Stuck in a Starbucks, waiting to pick up one of the daughters last night, I made one of my occasional purchases of the Guardian newspaper. I was delighted to see it contained the Science Fiction and Fantasy part of a "1000 novels everyone must read" series. I should have known better. Such lists are designed to get you hot under the collar and irritated. 'They' are bound to get it wrong - and they did.
First, though, the good news. I'm pretty hot on SF up to the 1980s, but there my knowledge trails off, so it was good to have some more recent recommendations, which I'll pursue. But for the rest, I have two lists of my own. The 'why the heck did they include this?' list and the 'how could they miss that?' list.
WHY THE HECK DID THEY INCLUDE THIS?
Even by my loose definitions some of the books they included aren't really SF & fantasy. Lord of the Flies, for instance. Yes, it's a great book, but the fact there's a nuclear war in the background doesn't make it SF. And to call Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey good fantasy is just silly. Yes, Peacock is important because he was partly responsible for the establishment of the novel, but that doesn't make this tedious tripe good. There was also much too much space given to arty, aren't-I-clever, unreadable, boring Literature-with-a-capital-L SF. These tend to be either obscure novels written in 1909 by a non-entity, or the output of the New Wave bores. I mean, three J G Ballard books listed when there's only one Asimov? Come on.
HOW COULD THEY MISS THAT?
Where to start? Where to start. This is a list that includes Anthony Burgess twice and Rabelais (yawn, aren't we clever, arty list choosers?) - but there's no James Blish (what???), no John Brunner, no Harry Harrison, no Clifford Simak, no Bruce Stirling and no Robert Rankin. They list the wrong Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land rather than The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.) The good news is Gene Wolfe is there - but it's so wrong to include his Urth of the New Sun stuff, which I find a little cold and is probably his weakest writing, and leave out his stunning 'real world' fantasies like There are Doors or Castleview.
But the thing that really makes it clear this list is rubbish - neither Ray Bradbury nor Roger Zelazny are on it. And that's just plain stupid.