Monday, July 12, 2010

Classics Canon

So there's a meme going around associated with the new group blog covering the SFF Masterworks series published by Gollancz. Since my approach to canon formation (i.e. the 'classics' that I feel I need to read) has been entirely personal and idiosyncratic, I thought I'd see how my reading list stacks up with the Masterworks list. So in this list, Bold means I've read it, Italics means I own it but haven't read it yet, and Strikethrough means that I'm not planning on reading it and I'm fully comfortable skipping it. Let me know what you think I've got totally wrong here--is there anything I must must must read that I might be skipping?

I - Dune - Frank Herbert
II - The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
III - The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

IV - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
V - A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
VI - Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke

VII - The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
VIII - Ringworld - Larry Niven
IX - The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
X - The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham

2 - I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
3 - Cities in Flight - James Blish
4 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
5 - The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
6 - Babel-17 - Samuel R. Delany
7 - Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny
8 - The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe

9 - Gateway - Frederik Pohl
10 - The Rediscovery of Man - Cordwainer Smith

11 - Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon
12 - Earth Abides - George R. Stewart
13 - Martian Time-Slip - Philip K. Dick
14 - The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
15 - Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
16 - The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
17 - The Drowned World - J. G. Ballard
18 - The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut
19 - Emphyrio - Jack Vance
20 - A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

21 - Star Maker - Olaf Stapledon
22 - Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock
23 - The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg
24 - The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells
25 - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

26 - Ubik - Philip K. Dick
27 - Timescape - Gregory Benford
28 - More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon
29 - Man Plus - Frederik Pohl
30 - A Case of Conscience - James Blish

31 - The Centauri Device - M. John Harrison
32 - Dr. Bloodmoney - Philip K. Dick
33 - Non-Stop - Brian Aldiss
34 - The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke
35 - Pavane - Keith Roberts
36 - Now Wait for Last Year - Philip K. Dick
37 - Nova - Samuel R. Delany
38 - The First Men in the Moon - H. G. Wells
39 - The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke
40 - Blood Music - Greg Bear

41 - Jem - Frederik Pohl
42 - Bring the Jubilee - Ward Moore
43 - VALIS - Philip K. Dick
44 - The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin

45 - The Complete Roderick - John Sladek
46 - Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick
47 - The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells
48 - Grass - Sheri S. Tepper
49 - A Fall of Moondust - Arthur C. Clarke
50 - Eon - Greg Bear

51 - The Shrinking Man - Richard Matheson
52 - The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick
53 - The Dancers at the End of Time - Michael Moorcock
54 - The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55 - Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick
56 - Downward to the Earth - Robert Silverberg
57 - The Simulacra - Philip K. Dick
58 - The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick
59 - Dying Inside - Robert Silverberg

61 - The Child Garden - Geoff Ryman
62 - Mission of Gravity - Hal Clement
63 - A Maze of Death - Philip K. Dick
64 - Tau Zero - Poul Anderson
65 - Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
66 - Life During Wartime - Lucius Shepard
67 - Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
68 - Roadside Picnic - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69 - Dark Benediction - Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70 - Mockingbird - Walter Tevis

74 - Inverted World - Christopher Priest
75 - Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle
76 - H.G. Wells - The Island of Dr. Moreau
77 - Arthur C. Clarke - Childhood's End
78 - H.G. Wells - The Time Machine
79 - Samuel R. Delany - Dhalgren (July 2010)
80 - Brian Aldiss - Helliconia (August 2010)

81 - H.G. Wells - Food of the Gods (Sept. 2010)
82 - Jack Finney - The Body Snatchers (Oct. 2010)
83 - Joanna Russ - The Female Man (Nov. 2010)
84 - M.J. Engh - Arslan (Dec. 2010)

Overall I feel like I've got a pretty good record here. I'm definitely weak on the New Wave, but solid on the Golden Age and Golden Age precursors. I'm not as big a fan of Philip K. Dick as the Gollancz publishers, but that's OK.


Tim Walters said...

I just read The Complete Roderick, and the first book is stone-cold awesome, SF-as-satire at its finest. The sequel is a little sequelly, but still worthwhile. Unless you have some specific reason for skipping it, I'd highly recommend it.

Non-Stop is pretty important historically, for spoileriffic reasons, and very good.

I think Martian Time-Slip is Dick's best--I'd pick it over Ubik or Scanner (although the latter probably has more non-Dick-fan appeal).

I like Clarke a lot, but Moondust is definitely for fans only.

Inverted World won't appeal to everyone, but it's brilliant and unique--you should consider it.

The Body Snatchers is a lot better than one might expect, but probably not essential.

I'm not sure what I think about Arslan, but I'm glad I read it.

If you like Nova, you should continue on to Babel-17, but that's definitely the right order.

Karen Burnham said...

Tim - Interesting. I'll definitely give "Complete Roderick" another look. I'm waiting to see how I take to Delany before committing to *all* of his novels. For now the ones that seems to be most talked about are "Babel-17" and "Dhalgren." And so far I haven't been a huge fan of PKD's writing style, which is why I've sort of pared-down my PKD reading list. Where in his writing career does "Martian Time-Slip" come in?

Thanks for your comments! It's good to hear people's experiences with the 'classics.'

Anonymous said...

I like _Martian Time-Slip_ too, but to my mind, the most distinctive thing about it is the nouveau roman / Robbe-Grillet technique used to represent the internal world of the autistic character. If you didn't like _The Man in the High Castle_, which you did read, the PKD-ish twists in Time-Slip are unlikely to be any better for you, and you might just as well read some Robbe-Grillet or Butor (or, indeed _The Sound and the Fury_, which is a lot like Time-Slip in this regard) and just think 'I suppose this represents the thoughts of another kind of brain--autistic, damaged, etc.'

But I second the recommendations to pull Roderick and Babel-17 off of your strikethrough list.

Karen Burnham said...

Hmmm, definitely interesting. I have to admit, I'd never really heard much about "Martian Time-Slip" before--one of the reasons I felt reasonably confident in skipping it. But this definitely makes me reconsider. Luckily my 'canon' is always evolving!

Tim Walters said...

Dhalgren is Delany's masterpiece, but some people find it rough sledding. I don't think it's that difficult, really--Gravity's Rainbow, for example, is much more so.

Babel-17 is my least favorite of his early lit-meets-pulp novels--the one where the mix really doesn't gel. But that seems to be a minority opinion.

Triton is another one to consider as an entry point--I think it's his best after Dhalgren, and it's quite accessible (although the main character is intentionally not very likable, which puts some people off). The short stories collected in Driftglass are also outstanding.

Karen Burnham said...

I'll definitely be reading "Triton"--it's mentioned over and over again in the histories of the field. I guess it just hasn't made it on the Gollancz list yet. I'm not complaining about what they've left off: for one, they're still adding titles; and for two there are all sorts of reasons that can mess up publishing older works.