Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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The 75 Best Novels Published in the Past 75 Years: A New, Personalized List

You know, it wasn’t hard at all for me to come up with a totally different and far superior* list of the 75 greatest novels ever published**. This list is a lot heavier on fantasy than the list I pointed to yesterday, also includes a lot of SF, and then I made a point of considering novels outside SFF, which led to a goodish handful of historicals and a few mysteries making the cut. Interestingly, though I didn’t set out to avoid contemporaries, I don’t think there are any here.

I thought it was particularly silly to try to come up with a list that included novels and poetry and nonfiction, so you’ll find only novels here. I was trying for novels that are fun to read, beautifully written, thought provoking, or preferably all three; and apparently I also preferred novels that offer a non-contemporary setting.

I would be happy to set my list up against anybody’s, not necessarily for literary importance, but for greatness. After all, The Lord of the Flies is certainly important, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s more because it’s assigned in every high school lit class ever, not because it is intrinsically great. I think the message it delivers about human nature is actually, you know, wrong. Or so incomplete it might as well be wrong. No, thanks.

So here you go – Rachel Neumeier’s list of the 75 greatest novels ever published.*** (I didn’t really look at the year of publication, but I expect they’re all from the past 75 years.) I tried not to include more than one book (or series) by the same author, but, you know, I didn’t try too hard. I also included a handful of children’s books, but only if I still love them as an adult.

How many of these have you read? More than fifteen, I bet. If lit teachers drew half the novels they assigned from this list, maybe more students would wind up falling in love with books.

1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams (Douglas)

2. Watership Down, Adams (Richard)

3. The Goblin Emperor, Addison

4. Little Women, Alcott

5. The Prydain chronicles, Alexander

6. Pride and Prejudice, Austen

7. The Last Unicorn, Beagle

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8. Beauty Queens, Bray

9. The Beacon at Alexandria, Bradshaw

10. The Taltos series, Brust

11. The Vorkosigan series, Bujold

12. The Chalion series, Bujold

13. A Little Princess, Burnett

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14. The Lilith’s Brood series, Butler

15. A Darkling Sea, Cambias

16. Ender’s Game, Card

17. The Foreigner series, Cherryh

18. The Chanur series, Cherryh

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19. Cyteen, Cherryh

20. Cuckoo’s Egg, Cherryh

21. Paladin, Cherryh

22. Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell, Clarke

23. The Lymond chronicles, Dunnett

24. Hild, Griffith

25. Dragonsbane, Hambly (not the rest of the series, imo)

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26. A Face Like Glass (Hardinge)

27. Dune, Herbert

28. And All the Stars, Höst

29. Bridge of Birds, Hughart

30. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

31. The Killing Moon/The Shadowed Sun, Jemisin

32. Dogsbody, Diana Wynne Jones (Hey, my list, my favorite DWJ)

33. The Phantom Tollbooth, Juster

34. Under Heaven, Kay

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35. The Steerswoman series, Kirstein

36. The Privilege of the Sword, Kushner

37. Infinity Hold, Longyear

38. The Ancillary Justice trilogy, Leckie

39. The Narnia chronicles, Lewis

40. Daughter of the Forest, Marillier

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41. Night at the Vulcan, Marsh

42. The Riddlemaster trilogy, McKillip

43. The Book of Atrix Wolfe, McKillip

44. The Changeling Sea, McKillip

45. Sunshine, McKinley

46. The City and the City, Mieville

47. The Integral Trees, Nivan

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48. The Aubrey/Maturin series, O’Brien

49. The Anubis Gates, Powers

50. The Vimes series in the Diskword universe, Pratchett

51. The King Must Die, Renault

52. 2312, Robinson

53. The Harry Potter series, Rowling

54. Bone Gap, Ruby

55. Black Beauty, Sewell (Did I mention I read nothing but animal stories as a child?)

56. Gaudy Night, Seyers

57. The Shape-Changer’s Wife, Shinn

58. The Inda series, Smith (Sherwood)

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59. Norstralia, Smith (Cordwainer)

60. Seveneves, Stevenson

61. The Rubber Band, Stout (I picked a Nero Wolfe mystery pretty much at random)

62. The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien

63. The Gaia trilogy, Varley

64. A Fire Upon the Deep, Vinge

65. Code Name Verity, Wein

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66. The Sunbird, Wein

67. The Martian, Weir

68. The Wheel of the Infinite, Wells

69. The Death of the Necromancer, Wells

70. The Raksura series, Wells

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71. Who Stole Sassy Manoon, Westlake

72. Jill the Reckless, Wodehouse

73. The Book of the Long Sun, Wolfe

74. Talking to Dragons, Wrede

75. ________________________ Fill in this gap, if you like! What *one* book have I left out that you personally think ought to go in this space? It doesn’t have to be SFF, but it should be a novel.

* “superior” defined here, obviously, as matching my personal taste; ie, there are no horrible dystopian novels no matter how literarily important, and no grimdark novels. You know, there are a lot of similarities between a dystopian novel like 1984 and a modern grimdark novel, aren’t there? I never thought about that before. That means I have hated grimdark all my life.

