Nasa / Space

The perfect sci-fi library

There are 15 science fiction books in "the perfect library"--at least according <em>The Telegraph</em>. It's an idea almost too stupid for words, but here's the list, anyway. We'll get to what's wrong with it in a second.

There are 15 science fiction books in "the perfect library"--at least according The Telegraph. It's an idea almost too stupid for words, but here's the list, anyway. We'll get to what's wrong with it in a second.

  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  6. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  8. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  9. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  10. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  11. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  12. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  13. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  14. The Lord of the Rings by J.R. R. Tolkien
  15. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Okay, first screwup--The Telegraph includes these as the sci-fi and fantasy entrants in a perfect personal library of 110 books. Really? 110? That's your magic number. While these books are certainly momentous, and among the most influential sci-fi books ever, and would belong in any ultimate library, I can't endorse the notion that there's any perfect library of a mere 110 books. I can't endorse even a perfect sci-fi library of 110 books. For frak's sake, they don't have any Vonnegut or Bradbury on here!

Call this a required reading list for a course in science fiction, sure, but perfection? Hardly.

Besides, as any sci-fi or fantasy reader will tell you, the perfect library is not finite. It wends and weaves and evolves and expands to include ever more possibilities. To limit it to a hard number is anathema to us. Sci-fi and fantasy themselves have dreamed of the perfect book, which contains within it all books, morphing the contents of its pages to be any tome and every tome, per the reader's wish. Think Kindle, without the crappy interface, DRM, and price tags. And possibly sentient.

A more helpful exercise might be defining the coursework for a university major in science fiction literature. What courses would be required, and which elective? In the required courses, what books would be must-reads? You can't get a degree in humanities without reading The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, or The Divine Comedy. What books are the science fiction and fantasy equivalents of these literary pillars?

The comments section awaits your answer.

(Found via SFSignal.)

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

66 comments
azbat
azbat

Yes a lot of them are great, so much so they made them into movies, but there are some other greats out there .... like Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon, or the lesser known but great trilogy of books - Rim, Mir and Chi about the evolution of man and technology. Great reads. To add to the Telegraphs list though for other categories, they are missing some other greats ...... "My Name Escapes me" by Sir Alec Guinness is a hilarious 'year in the life of ...' book. Also the collected Willfred Owen poems of the horrifying tales of WWI and life in the trenches.

tkeller
tkeller

Uh. What? Am I the only person here who actually followed the link to the "110 best books: The perfect library"? Clicking "the perfect library" link in the first line of the article takes you to a list of 110 books in 11 categories. The Sci-Fi category lists 10 books (in this order): 1. Frankenstein 2. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea 3. The Time Machine 4. Brave New World 5. 1984 6. The Day of the Triffids 7. Foundation 8. 2001: A Space Odyssey 9. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 10.Neuromancer Where did the list of 15 books come from? Four of them come from the "Children's Books" category immediately above "Sci-Fi", and Hitchhikers Guide from the "Books that changed your world" category well below sci-fi. So Jay, how did this list of 15 get cobbled together? And the ten in this articles list that match the ten in the link are in substantially different order. What gives? I belatedly perused the "(Found via SFSignal.)" link at the bottom of the original article, and that reference clearly shows what I had listed above. So, I'm still mystified as to how the article was written in such a way as to intermingle entries in different categories. And to actually number them in a way that seems to imply that was the order they were presented in the Telegraph. Many of the objections to the list of 15 revolve around the inclusion of fantasy works in a list of science fiction. But those works of fantasy were not even on the list of sci-fi works shown in the Telegraph. If I were the author of this article, I would correct this glaring error, or at least add an addendum noting the error.

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And neither is nearly as good; they improve on nothing and what they get right, they don't do as well. That would also make way for "Stranger," or "Dune" for those who were able to enjoy it through the religious propaganda.

jthelwell
jthelwell

If you mean Brave New World and 1984, Brave New World can hardly be derivative of Anthem, since it was published 6 years earlier (1932)

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Sorry, I was being somewhat more literal there than the phrase "no place on my shelves" probably suggested. It was meant as a private joke to myself, but you're too sharp for that. :D

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Both Huxley and Orwell in general, I agree. But I find Brave New World to be a rather interesting and more subtly complex commentary than it first appears. Why leave it off your shelves?

