Roundtable on All-Centuries Novel Polling

Gardner Dozois

Here’s a lowbrow version:

20th Century SF novel:
The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Nova, Samuel R. Delany
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
The Big Time, Fritz Leiber

20the Century Fantasy:
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Once and Future King, T.H. White
Watership Down, Richard Adams
The Dying Earth, Jack Vance
The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
The Incomplete Enchanter, L. Sprague De Camp & Fletcher Pratt
The Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, by Fritz Leiber

21st Century SF:
Rivers of Gods, Ian McDonald
Accelerando, Charles Stross
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bachigalupi
The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi
Blindsight, Peter Watts

21st Century Fantasy:
A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (as a stand-in for the whole series)
Night Watch, Terry Pratchett (as a stand-in for all the Discworld books; it probably is his masterpiece, though)
I have problems with the Harry Potter books, but considering the immense impact they and the movies made from them have had on modern culture, I don’t see how you can leave them out.
Haven’t read enough 21st Century Fantasy to pick the next two places

Jeffrey Ford

Lowbrow? The only thing lowbrow on these lists is the Heinlein : )

Russell Letson

I”m inclined to list writers rather than individual works–a body-of-work take on the recommendation game. And since the 20th century is so long (like, a whole hundred years) and so thoroughly covered by other lists and recommendation-sets, I’d prefer to look at the current century, particularly writers that have begun or accelerated their careers since 2001, though there are those who established themselves earlier and continue to do work I think is significant or important or whatever it is we are trying to measure here.

As I wrote earlier, the bird-dog part of reviewing is not one that I’m much good at, and that shortcoming is echoed at the other end by what is probably an idiosyncratic or cranky refusal to accept widely-held evaluations of various writers (who will go unnamed), simply because they are not to my taste. Which is, after all all I really have to go by, unless I start trying to pre-second-guess the judgment of history, which is already in progress and will continue after I’m gone and without any significant reference to my likes or dislikes.

What follows is a list based on my reviewing rather than any systematic reading, which means there are writers I suspect I would have included had I read them, but I haven’t, so I really shouldn’t be speculative, no matter how much I respect and trust the judgment of my colleagues. I also note that some of these writers may have actually started producing before 2001, but they seem to me to have flourished since then. I tried to make a list of individual works that I found particularly noteworthy, but when it reached sixty, I decided it was an exercise in futility. I think I can recommend some series, though (even though some have 20th-c beginnings): Asher’s Polity, Cherryh’s Foreigner, Schroeder’s Candesce, Haldeman’s Marsbound, Banks’s Culture, Bear’s Jenny Casey, Karen Traviss’s Wess’har, McCarthy’s Collapsium, Stross’s Merchant Princes and Laundry, Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, Gibson’s Pattern Recognition trio, John Barnes’ uin-progress Directive 51–well, I could go on, but this is approaching the set of all the series I have followed since 2001.

So: some significant writers of the 21st century, including those who started producing in the 20th:

Neal Asher (short stories from 1989; novels from 2001)
Elizabeth Bear
Wil McCarthy (1995)
James S. A. Corey
Ken MacLeod (from 1995)
Richard K. Morgan
Alistair Reynolds (short stories from 1990; novels from 2000)
Karl Schroeder (short stories from 1983)
Charles Stross (short stories from 1987, novels from 2003)
Karen Traviss

Thoroughly 20th century (reviewed since 1990):

Eleanor Arnason
Iain M. Banks
John Barnes
Greg Bear
Greg Benford
C. J. Cherryh
Greg Egan
William Gibson
Kathleen Goonan
Joe Haldeman
Nancy Kress
Paul J. McAuley
Jack McDevitt
Linda Nagata
Robert Reed
Kim Stanley Robinson
Mary Doria Russell
Melissa Scott
Allen Steele
Neal Stephenson
Bruce Sterling
Michael Swanwick
George Turner
John Varley
Vernor Vinge
Walter Jon Williams
(Apologies to those omitted because I eventually lost track of my reviews.)

Reviewed but thoroughly established before 1990 (AKA the usual suspects and quite incomplete):

Anderson, Heinlein, Niven, Vance, Farmer, Jack Williamson (last novel in 21st), Silverberg, Pohl, Knight. . . .

And then there are those I never got to review: Stapledon, Wells, Bester, Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Pangborn, and dozens of others.

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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