The Middle Shelf are looking to blog about the ten best sci-fi and fantasy books by decade since the 1960’s. You can read their thread on their twitter page.
The list has been chosen! Discover what made it through on The Middle Shelf
They requested our suggestions (five books per decade), and asked us to blog and tweet about it individually, to get the community talking.
Thinking it sounds like a fantastic idea, I embarked upon deciding what I would recommend…
“Ken, I’m going to do this thing!”
K – “Sounds good, what are you going to suggest?”
“Well… Lord of the Rings was fifties so I can’t include that…”
K – “Right…?”
“Oh! Brave New World!”
K – “Published in the thirties wasn’t?”
“Shit… this is going to be harder than I thought…”
But I’ve done it! And I’ve accompanied my suggestions with some snazzy shots.
If anything, this has been an exercise in expanding my TBR list, and I haven’t even read anyone else’s suggestions yet!
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – Philip K. Dick 1966
There are many books on this list that I haven’t read in many years, can barely remember the plot, but know deep in my core that I loved them; We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is one of those books (along with the rest of Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly). When it comes to books, I view my miserable memory in a favourable light; rereading a book is like discovering it all over again.
Phillip K. Dick is seminal for any sci-fi list.
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin 1968
I first came across Le Guin when I read The Dispossessed for a university sci-fi course and fell in love with her writing; imagine my ecstasy when I discovered she’d written (at that time) a quartet of fantasy novels. I have recently discovered that there are now more books in the Earthsea series. Quite frankly I have no idea what I’m doing wasting my time on here when I have dragons and an enchanting magic system to catch up with.
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey 1968
I first came across Anne McCaffrey in 2002; I read Dragon Quest, realised it was actually the second in the series, (despaired), and then two years later finally read Dragonflight. Fifteen years later and this series is still on my TBR list, awaiting the purchase of more of the books (lest another fifteen years go by). The Dragons of Pern series, or at least the two books of the series that I have read, is unbeaten for its representation of that classic fantasy dragon.
The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart 1970
You can’t have a fantasy list without including Arthurian legend, right? And I would argue (obviously, otherwise it wouldn’t be on here) that Stewart’s is the best. She incorporates so many of the legends and their locations; what makes it personally special for me is that her story starts with Merlin’s childhood in my local town of Carmarthen. Although it’s popular knowledge locally, I feel South Wales is often overlooked in Arthurian legend, when we have a very strong claim to parts of it.
The Princess Bride – William Goldman 1973
This is a firm favourite with so many, and justly so. Intricately written, funny to a fault, dramatic, swashbuckling; I simply love it and that’s all I have to say on the matter.
The Dispossessed – Ursula Le Guin 1974
It’s missing from Snazzy Shot 2, and my shelves apparently.
Loads up her deerstalker and butterfly net.
Anyway… As I desperately try to dampen my rising panic at a missing book, as mentioned earlier The Dispossessed is a novel I studied in university, as an example of an “utopia”. I think it may have been the start of my fascination with dystopias; The Dispossessed is an exploration of the idea of whether utopia is a feasible construct.
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick 1977
Speaking of dystopias, and along comes Dick’s vision of a drug fueled future (now a past of twenty three years). Sporting his usual flair for double lives, betrayals and unreliable narrators, A Scanner Darkly is a must from the Philip K. Dick collection.
The Stand – Stephen King 1978
Lets end the decade on a controversial note! Typically a horror author, I feel King’s The Stand contains enough post-apocalyptic dystopia to be included in my list. I was once a big fan of King’s writing, but I began to evolve; from desiring the kind of shock horror he normally writes, to a desire for the kind of unsettling horror of an imagined, not too distant future as depicted here.
The Pawn of Prophecy – David Eddings 1982
Ah The Belgariad. It holds a special place in my heart; my love affair with Eddings began with Polgara the Sorceress all the way back in 2004. Recommended to me by my then boyfriend of a full year (omg we’re in so much love guys, like its meant to be, he even likes these awesome fantasy books), The Belgariad and The Mallorean are still firm favourites of ours. Where do you even begin describing the majestic beauty of these books? In the words of my darling, poetic husband:
“He has a flaming sword. A FLAMING SWORD!!”
The Magician – Raymond E. Feist 1982
The eighties were truly a beautiful time for fantasy literature, with this second master of epic fantasy stomping his way in. I remember reading this book and falling in love with the idea that there are other worlds just a rift away.
The Colour of Magic – Sir Terry Pratchett 1983
And here we come to it. I defy anyone to create a list of best fantasy without including the sorely missed, astronomically talented Sir Terry Pratchett.
oh fuck and now I’m actually crying. I kid you not.
bear with me
On the 20th of November 2000, I was browsing my school library during my lunch break. I’d just finished The Last Battle (C.S Lewis, Narnia) about two weeks earlier and I hadn’t found anything to fill the gaping void. The Chronicles of Narnia was the first fantasy I’d ever read (and was published a decade too early for this cursed list) and I was hooked. I needed more.
I caught a glimpse of the yellow spine of Sorcery. The manic Josh Kirby cover was beguiling and I immediately checked it out. The following month I’d managed to get my hands on the first of the series, The Colour of Magic. I began reading them as and when I could get my hands on them; the next Discworld book I read was Jingo, bought in Tesco on a late night shopping trip by my father, to stop my excited screaming.
It was a thousand worlds away from Narnia. It was a thousand times more than Narnia, in every conceivable way. I was thirteen; these books accompanied me through my adolescence and offered the best escape there has ever been.
Thank you Terry xxx
Right. Pull yourself together woman you have a post to finish.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood 1985
I don’t think this book needs any introduction. It chilled everyone in the eighties. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get round to reading it, but terrified me when I did. And now its adaptation is (sending book sales rocketing and) turning all eyes on America as they seemingly edge closer to Atwood’s gendercentric dystopia.
Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones 1986
I first fell in love with Studio Ghibli’s animation, and was amazed to discover it was an adaptation by a Welsh author. AND the first of a trilogy. Jones’ books (both this trilogy and her Christomancy series) are timeless and enchanting. I read them as an adult and despaired that they were lacking from my childhood. They’re the kind of book I can’t wait for my own children to enjoy.
Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb 1995 To Be Read
Robin Hobb is, unfortunately, a long time resident of my TBR list. I’d always heard of how fantastic her books were, but never managed to get my hands on one. This must be rectified…
Sabriel – Garth Nix 1995 To Be Read
Garth Nix is another author I’d heard good things of but never managed to get round to reading, until husband bought me Rogues one Christmas and I read a wonderful short story of his in it.
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman 1995
NOT “The Golden Compass”. Don’t even.
There’s nothing quite like His Dark Materials. I can still vividly picture Lyra’s urchin haunted streets of Oxford, the damp and noisome fens. The ache to have a daemon of my own.
Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin 1996
I was late to the Game of Thrones party; I began reading them in 2013 after falling in love with the adaptation and giving in to my impatience to know what happens next.
That worked out well for me.
The books receive a great deal of criticism but, having not yet read The Wheel of Time series, I don’t know of any books that are as ambitious in their scope as these.
Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson 1999
Wait. Yes I do.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen sees your heart-wrenching betrayals and deaths, detailed battle scenes, myriad cast of characters, interweaving plot lines; and pisses all over it. This is another series I began with the wrong book, then came back to when I had more; and I still haven’t finished it. Why? Because I found out about Esslemont. The git. So now I have a whole bunch of other books to acquire, so that I can start the series from the beginning and incorporate Esslemont’s books too.
There’s a shame.
What a decade for fantasy. Scratch that, we can narrow it down to what a YEAR for fantasy. Let’s dive in to my favourite decade…
The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde 2001
Sticking out from his present company is the lovely Jasper Fforde with his Thursday Next series. Time travelling, book travelling, pet dodos; this series is wonderful. It’s pure escapism, living the dream of what it would be like to be able to physically enter your favourite books and meet the characters. And Wales is still fighting for independence; cer i crafu you can’t have our cheese.
The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie 2006
My first taste of that addictive, consuming substance that is grimdark. I still have a book hangover from this series and it’s been five years. I miss Logen. I still see him diving off that cliff. No I haven’t read Red Country or Sharp Ends yet. Never mind Yossarian Lives, Logen does. Shut up shut up shut up.
I think the thing I loved most about this was I already had that benevolent, guiding, grandfatherly wizard complex (see LotR, Belgariad, Merlin, Earthsea…)
Abercrombie takes advantage of the set precedence and uses it to clobber you over the head with Bayaz. I didn’t see it coming. Say one for thing for Beth, say she loves a clever, genre overturning narrative.
The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson 2006
Whilst I was revelling in axes and blood and betrayals, Ken was desperately trying to get my attention with Sanderson. With his unparalleled world building. And his formidable magic systems. Whereas The Way of Kings was our first foray into Sanderson, I’d say the Mistborn series is my favourite.
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch 2006
Rounding off that glorious year is Lynch. I’ve only this year read The Gentleman Bastards series but it left me reeling. I love the plays, (most) of the characters, the sheer brilliance of Locke. The incredible depths of the characters. Say one thing of Scott Lynch, say he can write a bloody good character.
Goddamit Dogman get out of my head.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss 2007
And finally we finish on a high. Sing us out Kvothe, you flaming beauty. I will never tire of defending Rothfuss’ pace for finishing (whispers) Book Three. Why wouldn’t you relish the opportunity to reread this series from the start? The three books we have in the series already (ok, two and a wonderful half) are not diminished in any way and we should enjoy them for the stalwarts of fantasy that they are.
What? No snazzy group shot? Nope. I foisted my copy of Children of Time on my best friend with the demand she read it immediately; and I read Adrian Tchaikovsky’s suggestion of Harry August and, after cursing myself for the forgetful nincompoop that I am, needed to add it to my list.
1Q84 – Haruki Murakmi 2010
Ok, technically the original Book One in Japanese was published in 2009… I’m still counting it. Is it magic realism? Or dystopia? You can argue the point but I’m still counting it. It’s dark and unsettling, thought provoking and otherworldly. And absolutely deserves to be in this list.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North 2014
I read this book with my little book group when we were following the Richard and Judy Bookclub recommended reading. I would never have picked it up had I seen it in a shop. Which is why I am an advocate for reading groups and challenging yourself to leave your comfort zone. It’s a different take on the notion of time travel and it left me dazed for days afterwards. What would you do differently?
Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky 2015
I know I’m not the first to recommend the award winning Children of Time to this list. You can read my full review here. I always struggle when someone asks me what my favourite book is (that question is panic-attack inducing); but I can unreservedly declare that Children of Time is my favourite sci-fi book. The level of detail and world building is staggering. I’m just going to quote my own review verbatim:
Tchaikovsky’s exploration of evolution and different impacts upon it is staggering.
The book is a kaleidoscope of moral challenges and opens interesting dialogues on humanity and consequences.
Although set in the far-reaching future, it has some eye opening critiques relevant to our society today.
I may have struggled to list five books from this decade that I have read and would recommend. But I have no such problem finding books, from just this year, that I am aching to read:
Blackwing – Ed McDonald
Red Sister – Mark Lawrence
Godblind – Anna Stephens
The Court of Broken Knives – Anna Smith Spark
Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames
And there you have it. My recommendations.
If you’re still here, I would love to hear what you would recommend for any or each decade. My TBR list could absolutely (not) do with a little fattening.