Roundtable on All-Centuries Novel Polling

Cat Rambo

I have cheated and included a few trilogies and series. For what it’s worth, I have trouble with lists this short or which rank things in order – sometimes an apple does equal an orange. I’ve opted for books that I thought were particularly influential, innovative,  or all-around excellent.

20th century SF
Neuromancer – Gibson
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Miller
The Female Man – Russ
Lilith’s Brood – Butler
The Left Hand of Darkness – Le Guin

20th century Fantasy
The Lord of the Rings – Tolkein
The Shadow of the Torturer – Wolfe
Neveryon – Delany
Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series – Leiber
Mists of Avalon – Bradley

21st century SF
Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro
The Braided World – Kenyon ( I love this book and think it should have gotten a lot more notice.)
Passage – Willis
Perdido Street Station – Mieville
The Speed of Dark – Moon

21st century fantasy
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
City of Saints and Madmen – VanderMeer
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling
Paladin of Souls – Bujold
100 Thousand Kingdoms – Jemisen

Jeffrey Ford

One book I thought later I would have liked to add to my 20th century Fantasy list was The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas. I read it a few years ago after attending a panel where John Clute discussed it. A remarkable book.

Andy Duncan

I voted in all those categories in Mark R. Kelly’s poll. Here are my novel lists:

20th-century fantasy novel
1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
2. John Crowley, Little, Big
3. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
4. Geoff Ryman, Was
5. Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan (though on the poll, I may have typed “Gormenghast” meaning the whole trilogy, so counting the whole trilogy here is fine with me)

20th-century sf novel
1. Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
2. Keith Roberts, Pavane
3. Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
4. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
5. Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus

21st-century fantasy novel
1. Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
2. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (which really is, to me, one very long novel)
3. Neil Gaiman, Coraline
4. Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death (could count just as easily as sf, but its World Fantasy Award gives me some justification for listing it here)
5. Neil Gaiman, American Gods

21st-century sf novel
1. Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union
2. Ian McDonald, River of Gods
3. Carol Emshwiller, The Mount
4. Cory Doctorow, Little Brother
5. Kim Stanley Robinson, The Year’s of Rice and Salt

You didn’t ask for our short-fiction lists, but I seem accidentally to have deleted my 20th-century picks, anyway. In any case, here are my 21st-century short-fiction picks, included here for love of the form mingled with sheer cussedness.

21st-century novellas:
1. Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon”
2. Kelly Link, “Magic for Beginners”
3. Jeffrey Ford, “Botch Town”
4. John Kessel, “Stories for Men”
5. Kij Johnson, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”

21st-century novelettes:
1. Jeffrey Ford, “The Annals of Eelin-Ok”
2. Kelly Link, “The Hortlak”
3. John Kessel, “Pride and Prometheus”
4. Ted Chiang, “Hell Is the Absence of God”
5. Catherynne Valente, “White Lines on a Green Field”

21st-century short stories:
1. Margo Lanagan, “Singing My Sister Down”
2. Joe Hill, “Abraham’s Boys”
3. Molly Gloss, “Lambing Season”
4. Robert Reed, “Woman Leaves Room”
5. M. Rickert, “Bread and Bombs”

Speaking of cussedness, and my naked preference for short fiction, I would have loved categories for single-author collections and multiple-author anthologies as well. My favorite 20th-century collection is Manly Wade Wellman’s Who Fears the Devil?, my favorite 20th-century anthology Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (assuming I wasn’t allowed to count it and Again, Dangerous Visions as one pick). But I just realized, in typing this, that if The Martian Chronicles and Pavane count as novels, then Who Fears the Devil? certainly does as well, in which case it would claim the top spot on my list of 20th-century fantasy novels; everyone below, starting with Tolkien, would get demoted. But I’m clearly overthinking this.

Karen Joy Fowler

I don’t think anyone yet has mentioned The Once and Future King, which would definitely be on my list were I to make a list. Also One Hundred Years of Solitude. And The Wind in the Willows.

Cat Rambo

That’s the problem. It’s so hard to winnow it down to five when I can think of several dozen worthy ones.

9 thoughts on “Roundtable on All-Centuries Novel Polling

  • January 11, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Ellen – sorry, but you don’t get to cite “Alice”, published in 1865, as a 20th century book. (Otherwise I would have put it top of my list as well!) In fact, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz barely qualifies, published in 1900, but the Oz series extended well into the 20th century so that should be allowed.

    But you panelists are bending the rules like Gumby so I guess you can cite whatever books you want! Certainly the “Alice”‘ books could be considered as the most widely known and influential fantasy in English literature.

  • January 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Dan -going over my list (before seeing your comment) I suddenly realized-oh sh-t! wrong century. It was me being bad.

  • January 13, 2013 at 1:28 am

    A Horror/Dark Fantasy category? Where are those lists of novels and stories?

  • January 13, 2013 at 3:16 am

    Space27–Ellen Datlow and Jeff Ford sort of created that category on their own. The overlap (two votes) between the two of them are:

    The Wasp Factory (1984) Iain M. Banks 2
    The Haunting of Hill House (1959) Shirley Jackson 2

    It’s nestled between 20th C Fantasy and 21st C SF.

  • January 13, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Oh, that list. Just two items? I’m a little bit disappointed. But I did vote for The Wasp Factory.

  • January 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Speaking of the wrong century, I know two novels from the 1800’s that I could have put in the 20th Cent. vote and got away with it:

    Star, C.I. Defontenay (1854, in french)
    Two Planets, Kurd Lasswitz (1897, in german)

    They were first published in english in the 1970’s.

  • January 15, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Great lists and remarks from everyone, but the focus on the almighty novel slights so many superb writers, from Cyril Kornbluth to Willam Tenn. to Fredric Brown to Harlan Ellison. One of my top ten SF books of all time is Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr/Alice Sheldon. I can’t think of a single SF novel, however fine, that I would be willing to give it up for. It’s as essential as Dune or Neuromancer or any other that I can think of. So Tiptree wasn’t comfortable with the novel form – so what?

  • January 18, 2013 at 3:52 am

    Thomas – I think Karen felt it would be hard enough herding the cats on the panel to make their picks for novels, without trying for all the short fiction categories. You make a good point that there are short form masters like Ellison and Tiptree, and some of those masters are reflected in the short fiction lists: Ellison with 6 entries, Tiptree with 5. Both of them ranked as high as #3 in a category for the whole 20th century – not too shabby. (Harlan had both #3 and #4 in the 20th Century Short Story category.)

    My favorite example of a short form master is, of course, Ted Chiang, who seems to have no interest in publishing a novel but knocked down the top spot in three different short fiction categories. Nobody would consider him slighted because he can’t show up on the novel list.

  • February 5, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    How can you not put REH on the list if not at the top? Best story teller ever. No Michael Morcook? YOU PEOPLE ARE INSANE.


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