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
- Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
- That Hideous Strengthby C.S. Lewis
- Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
- Ringworldby Larry Niven
- Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury
- 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
- The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobeby Lewis
- The Hobbitby Tolkien
- Watership Downby Richard Adams
- A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine L’Engle
- Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
- The Last Unicornby Peter Beagle
- The Neverending Storyby Michael Ende
- If on a winter’s night a travelerby Italo Calvino
- 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?