The 10 SF/F Works That Meant the Most to Me

For no particular reason other than I want to, and because tomorrow marks the 12th anniversary of my very first pro publication in science fiction, here’s a list of the ten science fiction and fantasy works that meant the most to me before I was professionally published as a science fiction writer — with additional Honorable Mentions following.

What does “meant the most to me” mean? Pretty much what it says — that these works are the works I returned to again and again as pieces of writing, as stories, and as experiences. I’m not interested in arguing whether these books and works are the “best”; I couldn’t possibly care about that. I am interested in explaining why they mean as much as they do to me.

The list is arranged alphabetically rather than by rank, because, honestly, I really wouldn’t know how to rank them.

1. Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin: From what I can tell, this is not one of Le Guin’s best-regarded books, in part, I would assume, due to its unconventional structure; only about a third of it is tied into a narrative, while the rest of it is basically worldbuilding background and fragments. But it’s these very fragments that made it so hugely important to me as a teenager. I’d always been the sort of kid who could stare at maps for hours, or read books of trivia about ancient civilizations — and fantasy ones too, since in junior high I read the Dungeons & Dragons bestiaries not to run a campaign but simply to enjoy the fiddly details of the D&D world.

Always Coming Home was like that… except that it was written by Le Guin, which meant that there was a true structure behind all the fragments of worldbuilding, and art to the manner in which it was all written. I didn’t read the book in one go, all the way through — I would read a little bit, flip forward to another section, go back further to another part, and so on. There was more there than I could absorb in one sitting, which to me was part of the point of the book. I was always coming back to it, and in doing so, letting the world of the book grow on me organically, until it became as real as I believe Le Guin would hope it would become for her readers.

2. The Dark is Rising Sequence, by Susan Cooper: By today’s standards the installments of Cooper’s series are laughably slim — all five of its books could fit comfortably within one of the later books of the Harry Potter series, with room left over. But volume isn’t power, and in particular the second book, from which the entire series takes its name, is a masterclass in how to vividly draw characters, setting, and stakes in remarkably few, well-considered words and story choices. I read The Dark is Rising just as I was about to have my eleventh birthday, the same birthday on which series hero Will Stanton learns of his new, mystical powers as well as his calling to save the world. I was as disappointed not to become an Old One as children a generation later would be to discover that an owl was not coming to invite them to Hogwarts.

One other thing that I appreciated about Cooper’s work, even as a child, was that she was canny in understanding how even good people can be thoughtless or even heartless. There’s a genuinely tragic betrayal in the course of The Dark is Rising that’s brought about because one of the ostensibly good characters risks the life of another character in a way that seems almost trivial. Cooper’s writing makes even a child feel the slighted character’s confusion and pain, so when temptation comes to him, you understood why he turned away from the light… and why it wasn’t mere weakness of character (or plot convenience) that he did.

3. Dune, by Frank Herbert: Dune is so well-known in science fiction circles that I feel I can probably be brief about it here and simply note that it’s a highwater mark of massive-scale science fiction worldbuilding for a reason.

Mind you, Dune also absorbs its fair share of potshots as well — the characters are humorlessly heroic, and its plotting and pacing can accurately be described as both epic and turgid. For me, that works here. Dune is very clearly mythology, and mythology has (for me, anyway) its own sort of ridiculous stateliness about it. Indeed, when the Dune series downshifts into more intimate stories (as it does in Children of Dune and Dune Messiah; the additional books in the series are unread by me), it rapidly loses its appeal. For Dune, it really is go big or go home.

4. Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons: This book is the sequel to Hyperion, which won the 1989 Hugo Award for Best Novel in part because Simmons, that rat bastard, showed off how easily he could write in several different styles and off several different discrete stories, and still tie them all together into a single narrative whole. It’s a well-deserved Hugo win.

But for all that Hyperion exists for me largely to set the scene for Fall of Hyperion. Hyperion, for all its immense technical skill, is all origin stories, all the time. In Fall, we don’t have to waste time setting up characters, we just chuck them headlong into the story — and Simmons has got one hell of a story here. It’s propulsive, it’s dramatic, and it’s the end of the world, in more than one sense. And it’s every damn thing happening at once, with Simmons following several different plot lines, keeping them all sorted and switching between them with the sort of fluidity that you usually only get by hiring Thelma Schoonmaker.

Hyperion is the flashier of the two works, but Fall of Hyperion is to me just as technically impressive in its story telling — and even better in paying off the trials of its characters. Hyperion impresses me. Fall of Hyperion speaks to me.

5. Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper: In my mind, Grass is in many substantial ways the worldbuilding equal and counterpoint to Dune — each essay a unique global ecosystem with very specific creatures and cultures that exist only in them, and introduce an outsider (Paul Atriedes in Dune, Marjorie Westriding-Yrarier in Grass) who massively disrupts the equilibrium. And both touch more than a little on religion as a political system.

What Tepper manages that Herbert could never could in the Dune series is to make her characters recognizably examples of humanity — flawed and frustrated people, not always likable, and often in over their heads. This gives Grass the best of both worlds: epic scale and down-to-earth, relatable characters. It also makes Grass in many ways one of the most complete science fiction books I know of, functioning on every scale it works in.

(I’ll also note that in many ways, Raising the Stones, Grass’ very loose sequel, is even better — and more subversive. Honestly, I don’t know why Tepper is not better known and better honored in science fiction than she is.)

6. Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville: As I’ve explained elsewhere, Perdido Street Station gets my vote for the best science fiction/fantasy novel of the 21st Century to date, and, to quote myself, “to be clear, I don’t think the vote is even close”:

Bas-Lag in itself is a monumental achievement in world-building, a place Miéville so cannily describes that I can picture it in my head better than I can imagine some places here on my own planet. I love re-reading Perdido simply to go walking the streets of New Crobuzon once more. The novel’s story is less of a direct narrative than it is following around people too wrapped up into their own concerns to realize just how much they’re pushing their world toward oblivion, but this is a feature, not a bug, in my opinion. And then there’s the fact that as a formal exercise in genre, it’s a bomb lobbed into the intersection of science fiction and fantasy — Perdido is neither, it just is and is enough so that the term “New Weird” was either created or retconned into service to accommodate it.

The way I would explain Perdido, in reference to Old Man’s War, is as follows: Old Man’s War is a thick, juicy steak that when you put it in your mouth you go, “Damn, I forget how much I love steak.” Perdido Street Station, on the other hand, is molecular gastronomy: a whole new way of looking at cooking, which when the results are put in front of you, you go, “Wait. Is that food?” Both are good, and depending on your taste, one may suit you more than the other. But at the end of the day, one is a truly excellent steak, and one is an invention. And that matters.

Yup, that still works for me.

7. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson: There are many reasons to love Snow Crash, among them the fact that Stephenson seems to be pegging the 21st century decline of Western civilization in it rather depressingly accurately. But the reason I love it is that it still has the best first chapter in all of science fiction, one that not only reads like effortlessly cool beat poetry, is funnier than 99.9% of science fiction ever was and has the sort of propulsive rythm to it that dares you to blink, but it also, compactly and elegantly, sets you in the world of novel and makes it make sense without making you aware that it’s doing so.

In short, Snow Crash’s first chapter is a perfect miniature of worldbuilding, so successful that you never doubt anything else that Stephenson tells you about the world he’s built — you just go along for the ride. I would teach that first chapter, people. I would teach a whole class on it.

8. Speaker For the Dead, by Orson Scott Card: Another second book I consider better than its more famous predecessor, in this case Ender’s Game. Why do I like Speaker better than Ender? Well, for one thing, in this book, Ender has agency — he’s not a child manipulated by adults desperate for a solution to their problem and willing to destroy an innocent (actually, many innocents) in order to achieve their goals. Rather, he’s an adult who has chosen to put himself on a path of atonement, despite the loneliness and isolation that path requires of him.

Which is to say that Ender is more relatable and sympathetic here than he is in Ender’s Game, and also more realistic, in the sense that rather than being a preternaturally precocious child, he’s a grown man who has had time to experience life, deal with actual humans and temper his own self. He’s a major science fiction figure with a recognizable second act — that thing that F. Scott Fitzgerald (in an entirely different context, to be sure) denied it was possible to have. For me, it’s the far more interesting act.

9. Time Enough For Love, by Robert Heinlein: Like Always Coming Home, this is a sort of off-brand choice for this particular writer; it’s not the best known or best loved of Heinlein’s books, and indeed it’s problematic in a number of ways, not the least is that it’s recognizably the start of Heinlein’s later phase, in which his urge to tie together all his works in a sexy, polyamorous bow degrades the actual storytelling that’s going on. Not to mention Lazarus Long having sex with his mom, which despite all attempts to normalize it is still pretty damn squicky.

But, eh, I don’t care. I love the character of Lazarus Long, a man who has lived for so long that he’s forgotten how to die, not that anyone around him is interested in helping him remember. He’s cantankerous, sentimental, blustery, full of great dialogue and, for better or worse, the apotheosis of the Heinlein/Campbell “competent man” — someone so many science fiction readers and writers want to be, despite the fact that Heinlein built his universes around Lazarus, an advantage normal humans don’t have, with regard to the universe in which they exist.

I’m pretty sure growing up that I didn’t fall into the trap of wanting to be Lazarus Long, or Jubal Harshaw, or any of the other stock Heinlein wise men one could name, but I did learn to appreciate what they do in science fiction, and when they’re valuable — and what their pitfalls are. To that end, I think Lazarus Long might recognize John Perry as a distant relation: Competent and sentimental, to be sure. Maybe a little less crankily judgmental.

10. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin: One of the most gorgeously written books in the English language in the last quarter century of the 20th Century. You can argue with me about that if you like. I will just smile and nod politely and ignore you. This is one of the few books of fantasy or science fiction where I literally do not care whether the book pays attention to its plot, because the writing is so lovely that it is its own reward.

This is also a book that I can love unreservedly without any authorial jealousy, because it is so far removed from my own skills and interests as a writer that there’s almost no intersection between its strengths as a book and my own talents as a storyteller. It’s nice to read a book without having an urge to pick it apart to reverse engineer it.

This is also, incidentally, one of those books that some people will tell you is not actually a fantasy book, because Helprin is otherwise known as a literary writer, and the book itself is highly regarded by people who care about serious literature and blah blah blah. My response to this: Whatever. It’s fantasy and anyone who would deny it, either in genre or out of it, is foolish.

Honorable Mentions:

Ariel by Steve Boyett and Emergence by David R. Palmer, both of which have the light hand with dialogue and exposition that I love to read and very definitely cribbed from when I became a writer. The Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle because of its lovely characters, including Charles Wallace, still the best-drawn example of the “young genius” archetype. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and The Watchmen by Alan Moore, which broke me of my (totally unconscious) snobbery regarding visual storytelling. Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, which hit me sideways with its gentle humor and inspired me to learn more about a culture unknown to me. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, which offered empathy and anger, and showed that single stories could add up to a larger whole. And The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, because it showed humor could happen in science fiction. Which ultimately turned out to be a good thing for me, I would say.

229 Comments on “The 10 SF/F Works That Meant the Most to Me”

  1. Interesting choices. Nice to se LeGuin, who had a huge impact on me too (though it was the better know Left Hand of Darkness for me). Calling Simmons a ‘rat bastard’ totally fits my feeling too, the guy is just so ridiculously flexible as a writer. I would be interested to know what you think of Illium/Olympos by him too. Doing the Iliad and the Tempest as a scifi story without seeming so pretentious you disappear up your own rear end is a pretty huge achievement.

    TEFL is interesting, i liked it too but felt a bit sour as a result of the later Long books, which go off into old-man-wish-fulfillment a little too much. Still it also had a big impact on me as a youth.

    The only one I can;t get behind is Perdido Street Station. I know how well regarded Mieville is but the one time i tried to read one of his novels (I think it was Perdido Street) I unusually couldn’t get more than a few pages in without finding it kinda not fun.

  2. Thanks for the list John – mine would, obviously, differ but I have to agree completely with two of your choices. Fall of Hyperion & Perdido Street Station stand out to me as those rare books I wanted to read again immediately because they were, each in their own way, staggering

  3. The definitive space opera, Vernor Vinge (better known for True Names and Other Dangers) – A Fire upon the Deep has to go in somewhere.

    I’d add Pohl and Kornbluth, The Space Merchants, as dystopia written with unrelenting energy.


  4. CW Rose:

    “A Fire upon the Deep has to go in somewhere.”

    Not on this list, since it didn’t mean much to me prior to me being published. Remember, this isn’t a traditional “best of” list, it’s one specifically tuned to me, up to a specific point in time in my personal history.

