Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984: An amazing guide to lesser-known SF gems

Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 by David PringleScience Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, 1949-1984 by David Pringle

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNote: You may also be interested in Stuart’s reviews of:
Modern Fantasy: The 100 Best Novels, 1946-1987.
Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010.

This book was such a great guide for me while growing up in Hawaii. Without any real sci-fi fan community, conventions, or the Internet, there really weren’t many places to get good SF reading tips. Of course I knew every bookstore in town, both new and used, so I didn’t have trouble finding the big names like Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, etc. And then I found a list of all the Hugo and Nebula winners for Best Novel, and made it my mission to track down every one of these books in the used stacks. But I didn’t really have a good way to choose lesser-known, older titles until I discovered Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, in which David Pringle, the Scottish SF editor of Interzone magazine, selected his favorite 100 SF novels published in English between 1949-1985.

Pringle had a clear mission for Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: he wanted to introduce a lot of relatively obscure SF novels, with a healthy weighting of UK writers, which many American SF fans may have never heard of. He also chose a very wide range of book types, ranging from the dystopian classic 1984, Golden Age space operas from the 1950s, post-apocalyptic stories like A Canticle for Leibowitz, New Wave writers from the 60s and 70s like Samuel L. Delany, Roger Zelazny, Phillip K Dick, J.G. Ballard, Thomas M. Disch, Michael Moorcock, Norman Spinrad, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Silverberg, and ending with William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. He also highlights books that many fans might not consider crowd-favorites, but really underscores the incredible variety of stories and settings that only the SF field can deliver. I guarantee that you will encounter dozens of books you will love, but almost as many that you’ve not heard of, and quite a few that will have you asking, “What was Pringle thinking? That was terrible!” Instead of just choosing popular titles, he delved deeper into the genre than many others would have. There are many unusual choices, like William S. Burroughs, Barry N. Malzberg, Angela Carter, Kingsley Amis, Joanna Russ, and Marge Piercy, literary writers at the fringe of the genre, but that’s what makes his selections unique and daring.

Each entry is two pages long — they are written succinctly and give the all-important historical and literary context for each book, along with a basic outline of the plot. Occasionally he will include some spoilers, so be careful, but his reviews are surprisingly entertaining to read. He is also very honest in describing what type of books they are, so you can immediately eliminate books that don’t fit your taste. I really took away a better understanding of the history and evolution of the genre, something that informs my reviews and reading today. It’s amazing how broadly and deeply he’s read in the genre.

For many years I used this book as a guide to track down the more obscure titles in various used bookstores. I managed to get most of them, but even 30 years later I’ve only read 49 of them! It may never come true, but I really want to read all of them someday. Here is the list in chronological order — how many of them have you read already? I’ve put an asterisk next to those I’ve read.

  1. Nineteen Eighty-Four* by George Orwell fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  2. Earth Abides* by George R. Stewart
  3. The Martian Chronicles* by Ray Bradbury
  4. The Puppet Masters* by Robert A. Heinlein
  5. The Day of the Triffids* by John Wyndham
  6. Limbo by Bernard Wolfe
  7. The Demolished Man* by Alfred Bester
  8. Fahrenheit 451* by Ray Bradbury
  9. Childhood’s End* by Arthur C. Clarke
  10. The Paradox Men by Charles L. Harnes
  11. Bring the Jubilee* by Ward Moore
  12. The Space Merchants* by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth
  13. Ring Around the Sun by Clifford D. Simak
  14. More than Human* by Theodore Sturgeonfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  15. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement
  16. A Mirror for Observers* by Edgar Pangborn
  17. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
  18. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
  19. The Inheritors by William Golding
  20. The Stars My Destination* by Alfred Bester
  21. The Death of Grass by John Christopher
  22. The City and the Stars* by Arthur C. Clarke
  23. The Door Into Summer* by Robert A. Heinlein
  24. The Midwich Cuckoos* by John Wyndham
  25. Non-Stop* by Brian W. Aldiss
  26. A Case of Conscience* by James Blish fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  27. Have Space-Suit — Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
  28. Time Out of Joint* by Philip K. Dick
  29. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  30. A Canticle for Leibowitz* by Walter M. Miller
  31. The Sirens of Titan* by Kurt Vonnegut
  32. Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
  33. Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon
  34. Hothouse* by Brian W. Aldiss
  35. The Drowned World* by J.G. Ballard
  36. A Clockwork Orange* by Anthony Burgess
  37. The Man in the High Castle* by Philip K. Dick
  38. Journey Beyond Tomorrow by Robert Sheckley
  39. Way Station* by Clifford D. Simak fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  40. Cat’s Cradle* by Kurt Vonnegut
  41. Greybeard by Brian W. Aldiss
  42. Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
  43. Martian Time-Slip* by Philip K. Dick
  44. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch* by Philip K. Dick
  45. The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
  46. Norstrilia* by Cordwainer Smith
  47. Dr Bloodmoney* by Philip K. Dick
  48. Dune* by Frank Herbert
  49. The Crystal World* by J.G. Ballard
  50. Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison
  51. Flowers for Algernon* by Daniel Keyes
  52. The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny
  53. Stand on Zanzibar* by John Brunner fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  54. Nova* by Samuel L. Delany
  55. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?* by Philip K. Dick
  56. Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch
  57. The Final Programme by Michael Moorcock
  58. Pavane* by Keith Roberts
  59. Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter
  60. The Left Hand of Darkness* by Ursula K. LeGuin
  61. The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw
  62. Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad
  63. Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
  64. Downward to the Earth* by Robert Silverberg
  65. The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  66. 334 by Thomas M. Disch
  67. The Fifth Head of Cerberus* by Gene Wolfe
  68. The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock
  69. Crash by J.G. Ballard
  70. Looking Backward from the Year 2000 by Mack Reynolds
  71. The Embedding by Ian Watson
  72. Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas
  73. The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison
  74. The Dispossessed* by Ursula K. LeGuin
  75. Inverted World by Christopher Priest
  76. High-Rise* by J.G. Ballard
  77. Galaxies by Barry N. Malzberg
  78. The Female Man by Joanna Russ fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  79. Orbitsville by Bob Shaw
  80. The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
  81. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  82. Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
  83. Michaelmas by Algis Budrys
  84. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley
  85. Miracle Visitors by Ian Watson
  86. Engine Summer by John Crowley
  87. On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch
  88. The Walking Shadow by Brian Stableford
  89. Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm
  90. Timescape* by Gregory Benford
  91. The Dreaming Dragons by Damien Broderick fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
  92. Wild Seed* by Octavia Butler
  93. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
  94. Roderick and Roderick at Random by John Sladek
  95. The Book of the New Sun* by Gene Wolfe
  96. The Unreasoning Mask by Philip Jose Farmer
  97. Oath of Fealty* by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
  98. No Enemy but Time* by Michael Bishop
  99. The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica by John Calvin Batchelor
  100. Neuromancer* by William Gibson

