Dec 22 2012 9:39am

Locus Announces Winners of “Best Novels of 20th and 21st Century” Poll

Locus Magazine asked their readers to rank their favorite novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories of the 20th and 21st century. Below are the top five placements of the Novel category (other categories to be announced as Locus compiles the votes.) Congratualtions to all the authors!

Best 20th Century Science Fiction Novels

  1. Dune, Frank Herbert (1965)
  2. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1985)
  3. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov (1953)
  4. Hyperion, Dan Simmons (1989)
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

Best 20th Century Fantasy Novels

  1. The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien (1955)
  2. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin (1996)
  3. The Hobbit, Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
  4. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin, (1968)
  5. Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny (1970)

Best 21st Century Science Fiction Novels

  1. Old Man’s War, John Scalzi,  (2005)
  2. Anathem, Neal Stephenson (2008)
  3. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)
  4. Spin, Robert CharlesWilson (2005)
  5. Blindsight Peter Watts (2006)

Best 21st Century Fantasy Fiction Novels

  1. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (2001)
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,   Clarke, Susanna (2004)
  3. The Name of the Wind,  Patrick Rothfuss (2007)
  4. The Scar, China Mieville (2002)
  5.  A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin (2005)

A full list of the results can be seen at Locus Magazine Online.

1. 3ergling
Gee, I'd love me some fanatsy!
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
2. SchuylerH
Hang on...

3 Asimov, Isaac : The Foundation Trilogy (1953)


42 Asimov, Isaac : Foundation (1950)
3. dhg
Spin had two follow up books,neither was as good as the first.

On the list at the web site,#15 (tie) Blackout/All Clear by Connie willis:I just read those a week or so ago,they were incredible.I'd recommend them to anyone.Just really great!

If you liked Stephen King's 11/22/63 you'll like Blackout/All Clear and vice versa.And I defy you to not at least think about tearing up.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
4. SchuylerH
It ultimately isn't a surprising set of top fives (putting TLHoD over the ultimately more ambitious and successful The Dispossessed isn't the wisest aesthetic judgement in my opinion) though seeing The Scar beat Perdido Street Station is definitely unexpected.
5. JamesPadraicR
Wait, the 21st century ended?
What'd I miss?
6. James Davis Nicoll
I don't know which impresses me more; the fact that Locus readers seem to have successfully stuck fairly close to the Dean of Yale's guidelines for incoming undergrads in the 1930s (“Never admit more than five Jews, take only two Italian Catholics, and take no blacks at all.”) or that the gender balance is so one-sided.

20th Century SF Novel: 7% books by women
20th Century Fantasy Novel: 13% books by women
21st Century SF Novel: 14% books by women
21st Century Fantasy Novel: 25% books by women Overall: 15% books by women
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
7. SchuylerH
@JamesDavisNicholl: it's as if Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany has never written a word, to name two of many...
10. Freelancer
@6 & 7

If you look closely, you'll see that it was a scored poll. Does this speak more to the make-up of the Locus readership, the make-up of dedicated Locus readership, or perhaps the honest evaluation of authorial talent?

Some will look for fail everywhere, and ignore success anywhere, if their own biases aren't confirmed. From my perspective as an avid reader, those lists are remarkably valid at representing the best and/or most popular. Expecting anything else from a broad poll is true fantasy.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
11. SchuylerH
@Freelancer: Hmm, like the traditional Hugo ballot, the Locus poll traditionally skews on the side of being a "popularity contest" rather than a direct evaluation of merit. For all that the books featured have proven lasting appeal, can you ever honestly call the results of such a poll the best that the field has ever produced? My objection comes down to Locus doing just that.
12. Freelancer
I did clearly say best and/or most popular. You cannot possibly avoid that in an open poll. I wouldn't consider some of the results to be top-merited either, but I know what the general public feels about things, and these results are a reasonable fit. Knowing that such will always be the case, there is hardly any value in criticizing the results, when it is the natural outcome of the method.
Walker White
13. Walker
Hyperion was such an amazing space opera novel. Too bad Simmons let his political ideology destroy his writing career.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
14. SchuylerH
@Freelancer: A balanced list does exist. See:

@Walker: It was all downhill after Ilium.
15. RW
Samuel R. Delany has four novels in the Top 100 SF 20th Century Novels and Joanna Russ has one. They both have other entries further down the list. One of Delany's novels just made it into the Top 50, while Russ didn't score a Top 50 placement. Opinions are always going to vary as to where works should rank on lists like these, but Delany and Russ are both present and accounted for.
Michael Walsh
17. MichaelWalsh
"14. SchuylerH @Freelancer: A balanced list does exist. See:"

From the above link:
"The Balanced List simply assigns scores from the various awards;
this list is the most objective of the three."
Rich Horton
18. ecbatan
James: for "Locus readers" you should substitute "People who found the poll on Locus Online", don't you think?

Especially since a huge surge of votes came in after John Scalzi mentioned the poll at his blog. Maybe the poll ended up being largely a poll of "Whatever readers"? (The winner of "Best SF Novel of the 21st Century" would certainly be consistent with that.)

And any look at Science Fiction in the 20th Century is going to notice that it was a male-dominated field -- wrongly perhaps, but numerically it was. 21st century, maybe not so much, mind you.

It is also a field where short fiction is vitally important. For example, I didn't vote for any Joanna Russ novels, because I honestly do not think any of hers are in the top 10 for the century (not even close, to be honest). But I voted for "The Second Inquisition" and "Nobody's Home" in the short fiction. (Not that I expect the statistics for 20th Century short fiction to be that wildly different.)

As for Delany, of course Nova is one of the best SF novels of the 20th Century, and it appeared on my ballot (in something like 4th place). But so? That's my own opinion. I accept that others have different opinions. (I also don't take the placing of novels on my ballot very seriously -- I can't honestly distinguish between #1 and #10 -- or probably down to #20 -- in any objective way.) (Likewise I voted for The Left Hand of Darkness over The Dispossessed, partly because I think it more SFnally interesting. I certainly don't argue with anyone who prefers The Dispossessed. (I probably would argue with someone who suggested The Word for World is Forest, though (and not just because its a novella)!)