    So not only will one’s mileage vary with this list, I would in fact be deeply surprised if anyone finds this exact list of works equally significant to them as they are to me. It also makes the list immune to adds and drops — unless one is specifically speaking of one’s own list of works important to that one person.

    Also, unrelated to CW Rose’s comment but something I want to get in here before it becomes an issue: I recognize that a couple of the authors on the list are considered problematic at the present moment for various reasons. However, this is neither here nor there to the fact these works were significant to me on my way to being a published science fiction author. I wouldn’t have been comfortable not acknowledging the work just because the author is in a bad odor (and in at least one case, apparently determined to be stinky).

    With that said, let’s try to keep the comments focused on the works, not current opinions of the author him or herself.

  5. Thanks, John! I like this list because it has some great books that I know I love from multiple readings, plus some works that I’m not familiar with. So, it guides me to new reading, and that is always a good thing.

  6. I think this is an excellent list simply because it has such a clear and (in theory!) inarguable criterion. ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ meant a lot to me, more than ACH (good though that is) but this is partly generational as I am 55. I deeply agree on number 2 – I read ‘Over Sea Under Stone’ when that was still a standalone! I was initially thrown by ‘Dark is Rising’ starting with Will Stanton. For me, I’Engle comes higher on the list: I read ‘Wrinkle’ when I was, I think, seven, and it made a huge impression on me. ‘Dune’ I agree with. ‘Citizen of the Galaxy’ was the most impactful Heinlein book for me, tho I do enjoy TEFL. I could carry on working my way through my list, but this is not my blog!

    Can’t agree on Mieville, though – I find him really difficult to read. But will give him another go.

    Your other books I’ve not read tho I have read others by the same author. I’ve not read Mark Helprin at all.

    But for me, the book that absolutely swept the board and made sure I’d read F and SF the rest of my life was ‘Lord of the Rings’. Read in two days flat when I was 11, it still echoes now, despite multiple re-reads.

    And second for me is Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series for its sheer scale.

  7. Thanks, I’ll need to pick some of these up.

    I recall that you discovered Iain M. Banks late, per an earlier post, perhaps after you became a pro SFF author. If you had encountered him earlier, do you suppose he might have made the list?

    I also came to his work late, but as a reader, for universe building, I can’t think of another work more compelling.

    A failing I often observe in SFF is that scarcity-era problems and norms show up in essentially post-scarcity worlds, often without explanation. I enjoy Star Trek and Harry Potter but I avoid thinking too closely about the implied economics. I get why; difficult to propel a plot or describe experiences meaningful to contemporary humans otherwise. Yet Banks tackled that problem head on. So sad he’s gone now.

  8. Adam:

    Can’t say whether Banks would have made the list if I had encountered him earlier, though obviously I am a huge admirer of his works. But I didn’t start reading him until I picked up The Algebraist in 2005, by which time I was already published.

    Chad L:

    Didn’t read any of those particular books growing up, so no, no love for them (but no hate for them either)

    Please note that if a book you love isn’t on the list it doesn’t mean I dislike it — there are a lot of books I love that aren’t on this list.

  9. The Dark is Rising! Yes! I too was disappointed not to become an Old One. You can hardly read the titles on the spines of my copies, I read those books so many times. That, and A Wizard of Earthseawere the only fantasy books in my elementary school library. Can’t remember which I read first, but between the two of them, they cemented me as a spec fic reader.

    I was just pondering the question of what to read next. I need to go pull put my copy of The Dark is Rising and revisit. I had all six verses of that prophecy memorized for years. It’s so deeply imbedded in my memory I could probably muddle my way through most of it even now, and bits of it still occasionally float to the top, like song lyrics.

  10. I love lists like this and thanks for sharing (a word I find overused but there you go). I’ve read #s 2-8 and might get to other three. But I’m so glad you mentioned “Grass.” If even one person reading your posts discovers that book you will have done them a service. I’ve been reading SF and Fantasy for more than 60 years and I think it’s one of the great ones.

  11. oh, Snowcrash – i read it for the wish fulfillment! [i delivered pizza for13 years! that first chapter MADE MY LIFE!]

    i’ve read the books from AFTER *Fall of Hyperion* — but never the first two. huh, i should fix that…

    as for that one author determined to be, er, “stinky” — you know, he used to be just as loud and preachy, except in the EXACT opposite way? there are times when i wonder if he was actually, literally possessed. by a demon. that really wants to make all those view points hated.

  12. Great list John. About half of these had the same sort of influence on me as they seem to have on you. I’m particularly happy to see some love for “The Dark is Rising,” as it’s criminally under appreciated these days. (No Prydain Chronicles, too?!?!) Also, like some of the other commenters, I loved them so much that it makes me want to run out and get the other entries on your list NOW NOW NOW.

    All that said, could you fix the second paragraph of the “Grass” entry to say ‘her’ rather than ‘his?’ The incorrect pronoun use by one of my favorite authors is causing me some serious cognitive dissonance. ;-)

  13. There are few experiences as disorienting as jumping in to cold-read a chapter of Perdido Street Station or Fall of Hyperion without having read any of the previous chapters (or the prequel, in the case of Fall).

    I’ve done both, in my capacity as a volunteer for Learning Ally. (We did Old Man’s War too, but I didn’t get to read any of it because it was male-voices-only.)

    I heartily agree with you on Always Coming Home (and it has MUSIC! I still have the cassette tape) and The Dark is Rising. And not enough people have read Bridge of Birds.

  14. For the works on your list that I’ve read, I found myself nodding so much that I’ll probably put the ones that I haven’t read on my to-be-read-someday list.

    More specifically, a big yeah to what you said about the first chapter of “Snow Crash”. It was so awesome that it raised my expectations so high for the rest of the book that Stephenson didn’t *quite* meet them. That’s probably just as well because otherwise my brain might’ve exploded.

  15. Damnit, Scalzi – I don’t have my copy of the Dark is Rising to hand, and you’ve just advanced my reread date for this one by about six months. You put your finger on the really different thing about these books when you mention the motivation the author gives for characters aligning themselves with the Dark. That scene with Hawkin is excellent for its depiction of the grey nuances so often lacking in SF/F fiction.

    I’m surprised by how many of these books I *haven’t* read, or at least not for many years.

    I’m also surprised – though in a list of 10+8 books I can’t really expect all of my favourites to be in there – that neither the Chronicles of Morgaine or the two Rider at the Gate books by CJ Cherryh have made it. I’m not keen on much of her SF, but these two fantasy series are truly excellent in terms of sense of place (multiple world building, even, in the first) and again that depiction of how circumstances can force people to make choices that are less than heroic.

  16. Emergence looked interesting to me, but it seems to be out of print and copies on amazon are 40 dollars! What a shame :(

  17. So glad I’m not the only person who thinks well of “Emergence” and “Bridge of Birds.” Lovely books, both.

  18. I’m reminded of when a band I like is asked about their musical influences and the answers are more bemusing than enlightening. I don’t even like any of those songs/bands, and it’s a wonder that this thing I like was influenced by this other thing I don’t much care for.

    It’s pretty interesting how creativity and taste can work that way.

  19. Fall of Hyperion. Man, that book started it all for me. Found it in the bin at a discount book store, not even knowing it was a sequel – and didn’t find out for years. The scope of that book was eye-opening.

    Just reread Snowcrash for the umpteenth time, and have enjoyed many others on this list. I’ve tried to like Mieville, I really have, but after slogging through three of his books, I’ve decided he is definitely not for me.

    Great list. Thank you for it.

  20. Richard Brown:

    Never read it.

    Also, tsking me for not having a particular book on the list comes across not as amusingly as I know you were attempting to have it be.

  21. I agree with your frustration at the lack of recognition for Sheri S. Tepper. To me, she is far superior to the much lauded Margaret Atwood.

    The Dark is Rising. Me too but alongside other British classics such as the Children Of Green Knowe, Swallows and Amazons, Almost everything by Enid Blyton and lots of boarding school series. My Mum worked in a library for several years, that helped my reading a lot. When she stopped working there and I changed schools so that the library was no longer on my way home, my reading suffered.

  22. I share a few of these choices, and am interested now in a few of the others, and for this, I thank you for the list especially; but I admit, I didn’t squeak before your honorable mentions, since it has Bridge Of Birds. That book meant so much to me when I was a teenager and I’ve never seen anyone mention it anywhere. It’s awesome to see someone else has actually read it, too!

  23. No ARMOR by John Steakley? :-) I heard about the book first from you here, maybe that one goes on a different list of yours.

    I love lists like these; a lot more personal and real then seeing the same few books on what people consider best-of. I think I’m one of those who critique books on how they make me feel and react versus any real objective standard of writing skill. Some books just inhabit a particular time and place in my psyche that hardly anything can ever ruin them (Orson Scott Card, notwithstanding…).

    On the topic of SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, that was a weird one for me because I read it a couple times before I ever found ENDER’S GAME. It definitely explained a couple things when I did!

  24. I read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion together, in a two-in-one book where they were only separated by a title page. I remember putting down the book after having read the last page and wondering what it must have been like for people who read only the first book, maybe before the second one had even been published. I was (and still am) convinced that it was only separated into two books for binding purposes. In my eyes, one book does not work without the other; together, I found them magnificent.

    The other memory I connect with this book was the time I was reading it while riding on a train. A group of teenage girls came in, all wrapped up in their teenage talk – who was doing what with whom -, and one of them shot me a glance. Upon seeing the book (which was huge – as I said, two not very short novels in one volume) she exclaimed “Why is that book so big?”; they all stared, then shrugged and talked on, as I wasn’t reacting. We rode togther for about two hours; every once in a while, that poor girl would still sneak a glance at me and my tome of terror, as if she was afraid I’d reveal myself to be an axe murderer who used that unnaturally large book to hide my weapon.

  25. All good-to-great books and most of them are in the “re-read so often I need another new copy” category. I’ve got a special place in my heart for The Dark is Rising as I was introduced to the series during 6th grade math class (I had a great teacher) but lost track of the books until grad school when I was delighted to discover that they were still as engrossing as ever.

    As for TEFL, I was thinking about that book just last night. Considered in the light of Heinlein’s letter to Sturgeon, I suspect that the whole “having sex with anything that moves, related or not” bit is just his crude way of getting at the central problem of solipsism. The idea certainly runs through the rest of his work, once you know to look for it. That doesn’t detract anything from Lazarus Long as a character nor Heinlein as a writer; it just helps me to understand why he wrote as he did.

  26. Yay for Emergence! I was literally spending time yesterday analyzing the sex and romance threads in Emergence (spoiler: they aren’t handled particularly well), which shows some staying power for a book I first read about 25 years ago (and many times since). It is a serious blow to me that Threshold sucks so badly.

  27. I was at the Worldcon where Card got the Hugo for Speaker for the Dead. From his comments as he received it it seemed clear that he himself saw it as more significant than ender’s Game.

  28. Your personal bookshelf looks a lot like mine, but with my addition of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe.

  29. I’ll read Speaker now, especially if I can find a used copy. I don’t really want to give the author any of my money.

    Snowcrash – Stephenson’s awesome, but Snowcrash is kind of Stephenson lite. And, it’s really dated now. I would have picked Crytonomicon for his early work or Anathem for his more recent work.

  30. As if my reading list wasn’t long enough, Scalzi has to pile a few more on. Actually I’ve already read or have on my list all of those, but this pushes them up into “within the next year or so” category. At my reading speed, my reading list as it stands now is about 8 to 10 years long. In those 8 years I expect to add another 15 years worth of books.

  31. I want to add some love to The Dark Is Rising sequence – it, along with Alan Garner’s Weirdstone and The Owl Service, is one of the main reasons why I’m writing fantasy today. Reading your list, it hit me how much of an influence on me Dune was, too, and yet I never think to mention it when the old “name your influences” question rolls around.

  32. Can’t argue with any of your choices for the ones I’ve read. I didn’t finish Always Coming Home, but now I probably will. Haven’t read Grass, but I agree that Tepper is a much underrated writer. Unfamiliar with Cooper, haven’t read Simmons (though I’ve started on Drood).

    I’m quite a lot older than you, and so the books that really hit me are too: Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Anderson’s Brain Wave, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

  33. (That’s the original version of The Sword in the Stone, not the completely rewritten one that contitutes the first part of The Once and Future King.)

  34. I was in 8th grade and discovered “Omnilingual” in a collection in the local library. Still love Piper’s work. I loved the shorter novels of that era. The ones you could read in a couple hours on a rainy afternoon. Too many people these days seem to think they have to write doorstop novels.

    TIme Enough For Love. Yeah, problematic. Loved it when I was 14. Come to appreciate Starship Troopers more, however.

