Aug 11 2011 11:04am

NPR Reveals Best SFF Book Winners

NPR has tallied the votes and revealed the Top 100 winners of their Best SFF book poll in order! What made the top ten? How did the rest of the list pan out? Check the list and see where your favorites fell!

(We’ll give you a hint about who got the top spot: the shards of Narsil were not reforged in vain.)

2. cranscape
No CJ Cherryh but Diana Gabaldan somehow got on the list? Someone should have warned me brain bleach would be required afterwards. Too bad I can't unsee that. Faith in humanity dropping to unsustainable levels.
3. a1ay
53. I knew that'd be the first thing everyone did. :)

More interesting question: how many of the entries have you not even heard of before reading their titles? (12.)

Also, I am confused: why one entry for "the Vorkosigan Saga", "The Culture series", "the Dark Tower series" and so on, but not for "the Discworld books"?
David Thomson
4. ZetaStriker
That really bothered me too. It was a really boneheaded move, but for whatever reason they chose "popular titles" for Discworld. Although I don't see how Going Postal and Small Gods could be mistaken for the most notable titles in the series, good as they are.
James Whitehead
5. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Nice to see some truly 'old school' books up there (e.g. Wells & Verne). Not so impressed with choices like the Drizzt books and others but that's the point of these polls I guess; personal preferences.

Good to see Slaughterhouse-Five make the top 20 in light of that stupid ban on the book in that one town. As the child of two voracious readers, one of whom has her bachelors in library science, I just don't get the point of book banning.

I thought Ender's Game was good but didn't think it would've made it to #3. Approve of the #1 choice (and #2 for that matter) but then again I am an unabashed Tolkien fanboy. ;-)

6. Svenn Diagram
These kind of lists are always tilted in favor of the "new hotness." No Earthsea, Prydain, Riverworld, Uplift, John Brunner, Octavia Butler..... You could almost make another list of 100 that SHOULD be on this list
Daniel Goss
7. Beren

I've got some catching up to do.

As far as the Discworld books, I'd suspect that it's becuase those other series have a single story that spans multiple titles (the Dark Tower is the only one I can speak to specifically) and the Discworld books are multiple stand-alone stories that just happen to take place in the same world and occasionally share characters.

But I could be completely wrong about that. And hey, it means that Pterry gets on the list twice (Small Gods and Going Postal) so, can't be all bad.

Alain Fournier
8. afournier
Well my first reaction is that I find it interesting that some incomplete series have made the Top 100. No matter how good the first installments are I think its way to premature to have the complete series listed on a best of list. I would agree with individual tomes of the series making the list.
9. James Davis Nicoll
How astounded I am that the list has, what, 13 women out of 100 authors. Wait, no I am not: that's pretty much what I predicted back in June.

(I've read 78 of them or elements of 78 taking into account some are series)
10. a1ay
As far as the Discworld books, I'd suspect that it's because those other
series have a single story that spans multiple titles (the Dark Tower
is the only one I can speak to specifically) and the Discworld books are multiple stand-alone stories that just happen to take place in the same world and occasionally share characters.

Hmm. True of most but not all. I haven't read The Dark Tower, but Tolkien, for example, was quite clear that LOTR wasn't a trilogy, it was a single novel that was published in three parts.

But the Culture books are even more standalone than the Discworld ones; they almost never share characters and are set hundreds of years apart.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
I've read 63 of them. Six of the ten works I nominated were on the list. The ones that weren't were:
The Black Company Series, by Glen Cook
Lord Of Light, by Roger Zelazny
Stand On Zanzibar, by John Brunner
The Vlad Taltos Series, by Steven Brust

The series vs. non-series wasn't consistent, so there probably should have been more titles in there.
Out of the 63 works that I had read on the list, I probably would have included about 35 of them.
Chris Hawks
12. SaltManZ
Not a bad shake-out. I've heard of all of these, I've read 34, and I own (or have read) 52 of them.

