32 sci fi novels you should read, apparently

Well, according to How To Split An Atom anyway. (Thanks to S F Signal for pointing this one out.)

Why should I read these books? I suppose it’s out of some kind of sense of belonging. A need to fit in. While I would vehemently deny ever doing anything because I wanted to fit in, there must be some sub-conscious residue of it somewhere deep inside me. To be honest, at a conscious level I would deliberately avoid fitting in as a matter of principle. It was this attitude that saw me in tattered clothes and Hard Rock hairsprayed mohicans in the eighties and early nineties. Ah, those were the days, back when I had hair.

However, follicle nostalgia notwithstanding, whenever I see a list like this (100 greatest movies, 50 best tv shows and so on) I can’t help but have a look and see how many of them I’ve seen, read, enjoyed, whatever. It’s as if there’s some kind of validation in my agreeing with some completely arbitrary list written by some completely anonymous internetian that is probably no more relevant or influential than I am. I would like to say that said author is almost certainly less relevant than me, but here I am talking about one, so I should be wary of my glass walls when throwing these stones.

So when I saw this list I immediately had a read with the thought uppermost in my mind being, “I wonder how many of this guy’s top 32 I’ve read?” It can go a few different ways, this thought process. If I read his list and think he’s a completely tasteless dweeb with absolutely no respect for the real quality stuff then I can feel superior to him if I’ve read very few of his top books. If I really agree with his tastes I can feel validated if I’ve read a good percentage of them. Or depressed if I’ve hardly read any. So what happened with this list? Well, let’s start by reproducing the list:

Foundation – Isaac Asimov
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Animal Farm – George Orwell
War Of The Worlds – H.G. Wells
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Minority Report – Philip K. Dick
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
Accelerando – Charles Stross
I Robot – Isaac Asimov
Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
The Giver – Lois Lowry
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne
Ringworld – Larry Niven
More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
Spook Country – William Gibson
Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom – Cory Doctorow
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Dune – Frank Herbert
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
1984 – George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
Timeline – Michael Crichton

Now, that’s a pretty solid list on the whole. The author, Steve Spalding’s, reasoning for the list is not in any order of preference, it seems, but “books that have pushed the boundaries of the genre, inspired generations of thinkers and in some cases have even predicted key aspects of societies [sic] development.”

I would have to agree with a large number of them. But there do seem to be some authors that are glaringly obvious by their omission. After all, if there are multiple entries by some authors (often deservedly so), surely Steve could have slipped some other authors in there instead. Or made it a top 50. Why 32 anyway? Why am I even asking? After all, I mentioned early on how arbitrary these things are. One author I would have absolutely included, for example, is Iain M Banks. No list of quality sci-fi is complete without him. I won’t bother mentioning further, as, being such an arbitrary subject, why are my views any more valid than Mr Spalding’s?

But, as he has taken the time to put together a list, does it validate me? I like his taste, I agree with a lot of the content, so I would hope to have read a good number of his suggestions if my credentials as a lover of sci-fi and fantasy are to remain intact in my fragile psyche. The answer? Sixteen out of thirty two. Exactly fifty per cent. That’s not a bad strike rate. And seeing as I don’t completely agree with him, not a bad indication of how our tastes overlap. But as I don’t really give a shit about these things it doesn’t matter anyway.

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