The OF Blog: Westeros develops its own lists of the best spec fic books

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Westeros develops its own lists of the best spec fic books

About a month or so, when yet another "top 100" list of spec fic works was developed and caused the usual amount of bitching and moaning on the ASOIAF fansite Westeros, I quipped that perhaps there ought to be some sort of "Westeros 100" for that board.  Well, someone with the screen name of Wastrel (his blog is here) took up the challenge and posted a thread where people at that site would nominate works for inclusion in such a list using a three-tiered system. 

Well, he finally got the votes tabulated.  Here's the copy/paste of the final lists (he divided it into a 19th/20th century list of 101 plus 10 honorable mentions and 10 works of 2000 and later with a few more honorable mentions (I'll bold the ones I have read/own):

The Main List:


The Affirmation – Christopher Priest
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers
The Autumn of the Patriarch – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Black Company – Glen Cooke
Blindness – Jose Saramago
The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Cat's Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Childhood's End – Arthur C. Clarke
China Mountain Zhang – Maureen McHugh
The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny
The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) – Stephen Donaldson
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus – H.P. Lovecraft
The Dark Tower – Stephen King

Discworld – Terry Pratchett
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
Downbelow Station – C.J. Cherryh
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Dying Earth – Jack Vance

The Dying of the Light – George R.R. Martin
The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K. Le Guin
The Empire Trilogy – Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
Ender's Quartet – Orson Scott Card
The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb
The Fencer Trilogy – K.J. Parker
Fevre Dream – George R.R. Martin
Fictions – Jorge Luis Borges

The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov
The Gap Series – Stephen Donaldson
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Gormenghast Trilogy – Mervyn Peake
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ - Jose Saramago
A Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
Hellblazer – Garth Ennis
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts – Douglas Adams
The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
Hyperion – Dan Simmons

I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
The Illiad - Homer
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
The Iron Dragon's Daughter – Michael Swanwick
The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

The Lions of Al-Rassan – Guy Gavriel Kay
Little, Big – John Crowley
The Liveship Traders – Robin Hobb
Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Lucifer's Hammer – David Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Lyonesse Trilogy– Jack Vance
The Glass Bead Game – Hermann Hesse
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn – Tad Williams
Midnight's Children – Salman Rushdie
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
Le Morte D'Arthur – Thomas Mallory
Mythago Wood – Robert Holdstock
Neuromancer – William Gibson

The Night’s Dawn Trilogy – Peter F. Hamilton
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Odyssey - Homer
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Only Forward – Michael Marshall Smith
Otherland – Tad Williams
Permutation City – Greg Egan
Planet of Adventure – Jack Vance
The Prestige – Christopher Priest
Replay – Ken Grimwood
The Riddle-Master Trilogy – Patricia A. McKillip
Sandman – Neil Gaiman

The Sarantine Mosaic – Guy Gavriel Kay
Shardik – Richard Adams
The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
The Soldier Trilogy (Soldier of the Mist, Soldier of Arete, and Soldier of Sidon)– Gene Wolfe
A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

The Stand – Stephen King
The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers – Robert A. Heinlein
Tigana – Guy Gavriel Kay
The Tooth Fairy – Graham Priest
Transmetropolitan – Warren Ellis
Use of Weapons – Iain M. Banks
The Warlord Trilogy – Bernard Cornwell
Watchmen – Alan Moore
Watership Down – Richard Adams
We – Yevgeny Zamyatin
The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan


Ten additional works also mentioned: Salem’s Lot (Stephen King), Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis), The Once and Future King (T.H. White), The Elric Series (Michael Moorcock), A Fire Upon The Deep (Vernor Vinge), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Vorkosigan Saga (Lois McMaster Bujold), The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon), and The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri).