    Reading Dune Messiah and Children of Dune together you see Herbert destroying Paul, and creating a true monster. The later sequels were, well, interesting to read once. Perhaps if he’d been able to finish up the series…

  35. I suspect that a big part of the reason why Sheri S Tepper isn’t a bigger name than she is because of the feminist themes in her books. Not that feminist writers can’t become big names (cf Le Guin and Atwood,) but it’s definitely an uphill slog, and i suspect that the more obvious the theme the more uphill it is.

    Although it’s interesting to note, based off of five minutes of research on wikipedia, that Atwood apparently claims that she’s not a feminist writer in the same way that she claims she’s not a SF/F writer. I wonder if that’s out of the same concern about being “ghettoized”?

  36. Wow, lots of love for The Dark is Rising. Me too.
    One note, and for Owen, take heart: As good as Snowcrash’s opening is, Perdido Street Station opens bad… then blossoms amazingly. Make it through the first couple chapters and you’ll be hooked, but the deeply depressed character of the prologue turned me off the book a couple times too.

    The Hyperion books were during Simmons’ ‘showoff’ period: He’d already won the Stoker and World Fantasy Awards (Carrion Comfort is a very Dean Koontz-ian horror, I’m not sure who he was aping for Song of Kali), and was followed up with Summer of Night, which is what happens when Bradbury and Stephen King have a baby and feed it crack alla time.

  37. John, thanks for this list.. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a few years now, and have often wondered what the biggest “influencers” were for your writing style… this answers that question and leaves me with a new glimpse into the that which is YOU.. well, at least which authors twisted your mind before you started writing!

  38. Frank Colella:

    With regard to this list, I should note that it’s massively incomplete with regard to writers who influenced me. So many of my writing influences come from outside of the genre of SF/F. I’ll also note that some of these books/authors aren’t directly influential in terms of my own writing (because of their own style and/or subject matter being too disparate); rather they are influential in the sense of being inspiring. Which is a pretty nebulous way to influence, but, eh. It still works.

  39. I devoured the first half of Perdido Street Station a couple of years ago. I then had to go back to work and set it down for far too long. I regret not finishing it because it had been so very good up until the point that I set it down.

  40. Huzzah for Tepper! When I was young, I was enthralled by her True Game series, which I wish more people read. I was unfamiliar with the LeGuin, and with Winter’s Tale- I’ll definitely have to add them to the list.

    Also, I gotta give Perdido one more run- it didn’t connect with me the first time I tried it.

  41. Great concept for a list, John and, to be frank, I was surprised by how much our taste overlaps. I guess I’ll now have to read that Hyperion sequel. (I was more impressed by the first one than fond of it.)

    There are a couple I can’t agree with — TEFL made me embarrassed for Heinlein and ACH (which I helped publish at SFBC) is my least favorite Le Guin — but I was totally delighted that you picked GRASS, a book that deserves to be much better known, and WINTER’S TALE, which I consider one of the great fantasies of the 20th century.

  42. Agreed on Tepper. She should be better known, though I haven’t read her for years. I think one of the problems with her work is that it has always been very, very grim, and she refuses to give an unalloyed happy ending. Even dacades later I remember one character of hers, a huntress, who named her dogs Silence and Sorrow because she loved the idea of calling “Come Silence, Come Sorrow” at the top of her lungs as she hiked across the grim prairies of her world.

  43. Thanks John. I think its great when authors discuss books that influenced them. A number of people have told me ot read LeGuin. I tried one of her books about 15 years ago and never got into it. I’m older now, so I should probably try her again. It wasn’t the book you listed above.

    These days I find that I can’t really tell how much a book means to me until a year or two after I finish it. Books that are page turners and that I devour often are not memorable to me a few years later. Books that I struggle to finish and are sometimes a little boring are often more memorable a few years down the road.

    Thanks for the book suggestions. I have never actually noticed several of these books and plan to add them to my reading list. It would be interesting if one day you posted about non-SciFi/Fantasy books you really like.

    My favorite book from when I was a kid was definitely The Eye of the World. However, I think my favorite book of all time was a historical novel called The Pillars of the Earth.

  44. I was given Snow Crash by my Freshman English teacher in High School. I read the first chapter, stopped, reread it, went back to him, and told him that it was the best gift anyone had ever given me. I was rereading it just after my wife and I started dating and she asked me what it was about. After 10 minutes of silence, I just handed her the book. She hasn’t looked back.

    There are books that just won’t let go and that one is holding out for a 30 minute pie.

  45. @Emma: On Margaret Atwood. I have read a couple of her books and I liked them. She is pretty stuck up and looks down her nose at the Sci-Fi community. You can google her, but she doesn’t want her work classified as science fiction, she acts like it is beneath her.

  46. Tepper is fantastic, I’m a huge fan of her True Game series, all 9 of them. They are gorgeously written and most people, even Tepper fans, appear not to have heard of them.
    I’ve told a number of people over the years that Snow Crash has probably the best first chapter ever. Diamond Age is also fantastic. I’m not so much a fan of his later stuff, too little fun.
    Winter’s Tale is the only Helprin I’ve ever even been tempted to read, and it’s crazy and beautiful and strange. I agree that it’s genre, but not through a genre lens. I know of nothing like it.

  47. I am now requesting Grass from my llibrary since that looks completely up my alley. And it’s always killed me that Hughart never did more than 2 sequels to Bridge of Birds, but the sequels are a damn lot of fun (I’ve thought Terry Pratchett might be having a bit of fun with Master Li with his character Lu-Tze in Thief of Time).

  48. So glad you mentioned Always Coming Home. Le Guin was the writer-in-residence at Kenyon College when I attended, around the time the book was published. The way she talked about experimenting with non-traditional narrative elements was inspiring. To this day I can remember her pulling out a cassette tape of the audio that accompanied the book and saying, “Listen to this. This makes the words on the page have a deeper meaning.” Her excitement over working on that book was infectious and very influential to me. It’s certainly one of the reasons that a decent chunk of my published fiction uses non-standard narrative forms–Le Guin taught me not only not to be afraid of them but to see them as ways to get a deeper and stronger message across.

  49. Huh. There are a number of superficial aesthetic differences between your list and one that I’d make, which I’d have guessed, but also some of those books make me really uncomfortable in their essence.

    Tepper is masterful at suspense, but she seems a little too comfortable with morality plays in which eugenics is a justifiable solution.

    On the other hand, I really do want to read SNOW CRASH, and haven’t yet.

  50. I’m another one who read Speaker for the Dead first. When I finally got around to reading Ender’s Game, since I knew how things ended up (ha ha), I think I noticed the cruelty and plotting earlier than if I’d gone into the story cold.
    And Grass… wow. My high school librarian gave that to me to read before she’d even processed it because she wanted to know what I thought. It was so much better than some of the crap I’d been borrowing that I pretty much went out and bought all the Tepper I could find, and borrowed the rest from the public library. (I’m only missing Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore at this point). Tepper’s SF has certainly influenced my appreciation for feminist SF, but her Mavin Manyshaped/True Game/Jinian books would be my favorites.
    Oh! And I own three different iterations of the Master Li and Number Ten Ox books: individual paperbacks, print omnibus beautifully illustrated by Kaja Foglio, and digital omnibus. I wish I could get more backlist books in digital omnibus format.

  51. Marla:

    ” I pretty much went out and bought all the Tepper I could find, and borrowed the rest from the public library. (I’m only missing Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore at this point).”

    I read those in high school and remember liking them a lot, very pretty dream imagery.

  52. Although ‘Children of Dune’ &’Dune Messiah’ are clearly not up to the level of ‘Dune’, I think ‘God Emperor of Dune’ was much better, and well worth reading.

  53. One of my favorite quotes from Dune:

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    Frank Herbert – Dune

  54. Given your oervre (wait, did I spell that right? I don’t speak French!) I totally would have expected Gateway by Frederick Pohl – that seems like one of the closest relatives to the Old Man’s War universe. Are you a Pohl fan? By the way, awesome shout out on Winter’s Tale – one of the best books of the past 50 years of any kind. And too bad you didn’t read God Emperor of Dune – he totally gets back to the massive myth making of the first book.

  55. Nice have some reading to do. Two points:
    1. I have always thought that the original Ender’s Game short story was the best. Haven’t read it in years (don’t have a copy) but I distinctly remember thinking, “I like the novel but the short story was really tight” it hit me like a ton of bricks, then again I was young. Wonder what you and others think of this.
    2. I always thought of the Hyperion trilogy as one book, too big to hold in your hand. Your statement that Hyperion is the setup and Fall is the story supports that. I guess writers need hard stops so things can get published and they can get paid, we pure consumers get to merge things together. Most good SF books have one great ah hah concept/twist, Hyperion et al has so many clever ideas that get unexpectedly tied together. I kept asking myself that was an odd plot feature how is he going to explain this without buckets of stupid leaking in. But he did and did it really well.

  56. Speaker for the Dead is my favourite of all Card’s books. I finished it on the subway on my way to work one morning. I got off at the stop past where I was supposed to, weeping, and getting very strange looks from the other passengers.

  57. In Fall of Hyperion, I only remember the cool Tree of Pain and cyberspace chapters. And Keats dying for like half the book.

  58. What a fantastic description of Perdido Street Station! That book blew my mind because, as you said, “Wait, is that food?” Miéville took enough ideas to fiill half a dozen books at least and put them all in one. And that first chapter of Snow Crash is definitely amazing. Hell, the second damn sentence—”He’s got esprit up to here”—changed my life because I didn’t realize you could do that. The way Neal Stephenson uses language is just…well, you know.

    Also glad to see some love for Speaker for the Dead, which I did love as much or more than Ender’s Game.

    Always interesting to see a writer’s influences, thanks for the list.

  59. Bless you sir for informing me of the existence of a science fiction novel about pizza delivery. I don’t even care if the rest of it turns out not to be as good as the first chapter so far, or even if there is ultimately less pizza delivery in it, my world is a better place.

  60. Way back TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE when it was first published, I made the observation that it was less than the sum of its parts. The episodic nature didn’t work, I felt, as a cohesive whole. On the other hand, I also felt that if those episodes had been published as separate short story/novella/novelette/novel (I think the “pioneer planet” section was long enough to qualify for novel), they were all outstanding enough that Heinlein might have managed to make a clean sweep of -all- the Hugos for that year.

  61. “Speaker of the Dead” is one of my very favorite books of all time. The science fiction elements are well thought out, but at its core the story is really a drama about a family that has been shattered by secrets and repeated tragedies and about the man who seeks to heal himself by healing them.

  62. “Winter’s Tale” is my favourite novel ever. I’ve bought dozens of copies of it over the years for the sole purpose of giving it away to other people who haven’t read it yet.

    I first encountered it my freshman year of college, when it was assigned in a class. It was a relatively recent novel at the time, and I fell completely in love with it. Since then, I’ve read it at least 25 times (roughly once a year), and even now, when I dive into it again, I’ll discover some detail, some nuance, some facet of it that I’d never noticed before. It’s truly a remarkable work.

  63. Thanks for the list, many well loved books there and a few that I need to track down. I think the book that is most responsible for my lifelong attraction to sf/fantasy is “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester. I used to go back and reread just the final act and the synesthesia chapters, amazed at how he brought me into Gulliver Foyle’s fracturing brain in a way that I had never seen before.

  64. Always Coming Home is such a hugely important book to me, in a number of ways, I’m delighted to see it right there at the top of your list. I’d long been a fan of LeGuin, but when Always Coming Home came out I was a teen fresh out of high school and I’d never seen the form violated like that before. I had to work to find the narrative, and my reward for the work was all that other material scattered throughout. It made me rethink story, rules, and how we choose what to pay attention to. I now own multiple copies, one of which was personally signed for me by the author.

  65. Madeleine L’Engle came to our school when I was in Kindergarten or 1st grade. She did a reading from A wrinkle in time. That was my first encounter with any sort of SF (aside from Marvin the Martin perhaps) I won a copy of the book and made Mom read me the whole story, as was not quite ready to read it myself. I loved it so. I also read everything by Heinlein and really liked Time enough for Love.

    Thanks for the day brightener.

  66. Thank you, thank you for the love for “Always Coming Home.” That book is one of the most influential on my life and is a source of great solace and introspection. I even went so far to bave a heyiya-if (an important symbol in the book) tattooed on myself. If you happen to get a chance to hear the music that was composed to accompany it, it’s even more incredible.

  67. Thanks for this. I have almost all of these in dead tree format, and love them, but this post gave me the urge to get them all in digital format, and since tomorrow is my birthday, I popped over to Amazon and bought everything I could get in ebook. Happy birthday to me!

  68. Great list. I agree wholeheartedly about the observation that Snow Crash has the best first chapter in modern SF. For several years, the tradition in my house was: Order pizza, begin reading Snow Crash chapter one out loud to all assembled. I could usually bust it out in under the 30 minute window, but if the delivery guy got there before I finished, he got double tipped.

