Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

NPR Cares About SF? Who Knew?

I ran across mention of the NPR Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books in several different places and several different podcasts all almost at the same time.  My first thought was, NPR cares about genre fiction?  Weird.  My second thought was a burning curiosity to see what was on the list.

Now, a list like this, built by public nomination and voting, isn’t designed to be a seminal, these are the best books there are, kind of list.  It can’t be, most particularly because every single person in the world has different tastes.  You and I might agree on 99 of the books but we’ll fight over what the 100th should be.  More likely, we’ll fight about at least half of the list belonging and the rankings on the rest.  Human nature and all that.

What a list compiled by nomination and voting is designed to do is spark discussion, debate, and maybe even argument.  Looking at the comments attached to the list itself on the NPR website, and the myriad of blog entries spawned by it, NPR has certainly done that.

I’m not going to argue about whether any particular book or series belongs on the list or its relative position on it (though I reserve the right to do so at a later date, with this or any other list).  I don’t know if I’m going to be different, but what I’m going to do is point out the things I find odd about the list.

SF, F, and H

Honestly, setting aside the excuse of leaving YA for a different list next year, this should be at least two lists.  SF and Fantasy are related genres only in the sense that they’re both speculative in nature.  They’re two completely different fields with depths and breadths of their own and I always find it a bit grating when they’re lumped together.  But, what’s a bigger sin in my mind is lumping Horror in with them, and there are four books on the list that are definitely Horror in my eyes, regardless of what the basic setup might be.

Book versus Series

It’s a list that wants to do it all, be all things to everyone, be as inclusive as possible, so we’ve got both individual books and multi-book series on the same footing.  Doesn’t seem fair somehow, especially when it’s inconsistent.  Example: Piers Anthony’s Xanth series made the list as a whole while Terry Pratchett made the list in the way of two individual titles which are both part of the Discworld series.  Very odd.

Wait, It’s Not Done Yet?

As Neil Gaiman so beautifully put it, George R.R. Martin is not my bitch.  Mr. Martin will finish a Song of Ice and Fire when he’s damned good and ready and not because people annoy him into it.  That said, it just seems weird to me that a story that isn’t finished yet can make it into a list of “best books ever written”.  See also the Wheel of Time.

Star Wars, Really?  Wow.

I am a Star Wars fan, and I used to read the Star Wars novels (the forty or so I had are now on the shelves of the library at my children’s school).  I was surprised and impressed that the Timothy Zahn trilogy garnered votes enough from the NPR faithful to make the list.  The force is strong.

I suppose a Star Trek book would have been too much to ask, though.

Where are all the Women?

Much has been made of the fact that there are only fifteen books/series by women on the list.  Two of my favourite female authors made it on the list (though Anne McCaffrey suffered a fate similar to Terry Pratchett’s), but a solid half dozen women, whose work I’ve read and loved for years, are completely unrepresented.

I have daughters.  This makes me sad.

Where’s the Diversity?

Come on, we supposedly live in an era of inclusion and multiculturalism.  Sometimes it’s hard to see that reflected on the bookshelves in stores, but genre critics, authors, and fans have gotten a little noisy about it in the last few years.  Have a look at the internet and see the astounding variety out there.  Find some of the good stuff and pass it on.

Something to Think About

I’m not going to parse the list today.  Yes, there are books and authors that I can’t understand how they didn’t make it and large swaths of the list that wouldn’t get near a list of my own devising.

Now there’s something to consider.  What would my list look like?  I might have to give that some thought.


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