What is a Teen Novel? Vote for your Favorites at NPR

NPR is at it again! It’s summer, so they’re in the midst of what looks like it’s becoming an annual tradition. And what a terrific annual tradition it is.

Last year they asked their readers to nominate, and finally vote on, the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books for adults “ever written”. Talk about endless debate amongst the fans. I had a lot of fun with that one. I love both genres.

I said it’s a tradition. In the summer of 2009, NPR asked for the Best Beach Books Ever. Great theme for the first time out. In 2010, they asked for “Killer Thrillers”, and made a killing on the poll, with 17,000 ballots turned in.

In last year’s poll, when they asked about SF/F they were very specific that they only wanted adult books in the nominations. NPR promised that young adult books, teen books, would feature in a later poll.

This is that later poll.

There’s a problem of the first part. It turns out that not everyone can agree on exactly what makes a YA book a YA book. Some of the titles that many people think of as classic YA books didn’t pass the expert panel’s muster. A Wrinkle in Time didn’t make it. Neither did Ender’s Game, considered too young and too mature, respectively. The report on the panel’s decision making process is posted at NPR  if you’re interested in how they decided.

Just like the Top SF/F poll last year, the Best-Ever Teen Novels poll is just that. A poll. You can vote for the ones you think are the best, even if your teen years are a few decades behind you.

Even though these are teen novels, I read most of the books I voted for when I was an adult. Some of them quite recently, like Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series. And the Harry Potter series is on the list. But it only takes up one entry, not seven (thank you NPR, thank you!)

These are great books. Some of them are greater than others. You get to vote for 10 of the books that you think are greater than the others. I’ve already cast my ballot. What are you waiting for?

Let the debate (and the nostalgia about the much beloved books we read as teens) begin!

NPR wants your vote

NPR is back with their continuing search for the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books of all time. Or, at least the list as NPR listeners see it from the vantage point of the summer of 2011.

NPR provided listeners the opportunity to nominate titles and complete series for the top 100 earlier this summer. Yours truly provided the results of her agonized selection in this post.

After what appears to have been much deliberation, and the considered input of the expert panel of John Clute (coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy), Farah Mendlesohn (coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction) and Gary K. Wolfe (science fiction critic and longtime reviewer for the science fiction and fantasy magazine Locus), NPR collated several thousand inputs into a list of approximately 200 titles.

Now, NPR wants your vote. Really, they want 10 of your votes. Each time you input, you can vote for your 10 favorites that have made the list. (I almost said it was a Chicago election, but you can’t vote for the same book 10 times on the same pass. You’d have to come back 10 times for that. But you could…)

The list is eclectic. And it shows that we science fiction and fantasy readers are a diverse bunch of folks. But one thing it does not show is that we have forgotten that the current writers stand on the shoulders of giants. The classics are there, and in amazing variety and number. Conan the Barbarian and Frankenstein coexist with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. There is a certain irony to seeing Lev Grossman’s The Magicians on the list, when the work it is derived from, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, was ruled ineligible as children’s literature.

I recognize everything, and I’ve read almost half. I’m not sure whether to be proud or appalled. Whether I agree with things being on the list is an entirely different question. And some, well, I think they’re marvelous books, I’m just not sure they fit the definition of either science fiction or fantasy. What is Outlander doing on this list? I loved it, but there was way more romance than there was time-travel.

So I had to vote on which 10 were my absolute favorites. That was a lot harder than one might think. For one thing, the creators of the list did not include Terry Pratchett’s Discworld as a single entity. Whose idea was that, anyway? The series as a whole is fantastic, but trying to decide which one of the few nominated is one of the 10 best, I couldn’t do it. AAARRRGGGHHH!

All my other favorites made the list, so that was easy. And voting for The Lord of the Rings was probably a no-brainer for a lot of people. Me, I lost count of how many times I re-read it after the first 25.

The list is in alphabetical order, so American Gods was in the first screen. So was its sequel, Anansi Boys, but I didn’t take the two-fer. Anansi Boys was fun, but didn’t tie me up in knots the way Gods did.

I am proud to say that I now have a friend hooked on the Old Man’s War series, proving to me that this one is as good as I remember. Meeting John Scalzi at the American Library Conference in June and getting a signed copy of Zoe’s War was just a bonus.

Recently, I thumbed my copy of Tigana again. The ending still wrings me out. But I love Kay’s writing so much that I not only voted for Tigana, when I saw the Fionavar Tapestry on the list, I voted for it, too. That was when I first discovered his writing, and that I have re-read, at least three times. There are parts that are almost as gut-wrenching, but not quite.

