NPR just released its list of the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of all time. With more than 5,000 people submitting nominations and 60,000 people voting, it presents an interesting cross-section of what people like in the genre. (Note: You won’t find any young adult books on the list because they’re reserving those for a separate list. So, no Lewis, Pullman, or Rowling. Although, on that note, why is the Sword of Shannara trilogy on the list? How is that more “adult” than the Hunger Games trilogy?)
Since I’m a fan of the genre, I just couldn’t resist making some comments. But, before I do, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a list based on literary merit, historical significance, or anthropological insight. People voted. So, it’s a popularity contest. But, it was an interesting one.
So, check out the list for yourself, but here’s what I think:
- Most Surprising: Patrick Rothfuss, The Kingkiller Chronicles. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t surprising because the two books in this series so far are bad books. Far from it. The Name of the Wind is unquestionably my favorite debut SciFi novel. What’s surprising here is that Rothfuss has only written two books in the series and the first just came out in 2009. That’s amazing in a list dominated by established authors who published most of their books decades ago! (Runner Up: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. Same thing here: an excellent book that I just didn’t expect to see rated this highly by popular vote. Apparently I don’t give people enough credit.)
- Least Surprising: J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings. #1. No surprise. (Runner Up: George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. Best-selling books, popular HBO series, sex, death, destruction, and a midget. What else do you need?)
- Most Overrated: Frank Herbert, The Dune Chronicles. Lots of people will disagree with me here, but I’ve never been able to get into these books. I’m probably tainted by the fact that I watched David Lynch’s Dune as a child and just didn’t understand. What’s up with the giant worms? I didn’t get it. (Runner Up: The Princess Bride. (#11!? Seriously? Am I missing something?)
- Most Underrated: Terry Pratchet, The Discworld Series. Without a doubt, this was the hardest category because so many great books seemed too far down the list. But, in the end, I had to go with the Discworld books. The problem here seems to be that they were listed as individual books (e.g. Small Gods, Going Postal), though others were listed by series (e.g. Lord of the Rings, World of Time). That’s unfortunate because the Discworld books definitely deserved better. (Runner Up: Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy. Too many to pick from here (Neverwhere, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Malazan Book of the Fallen), but Robin Hobb’s books are so creative and engaging, despite the fact that her main characters sometimes border on being unloveable idiots. Great reading.)
- Best Movie Version: Fellowship of the Ring. I’m a Tolkien fan. What can I say? And I know lots of people like Return of the King better, but Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite.. (Runner Up: Princess Bride. Okay, so it really wasn’t a great movie. But too many fond youth ministry memories make it seem like an Academy Award Winner.)
- Worst Movie Version: Starship Troopers. This was a tough call since so many bad movies have ruined perfectly good SciFi books. But, Starship Troopers has to be the worst offender. I’m still doing penance for having actually watched that drek. (Runner Up: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. From what I hear, Watchmen is a worthy candidate here, but I was warned in advance. So, of the movies I’ve actually seen, this is definitely the second worst.)
- Movie I Wish Would Get Made: American Gods. No question. That would be too awesome. (Runner Up: The Kingkiller Chronicles. Granted, they’d have to wait until he’s finished writing them. But still….)
- One I’d Like to Read: Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz. A classic that I just haven’t gotten around to yet. (Runner Up: Neil Gaiman, The Sandman Series. The only Gaiman works I haven’t read yet.)
- One I Wished I Hadn’t Read: Neil Stephenson, Anathem. Stephenson is probably a genius. But, his books put me to sleep. (Runner Up: J.R.R. Tolkein, Silmarillion. I just don’t need to know that much back story of a novel. Any novel.)
For some other good thoughts, check out Glen Weldon’s NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels: Parsing the Results.
- The New York Times reports on a recent gathering of scientists who met to discuss what and where the Garden of Eden might have been – kind of – in “A Romp Into Theories of the Cradle of Life.”
Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.
- Scot McKnight has begun a series on Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.
Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.
- Fred Sanders offers a fascinating look into pop culture with “Born This Way (so Raise Your Glasses, All You Fireworks).“
Three hit songs in the last few months have pushed the same message: You are awesome. You’re awesome just the way you are, even –no, especially– if you don’t fit in.
- Brian LePort offers his thoughts on what “rapture” means in 1 Thess. 4:17.
My take on the passage is that it refers to our meeting Christ in the air to welcome him to his earthly rule. If this is a “rapture”, fine, as long as it is not confused with the popular idea.
- Rod has started what looks like a fascinating series on Firefly & Theology. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, it was an outstanding scifi series on Fox that sadly only made it through one season, though it was later made into a movie.)
- The Gospel Coalition has launched a new resource on Preaching Christ in the Old Testament that looks very interesting.
- And, here’s an explanation of how to win at rock-paper-scissors every time.
The Hugo Awards (science fiction) for this year are out, and here are the winners in the best novel category:
- The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade) (tie winner)
- The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK) (tie winner)
- Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)
- Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
- Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
- Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
I’ve been meaning to read Boneshaker for a while now and just haven’t gotten around to it (so many books to read). If anyone has any thoughts/recommendations about the other books on this list, I’d love to hear them. I need some fun reading to balance out the philosophical theology I’m reading for my Th.M. seminar this semester.
By the way, I’m currently reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Would someone explain to me why his books are so popular? I read Anathem last year and found it to be tedious, didactic, and way too long. So far, Cryptonomicon falls in the same category. If someone wants to straighten me out on this, please feel free.
I’ve come across several lists lately about science fiction, so I thought it would be fun just to bundle them all together. Here you go: