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Author Topic: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")  (Read 800 times)

Mercurius

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You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« on: October 19, 2020, 03:08:24 am »
Read it and weep: https://time.com/collection/100-best-fantasy-books/

Consider, first, the missing authors: Howard, Smith, Lovecraft, Dunsany, Merritt, Blackwood, MacDonald, Eddison, Leiber, Moorcock, Wolfe, McKillip, Donaldson, Erikson, and many others.

Now here's what y'all will love. Scroll through the list and find Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, a bit over halfway down. That was published in 2007. After that, 45 books remain (meaning, according to Time and the authors on the panel, 45% of the greatest fantasy books ever were published in the last 12 years!).

Those 45 books were written by 37 authors. Of those 37 authors, 7 are male, 6 are white, and 1 is a white man. Meaning, of the 45 books written from 2008 to the present that this article deems as among the 100 greatest of all time, only one was written by a white dude. Meaning, according to this list, white dudes stopped being able to write great books about 12 years ago.

Oh yeah, icing: the panelists all have at least one book on the list - a couple of them have 3 each.

Caveat: Unlike some here, I have no issue with trying to represent, advocate for, or prop up diverse groups and individuals. But why use such a list that is meant to represent the greatest fantasy books of all time as an opportunity to do this? It becomes yet another act of ideological proselytizing. An act of willful exclusion and bias. Why not, instead, write a different article, say "Some Great New Authors, Most of Them Not White"? Why not just be honest about it? I'd have no problem with that whatsoever, and would even approach it with interest. But this masquerade is disingenuous, transparent, and frankly, shameful.

Two of the panelists, NK Jemisin and Tomi Adeyemi, have three books each on the list. Imagine being a well-respected fantasy author and realizing that you have three books on a list at the exclusion of Lord Dunsany, RE Howard, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson, Patricia McKillip, etc. How could you sleep at night?

I can usually tolerate some degree of wokism, and even agree with some of the underlying goals of inclusivity, giving under-represented groups their due, combatting bigotry, etc. But this...display...just really irks me, probably because it is an instant of its own complaint, and because it makes a mockery of the fantasy tradition.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 03:16:46 am by Mercurius »

Shasarak

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2020, 06:44:31 am »
Quote
One Thousand and One Nights:  It’s hard to ignore that, from the start, this book of short stories is deeply misogynistic; the problematic gender dynamics of its time are pervasive and often stomach churning. And it’s rife with racism toward dark-skinned Africans and casual discrimination of Jews.

Mmm, yes tell me more of this problematic book rated first in the 100 best fantasy books.
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Steven Mitchell

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2020, 06:48:40 am »
It's "Time". What did you expect?  There is so much garbage written and selling in today's fantasy market, why would we expect the people involved to be any more discerning about quality in earlier works?

Pat

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2020, 07:51:01 am »
It's a terrible list, but is this supposed to be some culture war-related outrage? Because it doesn't seem to fit. There's the Christian parable (Narnia), old school books that would be considered "problematic" (1001 Nights, Le Morte d'Arthur), the books that LeGuin had to recant because they weren't feminist enough, Robert Jordan's male eye, and even Anne "tentpost" McCaffery. It's extremely heavily weighed toward children's books, has a lot of popular books that are more notable for the number of volumes sold rather than the quality or the writing, and manages to include 1 to 3 books by every single author on the judging panel which I'm sure is a reflection of their timeless virtue not tasteless self-promotion.

Melan

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2020, 08:10:49 am »
Looking at the list, it could be fairly, and much more appropriately titled "The 100 Best Girls' Fantasy Books of All Time". The list is heavy on books which would appeal to female fantasy fans, mostly from the YA niche and its antecedents (with a few token unisex books). That alone is no crime.

Where it goes sideways is excluding anything that is masculine, or would appeal primarily to men. So the pulp tradition is all out, as is most of the western fantasy tradition, from Vance to Wagner, and Zelazny to Harrison.  Ironically, excellent female fantasists are right out, because they did not write in the now official style, or had the wrong politics - so Leigh Brackett, Andre Norton, and C.L. Moore are not on the list. I have a slight hunch Marion Zimmeron Bradley would be present, if she didn't get unmasked as a horrible sexual predator. The result, presented as a "best of everything, all time" list, only demonstrates how bigotry and junk politics marginalises great works.

