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Flowchart Guides Readers Through the 100 Best SF Books 222

Hugh Pickens writes writes "T. N. Tobias writes that over the summer, over 60,000 people voted at NPR to select the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books of all time. The result? A list of 100 books with a wide range of styles, little context, and absolutely no pithy commentary to help readers actually choose something to read from it. Now SF Signal has come to the rescue with a 3800 x 2300 flowchart with over 325 decision points to help you find the perfect SF or Fantasy book to meet your tastes. Don't like to scroll? There's an interactive version that let's you answer a series of questions to find the perfect SF book."
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Flowchart Guides Readers Through the 100 Best SF Books

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  • I have read about 30 of these, and since it was about half fantasy and I don't read that in general, I'd say I've read about 3/5s of the stuff there (that I care about). I saw a few I wouldn't read regardless. So I'd say the list was pretty good. Only a couple on it that I've been meaning to read and haven't yet.

    You can't read everything, so this would be a good place to start.

    Of course, it's going to suffer from "Why didn't they put X on the list?", but it has a limit of 100 and that's actually kind
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      It's pretty much the same as lumping "Sci-fi and Romance" genres together.

      Don't like "City on the Edge of Forever" ? []

      Note "romance" is theoretically distinct from pr0n, otherwise we've got tons of slash fiction with spock and kirk, all of the "spandex wearing women" from the 90s era trek TV, etc.

      • I didn't think of "City" as romance while I was reading it, although I suppose it could be considered such. It is not a bodice-ripper, however. And that slash fiction is just in weird blogs or old usenet posts. I've read some decent porn, even decent sci-fi porn. "The Top 100 Science Fiction/Pornographic Novels". Might be a good list.
  • I am legend! This will be disappointing for a lot op people.

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )
      Well, they did say they were avoiding the genres 'horror' and 'teen', which tends to cover most of the vampire realm. But they also implied they intended to do those in future surveys.
  • by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @05:25PM (#37767394) Homepage


    "I don't mind a few chuckles between explosions" leads to the Culture series (fine) but "I don't have a sense of humor that I'm aware of" and "I just like my action intense" goes to the Vorkosigan Saga? What the hell? Bujold is funnier than most sf on her worst day. And sure, there's _some_ intense action, but just as much, well, character comedy and romance. I'm, er, not sure if the person who did that bit of the flowchart ever actually read the books at all...

    • Er...

      "I don't mind a few chuckles between explosions" leads to the Culture series (fine) but "I don't have a sense of humor that I'm aware of" and "I just like my action intense" goes to the Vorkosigan Saga? What the hell? Bujold is funnier than most sf on her worst day. And sure, there's _some_ intense action, but just as much, well, character comedy and romance. I'm, er, not sure if the person who did that bit of the flowchart ever actually read the books at all...

      Definitely agree, Bujold is awesome. Banks' books have far less humour, much of it limited to naming of ships (and some of there conversations, particularly in Excession). I'm rather surprised Bujold's fantasy works didn't make the list as well (Curse of Chalion books, anyway; I never could get into The Sharing Knife series).

      There are some very questionable decisions on that flowchart that suggest whoever put it together isn't actually familiar with the material. For example, to get to The Wheel of Time you

    • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      *blinks* I hadn't noticed that bit. You're totally 100% right. Maybe they thought it would be a good idea to direct the people who thought they had no sense of humor to the best humor on the whole page just to see if they were correct about themselves?
    • I tried that interactive thing. By the time I got to the second question, I wanted to click on a button that was not there, and by the third question, I was lost. I desperately clicked a button just to pretend to play through the script, but then I got to some questions that I couldn't even understand what the words meant. Then I finally gave it up as a bad job.
  • Why is it that people keep lumping science fiction with fantasy? What is it that makes the two in any way related? What is it that makes people think readers who want sci-fi are interested in fantasy, so that there needs to be one list of the "top 100"? Or vice versa.

    I mean, The Lord of the Rings was a good book, but sci-fi it ain't, and it's not the same kind of book as The Martian Chronicles or real sci-fi.

    The interactive selection was a joke. There are so many places where you are asked "A or not A" an

    • Why is it that people keep lumping science fiction with fantasy? What is it that makes the two in any way related?

      In the Golden Age of science fiction, the same authors wrote both. There are plenty of tales from the as far back as the 1950s where seemingly the characters are going through a simple sword and sorcery plot, but in the end it is revealed that the setting's lack of technology is the result of the fall of a hi-tech civilization, or conversely the magic in the story is in fact extremely advanced

      • It's pretty much the same reason Alternate History is considered part of SF, even ones that don't depend on time travel or something like that to cause the difference. Traditionally, AH was written by SF authors, so it's part of SF.

