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Worlds Without End Blog

Falling Off the Classics of Science Fiction List Posted at 3:04 PM by James Wallace Harris


list_classicsofsfWe’ve recently updated the Classics of Science Fiction list from version 3 to 4. Because of this, some books that were on version 3 have fallen off the latest list. My main reason for producing the classics list is to track how books are remembered and forgotten. Most books are forgotten soon after they are printed, so to get on our list and stay on it for years means a huge number of readers are remembering those books. When books fall of the list, it doesn’t mean those books are unworthy of reading anymore, but that readers are forgetting them. Sometimes books are rediscovered, especially if they get new editions, produced as audio books, or made into films or television shows. Generally, books slide into obscurity. Old readers die off, and new readers never find the better older books.

Many of the titles that dropped off the list were books published before 1950. For version 3, we used several lists for library collection development, or critical histories of science fiction. For version 4, we had more fan polls. Version 3 had many short stories collections and anthologies that didn’t make it to version 4. Plus, many classic titles from 1950-1975 fell off. I assume newer readers aren’t discovering older books.

I also think version 4 is a better list than version 3. Most of the second half of version 3 didn’t make it to version 4. Which makes me wonder if the bottom half of version 4 will disappear when we create version 5 in ten years.

Here are the titles that fell of the list this time. The ones in red are books I’ve reread in the recent years and think still deserve to be read. There are plenty of books on the list below I still plan to reread.

  • 334 (1972) by Thomas Disch
  • The Absolute at Large (1927) by Karel Čapek
  • Across the Zodiac (1880) by Percy Greg
  • Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) edited by Harlan Ellison
  • Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell
  • Astounding Science Fiction Anthology (1952) edited by John W. Campbell
  • Back to Methuselah (1921) by George Bernard Shaw
  • The Battle of Dorking (1871) by Sir George Chesney
  • Before the Golden Age (1974) edited by Isaac Asimov
  • Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock
  • The Best of C. L. Moore (1975) by C. L. Moore
  • The Best of C. M. Kornbluth by C. M. Kornbluth
  • The Best of Henry Kuttner (1975) by Henry Kuttner
  • The Best of Science Fiction (1946) edited by Groff Conklin
  • Beyond Apollo (1972) by Barry N. Malzberg
  • The Big Time (1961) by Fritz Leiber
  • The Black Cloud (1957) by Fred Hoyle
  • Brain Wave (1954) by Poul Anderson
  • Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore
  • Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
  • Casey Agonistes (1973) by Richard McKenna
  • Chronopolis and Other Stories (1971) by J. G. Ballard
  • The Chrysalids (1955) by John Wyndham
  • The Clockwork Man (1923) by E. V. Odle
  • The Coming Race (1871) by Edward Bulwer Lytton
  • Dark Universe (1961) by Daniel F. Galouye
  • Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
  • The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher
  • Deathbird Stories (1975) by Harlan Ellison
  • Deathworld (1960) by Harry Harrison
  • Deluge (1927) by S. Fowler Wright
  • The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories (1971) by Roger Zelazny
  • Dorsai (1976) by Gordon Dickson
  • Downward to the Earth (1970) by Robert Silverberg
  • The Dream Master (1966) by Roger Zelazny
  • The Dying Earth (1950) by Jack Vance
  • E Pluribus Unicorn (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Embedding (1973) by Ian Watson
  • Engine Summer (1979) by John Crowley
  • Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler
  • Final Blackout (1948) L. Ron Hubbard
  • The Girl in the Golden Atom (1922) by Ray Cummings
  • Gray Lensman (1951) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
  • Greybeard (1964) by Brian Aldiss
  • Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift
  • The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911) by J. D. Beresford
  • Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad
  • Islands in the Net (1988) by Bruce Sterling
  • The Lensman Series (1948) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
  • The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn
  • The Long Tomorrow (1955) by Leigh Brackett
  • Looking Backward (1880) by Edward Bellamy
  • The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Lovers (1961) by Philip José Farmer
  • The Machine Stops and Other Stories (1909) by E. M. Forster
  • Make Room! Make Room! (1966) by Harry Harrison
  • Man Plus (1976) by Frederik Pohl
  • A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1975) by Stanley G. Weinbaum
  • The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham
  • A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
  • Norstrillia (1975) by Cordwainer Smith
  • Nova (1968) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Of All Possible Worlds (1955) by William Tenn
  • On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute
  • On the Wings of Song (1979) by Thomas Disch
  • The Past Through Tomorrow (1967) by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Perelandra (1943) by C. S. Lewis
  • The Persistence of Vision (1978) by John Varley
  • Play Piano (1952) by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Poison Belt (1913) by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban
  • The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One (1970) edited by Robert Silverberg
  • The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe (1976) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Science Fiction of Jack London (1975) by Jack London
  • She (1886) by H. Rider Haggard
  • The Sheep Look Up (1972) by John Brunner
  • The Short Stories of H. G. Wells (1927) by H. G. Wells
  • Sirius (1944) by Olaf Stapledon
  • The Skylark of Space (1946) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
  • Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Lewis Stevenson
  • That Hideous Strength (1945) by C. S. Lewis
  • To-Morrow’s Yesterday (1932) by John Gloag
  • Under Pressure (1956) by Frank Herbert
  • Untouched by Human Hands (1954) by Robert Sheckley
  • A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
  • The Wanderer (1964) by Fritz Leiber
  • War of the Newts (1936) by Karel Čapek
  • The Weigher of Souls (1931) by Andrew Maurois
  • Who Goes There? (1948) by John W. Campbell
  • The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
  • Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) Marge Piercy
  • The World Below (1930) by S. Fowler Wright

