant scholar and much brighter than his captain.

Joan Vinge, too, is horribly known considering her output.

One of the (really sad) reasons for this is that she was involved in a car accident in 2002 that - along with a chronic illness - impacted her ability to write. I'm a selfish fan: I wish there were more of her books - and I think that World's End and The Summer Queen were just as strong as The Snow Queen.

I was also delighted by Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle. I didn't know there were any sequels other than the short stories - I'm sorry to hear they weren't as strong. But I really do need to reread his At Winter's End - it's been decades, but I remember being blown away by it.

And I just want to underline Frowner's point about how I will give my kingdom for more stand-alone novels.

Spinning Silver! I'm just about 3/4 of the way through and it is so, so good.

The Curse of Chalion by Bujold (also mentioned above) stands alone; the second book in that universe stands mostly alone, and the third is independent of the first two.
posted by jb at 2:26 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I tried to read the first Temeraire and ended up giving the thing away to a friend. Dragons aren't ponies.

That's pretty much the big theme of the series. The first book plays the 'boy and his magic horse' angle fairly straight and then it progressively diverges; somewhere around book four is where it really goes off the rails.
posted by Pyry at 2:37 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sanderson's writing has a quality where his books are almost like video game novelizations for nonexistent games. I don't mean this (entirely) as criticism, but as an observation: if you've ever looked up video game spoilers on Wikipedia to learn how a series turns out, his books are likely to appeal to you on some level.
posted by Pyry at 2:44 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Huh. I might have to check this guy out. I loved reading Jeff Rovin books when I was a kid, maybe especially the chapters on games I'd never played.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2019


Dragons aren't ponies.

Maybe they are. Draconology is a young field.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:50 PM on October 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Oh, and also Dresden Files? Iron Druid? Alex Verus? Rivers of London? Laundry Files? October Daye? Incriptyd?

Still, there's always more room for more decent reading material from the past few years.

I would be happy with a few full length Penric's Demon books too while I'm wishing.
posted by Marticus at 2:52 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Rivers of London is fantastic -- and the audiobooks are even better than the print version.
posted by wenestvedt at 2:55 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


It took time for Rivers of London to grow on me - were it not for the whole police procedural in magical London thing, which I dig with both hands and a shovel, I'd have put it down at the end of Book One, since the protagonist seemed to have no emotions past the simplest animal ones. Turns out it's partially a pose, the (in)famous stiff upper lip, and he's just really bad at expressing them.
posted by hat_eater at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


I endorse the Shadow Police series, which unfortunately seems to be cancelled due to lack of sales (it's much grimmer than Rivers of London).
posted by Marticus at 3:04 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Oh, and another thing about Rivers of London - has anyone noticed that the British vibe of the series seems to be rather on the nose, with the names dropping and lots of peculiar terms? Like the author, who is British and lives in London and doesn't have to prove anything to anybody as far as I know, was nevertheless trying a bit too hard to prove that I'm getting this authentic English Experience for my money. Anyway, it stopped being irritating after the first couple of books.
posted by hat_eater at 3:10 PM on October 16, 2019


The magic in Rivers of London is based (in part) on history and geography, so it makes a certain amount of sense that it drops a lot of England Facts™ all over the place.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Like the author, who is British and lives in London and doesn't have to prove anything to anybody as far as I know, was nevertheless trying a bit too hard to prove that I'm getting this authentic English Experience for my money.

Maybe it was just about a love of place and wanting to bring your world to the page? I know that I adore it when my (semi-) local authors - like Guy Gavriel Kay or Tanya Huff - have settings in real places that I know in Toronto in their fantasy novels. It feels so authentic to me and roots the magic in a place I know.

(I was also delighted by the snarking at our late 1990s government in Huff's 2001 The Second Summoning).
posted by jb at 4:06 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think I need to read her Binti trilogy ASAP.
posted by robotmachine


I was pleased to see the Binti series listed there. Not sure if better is the right word, but the series gets more complex and richer as it goes, so yes, better. I've made a good/bad habit of pushing these books on people.

