501 Must-Read Books

Last week I was wandering through a Chapters and saw a copy of 501 Must-Read Books, edited by Emma Beare. I’ve never really been one to look at a list of books I have to read before I die, but I was curious about what science fiction and fantasy Baere recommended. As I flipped through that section of her book, though, my curiosity changed to confusion, and then to frustration.

Here’s why.

In the sci-fi/fantasy section of her book, Baere recommends a variety of titles and authors – none of which were published any later than the 1970s. I recognized a few authors – Lewis, Wells, Tolkien – but I couldn’t believe that she hadn’t included any authors published in the last thirty years. Has there really been no excellent science fiction and fantasy published since the 70s? Anyone who thinks that clearly stopped reading a long time ago, or has an incredibly narrow view of these genres. If I were writing a “Must-Read Speculative Fiction” book or article – which I never would – it would include more contemporary writers than not. The likes of Michael Crichton, Ernest Cline, Hugh Howey, Robin Hobb, Alastair Reynolds, Jennifer Roberson, Laurel K. Hamilton, Jack McDevitt – I think you get the idea – have to at least be contenders.

I get the idea of “classics” in both science fiction and fantasy. There are definitely authors that paved the way for the fiction we have now. But a requirement for great sci-fi or fantasy is not that it was published before my generation was even born. For a genre that is so varied, with so many unique and brilliant writers, it’s difficult to come up with one list of “must-read” books. But if you’re going to do it, you should at least include a few contemporary writers.

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