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Verified. I don't know if I confused the second or later printing of BNW with its original copyright date, but I've been sure of that 'fact' for a few years. Oops. It's still the one on my top 10 though. Neither Huxley nor Orwell have any place on my bookshelves.

BEAR1BEAR
BEAR1BEAR

Please don't forget Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, and a host of other gifted visionaries.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

They are not SCI-fi. Sci-fi must at least have the possibility of becoming real. Harry Potter events will not, neither will The lion, the witch and the wardrobe, or Lord of the rings. They are just plain and simple magical stories, nothing to do with sci-fi.

khannah
khannah

Gotta have Ursula LeGuin on the list.

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

nt

seanferd
seanferd

I'd forgotten that book. Kick me. I think it was PBS aired a movie version of the book, and it wasn't too bad, really.

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

I saw that when it aired, back in 1981-82-ish. I stared at it eyes wide open absorbing it, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Yeah, an excellent movie. But they took it out of circulation for years over a copyright issue. At some point Orr is listening to radio and they were playing a Beatles tune. Whoever owned the rights at that time balked and they pulled it. But someone just changed the audio, which you'd think would have been done long ago, and have a cover band playing a close version of the song, and it's available on DVD. I'm gonna buy it. It'll be only the 4th movie I've ever bought.

pworlton
pworlton

I'm not going to suggest a more "perfect" list, but this one is far from perfect. The very association of the word "perfect" with the Harry Potter series flies in the face of logic. While Harry Potter is definately "wildly popular", the first 3 or 4 books are eye-gougingly slow and boring. I was forced to read those awful books to my daughter and the only thing that kept me going was a mental game I played of skipping sections without her catching me. The only thing more boring than Potter is Foundation (though Asimov has other good books). If I was stranded on a desert island with all these books, I would burn the Rowling and pray that some Goodkind or Donaldson washed up on the shore. My point is that a "perfect" book for me is one which greatly entertains or profoundly enlightens. This list doesn't cut it.

daverosenberg
daverosenberg

If the perfect library must "wends and weaves and evolves and expands to include ever more possibilities..." then it must include Gordon R. Dickinson's Childe Cycle. If you don't understand why, buy the series, all 12 books and find out.

forbes82604
forbes82604

To Dave Rosenberg - Just so you'll know, it's spelled "Dickson" and not "Dickinson" - Amazingly prolific man. His "Childe Cycle" saga of the Dorsai is amazingly good. see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childe_Cycle for a good overview of this and related works. It was a real challenge trying to find almost all oft he related books still in print or at the library. Once I got started reading these, I couldn't stop until I laid eager hands on every title I could find. I think I may still have missed a couple. I almost hope so, just so I'll have some more to look forward to. Marvelous, one and all. Shannon Forbes

daverosenberg
daverosenberg

Some times fingers have a mind of there own, but definately one of the under-rated classics of all time.

esalkin
esalkin

I can't argue with most of the top 10. How many books would I put on a list? Why 42 of course!

Kjell_Andorsen
Kjell_Andorsen

Personally I have a hard time seeing how any Science Fiction library can be considered adequate much less perfect without any works from Frank Herbert or Robert Heinlen. I can't begin to stress how books like "Dune" or "Stranger in a strange land" should be mandatory reading for anyone even remotely interested in the genre.

2rs
2rs

thanks for other mentions of books that I have yet to read!

cartmit
cartmit

Methusala's Children, Glory Road, Starship Troopers, Job: A Comedy of Justice, The Moon is a Harch Mistress, I Will Fear No Evil... from a few of his better-known works. RH isn't called the Dean of Science Fiction for naught. And in the fantasy genre...nothing from Roger Zelazny? Sheesh!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

nope, just can't. That "Foundation" trilogy is classic. And/or "I, Robot".

