Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Standards

A little while ago, I ran across a Web site that purported to list the 50 "must read" SF novels ( I read through the list and at first was pleased to find I made it to #25 before encountering a book I had not read, but some of the choices were decidedly odd to me. Forever Peace at #2? No Heinlein in the list at all? And then I had the general reaction I have to these kinds of lists—what were the criteria that were used to select the books? There was no indication.

I posted the list to my Facebook page, which in turn garnered an interesting response; someone wanted to know why I didn't create my own list. At first, I declined, because it seemed like it would be a lot of work (it turns out that it was indeed a lot of work). But my subconscious kept processing through books until I had to write some of them down, and once I started writing them down, there was no way to stop the tide that would sweep me to just such a post.

So, here is my list of the 50 speculative fiction books everyone reads, the so-called "standards." These are the touchstone books, the ones that all speculative fiction fans know about…not the ones everyone SHOULD know about (in literary terms, it appears I am trying to write down the canon, always a dubious task). There may be some intersection between "should know" and "does know" but I'm trying very hard to take my personal taste out of the list (which is excruciatingly painful, let me say). I'm looking for the books that are generally accepted as the classics of speculative fiction by the readers of science fiction. And unlike other lists of this nature, I am actually going to provide my criteria:
  1. An author may only appear on the list once. This was a major part of the excruciation I mentioned above.
  2. I will only list books that I have read. I refuse to have an opinion about something I haven't read, so there are probably some big names and some big titles I don't mention. It's not because I don't believe them to be one of the foundation books of the genre; I just haven't read them.
  3. I'm listing speculative fiction, so there is science fiction, fantasy, and horror in this list.
  4. I am not listing comics, so as tempting as it was to include them, Watchmen and Sandman do not appear here.
  5. I tried very hard to list just a book rather than a series. But in a couple of cases, that was just impossible, as you'll see.
If readers appreciate what I've come up with, I might go back and create my list of 50 that should be read, bearing in mind that such a list is by definition colored by my taste and opinion.

So without further ado, my own version of the speculative fiction must read list:

Frankenstein—Mary Shelley (1818)
While there are arguably other books that are the forefathers of fantasy (The Faerie Queen and Gulliver's Travels comes to mind), Shelley's classic is the understood beginning point for science fiction.

Tales of Mystery and Imagination—Edgar Allan Poe (1839—the publication date of the first short story in the collection, the book itself was published in 1968)
Poe was able to modernize the features of the gothic novels and provide a blueprint for horror for the next century, influencing future writers who went on to influence others. His short stories are masterworks in writing of any kind, let alone horror.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—Jules Verne (1869)
A book that is in the mainstream because of the Walt Disney film of the 1950s, it also represents the prototype of Vernian science fiction. Verne extrapolates the science of his day into the future and then spends the novel describing its wonders. I also considered Around the World in 80 Days, but 20,000 Leagues is classic science fiction, even if it becomes awfully dry in its long descriptions.

Dracula—Bram Stoker (1897)
While there were vampires before Stoker's novel, none of them has captured the popular imagination like the count from Transylvania. It is also a brilliant exercise in the epistle, being made up of letters from one character to another. Sadly, Stoker tried to write other speculative fiction with nowhere near as much success, but everyone who thinks about vampires reads this novel.

War of the Worlds—H. G. Wells (1897)
Wells's science fiction had a different purpose than Verne's and they had something of a rivalry; Wells writes science fiction to establish a setting to discuss contemporary thinking and philosophy. War of the Worlds puts man—especially white men—in the uncomfortable position of being the colonized rather than the colonizer. And it's a terrific alien invasion story as well. I also considered The Invisible Man and The Time Machine, but when it comes down to the one that I think most people read, it is this one.

A Princess of Mars—Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
A much beloved book among science fiction fans, A Princess of Mars initiated a long career for Burroughs. John Carter, the hero of Princess, and Tarzan are Burroughs's best known heroes, but I would argue that the Tarzan books are more adventure story than science fiction. This is a tiny wedge, since the Barsoom books are primarily action stories as well, just set in a different kind of bizarre locale, but Princess does codify the planetary romance subgenre, the one that dominates "science fiction" films to this day.

Brave New World—Aldous Huxley (1932)
Just a classic book of a dystopic future and the rebel who tries to break free of it. Millions of students have had to read this for high school, which in no way diminishes its power and effect.

