Last week I posted a list of my Top 33 Science Fiction Classics. This week it's time for Fantasy classics to get their time in the limelight. Some of these are still on my to-read list, like Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Others are founding texts of the genre. As with last week, I didn't put more than one book by the same author on the list. Following that principle, I also chose just one book from whole series that I adored - and often it wasn't the first book from the series that I picked. Sometimes I play a little fast and loose with my interpretation of what fantasy really is. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments! What did I miss? What should I have left out? I want to hear all about it.
This is my subjectively curated list of science fiction classics from the very roots of the genre to the turn of the millennium. Most of these I have read, but some are well-regarded classics on my list of books to read. I tried to throw in some surprises for the hardened sci-fi nerds to contemplate. Looking for Fantasy novels? Check out this list: Top 33 Fantasy Classics.
I have divided the books into three categories: Space Travel, Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic, and Speculative Fiction for those I couldn't find a more specific category for. Many would fit into more than one category, but I didn't repeat so as not to bore you. I also didn't choose more than one book from the same author, or list a whole series instead of a single book. For the fantasy enthusiasts out there, I'll compile a separate list to be posted another day.
What would you have put on the list? How many of these have you read? Tell me in the comments!
Pro tip on reading Sunshine:
bake a huge tray of cinnamon rolls before you start. You are going to need them
or you will be making emergency trips to your local cinnamon roll shop
mid-novel. The eponymous narrator is a
professional baker and can’t go three pages without mentioning her amazing
cinnamon rolls. Big, fluffy, cinnamon rolls made from yeasted dough and topped
with thick frosting. Get it? Do you have your cinnamon rolls yet? Then you may proceed.
The cinnamon rolls are a major character in Sunshine, which is a post-apocalyptic
alt-verse urban fantasy vampire novel.Are you confused yet?This is
typical Robin McKinley, but I had never read Robin McKinley like this before.I had forgotten about her, even though she
was one of my favorite authors before I got over my teen dragon YA fantasy phase
way back in 1992.It turns out I should
have been keeping tabs on this fantastic writer because she has branched out
into adult fiction and with a vengeance.This novel is definitely adult: “engorged labia” make an all-too-brief
appearance, which I would have loved to have seen in McKinley’s YA stuff back
in 1992, but YA books are too prudish for that.Not Sunshine!Nothing prudish here.It’s also not much like you’d expect from a
vampire novel, in a very McKinley-esque way.
Robin McKinley has a knack for putting you in a world that
feels real, even when it’s clearly ridiculous.The opening sequence of Sunshine is a masterful piece of storytelling
that brings the protagonist “from the ordinary world to the extraordinary
world” in an astonishing way when this humble baker of cinnamon rolls is
kidnapped by vampires.The
world-building starts at that point and relentlessly marches on for the rest of
the book.The plotting and pacing are pretty
steady, although this is necessarily the type of story that has excessive
amounts of explanations of things
both essential and trivial in order for the reader to understand this world
where vampires roam free.If you are not
game for learning all the ins and outs of an alternate universe, this is not
the novel for you.However, the story is
riveting, the characters are compelling, and the world is ruthlessly built
layer upon layer.
Then, sadly, the novel comes to an end.I found this book via a list of best sci-fi
and fantasy books on NPR and I read the intro on the author’s web page then
felt compelled to find it at the library immediately.I binge-read this book in a few days.The ending was a relief and a satisfaction –
a relief from this brutal page-turner, but a satisfying resolution to events. There were some intriguing unanswered
questions, sure. It was a little frustrating to spend 400 pages reading new
levels of minutia about how magic works only to have some major questions go
un-answered, but I consider this to be the price of entry for this kind of
ride.And Robin McKinley, master story-teller,
makes some of the best kinds of rides.If you crave some well-crafted fantasy, but you wouldn’t touch Twilight
with a 10-foot pole, Sunshine is the
novel for you.