Locus Poll for the best sci-fi and fantasy of the past 110 years

The website for Locus magazine — which I admit an unfamiliarity with — is hosting an open poll, which closes tomorrow on November 30th, asking readers to vote for the best novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories in the genres of fantasy and science fiction from the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. Fortunately, they allow for multiple votes, and have conveniently broken down the categories.

Since my reading of the shorter literary forms, and of science fiction, is extremely limited, I didn’t vote for any short stories, novellas, or novelettes, and only a few sci-fi novels. For the fantasy novel ballot I filled all ten slots.

My Short List of Great Sci-fi Novels from the 20th Century

  1. Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
  2. That Hideous Strengthby C.S. Lewis
  3. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
  4. Ringworldby Larry Niven
  5. Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury
  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxyby Douglas Adams (which I actually forgot to include on the ballot! Oops.)

Again, I haven’t read much science fiction, and fewer still that has really impressed me.

My Short List of Great Fantasy Novels from the 20th Century

  1. The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobeby Lewis
  3. The Hobbitby Tolkien
  4. Watership Downby Richard Adams
  5. A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine L’Engle
  6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  7. The Last Unicornby Peter Beagle
  8. The Neverending Storyby Michael Ende
  9. If on a winter’s night a travelerby Italo Calvino
  10. The Black Cauldronby Lloyd Alexander

I’ve read a fair bit of fantasy novels.

It was painful to leave certain books and authors out, and I admit that my list is very close to my list of personal favorites. I just couldn’t fit in Neil Gaiman nor Patricia McKillip, nor Lawhead, nor even Rosemary Sutcliff (though on a longer list I might put her Tristan and Iseult).

But Tolkien and Lewis are givens, of course. I doubt many would argue against A Wrinkle in Time and The Last Unicorn, although the former is frequently categorized as science fiction; I personally find it to be solidly fantasy inspired by some scientific ideas. A very neat blending, certainly.

I finished Peter Pan not too long ago and became convinced it is one of the most important fairy tales that English literature has produced, as well as one of the most beautiful.

It has been many years since I read Michael Ende, but The Neverending Story was a powerful reading experience, and the 80’s movie was formative for my childhood. I look forward to reading it again with adult eyes, but I’m fairly confident in its position here.

I’m using The Black Cauldron to stand in for the entire Chronicles of Prydain. I couldn’t bear to leave out Lloyd Alexander’s prolific, always entertaining and often moving work.

Italo Calvino is a tricky writer, and If on a winter’s night a devilishly tricky novel. I’m not even sure it’s fantasy, but it feels safer to put it here rather than in science fiction or realism. It’s the most wildly original, experimental novel I’ve ever read. Parts of it I hated, most of it I loved. It must have been a torture to conceive and write, but it was certainly a pleasure to read. Even if no one else reads it, it deserves a place on a list like this.

In the comment section, I recommended that there should be a poll for the best pre-1900 fantasy and science fiction; the real foundational stuff. Everything from Homer to Edmund Spenser to Jules Verne and George MacDonald and Hans Christian Andersen. Generally my favorite stuff. +)

You’ve all got until tomorrow to vote, so go to it! Which fantasy and sci-fi books do you consider the most important and the best?


  1. Feldan says:

    Here is my list, though I assembled it quickly. I was tempted to say Hero and the Crown as well, but while Maur was perhaps among the best dragons, Luke was not the best mage.

    The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
    The Hobbit by Tolkien
    The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
    The High King by Lloyd Alexander
    Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
    Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
    The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
    The Dragonbards by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

    1. David says:

      Can’t argue there, though I haven’t read “The Dragonbards.” The neat thing is that a lot of the fantasy I’ve read in the past two years are strong contenderes for this sort of list.

  2. Ink says:

    Oooh talking about books. Let’s see, my short lists…
    1. Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis
    2. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
    3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
    4. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle (I count this as sci-fi because of its worldbuilding system)
    5. Dragonsong/Dragonsinger/Dragondrums, by Anne McCaffrey
    6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    1. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    2. The Sandman Chronicles, by Neil Gaiman (technically a series of graphic novels but SO GOOD)
    3. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
    4.The Wish List, by Eoin Colfer
    5. Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
    6. The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton
    7. Harry Potter, by J. K. Rowling

    I haven’t read much lately though… I used to be a total sci-fi and fantasy nut but then college happened. As I’m sure you can tell, I am a big fan of well-written children’s or YA literature because it has a lower chance of questionable content.

    1. David says:

      I’ve yet to read “Ender’s Game” and anything by Diana Wynne Jones but I’m looking forward to it because of what I’ve heard. Same with “Sandman.” I think graphic novels should count for this poll, since they didn’t add a separate category for them. One day they should recognize those, as well as webcomics.

      1. Ink says:

        Diana Wynne Jones is a hilarious genius with a taste for the quirks of fantasy. Ender’s Game was so good that I read it multiple times and could probably use a re-read. And Sandman… I’m not finished with it yet but it is aaaawesoooome~!

        Well, if we’re counting webcomics, obviously xkcd counts for something. It’s just so classic. And I noticed in your sidebar that you’re a fan of Lackadaisy! I didn’t realize many other people knew about it!

        1. David says:

          I even reviewed “Lackadaisy”! It’s probably my favorite webcomic, neck-and-neck with “Gunnerkrigg Court.” If only Tracy could update more often! She puts so much work into it, it’s mind-boggling.

          “Xkcd” might get on the list by sheer name-recognition and popularity, although it’s not among my favorites. Some of it is absolutely brilliant, I just don’t find it to consistently speak to me. “Hark! A Vagrant” is more my style.

          1. Ink says:

            Oh gosh, you like good comics which never update. Que lastima–I do too. And xkcd is kind of hit and miss sometimes? I am a huge fan of when Munroe does a week-long series, like Secretary or (my personal favourite) 1337.

            Gunnerkrigg Court was big on a forum I frequented many years ago, but I never got the time to archive-binge it… I was in the middle of the grand xkcd archive-binge, which is waaay more than enough (and was already more than enough five years ago).

            I love Tracy’s filler comics so much… especially if they involve Mordecai and Viktor. For some reason those are the most entertaining (like the dog one).

            If you’d rather take this conversation off-blog, my e-mail address is up on the Contact page of my blog.

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