Wanted to see James Blish's Cities in Flight.
posted by Gotanda at 5:42 PM on October 16, 2019


Oh, I'm not sure those have aged well.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:58 PM on October 16, 2019


Links to fanfare discussions on the listed books/series (because I realized I actually meant to leave some comments on a few RoL fanfare discussions, like, a week ago):

The Broken Earth Trilogy

Vorkosigan Saga (Shards of Honor)

The Dispossessed

Lord of the Rings

The Three-Body Problem

Binti: The Night Masquerade (the third book)

Revenant Gun - Machineries of the Empire (third book)

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Foundation Series

Imperial Radch series

Discworld

Other books mentioned here: Too Like the Lightning, Spinning Silver, The Rivers of London Series, Harry Potter

Also, if we're talking about extremely good one-offs: This is how you lose the time war. It's short, it's fun, it's self-contained.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:37 PM on October 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


Another perfectly good Victorian fantasy series is The Memoirs of Lady Trent series which is probably not going to make anyone's list of award winners but is a perfectly enjoyable series about a Victorian(ish) woman explorer searching out dragons on her alternate world. It's maybe a YA series? It's the kind of mild writing that can go either way.

That's what I really want to see. A list of pleasant, easy-reading fantasy and scifi series that you're not going to get frustrated with if you keep falling asleep reading it at bedtime.
posted by GuyZero at 8:58 PM on October 16, 2019


fuck this stupid planet when will the Frank Burly novels receive the acclaim they deserve
posted by um at 9:48 PM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Like the author, who is British and lives in London and doesn't have to prove anything to anybody as far as I know, was nevertheless trying a bit too hard to prove that I'm getting this authentic English Experience for my money. Anyway, it stopped being irritating after the first couple of books.

This got me thinking. Does anyone know any Sci-Fi/Fantasy set in England/Britain that isn't set in London/the South East? I'm not trying to be snarky but I always feel funny when non-Brits construe London with England. It's a different planet compared to the rest of the UK.
posted by Chaffinch at 12:50 AM on October 17, 2019


Does anyone know any Sci-Fi/Fantasy set in England/Britain that isn't set in London/the South East?

[looks at shelves]
Um ... John Whitbourne sets his in Suffolk. Not London, but yes, in the South-East.
Robert Westall mostly sets his around Great Yarmouth, also South-East.
Hmm. Keith Roberts? Mostly Northern England IIRC. Alan Garner's stories are mostly set in Yorkshire. Iain Banks and Charles Stross often set theirs in Scotland. Apart from that it's hard for me to think of ones that aren't either explicitly or implicitly set in or near London. That may say more about me than the state of SFF, though.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:29 AM on October 17, 2019


... are we counting Harry Potter?
posted by dinty_moore at 4:22 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would have thought that at least one person would have done a cozy murder mystery/urban fantasy mashup by now, though.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:25 AM on October 17, 2019


cstross's Halting State and Rule 34 are set in Edinburgh.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:48 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know any Sci-Fi/Fantasy set in England/Britain that isn't set in London/the South East?

Still southeast, but the Connie Willis Oxford time travel books are at least often set in the countryside, mostly surrounding Oxford (although Blackout/All-Clear has large sections set in London).

Diana Wynne Jones books that are set in a real England are often set in the west; I think she lived in or near Bristol most of her life, so I kind of picture that area a lot. Wizard Howl is from Wales, and several of her books have really vivid sections set in Wales.

...you didn't ask specifically about sff books, so, uh, Torchwood?

