SFX polled their readers, asking them to vote for the top 25 Science Fiction and Fantasy novels of all time. The results are… odd.

  • 25 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

  • 24 – The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester

  • 23 – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

  • 22 – Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

  • 21 – It by Stephen King

  • 20 – Legend by David Gemmell

  • 19 – Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

  • 18 – The Stand by Stephen King

  • 17 – Hyperion by Dan Simmons

  • 16 – Magician by Raymond E. Feist

  • 15 – Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

  • 14 – I am Legend by Richard Matheson

  • 13 – Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

  • 12 – The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

  • 11 – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

  • 10 – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

  • 9 – His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

  • 8 – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

  • 7 – American Gods by Neil Gaiman

  • 6 – Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

  • 5 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

    All of the Harry Potter books received a fair number of votes, but by far the most popular was the third book, with it time travelling shenanigans and werewolves. The book probably marks the perfect balance between the rollicking children’s adventure stories of the earlier books and the growing angst and complex plots of the later books. It’s also the last Potter book you didn’t need a fork lift truck to get it home from the book shop.

  • 4 – The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

    The oldest book in this top 25, and it fully deserves its top five position. Not just because of its historical importance – the first alien invasion novel, you realise – but because it is full of the most amazingly evocative imagery: the Martian ship landing on Horsell Common; the Martian slowly emerging; the three-legged war machines; the attack on the Thunder Child (a ship full of escaping humans); the red weed. This was blockbuster science fiction in literary form. And all written in such splendidly Victorian prose.

  • 3 – Dune by Frank Herbert

    The glory of Dune is that it’s so clever, so full of ingenious ideas, so packed with exciting set pieces, so blessed with colourful characters, that even if you plough through the increasingly dire sequels, nothing tarnishes your memories of the original. A space opera on an audacious scale, with plots that have been hatching for centuries, political intrigue and some mindboggling SF concepts, Dune is a milestone in science fiction. When the desert planet of Arakis – so tangibly evoked you can almost feel the heat and dust on your cheeks – becomes the battleground for an intergalactic power struggle, the young heir to a dynasty in decline goes native. Oh yeah, and there are some space nuns who can predict the future who’ve set up a very special breeding program in the hope of creating a saviour.

  • 2 – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    Adams is funny. Really funny. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly funny he is. You may think Red Dwarf is the height of comedy sci fi, but that’s just peanuts compared to Adams. On the other hand, don’t let the fact that Adams is probably the wittiest writer ever to have turned his attention to spaceships and all that gubbins get in the way of the fact that he’s also a damned fine SF author too. Behind the gags about digital watches, towels and morphing whales in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are some pretty weighty SF concepts of which Philip K Dick would be proud. The main difference is that Dick could write an entire novel based on a concept that Adams throws away in a passing comment. As we all know, Hitchhiker’s started as a radio show, but it was the books based on the series (six in all, or five and a half if you don’t consider Salmon of Doubt – a posthumous collection of previously uncollected material by Douglas Adams – a proper book) that really extended Adams’s bonkers universe and fired the imagination of his fans.

  • 1 – The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Yes, it’s won again. Though Hitchhiker’s put in a valiant effort, The Lord Of the Rings remains SFX readers’ favourite book. Or trilogy. Or six books if you’re a real LOTR pedant. The power of Tolkein’s folly to enchant readers just never seems to fade, and the Peter Jackson movie trilogy cleary hasn’t done its reputation any damage. The breed of sniffy, snobby literary types (many of whom you suspect haven’t even read his work) who dismiss Tolkein as nonsense, are, frankly, missing the point. Tolkien wasn’t interested so much in writing great literature – he wanted to create a modern myth. And in this regard he succeeded spectacularly – Middle-earth is so fully realised that it feels just as authentic and ancient as Greek mytholgy or stone circles. So, with this in mind, perhaps his finest work is actually The Silmarillion, published posthumously in 1977 (and edited by his son Christopher), as it details the legends and history of Middle-earth in prose so evocative that it’s hard to picture any other book reaching such heights – Tolkien even constructed new languages. It was a labour that, thankfully, the readers also loved. When it comes to epic fantasy Tolkien wrote the rule book, and any new fantasy author can either embrace Tolkien or kick against him. What they can’t do is ignore him.

Certainly a slant towards British authors, though that could be expected from a UK-based magazine. Still, the list reads like a bunch of readers voting for what they think they should vote for, gearing the list towards higher profile, more mainstream choices. Not to say all the books listed aren’t of top quality, but, for instance, A Game of Thrones being included over the superior A Storm of Swords seems a little silly. In any case, I suppose it could function as a decent, if predictable, jumping off point for anyone new to the genre.

For comparison, you can find SFX’s list of ‘Top 100 Authors’ HERE.

