The Guardian have put out a list of the top 1000 books and Worlds Without End have listed the sci-fi and fantasy ones here: https://www.worldswithoutend.com/lists_guardian_sff.asp
There are 149 books on this list. I’ve read 20 1/2 of them. The 1/2 is Frankenstein, which I found tedious and couldn’t get through.
I’m not sure about the list. There are some I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for example), some I thought were cleverly done (A Clockwork Orange), some that are my old favourites (Dune), and some that I didn’t enjoy at all (Brave New World).
The Colour of Magic is on the list. I am a Terry Pratchett fan, but I think the Colour of Magic is the weakest of all the books of his that I’ve read. Similarly, there are two John Wyndham books on the list (one of which I didn’t really like) but not my favourite of his - The Chrysalids.
As a sci-fi author, I fell I ought to have read more of this list than I have, but given my feelings about the ones I have read on it, I’m not sure where to start. So I throw the question out of the internet: which of these books would you recommend reading and why?
I’m with you on Hitch-Hiker’s, The Colour of Magic, The Midwich Cuckoos, and The Chrysalids (my very fave JW), so I won’t go into them. I could never get into Dune or A Clockwork Orange. I like Frankenstein, but somehow never finished it. As for the other books:
The Handmaid’s Tale is a must. Chilling, gripping, easy to read, and a real cornerstone of culture. As a woman, a feminist, and as a human being I think everyone should read this. It’s a significant cultural item, and a warning that is, sadly, still relevant.
Fahrenheit 451: I have to confess to only having seen the film, but that was certainly worthy, compelling, moving. The message is simpler than The Handmaid’s Tale: 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which books burn. This is a dystopian society in which books are forbidden, and a few rebellious individuals seek to keep human literature alive. In some ways it’s less interesting, because the message is one anyone reading a book is probably already on board with, but it’s compelling and chilling and was written at a time for which book-burning on a massive scale as an attempt to obliterate swathes of culture from our group experience and memory was chillingly successful and still a present literal memory for many. It’s always worth remembering how fragile and precious our cultural resources are.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: beautifully well-written, this is the kind of book you know is a classic from the moment you start reading. Again, there are some books that are just a part of our heritage, but there are also those that are a part of our heritage AND a delight to consume. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one. I will say that it is a bit slow at first, the faux Victoriana is captivating, but not quickly paced. It picks up maybe a third of the way through, and then it holds you and doesn’t let go as it dives into darkness and madness.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: I don’t know that I’d reread it, but it was certainly worth one go around. This is, of course, the story on which Blade Runner was based. I enjoyed it ore than Blade Runner, but I’m one of the few geeks who really doesn’t like that film - beautiful? Visually stunning? Yes, but I also find it slow, dull, bleak, and not particularly interesting from the point of view of androids. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on the other hand, is lively, intriguing, and somewhat humourous. But much, much stranger, especially towards the end.
American Gods:This honestly would be nowhere near my top list of must reads. I don’t find it original or that inspiring. However, it is fun and engaging and other geeks tend to assume one has read it, so it’s a cultural item worth your while to acquire, but nothing more than that.
Flowers for Algernon: Heart-breaking. Just heart-breaking. If they didn’t make you read it at school, read it now. If you enjoy having your heart broken. Which I do. By fiction, anyway.
The Shining: It’s not Stephen King’s best work (but if I go into listing his works that are better than this I’ll be here all night); however, it’s well written and a classic. I enjoyed the book a lot more than the film, which I found bleak and predictable.
A Wizard of Earthsea: I didn’t like reading fiction until I read this book. Ursula Le Guin’s classic coming of age tale is a dark and gripping fantasy. Not dark in the way Stephen King is dark - more psychological… I dunno, that doesn’t capture it either. It’s like… some authors write fantasy, and you feel like they’re talking about the Deep Magic, you know? That’s what this is. Read it. And then read The Tombs of Atuan, too.
The Chronicles of Narnia:I’m gonna assume you’ve read this, but anyone who hasn’t should. This is a Must Have cultural item. Another Deep Magic one, you know? (Well, that’s where I get the phrase from.) Unfortunately, if you’re over the age of ten the religious metaphors are pretty obvious and heavy-handed. And the fact that Susan doesn’t get to go to heaven because she finds lipstick and boys is sheer complete bollocks. But The Last Battle kinda sucks balls anyway - it’s sort of unfair to group seven books in as one entry, TBH. I also suspect that A Horse and His Boy, which I loved as a kid, is probably pretty racist, but apart from that… I dunno, I still want to open my wardrobe one day and find Narnia on the other side.
Also, can we talk about the White Witch? So. Awesome. And I was always FASCINATED by her home world, Charn - the dead world circling a dying star. Don’t skip The Magician’s Nephew, there’s some real magic in there.
The Scar: This one’s good, but slow in teh beginning, and I wouldn’t read it if you haven’t already read Perdido Street Station, which is a much better, more interesting, and more engaging book.
The Time Traveler’s Wife: Expertly written, gripping, full of good angst. Not as skeevy as the title makes it sound, although, in the patriarchal tradition of things, it’s a book about the time traveler, not his wife.
1984: Must have cultural item. I don’t think it’s a book I ever need to read again, but I’m glad I did. I’m also disturbed that we practically live in 1984 now. Which is why it’s important that everybody read this.
The Hobbit: Fun, gripping, strangely also pretty dark. A dragon and a wizad and adventure and underground secrets and FREAKIN’ SCARY SPIDERS.
The Lord of the Rings: Very slow to start, but then grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. Another deep magic cultural item.
Books on the list that I did not like at all/did not get very far with:
Neuromancer: I wish I could acquire this as a cultural item, but it read as a poorly cobbled together mass of cliches and I had to put it down.
Lord of the Flies: Horrible. Not that well written. Not that convincing. Supposed to be suggestive that children are violent, murderous beasts in a state of nature, but I think it says more about the boy’s public school system at a very specific place and time, rather than anything else.
The Forever War: Rapist protagonist was just not someone I could root for.
Stranger in a Strange Land: Nice premise, shame about the disgusting sexism.
I am legend: I really liked The Omega Man, I did not like this. Very… male self-amplificatory-naval-gaze-ish, let-me-sexualise-the-disgusting-undead-female-vampires-because-I’m-so-virile? Is that a thing? I’m going to say that that’s a thing. Didn’t get very far. Male fantasy. Worst kind of mangst.
Ringworld: I was expecting something deeper, less silly, less sexist. Classic example of a nice setting poorly executed in terms of story-telling. I gave up.
Titus Groan: Certainly a cultural item, but very hard going. Watch the BBC Gormenghast mini-series instead. It’s how Jonathan Rhys-Meyers became a thing. And it’s excellent.
The Satanic Verses: I wanted to like this because it was so controversial, but I didn’t. Felt very… self-consciously literary. The female characters felt objectified.
There are others I have read but neither find them especially worthy, nor unworthy, so, you know, space saved.