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Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels…

Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010

by Damien Broderick, Paul di Filippo

Other authors: David Pringle (Foreword)

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This is not a bad book by any means, but it lacks the bite of its predecessor, the similarly-titled volume by David Pringle. One reason for this matters the most (for me, anyway) -- and that is, that these critics are not very critical. It is almost as though they don't want to say anything bad about the books they've chosen. Pringle had no qualms about doing so, and even admitted including books (hell, authors) he didn't like because they were important in genre terms. This was refreshing, and even provocative, which is something genre criticism needs, I think. In this book, there are a couple of peeps about style here and there, but otherwise one gets the impression these are the best books ever.

One could quibble about choices and omissions until the end of time (as in "Margaret Atwood is here but Dan Simmons isn't?") ... so I won't.
  tungsten_peerts | May 15, 2014 |

I'm not sure that it quite worked for me. For each book, the co-authors give a blurb of two pages or so explaining why it is good and why it is important in the trajectory both of the individual author and of the genre. But one thing I missed was snark: I'd much rather that they had included twenty bad books - or twenty books which they were prepared to admit were bad books - to make it clear that the praise they were lavishing was deserved in other cases. (This is why I'm fundamentally unsympathetic to the occasional efforts to set up sites that will only write positive reviews - you just can't trust them if they won't tell you what they don't like.)

I was also not convinced that individual novels are the right building blocks to construct a chronology of a quarter century of the genre. Quite apart from the facts that many of the choices are individually questionable, and single volumes may fairly not represent longer series (Bujold, Banks, etc), sf also includes short stories and other media. Sure, it's valid to look only at novels; but it's also a huge constraint. ( )
  nwhyte | Feb 22, 2014 |
Inevitably idiosyncratic as all such lists are, Broderick & Di Filippo at the very least like their science fiction in the sweeping cosmic tradition of Olaf Stapledon, they like it Trans-Human, and they like to invoke the term "fantastika" a lot. According to John Clute (who admittedly ought to know), "...fantastika designates science fiction and all the other literatures that SF shares significant characteristics with..." This allows for the annexation of novels by Philip Roth, Kazuo Ishiguro and Cormac McCarthy to the canon in question.

What's interesting to me are some of the authors whom Broderick and Di Filippo don't seem to have a lot of love for; no David Brin, no Dan Simmons, no Mary Gentle, no James Morrow and no George Alec Effinger (just to note a few). Perhaps their visions just aren't radical or literary enough for the authors, or perhaps it was thought that they're sufficiently well known that they needed no additional attention, but that begs the question of how the likes of George Zebrowski, David Marusek and Jamil Nasir were included; let's say that I'd like to see the list of the twenty-five or so novels that didn't make the cut. Which is another way of saying that if you're throwing around the word the "best" as a description I'm likely to respond with a rhetorical "oh really?" An index would have been nice too.

After writing these thoughts I learned that Broderick (in particular) is a partisan of the concept of "transrealism," which tends to privilege subjective perception over naturalistic realism; this brings at least some of the choices into focus, and clarifies why books coming out of a more traditional brand of American SF tended not to make the cut. Again, the authors can make any list they like, but they're still obligated to make their editorial strategies clear if they're going to play the game right. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Nov 4, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Damien Broderickprimary authorall editionscalculated
di Filippo, Paulmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Pringle, DavidForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Employing a critical slant, the book provides a discussion of the novels and the writers in the context of popular literature. Moreover, each entry features a cover image of the novel, a plot synopsis, and a mini review, making it an ideal go-to guide for anyone wanting to become reacquainted with an old favorite or to discover a previously unknown treasure.… (more)

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