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SF/F readers... what does everyone eventually stumble on? - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
SF/F readers... what does everyone eventually stumble on?
I've been doing some work with our SF/F collection, and it occurs to me that the genre is hard to manage (from a provider's point of view) because, while there are occasional trends, the way it really tends to work is a word-of-mouth passing down, which means that older books are very likely to suddenly hit vogues again, or at least be necessary because sooner or later, everyone who reads in the genre will trip over another fan who says, "Oh, yeah--you haven't read _____ yet?"

I'm not talking about currently popular things like Harry Potter or His Dark Materials or A Series of Unfortunate Events--things that people come across in mainstream culture--though some or all of them may well join the ranks of the stumbled-upon someday--or about classics that are acknowledged in the outside world, like LotR, Foundation, Dune, or The Chronicles of Narnia. The book that started me thinking about this was Robin McKinley's Beauty--nearly unknown outside of the genre, but within the genre, at some point as you get into the fandom, someone somewhere is going to say, "Oh, have you read Beauty?" (For the record, I followed the advice and picked it up, and really disliked it.(EDIT: To my embarassment, I realized the Beauty I so disliked was Tepper's, not McKinley's. It's been a while since I read them!)) To some extent, the Ender books are like this, though the release of current entries in a series puts it in a slightly different light, closer to the popular stuff.

So, question up for discussion: Which SF/F books do readers in the genres think of as perennials, the books that every speculative fiction reader comes across sooner or later?
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kristinholt From: kristinholt Date: October 7th, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not sure if this fits in the SF/F category that well, but The Mists of Avalon series would fit, for me.
kokopelli20878 From: kokopelli20878 Date: October 7th, 2006 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)


Foundation Trilogy
Naked Flesh, Caves of Steel
Weapon Shops of Isher
Witches of Karres
Most of Henlein's stuff
Stars my Destination by Bester
Lensman series
From: iamweebles Date: October 7th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: classics

I love Bester - The Demolished Man is one of my all time favorite books.
From: iamweebles Date: October 7th, 2006 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not commenting on quality - some of these books are ones that I read when my taste was not very refined... Also, looking over my list I realize that it's heavily weighted toward SF, not F.

Piers Anthony's Xanth books
Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel and the other books in that series
Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series
Ursula LeGuin's Those Who Walk Away from Omelas short story and the Earthsea trilogy
Ray Bradbury's S is for Spaceship
C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen
Andre Norton's Witchworld series
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels and The Mists of Avalon
Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time
Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash
Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series (although personally I didn't care for them half as much as The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through)

That's off the top of my head...
From: iamweebles Date: October 7th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Neuromancer by William Gibson
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tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: October 7th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I heard about Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow" by word of mouth, and have been plugging it ever since. A cracking 'first contact' novel about the problem of suffering, among other things, with a well-realised alien culture, engaging human protagonists, and interesting theology/ philosophy underpinning it.
From: magnolia_mama Date: October 7th, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh my word, yes. A thousand times, yes. I've never been so completely turned inside-out and upside-down by a book. I'm afraid to read the sequel -- not that I fear it won't measure up, but because the person who recommended The Sparrow to me says it's even more devastating.
lareinenoire From: lareinenoire Date: October 7th, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd definitely agree with whoever posted The Mists of Avalon, though that tends to go in the subtext of Arthurian novels which really is its own thing.

Other than that...lots of people ask me if I've read Robert Jordan, to which I always reply that I'm avoiding him like the plague and that I prefer George R.R. Martin.

On a somewhat unrelated note, what did you dislike about Beauty? That was one of my favourite novels from about fourth/fifth grade onward.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 8th, 2006 04:38 am (UTC) (Link)
:am embarrassed:

It was Tepper's Beauty I disliked so very much--it's a Sleeping Beauty riff that turns into a very dismal rape story. Obviously, I read it a long time ago... I forgot Tepper's name, and only spotted the title on the McKinley, which I also read a long time ago. Just missed them!
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: October 7th, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you go asking for more literary SF, eventually you will find Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun. But I have no idea how many people actually get all the way through it.
auctasinistra From: auctasinistra Date: October 7th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes. Gene Wolfe. Oh yes.

That's all I wanted to say.
purebristles From: purebristles Date: October 7th, 2006 05:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
(tending towards Brit lit)
Diana Wynne Jones - Howl's Moving Castle, Chronicles of Chrestomanci series
Lloyd Alexander - Chronicles of Prydain
Susan Cooper - The Dark Is Rising

Philip K. Dick
Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea
William Gibson
alexandramuses From: alexandramuses Date: October 7th, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I second DWJ and LeGuin. I've never heard of Philip Dick or Gibson; what are their books like?