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Margaret Weis could be added to the really good Sci-Fi list. Her 'Star of the Guardian' series was pretty darn good.

royhayward
royhayward

is a favorite that I recommend to people that don't understand why I read Sci-Fi.

stringsinger
stringsinger

I am not qualified to delete any of the mentioned titles, but I was herded back into sci-fi by Battlefield Earth (not the horrid movie). Ender's Game HAS to be in the list somewhere, and where is Salvatore or the Wheel of Time series? Drizzt, Rand al'Thor, Perrin Aybara, Gandalf, and Aslan are like family to me now. Didn't anyone else read "Prey" by Creighton?

katiev
katiev

First off, this looks more like a sci-fi/fantasy list than sci-fi. Second, why is my beloved Ender's Game not included?

catpro-54
catpro-54

Where are any of the authors from the Nebulas? My personal favorites are all of the short story and novella collections (usually put together by Isaac Asimov)--where's Greg Bear's outstanding short stories, where's anything by Harlan Ellison? And I haven't even touched on the Dragonrider series. I'm with Jay on this one, how can anyone decide there are just 15 top books when the field of science fiction is so varied and our tastes change with time and exposure to the field. My 2$

Canuckster
Canuckster

Ellison's Dangerous Visions is in my list.

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

That, and Worlds, are the best of the best science fiction author of the last 40 years.

steven.taylor
steven.taylor

I'll agree on The Forever War. One of my favorites. A few more: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein (not the movie). Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clark Some of John Varley's books are quit good.

Canuckster
Canuckster

Then you would have room for such books as Stranger In A Strange Land or Solaris. But it is all relative...perfect to me is trash to someone else.

misceng
misceng

It depends on individual taste. Both have equally valid readerships. What annoys me is the mixing of the two in bookshops so that I struggle to sort out the Sci-Fi which is my preference. Lists of the best 10 are bound to fail as tastes vary so much but at least by separating the two categories there is better hope of some agreement

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I never could understand that....

daverosenberg
daverosenberg

I think the reason the two are mixed is both Genre's need the same thing...a consistant and logical set of laws. Good Sci Fi adhere's to a set of physical laws that make sense. The use, history and development of technology is well explained and the social implications of those advancements are explored in a compeling story. The same is true for good Fantasy. There must be rules for the use of magic. As in Sci Fi, the socialogical implications of the existance of magic is the crux of a good story.

Dr. Tarr
Dr. Tarr

...there is nothing wrong with Fntasy. I love Fantasy. It is not, however, Science Fiction. Maybe we need a new list. Let's see, how about a list of publications that should refrain from publishing lists, hmmmmm.

royhayward
royhayward

I robot, clearly sci-fi, Lord of the Rings, clearly fantasy Any of the Darkover, or Dragon Riders of Pern... I am not sure where these are. And for the Fantasy = 'poof' Some Fantasy authors don't do that. Brooks with the Shannara books or Jordon in the Wheel of Time books give us rhyme and reason to the Magical Tech. It looks like from a lot of the respondents to your post, that we also read Fantasy, but we just don't consider it to be Sci-Fi. I like a Grisham too, but I wouldn't try to include any of his books in a Sci-Fi listing.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

If someone waives a wand and lifts an object into the air, it's fantasy. If someone squits, presses a finger against their temple and does the same thing, it's sci-fi. If someone incants a spell and his victim bursts into flames, it's fantasy. If someone narrows their eyes like they are concentrating, it's 'pyrokenisis' and thus sci-fi. It's much the same, only the explaination makes one or the other

Canuckster
Canuckster

If we want to make a list of the best fantasy books ever we can do that and I'd be glad to make a contribution. But why mix them? When you order a martini you wouldn't settle for the bartender giving you a beer while saying that they are close enough to count as the same thing. I prefer, like an earlier contributor stated, to have my sci-fi straight up. I also like my fantasy to be unbounded. A sci-fi and fantasy mix is a compromise that rarely works - imho.

daverosenberg
daverosenberg

I have to say I like them both and I evaluate them both the same way. If the "Science" in Sci Fi doesn't make sense, it sucks. In the Fantasy books I enjoy the author alwasy sets rules for the magic and then lives by those rules. This way it reads like a Para Normal type of Sci Fi. There is rarely just a "Poof" and then magic occurs. There is always a cost of doing magic (conservation of energy), a vehicle for the magic and rules and parameters. I just think of Fantasy as Sci Fi in a universe with different natural laws. As long as the author is consistant I like it (assuming the story is also well told).