  69. Having just finished an Asimov “bender” of the likes I have not committed since my early teen years I found myself directionless in the cold vacuum of in-between book space. As it was my finishing of The Human Division that had triggered my interest in re-reading the Foundation series .. and then on through the robot stuff etc.. I realized that in truth, sir, I am in a Scalzi vacuum. Lacking the supernatural powers to instantaneously squeeze another book from your head, I decided this very morning to ask the internet what SF books were most influential to you. You clearly have anticipated my query by a few hours, no doubt due to your impressive precognitive abilities. Thank you for this insight into your mind and an enticing book list, half of which I have not read, to pluck from.

  70. I’m 20 years older than you, John, and I’ve read science fiction since I discovered that short stories and books were more interesting than comics (probably around age 10). The fact that I hadn’t heard about, let alone read, some of the books on your list prompted me to wonder about a generational divide in our experience. Six of your 10 (Le Guin, 1985; Simmons, 1990; Tepper, 1989; Miéville, 2000; Stephenson, 1992; and Card, 1986)
    appeared in 1985 or later. For what it’s worth, Uncle Orson’s books fall right on the cusp, Ender’s Game in 1985 and Speaker for the Dead in 1986, and for me the former was more memorable. As an author, Le Guin bridges the generational gap; The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) influenced me most, but she wrote so much good stuff afterward that anyone could find something specific to their age. Heinlein died in 1988, and all of his best work came out years earlier, but I’m willing to state as fact (lacking any evidence to the contrary) that anyone who’s had even a mild addiction to sci-fi can name a favorite Heinlein novel. Stranger In A Strange Land blew my mind when I read it in college sometime around 1969, but The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is the one to which I return year after year. Among all of the books on your list, I believe Dune and Winter’s Tale may be the ones that truly bridge generation gaps and, indeed, will continue to influence writers for years to come — the former for its example of how to create a world and a culture, the latter for its beautifully written story-telling. Anyway, thanks for your thought-provoking post, and for adding some more titles to my to-read list.

  71. We seem to love enough of the same books, for the same reasons, that I am immediately going out to buy, borrow, or beg the books I haven’t read off this list. My local bookstore thanks you in advance. (My groaning shelves do not.) Wonderful analysis, anyway; I love the theme.

    I will point out though that when I was reading Susan Cooper’s books, I didn’t want to be Will. The life of an Old One seemed far too lonely and full of responsibility to be worth the coolness factor. I wanted to be a Drew kid, who gets a taste of the mystery and the power, but then gets to live life afterwards, as well.

  72. I would love to hear/read what non-SF/F books influenced your writing!

    I’m always simultaneously excited and disappointed when I discover one of my SF/F reading friends has not read Laurie King. Her characters are just so beautifully, lovingly crafted, I’m excited to introduce my friends to the books, disappointed because I’ll have to wait for my friends to finish reading the books before we can discuss the books.

  73. Influenced rather than best is interesting. I would have to say that the Tom Swift series sparked a lifelong interest in science and engineering. Hughart is great, but I was looking for that when I found him. Tepper, thanks for reminding me, it’s been too long since I last read her.
    Silverlock by John Myers Myers hasn’t been mentioned yet, I think. That sent me in a long search to see how many Literary references I could figure out.

  74. Oh, I LOVED the Dark is Rising Sequence, read it over and over and over again. It’s what kick-started my fascination with all things mythological, especially Celtic. Wonderful books. I recently read them again and still love them.

  75. Ah, the Deliverator! Snow Crash was the fourth SF novel I ever read. (Yes, I came late to the genre.)

    Any chance you’d ever be inclined to share some of your non-SF/F influences? I mean, we all know To Serve Dudebros is on there, but what else?

  76. Yes to EMERGENCE love- I’ve wished that David R. Palmer would have written./published more.

  77. I find that Sheri Tepper’s world-building, fascinating though it is, is undermined by the way she stacks the deck on her characters. All the evil ones are so, so very evil; all the evil in the ways her societies work has to be pointed at so endlessly. I mean, I agree with her positions; I agree with her about what is wrong and who is evil, but I’m just longing for one redeeming feature in the bad folks or one argument made in favor of the bad system that isn’t shown to be completely self-serving. I think that ultimately it’s her skill as a writer, not her vision, that’s lacking. But when I compare Grass (or others of Tepper’s works; I’ve read a few of them, but not all) with Always Coming Home, where Le Guin is able to show (for instance) what’s wrong with the Condor People’s society from our point of view and from the Valley’s point of view as well, and yet still suggest why some of the people of the Valley would want to emulate the Condor People, I just want more complexity of characterization out of Tepper.

  78. What a great list. For me, it’s a perfect spread of books I’ve read and enjoyed and like to see recognised as the great works they are, books I haven’t read from authors I’ve previously enjoyed but haven’t known where to go next in their back catalogue (now I do), and completely new-to-me-but-sound-well-worth-sampling author/novel combos. Thank you John. You couldn’t have done it better.

    In the lattermost category, I might start with Sheri Tepper’s Grass. Not John Christopher’s ‘Death of Grass’ as I thought at first glance, which would cruise easily into my personal top 10- but sounds just as interesting in a different way…

  79. It’s interesting that several comments on Mieville are variations on “I _tried_ to like him.” Same here. Finally read PSS with high expectations, and wound up wondering “What’s all the fuss?”

    re: economics: rather than detracting from a story, even a fantasy, I’ve always found that economic consideration grounds and makes a tale more believable. If one is finding a book too “airy” and disconnected, check to see if ANY consideration of economics is included. I bet not. (I offer “Lyonesse” as an example of this principle.)

  80. A great list…and you’re not the only one who was disappointed to discover he wasn’t an Old One.

  81. nm:

    Regarding Tepper, you wrote, “I mean, I agree with her positions; I agree with her about what is wrong and who is evil, but I’m just longing for one redeeming feature in the bad folks or one argument made in favor of the bad system that isn’t shown to be completely self-serving.”

    You may not agree with her as much as you think:

  82. Great list. And nice that you gave some love to Emergence, which I think is one of SF’s great unsung masterpieces.

    It’s always saddened me that Palmer’s second novel, Threshold, turned out to be nearly unreadable, and that he then couldn’t afford to keep writing. He could have been one of the greats.

  83. Nice to see the nod to Boyett :) I’ve you ever have the chance (you may have already) to hear him lecture on the craft of writing, it’s worth a plane ticket.

  84. A great list. I love Perdido Street Station but oddly when I first started reading it I hated it so much I abandoned it which I rarely do. I am not even sure why I re-read it when I hated it so much but i am glad I did.

    I re-read Dune last year and even though I liked it as a teenager, I now found it purile and pretentious – Meh.

    If you like the first chapter of Snow Crash then find a bookshop stocking ‘Ultimate Rush’ by Joe Quirk and read the first chapter, no need to buy it. A few of my friends have, with no prompting from me, independently commented that it reminded them of Snow Crash even though the plots are entirely different.. Both top contenders for best opening chapter. I should say, as others have, that though I love Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon is a better book.

    I don’t know ‘Winters Tale’ but based on your other books I will definitely read it now!

  85. Wow. That list has almost all the same books as mine, except for LeGuin (I didn’t really get into her for some reason) Cooper was a staple of my childhood, and I think Tepper probably shaped a lot of my adult thinking. I love her as a counterpoint to Heinlein :) And China Mieville just makes me ridiculously happy when I read his work.

  86. I’m so glad to see all the love for Winter’s Tale. I read it when it first came out, straight off the library’s new book shelf, and went right out and bought it in hardcover — a significant purchase at that point in my life.

    I read it probably three times in as many years, then put it aside for over 20 years now. I love it so much I’ve been afraid to revisit it lest I find the Suck Fairy had worked its magic.

  87. @Rachel Swirsky

    Yikes! I enjoyed The Gate to Women’s Country (albeit not as much as Grass, but I had no idea Tepper actually supports eugenics and Old Testament “justice”. I’m glad I got to enjoy her books before reading that interview. Her final solution made me nauseous with all its echos of every self-appointed genocidal maniac and slave-dehumanizing regime in history. I know a lot of her generation bought into the racism of population engineering, but I really would have thought the author of those great books was wiser than that. That article (or at least the last part) should come with a warning: Don’t Read With Lunch. This is why I prefer not to know the politics of the authors I like.

  88. Interesting and very personal list John.

    I’ll echo a few other people, couldn’t get on with Perdido Street Station at all – I couldn’t find one character with any redeeming traits, though I kinda liked the world, I gave up half way through.

    Yay Snowcrash – full and entertaining. I stopped reading Stephenson when he started churning out books the size of breezeblocks in trilogies that were no fun: his exposition has got longer and longer and less interesting, so his later stuff is like slogging through a textbook rather than anything resembling entertainment. IMHO, of course.

    Interesting there are no “traditional” English writers on there – is this just a geographical location thing, or did writers like Alan Garner (YA), Geoff Ryman (very English fantasy, even though he is from America’s hat), M John Harrison, Ian McDonald (who does awesome things with language) not really have a following in the US? I’d rather live in Viriconium than Meiville’s city.

    No Ray Bradbury or JG Ballard? Before your time?

  89. The first chapter of Snow Crash is indeed fantastic, but I’m surprised no one has mentioned the beginning of Chapter 36 (I hope I’m remembering that right), which is one of my favorite pages of all time: “Until a man is twenty-five…”

  90. Time Enough For Love is one of my favorites as well. Lazarus Long is one of SF’s most memorable characters.

    That said, his earlier starring role in Methuselah’s Children is even better. I had long hoped for some audacious filmmaker to try his hand with that property, and cast an actor who could handle it. (I think in some parallel universe they made that movie and it featured Henry Fonda).

  91. @Rachel Swirsky: That’s … something. OK, then, I retract the idea that Tepper isn’t able to do justice to her ideas. She is doing complete justice to her ideas. I just don’t find what she creates fully credible.

    @Eric RoM: her anger is justifiable; her rejection of ambiguity lessens the value of her work, IMO.

  92. On the morning of my 11th birthday, I woke up early. Everyone was asleep. Theoretically speaking, they could’ve been “frozen.” I went out for a walk. No signs of life. Thought I might actually be an “Old One”… then a car drove by. So yes, I feel you on “The Dark is Rising.” “Winter’s Tale” is incredible. I guess I’ll have to give “Perdido Street Station” another try–only got 40 pages into it last time.

    My own list would have to include Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind,” because I read it while I was working on my own novel about a wizard, and damn did he kick my ass in terms of worldbuilding and magic rules. Goddamn Rothfuss, always raising the bar…

  93. For those who’re not boycotting Tepper, try Six Moon Dance, which is very funny….possibly funny only to feminists and gamma rabbits though.

  94. Dan Simmons, he broke my heart. I just can’t separate the book from the man. I know you made a nice case for Ender’s game a while back. Any advice on Dan simmons? He wrote the books that I adored when I was younger now I just feel his crazy worldviews trickeling through every page. ( it’s probably me tho :-) )

    And no Asimov?

  95. I need to go pull put my copy of The Dark is Rising and revisit. I had all six verses of that prophecy memorized for years.

    Wow, your mention just triggered an impromptu recital – I had forgotten that I memorized that! “Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long…” When I finished the series and saw the verses assembled at the end, I just kept repeating them to myself.

    I’m a Millennial, but I was introduced to the Dark is Rising sequence before Harry Potter became popular (courtesy of my local library). Amazing books. A reread sounds like a good idea…

  96. John,

    This is (at least) the second time you noted that you feel Speaker for the Dead is better than its predecessor. I was going to agree with you the first time, but it seemed like not a particularly value-added comment, so I restrained myself. This time, let me agree and add that Speaker for the Dead is definitely among my Top 10 favorite SF Novels of all time. Of All Time.

    World-building? Yep. Alien characters acting like aliens? Yep. Human characters acting out of complex motives? Yep. Mysteries to be solved? Yep. Threats to be overcome? Yep.


  97. @MHutton

    I’m not boycotting Tepper. I don’t do that. And she’s a first-class storyteller. Most of the interview and anger is totally on point, albeit a little black and white for the real world which is made of grays. But that’s a mere difference of viewpoint and not what I found disturbing. It’s the very end where it veers right off into pseudoscientific eugenics scorched-earth vengeance territory that’s dumbfoundingly historically myopic for someone so enthused about historical literacy. I’d just rather not know if the authors I like think some people are genetically predetermined to be worthless and therefore aren’t really human and so can be safely disposed of with a clear conscience. That which makes great post-apocalyptic fiction does not necessarily make good social policy.