(LeGuin's daughter is totally my hero - she's a professor at UCLA, plays baroque cello fabulously, and is studying Boccherini... yum.)
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: October 7th, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tamora Pierce's books, for sure, I'd say, especially the Alanna ones. Slightly older slanted, Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, probably as well (which may not be a good thing), and Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. I'd say George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan, but both their series are still ongoing, right?
From: iamweebles Date: October 7th, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just noticed your username and I have to say that I read Cordelia's Honor not very long ago and I've developed the most uncontrollable infatuation for Aral Vorkosigan. Miles, too.
midnitemaraud_r From: midnitemaraud_r Date: October 7th, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not so sure about perennials - I'm more concerned with reading things I enjoy, though I do rely on recs of from other people for most of what I read.

I personally love David Eddings' Belgariad and Mallorean fantasy series. That's what really turned me on to fantasy as opposed to sci fi, excluding of course the Narnia books, which I had read as a child. And I have an unholy love for the character Silk. :) They're not particularly deep, but they're a fun adventure.

I tried to read Jordan but couldn't get into it and his writing drove me crazy, and I agree that George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire pretty much blows most other fantasy series out of the water. If you haven't read it yet, go pick up A Game of Thrones! You won't be disappointed!

For science fiction:

Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. (forget the craptastic movie ST - the book is nothing like it!)
Farenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Foundation Series by Asimov (which I personally didn't like, but others I know love them)
Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (Red won the Nebula and Green won the Hugo)
Contact by Carl Sagan (I'm possibly biased by my geeky crush on him. The did a nice job with the movie, but I still prefer the book.)

And my favorite sci fi epic of all:

Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

Hyperion won the Hugo back in the late 1980's - 89 I think. I first read them back in 1991 - someone recommended them to me, and since then, I've been whoring them out to every sci fi fan (and even a few non-sci-fi fans) I know, and of the 50+ people I personally know who read them, only 2 didn't like them. They're very character centric, and the entire premise is based on John Keats' unfinished poem "Hyperion". (He wrote a sequel a few years later (Endymion and Rise of Endymion) which I also love, but I won't deny that Hyperion was better overall.)

He recently wrote another two-book sci-fi series, "Ilium" and "Olympos" which I have but haven't read yet, based on the Iliad and the Odyssey. I want to reread those first because it's been twenty years since I've read Greek mythology. :)
midnitemaraud_r From: midnitemaraud_r Date: October 7th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
(and of course that would be FaHrenheit) *headdesk*
velvetmouse From: velvetmouse Date: October 7th, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Most of these have been said before - but on the more F end rather than SF:

Mercedes Lackey Valdemar stuff
David Eddings' Belgariad & Malorean
Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkasegan series
Martin & Jordan, definitely (although I too am avoiding Jordan like the plague until he finishes the damn series)
Dickson's Dorsai books
Katherine Kurtz's Deyrni books (particularly the Camber of Culdi series)

*peers at my bookshelf*

Piers Anthony's Xanth series
Robert Asprin's Myth books
Terry Pratchett

those are the ones I can think of that two people, who have just met, and realize they both read SF/F, will go through as sort of a check list ;)
leeflower From: leeflower Date: October 7th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Campbell, Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award winners and finalists tend to get around the genre a lot as far as recs and mentions. John Scalzi's Old Man trilogy, for instance (Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony, which isn't out yet) is really quite new, but it's getting around in a big way. Only time will tell if it becomes a perennial, but I imagine it will.

I'd also rec checking out the Compton Crook awards, the Tiptrees, and the Locus awards.
alexandramuses From: alexandramuses Date: October 7th, 2006 08:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Most of Heinlein's juvenile fiction, plus, of course, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Anne McCaffrey is, for me, a perennial, especially her Pern books.

Other classics of the genre... I'm trying to imagine my old bookshelf here.

Robert Asprin, his MYTH series;
Piers Anthony, all his books;
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon;
Ray Bradbury's books that aren't Fahrenheit 451, like The Martian Chronicles;

... man, I can't remember, it's been years since I've had all my books with me. If you're really ever interested, ask me again in a year.
alexandramuses From: alexandramuses Date: October 7th, 2006 08:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's not exactly SF/F, but the Finn Family Moomintroll books by... er... Tove Jansson, right. They're short, they're sweet, and I think they're classics.
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redlily From: redlily Date: October 7th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi again. ;) I have to admit I liked Beauty; an interesting trend I've seen is that people either like Beauty or her second retelling of the tale, Rose Daughter -- I've never met anyone who liked both.