(I might look around my shelves once I get home, I'm kind of surprised by how hard it is to think of more.)
posted by C. K. Dexter Haven at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Keith Roberts's Pavane was set mostly in Dorset (although it's alternate history, fwiw).
posted by Chrysostom at 11:04 AM on October 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


Actually, come to think of it, the thematically similar The Alteration by Kinglsey Amis is at least partly in Oxfordshire.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:21 PM on October 17, 2019


...you didn't ask specifically about sff books, so, uh, Torchwood?

Torchwood has a whole series of books as well as some radio plays. You can forget the thing that no one wanted to happen and enjoy all kinds of shipping.

(The books aren’t necessarily great SF but they’re easy and fun if you were into the show.)
posted by affectionateborg at 12:26 PM on October 17, 2019


Mythago Wood is set in Herefordshire, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell spends plenty of time in the north of England, including York.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 2:01 PM on October 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


In terms of YA, there’s also The Whitby Witches
posted by chappell, ambrose at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2019


The books aren’t necessarily great SF but they’re easy and fun if you were into the show

Sounds like the kind of thing you'd wish someone really good would write a few - spinning off season one, before the mutiny. There's just a lot to work with there and spin into other areas.
posted by Ber at 3:47 PM on October 17, 2019


cstross's Halting State and Rule 34 are set in Edinburgh.

And at least parts of The Nightmare Stacks are set in and around Leeds.
posted by Pink Frost at 3:56 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


And of course Jeff Noon's books set in Manchester, e.g. Vurt.
posted by Pink Frost at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod is set in Scotland (as are parts of other books in his "Fall Revolution" series, which would be on my own personal "best sff series" list). Some of his standalone works also have Scottish settings, including The Highway Men, The Execution Channel, and The Night Sessions.

And of course, the Harry Potter books largely take place just north of Kintail.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:31 PM on October 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


I realize that it's silly to get indignant over what's essentially listicle fluff formatted into a single-page article. However, the series I have read and liked over the decades but do not see on the list include the following (in no particular order, compiled by random chains of association and pondering, with some prompting from my Goodreads list):

- Gene Wolfe, Book of the New Sun (and arguably the subsequent two Sun series)
- Samuel R. Delany, Neveryona series (I would also argue that Trouble on Triton and Stars in My Pocket... are a pair of books set in the same future history, but that's probably a discussion for another time)
- Charles Stross - Laundry Files and Merchant Princes series [is he still considered MeFi's Own(tm)]?
- CJ Cherryh - all those great Alliance / Union books (many of these are due for a re-read); the Faded Sun series
- Margaret Atwood - Maddadam books (not interested in grumbling about her inter-genre politics)
- Kage Baker - Company books (still sad Baker is gone)
- David Brin - [first] Uplift series (second set fell flat for me)
- Jeff Vandermeer - Annihilation; I assume one of these years there will be enough Bourne books to make a series as well
- Robert Charles Wilson, Spin series (imho, Wilson is a seriously underappreciated writer)
- Lucius Shepard - Dragon Griaule works (I understand Shepard is a love/hate kind of writer for many)
- Russsel Hoban - Riddley Walker series
- John Barnes - Meme Wars series, troubling but very good; Thousand Cultures series; also, that weird but fascinating, YA seeming but not really YA, Jak Jinnaka series
- Nancy Kress - Beggars... series; I haven't read the Probability series yet but it is well-reviewed
- Jack Vance - Both the Dying Earth and Alastor series stick with me
- Sheri Tepper - Grass series, read a million years ago
- Connie Willis - Oxford time travel series
- Doris Lessing - Canopus in Argos series (slow and literary so not everyone's cup of tea, I get it, but it was impressive to me)
- Ken Macleod - Fall Revolution or Engines of Light series
- Alastair Reynolds - Revelation Space series; Poseidon's Children series
- Gregory Benford - Galactic Center series
- Greg Bear - Queen of Angels, Slash, Moving Mars, Heads sequence (I think these may have been the peak of Bear's career); recently re-read the Eon books and they held up better than I expected after all these years; there were also the Forge of God books (only two) but they haunt me after all these years
- Paul McAuley - Confluence series, Quiet War series, or the more recent Jackaroo series that I am really liking
- Elizabeth Bear - Dust series (she has several others well-reviewed that I have not read)
- Vonda McIntyre - Starfarers series (I remember really liking these at the time)
- Emma Newman - Planetfall series, liked quite a bit
- John Crowley, Aegypt sequence (old and probably a bit too 70s for many, but literaryily satisfying to be back in the day)
- Sean Stewart - Resurrection Man series
- Robert Reed - Marrow series
- Alan Steele - Coyote books
- Stephen Baxter - Xeelee sequence
- John Varley - Titan series; and his recent return to the Eight Worlds series
- Brian Stableford - Swan and Dedalus series; maybe the Emortality books, though my memory of them is less clear
- M John Harrison - Viriconium series, Light series
- Philip K Dick - Unhinged but great VALIS books
- Roger Zelazny - Amber books (the first set recommended anyhow)
- William Gibson - I would argue the two series that start with Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition respectively are as good or better than the always-cited Sprawl books
- Kim Stanley Robinson - both the Mars trilogy (c'mon!) and the Wild Coast series; his Climate change trilogy was politically satisfying but a bit perfunctory in terms of writing
- Karl Schroeder - Virga series, underrated
- Vernor Vinge - Zones of Thought series (yes, I know the last one, Children of the Sky, was a disappointment); Peace War sequence
- Ian McDonald - Luna series; the Planesrunner books (though generally I am not big on YA)
- Christopher Priest - arguably all those moody and beautiful and haunting Dream Archipelago books are a continuous series; at any rate they are great
- Eleanor Aranson - Woman of the Iron People series
- Adam Troy Castro - Andrea Cort series
- Jo Walton - Farthing series
- Tim Powers - Last Call series, remember them fondly
- Ben Winters - Last Policeman series