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Pat

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #5 on: October 19, 2020, 08:19:08 am »
Two of the panelists, NK Jemisin and Tomi Adeyemi, have three books each on the list. Imagine being a well-respected fantasy author and realizing that you have three books on a list at the exclusion of Lord Dunsany, RE Howard, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson, Patricia McKillip, etc. How could you sleep at night?
Adeyemi only has 2. Gaiman is the other panelist with 3 on the list, though he's somewhat more deserving (but not 3/100 deserving). And your list isn't full of obvious misses -- Donaldson is a better writer than many people give him credit for, but he's not a top 100 fantasy novels of all time better, for instance.

Flipping through, I've read 19/100, and 0 of the books on the list after American Gods. I don't think I've even heard of the vast majority.

Ghostmaker

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #6 on: October 19, 2020, 08:32:00 am »
Terrible list.

I would've only allowed Tolkien and Rowling one slot each (technically, Tolkien's work is a single book broken up into three sections).

I admit, I'm astonished. No Dragonlance, no Elric of Melnibone, no Conan (wat), no Beowulf?

They don't even have anything by Naomi Novik, but I guess the Temeraire series is far too manly for the list.

Mercurius

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #7 on: October 19, 2020, 12:32:40 pm »
Two of the panelists, NK Jemisin and Tomi Adeyemi, have three books each on the list. Imagine being a well-respected fantasy author and realizing that you have three books on a list at the exclusion of Lord Dunsany, RE Howard, Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson, Patricia McKillip, etc. How could you sleep at night?
Adeyemi only has 2. Gaiman is the other panelist with 3 on the list, though he's somewhat more deserving (but not 3/100 deserving). And your list isn't full of obvious misses -- Donaldson is a better writer than many people give him credit for, but he's not a top 100 fantasy novels of all time better, for instance.

Flipping through, I've read 19/100, and 0 of the books on the list after American Gods. I don't think I've even heard of the vast majority.

I think Donaldson's Thomas Covenant is an obvious miss. When I think of top 100 fantasy novels of all time, a lot of that is influence, and the first two Thomas Covenant series were hugely impactful.

Mercurius

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #8 on: October 19, 2020, 12:38:04 pm »
It's a terrible list, but is this supposed to be some culture war-related outrage? Because it doesn't seem to fit. There's the Christian parable (Narnia), old school books that would be considered "problematic" (1001 Nights, Le Morte d'Arthur), the books that LeGuin had to recant because they weren't feminist enough, Robert Jordan's male eye, and even Anne "tentpost" McCaffery. It's extremely heavily weighed toward children's books, has a lot of popular books that are more notable for the number of volumes sold rather than the quality or the writing, and manages to include 1 to 3 books by every single author on the judging panel which I'm sure is a reflection of their timeless virtue not tasteless self-promotion.

My guess is that they tried for some legitimacy in that you can't create such a list without mentioning at least some of the classics.

What is so striking to me is the shift after Rothfuss. It was as if they said, "OK, now we need to represent diverse authors and ignore any books by white men. OK, let's throw in one...David Mitchell?"

I'm not banging the drum for the poor, neglected white male. I just wish we could come to a point where we actually judged the books on their own merits, rather than which intersectional boxes can be checked off.

Trond

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2020, 03:18:35 pm »
Terrible list.

I would've only allowed Tolkien and Rowling one slot each (technically, Tolkien's work is a single book broken up into three sections).

I admit, I'm astonished. No Dragonlance, no Elric of Melnibone, no Conan (wat), no Beowulf?

They don't even have anything by Naomi Novik, but I guess the Temeraire series is far too manly for the list.

No CS Lewis? I was never a big fan of his but I still think he should be in there.

Trond

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2020, 03:23:12 pm »
Quote
One Thousand and One Nights:  It’s hard to ignore that, from the start, this book of short stories is deeply misogynistic; the problematic gender dynamics of its time are pervasive and often stomach churning. And it’s rife with racism toward dark-skinned Africans and casual discrimination of Jews.

Mmm, yes tell me more of this problematic book rated first in the 100 best fantasy books.

