Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Forbes gets ambitious, picks seven best science fiction works of all time

Seven is a weird number for a list, I think. Makes it seem like the author of the list just didn’t bother shooting for ten. And for a Best Of All Time kind of list, narrowing it down to ten would be fairly impossible anyway.

Worse, Forbes’ list — which is by Paul Tassi — evidently wasn’t put together by asking “What works have been most influential?” or “What works have been most popular?” It seems to be just a personal list, like “Paul Tassi liked these seven works a lot.” Labeling a list like that “Best” anything is a little, well, questionable. James Davis Nicoll, for example, could do much better with a list of this kind, and probably has, simply because he’s a lot more aware of the history of the genre and far more able to justify his choices.

Single detail that invalidates Forbes’ list: Tassi lauds the entire DUNE series. Wasn’t it Jo Walton who commented that with DUNE, every book in the series is half as good as the one previous?

He also includes the entire ENDER’S GAME series, which is . . . more reasonable, I guess . . . but the quality of that series rises and falls dramatically, so just throwing the series on a “best ever” list without further comment does make me feel Tassi is at best being pretty lazy with his list.

Anyway, click through if you’d like to see which works other than the above appear on this list. At least there is a mix of older and more recent works. I don’t find any of the choices that surprising, though I definitely don’t share Tassi’s tastes when it comes to SF.

I don’t feel up to trying to create a list of the Top Ten SF Works of All Time, at least not right now. I can say that I would probably include DUNE, though of course none of the sequels.

Oh, fine, I’ll give it fifteen seconds and see what instant choices occur to me for such a list:

  1. DUNE
  2. ENDER’S GAME
  3. CYTEEN
  4. “Flowers for Algernon”
  5. RINGWORLD
  6. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Butler
  7. The Gaia trilogy by Varley
  8. A FIRE UPON THE DEEP
  9. The Mars Trilogy by KSR
  10. UP THE WALLS OF THE WORLD

There, not going to try to justify those choices, fifteen second limit (more like two minutes, but still). Of course also this is partially a personal-taste list. I like extremely well-done aliens, an influential factor for several of these choices. In fact, maybe I should pull CYTEEN and put on the entire Foreigner series in its place … but, no, I’ll let it stand as guided by my first impulse.

If you were picking something for a best-SF-of-all-time, list, what one work that I missed would have to go on that list?

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4 Comments Forbes gets ambitious, picks seven best science fiction works of all time

  1. SarahZ

    I think Forever War would be my pick, with The Sparrow as the backup option.

    Ender’s Game is an influential enough book to include, and I loved it when I first read it, but there’s elements of it that make me uncomfortable now that I know more about the author.

  2. Kathryn McConaughy

    Janet Kagan’s Hellspark… but that’s definitely a personal taste thing. Very few people that I’ve talked to seem to know about it.

  3. Craig N

    I was going to say something by H.G. Wells, probably THE WAR OF THE WORLDS — and then realized my choice for true old school works would be LAST AND FIRST MEN, by Olaf Stapledon. Which I concede has been a minority taste since it was first published in 1930.

  4. Rachel

    I loved Hellspark, though the murder mystery aspect was a bit weak … I thought it was fairly obvious who done it, though the details weren’t as obvious beforehand. But the alien species was very good and the artificial intelligence subplot was fantastic. Too bad Kagan didn’t write sequels.

    The Sparrow and Children of God were great books … but so harrowing. I only ever read that duology once, though it’s still on my shelves. I read The Forever War, but honestly, I don’t remember it at all well.

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