Rich Horton
19. wingracer
One thing I find very intersting, though I'm sure many will disagree, perhaps vehomently.

When I look at the 21st century fantasy list, I see many truly great works that deserve to be right up there with the best of the 20th. But when I look at the 21st century SF list, I really only see two that I personally feel could challenge the top of the 20th. Maybe I'm just getting jaded on SF in my old age.
20. David G. Hartwell
This poll is more uninteresting than invalid (if you accept the methods by which it was created). I think it is worth ignoring, not discussing.
Rich Horton
21. ecbatan
For me, the interest in the poll -- as with all such lists -- is of the nature of a game. It's fun -- for me -- to think about my favorite works. It's fun to see how my list compares with others -- more fun when I know who they are and how they think, to be sure. It's still fun to see how a large assemblage of people aggregated see things.

Of course in the end it's a popularity contest -- how could that be avoided? And would we want to? There are no objective standards that could determine the "best" book. There are only individual arguments ... which is where the real critical interest lies. So the poll isn't "invalid" because any one person disagrees with the end results -- of course most of us disagree! It's invalid to the extent it claims to be a final answer, but since that extent is, I would think, zero, that doesn't really apply. It's arguably invalid in a sense to the extent that the votership is distorted in any particular direction, sure. But that's hard to police or avoid.

As for interest, everyone can make their own decisions, surely.

Rich Horton
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
22. SchuylerH
@ecbatan: Scalzi himself has said that he might have skewed the vote somewhat by his promotion. I wouldn't have Russ in my top ten either (and anyway, the short fiction results tend to be more interesting) but, more generally, the lack of female authors is something of an embarrasment. There's no Leigh Brackett for example, without whom you wouldn't have had the New Wave.

With regards Nova, I feel exactly the same way: a work of such dense allusiveness that it threatens to collapse beyond its own Schwartzchild radius. Your reason for prefering TLHoD are the same as my reasons for prefering The Dispossessed: I skew towards the later novel because it experiments with literary technique rather than with ideas. However, I do get annoyed with the tendency of SF fans to wheel out TLHoD every time they feel compelled to give an example of SF Being Literary. I would prefer it if it was swapped for something like Pavane or The Inverted World every once in a while.

I agree that polls like this make you think of your favorites and that this is probably a good thing.

@wingracer: I enjoyed all four of the five top 21st century fantasies that I read (my personal favorite being The Name of the Wind) and yes, I think that they are strong competition. Maybe I'm worse than you though, since I would only put one of the SF books (again, I've read 4.25 of them) with the 20th century best. There's still great stuff out there (The Kefauchi Tract trilogy, The Separation, Chasm City) but it either isn't on the final list or on it further down.

@David G. Hartwell: The poll results aren't interesting to me but the way in which they are uninteresting is positively fascinating. For example, the lack of British authors in the 20th century SF poll. Orwell, Huxley, Wyndham and Clarke are all there, with a token John Brunner, but there's no sign of Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, J. G. Ballard, Christopher Priest, M. John Harrison etc. When you think that Ballard has his own adjective these days, the omission is notable. Were the results skewed by a predominantly American voting base?

Additionally, why do certain books keep getting so many votes? Christopher Priest wondered if people in this kind of poll vote tend to go for ones they read when young but haven't read since. I'm not sure how accurate this is but the top three books do tend to attract young readers and are for many among the first they read in the genre.
Terence Tidler
23. libertariansoldier
I am thrilled to see Amber make it, as I think the others were pretty much given--the Hobbit if only because of the timing with the movie.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
24. SchuylerH
@libertariansoldier: I haven't read that one but I liked Lord of Light.
jeff hendrix
25. templarsteel
i can't believe that nothing from baen books made either list.John Ringo,David Drake,David Weber,Tom Kratman and Michael Z.Williamson got me back in to reading Sci-fi after ten years of not reading it
Michael Walsh
26. MichaelWalsh
22. SchuylerH: "There's no Leigh Brackett for example, without whom you wouldn't have had the New Wave." I really don't follow the logic there. If you said Judith Merrill, fine.

25. templarsteel: I guess the readers of those authors didn't find their way to the poll.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
27. SchuylerH
@MichaelWalsh: Leigh Brackett was cited by Michael Moorcock as a "godmother" of the New Wave, along with C. L. Moore, Cele Goldsmith and Judy Merrill. An essay by Moorcock on Brackett and the New Wave is here: Additionally, Brackett inspired Ray Bradbury, who in turn influenced J. G. Ballard. She is one of those authors whose works turn up everywhere if you look closely enough. I like Merrill but prefer her short stories to her novels.
28. James Davis Nicoll
I like Merrill but prefer her short stories to her novels.

Whereas I prefer her editorial work.

Best F&SF editors of the 20th and 21th century would be interesting if only because it would let me moan about the effect the del Reys had on the genre and then appear to defend them by admiting that the extruded fantasy product TSR was emitting in the 1980s and 1990s was even worse. It would run into the problem that most people have no idea who the editors of F&SF are (and in fact I would not be surprised if they didn't know who the publishers were, esp if we are not talking magazine editors. I've even run into people who don't track by author).
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
29. SchuylerH
@James Davis Nicoll: Agreed on Merrill. Additionally, there's nothing stopping you from moaning about the del Reys and TSR but I'm now wondering which editor had the best influence. H. L. Gold maybe?
30. RW
Leigh Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon is at #256 on the 20th Century Fantasy Novels list. She's usually absent from lists like this actually, even the ones that attempt to aggregate scores like the ISFDB one linked to above. Moorcock and Cawthorne, on the other hand, named The Sword of Rhiannon as one of their 100 best fantasy books in 1988.