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )
      My guess is two-fold: (a) a lot of folks like both, and (b) while all of it is 'fiction', going from 'high fantasy' to 'hard science fiction' is more of a spectrum than a hard break. The Belgariad is fantasy, and The Caves of Steel or Mote in God's Eye are science fiction (though even those can be argued not to be 'hard' SF) but where do you put the Perelandra books? Or Star Trek (late 60s version, in particular)? It's difficult to set an objective cutoff.
    • by clodney ( 778910 )

      I think the reason is that they do have much in common, and a large overlap in readers.

      Compared to just about any other genre of literature, science fiction and fantasy present an author a blank slate, and let them construct any setting, scenario and backstory they want. Want to explore what relationships would be like in a world where peoples gender changes with the seasons? Go for it. Want to examine what happens to humans when omnipotent Gods choose to be terrifyingly real? Have at it.

      Those kind of f

      • I personally prefer the "it's this world allright, but there is something sinister/secret you don't know about it." Types.

        Lovecraft was good for that part, but I eventually wanted yo scoop out my eyes after the umpteenbillionth time I read the word "cyclopean." (That and "fungoid". Really, what's so scary about fungi? Well.. other than the 9ft tall 'stuff your brain in a jar' kind anyway.)

        To me, good fantasy and good science fiction do all they can to obey the normal world around the reader, but with a plot

    • Why is it that people keep lumping science fiction with fantasy?

      Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      -- Arthur C. Clarke

    • Re:Why keep lumping? (Score:4, Informative)

      by LainTouko ( 926420 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @08:04PM (#37769280)

      1) They are the two main ways of doing "imagine if the world was different" fiction.

      2) Because of this, there is a large amount of very good fiction (less so in literature perhaps, which seems to attract the purer forms of each, but certainly in media generally) which combines the two. Drawing a line between them would be impossible.

      3) And combining the two is actually a quite good idea, because each counters the weaknesses of the other. Science fiction which gets too hard can lose drama by becoming unrelateable and missing dramatic opportunities which don't seem plausible enough, and fantasy which gets too soft can lose drama by making cause and effect too arbitrary, which undermines narrative.

  • Specifically, Small Gods and Snow Crash. The classics are all there, and a few modern ones I don't think will outlast the century, but the majority of them are all very solid.
    • by gknoy ( 899301 )

      Given how much I liked most of the books I *have* read on the list, it makes me feel good about reading a lot of the others. I see it not as a way to find what I like, but rather to find new things to like.

  • I'm glad that's the first fork in the map. I have zero interest in vampires and unicorns but that seems to be the bulk of the "Sci-fi / Fantasy" section in the library or book store or netflix. The two genres have very little in common, in my opinion.
  • Am I the only one who was hoping for something like this: []

  • For shame. It's probably the wittiest, sexiest, most thought provoking sci-fi novel of the last 40 years.
    • Nonsequential and juvenile in the sense of fart jokes. If it weren't for the unusual clumsiness of the narrative and the ballyhoo given it by anarchists, I would have forgotten Illuminatus completely.
  • I was hoping to find some good things to read, but I only found a handful of titles on the list that I don't already own. And most of those I won't.

    I was surprised to find some rather - um - lower quality pulp on the list, but I suppose this sort of "everyone vote for your favorite" thing is bound to have a smattering of that.

    Oh well. Back to my lists of Hugo and Nebula nominees - that's a much better selection, frankly.

  • As has been pointed out numerous times already, it's really "The 100 most popular science fiction and fantasy books among listeners of NPR that could be bothered to vote".

    As for the flowchart, which is really the point of the post, they did a pretty good job of it, considering what they had to work with.

  • Fantasy is pretty much the opposite of science. Can we stop grouping it with SciFi?

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )
      Sure, but the Science Fiction shelf is going to get very small if you push out the stuff that's really Futuristic Fantasy.
    • I used to wonder why Fantasy was grouped in with SF. But futuristic SF involves things that are not possible (at least by our current understanding.) Why should we limit "Science Fiction" to Starships and Lightsabers? Why not Swords, Sorcery, and Magic? If we strip current tech from a "hard" SF book, you are left with more-or-less magic anyway.

      Really, my yardstick for good Fantasy (at least, Fantasy that I enjoy reading) is that it presents a system of magic that is methodical and is internally consiste

      • I'll address all 3 responses in one post if that's okay.

        SciFi is the extrapolation of technology based on science. It's fiction because it's not a true story, but it's still an educated guess based on fact.

