The Sci-Fi Chronicles

NPR recently compiled a reader list of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time, and dear readers, I had never realized I was a fan of the genre until I saw the list compiled. I touched on this recently, that somehow these books have crept into my “must-read” list, but it was already shocking for me to realize I had read and enjoyed many books that fell under this category without realizing it. This post is based on that list, the books I’ve loved and the books I will be reading as a result, adding names to the ever expanding booklist.

First off, I never thought of sci-fi as being such a loose term, so I was surprised to see names like McCarthy and Pynchon on here. Aren’t some authors just unclassifiable? I expected the Vonnegut, Tolkien, Dick and Asimov (because if they aren’t sci-fi then I really have no idea what is) and was happy to know that I had made a dent in this list without even knowing it. A huzzah for required reading is in order. OK, on to the standouts:

The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

Woah. Weird place to start, am I right gang? I tell you I’m writing about sci-fi and then I come out with a book made into a movie with Rachel McAdams? I assure you, this book is science fiction, the time traveling is a very real and necessary part of the book. But it’s also a love story, albeit a strange one, wherein the time traveler knows the woman he is going to marry in his life, and meets her at different intervals as she grows to know that she loves him too. A love story within a science fiction realm. Very cool. Also, the time traveling man is a librarian. Literary points for Niffenegger.

Stephen KingThe Dark Tower Series

Another no-brainer. King has proven time and again to be the ultimate writing machine. This series is his opus, and while I haven’t yet completed it (in fact I took too much time off and may have to start at the beginning), I am confident it stands at the top of all things King. When he finally completed it I believe it led to one of his many retirements, but please, we all know that this machine will never be able to stop. (And here’s the link to prove I’m right).

Patrick RothfussThe Kingkiller Chronicle

My dedicated followers (to which I refer to all of you, dear readers) may recall that I was planning on reading book one, The Name of the Wind, and I would be happy to let you know how it went. It went very well indeed. Rothfuss may not be a known name yet, but the world he has created is unforgettable. I ran through the first two books of the series and am now at a loss, how long must I wait for the finale? What will the next day hold for our hero, Kvothe? I haven’t enjoyed a series this much in a long time, but it does make me wonder where to go from here. Luckily, the list provides. What follows is how I will occupy my future reading.

George R.R. MartinA Song of Ice and Fire Series

Much attention has been paid to Mr. Martin’s successful HBO series A Game of Thrones. However, Martin has had success for years forming this seven book series, of which the fifth was finally released after a lengthy wait. And I, the fool I am, have never read any of them. This has caused a stir and a shock among many of my friends, stirring a violence in them that can only be a direct influence of this book. But really, I quite like when novelists have the vision to create their own world as Martin has done. Also, I must be missing something big, when fan response is so so rabid about the book that they demand their show meets the same criteria. Also, board games.

Joe Abercrombie – The First Law Trilogy

This book seems like some good old-fashioned medieval fun. A warring book consisting of large land-massed empires attempting to conquer one another, bringing to mind the great battles of past. I’m expecting Norsemen with battle axes, inquisitors, and dark magic. I’ve heard good things from reputable sources about this series, and plus, he managed to keep it to three books. There’s something to be said for an author who can stick to limits (cough, cough, Mr. Martin and your never ending stories).

Susannah ClarkeJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Something about this book told me it wasn’t a fantasy book either, but reading about it now tells me it deals with magic, so yeah I was wrong. This is an alternative historical novel based on the magic of the two title characters. While this has been on my list probably since it came out (I was waiting for the holds list to go down!)  I have been weary because of its comparisons to the writing styles of Dickens and Austen. Classic authors, yes, but not this reader’s favorites in the least. Perhaps for Dickens 200th anniversary I can pay him a solid by reading someone like him, while not actually reading him.

That’s enough for now, dear readers, or else I may be tempted to go through the entire list with you piece by piece. Which, I may do, if you ask nicely. Anything I foolishly omitted from NPR’s list? Or, worse, was there anything their reader poll ignored? Post it to comments below for interactive fun!

– Tony


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34 responses to “The Sci-Fi Chronicles

  1. Strange and Norrell = love. Then again, I’m fond of the ornate Victorian diction (and footnotes). If you want to dip your toe into Clarke before committing to the novel, try her collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is set in the same world as Strange/Norrell.


  2. I’ve been holding Strange & Norrell since it came out. I was drawn to it by the premise of an alternate history that dealt with magic, but it didn’t really stick. It read like an encyclopedia of some place I couldn’t go to, like Harry Potter Britannica or something.

  3. Don

    Never thought I’d say this but, 200 pages in, I’ve fallen hard Mr. Martin. This man can tell a story.

  4. I’ll be sharing this with my boyfriend tonight, who has been reading the Dark Tower series — awesome new ideas for him. Thank you!