Michael Moorcock has a Top 100 placement on the 20th Century Fantasy Novels list with Gloriana at #86. Christopher Priest has Top 100 placements on both the 20th Century SF Novels and 20th Century Fantasy Novels lists, with Inverted World at #98 and The Prestige at #76 respectively, and a Top 50 placement on the 21st Century SF Novels list with The Separation at #39. Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard and M. John Harrison have some works on the extended lists, but none made the Top 100. Aldiss and Priest clock in at #96 and #98 on ISFDB's balanced list with Helliconia Spring and The Separation respectively. Moorcock, Ballard and Harrison aren't on that list.

John Ringo, David Drake, David Weber and Tom Kratman have a few listings way down on the extended Locus lists, but they drew very few votes.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
31. SchuylerH
@RW: Where are the full results? Could you post a link? Also, Moorcock had very little involvement in the top 100 fantasy novels book, which even makes positive remarks about LOTR, which when I first read it led me to wonder whether Moorcock may not have read the Top 100 fantasy novels before publication. And also, Gloriana at #86? Really? Not The Warhound and the World's Pain?
32. RW
@SchuylerH: I didn't know that about the Moorcock and Cawthorne list. Thanks for the info.

The full extended Locus lists can be seen here: www.locusmag/2012/CompleteResultsNovels.html (if you don't want to cut and paste, you can get there by clicking the Locus link in the article above and then scrolling down and clicking the "complete results by category and rank" link).
33. RW
Sorry, I made a mistake there. It's
34. James Davis Nicoll
The problem with Gold is summed up in the old joke that while he could take a poor author and make them into a mediocre one, he could also take a good author and turn them into a mediocre one. Cue the story about what Pohl did as revenge to Gold's "The Man with English".

Fred Pohl's run as an editor was pretty good. Maybe not the Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories run but his ten years at Galaxy and If and his years at Bantam stand up well.

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Lin Carter as an editor, purely on the basis of his work at Ballantine.

I've always found Lou Arronica worth keeping an eye on, although it is a little depressing that from the outside it looks like "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal" could have been used by Arronica towards his employers at the end of pretty much any one of his stints as an editor (IIRC as a side effect of the Let's Screw Lou Effect, Pamela Sargent's Venus series got orphaned twice, losing the same editor both times but at different publishers a generation apart).

I'm stopping at this point because I am stopping, not because I've run out of good editors to ramble pointlessly about.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
35. SchuylerH
@RW: Thanks for the list. As regards "Best of Lists", this does happen more often than it should. I seem to think there was an example in Trillion-Year Spree but I haven't got the book at the moment. I think it was something uncharacteristically generous about Heinlein that felt rather more Wingrove than Aldiss.
Rich Horton
36. ecbatan
I have to say it's puzzling that one would cite Merril as a potential for being on the list of Best 20th Century SF novels -- can you name a Merril novel worthy of citing? There are only two solo novels (Shadow on the Hearth and The Tomorrow People), as well as two collaborations (alas, collaborations with a white male, C. M. Kornbluth, but you can't have everything). I think it's fair to say that none of the four books are regarded as remotely among the very best SF novels of the 20th century -- which is not to say they're dreadful or anything, just not particularly special. Brackett, on the other hand, wrote at least two novels that are worthy contenders for, say, top 100 status: The Sword of Rhiannon and The Long Tomorrow.

Sure, Merril is a tremendously important and influential figure in SF history, and she should be remembered for that. But that was as an editor. She also wrote some fine short fiction. But as a novelist? Doesn't seem that way to me.

I will say that it does seem regrettable that the likes of Aldiss and Moorcock and Harrison and Priest and Ballard aren't featured more prominently. Perhaps the voters (and I count myself in this group) do show a bit of a blind spot with regard to SF from the UK.

And I would agree that one weakness of this sort of a poll is a tendency to vote for the same old things ... that is, to look first at the books that have topped similar polls in the past. I'm guilty of that, I think, though I have tried to avoid it to some extent.

Rich Horton
Joris Meijer
37. jtmeijer
I knew the poll was running, but the concept did not work for me so I did not vote. I don't list authors or books like this myself, and for me it does not even feel like a valid method. But at least it is another list to browse.
YouDont NeedToKnow
38. necrosage2005
No Robert Jordan but Martin got on the top 5 in both his categories? Sorry, but this list is flawed for me.
Steve Oerkfitz
39. SteveOerkfitz
necrosage2005: All a matter of taste. I enjoy Martin but find Robert Jordan very mediocre.
40. RonG
I know the poll was "best book" but there are great authors who have a number of good books but don't ever have that (recognized) masterpiece. I extracted the complete results into a spreadsheet and totalled the votes per author. Below are the top vote getters.

8511 Tolkien, J. R. R.
5371 Le Guin, Ursula K.
4368 Heinlein, Robert A.
4206 Herbert, Frank
3857 Martin, George R. R.
3260 Asimov, Isaac
3241 Card, Orson Scott
2932 Bradbury, Ray
2693 Clarke, Arthur C.
2595 Simmons, Dan
2463 Zelazny, Roger
2413 Dick, Philip K.
2230 Pratchett, Terry
2200 Gaiman, Neil
2121 Rowling, J. K.
2061 King, Stephen
2028 Stephenson, Neal
1879 Orwell, George
1837 Gibson, William
1831 Mieville, China
1813 Adams, Douglas
1783 Niven, Larry
1761 Wolfe, Gene
1654 Lewis, C. S.
1620 Bester, Alfred
1471 Bujold, Lois McMaster
1212 Haldeman, Joe
1200 Kay, Guy Gavriel
1155 Vinge, Vernor
1090 Vonnegut, Kurt
1065 Scalzi, John
1036 Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris
1032 Delany, Samuel R.
1030 Vance, Jack
1004 Banks, Iain M.
964 Pohl, Frederik
929 McCaffrey, Anne
41. RW
@necrosage2005: Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World is #24 on the 20th Century Fantasy Novels list.
42. Kulyok
Best 21st century Fantasy&Science Fiction novels - these? Seriously? They haven't heard of Terry Pratchett, or, let me see, J.K.Rowling?

