National Public Radio has released its publicly voted upon list of the 100 best SF and fantasy novels.
Very unsurprisingly, the list is heavily weighed towards “the classics” (Lord of the Rings at No. 1, Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy at No. 2) and books that are often assigned at schools (1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451). I suspect that the school factor also pushed Ender’s Game to No. 3, because it really isn’t that good. There’s also a strong bias towards classic golden age SF and post 1970 epic fantasy. A Song of Ice and Fire, Wheel of Time, Shannara, Thomas Covenant, the Belgariad, Mistborn, even Terry Goodkind’s series which no one admits to reading are all there.
There are also some total WTF choices. I mean, Patrick Rothfuss at No. 18? I know a lot of people like his books, but how did he get in the top 20? And The Silmarillon at No. 46? I thought only die-hard Lord of the Rings fans read that one and even for die-hard fans it’s tough going. And World War Z by Max Brooks? Yes, I know that the zombie apocalypse is a hot trend and World War Z is one of the better examples of the genre. But is this really the 54th best SFF book of all time? The Thawn trilogy, a media tie-in, albeit a rather good one, made it onto the longlist, let alone the shortlist? Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera made it into the top 100, but the Dresden Files did not? And Small Gods is one of the less memorable Pratchetts IMO. Besides, no Samuel Delany? No Alfred Bester? No Thomas Pynchon? No Tim Powers? No Joanna Russ?
The longlist was rather biased in itself, because it omitted all YA fantasy and SF, i.e. no Harry Potter, no Narnia, no Twilight, no Hunger Games, no Dark Materials, no Hobbit. There was also hardly any urban fantasy on the longlist, as I already reported here, and what little there was (Kim Harrison, Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint) largely did not make it into the top 100. I think the closest thing to urban fantasy in the top 100 are Neverwhere and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
The percentage of women and writers of colour is also depressingly low. There are 15 books by women in the top 100 and zero books by writers of colour as far as I can tell. Of course, there only were two writers of colour on the longlist to start with (three guesses who), but there was a fair amount of women.
To be fair, I voted for 3 women (only one of whom made the top 100) as opposed to 7 men, but that was largely because the books by women on the longlist were not necessarily favourites of mine, though I voted for at least one of them to support a whole subgenre rather than because I absolutely loved that particular author. Besides, several of my male choices didn’t make it either. Coincidentally, I deliberately did not vote for Lord of the Rings, because I knew it didn’t need my help and I’d rather save my vote for a book that does. I did vote for two of the top ten books, but both of those book were genuine mindchangers and mindblowers for me.
Cheryl Morgan weighs in on the poll results, mostly focusing on the low percentage of female writers.