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AbeBooks has come up with 50 “essential” science fiction reads; given that I love looking at best-of lists to see what I’ve read and what I’m meaning to read, let’s take a look and see where I stand on this list. Bold are ones I’ve read, and I apologize for the grey on black being hard to distinguish; Italic are ones I own but have yet to read.

  1. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne (1864)
  2. War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells (1898)
  3. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932)
  4. When Worlds Collide – Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie (1933)
  5. Odd John Olaf Stapledon (1935)
  6. 1984 – George Orwell (1949)
  7. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart (1949)
  8. Foundation – Isaac Asimov (1951)
  9. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury (1951)
  10. The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester (1953)
  11. Ring Around the Sun – Clifford D. Simak (1953)
  12. Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement (1954)
  13. The Long Tomorrow – Leigh Brackett (1955)
  14. The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (1955)
  15. No Blade of Grass – John Christopher (1956)
  16. Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein (1959)
  17. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
  18. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank (1959)
  19. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller (1960)
  20. Venus Plus X – Theodore Sturgeon (1960)
  21. Solaris – Stanislaw Lem (1961)
  22. The Drowned World – J.G. Ballard (1962)
  23. Hothouse – Brian Aldiss (1962)
  24. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  25. Dune – Frank Herbert (1965)
  26. Make Room! Make Room! – Harry Harrison (1966)
  27. Logan’s Run – William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson (1967)
  28. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick (1968)
  29. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
  30. Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock (1969)
  31. Ringworld – Larry Niven (1970)
  32. Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clarke (1972)
  33. Roadside Picnic – Boris & Arkady Strugatsky (1972)
  34. The Female Man – Joanna Russ (1975)
  35. Man Plus – Frederik Pohl (1976)
  36. The Stand – Stephen King (1978)
  37. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (1979)
  38. Nor Crystal Tears – Alan Dean Foster (1982)
  39. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (1985)
  40. Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks (1987)
  41. Falling Free – Lois McMaster Bujold (1988)
  42. Hyperion – Dan Simmons (1989)
  43. Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)
  44. Ribofunk – Paul Di Filippo (1996)
  45. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson (1999)
  46. Uglies – Scott Westerfeld (2005)
  47. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi (2005)
  48. Little Brother – Cory Doctorow (2007)
  49. Acme Novelty Library #19 – Chris Ware (2008
  50. Embassytown – China Miéville (2011)

Only 18, which is a bit embarrassing; I own 12 more but haven’t read them yet, which makes me feel a little bit better. 30/50 means I own over half of these… So, it looks like I have some reading ahead of me, in order to fill this list out. (Interesting enough, the AbeBooks post includes covers for Neuromancer and The Handmaiden’s Tale, but they’re not on the list; if they’d been included I may have made it to 20.) Regardless, a lot of it boils down to personal preference and subjectivity—my subjectivity vs. the list-makers’ subjectivity.

I expected to do better in the earlier half of the list than the second half, which was spot-on. The list itself is interesting; the selections through the ’70s I agree with almost 100%. I’m surprised they didn’t choose from the more famous Wyndham and Sturgeon works, but I’m glad they picked those excellent authors. I’m ambivalent about Clarke but he’s popular enough that I expected him to be on there; same with Pohl; my big complaint would be Logan’s Run—how many people know it as anything but a movie? (Similarly, I get the feeling Make Room! Make Room! was on there for being the inspiration for Soylent Green, but I feel it has a titch more credibility for being here than Logan’s Run.) Maybe I agree with them more just because I’ve read more of them, who knows.

The post-’60s books are what I’d raise objections about. A lot of solid talent representing the Hyperion Cantos, Mars Trilogy, and Culture series, along with Neal Stephenson (whose writing I dislike, but again I expected him to be there) and Lois McMaster Bujold (who I’ve yet to read). The post-millennial choices are all recent, and mostly expected big-ticket authors (Mieville, Scalzi, and Doctorow). But. Is The Stand really one of the fifty most essential SF books? I couldn’t make my way through it. Does anyone really remember Ribofunk; I’ve never seen it on any other list. I like Foster well enough but I question if Nor Crystal Tears is essential; what I’ve read of him has been entertaining but pulp-grade. I’d think Neuromancer and Startide Rising would have made better choices, maybe A Fire Upon The Deep. Actually—the best pick would include The Handmaiden’s Tale, or an Octavia Butler or C.J. Cherryh, to balance out the male/female ratio (a pretty paltry five).

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