I can't see The Scar rating higher than Thief of Time. I just can't. Maker forgive me, I'd rarther read Star Wars novels. Or even Twilight.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
43. SchuylerH
@ecbatan: Her novels are competent but unextraordinary, Shadow on the Hearth being probably the best of them. I've been thinking about Merril as a writer a lot recently, since I've been reading Homecalling and Other Stories. It's a pleasant surprise to find that a lot of her short fiction still holds up pretty well, in particular "That Only a Mother", which I think would probably still get in the top 100 short stories. She will, of course, be remembered primarily as an editor.

US voters do tend to go for US SF, UK voters do tend to go for UK SF. There are certain inclusions of interest, in particular Roadside Picnic, which had a new translation and the death of Boris Strugatsky boosting publicity.

Agreed on Brackett being terminally underrated in this poll and of course she is seldom reprinted (Paizo's "Planet Stories" line was where I discovered her books) but I believe The Long Tomorrow was one of Gary K. Wolfe's nine reprinted books of the Fifties, along with more established classics such as The Stars My Destination. I believe Nicola Griffith wrote an essay for the promotional website. (She also wrote a recent introduction for The Sword of Rhiannon)
Brian R
44. Mayhem
Any kind of poll like this is going to be heavily skewed to certain authors, simply because (a) most people making the effort to write in are likely to be partisans of particular authors and (b) the numbers are small, so every vote counts heavily.
The worst examples are when they either post running totals a-la Tor's previous effort, or if they seed the poll with a sample list. In both cases, the voting of the majority is skewed towards a small group.

I have to admit what I'd like to see is a listing of the most popular works in the last century based on say 5 year splits.

It'd be a really interesting to look at the changing tastes of genre readers over time, from say Burroughs > Howard > de Camp > Moorcock > Eddings > Pratchett > Jordan > Martin as a sample progression.

And it'd be interesting to see the difference between those picked now as the best of the time, compared with those popular at the time. Especially I'd like to see if there was the same kind of gulf between works deemed good and those best selling that we see so often in mainstream literature. Genre often likes to think of itself as 'above that kind of thing'.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
45. SchuylerH
@Mayhem: Popular works of SF tend to walk a tightrope: the writing must be at least competent but not too overpowering and the ideas need to be at least superficially novel without challenging any established orthodoxies. Take Asimov, the master of "tell, don't show", for example. The Foundation trilogy is approximately 700 pages of lectures on the economics and politics of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire with a few interludes to the effect that yes, we are still in the future. Then you have something like The Paradox Men (Charles L. Harness), a short, taughtly-plotted thriller set in the solar system that features big questions about the cyclical recurrence of civilization and a succession of twisted time travel subplots, causing 90% of the audience to glaze over and the other 10% to place it reverently on the good shelf, next to Nova and The Stars My Destination. Even though the Toynbee material has aged badly, it's still a more entertaining read, if you keep up with it throughout its deceptively few pages.

Additionally, popular at the time does not generally equate to "read now", even for award winners. The Healer's War, The Forever Machine and Unquenchable Fire are all virtually forgotten winners of major awards but many of the best books sat in the background, getting a couple of mixed reviews. No one paid much attention to The Affirmation or Revelation Space when they came out but years after, they are still being printed and read.

Best sellers tend to fall into easily definable categories: swords and sorcery, post-apocalypse, epic fantasy, dystopian, space opera, military SF etc. Those which try to bled genres don't always sell quite so well (i. e. The Affirmation, Revelation Space) but are frequently more rewarding in retrospect.

As for the progression: Hey, look what happens when I put this guy on Mars! > I'll take that and put in some Lovecraftian weirdness > What if he's a psychologist rather than a hero? > He's got an ancient curse on him that he can't escape. > Wow, people can sell this for a profit? > No, no, the hero's comically inept. > Massive prophecies! About everything! > There are no heroes, just 5,000 amoral supporting cast members.
46. Ludwig Van
American and British readers are so terribly biased against Polish and Soviet science fiction, it's simply ridiculous. Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatzys are superior to almost all of the authors at the top of this ignorant list. No "Solaris", "Fiasko", "His Master's Voice", or "Roadside Picknick" - but Isaac Asimov and Orson Scott Card? Those choices would be laughable if they weren't such sad proof of science fiction readers' small-mindedness... Ursula LeGuin is the only decent writer of serious literature amongst the top five. "Dune" is speculative or even fantasy but hardly science fiction; and "Hyperion", though one of the best space operas, is hardly an example of the intellectual virtues of the genre.
O tempora, o mores!...
Brian R
47. Mayhem
Oh agreed, almost entirely. I've been rereading a bunch of books I loved many years ago, and it is amazing how many have been visited by the suck fairy while I wasn't looking.

The reason I'd like to see the figures is to look closer at some of the shifts in taste, sort of rollicking adventure > oh my god the world > the world is a scary place, here's something harmless > life sucks, rocks fall, everyone dies.

I find it fascinating looking at how writing (and popularity) shifts with changes in the real world, from the optimistic Atomic Powered Future of the 50s to the hypercynical realism of today.

I had some fun a week or two back comparing genre works to other genres, like say Thrillers - you have your early more studied works, like Tolkein or Lewis compared with the early literary mystery types like Conan Doyle or Christie. Or you get the pulp eras - Burroughs and Howard vs Alistair Maclean or Hammond Innes. All plot and caricatures, but great rides.
Then you have those that throw it all in - Jordan for example ties in well with Tom Clancy and the other page fillers.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
49. SchuylerH
@47: Hypercynical realism is as much a form of vacous posturing as food pills and flying cars, more-or-less directly stolen from the cautiously-optimistic Ballard and the magnificently pessimistic Mike Harrison. The trick with hypercynicism is that if the world's going to end anyway, there's no point in doing anything to improve it. It's apathy, in the end and a short road to The Virtue of Selfishness.