  • Woodge March 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Odd?! That’s one way to put it. I’d use the word travesty to describe this list. For the record, I’ve read 15 of the titles. Two of them I couldn’t finish. This list is awful. I think I’d put Dune at no. 1, though. And my list wouldn’t contain anything by J.K. Rowling.

  • aidan March 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Which two novels were you unable to finish?

  • Adam Whitehead March 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    This list is reasonable, although somewhat over-heavy on the Pratchett. I’d have left it at GUARDS! GUARDS! alone. IT is also an odd choice for King, compared to THE STAND or THE DARK TOWER series.

    The popularity of MAGICIAN in the UK has always been slightly bemusing (though I’d take that over THE SWORD OF SHANNARA, THE BELGARIAD or WIZARDS’ FIRST RULE any day of the week), although lingering sentiment towards Feist from this work does explain how his books keep hitting the Times bestseller list despite everything he’s written for the last ten years being incoherent pap.

    Nothing in the list immediately screams, “This shouldn’t be here!” Although of the POTTER books, I rank AZKABAN as my least favourite, but I know that’s not a widely-held opinion.

  • Woodge March 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I read half of American Gods, was completely bored, and set it aside permanently. And I tried reading It (S. King) ages ago but couldn’t get into it.

    Also, I read the first 3 Harry Potter novels but ultimately found them way too cutesy and had no interest going any further. Haven’t even gotten around to watching beyond the 3rd movie.

    Oh, and I read Magician: Apprentice by R. Feist but only half of Magician: Master. Blah!

  • aidan March 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    That’s my main sentiment about the list, as well. You can’t really argue with what’s on the list (though I’ve not read all the novels), but it’s odd for Pratchett to have several novels on the list while authors like Le Guin, Peake and Powers are left off completely.

  • Woodge March 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    My own list would include: Watership Down, Robert E Howard’s Conan stories, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy, The Skinner by Neal Asher, Perdido Street Station and The Scar by China Miéville, and The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy.

    Among others. It’d be a big list.

    (I’ve read 5 of T Pratchett’s Discworld books. Mort was my favorite. And I couldn’t finish the 2nd Hyperion novel.)

  • Joseph March 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Incoherent pap? His latest few books are not great, but while this determines the writer’s career, it has little to do with how the other books are held.

  • Rachel March 13, 2010 at 2:58 am

    That is odd. But then SFX magazine is a little odd. Le Guin is a conspicuous absence.

  • Showtyme March 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

    @Woodge – The Harry Potter series gets much older and serious after the 3rd book. And by 6 and 7 it takes on some very dark tones. I refused to read them for a long time because I thought of them as kids books, but my dad eventually read them and talked me into it. Another deciding factor was getting the audiobooks when I had a 2 hour commute (each way) everyday for school. Book 6, The Half-Blood Prince, is by far my favorite of the Potter series.

  • Showtyme March 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

    One more thing, I’ve always felt, whether you personally like them or not, you can’t hate the Potter series. It got A LOT of people who had never read a book before to finally pick up a book, and actually enjoy reading. And those people (most of them anyway) probably continued to read other books after they finished the Potter series.

  • Adam Whitehead March 14, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I’m not sure I’d call SFX ‘odd’. It’s a primarily media magazine which covers film and TV SF as its primary remit and literature as a secondary one. On that basis, SFX’s coverage of books is often surprisingly decent (like the six-page interview they did with Michael Moorcock a year back covering a lot of his career in-depth). Its critics’ list of a few years back is also notably stronger (featuring LeGuin, Vance, Powers and more, with THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN coming in at #1).

    As a result, this list can be regarded more of a swotters’ guide to SF for beginners, or the sort of list assembled by people whose primary diet of SF comes via DVD or Sky+ (the UK’s closest equivalent to TIVO). On that basis the presence of the likes of Bester and Simmons is slightly cheering.

  • Woodge March 15, 2010 at 3:44 am

    @Showtyme: Yeah, I don’t hate them, I’m just not interested in reading them. And the fact that it got kids to read is EXCELLENT. I’m telling myself that my son (age 8) will eventually want to read other things besides the Captain Underpants series, but at least he’s reading. ;-)

  • Woodge March 15, 2010 at 3:45 am

    that’s supposed to read: age 8 ( frikkin emoticons! )

  • Rachel March 16, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Maybe ‘odd’ is not the right word. Or maybe I just found it odd because it wasn’t aimed at me. The issue I read was a bit of a mix: on the one hand an intelligent interview with Ursula le Guin, discussing gender politics, and then the rest of it streaked with adolescent ogling, bordering on the sexist. In places I found it a little offensive, but mostly it just seemed childish. My boyfriend also felt the same. Perhaps it was just a bad issue and I should give it another try?