Old Man’s War Tops Locus Online’s 21st Century SF Novel Poll

Well, this is a nice thing to wake up to on the first day of the new baktun: Locus Online polled the Internet to find out what the best science fiction and fantasy works of the 20th and 21st century (to date) have been. The novel results are in, and Old Man’s War is on top of the list for the 21st century (top of the 20th century list: Dune, by Frank Herbert). On the fantasy side of things, The Lord of the Rings tops the 20th century list, while Neil Gaiman’s American Gods tops the 21st. I am, as you might imagine, pleased to be in such company.

For those curious, here’s the top ten SF for the 21st century (to date), determined by the Locus Online poll respondents:

1. Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
2. Anathem, Neal Stephenson
3. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
4. Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
5. Blindsight, Peter Watts
6. Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan
7. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
8. Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
9. The City & The City, China Mieville
10. Accelerando, Charles Stross

From these results, 2005 was a fine year for the young new century in terms of science fiction, as three of the Hugo nominees that year (OMW, Spin and Accelerando) made the top ten .

If you want to really nerd out, here are the complete results of the voting (including, it appears, every novel nominated in each of the four categories).

Caveat for your consideration: Locus Online notes that the large majority of votes for the poll came in the last few days, which also coincides with when both I and Tor.com pointed people to the poll. It would not be out of line to assume a correlation between people who learned about the poll from my site, and people who might be inclined to vote for one of my works. And of course, I have the ability to move some amount of traffic online. That said, I would note that the next highest performing of my novels comes in at number 35 (The Last Colony), which to me does not suggest the voting population of the poll was irrationally in the tank for my work in a general sense. I’m pretty sure my fans are science fiction fans first, and fans of mine second. In any event, I would be delighted to be anywhere in a top ten list with this particular crowd of writers.

Another caveat: the 21st century is not yet twelve years old, so anyone would suggest the lists for this century are definitive should probably wait at least another nine decades, more or less. But as an observation of the current state of the science fiction art, it’s not a bad place to start.

Finally: If you did vote in the poll (and for me!) thank you. I appreciate it. It’s nice to see OMW doing well.

53 Comments on “Old Man’s War Tops Locus Online’s 21st Century SF Novel Poll”

  1. Congratulations, and an interesting list, as books got there by what I take to be different trajectories.

    Old Man’s War, arrived by quality, plus your on-line street cred.

    Anathem, arrived by quality, though not necessarily Neal Stephenson’s best.

    The Windup Girl, well, I’ve never been diappointed by Paolo Bacigalupi.

    Spin, Robert Charles Wilson: It turns out that an opaque black membrane, later dubbed a “spin membrane” has been placed around the entire earth. Eventually it is determined that the membrane has slowed down time so that approximately 3.7 years pass outside the membrane for every second within. Has that Greg Egan goofy premise followed logically tone.

    Blindsight, Peter Watts, most fascinating book in a decade about the evolution necessity (or not) of consciousness, a topic about which I publish is science nonfiction venues.

    Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan, hardboiled cyberpunk set 5 centuries from now, a tricky time to write about.

    The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, was something I avoided until my wifde told it actually was science fiction. Annoys our son who’d already been takng archery lesson, the archery ramnge now has 10 times as many people each week.

    Pattern Recognition, crystallizes the perception that William Gibson is making a critique about the present, more that prognosticating the future, and is excellent in language and mood.

    The City & The City, I read China Mieville in shorter bursts than other writers, to let the weird build, and give me time to return to something approaching normalcy before another burst.

    Accelerando, Charles Stross. I was at a part of the SENS Foundation Thursday, talking to Aubrey de Grey about the study he’s sponsored at (I think it was University of Denver) on social and financiao implications of life extension and immortality.Charles Stross is a master of the Singularity or post-Singularity novel, neck and neck with Vernor Vinge.

