Jun 10, 2009

Best of the Naughties

Classic. Must-read. Essential.

These words are thrown about a lot with books and movies, particularly in SFF circles. But ask someone how to choose a classic and you’ll get more definitions than examples of bad science in Star Trek.

I think fundamentally, it comes down to the answer to the question “If I am going to grant a portion of my finite existence to SFF, which SFF books have the highest probability of being worth a fraction of my life?” Much to the chagrin of many completists like myself, you can’t read/watch/experience everything. You can certainly try. You will also most certainly fail.

Like most abstractions, it’s easy to ask the question. It’s harder to answer it. And it’s almost impossible to explain why your answer is correct.

For example, try and tell me what science fiction books written in the current decade are classics. What are the must read fantasy tomes of the past ten years? What is in the essential SFF geek library on the shelf marked 2000-2009?

Do you go by popular opinion? I would include Harry Potter in my classics but I’ll burn the library down before I put the Twilight books on my shelf. Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune books outsold Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, what does that say about the popular vote?

How about the award winners?

Nebula Award
2000 - Parable of the Talents
2001 - Darwin's Radio
2002 - The Quantum Rose
2003 - American Gods
2004 - The Speed of Dark
2005 - Paladin of Souls
2006 - Camouflage
2007 - Seeker
2008 - The Yiddish Policeman's Union

Hugo Award
2000 - A Deepness in the Sky
2001 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2002 - American Gods
2003 - Hominids
2004 - Paladin of Souls
2005 - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
2006 - Spin
2007 - Rainbows End
2008 - The Yiddish Policeman's Union

American Gods. Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Spin. There is some good stuff there, certainly. Some of the winners might be classics but I doubt that 10 years from now every one of those books will be consider the best book of the year.

Outside of sales and awards, there isn’t a whole lot else to go on. Internet reviews? Blog consensus? Convention panels? I don’t think you can pick a classic. Some might be early bloomers, books with classic potential from day 1, and some might not hit their essential spurt til their junior year of high school.

It might be a simple as the right book at the right time. I’ve picked up books I couldn’t finish the first time and absolutely devoured them later. It might be an event years later that makes society read a book in a different light. It might be classics are just the favorite books of the upper echelon of the genre authors, editors and other influential voices. In the end, I think attempts to declare essential or classic genre books within a few years of their release is, while extremely fun, ultimately futile. Not to mention the chances of your predictions lasting long enough to be confirmed or disproven.

So all that being said: what are your three essential books of the new millennium?


  1. "Best of the Naughties"...I get it, funny!

    I have not read much that were published this millennium. I just got Altered Carbon, but haven't read it yet. Of the ones I have read I can suggest only TWO (2) as my essential: Darwin's Radio and Weapons of Choice.

    Weapons of Choice is part of the Axis of Time trilogy so it may count as 3. Darwin's Radio also has the sequel Darwin's Children. But since all 5 books are only really 2 stories, those would be my 2 choices for the "Naughties"...oh NOW I get it.

  2. Can't hold it down to three, since George RR Martin has already published four books in the ASOIAF series. :P


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