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.)


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...

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