Thursday, December 6, 2012

Locus All-Centuries Poll revisited, or the season of regret

I made my ballot for Locus All-Centuries Poll public a few days ago, and looking around the web I’ve spotted several fine ballots. I knew there would be stories and entire novels I had forgotten to put on my ballot for the Locus All-Centuries Poll. I didn't realize there would be so many.

Niall Harrison’s ballot (continue here) names Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson as the number one best science fiction novel of the 20th Century. I think it’s an excellent choice. It’s one of my favorite SF novels of the 20th Century and it didn't cross my mind to put it on my ballot. I think the title on Harrison’s list that left me the most stricken was We Who Are About To ... by Joanna Russ, which made a huge impression on me and I wish I’d remembered it when I was creating my ballot.

Rich Horton’s ballot (follow here) includes The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, which I did consider and could easily have included on my ballot. I’m not sure how it got crowded off of my list, but it did.

Ian Sales’s ballot (follow here) has Coelestis by Paul Park as his number one choice for best science fiction novel of the 20th Century, which is a brilliant choice. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and I can’t imagine how I forgot it. It’s very bleak, of course. Not that I would shy away from it for that reason. After all, I have Light by M. John Harrison as my top choice for best 21st Century SF novel.

Cheryl Morgan’s ballot (follow here) has Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, which is a fine and massive novel. I did consider putting a John Brunner novel on my list. My choice would have been Shockwave Rider, if I could have found more room on the list.

Martin Lewis’s ballot (follow here) for best fantasy novel of the 20th Century has The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick, which is an excellent choice. I’m not sure which title I would have replaced on my ballot, but I’d like to think there would be room for a Swanwick novel.

Nina Allen’s ballot (follow here PDF) lists Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut among many other great choices. They are both particular favorites of mine.

Nina Allen, in her Locus Poll roundup (follow here), saves her highest praise for Matthew Cheney’s ballot (follow here), and deservedly so. It is the most amazing, genre boundary crushing list I've yet seen, filled with Franz Kafka, J.M. Coetzee, Vladimir Nabokov, and many other brilliant choices.

My own ballot (follow here) shares some overlap with each of the varied ballots I've mentioned above, a fact which is oddly wonderful and somehow reassuring. In addition to exact duplicates, in many cases we've chosen to recognize the same author with different and equally valid choices of story or novel.

By now it should be apparent that my lists would be double the size that the Locus Poll allowed and I would still be paralyzed by what I was leaving off. Each one that I left off gives me a pang of regret.

There are some novels and stories on each of the ballots I just mentioned that I haven’t read. I regret those, too, since in many cases I've had them in mind to read for quite a while.

Then there are the stories that I know I've read, yet I simply don’t remember. For instance, the novella “Great Work of Time” by John Crowley, which appears on ballots by Niall Harrison, Rich Horton, Ian Sales, Matthew Cheney, and it was mentioned (with great regret) by Gary K. Wolfe on the most recent Coode Street Podcast (follow here). I’m a great admirer of Crowley’s work and I know I read this novella perhaps 20 years ago, but it has vanished from my memory. I know that I’ll be rereading “Great Work of Time” and that Crowley’s work stands up to rereading in a way that few authors do. (Who was it who said: a first reading is like a first impression, it’s the second reading where the real appreciation begins?)

In the current Coode Street Podcast, just mentioned, Jonathan Strahan patiently compels Gary K. Wolfe to name the single best SF novel of the 20th Century. Eventually Wolfe names A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and defends his choice intelligently and articulately. It’s a fine choice, I think, and his reasons are well worth hearing. In turn, Strahan names Neuromancer by William Gibson as his choice for the single best SF novel of the 20th Century. It's a novel that I don’t think has aged nearly as well. Wolfe nails it with his retort: “You’re confusing ‘game changing’ with ‘best.’”


  1. Thanks for compiling this list, it will be fun to jump around and read them. I know it takes a bit of effort to do this kind of post but I'm thankful that you have done so. :)

    1. You're welcome. I picked these because I think they are particularly strong and thoughtful Locus Poll ballots.