After Hours

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.

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.

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.

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.

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$

DelbertPGH
DelbertPGH

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

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.

klaasvanbe
klaasvanbe

Except for Mary Shelley and J.K. Rowling (both barely SF) no women. Where e.g. can we find Ursula LeGuin to name just one that comes to mind easily when one talks Science Fiction.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I don't consider Harry Potter S/F. Fantasy maybe but not SCIENCE Fiction. Come to think of it, I wish the SciFi channel would stop wasting airspace with all that Ghost Hunter and other supernatural crap. I like my S/F hard.

dogknees
dogknees

It appears that the people compiling the list don't believe any worthwhile books have been published in the last 20 - 30 years with the exception of Harry Potter. It's a little like the way many people think no worthwhile music has been written since they were teenagers.

richardqt
richardqt

Hola Jay, Disculpa que no escriba en inglespero te leo siempre. Estos son los libros que yo escogeria. Saludos. Poul Anderson: Tau Cero Isaac Asimov: La saga de la Fundaci?n, Yo, Robot Adolfo Bioy Casares: La invenci?n de Morel Jorge Luis Borges: El Aleph Ray Bradbury: Cr?nicas marcianas, Fahrenheit 451 Edgar Rice Burroughs: La princesa de Marte, Piratas de Venus,... Lewis Carroll: Alicia en el Pa?s de las Maravillas, Arthur C. Clarke: La serie Odisea Espacial, Cita con Rama, Samuel R. Delany: Nova Philip K. Dick: ?Sue?an los androides con ovejas el?ctricas?, El hombre en el castillo, Robert A. Heinlein: Amos de T?teres, Forastero en tierra extra?a, Frank Herbert: Dune Aldous Huxley: Un mundo feliz Stanisław Lem: Solaris, Diarios de las estrellas, H.P. Lovecraft: La sombra m?s all? del Tiempo Richard Matheson: Soy Leyenda Walter M. Miller: C?ntico por Leibowitz Michael Moorcock: He aqu? el hombre, StormBringer William F. Nolan y George Clyton Johnson: La fuga de Logan Kevin O'Donnell: ORA:CLE George Orwell: 1984 Kim Stanley Robinson: La trilog?a marciana (Marte Rojo, Marte Verde y Marte Azul) Mary Shelley: Frankenstein Dan Simmons: Hyperion, Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash, La era del diamante James Tiptree, Jr: Houston, Houston ?me recibe? Julio Verne: Viaje al centro de la tierra, De la Tierra a la Luna, Veinte mil leguas de viaje submarino, La isla misteriosa,... Vernor Vinge: Un fuego sobre el abismo H. G. Wells: La guerra de los mundos, La m?quina del tiempo, El hombre invisible, La isla del Dr. Moureau,... Jack Williamson: Legi?n del espacio, John Wyndham: El d?a de los tr?fidos Eugene Zamiatin: Nosotros

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