(Now, of course, five people will reply saying they liked both, or neither . . . .)
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lady_moriel From: lady_moriel Date: October 7th, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can't say much, unfortunately, because while SF/F is sort of my genre--in that it's mostly what I read and almost entirely what I write--I've read very little in it, and certainly almost none of the classics (Ender's Game, yes, and LotR and Harry Potter, of course, and Narnia, but not a lot else). I guess...C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy might count...some of Robin McKinley's other books...I really like Diana Wynne Jones, too, although I've only read three of her books.
keestone From: keestone Date: October 7th, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm... that's a tough question. My early reading habits were trolling the library shelves and picking up things that looked interesting, so I literally stumbled upon many of my favorite authors and found about their reputation later.

I'm honestly glad to see Robin McKinley as your example, although I much prefer Outlaws of Sherwood, Spindle's End, and Sunshine. I'd been getting the impression lately that nobody else other than my close friends back home had heard of her. (Trying not to grumble horribly at the availability of good SF in Ireland.)

I'm definitely adding votes for Madeline L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander,Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury (particularly his short stories).

Arthur C. Clarke's short stories
Octavia Butler
Lois McMaster Bujold -- I've been known to push her on complete strangers in bookstores as well as lending her to almost all my friends, and she's definitely getting recognized now.
Daniel Keys' Flowers for Algernon.
Ursula K. LeGuin, either for The Dispossessed or Earthsea.
Patricia Wrede -- There was a lot of buzz when her impossible to find Sorcery and Cecelia finally came back into print because it had been so hard to get and people were still looking for it.
Perhaps Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy? I love her to pieces, but she doesn't seem to be incredibly well known.
Charles De Lint
Anne McCaffrey's Pern series seems to be pretty enduringly popular.
Heinlen would probably make the list automatically, but I think I picked up the wrong books to start with.
Steven Brust's Taltos series is still going strong, and the earlier ones are pretty well classics at this point.
I don't particularly like Robert Silverberg, but he seems to pop up a lot in recommendations.
Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog

Um, yeah. That's enough for now. I'm supposed to be studying.
keestone From: keestone Date: October 7th, 2006 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh! Just thought of one that should have been bloody obvious... Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It seems to be a perennial favorite on both sides of the pond.
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rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: October 7th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I tend to go by authors -- there are some people who are going to get recommended, and a person who latches onto their books will probably read every title they can find.

Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Diane Duane, Eddings, Jordan, Lackey, McCaffrey, Tamora Pierce, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tolkien (of course!).

And then there are titles which keep coming back around:

Watership Down
Slaughterhouse Five
Ender's Game (Although not necessarily the sequels)
The Last Unicorn
The Tarzan of the Apes books (believe it or not!) and the Mars books by Burroughs
and a lot more.

I'm out until Wednesday, but if you give me a call then I can aim you at a couple of websites that might help and/or react to titles you're naming off for me. It's a lot easier to do that sort of thing with titles in front of me, as my reaction is "oh yeah!" or "what the hell is that one about?" is a lot more reliable than my memory.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 11th, 2006 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
More awake now... Try the Internet Speculative Fiction Database for good info on titles as well as reviews, etc.

willowbough From: willowbough Date: October 7th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. Or Fritz Leiber's tales of Fahfyrd and the Grey Mouser. Not to mention Andre Norton's Witch World series.

And given time, SF/F readers also tend to discover:

God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Worm Ourubouros and The Zimiamvian Trilogy by E.R. Eddison
The Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (also the Chrestomanci Chronicles and the Dalemark Quartet)
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Don't Bite the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee
The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

All this is making me feel very nostalgic.
keestone From: keestone Date: October 8th, 2006 12:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm surprised I didn't mention the Chronicles of Amber. I should have remembered Zelany.

Yay! Someone else who knows Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I didn't particularly like it the first time I read it, but it haunted me, and it's one of those books that improves with multiple rereadings. And, it turned me onto The Lady's Not for Burning.
naatz From: naatz Date: October 7th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Robin McKinley's "Spindle's End".