Conan of Cimmeria—Robert E. Howard (1932—the publication date of the first short story in the collection, the book itself was published in 2002)
Thanks to Scwarzenegger, everyone thinks they know Conan. The sad thing is that all the movies are very different from the character that Howard writes about; in fact, the movies dumb him down tremendously. Unfortunately, all of Conan is in short form—short stories and novellas—so we have to rely on this brilliant collection of short stories, edited to remove later writers' additions to the original text. Anyone who is a fan of heroic fantasy has read something of Conan.

At the Mountains of Madness—H. P. Lovecraft (1936)
Lovecraft is nearly a deity for speculative fiction, a forgotten master who has suddenly regained popularity as later readers have come to discover how many writers have been influenced by him. Lovecraft distilled a lot of thought about fantasy from his 20s and 30s and helped to create a new sub-genre, the weird, which is undergoing another huge revival. Mountains is his best known piece, a delight of terror and atmosphere, wherein the monsters are never actually seen, but their presence felt throughout the novel.

Triplanetary—E. E. Smith (1948)
For a lot of the 30s and 40s, science fiction took on the structure of the inventor story—a brilliant young man discovers or invents something that leads mankind to galactic conquest. While not the father of this mode of writing, Smith was very clearly its best practitioner. Triplanetary is the first novel in the Lensman series, a much beloved series that describes man's expansion from our own planet to eventually our galactic cluster. The writing is momentous and swashbuckling, pulling its readers right along. Personally, I like the Skylark series better—the Lensman storyline gets repetitive over the six books—and I like that for of the Skylark books, Smith reverses everything and makes his antagonist the protagonist.

1984—George Orwell (1949)
Another classic, another bane of high school readers. 1984 and its ideas have so worked their way through Western culture that it is truly one of the defining books of the last 200 years.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—C. S. Lewis (1950)
This is in the list for obvious reasons. For a few decades, I would not be surprised if nearly 80% of all children in the US read this book and some of its series. It has long captured children's imagination, and except for the last couple of books, Lewis was able to keep his allegory fairly minimal, making it a beloved memory for adults who pass it on to their children. In many ways, this book is the godfather of the glut of young adult novels in the marketplace today.

Foundation—Isaac Asimov (1951)
It's very hard to pick just one Asimov book. But remembering that my questions concerns the book most read by fans, I think it has to be Foundation. Asimov's strengths are on display here—characterization and plot dominate the stories. Foundation has to be one of the touchstone books in the history of science fiction. (I also considered The Caves of Steel and The End of Eternity for this slot.)

Fahrenheit 451—Ray Bradbury (1953)
Another seminal book in American history, 451 is much beloved by science fiction and mainstream audiences alike, primarily for its warnings about censorship. Bradbury is a brilliant stylist, but not a lot of that is on display in 451, or it goes astray. And yet there is enough in the novel for it to capture the Western imagination. (I also considered The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes for this slot.)

I Am Legend—Richard Matheson (1954)
Matheson is one of America's great writers of the short form, even if most Americans don't realize who he is. Matheson wrote some of the most beloved episodes of The Twilight Zone and other horror and science fiction anthologies. I Am Legend is a thoughtful provocative take on the classic vampire story, providing an ironic twist on the general path such stories take. The novel has been filmed three times and, as you might expect, the best was the one starring Vincent Price (not Charlton Heston!). In many ways, this novel represents speculative fiction's turning its eyes on itself starting in the 50s, recognizing that it had a history as a genre and what seemed familiar territory could be mined for deeper ore.

Lord of the Rings—J. R. R. Tolkien (1954)
This is one that instance that I had to include a series rather than a single book. Tolkien's story of the dawning of man in a world where elder races have begun to fade is a touchstone for every fantasy novel that follows it. And just as its popularity started to wane, Peter Jackson directed a brilliant series of films based on the books, lofting the novels back into the mainstream consciousness again.

The Stars My Destination—Alfred Bester (1956)
In many ways, Bester represents the first modern writer of science fiction, interested as much in style and narrative as in character and plot. The Stars My Destination feels like a beat writer's attempt to write science fiction with tremendous results that acted as a touchstone for young science fiction writers for decades to follow. Bester also had big ideas that carry on in science fiction today. It was tough to choose between this and Bester's other classic, The Demolished Man, but when it comes down to it, I think more people have read Destination.

