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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Time Enough to List

In the classic Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last," Burgess Meredith is at first delighted by the nuclear war he survives, because he'll finally have time enough at last to read all the books he wants. Of course he breaks his glasses at the end of the episode, because Rod Serling was a sadist.

However misguided the priorities of Burgess Meredith's character may have been, I'm sure most bookworms sympathize with his desire to have enough time to read everything that catches our interest. I consider myself reasonably well-read, particularly within my favourite genre, science fiction, but in truth after forty years of reading I've barely scratched the surface of even that single narrow discipline.

I didn't need to read Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 to come to this conclusion, but doing so did illuminate the gaps in my coverage rather starkly. Of the 101 novels listed by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo, I've read precisely 20: The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood), Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card), Queen of Angels (Greg Bear), Barrayar (Lois McMaster Bujold), Jumper (Steven Gould), Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson), A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge), Permutation City (Greg Egan), The Diamond Age (Neal Stephenson), Forever Peace (Joe Haldeman), Salt (Adam Roberts), Light (M. John Harrison), Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan), The Separation (Christopher Priest), The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Labyrinth Key (Howard V. Hendrix), The Plot Against America (Philip Roth), Spin (Robert Charles Wilson), In War Times (Kathleen Ann Goonan) and Steal Across the Sky (Nancy Kress).

I own several of Broderick and Di Filippo's chosen 101 and I'll doubtless read them soon: Use of Weapons (Ian M. Banks), Sailing Bright Eternity (Gregory Benford), The Cassini Division (Ken MacLeod), Perdido Street Station (China Mieville), The Road (Cormac McCarthy), The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon), Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) and The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi). Even if I read them all this year, though, I won't have made my way through even a third of this particular list.

On the other hand, lists like these are by their nature subjective and therefore debatable: Di Filippo and Broderick include no works by several important SF authors, including John Scalzi, Jack McDevitt, Larry Niven, Catherine Asaro and Robert Sawyer. Had any of these writers or a number of others been included I would have "scored" higher.

On the gripping hand, if these lists are imperfect they're also quite useful for leading readers to authors they may have missed. Having read the book I'm now eager to read This is the Way the World Ends (James Morrow), Life During Wartime (Lucius Shepard), Brittle Innings (Michael Bishop), Galatea 2.2 (Richard Powers), The Golden Globe (John Varley), Cave of Stars (George Zebrowski), Super-Cannes (J.G. Ballard), Under the Skin (Michael Faber), Natural History (Justina Robson), River of Gods (Ian McDonald), Never Let Me Go (Kazuro Ishguro), Air (Geoff Ryman), Accelerando (Charles Stross), My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (Liz Jensen), Blindsight (Peter Watts), Harm (Brian W. Aldiss), Little Brother (Cory Doctorow) and The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi), among others.

This, to me, is the great tragedy of a limited lifespan: there simply isn't enough time to enjoy even a limited selection of even one genre, let alone the broader range of all literature. Some people claim that immortality would get boring after a while, and that attitude baffles me. Reading and watching movies alone would keep me entertained for hundreds if not thousands of years. And then there's travel, meeting new people, discovering new hobbies, learning new skills...

I wonder if I could blog every day for a thousand years straight? One year going on two has been taxing enough...


Totty said...

I like this post. I'm not sure why, it's not particularly deep or witty, perhaps it's the subject matter. I like to read but I'm nowhere near as voracious as the likes of you & Pete. I'm lazy, I usually flop down in front of the TV or laptop instead (which is a kind of reading, but rarely fictional [... obvious wikipedia joke here ...]). I used to read a lot more when I was younger. Given the time, I could see myself finally catching up to that list. It certainly sounds appealing.

Highlights of this post for me:

1. The Title - I see what you did there. Side note, my favourite Twilight Zone episode, and by coincidence that of my first post-Lister Hall roommate Brian: "Twenty Two", but I had to look that up. We both knew it as "Room for one more, honey".

2. I have read 5 of your 20 of the 101. Particularly impressed myself to have read Spin, since that was a fluke as it was one of the free ebooks I got from Tor during a promotion a few years back. I read it over a number of breaks at work and waits in doctors offices on my first smartphone, the ol' Windows Mobile HTC Touch.

3. "On the gripping hand". I can't remember where that reference is from. If only there was some way to look it up.

Totty said...

Ok, I looked it up, it's from "A Mote in God's Eye". I feel better.

On another note, apparently you need to check our their other list for 1949-1984 SF. Perhaps some of the missing classic books are in there. Or maybe you're just read even less of them, making your "to read" list even longer.

In a way I'm helping.

Earl J. Woods said...

The 101 Best Novels features an introduction by David Pringle and his book, the one you mention, rang some bells. I looked through my stack of unsorted books and there it was, so now I'm reading it to see how many of those picks I've read. I suspect the count will be higher.

Sean said...

Boneshaker made the list? I didn't think it was that great. I liked the story, but the writing left much to be desired.