Far more to my liking is something like Blue Remembered Earth: to make things better, you first have to accept the world the way it is, with all its bizarre contradictions. In Blue Remembered Earth, you have humans coping with a post-climate change world, Africa as a global superpower, a benevolent dictatorship and space adventure, along with thing like "complexity". It's exotic and great fun, particularly when many interplanetary adventures are ... well ask James Davis Nicoll about that. Face reality, because the Singularity and the Apocalypse aren't coming.

The borderlands are, as ever, the most interesting. It's instructive to compare The Big Sleep with The Maltese Falcon and Murder on the Orient Express.
Tim Marshall
50. smaug86
@6 If you want to make the case that the balance is one-sided then you have to figure out what percentage of books overall were written by women and compare to your numbers for the locus lists. My guess is that the percentages won't be far off from each other considering there are more women writers now than back in the 20th century- especially during the so-called golden age of science-fiction.
51. James Davis Nicoll
45: The Foundation trilogy is approximately 700 pages of lectures on the economics and politics of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire with a few interludes to the effect that yes, we are still in the future.

I just listened to the BBC radio play of the trilogy and huh, didn't realize as a kid what villains the Foundationers were. At least they themselves are but the cats paw of the even more malevolent Second Foundation.

One way to look at it is Seldon, for all his ambition, was never able to overcome some basic assumptions in his world view caused by having grown up when and where he did and so a cruel dictatorship was the only form of government he could really envision.

Additionally, popular at the time does not generally equate to "read now", even for award winners. The Healer's War, The Forever Machine and Unquenchable Fire are all virtually forgotten winners of major awards but many of the best books sat in the background, getting a couple of mixed reviews. No one paid much attention to The Affirmation or Revelation Space when they came out but years after, they are still being printed and read.

I think of The Healer's War every time I encounter one of Scarborough's horrifyingly awful collaborations with McCaffrey. I think "really, this is the same person who wrote The Healer's War?" I have much the same reaction to any talking cat mystery by Rita Mae Brown, except there the book I think of is Rubyfruit Jungle.

At MilPhil in 2001 I saw people forking over $100 a pop to get Revelation Space, so there was definitely interest there.

49: In Blue Remembered Earth, you have humans coping with a post-climate change world, Africa as a global superpower, a benevolent dictatorship and space adventure, along with thing like "complexity".

While I prefer Reynolds' vision of Africa to Kim Stanley Robinson's, I hope to live long enough to see a day when the default assumption of SF isn't that autocracy or a small, closed oligarchy will be the default mode of government forever. Obviously, this is on par with hoping typhoid mortality rates will ever dip below 60 people per 100,000 or that some day employees might be allowed to marry without the consent of their employers.
52. michael c peterson
Where is mention of robert jordan's eye of the world from the wheel of time series?
53. James Davis Nicoll
46: American and British readers are so terribly biased against Polish and Soviet science fiction, it's simply ridiculous. Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatzys are superior to almost all of the authors at the top of this
ignorant list. No "Solaris", "Fiasko", "His Master's Voice", or "Roadside Picknick"

I take great offense to your snubbing of SF fans in such nations as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, who also may not read those authors in great numbers.

As I recall, the English language translation of Solaris is still the 1970 Polish-to-French-to-English translation rather than a direct one by someone on par with Michael Kandel. As well, I don't know to what degree readers in l'anglosphere would have had access to the works of the works of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: I remember seeing DAW's translations available back in the Disco Era and of course there was the recent issue of Roadside Picnic but in between I think it was very easy not to encounter the Strugatskys in English.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
54. SchuylerH
@51: Didn't Bill Gibson write that SF was facist literature, since you're forcing characters to live in a fictional society over which you have absolute power? Also, please don't bring up mysteries with talking cats. Particularly ones where "Sneaky Pie Brown" gets a co-author's credit. (Have you considered that it might be a psuedonym for Kevin J. Anderson? Or that KJA is Sneaky's psuedonym?)

The Revelation Space hardcover price was back then. It wasn't due to the content of the book, as in one of those strange economic black spots the first editon hardcover was produced in a comparatively small run and, as such, was being traded on the fact that clean first edition hardcovers were rare. (For most books, the second and third editions are produced in smaller number than the fabled first edition.) Current eBay price for a signed first is £200.00 from Cold Tonnage, not that anyone has bought it. (its been on for about a year) There was demand, just not because of the actual technogoth space operatic content of the book.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
55. SchuylerH
@53: There haven't been many translations of the Strugatsky's aside from a couple in the late 70's, now quite firmly out of print except for Roadside Picnic. Lem hasn't fared much better, with the most recent print edition of Solaris (my edition, actually) being brought out to tie in with the film.
56. James Davis Nicoll
Also, please don't bring up mysteries with talking cats.

The one I liked, and I don't recall if it was a Brown, involved the cats and dogs solving the mystery chapters and chapters ahead of the humans and then of course being completely unable to convey what was obvious to their senses to the humans. There's then another five or six chapters of the humans attempting to recapitulate what the animals did in 30 seconds of sniffing and I think even then the only reason the case was solved is the murder got nervous and tried to kill the people investigating the death. Or deaths.

If you hate talking animals you really, really, really want to avoid the Petaybee books by McCaffrey and Scarborough. If I could convey just how awful those talking animal books were, you would pull your own head off to avoid reading them.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
57. SchuylerH
@56: I've just spent a quarter hour, without any real success, trying to find the title. I hope you're happy.

The reputation of McCaffrey collaborations has preceeded you, to the extent that advising me not to read Petaybee is like asking me not to set fire to my hand.
58. James Davis Nicoll
I hope you're happy.

I will clarify this point as soon as I am done laughing maniacally.