And it is so unnecessary. It’s as if they know that they are writing for the benefit of morons only. I read Arabian Nights when I was, what, 12? And even then I knew there were obvious cultural differences, differences because many of the stories are from medieval times etc.

Shasarak

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2020, 03:43:17 pm »
I think Donaldson's Thomas Covenant is an obvious miss. When I think of top 100 fantasy novels of all time, a lot of that is influence, and the first two Thomas Covenant series were hugely impactful.

Thomas Covenant is the worst book that I ever tried to read.

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Pat

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2020, 03:46:10 pm »
1,000 Nights and Le Mort d'Arthur are also bizarre, because if you include them, why not include Beowulf, as someone already mentioned? Or the Song of Roland, which is even more magical. Journey to the West? Even Dante's Inferno? And why stop in the Middle Ages? How about Ovid's Metamorphoses? The Illiad and Odyssey? The Mahabharata? The Kalevala? The Mabinogion? Or go all the way back to the dawn of writing, because the epic of Gilgamesh seems just as good a fit.

At what point do you draw a line and say this is where fantasy starts? If you go by standard convention, there shouldn't be anything earlier than the 19th century, because the modern genre of fantasy is generally considered to start with either Ruskin or MacDonald. So those two relics make it feel like the panelists don't even know how to define the genre.

I think Donaldson's Thomas Covenant is an obvious miss. When I think of top 100 fantasy novels of all time, a lot of that is influence, and the first two Thomas Covenant series were hugely impactful.
The Thomas Convenant series were popular, but I don't see them as particularly influential. The Land is a fairly genetic fantasyland and doesn't have the depth of someone like Tolkien, and Donaldson's writing isn't as poetic or clever as a Beagle or Zelazny. His strength is generally characterization and a willingness to feature a very difficult protagonist that doesn't even fit the standard anti-hero patterns. But I don't think that's been widely imitated. He also deconstructed some fantasy tropes, but that's common; I don't think Covenant is an inflection point.

What is so striking to me is the shift after Rothfuss. It was as if they said, "OK, now we need to represent diverse authors and ignore any books by white men. OK, let's throw in one...David Mitchell?"

I'm not banging the drum for the poor, neglected white male. I just wish we could come to a point where we actually judged the books on their own merits, rather than which intersectional boxes can be checked off.
I didn't notice any shift at Rothfuss, but his book is the 55th on the (chronological) list, and the most recent book I've read is American Gods (#51) -- and every other book I've read is in the first 30. Which means I'm familiar with roughly 2/3rds of the first 30 books on the list, but only 1 of the last 70.

You probably hit the nail on the head when it comes to tokenism, but it's remarkably unwoke in other areas. (McCaffrey alone would elicit cries of "problematic".) Melan also has a point about the list favoring fantasy for girls, though that's just one strain -- for instance, despite being written by a woman, the Earthsea books that made the cut are clearly aimed at boys.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 03:50:09 pm by Pat »

Stephen Tannhauser

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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2020, 03:50:58 pm »
I just wish we could come to a point where we actually judged the books on their own merits, rather than which intersectional boxes can be checked off.

It's a good question: how do you define the merits of the "greatest fantasy of all time"? One person's moving and beautiful insight into Truth, or unprecedented work of imagination, is another person's boring, confusing, unconvincing or offensive grind.

The degree to which a work has visibly influenced its successors used to be one, but that obviously lets out most things written within the last ten to fifteen years. (Adding:) Which as far as I'm concerned is as it should be. Nothing should be able to qualify for any kind of "of all time" list until it has been regularly read and reprinted for at least twenty years.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2020, 03:58:38 pm by Stephen Tannhauser »
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Re: You folks will love this (Time's "100 Best Fantasy Books")
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2020, 04:27:11 pm »
It's more the 'trigger warning' psychology. You might be emotionally damaged by seeing sexism or racism, etc., so they have to mention it so you don't get unsettled.

Having to mention that a book of medieval Islamic folktales had the expected prejudices of the era, well, I think people have gotten too sensitive.

They're probably trying to get a non-Western historical work on there would be my best guess--that's why they put that one in and left out Beowulf, the Odyssey, etc.

You do see the exclusion of the pulp/sword-and-sorcery tradition. Well, we've got Appendix N. ;)