Two of my nominations made it (Erikson's Malazan and Wolfe's Book of the New Sun). The ones that didn't: Stover's Acts of Caine, Donaldson's Gap Cycle, and Adams' Shardik.
13. cranscape
I mostly voted for women. Not because they are women but because I like them them most. I've made an effort the last five years or so to read more female writers and guess what --- they are good. Most of my guy friends haven't even read them though. Which I suspect is the problem. Don't read them and you won't know if they are good or not. CJ Cherryh and CS Friedman would stand up well against any hard scifi and Sharon Lee against any adventure genre but if you don't read them you won't know. Lit canon moves at a snails pace unfortunately. It takes a little effort to move out of the assembly line of information. I didn't make it until after college but it was totally worth it.
14. teawithbuzz
I am another one astonished that CJ Cherryh didn't make the list, but I am glad to see Bujold, LeGuin, etc. And I am a Gabaldon fan, unlike cranscape, but similarly voted for women because I like their books better. I do love Tolkein, but I also like a book with strong women in it. And if you've never read Cherryh's Foreigner series, I highly recommend it, especially the first two trilogies.

I also must say that as a teen, I tried reading a number of the books that made it to this top 100, and gave up in annoyance, frustration, or boredom. I barely made it through Brave New World, but I loved Cherryh's Cyteen, which is much longer but much better on the theme. Huxley's characters never seemed real to me the way Cherryh's do. Dull dialogue and heavy-handedness on the theme don't help. If I want a heavy-handed theme I'll read Sheri S. Tepper, who does dialogue much better!
Dave West
15. Jhirrad
I'm shocked that things like Book of the New Sun (a passable book but not top 100 in my opinion by any stretch) makes it, but The Chronicles of Narnia do not?!? That is one of the seminal works of the genre and what got so many young people into reading in the first place. And to have Butcher's Codex Alera series (good, but not great) on there, and The Dresden Files NOT on the list...That's a crime. Nothing from Tad Williams makes the list either. The Otherland books not making it is another crime.

Really, looking over this list, it became more of a popularity contest than anything. How else can you explain Martin ending up at #5, beating out Gaiman's American Gods, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, or even Alan Moore's Watchmen. And then the tragedy of The Malazan series showing up at #81, when it's at worst top 25 of the list given. All of these are VASTLY superior to what Martin has written, but he's the FOTM with the excellent HBO series and his FINALLY getting his 5th book out in that series. And yet there he is at #5. It would have been much better for NPR to make it an alphabetical list rather than numbering it, at least from my perspective.

This whole list makes me sad, because I really had hoped it would be a good representation of the field, rather than something that feels like a high school election.
Chris Palmer
16. cmpalmer
If you count reading at least one or two books of some of the series, I've read 80 off the list. For most of the series, I've read them all if I've read any of them, but a few I didn't finish (e.g., WoT, although I read 6 of them).
17. cranscape
I've read every Outlander book and got a couple copies signed back in the day even. Been reading them since I was 16. They've gotten progressively worse with each new book though and for me all under "often entertaining but very problematic" to the point require a ton of hand-waving. She'd probably rank high on historical romance lists but really shouldn't rank at all on this list as the genre elements are very wibbly-wobbly and ultimately secondary (or twelftly really) to everything else.
18. dwndrgn
This is a list compiled of votes made by those who knew about the list and took the time to vote - a popularity contest with a limited audience.

Any list like this is completely subjective anyway - no two people are affected by any one book identically so I don't understand why people become so incensed when the books they feel are more important or more likeable or just plain better written don't make the list. It would be impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Enjoy it for what it is.

I like these lists so that I can compare my personal likes against those of the 'crowd'. Plus, they are pure advertisement for reading and books and the books on the list in particular. And major bonus, I get to read the discussions that happen afterwards ;-)
19. James Davis Nicoll
13 women out of 100 authors.

Sorry, 15.
Dirk Walls
20. dirk
The list is pretty much crap.

And @15. Jhirrad, I must strongly disagree with your opinion on Gene Wolfe and The Book of the New Sun.
21. lampwick
I can't believe that The Left Hand of Darkness is only 45. To me it's one of the best science fiction books ever written, with terrific world-building, interesting speculation, and great characters. It would be my #1 pick, and should have been at least in the top 10.
S Cooper
22. SPC
I got all tangled up in "best" vs. "my favorite", because those are definitely not the same thing. I also agree on the partial series - I loved The Way of Kings, but it's kind of hard to evaluate as a standalone when you know so much, much more is coming. I think my read total was 59 - I have some work to do.

Did anyone else notice none of the Guy Gavriel Kay books made it in the top 100? I guess it's probably the love-it-or-hate-it factor and the fact that nobody can ever agree on which one is best.
Melanie S
23. starryharlequin
Yep, 15/100 are written by women. In contrast, 50.5/237, or 21%, of the original list had women authors (one man/woman coauthor pair).

