NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

This past week, NPR posted a list of what it considers the Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, which was part of an online voting campaign this summer.  Over 60,000 votes were cast and the top 100 vote-getters are out. The list has been posted by several folks in my neighborhood, including LetsEatGrandpa, GingerSister and SciFiMedia.

I’m going to re-sort the list here into a couple of categories. Sometimes, there will be notes.

READ IT, LIKED IT, IT BELONGS

  • 1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • 3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
  • 5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
  • 6. 1984, by George Orwell
  • 7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • 8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
  • 9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • 10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  • 11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
  • 13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  • 15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  • 16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
  • 18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss (This is pretty generous, only because it’s just come out and isn’t complete)
  • 19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • 20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • 22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • 23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
  • 27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
  • 28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut (those NPR types like their Vonnegut)
  • 25. The Stand, by Stephen King
  • 32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
  • 35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
  • 38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
  • 39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
  • 42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • 45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • 48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • 50. Contact, by Carl Sagan (rare case where the film is better. More human.)
  • 52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  • 54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
  • 58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson
  • 63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  • 64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
  • 65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson (The film was a travesty)
  • 78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • 79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
  • 85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
  • 87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
  • 90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock
  • 96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • 97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

READ IT, DISLIKED IT, IT STILL STAYS

  • 2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (never got it)
  • 4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
  • 12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan (I began reading this and loved it, got annoyed and kept reading it, gave up around book 8, won’t finish it — for me, it’s about 6000 wasted pages)
  • 24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
  • 37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne (It’s a classic, I know, but it’s BORING BORING BORING)
  • 46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien (poke my eyes out)
  • 53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson (I know, I just didn’t like it)

WHAT’S THAT DOING HERE?

  • 41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings (really? Mediocre at best)
  • 43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson (I’ve read the first one, it’s good-not-great, Top 100? They’re going to have to get a lot better)
  • 62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
  • 67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks
  • 68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard (Classic? Maybe. Great? Eesh)
  • 80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire (when the musical is better than the book, you don’t get to be on the list)
  • 99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony (the first couple were clever, died a long, slow death that should have been quicker)

NEVER READ IT

  • 14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
  • 17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  • 21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
  • 26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (I promise, Budd, I will, I promise)
  • 29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
  • 31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  • 33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
  • 34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
  • 36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  • 40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
  • 44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
  • 47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
  • 49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
  • 55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
  • 56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
  • 57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
  • 59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • 60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  • 61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  • 66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
  • 69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
  • 70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • 71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  • 72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
  • 73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
  • 74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
  • 75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
  • 76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
  • 81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
  • 82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  • 83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
  • 84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
  • 86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
  • 88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
  • 89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
  • 91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
  • 92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  • 93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
  • 94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
  • 95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • 98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
  • 100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

One of my personal favorites, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea was left out because the list did not include YA fiction. Speaking of Ursula, where the hell is The Lathe of Heaven? And where’s The Andromeda Strain?

Your thoughts?

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40 thoughts on “NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

  1. Interesting stuff!

    Some thoughts:

    Ender’s Game seems a little high.

    Dune rocks. I’ve read the first book several times. It’s like an old friend.

    Read all the Heinlein you possibly can. “Coventry” is a personal favorite. I think that was found in a book called “Future History.”

    Regarding your “never read” section: Roger Zelazny only appears on the list only a single time? That’s an outrage! :) My advice is give the first book in the “Amber” series a try. If you don’t get hooked, I’ll eat my hat. As an added bonus, you can read one of his short stories online for free. It’s called Unicorn Variations. Yeah, the formatting is bad, but it’s worth it.

    I tried to get through The Mote In God’s Eye and didn’t get very far. I’m surprised to see it on the list.

    Notable omission??? The “Bio of a Space Tyrant” series by Piers Anthony.

    I can understand why LOTR is #1. I’m not sure what else I’d put in that spot.

    As you can probably tell by my comments, I have a strong bent towards sci fi and less towards fantasy.

