Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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An eclectic beginner’s guide to SFF

With thanks for the pointer to Elaine T.

I always do enjoy these kinds of lists. This one has a little attitude to go with its suggestions:

“People say it all the time: they’d love to get into science fiction or fantasy, but they’ve no idea where to start. If this is you, listen up.”

This list follows a handful of sensible rules — only one work by any particular author, no short stories, like that.

I’ve read 35 of the 50 suggested works and agree that this list comprises an excellent snapshot of the SFF genres.

My favorite of the 50: For SF, probably ENDER’S GAME. For F, naturally it’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Works they included I most disliked: THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Too heavy-handed for me.

The one I hadn’t ever even heard of: UBIK by Philip K Dick. I guess I just never read much by Dick.

The one I don’t think belongs: ALICE IN WONDERLAND. To me that is really a child’s book and out of place on ths list.

One author who should most have been included but wasn’t: Patricia McKillip. I would have put THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE on here no matter what had to come off.

If you enjoy this kind of list, or for that matter enjoy a look at vintage covers, then click through and see what you think.

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6 Comments An eclectic beginner’s guide to SFF

  1. Craig

    There are quite a number of children’s books on the list, so I can only conclude she did it on purpose.

    Read: 31/50.
    Most of the ones not on my list, I don’t ever *intend* to read, either. The Gormenghast books and Solaris have been on my Someday list for years; American Gods for rather less time; there’s probably a couple of others I might get around to.

    Hadn’t even heard of: 4/50, to wit:
    Zone One, Colson Whitehead
    Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson
    Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro (even though it was apparently made into a movie)
    The Giver, Lois Lowry

  2. Elaine T

    I’ve at least heard of all but 2, those two being:
    Zone One, Colson Whitehead
    How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu

    Depending on whether I give points for author, if not that particular book, I’ve read most of them. Then are the Did Not Finish-es, like anything by Phil Dick, or Delaney, and Handmaid’s Tale, and Gormenghast.

    I liked the breadth of the list, including everything from Frankenstein to Among Others, to Andre Norton (who usually gets left off such lists, but was the entry point for many readers).

    I think Alice snuck in as a ‘you really should have read it when you were young, but if you missed it, read it now.’

    My favorite SF is probably also ENDER’s GAME. DUNE I liked at the time I read it, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have aged well if I revisited. I’d have put in McKillip’s RIDDLE MASTER, or SORCERESS & CYGNET, as either shows just what immensity can be conveyed in a small space unlike the bloated … umm. … books all too prevalent these days.

    The GIVER & NEVER LET ME GO are both really depressing. GIVER is one of those award winning childrens/YA distopias and I’m pretty sure Lowry originally wanted us to read it as the main character dying in the end. There are sequels I haven’t read, but I think they let him live. It’s one of those centrally controlled societies that controls EVERYTHING, including emotions (via drugs)., and the one guy who learns otherwise. Schools love to assign it, is my impression. What is it with schools & depressing books?

    NEVER LET ME GO was a lot less heavy handed but equally depressing, kind of like CYTEEN is: there is very little right in the set up but the characters are bought in to it. In this case being a clone and destined to die supplying parts to the original person. What was good was that it treated the clones as people, not causes, or sock puppets for a point. Which is the point, IMO.

    I was amazed at how hard I bounced off L’Engle when I was revisiting her work a few years ago. Seemed both clumsy and heavy-handed.

  3. Rachel

    The schools and depressing books — I’m pretty sure “depressing” is read as deep, which is ridiculous right there. Assigning books like this is also a great way to totally turn off kids from reading. I know I was utterly repelled from the classics for decades by having Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm assigned in high school. Ugh.

    I’ve read The Giver but I have no urge to re-read it.

    Hmm. I guess I need to re-read L’Engle to see how her books feel to me now, as an adult. Maybe they’re the kind you have to read as a teenager.

  4. Rachel

    I really disliked American Gods when I read it, just a year or two ago. I think it’s one people are either going to really admire or really dislike.

    I’d never heard of Zone One, either, but I think I had at least heard of all the others.

  5. Pete Mack

    Some of those books seem to be on the list because the authors were first at doing something, but not necessarily best. I find that Asimov doesn’t stand up well with time, and “Once and Future King” is just boring. Any list without Wilhelm and Willis(!!) just isn’t complete!

  6. Rachel

    While “best” is hard to measure, I never actually liked Asimov that much personally — he definitely did not put character first as a writer. As “classics you should know about” go, then sure, Asimov should be on there. In either case, I think you’re right about Willis. But which of hers to choose? Because while I enjoyed BLACKOUT / ALL CLEAR, and admire it too, I have to say, that is one big doorstopper of a book.

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