Seeing the entire list of titles makes things both easier, and more difficult. On the one hand, it’s a tremendous nostalgia trip. I wanted to read, or re-read, every single book I saw. Let’s just say there were a lot of old friends on that list. Of all the ones I knew, it was incredibly difficult to pick just 10.

NPR needs your vote, too.  So now it’s your turn. Try it and see how hard it is to pick just 10. I dare you.

NPR and the Top 100 SF/F

If I didn’t already love NPR, I would now. But I’ve sat in the car too many times laughing myself silly at the Car Talk brothers not to love NPR.

However, they just gave me a whole new reason to love them. NPR is putting together a list of the 100 best science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) titles “ever written”. The list will be based on recommendations submitted here.

There are, naturally, a whole bunch of caveats built into this kind of thing. NPR wants this list to be strictly science fiction and fantasy for grown-ups (admittedly that term alone can be pretty loosely defined). YA SF/F will be covered some other summer. Besides, as NPR put it best, won’t it be nice to have someone besides Harry Potter win for a change?

Also, they are limiting to purely SF/F, so no paranormal or horror. Stephen King is out, and so is Sookie Stackhouse. So is Twilight. On the other, and much more interesting hand, it is perfectly okay to nominate an entire series as a single entity. So the Lord of the Rings counts as one nomination. Five noms to a posting, probably just to keep the lists manageable.

But my brain keeps hashing over what to nominate. There are two lists running in my head. One list is of the books/series that I have read and loved. Those are ones I would recommend in a heartbeat to someone who was remotely interested in science fiction or fantasy. Or someone I could get to sit still for ten seconds and listen.

1. The Lord of the Rings. This is still a comfort read. Or a comfort listen. I have multiple copies in print, and both the unabridged recording and the radio play. Tolkien could write beautiful words, and there are parts of this thing that still ring in my head, and still wring my heart. The tvtropes wiki says there are 7 basic plots; 1)Overcoming the Monster, 2)Rags to Riches, 3)The Quest, 4)Voyage and Return, 5)Comedy, 6)Tragedy and 7)Rebirth. The Lord of the Rings has everything but a comedy plot. There’s comedy in there, but it isn’t a major plot thread.

There are still things in LOTR I would like to have a serious talk with Prof. Tolkien about, if he were still around. The lack of female characters in the Fellowship. The shortage of strong female characters, period. And that’s just for starters. But the quibbles stand out because the whole is so very, very good.

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The premise caught me, and didn’t let go. Every deity that had every been worshiped on American soil was alive, if not well, somewhere in the U.S. Some are still active, and some are trying to blend in, but they are all still here. Then Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday on a plane, and everything starts to fall apart, or come together. American Gods is part of the great American road novel tradition, except it’s written by a British ex-pat who seems to have swallowed a mythopedic dictionary whole. The point where the Egyptian gods were running a funeral parlor in Cairo, Illinois, I think I had tears in my eyes, laughing. But there’s more pathos than humor, and every god and monster has his, or her, day. The ending took me by complete surprise. And I loved every second of it.

3. Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s Discworld can be seen as a parody of any number of fantasy worlds. Or all of them. When he’s funny, he’s screamingly funny. But it’s the kind of humor that makes you think, and more and more, makes you want to weep. Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of the city of Ankh-Morpork, makes Machiavelli look like an amateur. Death is personified as the bony gentleman with the scythe–on the other hand, his adopted granddaughter is considerably scarier than he is. After all, Death named his horse ‘Binky’. Start with either Mort or Guards, Guards. Just start.

4. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. I would include this because reading it once hurt so much I’ve never been able to read it again. Tigana is a country that is lost, gone. It was not just conquered, it was also cursed. The wizard who conquered it laid down a curse that no one who was not born there before the fall could say the name, or hear it spoken. Tigana, beautiful, artistic, advanced, lovely as it was, was doomed to be forgotten in a generation. There was only one chance to save it. A desperate group of survivors banded together to infiltrate the court of the wizard king and assassinate him before the last of those born in their beloved country before its fall became too old to recreate what they had lost. What they did not count on was how long it would take, or how much the part you are playing becomes you, if you play it for too long.

5. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi. You know up front that this is not a coming-of-age story. More like wish-fulfillment, at least up to a point, as all the major characters start out as senior citizens who suddenly get brand new young bodies. Then they have to go fight aliens with those upgraded bods. This reads like one of Robert Heinlein’s space stories at its best, updated 50 years and without Heinlein’s attitudes about women. Or maybe that’s the updating. This is a great space opera. And because the point-of-view character is older, his perspective gets to use that life experience to wonder what the hell is going on. It’s a very important part of the story. He questions, and he wants answers. As he gets them, so does the reader.

These books are ones I have read, finished and would recommend unconditionally. In another post, I’ll list the ones I want to read this summer, and why.