I too cannot believe that the Left Hand of Darkness is so far down. And that the top woman is Mary Shelley at #20.
25. seth e.
57. More if you count reading parts of books and giving up.

I am deeply impregnated with the horror of horrified horror that this arbitrary list is arbitrary in a way that isn't consistent with my tastes. The Shannara Trilogy? Really? My soul will never stop screaming. Not that I didn't read them, of course.

Clearly, the only reasonable conclusion is that we all must die, to make way for the robots to inherit the earth. Robots always have great taste.
26. Fenric25
Love a lot of books on thi list, plan on reading a lot of them as well, one or two of them that I'm not sure I'll get around to as attempts to read them have resulted in failure (looking at the Malazan series, never made it too far on each of the three attempts, found it too dry and dull.) Count me as one of those that is surprised that Codex Alera made it and not the Dresden Files-Codex Alera is good, but not as great as The Dresden Files, one of my new favorite series of the past year (loved Ghost Story, BTW, can't wait to see where he'll go next.) Glad to see ASoIaF, WOT, American Gods and Mistborn got so high, pleased to find Kushiel's Legacy on the list, love pretty much anything in the top ten and then some...
Dave West
27. Jhirrad
@20 - Are you saying it's not even passable then? :)
Jonah Feldman
28. relogical
I've read the top 19 (Frankenstein, ack!), and 67 total. Though admittedly I haven't read every single book in some of the series listed.
Dirk Walls
29. dirk
@27, I suspect that since you list 'The Chronicles of Narnia' as a series that got many young people into reading while for me it was the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, we will always have differing opinions on what constitutes a good read.
30. nlowery71
I didn't realize the first thing I was supposed to do was to count the books I've read! So I went back to do that, but then I had to start making tallies to divide books/series I've finished from series where I've read at least one book, but not all. It was very confusing. Anyway, I ended up with 52 read, and 10 partials on series.

I don't think it's a terrible list, although there are always titles I personally don't like at all -- and, of course, I wish there were more women. But if you handed this list to someone who's interested in sff but hasn't read much, it would give them a good place to start, with something to please nearly everyone.

I also liked that they left off children's and YA -- not because I don't like younger lit (I work in a grade school library!), but because I think children's books get a disproportionate number of votes. So many of us have read the same classic children's books and series, due to a more limited selection when we were younger. Adult tastes are much more diffused.

And of course this list is skewed towards popularly-read books -- people aren't going to vote for books they haven't read!
Thomas Jeffries
31. thomstel
So in a nearly-throwaway line, they mention that Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy didn't make it into the finalist category, and that's why there's no Narnia, HP, etc.

So while I shake my head at such insanity (i.e. what distinguished the Belgariad as adult and the Prydain Chronicles as YA again?...), I can be pleased that someone's compiled a decent list of sci-fi and fantasy novels of which to take note. My "to-read" list is rather short on such material lately.
Joe Vondracek
32. joev
@25 Robots always have great taste.

Are you unfamiliar with Henry Kuttner's vain robot, Joe?

Me thinks this list is slanted towards more recent books. I made my selections based on books that I thought had held up well over time. I don't think it's entirely appropriate to include some series/trilogies on this list that are still in progress, even though I like them very much myself. In any case, I see that I now need to add a lot of books to my own To-be-read List, and for that, I am thankful. Always glad to be pointed to books that I've overlooked in the past, for whatever reason.
33. Dr. Thanatos
Perhaps it's because I'm older and a purist, but I would prefer that this list show individual novels, not "sagas" or "series." Foundation is essentially a serial novel; Elric is a series of distinct novels. Caves of Steel is part of what might be called the Robots/Empire series but the book itself is cited as list-worthy.

If none of the individual novels in, say, the Mistborn series are worthy of being on the list in and of themselves, , I'm not sure why the entire "saga" should be. Just sayin...
rick gregory
34. rickg
The list is pretty much crap. And @15. Jhirrad, I must strongly disagree with your opinion on Gene Wolfe and The Book of the New Sun.