(I am leaving off all the failed series that had a classic first book followed by disappointing sequels, such as Dune, 2001, Rama, Ringworld, Gateway, Ender's War, etc.)

O... kay. While I could probably muster some more, my brain hurts now.

In response to earlier comments in the thread, count me among those who bounced pretty hard off Three-Body Problem despite my positive hopes when starting it (hopes largely raised by all the rave reviews). Too bad.
posted by aught at 7:27 AM on October 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Trying to get back to work... but a few more occur to me:

- Linda Nagata - Nanotech sequence; also I intend to read her newer series that stars with The Red
- Melissa Scott - Roads of Heaven series; also, I always thought Dreamships, Dreaming Metal, Night Sky Mine, and The Shapes of Their Hearts formed a kind of sequence, though they are separate stories
- Jack McDevitt - the space archeologist series that stars with Engines of God; he has another series I remember not liking as well
- Kathleen Ann Goonan - postapocalyptic nanotech series starting with Queen City Jazz
- Jeffery Ford - Phyiognomy series
- George Alec Effinger - When Gravity Falls series
- Paul Park - Starbridge series; Princess of Roumania series
- David Mitchell - he has made the claim that all of his books (several of which have important fantasy elements) are part of an overarching series
posted by aught at 8:14 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Honestly, SFF is still treated like it's ephemeral and that's a lot of the problem.

There are some good (and some merely interesting) books about SFF history, and there are the usual encyclopedias and wiki entries and so on, but if you think "huh, I wonder about the history of [an aspect of science fiction or fantasy]" or "it would sure be interesting to know more about ambitious trilogies published before 1990 and less famous than the Sword of Shannara", you have to do way more digging than ought to be necessary, and a lot of what you encounter will draw on popular sources which may not be fact-checked. (And they may not be fact-checked because of the lack of histories, poor genealogies, etc.)