  2. so which would you rather have – top novel in the Locus list, or a win against Hines in the ridiculous cover poses contest?

    btw – congrats…for Old Man’s War

  3. I finished reading OMW a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it. A fun, fun, read. I looked you up on the Google and only then became familiar with your blog and have really enjoyed reading it. I have purchased and am reading more of your work. I sometimes find if I experience an author outside his, or her, fictional exsitence the experience can be unsettling, but in this instance I find this not be the case. Also, you mentioned Joe Hill a while back and I assume you were talking about the writer. My wife and I loved “20th Century Ghosts” and “Horns.” I’ve come late to this world of SF and Fantasy but now that I’m here I have the conviction and enthusiasm of any convert. Thanks for the work.

  4. Congratulations! You are in select company.
    My personal and humble opinion is that The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony are better than OMW. They are more “structured”.
    I’m happy to see that Mr. Banks is in the first one hundred with three works. I’m also positively surprised to find Greg Egan’s “Schild’s Ladder” in the top, a novel that I consider one of the best hard sci fi books.

  5. Well, this is a nice thing to wake up to on the first day of the new baktun

    Has it already been another 394.26 years?! It seems like just yesterday Guy Fawkes News was trumpeting the lead-up to the Thirty Years War. Whew, this baktun really flew by.

  6. Not a bad list, and congrats in the nod, but I have to say that OMW is not what I’d put at the top of the list. Heinleiniana leaves me cold, and some of Scalzi’s own work surpasses it (as one hopes it would). Redshirts is by far superior–am I the only one who liked Agent to the Stars better?

  7. I hope it’s not just me, but I don’t get what it is with Locus readers and Herbert’s Dune. When I was reading Locus regularly back in the late ’70s, they were hyping Dune as the greatest SF novel of all time; they’re *still* hyping Dune as the greatest SF novel at the time. When I read it as a kid, I thought it was awesome … but only because I didn’t realize how incredibly unimaginative it was. It’s practically a line-for-line adaptation of T.E. Lawrence, with a smidgen of Persian Wars thrown in. There is a lot of awfully creative SF out there; Frank Herbert didn’t write any of it. (Heck, I’d score Don Kingsbury’s deconstruction of the tropes of Dune, Courtship Rite, as head and shoulders above Dune.)

  8. @ Brad Hicks
    T.E. Lawrence had prescience? Yet he still couldn’t foresee the collapse of the Empire! badaboom

    Like a lot of speculative fiction, the historical inspiration for the background was incidental to the story which was first and foremost about the messianic complex and how we end up regretting “making” our gods. It’s also one of the few series where the protagonist becomes the villain in the sequel. Still, if you want to read more original Herbert, I recommend The Whipping Star as the Bureau of Sabotage is sheer brilliance. I’d recommended the Destination: Void and The Jesus Incident, but he ripped off the Christian Bible for that series.

  9. Wait – did the Mayan Apocalypse happen yesterday? I didn’t know, because I had my own apocalypse – second rewrites.

    Congratulations on topping the poll, Scalzi! I hope that eases a bit the pain of having been out-posed by Jim C. Hines…. :D

  10. Congrats, Mr. Scalzi! I’ve read 8 of 10 on that list (my Gibson stops at Neuromancer, and I cringingly confess to having read only Singularity Sky by Stross; must rectify that.) I can’t argue with those selections much (though Embassytown is far far better Mieville sci-fi than TC&tC, which I note also made #8 fantasy novel.) And Chris Moriarty doesn’t even show up on the list despite writing some of the best sci-fi ever.

  11. I love these kinds of polls because they introduce me to new works. I was excited to find out Paolo Bacigalupi had written more, because I loved the Pump Six collection, but Windup Girl looks to be depressing enough that I probably won’t read it. I’ve never much enjoyed the current sci-fi trend towards exploring “post-humanism” and consciousness, so that leaves out Blindsight and Accelerondo, I’m not a China Mieville fan, and I’ve read OMW, Anathem (not Stephenson’s best), and Hunger Games. However, Spin and Altered Carbon both look interesting. More to read over the holidays while I’m avoiding my in-laws!

