NPR’s Top 100 Scifi and Fantasy Novels

The votes have been cast and NPR’s list of the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of all time has been revealed.

Glen Weldon summarizes a few interesting aspects of the list, such as author demographics, how movies and television tie-ins have affected position on the list, and when the most popular novels seem to have been written. (Apparently, older is better.)  Like Weldon, I think this Top 100 would have looked quite different if the Young Adult novels had been allowed for consideration. You can’t help wonder where Harry Potter, Earthsea, and the Narnia books might have landed…

Here are some random thoughts that came to mind as I perused the list:

1. Lord of the Rings – Of the roughly 60,000 votes cast, this three-book series received a vote from almost one out of every two people.  Pretty impressive.  Of course, I’m sure having three recent blockbuster movies added to the franchise didn’t hurt. I’m one of the half who didn’t vote for this series. While these books exposed me to some of the first strong female characters – Eowyn being my favorite – I always felt like I was trudging through the pages of world-building way too slowly to make Lord of the Rings a favorite of mine.  But it’s a classic, and I’m not surprised by its number one ranking. 

4. The Dune Chronicles – The Dune franchise is older than I am, winning a Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. It hit the big-screen in 1984 and the small-screen in 2000 as a mini-series.  I started reading the books shortly before seeing the movie, as did just about every other kid I knew in high school.  This series defined a lot of geekiness for the kids of the 1980s.

5. A Game of Thrones – I think this series has the benefit of being a hot topic, with a current television show and a new book.  I’d like to see how it ranks in a decade when NPR gets back around to voting on this and hopefully after Martin wraps it up.  If it’s still a never-ending story, it’ll probably lose fans and votes.

6. 1984 & 13. Animal Farm – Who didn’t read these? Sadly, some kids aren’t these days. 

11. The Princess Bride – Honestly the movie is more memorable than the book in my mind. I recall sitting in the Duke University Theater, which was so packed the Fire Marshal came to forcibly remove students out of the aisle. The movie hit just the right tone for college kids working their way out of childhood and into the real world.  It was our Rocky Horror Picture Show.  We were all reciting lines at the screen, laughing riotously and enraptured as True Love and High Adventure played itself out.

Inigo Montoya: My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.

Vizzini: Inconceivable.
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya: Who are you?
Westley: No one of consequence.
Inigo Montoya: I must know.
Westley: Get used to disappointment.

Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is: “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But, only slightly less well known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

20. Frankenstein – Mary Shelly is the first female author to appear on the list.  She wrote her story of a modern Prometheus over a three year period, finally publishing the book in 1823 at the age of 21.  Talk about being ahead of her time.

22. The Handmaid’s Tale – A dystopian story about women who become pawns in a religious theocracy, I saw the brutality of this book’s message in a vivid, first-hand experience.  Parts of the movie were filmed on Duke’s campus.  One scene was filmed in front of the beautiful Duke Chapel – gallows were erected and fake bodies strung from nooses for a scene where the handmaids who had broken the laws of this brutal government were executed.  I remember being ill when I saw this scene for the first time. That’s sort of the point of the book, though: to make you disgusted with the things mankind can do.

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Who hasn’t seen this film?  Classic.  The book is, as they often are, a little more expositional. Either way, movie or book, still a great story.

31. Starship Troopers – Honestly, I didn’t read the book, but I liked the movie.  Neil Patrick Harris, anyone?

32. Watership Down – On the other hand, I read this book at least 20 times.

41. The Mists of Avalon & 47. The Once and Future King Arthurian legend from the male and female perspective.  Great reads both.

55. The Last Unicorn – I met Peter S. Beagle at San Diego Comic-Con this year.  Apparently he has written tie-in stories to The Last Unicorn.  I look forward to reading them.

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife – I liked this book, but I didn’t expect it to be on the list. It’s another one that benefits from a recent high-profile movie, and has me wondering if it will hold up over another decade or two.

80. Wicked This is just fanfiction, of a sort, and it shows where stories we read as children can inspire adventuring minds to go.  If you saw the musical and want to pick up the book, it’s not going to be what you expected.  The book is much grittier and raw, but enjoyable. (Not a book for children like The Wizard of Oz, either.)

88. The Thrawn Trilogy – I’m glad to see Zahn’s Star Wars series get this nod.  In my mind, it should be a bit higher on this list.  But maybe I’m partial.  This is a must-read for any fan of the Star Wars movies.

There is an open thread on the Top 100 in the Cantina, for anyone who’d care to discuss.



Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to

4 thoughts on “NPR’s Top 100 Scifi and Fantasy Novels

  • August 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Aw, Starship Troopers? The book is a glorified sermon with guns, but I thought the worldbuilding was much more interesting than the “ewww bugs” mentality of the film. I wish my favorite Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy, had made it onto the list instead of the other two, though.

    Also, Ender’s Game at 3 – hooray! There’s a series whose number and depth of female characters has increased, not decreased, over thirty years.

    Surprising to see the Thrawn Trilogy – but good. Wish the X-Wing series had made it – but it’s deliberately low profile, so it probably wouldn’t. Also, what’s with them using the comic omnibus cover?

    Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is an odd choice – my favorite of hers, The Outlaws of Sherwood, isn’t fantasy or scifi, but I would think that one of her others would be most popular. Not that I dislike Sunshine at all (though I think it’s funny that they chose the sparkly, Twilightified cover).

    Three whole Stephenson? At least John Scalzi got a mention, and Cory Doctorow didn’t. But really, I didn’t think Stephenson’s things merit three whole entries. Nor does Gaiman. But then, both of those authors have built up sizeable internet fanbases, so I guess it makes sense.

    Fantastic that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell makes it – though it should really be in the top ten. Masterpiece.

    I recently reread The Eyre Affair, and was saddened to see that the jokes and plot really don’t hold up well to multiple rereads – so extremely shallow. But I still love the metajoke that if the Crimean War went on for a hundred years, there would have been a Charge of the Light Armored Brigade in the 70s… :-)

    • August 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

      Also, Ender’s Game at 3 – hooray! There’s a series whose number and depth of female characters has increased, not decreased, over thirty years.

      Always wondered if he was more accepting of fanfic if his books wouldn’t be bigger than they are.

      Surprising to see the Thrawn Trilogy – but good. Wish the X-Wing series had made it – but it’s deliberately low profile, so it probably wouldn’t. Also, what’s with them using the comic omnibus cover?

      I’ve wondered why they haven’t done an update to the game and more tie-ins for X-wing. It seems like a no-brainer with how well games and tie-ins go. I love both the trilogy and the series. Reading Rogue Squadron right now. Great jump of the page characters that you want to like or hate immediately.

      • August 18, 2011 at 11:04 am

        Er, not sure what you mean. Do you mean that a) if his books were more popular, he’d be more accepting of fanfic, or b) if he were more accepting of fanfic, his books would be more popular? I don’t recall his specific statement of fanfic – though I thought it was pretty common that most authors don’t want to read fanfic to avoid IP infringement lawsuits or coloring their own thinking.

        The decisions of Lucas Film, Lucas Arts, and Lucas Books are clearly beyond rational comprehension, as we got two idiotic Force Unleashed games instead of a new X-Wing game…

  • August 18, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    That would be B.

    And yes authors have to avoid fanfic of their own work.

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