Very little serious science fiction criticism stays in print, or is indeed printed at all, which means that it disappears off the internet eventually*. Very little serious science fiction stays in print, especially small press stuff. (Where are the Jane Candas Dorsey short stories of yesteryear, for instance?) So there's a great deal of wheel-reinvention and a strong presentist bias in writing, and a strong sense that "before now" there just wasn't a lot of [whatever - well-characterized/well-written/non-swashy-buckly/etc] science fiction and fantasy.

"I have a vague sense that before about 1995 there was little worth reading" is not the same as "If you look back there were relatively few women/BIPOC writers getting published", and in fact elides the actual presence of those writers. Many people don't know, for instance, about Craig Strete, and the compilation zine of SF by Native writers that he published is long, long out of print. It's not that everyone needs to go back and read old SFF to somehow justify their fandom but it's difficult even to find out about a lot of it. And you know that a lot of what's being published right now will go straight down the memory hole and - should the world not be a flooded cinder - in twenty years we're sure to be talking about how there weren't any SFF writers of [identity] prior to 2030.

*Joanna Russ's reviews in The Country You Have Never Seen are an exception, but then it's an academic press so it's not just, you know, sitting there at your local bookstore, if you have a local bookstore. These are really important because she reviewed very widely so they preserve a snapshot of SF in general, not just the best things.
posted by Frowner at 8:24 AM on October 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


(Paul Park's Starbridge series is so fucking weird. It doesn't hang together at all IMO,but wow are the individual pieces vivid and strange. I still think of images from those books fairly regularly and I haven't read the books in seven or eight years.)
posted by Frowner at 8:26 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


> "Russsel Hoban - Riddley Walker series"

Wait ... series?

> "Eleanor Aranson - Woman of the Iron People series"

Wait ... series?
posted by kyrademon at 9:27 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


- William Gibson - I would argue the two series that start with Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition respectively are as good or better than the always-cited Sprawl books

Me too. The early books are fun but he's such a better writer now; Pattern Recognition really blew me away and while the next two aren't quit as strong, they're still terrific. I love how he can set his fiction in current day now since technology has caught up to what he likes to write about.
posted by octothorpe at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


sotonohito - great! In that case I am happy to confirm that Death Gate Cycle is still super good (until someone who has actually read it in the last fifteen years disagrees).

Another one which I haven't seen mentioned so far is Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. Definitely for children, and growing out of an almost Enid Blyton start. It absolutely meets the criteria of non-London as it is almost entirely set in Cornwall and Wales, and I greatly enjoyed reading it to my daughter!
posted by fizban at 10:24 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Bridge and Blue Ant books, respectively, are fantastic, and really show his development as a writer. The Sprawl books are fun, but feel like rushed sketches when put beside his later works.
posted by bonehead at 10:27 AM on October 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


> "Eleanor Aranson - Woman of the Iron People series"
Wait ... series?

Apologies, I had incorrectly remembered Ring of Swords and the book of related stories as connected with it!
posted by aught at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Stand on Zanzibar and Shockwave Rider - Both of these are fricken brilliant standalones.
posted by Mitheral at 6:53 PM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Alfred Bester had two great stand-alones in The Stars My Destination and the Demolished Man. He was one of the creators of an SF that wasn't just rocket ships and space squid. Without him, Herbert or Zelazny or Le Guin might not have had as fertile ground in which to grow. He mapped one of the routes out of the Gernsback trap.

If you want to understand SF, I think Bester is one of the essentials.
posted by bonehead at 9:30 PM on October 18, 2019


If you're interested in what contemporaries thought at the time, some valuable books of SF criticism are:

* Benchmarks (et seq) - Budrys
* In Search of Wonder - Knight
* The Issue at Hand (et seq) - Blish
* New Maps of Hell - Amis

And a bit more of a retrospective: Trillion Year Spree - Aldiss and Wingrove

You will have noticed these are all white men. I'd be happy to hear suggestions of contemporary criticism from women/POCs!
posted by Chrysostom at 4:14 PM on October 19, 2019


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