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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20 comments

  1. sandy ferber /

    This has been one of my Bibles ever since it came out. And let’s not forget about this one, Stuart: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61YLX6l0XwL._SL500_SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

    • Sandy, how did you know this was next on my list! Will be posting a review soon.

      • sandy ferber /

        Lucky guess! LOL! I like the Pringle “Ultimate Guide” a lot, but feel he was very stingy with his star ratings. Still, a very worthy book to have on the shelf for any sci-fi lover. I look forward to reading your review, Stuart!

  2. sandy ferber /

    Of all the many titles that I’ve read from this list, there was only one that I did NOT care for: Damien Broderick’s “The Dreaming Dragons.” Oddly enough, Broderick was the dude who came out with a sequel to the Pringle volume a few years back: http://images-eu.amazon.com/images/P/1933065397.LZZZZZZZ.jpg

    • Sandy, I also read Damian Broderick and Paul Di Filippo’s Science Fiction: 101 Best Novels (1985-2010), and while the list itself has a ton of great books, I found the descriptions extremely annoying at times, trying to be too clever and erudite.

      • sandy ferber /

        Embarrassed to say that while I have read around 2/3 of the original Pringle suggestions, I have not read one–not a single–book from the Broderick collection…yet. A clear reflection of my reading tastes and preferences, I suppose. Guess my work is clearly cut out for me now….

  3. THE DOOR INTO SUMMER? Really?

    Stuart, I’m curious; on which island did you grow up?

    • Marion, I liked Door into Summer but thought Puppet Masters was terrible. And I grew up in Honolulu, which used to have Waldenbooks (for new books) and several used bookstores (Jelly’s, Gecko, Froggies, Interlude, Rainbow) in the 1980s, but now is sadly reduced to 1 Barnes & Noble at Ala Moana, and 2 Jelly’s used bookstores.

      That has a lot to do with Amazon and other online content pushing out physical books. And I don’t think there was ever an organzied SF fandom in Hawaii, or if so it was well hidden from me.

      • I liked DOOR INTO SUMMER, too, but one of the top 100? Meh, I can’t see it.

        The big island has its own SF convention now, in September, and fandom is starting to coalesce around it. It’s called HawaiiCon. At first one was mostly TV related but they made a shift last year and included more writers, and this year John Scalzi is the Guest of Honor.

        • Seriously? I wish it had come much sooner. I spent my entire childhood reading SF in Hawaii without a single person to share my thoughts with. In fact, it’s only after finding GR and FanLit that I finally feel ‘among friends’.

    • The Door into Summer was probably my favorite book when I was a kid. I read it many times. (But that doesn’t mean it belongs on this list.) TIme for a re-read.

  4. By quick estimate I have read only 40 of the titles listed. Nice to have a ‘new’ list to look into!

  5. Only 22 not read, but I have at least a third of those on the shelf at this time. Now to find the time to read them.

    • Galen, my hat goes off to you for topping the 75% mark and having most of the rest. One of my favorite activities as a kid was hunting these books down in paperback, since many were quite obscure. I was quite proud to find copies of Revolt of the Triffids and Martian Chronicles, along with most of the early Ballantine titles (Childhood’s End, More than Human, Bring the Jubilee, Space Merchants, etc). It was like a treasure hunt known only to me.

  6. One of these days (in the neighborhood of June/July, ha) I’ll have to sit down and re-read The Female Man.

  7. FanLit folks, let’s try to get this entire list reviewed. And the fantasy list, too, of course. Stuart’s review of Pringle’s fantasy list will be going up sometime this week.

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