Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Moving Along…and Discussion about the Esquire “Best Fantasy” List

with 13 comments

Folks, the last few weeks at Chez Caffrey have been unusual, to say the least.

Somehow, I came down with a middle-ear infection. This has caused me a great deal of trouble with regards to moving around or doing much of anything, unless it’s of a mental nature. (Fortunately, as a writer and editor, most of the work I do is exactly that.)

I had two pressing edits along with several more that are urgent, and I didn’t want to say anything until those two most-pressing edits were done and “in the can.” (An aside: if our work on the computer is made up solely of electrical particles, can we actually say something is in the can anymore?)


Mostly, because I didn’t want my clients to think I was going to bail on them. But partly, I was conserving my strength and stamina to finish up the work I had to do, and to prepare for the next urgent edits. (There are three more on the table, and only one will be knocked out by the end of the weekend. The other two are longer and larger projects that I’ve devoted a good deal of time to in the past, but still require more from me before I can send them on to their authors.)

Anyway, the middle-ear infection has left me feeling weak, shaky, off-balance, and more than a bit nervous. I’ve never had this happen before, as usually I will get sinus infections or have asthma attacks or some sort of weird allergic reaction/response.

Fortunately, I have been able to think and work. And I am on the mend, finally, which is why I’m even talking about it today.

Otherwise, I wanted to mention the Esquire “50 Best Fantasy Books of All Time” list. (If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look after I’ve written the next part, and see if you agree with me.)

That half of them are books that don’t appeal to me or frankly aren’t SF&F at all (including the wonderful book CIRCE; it’s a great book, and I recommend that you read it, but it truly is not SF&F) is part of the problem. That many of these authors are not all-time greats is the rest of the problem.

Anne McCaffrey’s not on this list. Stephen R. Donaldson’s not on this list. David and Leigh Eddings aren’t on this list. Mercedes Lackey isn’t represented, either. Neither is Andre Norton. Nor is Marion Zimmer Bradley, Patricia A. McKillip, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, or Poul Anderson. (Edited to add: Where are Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, and Roger Zelazny? Shouldn’t they all be there?)

And what about Margaret Atwood? Or Connie Willis?

The worst and most egregious contemporary writer missing from this list is Lois McMaster Bujold, who is a grand master of SF&F. (Hint: There are at least five more grand masters above on this list that were not represented at all.)

And if you’re going to mention contemporary SF&F authors, where’s Katherine Addison? Where’s Jacqueline Carey? Or the even heavier hitter, J.K. Rowling?

As for other authors I know and read regularly, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller aren’t on this list. (Arguably, the Liaden Universe books could probably be called fantasy by some, and I’d rather have something much closer to fantasy than Circe.) Rosemary Edghill isn’t on this list. Neither is Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.

So, you may be wondering which books I felt should be on there. Because I believe books should be able to stand the test of time, I have excluded anyone who hasn’t had a twenty- to twenty-five year career in SF&F. (If I went with writers who’ve been active, say, for ten years or thereabouts, I’d have some editorial clients to put on the list. And that isn’t exactly unbiased…)

At any rate, here are the books I’d put in my personal top fifty from the Esquire list linked to above (or at least the author):

Ursula K. LeGuin — their pick is A Wizard of Earthsea; mine is The Lathe of Heaven

Octavia E. Butler — Kindred

C.S. Lewis — their pick is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; mine is The Screwtape Letters

George R.R. Martin — A Game of Thrones

Susanna Clarke — Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

J.R.R. Tolkien — The Fellowship of the Ring

L. Frank Baum — Ozma of Oz (it’s hard to pick just one Oz book)

Robert Jordan — The Shadow Rising

Neil Gaiman — Stardust (I’d put his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens on this list instead)

Friends of mine would agree with Brandon Sanderson’s selection on this list, and Gene Wolfe’s, and probably a few others. (Kelly Link is another fine choice.) I don’t disagree with these authors and their books as they’re interesting and worthy, but those are not the books I turn to most of the time. That’s why I didn’t add them into the mix.

So, I agree with nine of the authors and six of the choices they made for the self-same authors. I have no trouble with another three of the authors, and agree they should be represented somehow in the “best of” fantasy list.

But I’d personally add these:

Anne McCaffrey — The White Dragon (included in the omnibus The Dragonriders of Pern) and/or the Harper Hall YA trilogy (first book is Dragonsong)

Stephen R. Donaldson — A Man Rides Through (I’d not quibble with any of the novels about Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, either)

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel — Night Calls

Lois McMaster Bujold — Paladin of Souls, The Curse of Chalion, many more

Rosemary Edghill– Paying the Piper at the Gates of Dawn (a short story collection that’s currently out of print, but used copies are available), or anything else she’s ever written. (She has a wonderful new novella available in Dreaming the Goddess that I’m quite keen on.)

Mercedes Lackey– By the Sword, the Vanyel Trilogy, Oathbreakers, or the original Heralds of Valdemar trilogy featuring Talia (or better yet, all of them)

J.K. Rowling — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (my personal favorite of the HP books)

Patricia C. Wrede — The Enchanted Forest Chronicles and/or Sorcery and Cecilia with Caroline Stevermer

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller — I Dare, Mouse and Dragon, or anything they’ve ever written

Edited to add:

Diana Wynne Jones — The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series (Volume 1 is here), and/or Hexwood (How did I forget her?)