** Your mileage may possibly vary.

*** I hated leaving off some series that REALLY started off well, but that I haven’t finished. Here are a handful of the series I might include in such a list next year or in a few years:
The Raven Boys series, Stiefvater
The Thousand Names series, Wexler
The Devil’s West series, Gilman

And of course there are an appalling number of authors that I just haven’t read much by, amazing as it may seem, including Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson and Catherine Valente, for example.

And naturally a bunch more great books occurred to me as soon as I hit 74 titles – like Jaran by Elliot and Range of Ghosts by Bear and The Hunger Games by Collins, and, and The Scorpio Races, the Paksenarrion trilogy, Little, Big by Crowley. . . there’s no end.

I should also note that too many lists of great SFF novels or whatever seem to mistake enormous popularity for greatness. A major reason some really popular series aren’t on this list is, I don’t think they measure up. This includes the Game of Thrones, not because it is grimdark (I don’t think it is, quite) (well, it might be, I guess), but because Martin seems to me to have lost control of the series, primarily by allowing the number of protagonists to increase out of all reason. Also, I’ve quit reading the books, so they’re not likely to appear on *my* list anyway.

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8 Comments The 75 Best Novels Published in the Past 75 Years: A New, Personalized List

  1. David H.

    Compared to the Ann Patchett list you posted, it looks like I’ve read 25 of the ones you’ve posted (helped along by your multiple listings of Martha Wells!). I’ve never read any Cherryh, though (I bounced off the two books I tried reading by her). I almost thought I had read more of your list, but then I realized that they’re on my to-read list (some even on my tsundoku list) and that I haven’t actually read them yet (I literally have Last Unicorn sitting next to me from the library). I also had at least HEARD of all but 15 of your list, so that’s something.

    For your 75th, I’d probably put Rothfuss, actually, especially after having read through Jo Walton’s great re-read on Tor.com of the first 2 Kingkiller books.

    Speaking of popularity vs. greatness–I think I’ll be very interested to see what this is like in 30 years or more, looking back to “great” fiction. Did you ever see the Matt Kahn reading project of reading the 94 bestsellers of the past 100 years? http://www.kahnscorner.com/2013/02/100-years-94-books.html

  2. Elaine T

    I’ve read about 50 and heard of all of them. I’m wary of calling anything great until it’s lasted in print and not because schools require it for some number of years more than ten. So if I were making such a list I’d cut it off at least at 2006. And I’ll be really curious to see if Harry Potter stands up to that test.

    That Kahn list of the bestsellers also contains more books I’ve read than the Patchett list.

  3. Rachel

    I honestly doubt that “lasting in print” is necessarily a hallmark of greatness, either. I wonder how many truly great novels are published without a lot of buzz, don’t get a ton of attention, and disappear? Lots, I bet. And yet they are still great.

    I do suspect that in order to be actually great, a book can’t be entirely a creature of its own time. That ought to give fantasy a leg up, actually, since “contemporary” eventually turns into “historical” and then “seriously dated.” Which certainly doesn’t ruin all books, but unquestionably changes the reader’s perception.

    If I were actually and truly trying to pick great books, I’d start with TLotR and then add maybe ten or so off my list. Narnia. Watership Down. The Last Unicorn. I’m not sure what else.

  4. Rachel

    David, it’s funny that you have The Last Unicorn sitting right there! You really must read that rather than letting it go unread back to the library.

    And thanks for that great link!

  5. Kootch

    Definitely agree that your list is superior. I’ve read 26 of the books/series and have heard of quite a few of the others. Sooo many others left out, Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and the Coin” series, Kate Elliott’s “Spiritwalker” or “Crossroads” series especially now with her new book “Black Wolves” as sequel to “Crossroads”. Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight” series also worth mentioning, although not yet finished. I would also add Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana”. I like almost all of his books, but this is the one that got me hooked on this author. And all those books by Elizabeth Bear and Elizabeth Moon. Nope, can’t stop at 75.

  6. Macsbrains

    The handful of these that I haven’t heard of I assume are the historicals or mysteries. By list number I’ve read 19 of them, and have liked about half (mostly I hated the older non sf stuff that was assigned to me in school) and I have 19 more either on my shelves or on my wishlist.

    What I’d add to the list is Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet, which is not that old and fell out of print for a while, though it’s back now. I thought it was phenomenal.

    Also, the Raven Boys series, which I think may now be my favorite period. I’ve just re-read them twice this month and I still have a debilitating book hangover and can’t move on.

  7. Rachel

    I’m so looking forward to reading the complete Raven Boys series. Not 100% sure I’ll ever go on with the Long Price quartet — some things about it, I loved. Other things, not so much.

    I did think of the Spiritwalker series, which is wonderful in so many ways, but at that point I’d already hit 74 books. For me, Tigana is kind of where Kay hit his stride, but not his best work. I thought of the Lions of Al-Rassan, though.

  8. Pete Mack

    Swallows and Amazons series ny Arthur Ransome. I don’t know how many times I read this as a child, starting at a really young age. Also from children’s books: Frog and Toad, Wind in the Willows.

    Not a children’s book:
    David Drake, Redliners. Probably the best milfic book I have ever read. Very redemptive.

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