  12. Congrats, natch. You write good stuff. I still need to scrape up the cash for Redshirts and Fuzzy Nation… Seeing American Gods – maybe my current favorite book of all time – at the top of the Fantasy list is a double delight.

    Usually I’m way, way behind on reading what’s good in the genre, but I’m not doing too badly these days: I can tick off five out of the ten. Now to go about building my list of books to nab to round things out, and take a peek at the rest of the list for books I’ve probably heard nothing about.

  13. @Brad Hicks I have to say, it’s not just Dune being in first place, although, really? Dune? The best sci-fi book of the entire freaking 20th century? But really, the whole list is pretty broken, and probably demonstrates a lot of younger voters who haven’t actually READ all that much 20th century sci-fi.

  14. Awesome! Congratulations. Actually I voted for ‘Zoe’s Tale’ myself, but hey, they’re all good .

    Now WHEN is the movie coming out? Show the producers this poll, maybe they’ll up-prioritize it.

  15. I would have expected to see Redshirts and Agent to the Stars near the top also. Oh well, what do I know?

  16. Congratulations.

    I think Old Man’s War deserves its place, if not for itself then for starting such an excellent series. It’s a great list as far as I can tell – I haven’t read the Watts or the Bacigalupi. Unlike some commentators I do think Anathem is Stephenson’s best.

  17. Man. Dune didn’t just win the 20th Century title, it dominated with 3.5x the first place votes of the next contender. And had the most votes for 1st through 5th place. But, you don’t see Herbert’s name again until 111 for Dune Messiah and not again until 197 for Children of Dune. Which is a shame, because I tended to enjoy Destination: Void and Jesus Incident more than I enjoyed any of the latter Dune series. But he pops up again at 328 with the Dosadi Experiment.

    Conversely, Heinlein doesn’t make the top 10, but he’s got 6 in the top 100. And 15 in top 350.

    The top 10 for the 20th century represent five decades which seems like a nice spread. And nothing from 90s in the top 10 either. 1949 to 1989. I like seeing Neuromancer from 1984 right after 1984 from 1949.

    Seriously. This is the next 7 hours of my life. DATA.

  18. The Hunger Games shouldn’t be on that list, and The Windup Girl is too high. If The City and The City is there then why isn’t Perdido Street Station (okay, so that one’s probably on some fantasy list, but frankly I consider TC&TC fantasy as well, so I don’t get its inclusion here)? Had I had a vote on this, I would have probably have put in 1) Anathem and 2) Spin.

    Sorry Scalzi.

  19. Y.T.:

    As regards Perdido Street Station, you should probably look at the 20th Century list, where it has placement; it was published in 2000, which is part of the 20th Century (even if popularly thought to be part of the 21st). Also, if you look at the 21st Century fantasy list, you’ll see TC&TC at number 8. The fact that it’s on both the SF and F lists speaks to the difficulty of assigning it to a single genre.

    As this list is a list comprised of the results of a popular vote, there’s no reason that The Hunger Games should not be on the list. It’s definitely science fiction. And The Windup Girl did win both the Hugo and the Nebula in its year and is generally critically regarded as one of the most significant SF novels of the young century; you would place it lower, but I don’t think it’s inarguable that it deserves the position it currently has.

    And of course you don’t need to apologize to me for placing either Anathem or Spin above mine. They are both excellent books.

  20. Cool – I’ve read five out of the ten, and have another couple on the ‘one of these days’ piles. I have to admit that i really don’t get Richard Morgan, though. And I agree with David Evans about OMW – it’s the one lots of people started with, and it made me (for one) want to read more of yours. If I was introducing someone else to your work it’s still the book I would give them.