A Canticle for Leibowitz—Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1959)
It would be easy to shrug off Canticle as just another post-apocalyptic novel, but doing so would be a tremendous mistake. Canticle should have a lot more mainstream appreciation than it does, speaking as it does of what it means to be human, to constantly rise up against horrible odds, even when those odds are put upon man by man himself. There is humor and wit and loads of charm in Canticle and it is either astonishing or tremendously apropos that it is the only novel by Miller published in his lifetime. When I am asked by someone who is interested in trying out some science fiction for a suggestion, this is the one I always say. To my mind, it may be one of the best books, for all genres, of the 20th century, and science fiction fans have long known and appreciated its genius.

Starship Troopers—Robert Heinlein (1959)
You can't have a list like this without Heinlein. Heinlein may be the most important figure in science fiction in the 20th century, and he is a brilliant and cunning writer besides. Everybody that came after Heinlein (and bear in mind he started publishing short stories in the 30s, this is only the ONE book of his everyone reads) used him as a touchstone for what makes good science fiction and what makes good writing. And, if you are thinking to yourself that you saw the movie and so don't need to read the book, know that the movie is a horrible adaptation of the novel, antagonizing and polarizing fans to this day. Heinlein has a huge catalog, but the only other two books I really considered for this list were Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

A Wrinkle in Time—Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
Long known as a children's novel, it is nonetheless been a delightful introduction to science fiction for generations of readers. It is also well worth rereading as an adult

The Man in the High Castle—Philip K. Dick (1962)
There simply can be no list of this sort without reference to Dick. Another master whose writing inspired generations of writers, Dick is an icon in speculative fiction circles and gaining more and more notoriety in the mainstream as his stories are being made into movies. But the straightforward action fare of movies like Total Recall and Minority Report belies the plots of their stories: Dick was much more interested in the way the mind worked and how it would be affected by future changes than such movies indicate. Picking a single novel is hard, but I think more people have read The Man in the High Castle, an alternative history story where the US is divided between Germany and Japan after World War II, than the more surreal and paranoid novels of Dick. I also considered DO Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the story that the movie Blade Runner is based on, but I'm pretty sure most readers are satisfied with seeing the movie and have not attempted the novel.

Dune—Frank Herbert (1965)
Dune carries enormous gravitas in the speculative fiction community. It has its flaws to be sure, but it is epic in its scope, the first science fiction novel I can think of to do such massive world-building. It is not hyperbole to say that pretty much everyone who reads science fiction reads Dune.

Dragonflight—Anne McCaffrey (1968)
McCaffrey is a beloved author in science fiction circles for her Pern stories, about a planet colonized by humans but with a bizarre ecology that includes dragon. Those dragons are genetically manipulated by the colonists to help them fight a recurring natural disaster from space. But the first few novels don't really go into that much science fiction detail and follow a fairly typical young adult novel narrative. Dragonflight is the first Pern novel and can be read alone without reading any further, But I honestly don't know of anyone who has read just one Pern novel.

Stand on Zanzibar—John Brunner (1968)
Not many folks know of Brunner outside of science fiction circles, which is a shame. He started out as a middling fantasy writer, somewhat interested in pushing that genre along the New Wave of science fiction, challenging narrative style and language much like Bester did in his novels. But somewhere along the way, he started writing science fiction. The best of them is Stand on Zanzibar, a "literary" genre novel if ever there were one. Style and narration are experimental and complex but well worth the effort to read. The plot feels very much like it was taken out of the headlines of today. Those writers who eventually create the genre of cyberpunk read and were indebted to Brunner.

Slaughterhouse-Five—Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
It may not be the case any longer, but when I was a teenager, if I told someone that I read science fiction, they would almost always ask me my opinion of Vonnegut. Vonnegut is also required reading a lot of high school careers, so there is some familiarity with him. Vonnegut is a member of a very small club, someone who admits to writing science fiction and yet garners huge mainstream appeal as well (Bradbury would also be a member of this group). The choices were legion—Sirens of Titan, Breakfast of Champions—but when you think Vonnegut, the first title you usually think of is Slaughterhouse-Five.

The Left Hand of Darkness—Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)
Le Guin is another speculative fiction writer who should be more appreciated in the mainstream than she is. If science fiction is about man's relationship to science and technology, Le Guin often uses the so-called soft sciences—anthropology and sociology—as the basis for her stories. The Left Hand of Darkness is a brilliant treatise on an alien near-human race and human interactions with them. The story forces the reader to reconsider long-held ideas of gender and gender roles, while also telling a bang-up story. Le Guin also has an extensive catalog of fantasy novels as well, such as The Wizard of Earthsea, but I think Left Hand noses it out for a place in the canon.