Ah, Irony, thy name is Dirk...
Paul Eisenberg
35. HelmHammerhand
Keep in mind who took the poll in this case. I learned of it because I "like" NPR on facebook. I think it drew in a lot more casual SF fans than, say, the poll a few months ago. I also believe it probably sampled an older audience, folks like myself who are more into Neal Stephenson and shy away from, for example, the Dresden Files. Of course, the Xanth series made the list too, so what do I know?
36. seth e.
@joev - I haven't thought about the Gallagher stories in ages, but Joe's the perfect example. Nobody with all those extra senses could be wrong.

ETA: Really, captcha app? Hebrew? Thanks for your optimistic opinion of my language skills, but I'm afraid I can't type that.
Steve Allan
37. Lastyear
No Jack Vance, Simak, Silverberg but Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony? Max Brooks?Robert Jordan? Way too much crap on here.
39. Dr. Thanatos
@32 Joev,

You mean the billion-dollar beer-can opener? After he got over himself, of course...
40. wingracer
31 for me. 32 if you include the Codex Alera series which I am almost finished with the first bok now. Guess I have some catching up to do. Only I few I have never heard of.

Overall I think it's a pretty good list for a poll. Is it perfect? Of course not but still pretty good.

The one I can't decide on is Rothfuss at 18. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to see him there as it is a HUGE favorite of mine. On the other hand, this guy has only written two novels, BOTH make the list (as one entry) and the series isn't even complete. What happens if the last book is a stinker that POs everyone? Fortunately, I have faith in him to deliver a smash of a conclusion so that his star rises even higher but still, might be a bit premature.
Jeff Youngstrom
41. jeffy
61 here (with the usual waffling about series)

It's interesting seeing who appeared multiple times. Bradbury, Gaiman and Stephenson each had four placements. Old masters Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Niven (2 with Pournelle) each had three. King, Le Guin, Orwell, Pournelle (with Niven), Pratchett, Sanderson, Tolkein, Verne, Vonnegut, and Wells each placed two. Of course since NPR grouped series, this statistic favors authors with stand alone books more than series.

Temporal distribution is interesting too. Five entries from the 19th century. Three from the 1930s, two from the 1940s, eleven from the 1950s, 14 from the 1960s, 17 from the 1970s, 14 from the 1980s, 18 from the 1990s, 15 from the 2000s and the most recent Sanderson's The Way of Kings from 2010.
Sim Tambem
42. Daedos
There are some really good books on this list...some.
43. Baramos
I can't believe Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay didn't make the top 100 list, instead it is relegated to just being one of the finalists. Especially when schlock like Drizzt is in the top 100 (let's be serious here folks, it's a damn Dungeons & Dragons universe series. They're fun and all but heck, I don't even expect Dragonlance to be in a top 100 list, and they're better than Drizzt, although neither series knew how to stop before they got stale.)
44. Baramos
Also I was pretty stunned to see that Earthsea wasn't even in the 237 book finalist list. Crazy.
46. Matthew Jankowski
I read most of the top 100, but I'm definitely going to start reading through the remaining 137 finalists because The Deed of Paksennarion Trilogy, by Elizabeth Moon, has to be one of my favorite works. That it didn't make the top 100 tells me I need to do something to make it more famous. :)
47. Seth Christenfeld
Can't we all just be thankful that Battlefield Earth isn't on the list?
48. a1ay
I didn't realize the first thing I was supposed to do was to count the books I've read!

Well, of course it is! :) The first thing to do is to tell everyone how many you've read. The second is to play SF Humiliation by revealing what the books are on the list that you haven't read but ought to have. The person who names the best unread book wins. (In the non-SF version in David Lodge's Changing Places the game is won by an English don who admits to never having read Hamlet...)

Can't we all just be thankful that Battlefield Earth isn't on the list?

I am really surprised by that, actually.
49. nlowery71
The second is to play SF Humiliation by revealing what the books are on the list that you haven't read but ought to have.

Great! Now I had to go back through the list again, and find the one I'm most embarrassed to have missed. I don't know the rules at all! (OK, that was a good excuse to look at the list again today.)

I'll have to go with A Canticle for Leibowitz, because it is not only a classic of science fiction, but is supposed to be a good read as well. As opposed to, say 1984, which may be excellent, but sounds like an awful slog. I've meant to read Canticle, I just haven't actually stuck the book in front of my eyeballs and done it.
marian moore
50. mariesdaughter
I've read 61 of the 100.
Some of them I know that I will never read because they aren't the type of book I like. Others, maybe.