Roger Zelazny — This Immortal

Philip K. Dick — The Man in the High Castle

Philip Jose Farmer — To Your Scattered Bodies Go (available in the omnibus Riverworld)

Andre Norton — Ice Crown (available in the omnibus Ice and Shadow), Forerunner Foray (available in the omnibus Warlock)

Poul Anderson — Brain Wave, Boat of a Million Years

Margaret Atwood — The Handmaid’s Tale

Ray Bradbury — Fahrenheit 451

Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth — The Space Merchants (not currently available in Kindle)

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book

All of the above authors are excellent. You can’t go wrong if you pick up their books. If you’re like me, you’ll read them again and again, too.

What are your favorite fantasy and/or SF&F novels? Did you agree with the Esquire list? Disagree with it? Partially agree but mostly are disgusted? Let me know in the comments!

13 Responses

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  1. Generally speaking I don’t even look at “Best Fantasy/Best SF Lists” from people I don’t know especially from people associated with non-genre magazines.

    The lists are generally what they consider “important” (ie not good reads). I’m not interested in “important”, I’m interested in good reads.

    Of course, “good reads” are a matter of personal tastes and it would be a boring world if everybody’s personal tastes were the same. 😉

    While I may later give a list of “what I consider good reads”, I’m a strong believer in YMMV (Your Milage May Vary) when it comes to “good reads”.

    IE There’s nothing wrong with “you” disagreeing with what I think are “good reads”. 😀

    • I agree with that, Paul.

      I just found this so puzzling. I don’t care how non-genre the magazine is. How can you forget about Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey? Or Charles de Lint (I thought of him after I wrote this)…Diana Wynne Jones…Lois McMaster Bujold?

      It just makes no sense.

      Others I’d add to the list would be Philip Jose Farmer and Philip K. Dick. The latter’s Man in the High Castle was adapted by Amazon’s studio, so younger readers/watchers should be familiar with him. (As for Farmer’s work, someone needs to get his stuff available as ebooks, stat.)

      My late husband would’ve assuredly put David Weber’s books about Bahzell on that list, too. And I would put David Drake’s Old Nathan on that list as well. (I enjoyed those quite a bit, and I’d rather read something I enjoy than something that’s trying to impress me with how awful they think climate change is. Climate change is awful, but my goodness. How many dystopic fantasies about climate change does the world need?)

      Edited to get the names right…damn it. (This is what tired/sick can do to your writing, folks. Don’t necessarily try this at home.)

      Barb Caffrey

      March 16, 2022 at 10:30 am

      • David Drake writing about Bahzell?

        It was David Weber who wrote the War God Fantasy Novels starring Bahzell. 😉

      • Yes. That’s what I meant. David Weber. (Sorry, DW! Sorry, DW fans! Of which I’m one, so…arrrgh.)

        I was thinking about Drake because of Old Nathan, which is lovely. And I was tired and even over-tired, so I hadn’t had any rest yet.

        Barb Caffrey

        March 17, 2022 at 12:21 am

  2. I ignore these lists unless I’m looking for general concept as to who writes what or what the genre is about. I’m more likely to go with a recommendation from a friend. But if I’m on Amazon and I happen to see a cover that appeals, I’ll go look!

    Kayelle Allen

    March 16, 2022 at 10:42 am

    • Makes sense to me, Kayelle.

      The good thing about this list is it reminded me to look to see if The Goblin Emperor (by Katherine Addison) was on sale at Amazon. It was. I also snagged Janet Kagan’s Uhura’s Song (on sale for ninety-nine cents), which I’d wanted to re-read as an ebook for years but couldn’t afford.

      Barb Caffrey

      March 16, 2022 at 10:54 am

  3. Firstly sorry to read about that middle-ear infection Barb, and hope you continue to journey back to better health. Ear infections apart from being painful and debilitating do mess with balance and since we rely on balance small wonder you were left feeling nervous. Take care now.

    I was so glad to read your fifty best SF/F books, because reading The Esquire list left me wondering just what I had been reading……. Has the complier ever read SF/Fantasy as a genre? (No Jack Vance)
    Your list is far more representative of SF/F.
    In the Brandon Sanderson category ‘The Mistborn’ series would have figured in my list, but which one…Oh woe!! I enjoyed them all.


    March 17, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    • I liked Mistborn, too, Roger.

      And yes, Jack Vance is another one that should be represented. There are so many really fine writers who weren’t mentioned, and it makes no sense.

      That list isn’t even “50 best of right now” because several of those books are debuts and it’s impossible to say if they’ll stand up in ten years. (There are a few I’d venture to bet definitely won’t.) Very few authors can write one book that’ll stand up. I know of two — Susanna Clarke (who’s now written a second, mind), and Harper Lee. Those are their first novels, and they both have stood the test of time (Lee’s more than Clarke’s, granted, in chronological time).

      There’s just so much wrong with that list. So I’m trying to figure out what my favorites are, and add those.

      Barb Caffrey

      March 17, 2022 at 7:30 pm

      • And then we get to the thorny topic of SF vs Fantasy and the cross-overs.
        I guess there are as many lists as there are readers.
        Have fun working out your list.

        Hope you are still recovering at a steady pace 🌼🌻🌺🌷


        March 18, 2022 at 4:04 am

      • I’m trying my best to recover, Roger. Some hours are better than others.

        I’m about to write a new blog and add some more names/authors to the list. 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        March 18, 2022 at 7:19 am

      • Small steps when getting over something like that Barb, take care.

        I’ll look forward to reading that blog 😊


        March 18, 2022 at 12:48 pm

      • I hope so. 🙂 And trying to take care. I promise. 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        March 19, 2022 at 9:56 am

  4. […] thoughts, and wanted to put them down. (If you haven’t yet read my earlier blog, here’s the link to […]

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