Nine Princes in Amber—Roger Zelazny (1970)
Zelazny was part of the New Wave, where experimentation in language and narrative were the vogue and interest in the soft sciences formed the background of his novels. Zelazny is often cited as an inspiration by more modern writers, both for his language and for his plots. But if you were to ask speculative fiction fans what their favorite Zelazny novel is, it would be something from his Amber series, a fantasy set in a parallel dimension. Zelazny does use some of the New Wave techniques in the books, but not nearly so much as he does in his science fiction. Nine Princes in Amber is the first of the Amber novels and terrific fun to read, so much so that the experiments Zelazny is performing generally go unremarked.

Ringworld—Larry Niven     (1970)
Ringworld is probably the best known "hard science" science fiction novel, where the author works out with formulaic rigidity the technology at the core of his writing. In this case, Niven has created a giant ribbon that surround a star, with the side facing the sun of the system terraformed and habitable. The story follows an ill-fated exploration of the eponymous Ringworld as they try to determine who created the artifact and then escape from it themselves.

Swords and Deviltry—Fritz Leiber (1970)
In opposition to the epic fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien is the tradition of sword and sorcery. Generally, the plotlines follow a rogue or group of rogues as they try to earn as much money as they can by taking up distasteful tasks that generally involve magicians. There is a little room for ethics and philosophy as sometimes the protagonists wonder why they do what they do, and there is often a great deal of humor, as the narratives are strongly character driven. Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are the most beloved rogues in speculative fiction, and their origins and first meeting are chronicled in Swords and Deviltry. Leiber had actually been writing Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories for decades, but their origins were not chronicled until 1970. Swords and Deviltry is the first in a series of books that collects their adventures.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go—Philip Jose Farmer (1971)
Farmer began writing ground-breaking science fiction novels in the 60s, taking on some characteristics of the New Wave—experimentation in story-telling and some vaguely psychedelic language. He also didn't seem to give a damn about taboo, seeing it as his responsibility to break through it. Ironically, his best known novel doesn't care so much about taboo as to start a tremendous adventure with enormous storytelling potential. To Your Scattered Bodies Go marks the first novel about Riverworld, a vast planet dominated by a single river that flows all over it like a labyrinth, and upon which every human being that ever lived on Earth has been reincarnated. Farmer jovially mixes up the nations and cultures of the resurrected, pairing up Samuel Clemens with Richard Burton (the explorer of the Nile rather than the actor) as our protagonists as they try to figure out the causes of the rebirth.

Rendezvous with Rama—Arthur C. Clarke (1973)
Clarke has written so many wonderful novels that I have gone back and forth many times about which one to pick for the list. This is symptomatic of Clarke's beloved status in the science fiction community, eventually acting as a spokesman to the mainstream audience when events right out of science fiction took place, such as Apollo 11's landing on the moon. His works are beloved in the community, both the hard science fiction ones and the ones where he moves into "softer" fare. Unfortunately his best-known work, "The Sentinel", the story on which 2001: A Space Odyssey is based, is a short story (to be honest, I'm not sure a lot of people read that story, preferring to see the movie). I've chosen one of his hard science fiction novels, Rendezvous with Rama, in which a giant artifact from another civilization wanders through our solar system. Of course humans launch an expedition to determine its nature, and the story of that journey is recorded in the novel. I also considered Childhood's End, The City and the Stars, and a collection of his short stories.

Gateway—Frederik Pohl (1977)
Pohl began publishing fiction in the 50s, but I'm not sure if much of his earlier work is read very often any longer. But everyone knows Gateway, the story of humans discovering another alien artifact and trying to reverse engineer it to advance our own technological capability. One group, trying to manage the spaceships they find in the artifact, ends up travelling through a black hole.

Lord Foul's Bane—Stephen R. Donaldson (1977)
Donaldson was sort the rock star of fantasy in the late 70s, at one point earning an article in People magazine. Lord Foul's Bane is the first of the Thomas Covenant series, worthy of critical appreciation for the new path he set fantasy upon. Taking the trapping of epic fantasy, in the mold of J. R. R. Tolkien, but giving it an utterly unlikable protagonist, Donaldson was able to play with the tropes and clichés of perhaps the most clichéd subgenre in speculative fiction, and make it exciting. If there is any issue with Thomas Covenant, it is that he is so miserably unlikable that sometimes reading his story is a slog. But everyone read at least the first book and much of what is happening today in fantasy owes its origin on the trail that Donaldson first blazed.