I printed off the nomination list when it was up and I think that it's a far better recommendation list.
51. wingracer
Well according to this list, I should easily win the award for best book never read as I have never read #1. In fact, I've never read any Tolkien. Just never felt like I needed to.

I have read Hamlet though.
John Adams
52. JohnArkansawyer
I've read 35. The highest numbered one I haven't read is Dune. (It just doesn't sound interesting.) Maybe I should stop commenting.

Or maybe not. I took a look at the bigger list to see what Heinlein books were on it that weren't on the final list. There were three: Time Enough for Love, The Number of the Beast, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Even given that YA novels didn't count, that's a pretty sad list.
53. Galadriel
How utterly NPR-out-of-touch typical this list is. Pointedly excluding some YA, but not all. Comparing apples, oranges, and crossbows by putting entire series, single books of a series, partial series, trilogies, stand-alone books, short fiction, SF, and Fantasy into a single list. Listing the most familiar instead of all the best. All right, sure, there are indeed some unarguables present; but there are way too many WTF??s, while--as other folks have mentioned--SO many of the best are missing.

I remember when NPR used to be progressive, literate, well-rounded, well-researched, and truly informative. Just today, as I surfed onto it while in my car--feeling the usual disgust with what I heard--I was reminded once again what has happened to it: like all mainstream media today, it only represents what those rich enough to richly support it care about. The millions of the rest of us (SF/Fantasy literary experts, in this case) might as well be hidden under invisibility cloaks.
54. Camm
Where the blazes is Peter Watts? Where the blazing blazes is Ian McDonald?? Eh? Eh??!
55. emlymom

I think one of the best things about these kinds of lists is all the great recommendations that come out of the comments that are not on the list. Thanks, guys!

I agree with @HelmHammerhand--this is done by a poll of those who listen to NPR enough to like them on Facebook or otherwise be involved enough to get the poll opportunity. It is from a certain cross-section of SFF readers. Interesting. And I think it is more a poll of popularity, those books that many people got a good read from, more than what made a literary impact. It all depends on how NPR defines "best." Does anyone know how the original choice list from was generated?
56. Grog
99 out of a 100 read, guess I'll have to pick up World War Z.
57. Grog
Wow, 200 out of 237 of the finalists. I read too much. (he says as he mentally notes the ones he hasn't read)
58. Iansagefire
This list is so incomplete, it's ridiculous. Why they would leave out "children's fiction" is beyond me. I thought the list was supposed to be the "best" sff books/series written, but they immediately nix two series that probably would have been at least top ten, if not top five. Fiction is fiction, who cares who the intended audience is? I'm an adult and would read Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter over many of these books and series on the list, no matter that it was originally intended for children, because they're smart, well crafted, and very entertaining stories.

And of course this list is a popularity contest. How could it possibly be anything else? There's no way to ascribe the term "best" to any sort of creative art because the material is so subjective. I think Wheel of Time should be higher, but obviously voters didn't; threre's no right or wrong when talking of opinion, so it has to be popular vote.

P.s. Forgive the runon sentences, I'm on a smartphone.
59. Laraine Anne Barker
I can't find the list but, judging from the comments here, it's not worth the search anyway.
60. Michael J. Kerpan
No Vance? No De Camp? No Poul Andersen? No Pohl? This list is very poorly put together!
61. Truthseeker013
92. My exceptions are #s 14, 73, 80, 92, 26, 53, 75 & 85 (listed this because I own the last four, and haven't found time to read them yet). And I agree that a great number of omissions do exist here, far too many for comfort. In these cases, I call youth as a prevailing factor (the creators often haven't lived long enough to drink in the classics among the classics).
Nathan Martin
62. lerris
I've read 53, and 3 of the ones I haven't read are already queued up on my bookshelf.
63. some_call_me_timmy
73. But that list is stupid. No Heinlein?

And some of those are notoriously crappy epic fantasies--epic describing your patience needed to read 1000 page novels that could have been 300 but for idiot consumer behavior/editorial mandates.

Call it good to read the Hugo/Nebula lists instead. There are only about a dozen disappointments in those (and most of these are receent).

Newer rarely=better in sci fi. But at least the list wasn't populated with 60% vampire books like the sci-fi section of the bookstore!!!!!!
frank rigal
64. zefrog
What happens when you ask, not 60,000 people as for this list, but the whole world wide web about their favorite Fantasy SFF books? did just that. They have the top 23,000 best, just click on the category (Fantasy & SFF).

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