I’ve been watching a few Youtube channels devoted to science fiction/fantasy books. Watching them got me thinking about my collection of SFF books. I have a lot of them – the illustrations are shots of my SF shelves – but nevertheless, I seemed to have missed most of the important SF for various reasons that I’ll explore in this post and the ones that follow.
I have already mentioned in previous posts, that while I had always considered myself a fan of SF, it turns out that I wasn’t really a fan of SF after all. Instead, I was, and still am, a fan of the old school romances – adventure stories set in exotic lands. SF merely provided the exotic lands element. I now have the numbers to prove it. And numbers never lie.
I’ve looked over seven lists of the “Best 100 SF novels” that I found online. Some of the lists are weighted to older books, others to newer books. Below are how many of those books I read off of each list, plus the ones I started but did not finish.
NPR’s 100 Read 17 DNF 5
Stacker 100 Read 16 DNF 2
Reedsy 100 Read 11 DNF 2
The Planet 100 Read 13 DNF 4
Book Authority 100 Read 6
Rapid Transit 100 Read 12 DNF 2
SF List (pre-2000) Read 14 DNF 3
For a fellow who has read more than 500 SF books, reading 6% to 17% of the genre’s most important or essential books is not a very impressive number. Clearly I hadn’t got the memo about what SF is really about. Though to be honest, I’ve no plans to rectify that situation.
Just as a side note, the two most mentioned books on these lists that I started to read but did not finished are A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Foundation series. I tried A Canticle for Liebowitz within the last decade or so, and it failed to entertain. Though I was never a big Asimov fan, I also did try reading my old copy of The Second Empire, but found it as dry as dust. Perhaps the two things in common with these books is that they are not tied to one set of characters. I am a character focused reader, and writer. These books were more of the classical SF idea focused, especially the Foundation. Plus, they're stories span centuries. I’m also not a saga reader either. I like books on a human scale rather than that of a god.
I also looked up the “must read" or "essential" SF books on seven booktubers episodes on Youtube and combined those lists with the top 10 books on the above lists above to come up with a short list of the most recommended SF books I should’ve read. The most often mentioned book on this list is Dune, and by a long shot with 12 recommendations. Little wonder it gets two movies. I must be one of several SF readers who have not read Dune. 1984 was the next most recommended book, with 8 recommendations. I actually read 1984 while still in grade school, since it was one of the books we had around the house. The Foundation and Fahrenheit 451 followed, each with 6 recommendations. I don’t believe I’ve read a single Ray Bradbury book. His Martian Chronicles is also mentioned on this list. I, Robot and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy followed, each had 5 recommendations. I have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide, though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it. I also tried reading Terry Patchett, but I guess I'm not a great fan of the absurd.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? made these lists with 4 recommendations, which I haven’t read. I have only a couple of Dick books on my shelf. The Domesday Book was also mentioned on some lists, which I did read and enjoyed, plus several more of her books.
Other books on these lists include War of the Worlds and The Time Machine which I don’t recall reading, though I have a book with both titles on my shelf. The truth is that I don’t recall reading 95% of the SF books on my shelves – a combination of 50 plus years and unremarkable stories, I guess. The lists also includes several Jules Verne books, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, both of which I have read and seen the movies. Frankenstein, with 4 recommendations, is another book I've never read, though I've no doubt seen the classic B&W movies on a B&W TV at some point in my early life.
Stranger in a Strange Land is often recommended as a book to read if one wants to get into SF. I read it, back in the day. I don’t remember anything about it, save that I greatly disliked it, so much so that I got rid of my copy some years back – something I rarely ever did. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is also recommended. I have the book and maybe I read it – I did count it in with the books I read – but it is possible that I didn’t finish it, since I’ve no memory of it. (See above.) In any event, it marked the end of my Heinlein era.
Of course everyone is free to read or give a miss to any book they please. Just because a lot of people read and like one book doesn’t mean that you need to as well. The SF books I’ve read are weighted heavily in favor of the books available in the libraries and on the mass market paperback racks of the 1960’s, when I was buying and reading SF reading as a teenager. In the following decades my taste in books broadened beyond SF, though, even in my teenage years, I was reading more than SF. I think what may have happened with my SF reading was that those other books offered elements that most SF stories did not, which led to a decline in the number of SF books I read, even though I still counted myself a fan of SF.
But more of that in the next post.