Canuckster
Canuckster

Your scenario is a Zardoz scenario. It is viewed from the receiving end and not the giving end. When the conquistadors invaded central america, the natives had never seen horses and thought that they were one magical animal - horse and rider together. The spanish may have adored their horses but there was nothing magical about mounting and dismounting them. Making distinctions can lead to a debate of what constitutes each genre but I hope it is sufficient to say that "magic" is not what the technology represents to its possessors in a sci-fi story. It is understood by the creators of the technology to the extent that they understand it as a creation of natural phenomena and not spiritual\supernatural intervention. Even in Canticle for Liebowitz, we, the reader, know what some of the characters do not, that the gift of God is in fact a man-made object. Fantasy need have no basis in science nor in history. It can be free to have flying dragons without explaining the how or why of their existence. Is it science fiction or fantasy to have an alien ship land on earth and dwarves with axes emerge looking to fight orks with swords? It would depend on the source of the ship - wizardry in a tin can or an interstellar manipulator of biology. As for the beer and martini analogy, nanobots are science and not fantasy. Fantasy is a wizard changing the potion in Christ-like fashion.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

for your beer to mutate into a martini using nanobots! :) Enuf of this proclaiming 'Poof' = 'advanced technology'. Sci-fi bufs have no problem with hi-tech 'poof' if they can see it is not a wizard but a hi-tech source of the poof and understood that it is simply not-understood tech. I think it is more in the intent of the story where it is usually assumed or stated that it is either technology or 'poof' in certain cases, and sci-fi bufs have a problem accepting too much 'poof'. (e.g. the famous blackboard full equation with 'insert a miracle here' for fantasy or simply blurred out where you can't see it but it exists for sci-fi)

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

(I did read hobbits long ago) I just don't LIKE them as much as sci-fi. I think it's the logical thing: if you think logically, it is kind of like religion wanting you to 'believe' a wizard can 'poof' and make something appear, like god going 'poof' and suddenly the proto-planetary nebula is filled with CHON and fossils on a rocky earth. Sci-fi, while the powers some of the actors have can seem like fantasy, you are expected to believe there is a logical explanation for them, even if you are not told it and they are way beyond our current levels of tech.

seanferd
seanferd

Yeah, Brin is pretty good. I can see one of his from where I'm sitting.

merrid
merrid

But then, no Heinlein on the list either. Or David Brin.

boplatt
boplatt

This was a paraphrase of Clarke's Law, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. He was one of the Big 3 of the Golden Era, along with Heinein and Asimov. It's interesting that it works both ways. But then, Arthur was a very bright boy.

kipske
kipske

Maybe you could perform some "spell-check" magic once and a while (indistinguishable)

dlwolff0
dlwolff0

Did you quote that backwards on purpose? If I remember correctly the statement from a Robert Heinlein book was "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Sort of dated myself, read it as a kid in the 50's.

Canuckster
Canuckster

an elven bow and arrow is not an advanced technology that we do not comprehend.

cf_sage
cf_sage

Some of my favorite concepts are stories that I thought were fantasy but were explained as sci-fi as the story progressed (can't remember the book, probably in the attic somewhere), or dealt with both magic and science (Piers Anthony's _Apprentice Adept_ series). As a lover of both fantasy and science fiction, I don't mind lumping them together, but the title should probably explain what the parameters are. I have met many people that like one or the other, but not both. I can't figure out why, but "to each his own."