  98. I agree with brucearthurs–the parts of TEFL are better than the whole. I have also wondered how they would have looked if published separately.

  99. I find it interesting you liked the Fall of Hyperion, insofar as the time that has come up in conversation with other people, they didn’t like it. I liked Hyperion, just not found and read the sequel yet.
    And I didn’t realise Susan Cooper was so well known over in the USA, I of course read the Dark is Rising series several times as a teenager. Maybe I should have a read again.

  100. So delighted to see Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale on this list. I remember reading it when it first came out, all the way back in … good god, was it really 1983? I’ve never forgotten Helprin’s great line about the villain Pearly Soames, how he was a golden dog of the streets.

    A fascinating list. It’s always interesting to see what fires the spark in writers’ imaginations.

  101. Dan Simmons Ilium and Olympos is one of my favs. The character development, the storytelling, the literary fun and the world building are just wonderful.

    The Compass Rose by Le Guin is one I read repeatedly. She can bring forth so much in just a few lines and it’s totally real to me.

    Alternate Realities by C. J. Cherryh is another one I re-read. Wave Without a Shore in AR is just fun!

    Neuromancer and Stand on Zanzibar are my every 5 years read for cyberpunk. It’s almost like they’re describing the same world from two different views.

    For Heinlein, at 45 years old, I don’ t know why I liked him so much as a kid (easily found in all the libraries?) but he did have an impact on me. I joined the military, in part due to Starship Troopers.

    Hey, another Winter’s Tale fan! That is such a cool book. There’s some bit of melancholy about it that is just right.

    Emergance! Thought I was the last person on Earth to remember this book. Now, if I could just find my copy or it was made available electronically…

  102. Ah, the first chapter of Snow Crash. I have read it over the phone to friends to show them how awesome it is. I agree, you could teach a class on SF just with that as the source material.

  103. Dune was my first ‘omg look at the size of this book’ SF read. Also the root cause of the scar on my chin. Hardcover Dune makes a good weapon against obnoxious classmates.

    The Dark is Rising was the first series I bought my son :)

    Tepper’s True Game series was my first exposure to her, and I really loved them growing up (Happiness is having a dad with a SFBC membership). I didn’t like much of her other stuff- both the eugenics, and the ‘males are bad’ thing.

  104. I love me some “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov. I reread it (and the trilogy) every single year and that’s hard to do. Only Tolkein shares that place.

    I honestly can say that were it not for Foundation, I’d never have discovered any novels that didn’t appear in my grocery store novel rack. Thanks to Foundation, I hunted for the diamond in the rough and in the process discovered many other gems.

  105. @Hilary:

    2. I always thought of the Hyperion trilogy as one book, too big to hold in your hand. Your statement that Hyperion is the setup and Fall is the story supports that. I guess writers need hard stops so things can get published and they can get paid

    Simmons himself has said that he conceived and wrote Hyperion/Fall as a single work, but at that stage in his career a LoTR-length science fiction novel was pretty much unsellable for someone who’d previously only published one contemporary horror novel, even if a commercially and critically successful one. Thankfully for Simmons, it was a manuscript that divided fairly neatly into two halves without major re-writing.


    He wrote the books that I adored when I was younger now I just feel his crazy worldviews trickeling through every page. ( it’s probably me tho :-) )

    It definitely is, and you know what? That’s OK. I’m not the only SF fan out there who has to reconcile the Robert A. Heinlein I love (and whose ‘juveniles’ were massively influential on me as a baby geek), and the guy whose turned his novels into platforms for his increasingly cranky – and all too often – downright vile social and political views. You know your limits better than me.

  106. @guthriestewart

    I find it interesting you liked the Fall of Hyperion, insofar as the time that has come up in conversation with other people, they didn’t like it. I liked Hyperion, just not found and read the sequel yet.

    The Fall of Hyperion is more of a conventional space opera than Hyperion and, as John mentioned, the structure is less flashy. I personally prefer Hyperion, but I like both for different qualities. If you have a taste for Romantic poetry, I recommend reading this right before delving into the sequel:

    While I tend to think Keats is overrated, it does give insight into the inspiration for Simmons’s Cantos. That said, if you enjoy Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, I would give serious thought to stopping and pretending the series ends there. The Endymion books do not live up to their predecessors. Another great Simmons read is The Hollow Man (absolutely no relation to the shitspacular film of the same name).

  107. I’ve read some of these and enjoyed them. Others, not as much. I only just read Snow Crash and agree that it’s opening chapter is magnificent. The book as a whole didn’t quite grab me as I’d hoped, but I may return to it. Hyperion is a masterwork and while Simmons and I aren’t aligned politically, I think he’s an amazing writer. Carrion Comfort is awesome book and while I’m not sure how I felt about Drood at the end, it was a crazy journey to get to the end.

    I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t ‘get’ Perdido Street Station. I tried it, read about a third of it…and just didn’t enjoy it. It felt like a mess to me, with the city being just tons of stuff thrown together and no narrative to guide my reading. After a few hundred pages, I still didn’t know if there was a story there. LIkewise, I literally have fallen asleep TWICE while trying to read my way through Dune. Someday I’ll try again.

    Sheri Tepper makes the short list, now.

  108. I’m intrigued by the number of people here who started Perdido Street Station and then abandoned it. I understand a little, I think. When I read it I found the earlier parts…unpleasant. It seemed challenging in a way that felt more painful than rewarding. But, even so, I found it to be so unique that I pressed on. And although I don’t think it’s the best book of the 21st Century so far (for me that’s Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book), I’m quite glad I pressed on as it was a unique and wonderful experience in the end.

    I can think of two novels which I started and quit because I couldn’t find the will as a reader to move on with. Dune, which I found confusing, and Lord Foul’s Bane, where the main character commits an abominable act quite early on. This experience occurred, in both cases, in high school and I have read both (and the numerous sequels for both) since.

    An idea for a list: Bad Novels I Enjoyed.

    And a blog post I’d love to read from you: How We Should React to Stinky Authors.

  109. Frak! Now I just googled Simmons politics. Ignorance is bliss!
    *buzzcut courtesy of some hammer-looking thingy*
    *tugs collar*
    …and now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

  110. I’ll have to check out Winter’s Tale, that one’s new to me. The rest pretty much my list, except for Dan Simmons. I just can’t deal with him, I don’t know why. In his place, I would put Robin McKinley’s two Damar books. I still reread both annually.

  111. @ Gulliver, I think you see what I mean now, sadely enough. Brilliant books, not such a nice person author?

    And again; Asimov anyone? I think the Foundation series is what got me into SF.

  112. Bogus, Asimov is one of my favorites. I first encountered the Foundation series back shortly after those Avon paperbacks were released in the 60’s (the ones with the marvelous covers by Don Punchatz).

    For my money, Asimov’s melding of politics with psychology was enormously entertaining, and I loved the broad expanse of the story, from the edge of the Galaxy to its central heart.

  113. Great list. Agree with most choices.

    One of the few I haven’t read – Emergence, doesn’t seem to be in print anymore. Bummer. I would have snapped it up, especially if there were a kindle edition.

  114. I love the Dark Is Rising books, which I didn’t discover until I was an adult – except I hate the very ending. I felt betrayed by her final decision regarding the children.

  115. @bogus: Yeah, learning about your favorite artists is a minefield :(

    I prefer Asimov’s Robot stories more than the Empire or Foundation stuff. I, Robot was my first SF novel ever (unless you count the Wrinkle in Time books which I read a kid, but I think of those as more fantasy) and R. Daneel Olivaw is one of the great characters of the genre, IMHO. That said, the first novel-length story I completed writing is set in what is basically my attempt to depict a realistic and self-sustaining ecumenopolis capable of sustaining a Trantorian-sized population, mostly because I found Trantor so absurd.

  116. Boy, it really doesn’t help to know too much about an author’s politics/religion/ideology/personal hygiene. Can spoil a good book forever.

    On the other hand, I’d love to be a fly on the wall during a meeting of Miéville and Helprin.

  117. I’m also a big fan of Tepper’s Grass – I read it in the 1980s in paperback and remembered it vividly enough that I had to go run out and buy the Gollanz re-issue.

    I do think Tepper as a writer can be a bit hit-or-miss. Her Gates to Women’s Country is a real eyeball punch, but The Fresco and The Waters Rising were both kind of weak. Because of that, I’ve been putting off acquiring Raising the Stones. I think I’ll stop putting it off.

  118. This made me very happy because it has 2 things. First is has books I love. The Dark is Rising is one of favorites. I read it in middle school and used the world as a basis for my allusion poem for English class which my teacher hated as she had never heard of the book and so couldn’t see the allusions. I also love Speaker for the Dead and Dune. Madeline L’Engle is the author who introduced me to this genre. Sandman is one of my favorite comics. The other thing this list has that makes me happy is books I haven’t read and reasons to read them not just plot summaries or spoilers but actual reasons to read them. After reading this I proceeded to ask my roommate where the nearest bookstore is so I can go on Friday when I get paid. :)

  119. I could tell Zenna Henderson’s People books weren’t a major influence on your writing. But to have never read her stuff at all seems sad. Give them a try, if you can find any. Though NESFA Press has the entire collection in an omnibus (minus the connecting story, alas) for sale on their web site.

  120. Is there a short story category in the inspiration list? Strangely, though I have novel-shaped holes in my memory, I can remember these classic short stories like I was weeping over them yesterday: Flowers for Algernon, The Cold Equations

  121. Someone I know once put up fake flyers at a convention for an upcoming book: “Foundation and Dune”. Which was funny partially because making the entire Dune thing be an out-of-the-way corner of the Foundation universe entirely invalidates the epic scale feeling that makes the book work. Best part: A rep from the publisher frantically calling the office to find out why no one told him about this.

  122. One of the few I haven’t read – Emergence, doesn’t seem to be in print anymore. Bummer. I would have snapped it up, especially if there were a kindle edition.

    You should also try finding “Threshold” by the same author (David Palmer). It’s very much a Boy’s Own, but it’s enormously entertaining.

  123. Seebs, I riffed one time on a Star Trek/Dune crossover. I amused myself by imagining what would happen if Kirk tried to lay a little romance on the Lady Jessica. I don’t think even Bones would have been able to fix that.

  124. For everyone who couldn’t get through Perdido Street Station, don’t let that stop you from trying Mieville’s other books. I can’t get past the first few pages of that one either, but loved some of the others.

  125. Wow, a lot of thoughts here for me, John.

    1. I like the format. I have long thought that “favorite” lists are a more constructive use of time than “best” lists, because the latter carries that troublesome idea that works of art can be objectively weighed for merit, and that everyone can eventually come to some kind of agreement. While there is such a thing as good books and bad books, ranking them 1-10 or 1-100 really is a giant waste of time.

    However, rather than alphabetical, why not list them by year, or (even better) by the order you read them in (like John Cusack’s character in “High Fidelity,” when Dick caught him ordering his records “autobiographically”)? Would have been fun and interesting to see the progression, misleading as it may ultimately have been.

    2. I love that you’ve got “Fall of Hyperion” in there, both because that series of books is my own personal favorite sci-fi (next to *maybe* “Ender’s Game”), and also because I hear so many people say that they loved the first book but hated the second. Like you, I didn’t have that kind of reaction at all. The second book combined everything from the first and made it a coherent whole, and, more than that, it was really just the second half of what was properly one book anyway.

    Out of curiosity, did you read the two books following, “Endymion” and “Rise of Endymion”? They’re not quite as great as their predecessors, but they’re still very good (I particularly liked the tongue-in-cheek literalness of “born-again Christians” in the context of Simmons’ universe).

    3. Lastly, I’m sure I’m not the only one a bit surprised to find out you’re one of *those* people who likes “Speaker for the Dead” more than “Ender’s Game”. :-) I suppose I can see it, but for me the latter is compulsively readable in a way that the former isn’t. I recommend “Ender’s Game” enthusiastically even to people who don’t consider themselves “sci-fi people,” but I can’t say the same about “Speaker for the Dead”.

  126. Huh. Well that explains some things. For this, the internet meme ‘YMMV’ was invented.
    Jack Tingle

  127. I don’t know why Tepper is not better known and better honored


    Tepper is EXTREMELY feminist verging on misandry (and I am a feminist woman who thinks this), so of course she’s not going to be popular with dudebros and neckbeards.

    I usually like her books up until the end at which point I get pissed off and vow never to read her again.

    I cannot count how many copies of “Snow Crash” I’ve bought at used bookstores just to force on give to people.

    Another vote for Henderson’s stories of “The People”. Such wonderful characters, so gentle.

