From another, now-defunct blog of mine, a post in which I bitch about something on io9 years ago:

I really, really like i09, but I was really, really underwhelmed by this list of 20 life-changing science fiction novels.

I know, there’s no reasonable expectation that every book on everybody’s list of books will match up. But some of this stuff is just dumb.

  • The Dispossessed?? Please. “Oh, our societies are different, in a way that had cultural significance during the cold war.” Try The Left Hand of Darkness.

  • Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. As a blogger who supports the copyleft movement, I have a confession to make. I can’t stand Cory Doctorow’s writing. Seriously, I try, but something about the way the man puts together sentences strikes me as irretrievably douchey, and also makes me want to hit him over the head with a collection of Theodore Sturgeon stories.

  • I, Robot. No. Even discounting that horrible movie, this is not life-changing. Unless you’re a robot.

  • The Sparrow. Meh. I like The Sparrow. I like it a lot. But I think a lot of sci fi readers overestimate its importance because it reminds them of something most people in the world already know — that Christianity is of cultural significance.

  • The Mountains of Madness. I’m also a bit torn on this point. I know people who had life-changing experiences with Lovecraft, but I don’t really know why. Maybe there’s a lack of imagination, here. Although this may also be a case of my inability to care about the problems of people who are really, really, really white.

I suppose I mostly wish they didn’t make a list that includes both life-changing and genre-influencing books, but call it a list of life-changing books. A lot of genre-influencing books are important and ground-breaking, but are later surpassed by their imitators in every respect except chronology. The Forever War is a good example of a book that was important mainly for its position in history, rather than the quality of its writing or its relevance to readers today.

Okay, that was all pretty mean. Sorry, Cory, et al.

I suppose it’s obligatory at this point that I make a list of my own. Fine fine. Listage, in no special order, and — frankly — twenty “life-changing” books is a lot to ask for, so I’m going to use moderate values of “life-changing” and I may cut the list short:

  • The Fortunate Fall, Raphael Carter. This doubtless pseudonymous work singlehandedly justifies the existence of cyberpunk as a genre. Gender, sexuality, film noir, self-evolving AI, African supertechnology, and fascist cyborg cops who just want to serve you tea, and wipe your brain. Tragedy. Morality. The human spirit. All that crap.

  • Dream Master/”He Who Shapes”, Roger Zelazny. This book contains pretty much everything that’s important in Zelazny’s writing, and nothing that isn’t. It also makes nearly every piece of science fiction written in the 1980’s unnecessary. If you read this, you can also lower your JG Ballard intake by about 50%, thank god. Overpopulation, technology vs. the soul, mind to mind linkage, talking, bloodthirsty german seeing-eye dogs.

  • “The Widget, The Wadget, and Boff”, Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon’s understanding of the human spirit and of love is…well, life-changing. This is maybe the best piece of prose ever written.

  • A Wind in the Door, Madeline L’Engle. I could have picked any of several of L’Engle’s novels. They aren’t literary masterpieces, but they substantially shaped some of my ideas about humanity, morality, relationships. And unlike most of the life-changing stories, I think L’Engle’s reinforced my innocence rather than eroding it. Which is nice.

  • The Inuitionist, Colson Whitehead. Bit borderline whether this is SF or not, but I’m going to go ahead and wave it in. It’s a race allegory involving elevator inspection. And it’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  • The Atrocity Exhibtion, JG Ballard. I’m thinking of the re/search dingus. I don’t really want to talk about this book. Or think about it. Or its illustrations.

  • The Postman, David Brin. Any book which can make me feel optimistic about (a) the course of American history, (b) apocalyptic, society-collapsing events, and (c) government supersoldier research, and which maintains my affections despite a horrible Kevin Costner film adpatation…well, that’s about as life-changing as it gets.

  • Driftglass, Samuel R. Delany. This is, based on my reading to date, Delany’s best collection. How can that which makes me monstrous make me wondrous?

  • VALIS, Philip K. Dick. If you want to have a life-changing experience about science fiction and religion, shelve The Sparrow until you’ve read this.

  • The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester. I don’t know whether this is Bester’s best novel, but it’s the one that sticks with me. On one level, it discovers a lot of the same stuff about telepathy that every other telepathy related SF novel discovers. (And yes, Sturgeon does that better.) More interesting is the book’s approach to good and evil.

  • The Whipping Star, Frank Herbert. Everyone talks about Frank Herbert’s Dune, in which he meticulously creates an epic, somewhat bloated, grandiose universe. Dune is nice, but it didn’t hit me the way Whipping Star does. Whipping Star describes a universe even larger and more strange than the universe of ??Dune??, but it does so using far fewer strokes. Whipping Star constantly alludes and occasionally reveals, but does not exhaustively describe. And it creates a vision of the future that is firmly grounded not in physics (so passe) but in sociology, psychology, and linguistics. And in Whipping Star and its somewhat more well-known (although inferior) sequel, The Dosadi Experiment, Herbert does some surprisingly original thinking about good and evil, justice and injustice, law and crime.

  • Brother Termite, Patricia Anthony. Patricia Anthony has an amazing knack for describing visions of the world that are far darker than I could ever imagine them to be. Brother Termite asks us to care about the existential plight of a member of a conquering alien hive race that is systematically destroying life in the universe, with the exception of humanity, whom they want to knock up first. Disturbingly, she suceeds.

  • The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis. Connie Willis has the ability to write time travel novels that I don’t want to set on fire. That in itself is remarkable. More to the point, she has the ability to bring forth the tragedy and the comedy of the past in a way that mere works of history or historical fiction cannot, because reading her books, we experience these things through the eyes of historians — meaning, nerdy academics with modern/postmodern sensibilities.

  • Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why this book is important. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do that before you do anything else. Ever.

Is that twenty books? No? To hell with it. I’m tired.

(Note: something went bad in the formatting the first time I tried to post it. Sorry if it made your dashboard ugly.)