You know what would have attracted even more discussion and maybe even lawsuits? A poll to name the worst F&SF novels of the 20th and 21st century. Although I think there we'd really need more than 4 categories.
59. James Davis Nicoll
Didn't Bill Gibson write that SF was facist literature, since you're forcing characters to live in a fictional society over which you have absolute power?

Not all authors write that way. As an example, Westlake really meant for The Hot Rock to star Parker and to be a grim tale of Crime Gone Wrong but that's not the way it worked out.

Anyway, I think it's unfair to imply SF authors are all facists. A surprising number of them turn out to be or to have been card-carrying Communists.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
60. SchuylerH
@58 & 59: I nominate Battlefield Earth, Atlas Shrugged and Ralph 124C41+. There are plenty of liberal SF authors who don't want to oppress anyone but I believe Gibson was writing about Heinlein when made the remark, so give him some credit.
Rich Horton
61. ecbatan
Lem was 25th (Solaris), the Strugatskys 36th (Roadside Picnic). Pretty good showing for translated works. But of course, sneering at American and British people for their obtuseness is more fun ...
62. Ludwig Van
@60: And much more adequate. It is a matter of fact that especially in the United States there is an dismal quota of translation - even from other 'western' works of literature. Therefore, all these "best of" lists are especially ludicrous when the voting is conducted in America. Even amongst readers of a genre-specific journal there are many without any clue about spanish, german, french, polish or russian works of that genre. Not to speak of non-western literature... And this tragedy is somewhat less pronounced outside the United States.
As to the rankings of "Solaris" and "Roadside Picknick": Congratulations! :)
63. Ludwig Van
That was directed @61, sorry.
64. P.
Very predictable.
Very conservative.
65. P.
Very predictable.
Very conservative.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
66. SchuylerH
@62: I had a look through the full list and found a couple of other Russian/Polish books. Hard to Be a God made it to #58, which is quite impressive for a book that hasn't been translated since the 70's, Yegeveny Zamyatin's We was joint 106th while The Snail on the Slope was #131, The Master and Margarita was at #140, The Cyberiad was at #144, The Invincible was joint #229th while Eden and The Final Circle of Paradise also placed.
67. pH
It is really sad that racism is still so much alive. I mean those people who find the time to count percentages of women and people of colour, as if it mattered. I never cared who the author is as a person, for many of them I simply do not know as English names often do not give a clue. I wonder what kind of person actually finds it important to stick his/her nose into privacy of an author. Is it not enough that he/she shared a wonderful book with us?
And if you do want to count and moan, here's the crucial question: Can you prove that the women you mention wrote better books that white guys whose books were also not included in top 10 (like Canticle for Leibowitz, and Simak's The City that in my books should be top 5)? I suspect that this is not the case - and then you have no leg to stand on.
Percentages rarely mean anything, take it from someone who is partly a statistics guy by profession :-).

Re: Still the same books. Well, perhaps they are good, this would explain a lot :-). Anyway, here is another possible factor: The "classics" form a certain core that beginners often start with, before they move into more specialized subfields, so most SFF readers would know them. This would play to their advantage statistically over books that might be great but were written at times when readers got more fragmented into groups (military, wampire stories, hard SF, steampunk,...).
I also agree that a certain nostalgy might help. Still, this fall I've re-read Dune and I was as struck by it as 20 years ago. This one IMHO did not age a bit. On the other hand, I've grown up from Foundation, I find its idea of calculating history funny (especially since this is close to my own field of work), and this undermines the whole concept. I also find it rather cold, similarly to many 50's-60's books born of technological optimism.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
68. SchuylerH
@67: It is, as discussed before, a matter of personal taste. I prefer to know the author's mindset, as it helps me to understand why they wrote the books they did and, ultimately, I feel it helps me appreciate their work. For example, the apocalyptic imagery of J. G. Ballard's best short stories is quite extraordinary on the page but after reading the story of his early years (in Miracles of Life) and trying to comprehend what you might call his personal experience of the end times, they became psychological imagery of the highest power. That's just me though. No two people ever really read the same book.

I would advise against the use of the word "racism" in this context, as some groups are still notably more discriminated against than others and authors who aren't straight white men are significantly underrepresented in SF and literature in general. Our hosts at have a currently running, informative series on why women in SF matter, Sleeps With Monsters (by Liz Bourke). It's a mixture of topical essays and book reviews. It's definitely worth a read.

Again, I can't prove that some books are better than others in a necessarily convincing fashion, though I might contend that the balance between prose style and the breadth of allusiveness is more deftly handled in Nova than in Dune or that The Dispossessed is more structurally ambitious than City you may be looking for entirely different factors in a good book.

Your points on nostalgia echo my own: Dune and Foundation were among the first SF books I read and TLHoD followed not long after. Hyperion was a more recent read though and I never could get on with Ender's Game at all. As I've said in an earlier comment, the top three books are all commonly read by new readers of SF, having a style that's fairly easy to get into and ideas that while mind-stretching, aren't at the wild conceptual fringe with Schismatrix and Solaris.

Seldon-style "Psychohistory" was thought to be possible when the first trilogy was written thanks to the work of Arnold Toynbee, who argued that all civilizations grow to decadence before collapsing into barbarism, paving the way for a new civilization (Asimov was just doing it on a galactic scale). Much of the reason why it seems dated now is that the cracks in Toynbee's theories were becoming apparent in the 50's and they were more-or-less discredited altogether by the time of the later Foundation books.
69. James Davis Nicoll
The Dispossessed is more structurally ambitious than City

Huh. Not 100% sure I have ever seen those particular books share a sentence with each other and only each other before.

Until I went on a radio play binge I had no idea "transformed human on Jupiter" was a thing but "Desertion", "Call Me Joe", and (actually a spoiler) argue otherwise.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
70. SchuylerH
@69: I know, it's such a diverse genre that many books have never been paired. Have you ever seen the Fry & Laurie sketch where Stephen Fry's character (who is talking excitably about the English language) is discussing how certain words may never have been said together before and ends up spouting utter drivel like "Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter, or friendly milk will countermand my trousers." Because that's roughly how that sentence about Le Guin and Simak reads back to me. Anyway:

Rocket Ship Galileo and The Drowned World.

