Tuesday, June 8, 2010

William Gibson's Top Ten SF Novels

William Gibson (his new novel, Zero History, is expected this September) has chosen his top ten science fiction novels:

  • Tiger! Tiger! (The Stars My Destination) (1956) by Alfred Bester
  • The Crystal World (1966) by J.G. Ballard
  • Pavane (1968) by Keith Roberts
  • 334 (1972) by Thomas M. Disch
  • The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman
  • Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany
  • Arslan (1976) by M.J. Engh
  • Great Work of Time (1991) by John Crowley
  • Random Acts of Senseless Violence (1993) by Jack Womack
  • Holy Fire (1996) by Bruce Sterling

This is an exceptional list. If you google "top ten science fiction novels" you'll get some pretty low-grade results. Gibson's list looks even better by comparison. Note Gibson's parameters: novels only and the time frame is 1956 to 1996. I've read eight of the ten (not the Ballard or Womack), but I know enough about those two novels to respect their inclusion. I could argue with some of the choices. The list is short on women (Mary Jane Engh is on her own). I would add Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974). If there's only one novel from the 1950s I might favor Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human (1953), but I will concede that the Bester novel is just as important. For Crowley, I might have gone with Engine Summer (1979); or for Sterling, I might have chosen Schismatrix (1985). These are minor quibbles. I might have to go back and re-read Great Work of Time. Holy Fire is a favorite of mine and it is probably Sterling's most accomplished novel, but Schismatrix was the first Sterling novel I read and sometimes it is hard to separate my person experience of a novel from my critical view of a novel.

Be sure to read Gibson's brief commentary on each title on his list.


  1. where are your top 10?


    What about a reader's Pohl?

  2. The more I consider top 10 science fiction lists, the more problematic they become. Is the list novels only, or does it include single-author collections? Or anthologies? Or multi-volume novels?

    Does the list try to embrace a historical view? Say, one book from each of the last 10 decades? Or does the list try to give an overview of the key themes of science fiction: One after the holocaust/end of the world book, one first contact with aliens/alien invasion book, one time travel book, one post-human book, etc.?

    Women are usually ill served by these lists. A top 10 sf list composed only of women authors, would stand as well or better than a list of men only. And consider science fiction from non-English speaking countries. I am probably not the one to compile it, still such a list would be quite strong.

    Consider yourself invited to give it a try, along with any other anonymice that would like to contribute.