Editor’s note:  WWEnd has recently updated our Classics of Science Fiction list from version 3 to match Jim and Michael’s new version 4.


Ed Rybicki   |   08 Nov 2016 @ 02:56

Sad to see so many old favourites falling off the list…I would make a case for keeping Zelazny’s “Doors of His Face…” and Harrisonn’s “Deathworld” and McKenna’s “Casey Agonistes” because they are timeless, in my opinion. But it’s just my opinion, and I’ve been around quite a long time B-)

Jim Harris   |   08 Nov 2016 @ 11:52

Ed, I’m sad to see many of those books go. It makes me wonder how do we help those books get new readers. I saw Deathworld at a library book sale recently, a withdrawn copy. Every year I see more classic SF pulled from my library’s shelves because no one is checking them out. The year before last I saw several books by R. A. Lafferty, Clifford Simak, and Lloyd Biggle, Jr. at the sale.

Unless we can get more people to discover them, many of our favorites will be forgotten. But then we have to ask ourselves: Isn’t that natural?

Art   |   10 Nov 2016 @ 20:10

Just read THE LOVERS (Farmer) and THE IRON DREAM (Spinrad) for the first time this year. THE IRON DREAM was pretty amazing, actually.

Gary Nied   |   11 Nov 2016 @ 16:27

Thought DARK UNIVERSE (Galouye) had an interesting premise but was poorly written. ENGINE SUMMER (Crowley) was fascinating on many levels. A great companion piece would be Jennifer Marie Brissett’s ELYSIUM (2014). THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION (Varley) is one the best short story collections I’ve ever read; it’s right up there with the best of James Tiptree Jr.’s (Alice Sheldon’s) collections. The fact that the two C.S. Lewis titles on the list are misspelled strikes me as a further indication that sf fans are gravitating away from him. It doesn’t help when guys like Gary K. Wolfe try to argue that his works aren’t science fiction. Wolfe often betrays a subtle religious bias in his commentary. The Space Trilogy: OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, PERELANDRA, and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH are wonderful books, but many people don’t understand Lewis’s perspective. The best guide to Lewis that I know is PLANET NARNIA by Michael Ward. Read that book and you’ll understand.

Stephen Shenk   |   12 Nov 2016 @ 16:42

Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling, and Man Plus by Fred Pohl are two that really stood out. Those two books make my “classics” list.

Sable Aradia   |   15 Nov 2016 @ 20:00

Interesting that The Chrysalids and Animal Farm have been dropped from the list. Aren’t kids still doing those novels in school? Aren’t those the *only* science fiction novels that kids are still doing in school? And I can’t really believe that Stevenson’s tale of Jekyll and Hyde is forgotten. Maybe people just don’t think of it as science fiction?

I won’t quibble with any of the rest of them, much as I hate to see it, because the only reason why I know about many of them is because I’m reading the entirety of the SF Masterworks imprint. And I guess they weren’t able to print as many as they’d hoped; getting those editions on Amazon is *hard.*


Guy   |   15 Nov 2016 @ 20:13

Hi James

I can see really old titles like the Doyle and Bellamy or the Battle of Dorking, which were read more by people interested in the history of the genre. But Nova, Dream Master, The Sheep Look Up, as well as the books by Tenn, Sheckley, Ballard, Sterling hardly strike me like old fogey territory, but then I am one. The one I feel saddest about is probably The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One I still consider it the best single volume introduction to the classics that shaped so much of the field.


Jim Harris   |   15 Nov 2016 @ 20:20

That’s the thing Sable and Guy, time has moved on since we made the last version of the list about ten years ago. As the field gets younger readers, the collective memory for older books shrinks. It’s relentless and natural. If you look at my essay about 19th-century classics, you’ll see that very few books get remembered in the long run.

I guess we must accept the death of a book like we do a human friend. Giving time, nothing is immortal.

John Menick   |   07 Feb 2017 @ 12:41

Time for a new list that has all the classics. No classic will be deleted. A case has been made to keep many of your deleted titles. So keep both a full and partial list. A full list would certainly aid a new SF reader. Plus you have the fun of choosing a name for your new list.

Jim Harris   |   07 Feb 2017 @ 18:19

At the site, we’ve kept v. 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the list. But it really is natural for books to fall off the list.

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