Sarah emailed me a link to this NPR survey about the top 100 science fiction and fantasy books (in English, it seems). The survey allows you to vote for up to ten titles, and I voted for nine, I think. I feel kind of guilty about voting because I have probably read something like 20 of the many titles offered. I feel like I have gone to the polls uninformed, I mean. It’s like I voted for all my friends in the class election.
Of all the books on the list, though, my two favorites are both by Neal Stephenson. I am not sure if I’ve written about Stephenson here, but if I have it was probably to describe him as one of my favorite authors. What I enjoy about Stephenson’s books is that they are compelling and fast mainstream stories sewn together with the thinnest thread of the speculative. This is especially true, I think, of everything from Cryptonomicon on; we have sprawling stories that explore the development and destruction and fulfillment and etc. of real characters in (only occasionally) unusual circumstances. What genre elements Stephenson uses are often mysterious, to both characters and the reader, so that we don’t get caught up in someone’s magical/alchemical cigar box until we finally realize it’s been used to maybe save a character’s life, and even then it’s only in passing, before the story races onto the next scene. It’s fun to read about someone diving into a sinking sub to pull out a safe of documents, but really only because we know the scene will blaze through in a few pages and the character, who we have come to really know and care about, will either be sucked to the bottom or will escape to move onto the next scene without too many words spent getting there.