        Fantasy is based on nothing more than imagination, and doesn't claim otherwise. Spells, sorcery, and anything else based on supernatural (i.e., non-scientifically explainable) phenomenon.

        Most SciFi doesn't have fantasy elements, and most fantasy doesn't have SciFi elements. If a particular book overlap

  • by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @05:54PM (#37767876)

    It'd be nice if I could make it re-list by weighting the votes.

    I like Vernor Vinge, Neil Gaiman, Bujold, George RR Martin, and Neal Stephenson.

    I don't like Kim Stanley Robinson, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Dan Simmons, or Arthur C. Clarke (blasphemy! I know!)

    If you feel the opposite, kudos to you, but don't complain, my idea will work for you too.

    I'd love to be able to have it weigh the votes of the people who liked the same stuff as me more heavily and the people who like the stuff I don't like less heavily and then see what the new top 100 looks like, and maybe pick out the highest placed book/series that I haven't already read from the new list.

  • Given the choice between Fantasy and Science Fiction, I've always been a Science Fiction guy. My one Honorable Mention in Fantasy would have been Heinlein's Glory Road -- for some reason, the kind of book I can read over and over.

    Pity that it didn't make the cut.

  • by Prune ( 557140 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @06:06PM (#37768056)
    Quite honestly, I am stunned and shocked that the Gormenghast books are not in there. []
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @06:07PM (#37768066) Homepage
    I really don't like how Bujold's Vorkosigan series comes after a path where one says no to humor. Sure, they can be pretty serious at times. Bujold has explicitly said that she thinks one of the keys to good literature is making characters have a miserable time (not her exact wording but pretty close). But the light-hearted bits are terribly funny. And even when things are going wrong, a lot of the characters, especially Miles, have such delightfully sardonic attitudes that this shouldn't be there. Frankly, a lot of these paths should lead to the same books as options. Overall, amusing but not a great actual flow chart for the purpose intended.
  • Seems people are simply not aware of the classics very well, given some startling omissions here. "The End of Eternity" is one of Asimov's greatest works and its lesson is one very applicable today (hint: replace time travel with information technology after reading this book, I got goosebumps thinking about that, shame on NASA for making space boring) [] I also don't see a single book from the sci-fi grandmasters like Jack Williamson (the timeles
    • Seems people are simply not aware of the classics very well

      Classics like Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, those kinds of classics? You surely can't be talking about this stuff. Please tell me Slashdot's readership is more enlightened than this...

      shame on NASA for making space boring

      How old are you? NASA put a man on the moon. Think about that for a moment. They put a man on the moon...over FORTY YEARS AGO. You seriously can't see THAT and get goosebumps? There's something wrong with you.

  • Nothing by Glen Cook?

    And the half-serious series from Jim Butcher? WTH?

  • this is just an Amazon ad, every selection you make in that 'interactive' char ends up with an Amazon link.

  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @06:37PM (#37768446) Journal

    I know that people get very passionate about their Science Fiction writing, but reading some of the responses here you'd think that there was some massive, genocidal weapon aimed to exterminate SF readers.

    Get a grip, people.

    It's a list. Did you vote? Remember, your favorite author, well, it might not be everyone else's favorite author. The list is based on what people voted for.

    Personally, although I've heard of many of these titles, I've read only a small handful, the rest being on my list of things to do when that precious free time returns at some point in the unknown future. And I thought the flowchart was really very entertaining and insightful. Well done, I say! Hear, hear, I say -- perhaps this list will result in a few more people picking up a classic Science Fiction book and reading it, perhaps even enjoying it. Is that really so bad?

  • by David_Hart ( 1184661 ) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @07:54PM (#37769226)

    I see a lot of complaining about the lack of newer Sci-Fi and Fantasy books in the list. This can be easily explained. It's not specifically because the older authors and series are more well known, though that is definitely part of it. The reason is simply that this was a NPR poll. If you stop for a second, you would realize that NPR's audience trends towards an older demographic. As such, they are more likely to select authors that they have enjoyed over the years. When you get older, you tend to have less time to read (unless you are and avid reader and make time) and are more likely to select books based on proven authors.

    Personally, I read a lot of Sci-Fi and fantasy when in university. I went to the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, NB, Canada and they had one of the largest Sci-Fi collections in Canada, if not the Northeast (ranked 10th in the world in 2009). I even got to read the special collection books as I worked as a temp in the library to make some money. It was cool having access and it is only recently, with the development of the kindle and the amazon bookstore, that I've gotten back into reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy as I now have access to more interesting stories than the popular Vampire/Magic/Star (Trek/Wars) that lined the shelves in most book stores.

The world is coming to an end--save your buffers!