  128. Well, I’m relieved to discover I’m not the only SF fan who isn’t interested in reading any of the sequels to Dune.

    I giggled all the way through the first chapter of Snow Crash. Then I read the entire first chapter a second time to make sure I had picked up all the necessary world-building. If a writer MUST place an infodump at the beginning of a novel, that first chapter is a great example of how to do it entertainingly.

  129. I’ve been very fond of some of the books listed up there but–Oh, TEFL! How I have hated you with the fire of a thousand suns, ever since I was made aware of your existence through the adoration of my shitty college roommate who was his own favorite poet and didn’t pay his bills so that his mother ended up having to. (He probably fell prey to the pitfalls Scalzi warns about.)

    It may be full of rollicking witticisms, but it’s also full of great piles of witty bullshit, as the entire universe warps around Lazarus Long getting what he needs, which is a long procession of women sexing him up and having his babies–by coercion if they must.

    It’s hard for me to pick one worst quote, but this one is in my top running despite not containing a woman begging to be impregnated by Lazarus, laying out with graphic precision what the book’s narrative asserts is the proper role for women (receptive to paternal advice; sexually desirable and desiring; not bothering the men around them with petty unimportant lady details; having lots of babies):

    “Size isn’t important, Theodore-Lazarus; a woman must fit any size. Father told me that long ago and taught me exercises for it–and I never told Brian; I let him think that was simply how I am–and accepted his compliments smugly. I still exercise regularly–because my birth canal has been stretched again and again and again by babies’ skulls and if I didn’t exercise those muscles I would be, in Father’s salty language, “loose as a goose.” And I do so want to stay desirable to Brian as many years as possible.”

  130. @Lurkertype

    The homophobia is also a nice touch. But I’m the sort of reader who never assumes any specific character or society represents the views and beliefs of the author, at least not exactly or wholly, because I’m the sort of writer who invests a little of my own views and beliefs into characters and societies that are for the most part not mouthpieces therefore. So just because Tepper wrote about a civilization that “bred out” homosexuality as a congenital disease, I don’t assume she herself is homophobic (nor do I assume she isn’t). But now that I know she really buys into eugenics, I’d have a hard time reading her work without wondering what other pernicious pseudoscience she believes. This is exactly the sort of reason I prefer to remain in the dark with regards to my sources of fiction. Ironically, it was Orson Scott Card’s praise of Tepper’s True Game series that introduced me to her.

    Art: it’s like trying to stay ahead of sinking stepping stones being sucked into the authorial squick dogging my entertained heels.

  131. So just because Tepper wrote about a civilization that “bred out” homosexuality as a congenital disease, I don’t assume she herself is homophobic (nor do I assume she isn’t)

    Greg Egan wrote an excellent story (“Cocoon”) based around a technology that would eliminate homosexuality in the womb, running off the theory that it was due to maternal hormonal influences during fetal development.

    Although very very private, it would not surprise me at all if he himself was gay based on the subjects and perspectives he’s used over the years.

  132. Gulliver: “Authorial Squick” is the name of somebody’s next band.

    I confess seeing a certain disconnect between wanting population control and decrying homosexuals — last I checked, gays and lesbians don’t reproduce by accident. Keeps the population down nicely.

    And just YIKES on her wanting to lock up criminals in some Thunderdome on their first conviction. Double, triple, and quadruple YIKES for including the mentally ill and addicts. Meanwhile, she’s talking about her body limitations and the narcotics she’s taking — but that’s different. I submit she is substantially more crazy than most schizophrenics and bipolar people I know.

  133. [spoilers for Perdido Street Station]
    agreed on the first half or so, but then in the second half what looked like it was going to be a story about all these interesting characters folds up into Issac v. Slake Moths, with each little character detail playing its own particular part, nothing but cogs in a machine. in particular i was frustrated and angered by how Lin was not fridged just once, but her sculptural talent was purpose-built to allow her to stick around secretly to be fridged *again* in the climax.

  134. Dune picked up with the mythological scope thing after you stopped reading (kind of hard not to with titles like God Emperor of Dune), and (though I’m given to understand opinions about this vary wildly) I enjoyed Chapterhouse more than enough to make the middle books worth having gotten through.

  135. I find the comments interesting. From what I could see, none of them were from other published science fiction authors. I would be very interested in seeing what influenced the authors who wrote the books that influenced you prior to publication. (Obviously, those who are no longer with us could not participate).

    And finally, which of your books would you expect to find on a future author’s list in 10 to 20 years?

  136. foxfirefey: I find the normalization of incest way worse.

    “My godson is thirteen and interested, and his sister is eleven and beginning to be interesting. … Anyone who has raised puppies—or a number of children—knows that a boy can get as horny over his sister as over the girl down the street, and his sister is often more accessible.”

  137. Wow. Some great stuff there. I sang Heya for years after reading ACH, for example. Other things I think I’ll check out.

    OTOH there are two books there that were responsible for my deciding never to read anything by those authors ever again. Snow Crash offended me with its blunt religious bigotry, and also annoyed me by rolling out that long-discredited “breakdown of the bicameral mind” theory. Perdido Street Station was a) depressing (not an indictment of the book, but a not-for-me); b) a horror novel, albeit in a fantasy setting (again, just not for me); and c) utterly lacking in likeable characters (which IS an indictment of the book IMO), in fact the only even marginally likeable character is a woman whose head is a cockroach. And (ROT13 spoiler) fur trgf ure zvaq rngra ng gur raq.

    I also decided, of course, not to read anything by Card ever again, but it was way before he wrote Ender’s Game.

  138. Xopher Halftongue, do you know Card personally? Considering that Ender’s Game was published in 1985 and based on the short story published in 1977, it would be unusual to have decided not to read him before that time.

  139. Oh, The Dark is Rising sequence is embedded in my heart forever. I first encountered the series as books on cassette in my elementary school library, and I would give a good deal to find that version because it was so, so beautifully done.. I still remember all the poetry by heart (and let’s just say elementary school was a good long time ago) and the last few lines of The Grey King still strike me as some of the most perfectly, understatedly heart-rending I have ever encountered. Seaward, also by Susan Cooper, is also a lovely book to which I’ve always longed for a sequel.

  140. I was initially surprised by how many of these books are also ones that resonated with me, but then I realized that we’re much of an age, and it became less surprising.

    I think I’m more surprised by how many people know Emergence. My father read that when I was eleven (Candy Smith-Foster’s age!), then handed it to me and accused me of being an underachiever since I hadn’t yet attained a black belt. I still have that copy, beat up as it now is, and I reread it periodically, but I get more squicked out by the sexual themes every time I do. (And that’s with generally skipping the 45-lrne-byq’f zhygv-cntr frys-freivat whfgvsvpngvba sbe jul ur fubhyq or noyr gb unir erthyne “frk” jvgu gur 11-lrne-byq.) There’s a lot of that same squick in Threshold, as I recall the description of the love-interest’s appearance. I had hunted high and low until I found a copy in a used book store (oh Avenue Victor Hugo, I miss you!), but I never had any desire to reread it.

    I truly adored the Cooper books as a kid, but I came to them all out of order. The first one I read was The Grey King, followed by The Dark is Rising, so when I finally learned about inter-library loan and read Over Sea, Under Stone for the first time, I was terribly let down. Who were those Drew kids and why did Merriman have such a small role? There’s still a part of me – much as I like the series – that considers those kids interlopers.

  141. Ender’s game the short story was a gem. Ender’s game the novel was the book equivalent of “Pizza the Hut” – a gross parody of the original.

    I’m surprised that Arthur C Clark didn’t make the list. 2001, a Space Odyssey was necessary reading, just to make sense of what the movie was all about.

  142. Winter’s Tale is the one book that makes me feel the romance in the City. The actual romance I could do without, but the images of the city in snow, the printing presses, the bridges, all have a golden glow about them that I don’t find in other books.

    I enjoyed Perdido Street Station, but that’s the one our book club refers to as ‘the slime book’.

    My personal list would include Le Guin’s Dispossessed, and things from Lois Bujold and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Thanks for sharing your list.

  143. Lots of good stuff there. Simmons, Stephenson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and your own August self make up my current list of top shelf people to read.

    I will add that Snow Crash gave us one other thing: The best named character in all of literature, period.

  144. Thanks to reading Niven’s Ringworld and Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama way too many years ago, there’s still something about a good Big Dumb Object story that pulls me in.

  145. (And that’s with generally skipping the 45-lrne-byq’f zhygv-cntr frys-freivat whfgvsvpngvba sbe jul ur fubhyq or noyr gb unir erthyne “frk” jvgu gur 11-lrne-byq.)

    Indeed – but it *was* self serving, the person making the argument was obviously an unreliable narrator playing off someone who was still almost naive enough (and still in shock enough) to believe him, and he ended up dead partly as a result of pushing her.

    I always put the scene down to the difference between authors and characters – a character doing something slimy is not an author endorsing such an action.

  146. It may not be well known today, but the Notebooks chapters of Time Enough for Love did receive a separate publication with fancy calligraphy: The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (1978).

    When I first read TEFL (first-edition Berkley paperback, 1974) I had read nearly all of Heinlein to date, and was an ideal candidate for the book that the introduction by “Justin Foote the 45th” promised. But the book that Justin describes isn’t much like the book that follows. Why, for example, do we need to hear a guest’s impressions about present-day Lazarus’ palatial home and the activities there in oppressive detail, at the expense of “(Omitted)” sections in tales of his past lives?

    Heinlein hadn’t produced short fiction since ” ‘All You Zombies–‘ ” in 1959, liked the pay that novels brought, and wouldn’t likely have considered separate publication of (for example) the Adopted Daughter novella. But I don’t think he successfully met the challenge of making a novel out of all the disparate parts on display. The use of musical terms is strained (although I did like the use of notated music for the final chapter titles), and the “Counterpoint” chapters seemed utterly superfluous, especially the one about Galahad and Ishtar discovering they were opposite sexes, etc. Moreover, the occasional switching from third person to first (sometimes but not always Lazarus) and back again seems needless.

    With respect to the plot: I find it more dismaying than when I first read the book, in part because of the appearances of Lazarus, his girl twin clones, his mother, et al., in later novels. I suppose I mean that I enjoy Lazarus the character (including his Notebooks observations) more than I enjoy how Heinlein uses him.

  147. “Time Enough for Love” is really what drew me into written SF, There was a paperback of it on the rack at the drugstore near the bus stop where I used to wait for a ride home when I was in grad school. I kept browsing through it. Eventually I had to read it.And then the rest of Heinlein…

  148. Oh man, Perdido Street Station… I have never read a book that has haunted me, literally in the scariest sense of the word, so much. A part of me — a really big part of me — wishes I could unread this book, unknow the world and events that it created in my mind, while the other part of me is proud that I can say I’ve officially found a book that caused me those heebie jeebies in the first place. To this day I don’t know if I love to hate it, or hate to love it, but I can say I will never, ever forget it. That’s not always a good thing…

  149. Great list. I recently met Dan Simmons at a conference and had the opportunity to tell him in person how much his portrayal of Rachel in the Hyperion Canticle touched me. And Susan Cooper? There is no greater pathos EVER than her book in the epic “Dark is Rising” Series, “Green Witch”– there never was a sadder, more sympathetic character than the Green Witch. Beautiful writing. Oh and “Winter’s Tale?” Where do I begin? Were Beverly and Peter ever reunited- such a lush, evocative work.

  150. Very much agree with John on Dune, Hyperion Cantos, Le Guin, Miéville, and Snow Crash. I can’t agree on Speaker for the Dead… I do not especially like Ender’s Game (poorly written novel best consumed before the age of 16 IMO), but Speaker was simply dreadful, with nothing going on except Ender chatting with piggy aliens connected to their home planet’s life force through meta-physical mumbo jumbo (I don’t remember clearly, but I remember clearly not wanting to read the following novel in the series). And it has nothing to do with OSC the person…Inspite of everything, I still think Dan Simmons is the most talented author I’ve ever read.

  151. Nice to see some of my foundational books on here, not that I particularly needed the vindication of my peculiar reading habits. Also, very nice to see half a dozen things to add to my queue. But…Perdido Street Station? Is that the one where Mieville tells us how dark, dank and dirty the city is? And again? And again and again? Yeah, that’s on my *other* list; and – purely selfish of me – I’m glad you didn’t feel the need to emulate that particular writing style, Mr Scalzi.

  152. Oh wow, look at all the lovely people who’ve read /Emergence/! My Dad had the most random book collection including that book, and I enjoyed it so much that I spent years looking for it after it got lost. Managed to find an almost new copy in a used bookstore, and really should reread it sometime soon (especially in light of comments about romance threads, hm). I was close to Candy’s age when I first read it, so it struck especially close to home personally, but as a budding writer the style was its own strange sort of revelation, too.

