NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy

Patrick Cahalan comments on NPR’s list of the Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books:

The top twenty is not bad, slightly adjusted…..[Some adjustments duly made, opening up a few spots]….Both Jules Verne and H.G. deserve to be much higher than they’re ranked on this list, I’d probably push both The Time Machine and 20,000 into these spots.

For the record, these two are ranked 36th and 37th on NPR’s list (which was the result of a listener poll). By coincidence, I read The Time Machine for the first time just a few weeks ago. So here’s my question: does a book like this deserve to make a Top X list simply by virtue of being historically important? Because come on folks: unlike, say, Hamlet or Crime and Punishment, this is not a book that ages well. By contemporary standards it’s sort of a toy piece of SF. It wouldn’t make it off an editor’s slush pile if it came in over the transom.

(On the other hand, it’s short and the writing is perfectly sprightly. It’s well worth reading solely for its historical importance. Still, that doesn’t make it a great book.)

Anyway, as you can guess, this post isn’t really here to piss off lovers of The Time Machine. That’s just a bonus. Mostly it’s an excuse to link to the list so everyone can argue about it. So then, a few comments. I was a little surprised that Lord of the Rings made the #1 spot but The Hobbit couldn’t even break into the top 100. And Ender’s Game at #3? Yeesh. I’m not a hater — I enjoyed the book a lot — but it just isn’t top ten material.

What else? There’s no Frederik Pohl on the list. That’s a serious omission. Nor any Bester or Delany. No David Brin either, which is a little less surprising, but still doesn’t seem quite right. And unless I missed something, there are precisely two novels on the list written between 1900 and 1940. That’s quite a desert.

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