The Unincorporated Man and The Shape of Things to Come.

Neuromancer and Five Weeks in a Balloon...
71. James Davis Nicoll
This interesting bit of history relevent to this thread was just pointed out to me on my LJ:

@Heinlein credited the title of “The Green Hills of Earth” to C.L. Moore, who named the song in a cast away line in her first Northwest Smith story “Shambleau” :" ...he hummed The Green Hills of Earth to himself in a surprisingly good baritone as he climbed the stairs.
72. Greg Bell
This list is a joke. Any 20th century list that doesn't include anything from Vernor Vinge or Greg Bear has no credibility. Any list that doesn't include Eon or Deepness in the Sky is a joke
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
73. SchuylerH
@71: I first read "Shambleau" in 2007.

I first read "The Green Hills of Earth" in 2011.

It was very confusing.
74. RW
@Greg Bell: Vernor Vinge has two placements in the Top 50 on the 20th Century SF Novels list: #27 with A Fire Upon the Deep and #46 with A Deepness in the Sky. Greg Bear has a Top 100 placement at #87 with Blood Music.
75. James Davis Nicoll
73: I read the Northwest Smith collection Planet Stories did in 2007 and I completely missed the line that inspired Heinlein. Time for a reread?
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
76. SchuylerH
@75: Yes, worth a reread, since I think there's some lyrics to it in "Quest of the Starstone". Paizo had some great reprints (Moore, Kuttner, Brackett, Wellman etc) but the line was put on hiatus due to low sales. Quite sad really. Of course, Smith was originially a Western hero and "Shambleau" is a Western rewritten to the space adventure format, so I hope that the Locus voters will find a place for it in the Top 100 short stories. Without it, there's no Brackett, without Brackett there's no Moorcock or Bradbury, without...

Anyway, after some first class thread derailing, what do you think the top five 20th century SF novellas/novelettes/short stories/other arbitrary distinctions will be? I'm hoping that Poul Anderson, Alice Sheldon, J. G. Ballard, Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Leigh Brackett and Samuel R. Delany get represented at some point or another. Of course, I know the lists will be full of Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, "The Cold Equations" etc.
77. James Davis Nicoll
Oh, god. "The Cold Equations". Going by "number of radio play adaptations I have encountered", the winners should be that, Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" and Bradbury's "The Veldt". Oh, and Leinster's "First Contact"; I ran into at least two versions of that (X Minus One's and Exploring Tomorrow's) and I think there may be a third.

"How often has this been adapted to radio?" is, I admit, a fairly idiosyncratic meter-stick.

I think "Flowers for Algernon" should be somewhere in the top 100, and actually that suggests another side-branch of the discussion: famous books based on novellas that were better than the books. Of course, the novella being a superior length for SF stories than the novel, this is not really fair.

"When it Changed" but only "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" is also included.
Rich Horton
78. ecbatan
How about "Famous Novellas cut down from the Novels that might have been better also". Candidates would include "The Hemingway Hoax" and "Rogue Moon".
79. James Davis Nicoll
Novels that would have made better novellas?

The Uglies series. There was no more than a novel and maybe a novella in those three books (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of the fourth one).

I got decreasingly interested in the Ender story the longer it got. I will grudgingly grant the first story was memorable and not just because I got set on fire while reading it (Never sit under a burning tree). More words just gives Card more chances to show off his weak areas, like world building: at least the novella did not have a Schrodingeresque Poland: Rogue Nation!/Vassals of the Soviets or the cost of space travel at any given instant determined by what the plot needed it to be.

Extrapolating from the fact Weber's Path of the Fury got less interesting when it was padded out to In Fury Born, it only makes sense that paring it back to a novella would further improve things. On a related note, I cannot help but feel cutting Hamilton's The Reality Disfunction to one novella is an idea I can get behind.

In general I prefer Joan D. Vinge's novellas to her novels. Actually, I think that's true for Vonda McInyre as well: I prefer her short fiction to her novels. See also John Varley. Unfortunately writing short fiction pays even more wretchedly than writing novels so there's considerable pressure on authors to jump to longer lengths: short works to novels and novels to linked series.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
80. SchuylerH
@77: There is a third: "First Contact", Dimension X, 1951. I would have "Flowers for Algernon", "When it Changed" and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" as well. There's a certain kind of ruthless efficiency to novellas that full length novels seem to lack, at least now that economics and population pressure have turned the survivors into 700 page monsters.

@78: I see your Hemmingway Hoax and raise you Galileo's Dream.

@79: What we need is some kind of condensed book service: I would like to read Peter F. Hamilton, but that would mean giving up weeks of my time and having to shelve them and finding somewhere for the displaced books to go and it's not as if you can give those white elephants away or sneek them discreetly onto bookshelves when people aren't looking so that it becomes their problem and... So really, I've got into reading the A. Bertram Chandler omnibus editions as they come out instead.

Anyway, we've got to Son of the Bride of Ender's Shadow by now, haven't we? (If you've posted the story of being set on fire on the internet, please post a link. I haven't read that one.) In general, Card is better at short lengths and if not read at all is quite perfect.

My favorite of Joan Vinge's novels are the shorter "Heaven Belt" books and Superluminal worked a lot better as "Aztecs". Varley is the classic example though: at shorter lengths, "The Persistence of Vision", at longer lengths you get the "Earth people suck" trilogy. Maybe it's just what I'm used to but I like the "Ace Double" length best for SF, at least, it worked well enough for Poul Anderson and Philip K. Dick.
81. James Davis Nicoll
The conceit behind the surgical procedure in "Aztecs" and the novels makes Baby Einstein cry. I guess I should have taken it as foreshadowing for the egregious violations of p=fc in the Starfarers books.
82. James Davis Nicoll
If you've posted the story of being set on fire on the internet, please post a link. I haven't read that one.