The Stand—Stephen King (1978)
King stands as something of a living god for the horror genre and is so popular that mainstream readers adore him and would simultaneously be appalled if they were told they were reading speculative fiction. The Stand may be one of the most read books in America, and this is also true of readers of speculative fiction. And everyone has an opinion about it, especially King's immense talent, except when it comes to writing conclusions to his novels.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy—Douglas Adams (1979)
This first book in a four-part trilogy is one of the most beloved books in speculative fiction, I think in good part because it is a comedy, poking at human frailty with absurd and blatant allegory. Not many readers go beyond the first novel or even pick up other series by Adams, but everyone reads Hitchhiker, as it is often referred to.

Book of the New Sun—Gene Wolfe (1980)
This is the second series I had to use a single selection on, and is made up of four books: The Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch. It is impossible to just read one book of this series, not only because of the narrative threads that carry on between the books but also because of Wolfe's brilliance. A lot of books in this list are one that muct be read because that is what is done, but everyone likes the Book of the New Sun, especially because it is a challenge. Wolfe is another writer who should receive more mainstream acclaim than he does.

Lord Valentine's Castle—Robert Silverberg (1980)
Another much beloved book that follows the newly crowned Coronal, head of the planetary government of the planet Majipoor. Majipoor has a strange philosophy for rule, in that it governs by dream control. There is some political maneuvering in Lord Valentine's Castle but mostly it serves as a wondrous introduction to the huge planet and its many alien races.

Pawn of Prophecy—David Eddings (1982)
Eddings started down the path of becoming a staple of fantasy with the publication of this novel, the first of five in a series named The Belgariad. In a lot of ways, Pawn of Prophecy just follows the tropes of epic fantasy first codified by Tolkien. But the real strength of this series of books lies in the characterization—each character is fully rounded and has many many dimensions. And while the plot is somewhat typical, it also serves as the basis for the characters to work in different combination, further broadening and actuating them, shining light into the quirks of their personalities. Unfortunately, after the first five books, Eddings appears to get lazy and basically recycles the plot for three other series. But that first series, and especially Pawn of Prophecy was eye-opening and engaging, delighting legions of readers.

The Anubis Gates—Tim Powers (1983)
People don't often read a lot of Tim powers, though he is critically appreciated. His novels are generally set on an Earth that is slightly different in some way, and the stories exploit those differences. The Anubis Gates imagines time travel to be a possibility, allowing scholars to travel into the past to see a lecture by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But something goes hideously wrong, and the time travelers discover a secret world in early nineteenth century London, and the ensuing battle is what opens the time gates that allow for time travel in the first place. The Anubis Gate is a rollicking adventure, gleefully mixing science fiction and fantasy and throwing in a taste of the American version of magical realism. If ever a novel cried out to be given the movie treatment, this is the one, and science fiction fans know it well.

Neuromancer—William Gibson (1984)
While there were elements of cyberpunk as far back as John Brunner, William Gibson set the world on fire with the first words in Neuromancer: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." In Gibson's hands, cyberpunk was a genre that dealt with the harsh economic realities of the Reagan years while exploiting the hot new technology, computers. The PC was relatively new and writers like Gibson saw its potential for change. It also didn't hurt that Gibson is capable of some dramatic turn of phrase. Everyone read Neuromancer and cyberpunk took off, predicting and influencing a number of the changes that make our life in the 2010s so different from what it was in the 1980s.

Ender's Game—Orson Scott Card (1985)
Card's book about young Ender Wiggins learning to become an officer in Earth's war against an alien insect-like race excites strong reactions among science fiction fans. It generally has a positive reception though there are some legitimate complaints about the subject matter. It also has a "gotcha" near its end, which pulled numerous readers in also. Love it or hate it, the generation of fans that were reading in the 80s read Ender's Game.

The Player of Games—Iain M. Banks (1988)
Essentially a national treasure in the UK, Banks's popularity causes readers to pick up at least one book to try out. That book is usually The Player of Games, perhaps the most acclaimed of his novels.

