Thursday, August 18, 2011

Max Brooks is Better than C.L. Moore According to NPR

I hate top 100 lists.  They force reviewers, participants, and readers to ranks books in order of "importance" or "quality" in a way that is truly unhelpful.  Matters of which book is better or worse are not merely a matter of subjective standards, the subjectivity often lacks any real weight of opinion.  As someone what their 54th favorite book is, and the answer will likely be different each and every time.  This is even true if the individual hadn't read any books between askings.

The one thing that top 100 lists are good for is spurring discussion and possibly, just possibly, highlighting works that may be overlooked by those who want to explore a particular subject or genre.  But the 1001 "blanks" to "blank" before you die books do a similar thing and don't have any arcane selection systems.

Recently, NPR finalized their "Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books" list.  It was a list that seemed to have rules constructed specifically to rule out Harry Potter and to guarantee that Tolkien would be placed at the top of the heap.  It's a list that contains some truly excellent examples of genre writing, but it is also a list that demonstrates the flaws so apparent in top 100 lists.  One wonders what "new shores" or discoveries the individual seeking to delve into SF and Fantasy will find if they pick from this list -- a list filled with well known names and tilted toward New York Times best-sellers, as well as some writers favored by the literati.  The list is sadly lacking in some truly excellent names, while including all of the "modern favorites."  One knows they are reading a flawed list when the first Michael Moorcock book is listed at spot 90 behind such longstanding and influential works as <em>World War Z</em> and Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy" of Star Wars media tie-in fiction.  I loved <em>World War Z</em> and the Zahn is one of the best writers in the Expanded Universe, but neither of these contain the literary merit or influence of the Elric books -- or Moorcock's work in general.

There are authors on the list, high ranking authors, who consider Moorcock to be mandatory reading, yet he ranks in the bottom 10 of the top 100.

If only this were the worst of the sins.  Low rankings on a list can be dismissed as mere subjective differences, but out and out exclusion of important voices -- while other writers receive multiple entries -- is nigh unforgivable.

Who was excluded?

Are you a fan of fantasy history and look to the past for great writing? Are you looking for some names you might remember from English Literature courses?

Never mind Samuel Butler or Edmund Spenser, you won't find them on this list.

Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind" (a wonderful book btw) comes in at #18, but "The Faerie Queene?"  Nah that's not a top 100.

The writer who created one of the most entertaining genre's in all of SF, the Planetary Romance, should be there right?  Nope.  Edgar Rice Burroughs is a less important contributor to SF/F than Terry Brooks.  Friends who know how much I love and defend Terry Brooks know that I make that statement not out of lack of respect for Brooks, but for those who think he has more "important" works than Burroughs.

Where are C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, C.J. Cherryh, Elizabeth Moon?  Thankfully Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold manage to make the list (at #97 and #59 respectively) or the list would be a complete fraud.

Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, David Gemmell, Gordon R. Dickson (wtf? no Gordon R. Dickson?!), Harlan Ellison, or Jack Williamson?  All of these writers are of lesser contribution than Max Brooks.

John Brunner, who wrote a book that one could argue paved the way for Brook's World War Z entitled <em>Stand on Zanzibar</em>?  Nope.

Worst of all.  There are two Stephen King books and not one by Howard Phillips Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.

What books or authors do you think were left off the list that are top SF/F writers?

Do you prefer "to be read lists" to "top 100" lists?


Tulkinghorn said...

I like Top 100 lists because they result in useful reactions like this one...

The only flaw in voted lists is obvious -- that it tends toward the books most read. In my world, there would be a correction for books published within the last five/ten years.

(Of course, in my world, we'd let people vote and then ignore the results. What are they going to do? Sue?)

In any event, the list is actually not all that bad. I've got the day off and have been wondering whether I should read Edmund Spenser or Terry Pratchett,and I think this has tipped me over into Discworld...

Christian Lindke said...

As you've read Fritz Leiber's Nehwon stories, and a good deal of other pulp, the Terry Pratchett stuff will have an additional layer of humor waiting for you.

As Leiber isn't on the list at all -- wtf?! -- one wonders if those who read Pratchett actually read him, or just know the name and have watched the adaptations on Netflix.

That said, Pratchett's stuff is a joy to read. Humorous Fantasy is very difficult, humor at all is difficult, and Pratchett does a wonderful job most of the time.

SESchend said...

Haven't taken the time to peruse the whole list and go all pro/con on it, but the foundations of sf/f (for me, at least) start with ERB and REH, and there's precious little of their output therein.

Other authors/series I'd include on my lists of reading recommends:
Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series;

Edmond Hamilton & Leigh Brackett's Best of collections (edited by each other's spouse);

Lee & Kirby's Fantastic Four #1-75 or so as a magnum opus;

More later--must dash to answer the kiddo who's woken from his afternoon nap.