I have not AFAIK but it's short: I used to bicycle in to Kitchener-Waterloo from north of St Agatha to stock up on SF, which in those days meant getting the latest issues of Analog, Asimov's, Galaxy, Galileo and so on (I was not an F&SF reader and yes, I am suitably ashamed). On this day, I had a new Analog and I ended up not at home but over at the farm a relative was taking care of. They had a problem with a sudden infestation of tent caterpillars so in my supportive way I settled down to supervise as they handled the issue.

So, one way to deal with tent caterpillars is to burn the tents off of trees. The tents burn very quickly, sometimes dripping a flaming residue, but the tree comes out better than it would if the caterpillars were left alone.

Guess under which tree I parked my lazy ass? Anyway, of the scars on my scalp, the ones from flaming tent debris are among the least significant (and they may have faded; lord knows the scalping left less of a mark than I expected).

No, I don't know why I picked reading over playing with fire. I like books but FIRE GOOD. Except not on my scalp. Also, now that I think about it your tent caterpillar is a spring thing: these must have been webworms.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
83. SchuylerH
@81 and 82: I've just realised that the past 80 comments have been overwhelmingly about 20th century SF. Let's correct the imbalance:

20th century fantasy
1: Inevitable really.
2: Likewise, an important progenitor of the "boot stamping on the human face forever" school of fantasy.
3: Again, inevitable.
4: Earthsea is the old bait-and-switch: you realise everyone else will vote for Tolkien and decide, along with everyone else, to go with Le Guin to be original.
5: Actually, I wasn't expecting that.

Missing: The Broken Sword, Swords and Deviltry, The Dying Earth, Stormbringer.

21st century SF
1: Quite good fun.
2: The single most transcendentally boring thing I've ever tried to read.
3: Basically a Blade Runner rehash crossed with a half-watched climate change documentary and ethnic sterotyping.
4: Rather innovative hard SF.
5: Incredibly nasty smart hard SF horror, more Event Horizon than Rendevous with Rama.

Missing: Chasm City, The Separation, Light.

21st century fantasy
1: Rather original, not my sort of thing.
2: Haven't read, can't comment.
3: Entertaining metafiction.
4: Quite good but I've never much liked nautical adventure stories.
5: Obligatory ASoIaF book.

Missing: ? (help me out, I don't tend to read modern fantasy)
84. James Davis Nicoll
I've just realised that the past 80 comments have been overwhelmingly about 20th century SF.

That's because it's pretty nonsensical to talk about the best F&SF of the 21st century in the year 2012. Not only has the century just begun but there really has not been enough time to properly assess the F&SF that has been written; I am sure some of the current Hot Stuff everyone likes will still be liked in 90 years but I am equally sure people will look back at some of the books and stories that were well regarded and wonder what the hell we were going on about.
85. Omar J. Sakr
It's nothing short of ludicrous that Patrick Rothfuss is on that list. I like his books - and I like him as a person even more - but he's not great. Not even close.
Brian R
86. Mayhem
Well, the top fantasy ones I would rate very highly do appear later in the long list.

I think part of the reason for this is that fantasy is seldom written as standalone works these days. And while a series may be very very good, none of the books tend to stand well enough alone to be voted up.
SF on the other hand frequently has magnificent ideas that support a single book and are memorable enough to be voted for.

(And it says something about the voters that The Colour of Magic was voted for in the best of 21st century section)

What I'd score highly for 21st?
Neil Gaiman has been an unsurprising star.
Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven was superb,
Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series is well done, and at least one of Steven Erikson's appears. The Malazan series is fantastic, but definitely not for everyone.
Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora is a delightful romp, as was The Painted Man by Peter V Brett. Both were creative twists on well known tropes.

Pratchett's Nation deserved to be far higher than it was, it probably suffered from the Childrens Book ghetto. Going Postal was a work of genius though. The Harry Potter series is certainly worthy of being high, even if I don't particularly like it.

Janny Wurts has been steadily working on her Wars of Light And Shadow for two decades now, and they keep improving.
Jeff Vandermeer has been putting out well regarded works as has China Mieville, I don't read either, but they've been rating highly for a decade. Robin Hobb deserved to be far higher than she was.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
87. SchuylerH
@86: I'm glad that Neil Gaiman has been successful. I don't really get on with his much of his work but it's good quality.

Going Postal remains my favorite of the Discworld series. Working against Nation was the limited use of fantastical elements (which didn't play a particularly explicit role until nearer the end) and generally speaking, the more fantasy elements in a story the more popular it will be with the voters. I'm also a great fan of the Dark Tower sequence by Stephen King but it's the very marmite of the fantasy world; there's so much in there that you either love it or violently despise it.

Mieville I quite like but he can be a rather lazy writer. In particular, Kraken and King Rat, where you slog through pop culture references in the hope of finding a genuine plot. (I was unsuccessful) But then, you get something like Embassytown or The City & the City which, though nowhere near the brilliance of the kind of stuff Mike Harrison writes, is good enough for you to forgive him the odd sloppy moment here and there. I got into Mieville through his sole collection, Looking for Jake, which I strongly recommend to beginners for its breadth.
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
88. SchuylerH
@84: I know, there's often very little overlap between "popular" and "enduring". It's often a painful experience to revisit last year's bestsellers, let alone those of the last decade.
89. James Davis Nicoll
The results for Locus' 20th and 21st centuries polls in short fiction categories are in! LET THE BLOOD SPORTS BEGIN!
Orayelle Johnson
91. Orayelle
Glad to see Tolkien there at the top :)
G. D. B. (not Ambrose Bierce)
93. SchuylerH
A thing I never noticed before: the cover of Ender's Game is a reuse of an earlier John Harris cover for Drunkard's Walk.

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