  21. Congratulations John, I’m sure it was a nice early Xmas present. What impresses me even more is that Redshirts placed 56 and it was technically ineligible (after 2010). They even mention it as an example of a book that received votes although ineligible. Imagine where it might have placed if it was eligible for the 21st century category! All in all a great showing. Which makes me all the more anxious to read the titles I haven’t. All in all great books to christen my new Kndl with (it better be under the tree!).

  22. For reasons that are perhaps just weirdly my own I’d put 1 and 3 as a tie for first.
    —Sometimes, I like to think. Sometimes, I like to nap and while sadly just dreaming
    of sleep trip over something that forces me to think (I hate that).—
    For bacigalupi windup versus scalzi old while I was reading b. w. I read an article
    about a Canadian farmer whose [corn?] field was vandalized by windblown pollen.
    Was more to the story, most of which was he was stupid in how he did things if he
    was innocent, and the GM seed people wrung him dry.

    meiville city. Any writer who’s surname looks that much like “Melville” should use
    a pen name.

  23. Ooh, I didn’t notice collins hunger.
    I’d put that one in first place.

    Note to self: Gibson.

  24. All I can argue with is how low TC&TC was placed. I appreciate it’s on both SF&F lists, and top ten in both, which is crazy high–but for me it’s one of the greatest novels ever written, regardless of both genre and century. I’m a bit of a China fanboy, though, so… pinch of salt, you know.

  25. Scalzi: While I respect what Baciagalupi (I hope I spelled his name right) did w/r/t commentary on the U.S. agricultural industry as well as, more generally, the future of the human race, a lot of its drama was in its shock value, e.g. the rape scenes. I’m not saying it should drop off of the list. I think it ought to fall a couple of spots is all.

    I totally disagree with the placement of The Hunger Games however. The first person present style gave it a great immediacy but it’s not a work that holds up well to repeated readings. Again, a lot of its force is in its brutality, it’s portrayal of kids in gladiator games. Take that away and what’s left is middling world-building and an awkward romance. Not helped by the prose, fairly minimalist to accommodate the heavy action and fast pace. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s one of the ten or even twenty best SF novels of the past 11 years.

    Thanks for the note on Perdido Street Station.

    One I forgot to mention earlier that deserves to be up here: Feed. I was stunned when Blackout/All Clear took home all the awards over it.

  26. My surprised reaction to the results is that while I like Anathem okay as a premise for a science fiction novel, I found the actual execution a little stiff and actually enjoyed Reamde a LOT more.

  27. John,

    Congratulations on being number one. Let us hope there is significant competition for that position in this century, and if required, that your future works may supplant OMW to keep you in number one position.

    I would agree we are about 9 decades premature, so how about we chat about it in 2101, with our bionic hearing…


    MichaelH in Vcr

  28. Flanders @ December 22, 2012 at 1:09 pm
    I’m with you on OMW, I would not make it the best Scalzi book let alone the best of the new century. Its a good book, an enjoyable read and I wouldn’t want to suggest it isn’t. But I’m glad John gets some additional attention so more people read his stuff – hes got a little something for everyone, from Heinleiniacs to Trekies

  29. Glad to see OMW (not on my way, but Old Man’s War) made it to the top. That was the first of your books I read and it was a great read and ride–as were the others of that universe.

    What shocked me was not one mention of American Gods. That was just nuts to exclude that. How could it be at #11?! Then I realized the list you posted was science fiction alone. AG was #1 for fantasy, in fact on that same poll. Excellent for the both of you. Have you and Gaiman ever considered doing a joint novel ala <Good Omens? That has got to be one of my favorite books.

  30. Amusingly, OMW also placed #184 on the 20th Century SF list. So good it defies the logic of time and space!

  31. @ Y.T.

    I totally disagree with the placement of The Hunger Games however. The first person present style gave it a great immediacy but it’s not a work that holds up well to repeated readings. Again, a lot of its force is in its brutality, it’s portrayal of kids in gladiator games. Take that away and what’s left is middling world-building and an awkward romance.