    /Winter’s Tale/ is not the easiest book to read, but I will always treasure it for how it was first described to me (and how I adopted describing it)–“It’s a book about a horse”–and just for the way the words twist and tangle and whoops! I’m crying again, how’d that happen?

    TEFL is not my favorite Heinlein (that’d be /Double Star/, spankings and space smoking aside); I never felt like the disparate plot threads came together well enough. But like a lot of Heinlein, there’s a big chunk of it that works as comfort reading, like a sort of mind sweater. Go figure.

    Thanks for the interesting list. :)

  153. I always put the scene down to the difference between authors and characters – a character doing something slimy is not an author endorsing such an action.

    Yes…but… My problem is that the text of the book never invalidates his “argument.” We’re given a wall of words in which he presents his social-mores-and-cultural-context snow job, but no character *ever* calls it what it is:
    -Candy herself describes it later only as his “rush[ing]” her (and has a horrendously disturbing line in the midst of that scene about “attempt[ing] to be as merrily enthusiastic a partner” as his previous one, “maybe better”).
    -Adam is there for the whole spiel, and afterwards, he never says to Candy, “you know, he was full of crap” even in passing, even once.
    -Candy describes the whole event to Kim after she talks about killing someone attempting to rape her daughter, and Kim never draws a parallel. Instead, she resolves Candy’s guilt feelings by pointing out her emotional ties to Terry.

    We as readers are free to condemn Rollo, but the book never does, even implicitly. Textually, he’s damned for his violent temper, not for his predilection for prepubescent girls, and that *bothers* me.

  154. Clarification: I am not suggesting others are not bothered by this *or* that they should be bothered in the same way I am. I included the emphasis only to indicate that it is a story element that I, personally, am unable to identify-and-set-aside-for-the-duration the way I can do for other problematic aspects of other stories.

  155. Yes…but… My problem is that the text of the book never invalidates his “argument.”

    That’s very true.

    Do you think Adam serves somewhat as a contrast in the text to our dead friend though in the way he pursues Candy?

  156. Good list, though apart from the ‘Dark is Rising’ (which I am currently reading to my seven year old) I have only encountered the odd book of the other authors.

    It reminds me though of what some one said a few years ago (it might even have been you though also possibly Charlie Stross ) on the problem of the mass internet with regard to books is that it is hard to sort the rubbish from the quality and as time passes more and more rubbish builds. Then that a future bookshop could out-amazon amazon by providing a way to filter. Either that or people will use the recommendations of people they trust.

    I found that apt as I have just ordered (from amazon…) the Tepper, China and Snow Crash (to mix names and titles) so thank you.

  157. I’m one of the people who couldn’t get into A WINTER’S TALE when it was first published. (I think I read about 25 pages before putting it down. For a contrasting data point, I managed about 50 pages of Donaldson’s LORD FOUL’S BANE before setting that aside.)

    But after seeing all the AWT love here, maybe I’ll dig it out and give it another try.

  158. John, that’s a great list! Congratulations on that anniversary!
    I was surprised that I’d probably list the first 4 authors for the same reasons (especially the bestiaries for world-building reason). Although in some cases it would be for other books, such as the EarthSea series. I preferred The Scar to Perdido, but wish that there were some likeable characters. I’ll be looking up the authors I hadn’t read yet.

    Your use of the past tense of “meant” is interesting as, for me, there are some that had a big impact on me that mean little, or I even dislike, now; so I wonder if that applies for you? OSC and Heinlein are in that category for me.

    I’d forgotten the Dark is Rising sequence, but loved those. On a similar note, does anyone else remember The Weirdstone of Brisingamen? That ingrained a little claustrophobia in me that never left…

    I enjoyed your list and had great fun thinking about this! It’s interesting for me to see which authors are missing. I’m surprised, having read most of your books, that Asimov or Clarke (perhaps even Niven) didn’t make the list. If I were making my own list, I’d probably add Asimov (The Gods Themselves), Iain Banks (Consider Phlebas), Tolkein (The Hobbit) and William Gibson (Neuromancer). Various versions of the Greek myths also meant a lot to me too (I was the right age for Odysseus: The Greatest Hero Of them all). I personally think that being exposed as a kid to many of the gods that people used to believe in was rather formative.

  159. Andy – yes, the WEirdstone caused some claustrophobia in me too. And the third in the series came out a couple of years ago, it’s quite good apparently.

  160. I’ll add my name to the list of those acclaiming Perfido Street Station – it’d probably be in my top 10 SF books.

    I love the Barry Hughart books too and would point anyone else who does to Ernest Bramah’s Kai Lung stories, which Hughart acknowledges as his prime influence (Hughart is a better storyteller than Bramah, but Bramah is even more quotable).

    I enjoyed Sheri Tepper’s ‘Grass’ a lot and would also strongly recommend her fantasy, ‘Beauty’.

    With Simmons’ three duologies (if that’s the right word) I’ve always enjoyed the first volume more than the second – I prefer the set up to the resolution.

    But focusing on those novels that build your love for SF, there was a series of books for kids I read in the mid/late sixties which did it for me – can’t remember author nor any of the titles – about about a British astronaut and his pals (think Biggles); in the second volume the British, Americans and Russians are trying to land on the Moon first … can you guess who wins … clue: the author is British … yes, you’re right – it was a tie. Subsequently the British, Americans and Russians combine to form a four man astronaut team to explore the planets (our hero is the captain, with the team members being one from each nation – yup, two Brits!). I think the first novel was written in the late fifties, so could just about (albeit barely) get away with having the British involved in space exploration, but as each succesive novel appeared it must have seemed even more ridiculous! As they started to explore the outer planets the problem of communication with Earth was overcome by the discovery of telepathic twins – what’s more, they were young women: you’ll be pleased to hear – after some doubts were expressed at the thought of women in space – that they proved to have the right stuff!

    However, it was Jack Vance’s “City of the Chasch’, which I read in 1969, that really ignited my love for the genre.

    It occurs to me that ‘Stories you like by authors you don’t’ would be an interesting topic for another list.

  161. Very late to this, but finally found what to put down. I’ve read to completion two of your picks, while only partially read 5-6 of the others. All of them were/are intriguing reads for me. For some reason I never finished those others, but not for lack of a good story. It could be I lack patience. Overall, good picks.

  162. Thanks for reminding me of the great books of my youth! I’m amazed at how close your list is too mine, nine out of ten ( with a different LeGuin book, but still!) They’re great books, and books that can spark off a young mind and turn it into a writer….:-)

    I think I will go off and reread Snow Crash now.

  163. The “meant the most to me” list for me is rather standard, Martian Chronicles/Bradbury and 2001/Clark.

    More than anything, the thing they conveyed to me was a sense of awe.

    Very few books have done that for me since. And my reading has droped off considerably from when I was young.

    I might have to scrounge around for a copy of Perdido Street Station and Snow Crash.

  164. StevenLP: The books you’re thinking of were written by Hugh Walters. The British astronaut was named Chris Godfrey, and there was another astronaut named Morrey and a Russian named Serge, and they explored most of the planets in the solar system (and may have gone further than that in later books—and in one book they explored the interior of the Earth). I loved those books and remember them vividly.

  165. “The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.” What a beautiful and complex book, and what feels like part of Le Guin’s transition into her extraordinary mature voice.

    Every time I pass through Grand Central Station in New York, I look up at the ceiling, and think of “Winter’s Tale,” truly a love letter to the city, and to winter in general.

  166. Awwww, I see you shared my grade school delusion which was that I would become one of the Old Ones. (When it didn’t happen at 11, I held out hope for 13, which was when that hope shriveled on the vine. Alas.)

    Dune is also one of the great books in my life. When I was four, my dad was reading it, as well as Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy aloud to my mother in the evenings. I’d listen from the foot of their bed, and then in the daytime, I’d climb the bookshelves to try and read ahead. (I didn’t understand all of the world building aspects or some of the Bene Gesserit techniqes, although I did try Alia’s toe exercise.)

    Perdido Street Station is one of those books I recommended to my husband as “Every page has something you want to paint on it”.

  167. I absolutely agree with your assessment of Snow Crash having the best first chapter in science fiction (similarly, I think that Neuromancer has the best first sentence in science fiction. Pure poetry), the problem is that the rest of the book doesn’t quite hold up. However, it shows Stephenson’s strengths and weaknesses in about equal measures, so of all the books by him, it’s the one that is *most* by him. I’ll allow it.

    Is the Dark Is Rising worth reading if you aren’t a kid any more?

    I have Winter’s Tale on my bookshelf and I am totally going to read it. Soon. Right after I’m done with the other books.

    “World Building” seems to be a theme running through your favorites. It’s interesting, because I don’t see that as much in your fiction. You seem more of a plot-n-character sort of guy.

  168. AlanM: I think that Neuromancer has the best first sentence in science fiction. Pure poetry

    The sky was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.

    interesting predictions about the nature of cyberspace, missed the mark about television going digital.

  169. Reactions to Grass may vary greatly. My brother attempted it several times, and even finally finished it, at the insistence of several people he knew, including me, and absolutely hated it, and wouldn’t try another Tepper for years. Once he did, he fell in love with her, and has read pretty much everything she’s published (under that name). But he still doesn’t like Grass. We both agree with you that she’s severely underrated.

    I hate trying to make top-ten lists. I hate trying to decide whether A is “better than” B when they’re extremely different. How would you compare Gibson to Pratchett, for example? But whenever I think about it, I realize that Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar has to be somewhere on my top 10. Brunner wrote four novels that I think can reasonably be described as classics of the genre, but for my money, SoZ is head-and-shoulders above the rest.

    SoZ is not well-enough remembered these days, so I was delighted to find a shout-out to it in David Brin’s latest. And speaking of Brin, I might have to throw something of his on my list. Probably Uplift War, which I actually thought came together better than Startide Rising, although the latter is more famous.

    The most obscure book that might make my top ten list, were I to attempt one, is Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite. It features truly amazing world-building, nearly in the Dune class, with complex and engaging characters, an exciting plot, and one of the most outrageous and amusing premises I’ve ever seen in an SF book. Its one flaw is that it dumps you in at the deep end, and it can be hard getting started. Especially if you don’t realize how firmly the author’s tongue was planted in his cheek, and take the characters’ villainous tropes seriously. But once you sort that out and get into it, it becomes a delight, and I re-read it every few years.

    But overall, I think you put together an excellent list, Mr. Scalzi. I particularly like the fact that you went with Speaker for the Dead and The Fall of Hyperion. I agree with your assessments of both relative to their more famous predecessors.

  170. John, I’m surprised you haven’t read the rest of the Dune novels. Frank Herbert put a lot of work into them, building an entire universe. Even the last 2 (Hunters and Sandworms) were based on his extensive notes. My personal favorite answers this key question: If the only way you could save humanity from extermination was to become the most hated dictator in history, would you do it? In God Emperor Leto answered yes, and became the Tyrant, one of the most intriguing characters in the history of science fiction. 1000 years after his death the Bene Gesserit were terrified of him.

  171. And you know, John, your dudebrocritics have accused you of being “derivative,” so I thought it would only be proper to offer up a shout out to the one whom you are accused of… aaaahhhh… deriving? your work.

    Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War.” If you’re gonna get accused of ripping a guy off, you couldn’t have picked a better one.

  172. AND FINALLY!!!!

    I am pleased to discover I’m not the only person on Earth that didn’t like the Enders Game books.

    David Brin should have won the Hugo and Nebula that year.

  173. Do you think Adam serves somewhat as a contrast in the text to our dead friend though in the way he pursues Candy?

    Interesting question. Adam starts out by constantly propositioning her, and she tells him to stop, but she also spends a lot of time worrying about protecting his “fragile male ego.” When Rollo goes through his rigmarole, Adam sits silent, and Candy reflects that he was “probably kicking himself for not having thought of this approach” (or something along those lines; I don’t have the book in front of me right now). I think we’re supposed to realize that he’s upset she’s being manipulated, but I might be reading more into it than is there.

    At the end, gurer’f n pregnva varivgnovyvgl nobhg gurve jvaqvat hc gbtrgure gung nyfb qbrfa’g fvg jryy jvgu zr. Fur’f ryrira naq ur’f sbhegrra, ohg rirelbar nebhaq gurz gerngf gurz nf creznaragyl cnverq bss. (Naq gurer’f nabgure qvfgheovat cnffvat zragvba bs Xvz naq Tnlyr – obgu va gurve gjragvrf – gnyxvat nobhg ubj, vs Nqnz jrera’g Pnaql’f, gurl’q znxr n cynl sbe uvz, rvgure fvatyl be gbtrgure.)

    I don’t know if that really answered your question, unfortunately. What do you think?