    Good post!

    • Tom — yeah, I actually thought Speaker For the Dead was superior to Ender’s Game and I was surprised at how high EG was, too.

      I came from a more fantasy and less SF driven youth, and have been seeking out great SF as an adult. I will definitely give Amber a shot.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Stevil; it keeps me from having to slog through the formatting.

    I’ve got more than a few bones to pick with the “experts”. First and foremost, why do they have some series (e.g. Dune, Amber) as the sole entry for some authors but include separate books from the series for others (e.g., Heinlein’s Future History)? Second, who picks this stuff? Why leave out LeGuin for being “Young Adult” but keep in Kingkiller Chronicles? And why allow in gamers books at all? Sure, they sell a gazillion copies, but they are to literature what reality TV is to drama. And then there is the use of popularity as the sole criterion; why weight a classic that’s been out for 100 years the same as the latest teen craze? A little consistency would be nice, too; if paranormal and horror are out, how did King’s books and World War Z make it in?

    And, if you will excuse me, I have to chase some kids off of my lawn…

    • John — yeah, this was all done by a popular nomination and vote process. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the bell curve of NPR listeners are better read than say FOXNews watchers, but I agree that the list is pretty poorly curated. Also, it’s very skewed towards what seems to be in the short term memory of the voters’ minds.

      And the genre boundaries were pretty fluid. Flowers For Algernon? Is that science fiction? Medical fantasy? I’m not sure I really considered it either.

      Still fun fodder for discussion.

    • SS — there’s still a lot of great books to read, aren’t there! I’m always a little self-conscious that I haven’t read “better” books — though I think exercises like this and site like Goodreads make it a lot easier to get great recommendations.

  3. I’m really sad by your dislike of Wicked, but it’s understandable. I would recommend the Terry Pratchett books, but if Douglas Adams isn’t your cup of tea, I don’t think these would be yours either. However, you should read Jasper Fforde. He’s a hoot and very fascinating.

    • gingersister — I actually liked Wicked somewhat. I thought the first 2/3 of the book were great, but it seemed like GM couldn’t figure out how to close it. The playwrights that did the re-write for the stage did a GREAT job of figuring that out, I thought.

  4. It’s possible fans of the musical may be forgiving of the novels. I’ve never seen/ heard it, so the novels were not my thing (although I wanted them to be). I adore Neil Gaiman as a person (via interviews) but I haven’t liked his books, either. I think perhaps I’m better sticking to non-fiction. I try these things everybody loves and … well, I don’t like them. At best, they’re “okay.”

    Pratchett is the one that I *do* love…and I haven’t seen the films. I find he’s a zillion miles past others as far as intellect and finesse (in spite of the broader humor of his broader-painted characters). The more you know history and politics, the more amazing Pratchett becomes! I loved Adams growing up, too.

    • MT — isn’t that the great thing about there being a bazillion books — that there’s something for everyone? Also, I tend to be pretty cranky when it comes to “the people” telling me something is great — the more hyped something gets, the more I’m ready to dislike it.

  5. Ender’s Game at number 3? I smell ballot-box stuffing by teenaged boys and 20-somethings, especially since Heinlein, Dick and Bradbury appeared far lower on the list than they should have. And I don’t even know why anyone would bother to mention Conan the Barbarian on this list. I think only reason it made it is because of the movie with Schwarzenegger and the upcoming one which I can hardly wait to miss.

    Grumble, grumble. I’m feeling old and cranky today.

    • HG — well, you know those NPR.com KIDS, voting for things that they read last week, or have seen in a Peter Jacksonesque spectacle… ;)

      The Conan books were popular among my peers as a teen and in some ways they were a springboard into much better writing and they have some historical cred, but Top 100? No, by CROM!!!

  6. I think Ender’s Game belongs on there. Not only is it well loved by many, but it it won the Nebula and the Hugo. It is in the Marine Corps officer program’s recommended reading list as well. While it has its detractors, I think it belongs in the top 10 on any list concerning science fiction books.