    With respect, I think you completely missed the point of The Hunger Games and why it’s seen as a fresh start for Young Adult speculative fiction. The world-building, central plot device and even romance are entirely incidental to what is a bildungsroman character study of how a practically and emotionally resourceful young woman can survive a catastrophic shift in circumstances and still make the best of a horrible situation.

    All those criticisms your mentioned could be just as well leveled against Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky*. That would, however, miss both the authorial intent and the predominant reason why generations of readers have appreciated it as one of the better Heinlein juveniles.

    That said, I can see why you might not consider the character development to be a prevailing factor in getting on the list. The internal life of characters hasn’t historically been the forte of speculative fiction (though I disagree with critics who regard it as wholly lacking, and consider it more a case of Sturgeon’s Law: ninety percent of everything is crap). Speculative fiction does pick up the slack in ideas, hence its deserved reputation as idea fiction, but characterization isn’t widely regarded – even amongst many fans, I think – as its core concern. Ideally, I’d love to see more SF that hits all three out of the park – setting, plot and characterization (and disagree with the received wisdom that you must pick two) – but a story that ignores characterization is no worse than one that’s weak on setting. I will concede that a Swiss-cheese plot can bring any story crashing down, but The Hunger Games, while not featuring the most original plot, at least hangs together.

    Just my 2¢.

    * One of the first YA novels where the publisher was accused (correctly) of whitewashing the black protagonist on the original cover art by showing him in silhouette…the more things change…

    @ Frankly

    Heinleiniacs is my new favorite adjective for the month.

  32. I’m very happy to see Blindsight, Accelerando, Spin, the Windup Girl and Anathem on the list, the first four of which I voted for. Also pleased to see Perdido Street Station so high on the Fantasy list, though I’m dissapointed by the lack of diversity and originality in that one. I don’t think the dominance of both Fantasy lists either accurately or positively reflect fantasy literature.

  33. I still haven’t read Stephenson’s Anathem. I bought the paperback, but can’t remember what happened to it. Hmm. I wrote a short comment about Scalzi’s Old Man’s War on Amazon. I love this blog, read it every morning. I read most of the others, Gibson’s Pattern Recognition in particular. I read most of Gibson’s writings, including those from Omni magazine. Ah, the library days. I liked Accelerando, preferred Saturn’s Children, though. I owned a copy of Spin last year, but I never got a chance to read it from cover to cover. I move around a lot, always leaving books behind . . .

  34. I think it’s a perfectly cromulent list. It wouldn’t be my list as I personally dislike several of those books, but I understand why other people would like them.

    The one disappointment I have is that The Risen Empire is not in the top 10 (or even in the top 180). It’s a wonderful and thrilling book and has the best space battle in all of science fiction. It’d also have moved up books like Android’s Dream, World War Z (though given the way the zombies work it’s arguably more fantasy), Readme and The Quiet War when making my personal list, but it’s really The Risen Empire (e.g. the version that includes The Killing of Worlds) that I think should be there in a more objective sense.

  35. @ Cynical Jason
    I fails at grammar :-/

    @ Jacob & John Scalzi
    Oooh…The Risen Empire looks kick-ass! The description reminds me of the set-up for The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card – OSC’s best work, IMO. Ender’s Game was okay (Speaker for the Dead was better), but I never understood what all the fuss was about. Anyway, thanks for the heads up. It just so happens I have some Amazon gift cards to use…

  36. Well, it’s a tad off topic but I would like to express my commendation of Old Man’s War in slightly unusual terms; if you are slowly climbing up the bedroom wall in the grip of intractable insomnia then this is the book to read. It doesn’t help you sleep, but you really, really enjoy the fact that you are not sleeping, and there can be no better therapy than that. I appreciate that it would be a tad tricky working out the marketing strategy, but what the hell; tonight, John, in a time zone very different to yours, you have really helped me out and I thank you! Also, I need to get back to the book :)

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