Ten Works from the 21st Century:


Acts of Caine – Matthew Stover
Black Man – Richard Morgan
The First Law Trilogy – Joe Abercrombie
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
The Long Price Quartet – Daniel Abraham
The Malazan Book of the Fallen – Steven Erikson
The Orphan’s Tales – Cathrynne M. Valente
Prince of Nothing – R. Scott Bakker
The Scar – China Mièville
Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang


Also mentioned: The Road (Cormac McCarthy), City of Saints and Madmen (Jeff Vandermeer), Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell), Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke), The Wizard Knight (Gene Wolfe), Chasm City (Alastair Reynolds), Anathem (Neal Stephenson), and The Separation (Christopher Priest).

So 70 out of 101 for the main list (7 out of 10 for the honorable mentions) and all 10 of the 21st century list (and 7 out of 8 for the honorable mentions) have been read and/or owned by me.  Most of those are fairly good books.  Interesting variety, but perhaps others have different opinions?  What books would you expect to appear in a fantasy forum's list that weren't there?  Which ones made this list that surprised you?  Why so?

15 comments:

Joe Sherry said...

It's easy to nitpick an individual book, and I can't be surprised given that this is a GRRM forum, but Dying of the Light is really not that remarkable. If they really needed another GRRM, The Armageddon Rag would have been a better choice.

Jonathan said...

Well, I had read something like 50 of those on the main list, and most of the new books, but I feel this list suffer a bit from "reader created lists"-syndrome. It has many of the big names where the books are not of the quality which should be included, and it tends to group series together, when perhaps one book out of the whole gang is of sufficient quality to merit a mention.

The list contains obvious gems though, and even one or two works I have never heard of... I should perhaps check them out, but I feel somewhat sceptical when it comes to the quality of some things on the list and feel that it would be advantageous to just forget this list and get proper recommendations instead.

Lists, in general, are voted on by people who haven't read enough to have a proper opinion, or people who have read too much and have to be pretentious about it. Oh, and those with poor taste.

PeterWilliam said...

I was a little surprised that Downbelow Station is the single work that gets Cherryh on the list. Fairly solid list though.

Tea and Tomes said...

If absolutely nothing else, this list would be a good one for me to try to read my way through. I recognise a lot of titles and authors on it, though I confess I've read relatively few of the books mentioned. Maybe by this time next year I'll be able to say otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Um, readers who have read too much? LOL! Just how much is too much and how much is just right. Might it be more correct to say that encountering someone more widely read than you is a cause for celebration?

Unless the creation of lists and the act of reading are part of some infernal contest? jv

Goran said...

Jonathan - Way to make a sweeping generalization that condemns two completely different groups of people in one blow.

Considering that the list has great variation (and keep in mind it is a list of speculative fiction, not all fiction); that I know for a fact that many of the people who voted have read QUITE a lot, I can only conclude that you are everything you condemn, namely someone who is pretentious, with poor taste, and without a proper opinion.

Droidprogrammer said...

50 out of 100 on the main list. not too shabby. I am surprised to see the The Belgariad didn't make the list, really who hasn't read it? Jack Whyte's Camulod series is fairly popular as well. But maybe that is just in Canada. As for the 21th century list, I would have nominated Pat Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.

Some of the books I have never heard of, i too will be on the lookout for them, so I can read my way through.

vacuouswastrel said...

Thanks for mentioning this.

However, one thing must be made clear: this isn't a list created to produce the best 100 books. Because I don't think that's possible from any popular vote - Jonathan is quite right that when the voters differ greatly in what they have read it's impossible to create any meaningful ranking.

Instead, this should be seen as Tea is seeing it: a recommended reading list that is directed at an unknown reader. As a result, it's intentionally designed to have considerable variety within it, to cater to a wide range of tastes.

That is, it's a "you should be able to find something here worthwhile" list, not a "you shouldn't be able to find anything here not worthwhile" list; it's a comprehensive array of tastes, not a consensus adjudication.

So, sure, lots of people won't love the Empire Trilogy - and lots of people won't love the Autumn of the Patriarch. I'm guessing rather few people will actually love them both - but if you start combining the people who love this or that, you start building up a picture of the electorate as a whole.

