I started working my way through NPR’s list of the top 100 sci-fi and fantasy novels almost two years ago, in August 2016. Rendezvous with Rama represents the 25th book on the list, so I’m officially averaging a little bit faster than one book per month. I wanted to use this milestone to look back at what I’ve read so far and see how my personal rankings match up with the list.
I’ve been updating my spreadsheet every time I finish a book, and adjusting my rankings as I go. Goodreads also has a version of this list, with a different ranking order based on their users. I’ve included all three (NPR, Goodreads, my personal rank) because I think it is useful to see how they compare. I have some suspicions about how the demographic differences between Goodreads users and NPR survey respondents play out in the different rankings.
Since I’ve been updating my order as I go, it’s been interesting to see how things have shifted. For example, The Space Trilogy and The Xanth Series started at the bottom of the list and haven’t budged. Nothing since has been quite as bad as those two. Likewise, the Doomsday Book was my first 5-star review, and it has stayed at the top of my list until getting dethroned by Rendezvous with Rama, 20 books later. The amazing books and the truly awful books are all pretty easy to place. What is really difficult is sorting all the 3- and 4-star books. It is getting even harder as I finish more books and the less-memorable ones start getting fuzzier in my mind.
The lonely 1-star entry, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, earned that honor for being boring, preachy, and unoriginal. Also for being a product of its racist, misogynistic time. And if I’m being honest, because I just don’t like C.S. Lewis’ work. I would be surprised if anything displaces it for last place, but there’s still 75 more books ahead so I can’t be sure.
Among the 2-star books, Sunshine is the least bad since its main crime was that I really didn’t like it. The other two 2-star books are there because they are gross and awful and it makes me mad that anybody likes them enough for them to be on a “top-100” list.
The 3-star group is full of books that are either “fine, but just not my thing”, or “pretty good but with some sort of flaw that annoyed me”. The Illustrated Man earns the top spot in this group because it had so many interesting ideas. Lucifer’s Hammer ranks at the bottom because while it is well constructed, many parts just do not hold up well today.
There are more 4-star books on the list than any other group. It makes sense since every book on this list is supposed to be good. They are really hard to rank relative to each other because I enjoyed all of them in some way. I couldn’t really tell you why Caves of Steel is on the bottom, other than I liked all the others slightly more for one reason or other. It’s still a great book. The Mars Trilogy is at the top mostly because if I were just ranking the first book in the series it would be 5-stars, and in my head I’m comparing everything else to that.
All of the 5-star books are amazing and seriously you should go read them right now if you haven’t already. Rendezvous with Rama and the Doomsday Book would be completely tied if it weren’t for nostalgia pushing Rama ahead for me. All of the 5-star books are very different but they are all fantastic reads.
One change I am making going forward is to be more forgiving about quitting a book if it is just not working for me. Especially for the very long books, if I’m not engaged after 3-4 hours of reading I give myself permission to just stop. None of the books so far that started out poorly for me ended up being great by the end. At best they got a mixed review and 3 stars. Life is too short to force myself to power through when I could move on and discover a new favorite that much sooner.
I’m excited to keep moving forward with this project. There are so many books left to read, and I can’t wait to see how my rankings change with all the new additions. It is daunting to know that it will be years before I am done if I keep at least my current pace, but it’s also nice to think that I have 5 – 6 years worth of great books ahead!