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?

Book Meme Day 20: Favorite Romance in a Book

Ah! Finally, a good topic. It’s…uh…hmm…well, now…*scratches head*

This is a little harder than I thought. I’ve already written of my love for the story of Beren and Lúthien, and I do not want to repeat myself here. Plus, while it is an amazing and romantic story, it is told in the myth format, and thus you do not develop as personal a connection with the characters as you do in a novel. The impact of the story’s most emotional moments is muted because you are not allowed inside Beren and Lúthien’s heads. And for this particular topic, I feel that that kind of emotional connection is important.

However, it is also rare. I don’t read the romance genre at all, and so when a book I read does contain a love story, it is usually tangential to the main plot, and thus does not always get the deepest treatment.

But enough excuses. In my current memory (unstable as it is), there is a clear choice.

The love of Taran and Eilonwy in Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.

Artwork by Dawn D. Davidson

Unfortunately it has been probably eight years since I’ve read these books, and thus most of the all-important details are hazy in my mind. But what I can say for sure is this: I really cared whether or not these two got together and stayed together. I liked them each on their own merits, and it was a delight to see them in love. Not that they had an easy relationship, what with him being a sometimes pig-headed but noble-hearted Assistant Pig-Keeper, and she a fiery tempered common-and-royal-born young enchantress who spends much of her time being offended by things Taran didn’t mean to say, because they’re both in love but too self-conscious to admit it (until later).

Their dialogue is immensely fun to read, due to Alexander’s sharp and intelligent style. But what really makes their romance work, amidst all the high adventure and magical myth, is the fact that it builds on a foundation of true friendship. More than love each other, they like each other, and those are two very different things. It doesn’t always seem that they like each other, but they do. They complement each other, and make each other stronger. We saw them both grow steadily over five books (and Alexander has some fantastic character development skills), and the result is a romance with real substance.

(Plus they don’t have to die and get maimed like Beren and Lúthien!)

It is apparent that I really need to reread the series soon. SOON.