  5. pyewhacket

    Strange & Norrell – you will not be disappointed :0)

  6. I LOVED Strange & Norrell. One of my friends gave it to me as a Christmas present two days after my daughter was born, and it was the perfect companion for all the hours I spent just sitting with the baby while she nursed or slept.
    Don’t let the comparison to Dickens put you off–I think people just see a very thick novel set in the 19th century and think, “Oh, this must be like Dickens.” There is a Dickensian feel to the atmosphere and some of the characters, but otherwise the resemblance is superficial. The voice, the writing style, the plot, the spirit of the book–they’re all very different from anything Dickens ever did.

  7. Thank you very much for the ideas!

  8. I’m a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’ “Out of the Silent Planet” series, awesome stuff. I’ll be sure to check out some of those other book too.

  9. You’ve got some great books on this list. I’m making my way through ‘A Wise Man’s Fear’ now. Of course, I think my book should be added…but then, I’m extremely biased.

  10. midnightphoenix

    Some of these titles I understand being on such a list, but others not so much. I’m not sure why “Sci-Fi’ and “Fantasy” are constantly lumped together as one genre, but putting that aside, I feel like labeling a book as a fantasy novel should mean a large component of the book is fantastically based. Maybe the definitions of those genres just need more refining?

  11. AR

    I think this list must be based on a definition of science fiction that follows library classification. In any other sense, the books you mentioned are fantasy, not sci-fi. You sound very much like a fantasy literature lover to me.

    The difference is that the alternate reality in fantasy literature is based on something metaphysical, not physical as in sci-fi.

  12. Note – any one who likes survival Horror and steampunk fantasy
    should Check out RUST. Think of it as Silent Hill, Meets Spirited

  13. I read the first 3 books of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. Those books are intense! I read the 3rd in a week and had to take a break before reading the 4th because I was SO consumed by it! It was great!

    I had a very unusual reaction to the Time Traveler’s Wife. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or hated it. Hate is probably too strong of a word, but it just disturbed me and I can’t put my finger on why I felt so disturbed after reading it. It’s just… weird…

    And that’s a great list compiled there. A big shout out for The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that book! I highly recommend it.

  14. Thanks for all the excellent comments and suggestions, all! Tony is on vacation, I think? But we are taking notes on your thoughts and comments, to inspire future entries.

    Leigh Anne

  15. GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a very interesting read. Long ago, I became a fan of Tolkien. When I started reading Martin’s books, I thought he was inspired by Tolkien if only Tolkien planned on killing off every character I ever liked.

  16. Tony

    Wow. Thank you for all the responses – and you’re right, this does sound like I’m more of a fantasy fan. I am indeed on vacation this week, but it’s given me time to absolutely crush through “A Game of Thrones”. Man can tell a story indeed…

    Thank you again for being dear readers.

    – T

  17. I’ve never quite recovered from Douglas Adams – Hitchhikers series and the Dirk Gently series. RIP. (I know the hard core sci-fi-ers will consider this sci-fi-lite!)

  18. You have some good ones there and some I need to put on my list. I’m in the middle of A Game of Thrones and Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. I’m halfway through Shadow and Claw (the first two books). This series even has its own dictionary, Lexicon Urthus. If you are a word person you will find Mr. Wolfe’s vocabulary very intriguing. The Lexicon could even stand on its own because it is more like an encyclopedia than a dictionary.

  19. See, that’s the thing. SF is a platform, not a genre. There’s SF love stories, SF detective & mystery, SF adventure & thriller, and all kinds of SF dramas. If genre, plot and style are vertical, SF is horizontal; it crosses fiction orthogonally.

    Interesting NPR list! Covers a nice variety.

    Weird to run into this on Fresh Pressed (congrats!) today. I just published an article today, “What is Science Fiction?”…

  20. For the impatient or visually impared, do you have a top 10 sci-fi movie list?

  21. NO Dean Koontz. What’s wrong with you… ;P

  22. Now these books are on my “to-read” list.. Thank you :)

  23. Give Martin a try, you won’t be disappointed.


    What about the Jim Butchers series Re Harry Dresden

  25. the books are on my list,thanks

  26. I’m surprised about The Princess Bride! It doesn’t strike me as sci-fi or fantasy!

  27. I’ll give them a whirl if they can be downloaded to my pad!:) How Startrek is that?:)

  28. Drowqueen: “killing off every character I ever liked” Is that a spoiler?

  29. @Curtis Martin – since you are a word person, you’ve got to read the new China Mieville, Embassytown – one of this year’s best, with characters who are literally similes (that’s their jobs) for aliens that don’t speak the same language. I’m halfway through and it is great. Don

  30. @ Perry Nardi – the Dresden Files were reviewed here by the intrepid Scott in an older post – check it out here:


  31. Normally I wouldn’t believe anything NPR says, but since they have Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen R. Donaldson and Orson Scott Card on the list, at least they’re not completely nuts. Just mostly nuts. And/or stupid.

  32. Don: I did see a revie of Embassytown and it was on my list. . . Dropped off somehow. Putting it back on.

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