I think that makes it quite good as a statement, "This is what we, the Westeros forum, like".

It also makes it good, I think, as recommended reading. Even if you don't know anything about these books, if you are a genre fan, picking out a good handful of these books should net you some reads you really appreciate - whereas some 'greatest ever' lists can give you nothing that you like at all, because the tastes of the list-maker are too different from your own.


-------

If anybody's interested, I'll be putting the list up on my blog shortly, complete with "how this list was made", "what's wrong with this list" and "possible questions about this list" (ie "why did you choose to make it in that rather peculiar way?). The electoral system is complex and innovative.

---

Joe: no votes for AR at all. Votes for Dreamsongs, but it was after the cut-off date.

---

PeterWilliam: The Faded Sun and Cyteen also got votes, but Downbelow Station got more. Note, however, that the list works by aggregate author totals, and then selecting the representative books, not by votes for books alone.

---

Droid: don't think either series got votes - in the case of the Belgariad, I'm not surprised, but I did like the first two Whyte books (for some reason, never bought the others). Partly it's because people only voted for 20 works each - lots of books probably have broad support without having the real enthusiasm (again, electoral system artifacts representing the intention of the electoral system rigger/organiser). Rothfuss did well, and would have made it on the main list, but it was harder to get on the 21st century one.

----

Anyway, I'll let you know when I've got more details of the system up. As every good electoral system student knows, you can't say anything about results if you don't know how they were arrived at.

Gabriele C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriele C. said...

46 out of the main list and we differ on 10 books you marked as unread (Pratchett, Feist, Tad Williams, GG Kay's novels, Hesse, Heinlein, Cornwell). 5 of the honourable mentions, but only 3 of the 21th century list.

I read Morgan's Steel Remains but his other books don't appeal to me. Nor do I care for thieves as MCs, so that rules out Lynch. Mieville didn't work for me, though I made my way through Perdido Street Station. I may give Abraham a try some day - his new project sounds more like my thing though, so I'll proabbly start with that once it's out.

My list would include Beowulf and the lais of Marie de France, plus some Scandinavian writers (Almqvist, Lagerlöf, Rydberg) and German ones (de la Motte Fouqué, ETA Hoffmann, Theodor Storm....) but I may be a bit biased there. I should introduce my blog readers to the Ghost Rider and dyke sacrifices some day. :)

Adam Whitehead said...

A pretty good and varied list.

Although including all the DISCWORLD books in one lump is a bit of a cheat. 36 books with no continuing stories between them, some recurring characters and only a shared background challenge the notion of what is a 'series' quite severely. Getting all 36 on there does mean readers perhaps don't have to choose between NIGHT WATCH or SMALL GODS as the best, but it does lead to the conclusion that weaker books like THE LAST CONTINENT and EQUAL RITES are good enough to be on an all-time best spec fic reads list, which is pretty misleading.

vacuouswastrel said...

Adam: I agree with you. Unfortunately, people overwhelmingly voted for the series as a whole, not for individual books. And, even if I ignored that and forced the votes to go to an individual book, that book would have to be Night Watch - which is probably the LEAST standalone book in the series. I can't really recommend that people read Night Watch without having read at the very least the other Watch novels first...

marco said...

I should introduce my blog readers to the Ghost Rider and dyke sacrifices some day.

Ghost Rider, the cursed biker with the blazing skull, and dyke sacrifices, also known as Lesbian Vampire Killers from Hell?
I don't think they're eligible, being a comic book and a movie.

;)

http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/?id=12&xid=2799&kapitel=1&cHash=cdc9dafdf02

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, Marco, I hope no one gets the idea to rewrite Storm's novella as biker story. ;)

vacuouswastrel said...

If anybody's still interested, http://vacuouswastrel.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/westeros-org-book-list-index/ gives links to my posts on the subject, explaining the selection method, noting it flaws, and explaining why that method was selected over others. Hopefully that might give more background to the list.

 
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