  174. Greg: Yeah, the first sentence in “Neuromancer” now means it’s a night with no stars and no moon. For a time when VCRs and cable ruled the earth (not long after the book was written), it meant it was a lovely day with no clouds.

    Whereas that first page of “Snow Crash” still reads just as well.

    (I’m so glad I have pizza for dinner tonight, with all this “Snow Crash” talk.)

  175. Yay! Some love for Ariel, (I did have to check which Ariel you were talking about) which I read and reread a couple of times, and loved every time. The climax of Bridge of Birds brings tears to my eyes every time I read it; knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t reduce the emotion of the scene.

    And like some others I buy extra copies of Winter’s Tale when I find it used, partly to give to people, and partly because I’ve never gotten a copy back when I’ve just loaned it out.

  176. Nine of the eighteen I’ve read several times, with reactions from pleasure to delight; the others not at all and they’ve been added to the wish list.

    I give Bridge of Birds to people who I know read. I’ve been told it’s science fiction, fantasy, mystery, alternative history, romance … all have wanted more.

  177. Chris: Stephenson redeems his long-winded exposition in REAMDE, which is more reminiscent of Cryptonomicon than The Confusion. But my favorite Stephenson novel is still “The Diamond Age”.

  178. Hi John C: thanks for the identification of the Hugh Walters books. I don’t think I got as far as the one where the explored the Earth’s interior.

  179. Fans of _Always Coming Home_ might want to check out _Music and Poetry of the Kesh_, an album that can be purchased as a $5 MP3 bundle from (Book View Cafe is an online ebook store and Ursula Le Guin is listed as a founding member.) I just discovered the bundle and am thoroughly enjoying listening to it right now. Disclaimer: I have no connection to Book View Cafe or Ms. Le Guin, apart from holding her work in very high esteem.

  180. Jerome: I’m not the only person on Earth that didn’t like the Enders Game books

    I only read the first one and thought it was horrendous.

    Lurkertype: it meant it was a lovely day with no clouds.

    Hm. I always thought he was referring to a “bug fight” screen: white and black dots swarming about. I was never sure what that was supposed to look like in the sky. I imagined it was night time in a city with bright lights bouncing off the haze of thick pollution. But that’s the problem with metaphors, they tell you what it is like, but they don’t tell you what it is.

  181. For those who enjoyed (as did I) The Dark is Rising Series I recommend Julia Ecklar’s song about the poem the books are centered on. It’s on her newest album, “Horsetamer” (but doesn’t appear to be available as a single). But the entire album is pretty awesome and includes songs based on Dune, and Ender’s Game. You can get it at:

    I am also a big Emergence fan. Did you know Palmer released a sequel to it a few years ago? It appeared in Analog from July thru October 2008. I got it through Fictionwise, but not sure it’s still available there. I thought it was pretty good–certainly better than Threshold.

  182. I don’t know if that really answered your question, unfortunately. What do you think?

    Well, that’s the problem – up to this discussion, I’d coded Adam as a contrast to Rollo – after all, he took care of her without taking advantage when she was unconscious and waited until she was recovered before unleashing the horny relentless teenager persona.

    But when I thought about it in light of this discussion, I realised I was assuming a contrast that might not exist. Thus I was interested in your thoughts – thank you for them.

  183. Greg: Oh, sure, he meant static with the random black and whiteness. Which I’m not sure actually can happen, even in cyberpunk. Did he mean some sort of average of them, in gray? Was it making an annoying hiss?

    But when VCRs became common, if you tuned to a dead channel, the VCR outputted a silent screen of pure lovely sky blue, inverting the metaphor entirely.

    Now that we’re all-digital, it’s just pitch black, implying it’s a very cloudy night and there’s a power outage, which stops L337 H@XX0RZ when the batteries die.

    So that sentence has conjured up three completely different ideas as our tech has changed. You’d have to put the word “analog” in to create the original image for These Kids Today.

  184. I bought Snow Crash as a present for my stepbrother on the recommendation of the bookshop attendant. The stepbrother was a fantasy reader and I thought he might like SF Anyway, I gave it a quick once-over to make sure it was suitable – upon which it became my copy, and I bought another for my stepbrother. The first copy’s now in less-than-mint condition, and the stepbrother switched to reading SF that Christmas!

  185. It’s always wonderful to see the books that are meaningful to a writer whose work you enjoy —even better when you agree with many of them. I’m so happy to see The Dark Is Rising Sequence on this list: it’s also one of my favorite series, and I don’t think it gets as many readers lately as it deserves. And now I have some books that I’m excited to add to my reading list for this year!

  186. This has been bugging me since I saw this… who is the other ‘stinky’ author. I know some of you are rather displeased at Orson Scott Cards stance on gay rights (Im in favor of it, but I understand his point), but I have no idea who the other one is. I don’t keep up with SFWA drama. Not looking to start a fight here,but I really have no idea. I did some googling and couldn’t figure it out.

    please dont go crazy and start a fight over this or john will delete the post and Ill never get an answer.

  187. Sheri Tepper writes from a very feminist perspective at times and I think that throws off the men who review books and help get buzz out there about authors.

    Seriously. you should read (post the shutdown) what happens to republican senators in her book “The Fresco” — That book is fantastic and I think says a great deal about our American way of life. Good story telling and an unusual take on aliens.

  188. Thus I was interested in your thoughts – thank you for them.

    Thank you as well. I enjoyed the discussion.

  189. @aunti: Tepper writes fantasy right? I generally find that fnatasy books that include too much modern political opinion irregardless of left or right don’t work. They tend to bug me. take the feminist stuff out, are her books by themselves entertaining? As I get older I get more sensitive to quality prose. SF/F genre fiction isn’t really known for this… , but is her prose good?

    basically if she was a right winger, would you still consider her writing good? if so, Ill check it out.

  190. I’m so glad to see you mention Cooper’s wonderful “The Dark Is Rising” sequence/title book. This series had an enormous impact on me as well, and helped me learn young to set my expectations high regarding storytelling an duse of language.

  191. @Guess: Tepper doesn’t write fantasy, except a few of her very early works (the Marianne trilogy and Revenants); she writes SF, albeit fairly magical/”soft” SF. (Even her True Game series, which looks like fantasy, is actually SF.) I suspect the other ‘stinky’ author is Mr. Simmons, who wrote a really horrid little “thought-experiment” piece about the Evil of Muslims sometime not long after 9/11. It also might be Mr. Helprin, author of A Winter’s Tale, who is your bog-standard skeevy right-wing bigoted asshole, but fewer people know that because he’s not, by and large, a *genre* author. (AWT is really the only “genre”-ish thing he’s written; otherwise he’s a litfic guy.)

    @Gulliver: Tepper has some pretty appalling ideas about eugenics and crime-and-punishment. However, despite the awfulness of the interview linked above, please continue loving Gate to Women’s Country — i’ll go on record yet again as saying that it’s obvious that Women’s Country really isn’t intended to be a utopia. Sure, she was clearly working out some of her creepy eugenics ideas there (it is one of her earliest novels, the ickiness gets significantly worse later), but the text makes clear, in several places, that the people running it know perfectly well that what they’re doing is horrible. (The women in charge call themselves the “Damned Few”. And “Hell … Hell is Women’s Country” has a lot of different meanings.) I think the way to read Gate is as Tepper saying, “I am terrified of the possibility of nuclear war. What the fuck can anyone even do?” and coming up with an answer that doesn’t satisfy either her characters or herself, but at least isn’t idly waiting around for the end of the fucking world. (“Democracy is the absolute worst system of government ever invented — except for all the others.” — same sort of sentiment.)

    I’m a huge Tepper fan — her earlier works are huge influences on both my love of genre and my personal ethical system — but i basically gave up on her after Singer from the Sea. She’s just gotten too preachy, and too old, and too unwilling to admit either in real life (interviews and such) or via her characters that she might, once in awhile, be wrong. In most of her earlier work, even where there are Evil Villains and Creepy Eugenics, there’s at least some sense that the text is in dialogue with itself. “Wait a minute, is this really okay? Are things really that simple?” that totally goes away in her more recent work.

  192. Guess: the other stinky author is, I assume, Dan Simmons for his opinions related to Islam and significant related events of the pas t decade if not more. I don’t know the specifics as I could never be bothered with such drama, and maybe I’m entirely wrong. To me his works stand by themselves.

  193. Sorry to be late finding this thread. Sooz wrote, way up topic, “‘Left Hand of Darkness’ meant a lot to me, more than ACH (good though that is) but this is partly generational as I am 55.” I am also that old, and I understand the phenomenon of not having your socks blown off by new literature as you get older, no matter how good it may be. For me, ACH was the last book that really did that. Whatever its general reputation, I consider it her masterpiece.

    I’ve read 6 of the 10, and – aside from that wonderful first chapter of Snow Crash, after which anything would be a bit of a letdown – ACH is the only one that really means to me as much as they all do to you. No problem; tastes, they differ, and I’m glad to read of yours.

  194. I am so pleased to see that Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence made your list! I’ve met so few people who have read those utterly brilliant books. (Okay, so technically I haven’t met you, either, but that has nothing to do with the price of eggs.) The TV show Murder, She Wrote was the reason I started writing novels, and The Dark Is Rising was my gateway drug to writing fantasy. “Three from the circle, three from the track” still gets stuck in my head sometimes. I still want to go on a treasure hunt with Jane, Barney, and Simon. And the Walker’s story still breaks my heart.

  195. John: Thanks for this post (and the comments!) — I think we’re about the same age (I am 48), so your list and my would-be list are pretty close; I’d sub in Dispossessed for ACH, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for Heinlein. So glad you loved The Dark is Rising, too, which I reread just a few years ago and still found fantastic. (“The night will be bad. And tomorrow will be beyond imagining.”) For me, though, Winter’s Tale can’t hold a candle to Crowley’s Little, Big; the novels are remarkably similar, and I suspect that whichever one you read first will be the one you love.

  196. Thanks for introducing me to Sheri S. Tepper and “Grass”! Although much of her work has been translated into German she never came to my attention before I read your list and “Grass” is great, no matter what some people above say.

  197. The graphic description of a character’s [non specific so as not to spoil for any new readers] suffering through the plague in “Grass” STILL gives me the shivers. I don’t know why, but I wanted to vomit and keep reading at the same time. I still can’t get it out of my head and I read it in 1999.

    “Podkayne of Mars” will always be my top Heinlein, just because it was the first Sci Fi I ever read, and it was something my dad and I had in common. He chose well when plotting to get his 10 year old girl hooked on sci fi. “Time Enough For Love” is my favorite “dirty old Heinlein” one.

  198. Oh yes, Grass – a wonderful book by a really great writer, Sheri S. Tepper. So proud of the fact that she is also a Colorado native like myself. I just finished A Plague of Angels. I loved The Gate to Women’s Country, as well.
    Ray Bradbury is a poet, and I loved all his books as a child. leGuin: I loved the Wizard of Earthsea books but I have never read her iconic books The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. Enders Game and the sequels were fabulous and I re-read them every few years. I appreciate this list! Guess I’ve still got some discovery in fantasy/science fiction, thank goodness.

  199. Interesting list, just one question – are there any non-sf books that you think have seriously influenced you?

    My first ‘real’ encounter with written sf was ‘Satan’s World’ by Poul Anderson. Along with an anthology of stories from ‘Galaxy’ it introduced me to the world beyond ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘Star Trek’. (Yeah, ’60’s, dating myself here.)

  200. Thanks for inspiring a swell con panel idea: “What works made you, personally, sit up and say ‘Wait, you can do that!’?”
    I had the pleasure of meeting Sherri Tepper the one and only time (afaik) she has ever consented to be GoH at a con, at Wiscon. I don’t know how accessible the recording of her Guest of Honor speech is, but she was in the trenches on the front lines of Planned Parenthood for a couple of decades, so she comes by her opinions honestly. Our Earth really is past it’s carrying capacity for our species.

  201. Have to agree with chw here–I read “Little, Big” first, then “Winter’s Tale” and went from being delighted by Helprin’s 19th-century newspaper references, to perturbed as a whirling silver coin in a printing press, & then straight to baffled, all the while nervously flipping through the equally awesome “Little,Big” again, after checking the pub dates on both books (pretty close together, as it turned out, with Crowley prior), and feeling uncomfortable about the obvious structural parallels between these two well-written works by different authors.

    I concluded the two works might easily be integrated into one (even larger) novel: Their stories seem to buttress and reassure each other in odd places without actually overlapping. That integration might be a fun exercise for someone, someday, somehow. I think it might involve little more than changing the names of a few characters, or sifting the chapters together on a one-for-one basis, then kicking it old school to somehow mesh the two stories for a mutually-glittery ending.

    Weird indeed, if both these books were written without some knowledge of the other! What was the zeitgeist sea condition at the time?

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