If I had anything to do with SF/F classics, I'd force everybody to read Karin Lowachee's "Warchild", and Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" trilogy. :)

aldebaran1977 From: aldebaran1977 Date: October 7th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
There also are

1. Tad Williams` Dragonbone Chair series
2. Tad Williams` Otherland series
3. Robin Hobb`s Assassin, Live Ship Trader and Fool series
4. J.V.Jones` three series (melliandra and her newest especially)
5. Susan Cooper`s 5 books series (I don`t know the english names)
6. Ursula K LeGuin`s Earth Sea series

And I just love all of Terry Pratchett and will probably bite myself in the arse the minute I send this beacuse I remember so many more good books in that genre!
lyore From: lyore Date: October 8th, 2006 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I was going to say The Dark is Rising Sequence (Cooper's books). They're one of the ones that just about every fantasy fan I have meet has been recced at some point or the other.

There are lots of other books and authors I think of as classics, but I'm not sure if they count as perennial.

Oh! Another perennial one would have to be T.H White's Once and Future King.
From: kerosinkanister Date: October 7th, 2006 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Tad Williams's trilogy the Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and to Green Angel Tower is my favorite fantasy and has been for at least a decade.

Gene Wolfe is fantastic, but the Book of the New Sun can be slow going. I'd recommend his Knight and Wizard as more accessible and great reads.

I don't know if it's a classic but I love Michael Swanwick's the Iron Dragon Daughter. It's set in a very fantastic world that absolutely isn't fluffy (starts out with a sort of Victorian child labor feel). Plus it's nice as it's just one volume and doesn't require a massive investment of time.

Robert Jordan gets recced quite a bit but I lost interest as his series became longer and longer, though I've heard the end is in sight. George R.R. Martin is getting pretty popular but I'll probably hold off until he's finished his a Song of Fire and Ice series as I fear he's losing control over his story.

Here via the daily_snitch.
seraphtrevs From: seraphtrevs Date: October 8th, 2006 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Here via Daily Snitch

Most of mine have been mentioned already, but I'm surprised to see that Robin Hobb's Farseer books haven't been mentioned. I *loved* the original Assassin Trilogy and the follow-up Tawny Man trilogy, although I didn't really care for the Liveship trilogy. She's really fantastic, even if she has the most batshit insane views on fanfic this side of Anne Rice (yes, Robin, people writing fanfic is the EXACT SAME THING as photoshopping pictures of your family naked. 'Cause your characters are totally real people. *rolls eyes*)

Neil Gaiman's American Gods is another amazing book. His Sandman series also seems to find its way to the shelves of people not normally interested in graphic novels. His Neverwhere is also very good and pretty widely read.

keestone From: keestone Date: October 8th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Here via Daily Snitch

I really enjoy Robin Hobb, but I think she's a bit new to consider a perennial favorite. (Same with George R. R. Martin.) I know there's a good bit of buzz about the books now, but I don't know how they'll age. Will they remain popular?

Anyhoo, I can't wait for the third installment in the Soldier Son trilogy. She's taking it ways I never expected. *squee*
etrangere From: etrangere Date: October 8th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)
books I don't think were mentionned yet

Left Hand of Darkness by Leguin
Heechee cycle by Frederic Pohl
Use of Weapon by Ian Banks
Eon by Greg Bear
lots of stuff by Jack Vance
Tale of the Flat Earth by Tanith Lee
Startide Rising by David Brin
Infernal Trilogy by Mike Resnick
Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

ataralas From: ataralas Date: October 8th, 2006 12:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress are the books that made me go "ah! This is why people like SF!"

Anything by LeGuin, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, the Dispossesed, and The Lathe of Heaven
Rendezvous with Rama, Clarke (also, 2001, but that's a classic)
Neuromancer, Gibson (how can you miss this? it's what started cyberpunk!)
Snow Crash, Stephenson
The Forever War, Haldeman
The Sparrow, Russell
The Dark is Rising, Cooper (series)

I also really like C.S. Lewis's adult SF trilogy, though I find that not many people know it.

Finally, I am a firm believer that every SF/F library should have a small shelf dedicated to the "original" poetry (Illiad, Odyssey, Beowulf, Aneid, Gilgamesh, Canturbury Tales, Bible, Grimms' Fairy Tales, etc) as they're the source material for 90% of SF/F.

(Reposted due to massive coding confusion)
lyore From: lyore Date: October 8th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Random drive-by icon love...

To make this slightly more OT, I second the works of LeGuin and Susan Cooper.
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