Further consideration of the 32

Yesterday I blogged about this list of 32 recommended SF novels. I mentioned at the time I wasn’t sure how much store to set by the compiler. Last night, as I considered the list further, I realised there are some serious flaws.

Firstly, the things I think are good about the list:

  • There were a few books, and some authors, I hadn’t heard of. They might actually be crap, but it’s cool to have new people suggested – and not to have lists dominated by the same old people. Now, perhaps I’m just not entirely up with my SF classics, and these are all people I ‘should’ have heard of – but I don’t, so it works for me.
  • It covers a good range of time – from Mary Shelley through Jules Verne and HG Wells, up to Cory Doctorow and Richard Morgan. It’s useful to see the history of SF reflected in a list like this, and presumably shows the compiler has a good understanding of the range of SF over time.
  • There’s a variety in types of SF. That is, you’ve got your loony Douglas Adams, the slightly farcical Michael Crichton’s Timeline, through to the more serious, epic-like works such as those of Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein, as well the cyperpunk of William Gibson. It’s good to see this range reflected, too – because SF is no monolithic structure.

However, there are obviously some problems with the list. Now, this just may reflect the compiler’s reading taste, but it’s still interesting – I hope – to offer a critique.

  • Firstly, I’m not sure all of the works mentioned count as SF. Animal Farm, basically. Not convinced.
  • By my count, only Lois Lowry and Mary Shelley rate a mention to represent female publishing. What happened to Ursula le Guin, and Left Hand of Darkness? Perhaps the compiler hasn’t read it, but if they claim to be making a somewhat-authoritative list, she’s a fairly glaring omission. Octavia Butler (of whom I’ve only read short stories), Nancy Kress… I could go on. It’s the main thing I’ve got a beef about, actually.
  • One, by my count, young-adult book (the Lowry, which again I haven’t read). Now, perhaps again this reflects the compiler’s reading habits – came to SF as an adult? – but there are some truly awesome YA scifi books out there. Madeline l’Engels’ Wrinkle in Time, for starters… and a lot more I won’t bother to list.
  • Clarke’s 2001 only rates a little mention at the end??
  • There shouldn’t be more than one book by any one author, I think. Fair enough to say “this is representative of the author, see also…” but I think that padding the list with multiple entires from one author is laziness, or the compiler isn’t as well-read as it might seem… or they really wanted it to be 32 books in the list and didn’t think anything else rated.
  • Finally, as a list of recommendations, it bugs me a little that it’s got only quotes from Amazon (and Wikipedia). Does this mean the compiler hasn’t actually read them, or doesn’t trust their writing/reviewing skills, or thinks people want something more ‘objective’ than a more personal opinion would seem?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I will still try to read some of the things of the list, despite my reservations about the list as a whole – because even given those, there are still some books that I know are good and interesting, and this has in some ways simply jogged my memory, as well as giving me some others to consider.

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