Tigana—Guy Gavriel Kay (1990)
Kay plays with the tropes of epic fantasy, evolving deeper and richer stories than the genre usually allows. Kay also bases each story in a setting that is an analog to a human culture and time period. Tigana is set in a country that is much like Italy between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. One of Kay's most distinctive qualities is the subtlety of the magic in his stories—there are not evil warlords leading hordes of hideous orcs into battle. Instead magic is pervasive and thus more powerful, and Kay is very concerned with its effects on people. Tigana is a powerful story about rage and redemption, sacrifice and sorrow. Like Banks, Kay is extremely popular the world over, and Tigana is simply his best work.

A Fire Upon the Deep—Vernor Vinge (1992)
In some ways, A Fire Upon the Deep is nothing more than a giant space opera, a descendant of E. E. Smith's work. But Vinge is not content with galactic empires, and the novel is a delight of interaction with truly alien races and big ideas. Vinge is another well-beloved writer in science fiction cricles, and Fire is generally acclaimed to be his best work.

Red Mars—Kim Stanley Robinson (1992)
A novel of the colonization and terraforming of Mars, Red Mars is generally accepted as the best hard science fiction novel in the last few decades. Actually, it is the first book of a trilogy, and that series is widely appreciated, having won numerous awards. Robinson's descriptions are Verne-like in their capacity and detail, but Robinson is interested in not only how humans can affect Mars but also how Mars would affect its colonists.

Snow Crash—Neal Stephenson (1992)
This novel was the next step in cyberpunk, after the initial genre boundaries were established by Gibson and his contemporaries. It is a tour de force, a rollicking adventure with fascinating characters and loads of wit. If I taught creative writing, the first four chapters of this novel would be required reading in my class, introducing one of the great names in speculative fiction history, Hiro Protagonist, the Deliverator—or as we find out, a pizza delivery man for the mob. But the novel goes beyond irony to imagine a computer virus that infects users, the eponymous snow crash, interpolating and extrapolating the relationship between human and computer languages and imagining a time where they begin to intersect.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone—J. K. Rowling (1997)
This one is kind of a no-brainer. The Harry Potter phenomenon swept the world, including the speculative fiction community. While there has always been a young adult market for speculative fiction, Harry Potter brought a monstrous boom as everyone tried to get into the apparently newly opened market space. I have intentionally chosen the British version of the book, primarily because I have never read the American version (…Sorcerer's Stone), and because whenever possible, I like to read my books in their original language.

American Gods—Neil Gaiman (2000)
Neil Gaiman is the rock star of current speculative fiction. I've seen him at conventions twice and each time he walked on stage, you'd've thought it was the Beatles in Shea Stadium—legions of screaming women calling out his name. He is charming, witty, and urbane, and he even dresses the part of rock star, rarely seen without his black leather jacket. He's also an exciting voice in modern fantasy, interested in the crafting of new mythologies and their place in Western culture. American Gods is probably his most beloved book, becoming a touchstone for the current generation of readers of fantasy, but his young adult novels are surely not far behind in popularity. Coraline has already been made into a movie, and I understand the award-winning Graveyard Book is about to be as well. But for now, I'll stick with American Gods as Gaiman's contribution to this list.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell—Susanna Clarke (2004)
Another exciting voice without as long as resume as Gaiman's, Clarke rocked the fantasy world with her first novel. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a soaring success upon its release, inventing a history of magic and delivering it in Victorian style. It is a sweeping epic with delightful characters and twisty subplots, and fans simply had to read the novel to find out what the fuss was about. The work has influenced what's going on in the genre today, relying as it does on Victorian style and narrative and giving the current steampunk explosion a guiding star.

The Name of the Wind—Patrick Rothfuss (2007)
I'm taking a risk with this pick; it might be hubris to select a book that has been out for five years as one of the "Standards." It is something of a prediction on my part, but fantasy fans devoured Rothfuss's first novel and clamored for more. Rothfuss gave The Name of the Wind the explicit narrative structure of most epic fantasy and then set about with a scythe as he injected reality into the conventions. He was not the first to do this by any means, but he did it the best, so that his work has become a touchstone for current writers of fantasy on how to become subversive. Other authors I considered for this slot, for much the same reason, were Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

There you have it, my speculative fiction canon. Who did I leave out? Let me know in the comments section.

1 comment:

  1. You need Theodore Sturgeon -- _More Than Human,_ probably.