    Books you haven’t read that I would suggest by number: 14,26,29,31,34,36,56,70,74,75,84,93
    if you pick only one from that list I would go with Starship Troopers or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    Books I think you could skip by number: 17(liked the first half), 21(blade runner was completely different and way better, IMHO),77(I did not like it and could not finish it, there are very few books that this has happened to).

  7. I love how you broke up your list! I meant to mention this on my list, but I can’t believe that Connie Willis only gets one book on the list. That ain’t right.

    I agree about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. *head desk*

  8. Thank you for posting this! Perfect timing. My dad and I were in a store this weekend looking at used books when he sighed and complained that he hasn’t read science fiction in too long and misses it. I made a statement to the effect that I know there has to be some pretty standard works in the genre that surely he hasn’t read, and this is a great list to share with him!

  9. I have been trying to read this post for ….well, for as long as you have had it posted!
    Work is insane and so am I!

    So many awesome books. And I have read a lot of them. LotR is a favorite for sure. And Roger Zelazny….Nine Princes in Amber…definitely worth a read….I read all of the Amber Chronicles as a kid and just bought the entire set in one huge book, but haven’t reread it yet, so I am not sure what I will think as an adult/almost senior citizen!

    Ender series was awesome. Wheel of Time…I made it to book nine. Then forGET about it. Not worth it. Same with the Fire and Ice series. I loved/hated the first three and have no interest in continuing the series.

    Thomas Covenant was such a damn whiner that I never read all of that series, either!
    And I adored Ray Bradbury and most of Robert Heinlein’s stuff. Not all of Heinlein, though.

    There should be MANY more Terry Prachett books on that list. The man is currently my favorite author.

    Piers Anthony….never did get him, nor did I get Douglas Adams, no matter how people raved about HGttG.
    Thanks for this post…it brings back lots of good memories.

    Oh, and read “Small Gods” by Pratchett!

    • Sounds like I’m getting a lot of votes for Zelazny and Pratchett — I will have to track some down. I loved 1st Covenant (read when I was a brooding teenager) and liked-not-loved the 2nd. I won’t read the 3rd because I don’t want to spoil anything.

      I’ve really liked Martin’s Ice & Fire, but didn’t really love the fourth book. Too much chess piece moving and not enough plot-forwarding. I’ve heard many very good reviews of the most recent one (#5) but have decided I’m going to let him get the end in sight before I commit to any re-read of those.

    • I’ve tried Dune on a few of occasions and never really got into it any of the times. It seems like one of those things I’m SUPPOSED to like, but just don’t.

  10. Oh, I had forgotten all about The Martian Chronicles! Loved that book. Read it years and years ago. Mists of Avalon was a nice summer read. And you’re right about Contact, although Foster can be a bit sappy. Liked her better as an FBI agent. ;)

  11. “Dragonfilght” is one of my favorites (though there is a lot of nostalgia value there too), so I’m glad it made the list! You should look into it at some point. And I know that Drizzt has become a staple in the nerd community, but he’s starting to edge towards Overrated-dom (imho). Sadly, I really didn’t like “Game of Thrones” – enough that I’m going to be avoiding the rest of the series. It was just way too brutal for me, but very well written, so I can see why it’s so high on the list.

    • GB — I never read “Dragonflight” for some reason. I think it’d peaked at a time when I wasn’t paying as much attention to fantasy and so it sort of got past my radar.

  12. I just wandered over here, saw your list, and hope that it’s okay to comment. I love how you broke down the list. So often, people just check off what they’ve read and give the tally but it’s so much more interesting to see what people liked, didn’t like, and what they think should or shouldn’t be on the list. There are so many good books out there, it’s often hard to figure out what to tackle next.

    • Bernadette — wander over here any time!

      I have found that since I’ve started participating in Goodreads (with a number of friends) that I’m getting much better book recommendations than when I was just browsing.

  13. Thanks so much! I may take you up on that, but I hope that you don’t mind the many children’s picture books that I rate on the site… trying to keep track of what I read with my toddler…..

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