Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick & Paul de FelippoScience Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick & Paul Di Filippo

SFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews

Note: You may also be interested in Stuart’s reviews of:
Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987.
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984.

Ever since high school, I’ve used David Pringle’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 (1985), Modern Fantasy: 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987 (1988), and The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction (1991) as excellent guides to some of the highest-quality, distinctive, and intelligent books in the SF and fantasy genres. By introducing me to many obscure and underappreciated titles and authors, including a number of UK writers unfamiliar to American fans, Pringle served to broaden my SF and fantasy horizons so much that I will always owe him a debt of gratitude. The only drawback was that he never followed up these volumes with a newer selection of titles, and after high school I became busy with college and work and family and couldn’t find the time to read SF much.

Two decades later, Damien Broderick and Paul di Filippo, both SF critics and published authors in their own right, saw an opportunity to fill the gap left by Pringle. Using essentially the same format, they made a selection of their choices for the best SF novels of the next 25 years, taking up the year after Pringle’s book ends. Purely by accident, I discovered Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 and bought it on impulse. Since I had been away from the genre for about twenty years, many of the titles were completely unfamiliar to me. It was the perfect primer to catch up with the genre and get motivated to dive back in.

Each entry is 2-3 pages long and describes the author’s background and body of work, importance in the genre (or not, in the case of some mainstream authors included here), and a synopsis of the book, complete with quotes, opinions, and unfortunately inexcusable spoilers of major plot points in some cases. I cannot fathom why they need to include spoilers when the book is designed to get people interested in new books to read. Both authors are regular reviewers of SF works, including in The New York Review of Science Fiction and Asimov’s Science Fiction, and there is no question that they have read very widely in the genre. Imagine how many books you need to have read to narrow it down to ‘just’ 101 titles over a 25-year span. They are also extremely enthusiastic about their recommendations, and gleefully describe how special or underappreciated a given title is.

I, too, am a die-hard fan of speculative fiction, especially the more highbrow ‘literary’ SF that attempts to both entertain, enlighten, and challenge readers and deliver new insights and ideas about the world and what the future might hold. However, I found the writing style of these two reviewers to be way too clever, self-congratulatory, and more purple than Barney the Dinosaur. For example, I have never seen so much use of superfluous and pretentious terms in any book not labeled “literary criticism:” “mimetic,” “deracinated,” “limned,” “re-complicated,” “evergreen-deep tropes,” and “hieratic numerology” are thrown about with abandon, just to show how incredibly erudite and sophisticated our reviewers really are. Instead of impressing me, it just made me roll my eyes in disgust. One of the best things about the SF genre is that it can be unashamedly intelligent and mind-expanding without being as haughty and elitist as mainstream “literary” writers and critics often are. So it’s a shame when two clearly well-read and enthusiastic promoters of the genre feel the need to impress by mimicking the worst excesses of literary criticism. The beauty of David Pringle’s books was his ability to describe in concise and clear terms what made a book worth reading without throwing in too much of his own prejudices. There are dozens of examples of irritating writing in Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010, and this sample will give you an idea of what I mean:

Lethem’s beautifully balanced, metaphorically rich prose propels this blackly jolly fable to a surprising yet satisfying conclusion. By book’s end, a sense that the author had accomplished his takeoff taxiing and was now fully in flight for more cosmopolitan cities pervades the pages.

In the end, I read through all the reviews in Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010, but used Goodreads and Fantasy Literature as a filter to weed out books that I wasn’t sure were quite as amazing as the reviewers suggested. As we all know, no two readers will be able to agree on even a fraction of the books included in a “Best of” list, and in particular I am not sure about the recommendations in this book. However, although I have read at least half of Pringles’ SF picks, I have only read a paltry 18 of the 101 books listed below, so I really can’t judge how ‘on-target’ they are. That would depend entirely on each person’s individual taste and preferences. From the list, the following titles look attractive and I plan to read them sometime in my lifetime:

This Is the Way the World Ends, The Falling Woman, Soldiers of Paradise, Life During Wartime, The Sea and Summer, Cyteen, Neverness, Grass, Queen of Angels, Barrayar, Stations of the Tide, China Mountain Zhang, Red Mars, A Fire Upon the Deep, Aristoi, Doomsday Book, Parable of the Sower, Ammonite, Brittle Innings, Permutation City, Forever Peace, Revelation Space, The Time Traveler’s Wife, River of Gods, Accelerando, Spin, Blindsight, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The Alchemy of Stone, Zoo City, and The Quantum Thief.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale* by Margaret AtwoodSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  2. Ender’s Game* by Orson Scott Card
  3. Radio Free Albemuth* by Philip K. Dick
  4. Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin
  5. This Is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow
  6. Galapagos* by Kurt Vonnegut
  7. The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy
  8. The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent
  9. A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
  10. Soldiers of Paradise by Paul Park
  11. Life During Wartime by Lucius Shepard
  12. The Sea and Summer by George Turner
  13. Cyteen* by C.J. Cherryh
  14. Neverness by David ZindellSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  15. The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
  16. Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
  17. Use of Weapons* by Iain M. Banks
  18. Queen of Angels by Greg Bear
  19. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
  20. Synners by Pat Cadigan
  21. Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler
  22. White Queen by Gwyneth Jones
  23. Eternal Light by Paul McAuley
  24. Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
  25. Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter
  26. Dead Girls by Richard Calder
  27. Jumper by Steven GouldSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  28. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh
  29. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  30. A Fire Upon the Deep* by Vernor Vinge
  31. Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams
  32. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  33. Parable of the Sower* by Octavia Butler
  34. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  35. Chimera by Mary Rosenblum
  36. Nightside the Long Sun* by Gene Wolfe
  37. Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop
  38. Permutation City* by Greg Egan
  39. Blood: A Southern Fantasy by Michael MoorcockSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  40. Mother of Storms by John Barnes
  41. Sailing Bright Eternity by Gregory Benford
  42. Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers
  43. The Diamond Age* by Neal Stephenson
  44. The Transmigration of Souls by William Barton
  45. The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter
  46. The Sparrow/Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
  47. Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling
  48. Night Lamp by Jack Vance
  49. In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker
  50. Forever Peace* by Joe Haldeman
  51. Glimmering by Elizabeth Hand
  52. As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan LethemSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  53. The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod
  54. Bloom by Wil McCarthy
  55. Vast by Linda Nagata
  56. The Golden Globe by John Varley
  57. Headlong by Simon Ings
  58. Cave of Stars by George Zebrowski
  59. Genesis by Poul Anderson
  60. Super-Cannes by G. Ballard
  61. Under the Skin by Michael Faber
  62. Perdido Street Station* by China Mieville
  63. Distance Haze by Jamil Nasir
  64. Revelation Space Trilogy* by Alastair Reynolds
  65. Salt by Adam Roberts
  66. Ventus by Karl SchroederSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  67. The Cassandra Complex by Brian Stableford
  68. Light by M. John Harrison
  69. Altered Carbon* by Richard Morgan
  70. The Separation by Christopher Priest
  71. The Golden Age by John C. Wright
  72. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenger
  73. Natural History by Justina Robinson
  74. The Labyrinth Key/Spears of God by Howard Hendrix
  75. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  76. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  77. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  78. The House of Storms by Ian R. MacLeod
  79. Counting Heads by David MarusekSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  80. Air (Or, Have Not Have) by Geoff Ryman
  81. Accelerando by Charles Stross
  82. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
  83. My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time by Liz Jensen
  84. The Road* by Cormac McCarthy
  85. Temeraire/His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
  86. Blindsight* by Peter Watts
  87. HARM by Brian Aldiss
  88. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
  89. The Secret City by Carol Emshwiller
  90. In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  91. Postsingular by Rudy Rucker
  92. Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher
  93. The Hunger Games* by Suzanne CollinsSFF, fantasy literature, science fiction, horror, YA, and comic book and audiobook reviews
  94. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  95. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
  96. The Windup Girl* by Paolo Bacigalupi
  97. Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress
  98. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  99. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  100. Zero History by William Gibson
  101. The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi