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Because I have too much spare time for reading ...

What do you think is the most important novel of the past 10-and-a-bit years (published since January 1st 2000)?

Explain your reasoning. (Novels by "Charles Stross" are disqualified.)

363 Comments

1:

Still waiting, actually.

2:

What about books by "Carlos Stross"? ;)

Just kidding. Would have to think about it.

3:

Good heavens, it has to be both *important* and a *novel*, and also since 2000?

If you'd extended it a few years, I'd have said the first "Harry Potter" novel, because I have *seen* how the series has gotten the children around me (specific real children, not abstract theoretical children) engaged with reading in ways that I had feared were impossible just before it hit. But it falls outside the range, drat.

I guess I'm going to have to go with the near-future science fiction novel "Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon.

The novel is written in the first-person perspective and the protagonist is autistic, and he has to wrestle with whether to undergo an experimental treatment for autism. Elizabeth Moon happens to be the mother of an autistic child. It's well written, gives insights into the condition, deals with universal concepts of self/identity, deals with the stresses one's sense of identity can suffer while undergoing psychological/medical treatments, and is a just fine read as well. (The title comes from the protagonist's musings that if there's a speed of light, there must of course be a speed of dark as well.)

4:

Personally, I think that Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is pretty damn important, but I think you might possibly have read that already. (Non Fiction) Barefoot into Cyberspace by Becky Hogge is something I'm reading right now, and seems to be all about Wikileaks and the Open Rights group at the moment, but there might be a twist in a bit.

Becky recommended Master Switch by (I think Tim Wu), although I found it a bit hard going.

5:

Assuming sci-fi, or even speculative? Or anything?

(Not that I can remember clearly what I've read that was written in that time-frame, but it was heavily sci-fi.)

6:

Damn, all but Little Brother were not novels. Must read the *whole* question before answering the exam.

7:

For me probably Join Me by Danny Wallace.

A book about an accidental cult collective.

It's not so much the book, as the community that the book's about that matters. A large part of my social life is because I met a bunch of people in a pub, and realised that they were the people that book I'd loved was about. I think we're just into double digits with children born from couples who met directly because they Joined!

I've been a bit lax at doing Random Acts of Kindness this year, but it amazes me that there's still regular meet ups nearly a decade after the book came out.

8:

I'll have to second Don's remark. My first thought was, whatever the most important SFF (note the qualification) novel in the last decade was, it's not sitting on my shelves at the moment.

I'm thinking about game-changers such as LOTR, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, Neuromancer, the Mars Trilogy... It's chilling to think how old they are. I'd like to include Accelerando, but that's disqualified by the rules.

At the moment, I'm reduced to saying "Harry Potter," but that's more for storytelling and black swan success than originality.

Hopefully I'll come up with a better answer later in the day.

9:

Blindsight by Peter Watts.

Why? It gets into a lot of things


  • a teleportation drive that looks like it could work
  • how transhumanity looks goddamn painful
  • the possibility of a singularity where everyone retreats to a virtual environment
  • the idea of prehistoric vampires, resurrected by corporate greed
  • the possibility that sentience isn't a survival trait

Add in some good to great writing and its worth reading.

I'll also toss in Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol books (Collapsium, The Wellstone, Lost in Transmission and To Crush the Moon) which brought us a pretty detailed set of ideas of what a post mortal society looks like, programmable matter, widespread teleportation, extensive terraforming and why extrasolar colonies even with all that are likely a dicey proposition.

Finally, two from Karl Schroeder - Lady of Mazes. Why? Because it extensively plays with nanotechnology, augmented reality and human nature. Worth it.

10:

Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure I haven't read it. However, I immediately thought of "Down and out in the magic kingdom" by Cory Doctorow. He is not my favourite writer, nor do I think it's the best plot ever. But it was the first book that really introduced me to trust-based economies and how they might work. I'm pretty sure I'll be rereading and referencing it a few times in the future.

I'll have to keep thinking on more novels. Trying to answer the question makes me think I read too much "soft" sci-fi and fantasy.

11:

Is it cheating to suggest "Shaping Things" by Bruce Sterling?

Why? Spimes.

12:

Neal Stephenson's Anathem. The author at his peak. A complicated brilliant book that stretched the reader's mind. Very few books really challenge the way that readers conceptualize things and Anathem pulled this off.

13:

Neal Stephenson's Anathem (or indeed the Baroque Trilogy)

Alternatively, Peter F Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga (Trains for mass transport through wormholes!)

14:

I'm going to second "Speed of Dark" at least as "the most important novel published since 2000 that I have read". I endorse the proposer's reasoning, and add that it's good enough that my mum has read it at least twice.

15:

Kim Stanley Robinson's Science and Capital Trilogy ("Forty Signs of Rain", "Fifty Degrees Below", and "Sixty Days and Counting").

Robinson synthesizes a lot of research on climate change into a good narrative, with the goal of trying to work out how the dinosaurs of existing bureaucracy can be invovled in helping out. This last part is really important for me because I love his concentration on the quotidian aspects of real-world scientific and technical work. There is a lot of talk about funding, inter-agency turf wars, and political maneuvering. And he really makes it exciting.

Not quite as heady as the Mars books, but a very important, realist discussion of climate change.

16:

Flying a small and improbable flag for Francis Spufford's Red Plenty.

Radically innovative economic-historical novel, interleaving fact and fiction, exhaustively referenced, and suffused with this kind of bittersweet regret for a cybernetic socialism that never quite made it.

A pre-history of an abortive post-scarcity, structured something like Accelerando or Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, with linked sections, time jumps, and returning viewpoint characters. The chapters set in Akademgorodok, in particular, are up there with the best of them.

17:

Explicitly without repeating anything anyone said above, and limiting myself to "speculative fiction," I offer three candidates; the leading candidate at any one moment depends a great deal on what kind of mood I'm in.

Richard Powers, Generosity

Dan Simmons, Ilium/Olympos

José Saramago, Seeing

(Sorry about the US-centric links, but I had to choose something...)

Of course, "important" means something a great deal different to someone who spent as much time pawing through Orwell's papers in pursuit of dissertation material as I did; and it's not congruent with "best," either.

18:

Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle . . . masterpiece.

19:

Important? For me, Rainbows End. Aside from the whole Google-book-eating-machine McGuffin, I think it deals realistically with the demographic pulse of digital non-natives *and* the impact of disruptive technology (in the form of massive uptake of mediated reality). Plus, virtual furries! Very thought-provoking, other than the virtual furries part.

But I know you've already read that.

Enjoyable? Guilty pleasure plug, Peter F. Hamilton's Praxis trilogy. Tedious, dangerous space travel, dogma, and a bourgeois revolution!

Do I win a prize?

20:

I endorse Anathem.

It changed the way i think about contemporary society and my current role in it.

21:

Light by M. John Harrison and Atomized by Houellebecq.

22:

hmm. I've a lot of reading catch up to do. And can there really be a definitive answer. Anyway, i'll submit The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene. A fascinating and very accessable book for the layman trying to acquaint himself with... Well, the universe, as realised by current theory at least.

23:

i'll let "Shaping Things" in.

24:

What's your justification for the Hamilton book?

Merely painting a picture of mass transportation through [insert Treknobabble here] doesn't sound terribly important to me ...

25:

You forgot to justify your choices. Disqualified (unless you can explain why they're important.)

26:

Hmm. Is that a work of fiction? (Hint: I asked for novels.)

27:

Anathem. Why? Because it successfully tackles the extremely ambitious task of combining philosophy (by essentially rewriting Plato's dialogues) with science, while still being highly entertaining. It does this without giving short shrift to either, IMO. It is therefore important, as opposed to merely awesome, for the fact that raises the standard of what we can hope for from authors.

28:

HINT: I am very disappointed that none of you have queried the meanings of the words important and novel.

29:

I have to add my vote for Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Possibly the best books I've ever read. Engrossing, entertaining and thought provoking, evoking a very strong picture of the time and society. Wickedly funny and packed full of interesting facts.(Really looking forward to his new book "Reamde".)

After that, I'd nominate:
Neal Stephenson's "Anathem"
Al Reynolds "Revelation Space" and "Chasm City"
Richard Morgan's "Altered Carbon" (which gave me the same feeling my first reading of "Neuromancer" did) and "Black Man"

(Due to the rules, I can't include "Accelerando" or "Glasshouse".)

30:

The "Prince of Nothing" trilogy by R.Scott Bakker.

Because it transforms epic fantasy from a navel-gazing exercise into a journey that makes the readers examine their real-world assumptions and beliefs. The series has flaws and I don't think anyone can read it and remain entirely comfortable, but that's kinda the point.

31:

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. ... Engrossing, entertaining and thought provoking, evoking a very strong picture of the time and society. Wickedly funny and packed full of interesting facts.

More than that: it was a sugar-coated exegesis on the Birth Of The Modern, circa 1649-1725, with a special emphasis on the evolution of economics and the development of science (from the alchemists to the Royal Society). Flawed in some ways (although writing a project that large is inevitably going to be structurally difficult: so few people attempt it that there are few heuristics for how to structure it well) but incredibly interesting if you slept through your history classes at school.

32:

Are novels important now? don't get me wrong - I'm the proud owner of three different library cards (to help with the buying habit), and get extremely twitchy if there is nothing in the vicinity to read - but has any novel been published recently that had the same effect as say Dickins in bringing up social awareness?

Hasn't this fallen over to TV and film documentaries?

33:

LIGHT by M. John Harrison has to be one of the most important works of fiction of the past 20 years at least. Impeccably written, wondefully plotted, challenging and highly readable at the same time.

34:

@ Charlie post 25.
Oops. No ignorant asides about Super String Theory being so much fictional wibble... ;) Just Perils of me trying to read and post between work calls. And not doing either very efficiently.

I'm stumped for a proper answer. Definitely need to seak out some of these suggestions.

35:

I dunno about important, or novel. And I'm rubbish at talking about books. Or dancing about architecture.

but here we go (everyone's probably read all these anyway).

Anathem by Neal Stephenson, for reasons previously stated and because it's an action story with gigantic chunks of philosophy and that seems rare these days.

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts, because it made me laugh so much it woke up my neighbours. It's important to laugh that loud now and then. "On" is a great book too, with a neat premise.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Years of Rice and Salt, for alt history that doesn't feature nazis, the American Civil War etc

Europe Central by William Vollmann, for people who need to know too much about WW2.

Charlie Brooker's collections of Guardian articles - he watches shoddy media so the rest of us don't have to. Not fiction, but maybe worth a look.

hmmm I'm fond of Richard Morgan's Kovacs series but I don't suppose it's important or novel. Struck me as a sort of novelisation of ideas from 2000AD comics. Massive fun.

While googling to make sure of publication dates of the above, I discovered there's a book I want to read but haven't - "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore", which on the title alone seems like a real hoot.

36:

Typically 'important' means some combination of 'artistically ambitious' and 'released to aspirational acclaim' (see Pynchon, Franzen, DeLillo, et al.). At least on the American scene, a few novels that qualify by that definition are _Freedom_, _Against the Day_, and _The Pale King_ (add _2666_ for some international flavor). I am not current enough to think of anything like that by a woman or a person of color (at least not with ay confidence or fluency).

If by important you mean influential, then you have to pick genres, as spheres of influence rarely overlap. In SFF, I suspect that you'd have to go back further than 10 years to get the roots of the current steampunk/zombie/paranormal romance landscape. The last rises from Buffy and the phenomenal success of the Anita Blake series, who the fuck cares about zombies, and steampunk I think has been reintegrated after a vastly influential digression into the field of graphic novels and video game design.

In conclusion, the most important novel of the last decade plus is _Double Vision_, by Tricia Sullivan, because it and the novels that followed it are some of the few things published in SFF that just didn't fit into my preconceptions of the field without being performatively transgressive to little effect (the usual suspects).

37:

I'm not sure if I can point to the most socially important novel of the past decade. Answering that would really only speak to my community, and answering for the entirety of the literature-reading globe would inevitably result in a very bland, generalist title.

So for me personally, the most important novels I've read in the last decade are either:

1) William Gibson's Blue Ant books, because they pick the scab off everyday life and expose the pulsing currents of technology and communication beneath. They explain how mysterious the process of de-mystifying the world can be.

2) Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. There has never been a more uplifting book about incest, madness, torture, war or ghosts. I wept. It's a stunning example of how to handle difficult topics in a magical way without cheapening or sentimentalizing them.

Manga-wise, it's probably important that so much of Tezuka's backlist has been translated and published for new, younger markets. We've been dealing with his legacy for so long that it's nice to finally see the roots of it all. We can't really speak to it critically without experiencing some of it, and beforehand the available texts really didn't offer the breadth or depth of his work.

To be snide, I'll add that Going Rogue or Decision Points were fairly important pieces of fiction.

38:

The Caryatids - Bruce Sterling
Accurately schizoid, geopolitically interesting, and a damn good read.

39:

I second Blindsight by Peter Watts
It's some of the other (you've written some good things on the subject) best nearish future singularity-ish scifi. In it's case it assumes a stalled singularity or just one that left us behind and that we can't understand. It looks at what's left behind even with some decent enhancements and how those enhancements might be problematic for us and also how human nature doesn't particularly suit us to advancing much further.

I'm especially looking forward to his next book in the same universe and his other new book. (But I think you already knew all this, didn't I see your name in the book's accolades list, and also haven't we detected some of his themes creeping into your later books especially glass house and rule 34?)

So yeah, you and he I feel are realistically examining potential futures better than anyone else right now.

40:

If we're talking about "important" rather than "entertaining," I would say it's Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge. This book is basically a "likely-futures" paper done up as a (pretty decent) novel. It is chock-full of (what seem to be) prescient descriptions of technologies of the next few decades and their social effects. Of course, it could all end up to be wrong, but it was clear that Vinge has thought about the future of computers in great depth and detail. It was thought-provoking and insightful to see his vision of a possible tomorrow. Of course he had to toss in a singularity-level AI, but I took that with the grain of salt.

I'm also really glad to see Shaping Things on here. In the long run, Sterling may be remembered as one of the guys who really got it long before everybody else.

A couple of post-scripts:
1. I'd like to take a moment to bitch and whine about Blackout? I tried like hell to read that book, and it's just not that good. I can't believe it won the Hugo.

2. My co-authored book (first one) just got a positive review and I'm really happy about it. Science 2.0 review of "Ego".

41:

Well what is important to me might not be to you, but I value any book that challenges my perceptions of the future. I'm somewhat restricted by the type of books I read, and Acellerando is out, so perhaps TINAG wins? The recent financial turmoil has shown how fragile the markets can be, but I never really thought about the consequences until TINAG came along. Perhaps it could be more 'important' on a global scale if more people had read it?

42:

"The Tyrant's Novel" by Thomas Kenneally, but I recognise that it probably has more impact with Australians. I suspect the world is heading to bigger and bigger refugee populations so Kenneally's plea for sane and humane treatment of asylum seekers really struck a chord.

Within SF I'd rate "Building Harlequin's Moon" as one of the most original. Building a moon as a response to an unplanned accident? That was new to me, and it still asks the kind of questions about who we want to be that for me is at the heart of SF.

43:

Pretty sure The Caryatids failed as fiction, but it achieved a staggering density-of-ideas, and did a good job of conveying the psychological sense of the-end-of-capitalism/history.

Might help if you read it as the offspring of Gulliver's Travels and some kind of professional foresight report. Can see it being the 2000s equivalent of something like Stand of Zanzibar.

44:

I'll ditto Blindsight by Peter Watts. It gets so much right.

Blindsight goes into three things that worry me: the first is how technology disenfranchises those unable or unwilling to keep up, and how those who do keep up are progressively maimed by it. The military expert whose brain is hyper-segmented so she can track a dozen robots doing their things all at once; the sensory expert who has sacrificed his human senses and wired them into the ship so he can feel x-rays and see gamma; the leader who's been engineered to be a leader by also being the perfect psychopath; and the linguistics expert who hosts a half-dozen personalities in her skull so they can disassemble the target language faster.

The second is how even for ordinary people, technology dehumanizes. As an erotica writer, I was fascinated by Watts' observation that technology can perversely satisfice human desires. By the time of the setting of the book, robots and virtual reality have so satisficed the sexual market that dealing with real people, with their real problems and their meaty, sweaty bodies, was considered kinky.

Trey gets the third thing wrong: it isn't sentience that's not a survival trait. It's consciousness. Watts goes into great detail, in an extended bibliography no less, about the distinction, and points out that many things show signs of both intelligence (being able to solve problems) and sentience (being aware and reactive to outside influences) without being conscious, without being able to think about ourselves and our place in the universe.

I know people love sensawunda. Watts is the anti-sensawunda. When the linguist figures out what's really going on, when she delivers the final blow that tells the POV character, it was, for me, a sensahorra unlike any a book has delivered. It wasn't the shock of The Wasp Factory or Use Of Weapons, it was "Oh my ancient gods, if he's right, we are all so fucking doomed."

45:

I just wanted to echo the Blindsight comment. I sort of think (no offense Charlie, you're a right there in the top five) that Watts is the most important writer in SF at the moment. Blindsight wasn't just a novel riff on transhumanism, vampires, post-cyberpunk and space travel (telematter is unique, I think) but it was also a novel first contact novel. He literally covered new ground on pretty much the first trope of the genre.

Continuing the 'genre importance list from someone who is a couple years out of date' I'd add Coalescent from Baxter. Subtracting the last two chapters about the future, it's easily the best SF for people who think they like SF books I've read in a decade.

46:

I really enjoyed Daemon and Freedom by Daniel Suarez. I think that to appreciate the story both books have to be read in conjunction.

My favorite idea is the notion of the real world and the virtual world creating a living game where earned credits could be spent on useful items or services. Humans love games. So, what if the game could benefit society?

Though there are apps that take advantage of our love of earning points, Foursquare and Shopkick for example, they usually are for personal gain. Points and discounts.

Waze on the other hand satisfies our love of earning points and instant gratification but the information it collects allows other users a better navigation experience while driving. This game is designed to help the whole group.

47:

I'm going to be deliberately contrarian and say that Don's precisely correct: the most important SFF novel hasn't been written yet.

Here's why.

Right now, we're in the Cambrian explosion of whatever the future of publishing is going to be. As some of you may have noticed, publishing is going through a bit of a paradigm shift right now. It's now easier to get a book published by Smashwords than it is to get it looked at by a traditional publisher, and eBook readers now make it easy to own an enormous library without having enormous shelves. Easier to find the books you want to read, too.

Nobody knows what this new publishing world is going to look like, especially for SFF, but really for any book. In that sense, the last ten years are prologue, and I suspect that literary historians of the future will probably focus more on The Next Big Thing.

The Next Big Thing will be the story (call it a novel) which not only gets people reading it, but gives authors the lesson they need of how to write a book in the new publishing industry. It will inspire a new industry, just as LOTR did (or rap did, or hip-hop, etc).

I have no idea what that book will be, or I'd write it myself. I'm just pretty sure that we'll see it within the next five years. Once it's out, a majority of the books of the last ten years will fade into its shadow.

48:

I'll bite.

Charlie, can you define the terms 'important' and 'novel' for the purposes of this discussion?

49:

Important =/= just a book that's entertaining.

Another vote for Anathem here - philosophy of science expressed in an enormously readable way, pitched at just the right level for a bright newbie. Important in that it's probably bringing a lot of useful basics from the European history of science to people otherwise not terribly aware of them (including myself).


Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi as a rather striking perspective on GM crops etc.

Shame Kim Stanley Robinson's best stuff is too old to qualify (I don't rate the recent climate-change ones very highly), though everything he writes I guess you can call important just for the way it makes you think about the value landscapes have from the sheer pleasure he seems to take in them and in describing them (albeit somewhat repetitively if you read several books in a row).

50:

The most important novel is surely, as noted above, Harry Potter, because it somehow kept the form of the novel relevant for a new generation of potential and more-or-less avid readers, despite how crappy it is.

OTOH for me, the most important novel of the period is Accelerando! because it provided me with a good old fashioned brain sexing at a time when most of SF just felt tired - but it is disqualified by the rules... so the next thing on the list would be a +1 for Blindsight, for all of the above reasons, plus the fact that just when I lost hope that anyone else can provide cranial humping similar to OGH, Watts came along and did it longer and harder. :-)

51:

You didn't say whether you wanted to restrict attention to SF!

I'm going to assume you don't, and that you want to read about something else than sciencey whiz-a-majigs that go BOOM! all the time. Most of the posts seem to think you live and breathe SF and therefore read nothing but :-)

Unfortunately, for the purposes of answering the question, I don't really read much "proper" literature at all; SF and books with SF elements in them are plenty to keep me occupied and entertained. My loss, I know, but there are only so many hours in a day...

Also, a lot of the literary big shots tend to use SFnal elements nowadays (think Mitchell, Atwood, Houllebecq, Chabon, McCarthy) and when I want something a bit different from my normal fare, I turn to books like that. I might very well be biased in selecting my "more literary" fare, however.

That all being said, I think that I'm going to refrain from answering, and head to the bookshop to widen my range of reading material.

52:

It occurs to me that Charlie has probably already read Blindsight, since many people have recommended it to him over the past few years, but for others, if you haven't, it's notoriously hard to find, the full text is available at Peter Watt's Website under an CC ANS-2.5 license:

Blindsight

53:

Very few people here suggesting anything outside of the SCI-FI ghetto - but I think that Our Gracious Host already knows about any novel that might be qualified as important in this specific subsection of literature.

So here's what I think are the most important novels (period) in the last ten years or so - not my personal favorites, not the ones with the best ideas, but the ones that influenced the literary debate the most, in my humble opinion:

2666, by Roberto Bolaño: A book about literature and obsession, by the greatest latin american writer since Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and whose style seems like a dialectic contradiction of Marquez')- it's a beast of a book that can't be done justice by any description, so I might as well use wikipedia's: "2666 depicts the horror of the 20th century through a wide cast of characters, including the secretive, Pynchon-like German writer Archimboldi - whom four literary critics are engaged on a quest to find."

So, this 10 year period includes translations? If it does, I recommend The Savage Detectives, by the same author: it's his first masterpiece, and a lot easier to digest than 2666 (IMHO). It's a narrative made from the testimonies of dozens of different characters about a pair of characters trying to find out about a ficticious literary movement called "visceral realism"; this novel has been described as "the novel that Borges would have written."

But it's not cookie-cutter anglocentric literature, so I doubt anyone here's gonna read either of those.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan, is a very obvious choice, really, simply because it's very good. There's a movie adaptation out there, so I'm gonna spare you of a description. Solar, his most recent novel, might be a better read for sci-fi enthusiasts, though: it chronicles the (mis)adventures of a nobel-winning scientist tackling Global Warming by creating more effective photovoltaic energy. It's what sci-fi would read like if your average main characters were living, flawed people more concerned about sex and petty squabbles than fixing the world's problems.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is definitely the novel that tried the hardest to be the most important of this decade - it might as well be titled Generic Great American Novel. I've heard that Corrections (2001), is still Franzen's best effort, but I haven't read that.

So, six suggestions of what might have been the most important novel of this decade - all very safe, very obvious choices, and there's at least ten more that would fit perfectly in the description, but time's short. My personal suggestion would be the Savage Detectives, but that would be cheating, since only the translation's been published this decade.

54:

Harry Potter's not a novel, it's a series. It is also a series that the author spent a lot of time creating, and it fits together with surprising coherence. (I just read the whole of it for the first time last month.) Critics make a big deal of Rowling's clunky language, and it is: at the sentence level, Rowling is a mundane writer. However, as a creator of character and plot, she is absolutely first-rate, and it was a pleasure to see her tie elements from two, three, or ever four books back into a satisfying whole.

<snark>It's a shame she lacks ambition. With it and a bit more practice, she could be the next Lois McMaster Bujold.</snark>

55:

Since Mr Stross has not yet clarified, I am going to define "important" as "of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being" and "novel" as "a new thing in the world."

Viewed in that light I think there is a strong case to be made for "The Wire." As the apotheosis of longform television drama it is definitely a new thing in the world, and lots of people have noted its Dickensian-ness. (I think it's closer to Trollope, but my passion for Trollope is a minority taste.) The Wire is a portrait of Baltimore and a diagnosis of the institutional corruption and systemic paralysis endemic to American cities, but it's also a completely absorbing and heartbreaking narrative.

Most of all, though, I think it forced America's chattering classes to listen to conversations among Black men. And you had to listen hard. In doing so, I think The Wire paved the way for the first Black presidency. (And I don't think the world would have survived a McCain-Palin administration :)

56:

I'll put my two cents in for Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

It was one of the first big post-9/11 novels, and dealt explicitly with the trauma of that event without pandering.

It is, to my mind, one of the best 'SF Novels' that isn't SF: the tech is all (or very nearly all) present day at the time of writing, but feels extremely future oriented. Or, to quote Gibson, 'The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.'

While feeling very SF-like, it deals with a lot of subjects that aren't historically very SF but are very topical and important on a day-to-day basis: marketing and fashion, for example. (My big disappointment in Zero Future is that the ending has a very SF-like twist, sufficient that I wanted to throw the book against the wall, because the rest of it had felt so grounded.)

It also has just plain fantastic writing. The idea of jet lag being caused by soul movement delay has hung in my head for years.

57:

At the moment I'm reading Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City, which is one of those self-consciously literary novels that uses SFnal tropes to produce the effect of frisson in a very self-consciously literary way.

It's by no means perfect, but some parts of it are very effective indeed. There's one chapter set at the funeral of an Asimov-esque SF writer/working scientist which is quite clearly a celebration of, and a musing on, certain notions of modernist progress that are now dead.

Lethem is writing in the wake of a very significant event - well, an event that is at least significant in the recent history of New York, the 'chronic city' of his title. Images that evoke the aftermath of 9/11 have been strung throughout the book in the chapters that I've read so far, as have evocations of terror and paranoia. The destruction of the Twin Towers - modernist architectural expressions of a certain type of belief in progress - is never explicitly mentioned, but it's quite obvious that he's trying to get to grips with that event and its aftermath, and what it means in the specific context of New York.

This is certainly not a realist novel, however. A recurring part of the narrative consists of messages from the hero's fiancee, the only woman on a Russian/US space station trapped in orbit amidst a net of Chinese orbital mines. How this will eventually tie in with events on the ground I don't know - but I'm certainly enjoying the ride.

Literary chaps who use SF techniques are still pretty rare - but with Lethem around you probably don't need anymore. I don't know about Chronic City being the most significant novel of the last ten years, but it's definitely the most significant Jonathan Lethem novel of the past decade.

58:

While I didn't turn up before the HINT, I was stumped for answering the question as I read down the comments.
Important for whom? Comment-ers here are a self selecting bunch. With self selecting foci. Charlie doesn't specify a genre for his novel. But which of us voluntarily wanders into the general fiction section of of our bookshop/library of choice? (I wouldn't know where to start.) Is this remis of us? - It seems we are perfectly capable of ravaging the popular and not so popular science shelves.

Stories that I have read over the last ten years have remained important to me if they chimed with something within or changed how I perceived the world around me. as well as being entertaining enough for a re-read.

Cory's Little Brother and WTF could be said to be important in that they seem like novelisations of pretty important subjects. But after checking my fiction shelves (at 9 linear metres, half that of the non fiction) what strikes me is what' i've kept hanging around (not that I recycle many books.). While I'm not attempting to conflate important with classic, or with influential, it seems readers read what they know, as writers supposedly write what they know, so any list I draw up is going to have some pretty pronounced biases.
In addition fashions (and preoccupations) change, evolve. Is it too soon to know what the decades important novels are going to be? What standards we are going to judge them by i.e. those that have represented our then current concerns: bio-tech, the singularity, social media, tricky bits of architecture (that's a Walter Jon Williams allusion*, which really belongs to Steven Jay Gould), the list might be endless. Or the quality of the story telling

I don't even know which novel was/is the most important to me ( over so long a time period), I just add head space to appropriate their message when need be.

ps. I'm sure charlie's got a big enough slash pile to keep him happy.
pps. I really wanted to like Red Pleanty, but I found it unreadable.
ppps. 'The stranger' by Max Frei was fun and very, very Russian
pppps. Definitely out of parentheses now

must post be for loose relevance.
*Implied Spaces

59:

I read many fewer novels in the 2000s than I did in the 1990s.

60:

I fifteenth (or so) Neal Stephenson's Anathem. And recommend Kim Stanley Robinson's "Science in the Capital" trilogy if you're looking for recommendations on what to read in 2111 - but certainly not in 2011.

Why? Starting with the latter: I found it rather unimaginative and less than inspiring for anyone who didn't live under a rock in the last decade. Sorry, I think this is one of his weakest works. Why the recommendation for reading it in 2111? Well, by then nobody will have experienced the last decade and it will make for interesting reading, no matter how things will turn out.

Why Anathem? It manages to give an overview of philosophy very close but not identical to what we have, using new metaphors for old concepts - which makes this aspect especially interesting and thought-provoking for those who only have a rough knowledge of those concepts. (Professors of philosophy should probably look elsewhere.) At the same time, it holds up somewhat distorting mirror to many other aspects of our own past, present and future.

But why do I regard it as an important novel? Because of the way it ends - which it manages in a way that is neither thoroughly optimistic nor pessimistic, but simply leaving things open. Changes happened, nobody can quite figure out what those changes will mean - it's the same world out there, but it's all new.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems to be the first novel in recent times, that described the possibility of genuinely new futures without an ideological bias. An excellent commentary to current developments in our world, that manages to avoid destroying the message by not spelling it out.

61:

For non-novels, I agree. I have kept it to hand on my bookshelf alongside my major science books.

62:

If important is taken to mean "interrogates the contemporary situation," then I'd have to weigh in behind Peter Watts's Blindsight too. Not, of course, because we have to deal with first contact, vampires, the post-human maimed and the stimulating mix thereof he presents; but because it (much like Accelerando) deals with one of the major anxieties of the present time expressed in a generational metaphor: that of being eclipsed by the accelerating pace of technological change. For instance, it's funny for all of the supposed alienness of the scramblers, they resemble nothing so much as present-day script-kiddies who can use computing technology without having the slightest idea how it works. Back in the day, I had to learn to program a computer one line of code at a time. Like Watts's scramblers, most kids now have no need to be conscious of how the machine works--they just use it without understanding.

And it's this, on a grand scale, that makes me think Blindsight is so important. Despite its dystopian, hard SF setting, it's really about now, about how with every day that passes even the most bleeding-edge savant is superannuated by technological developments that are utterly indifferent to 'human' values. It is, in short, a book with balls--and as such, should be required reading for every Kensington novelist who imagines that the world begins and ends in the upper tax bracket.

63:

The word "important" is difficult to assess, especially for something that has to be recent. I'm going to go with a meaning of "has a high probability of causing meaningful changes in how you think, or at least of deepening your understanding of important concepts"

The first novel that came to mind was Stephenson's Anathem, which has been mentioned several times already. As amusing as it is to have Mo be a "combat epistemologist," we rarely see her doing actual philosophy; Anathem turns the practice of philosophy into the actual key to solving a major international crisis, and forces considerable reflection on Plato.

On the other hand, books like Anathem and pretty much everything by Kim Stanley Robinson feel like they're trying to be portentious and weighty. I thought I'd try to buck the trend by thinking of an important light-hearted novel from the last ten years, and nothing's come to me.

So instead I'm going to severely buck the rules and recommend a book even farther on the "I mean to be a serious, weighty tome" side of the ledger, and challenge you to consider reading something other than a novel. Instead of reading science fiction about philosophy, I'm going to recommend that you read some actual philosophy: Amartya Sen's Idea of Justice. The book is a serious attack on rooting theories of "the good" or "the just" in a utopian vision, or in a vision of perfect institutions, but is instead a call to focus on incremental justice. His ideas on justice as democracy also seem likely to interact in interesting ways with your focus on a heavily networked future. You do a good job of thinking very hard about the sociology of technology, but it would be interesting to see you address more of the ethics of technology.

A much lighter Amartya Sen book that I think might also be particularly fruitful for you would be his Identity and Violence. I originally saw it as almost a throw-away against the greater body of Sen's work, but the more I look at it the more I see in it, to the point where I'm now assigning it in my economics course. Sen challenges Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis by arguing that humans have many identities, and that a huge task of violent rhetoric is to get people to suppress most of those identities and see themselves along only one dimension, which then makes it easy to turn anyone different on that dimension into the enemy. How changes in technology will change how we view our identity and our connections to others, and how it will change how easy it is to manipulate our perceptions of identity, seem like the sorts of questions you might fruitfully consider.

64:

I'm going to second the Suarez books. I didn't even think they were that great, as novels qua novels, but what interests me is the tight loop between various netizens and the author. I know this isn't novel in terms of having not happened before, but I think the ease and flow of how it happened points to this sort of collaboration happening more.

Other than that, though, it is notable mainly for bridging the modern larval form of U.S. american survivalist impulse with techno-utopian science fiction. Yawn.

65:

Twilight. It seems like a whole genre has spun off and gained popularity off of it...

66:

Charlie, can you define the terms 'important' and 'novel' for the purposes of this discussion?

If I did so, it would kill the interest the discussion holds for me :)

67:

Odds are I haven't read the really important novels of the last decade. But I can try and add some books that could be important.

Lavinia by Ursula Leguin, for exploration of the responsibility of writers toward their subjects.

Air by Geoff Ryman, for it's exploration of the influence on modern network technology on our isolated cultures - even if its finish is a bit over the top.

Novels are one of the ways we learn of other places, and books that bring a realistic portrayal to a new and large audience are important. There are bound to be really good examples I missed but as an example I submit:
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (with the caveat it is a bit too old), for portraying Botswana as it [probably] is.

68:

"The Wire" is disqualified for being television. (Ditto any movies or video games or operas you care to nominate. I'm looking for novels, not other media or non-fiction.)

69:

If we're talking about "important" rather than "entertaining," I would say it's [i]Rainbows End[/i] by Vernor Vinge. This book is basically a "likely-futures" paper done up as a (pretty decent) novel. It is chock-full of (what seem to be) prescient descriptions of technologies of the next few decades and their social effects. Of course, it could all end up to be wrong, but it was clear that Vinge has thought about the future of computers in great depth and detail. It was thought-provoking and insightful to see his vision of a possible tomorrow. Of course he had to toss in a singularity-level AI, but I took that with the grain of salt.

I'm also really glad to see [i]Shaping Things[/i] on here. In the long run, Sterling may be remembered as one of the guys who really got it long before everybody else.

70:

On a strictly personal level, I'll say "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon. Doesn't entirely work as a mystery, but paints a nice portrait of its society. I pick it because I'd already been working on a novel with a similar society, but a future SF take on it, and let me see that it could work.

For a purely SF pick, I think I'll go with MacLeod's "Engine City" (I was going to say "Cosmonaut Keep", but it's from 2000, so I'll fudge and say the whole trilogy) it introduced me to SF with lefty politics, and economics.


Charlie @30; More than that: it was a sugar-coated exegesis on the Birth Of The Modern

Just the reason why I have no interest in "Anathem" (and, I think, MacLeod did something similar in "Learning the World"). It just never sounded terribly interesting to me. I heard nearly as many negative comments about it as positive, add the fact that I've seen tons of copies on the clearance tables of various bookstores tells me that it was oversold (in more than one way). His new one sounds like a step back to me, more like the 'Stephen Bury' books, which I've no interest in either.

71:

Ok that's a lot of recommendations for Anathem, which I did read and did enjoy but I feel compelled to outline why I didn't list it: It was enjoyable, but I'm not at all sure on its "importance". It did weave an interesting story about a world with similar technology to ourselves, who stalled before a singularity, and then trudged on repeating our last few hundred years of history for 3600 years...
It did mix in a lot of philosophy and ultimately did talk about why stalling progress is a bad survival technique even if you find the tech confusing (possibly a critique of current day American anti intellectualism :))

However my big problem with it is with the psychology. While other books (especially Blindsight) explore where psych is going (ie. consciousness is just a top level observer, we have a lot going on under the surface not entirely under our control) and are backed up by a lot of current experiments and basically are just a great exposure to cutting edge psych, Anethem picks up and toots the horn of "Consciousness is a quantum thing" which I found... well... not helpful to explore. It's pretty strongly dismissed by everyone as nothing more than a novel pipe dream that has little to no basis and isn't terrible useful. It just seemed like a big waste.

The story of Anathem is a fun read, but it's hard for me to overlook the rather large failing of one of it's main thesis's. I think even his much older Diamond age has more useful things to say about where we are going the Anathem.

Ha and I'm sadly unenthused about his newest book "Reamde" that's coming out that is about crime in MMORPGs... gee... anyone heard that one before?

I guess to me I read to try and get a handle on who I am, and where we are going, and being flagrantly wrong or repeating what's been done doesn't get me very excited.

72:

I'm going to cast my vote for All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson. The time frame is just a bit over 10+ years but it was one of the few novels I can remember in that time frame that I could not put down and read in one sitting. One character's name... Konrad.

73:

I find this interesting -- the Anathem/Capital split on important and interesting.

The capital series is the best novel I've seen describing what it's been like to live through the last decade, if you haven't been living under a rock. For people who don't live inside their own heads, the experience of "living in science fiction" where it's almost impossible to ascertain what political reality is, is illuminated -- one of the most important roles for literature, to give us words and metaphors for our actual experiences.

On the other hand, Anathem is for people who live in millenarian concents. It's a retreat from that very experience, where the political reality is a distraction. It's a whole different experience, the world from a mathematician's rather than a scientist's point of view. Deep rather than wide.

74:

What can I say but "nothing I have read or heard about".
I think the day of the "important" novel is over, just as the era of "important" music. At one time rock'n'roll really did change the world, or at least helped to. But that era ended circa 1990 IMHO. Not sure when the last important novel in that vein appeared, but it was probably contemporary with the last "important" play. Movies can still claim some importance but I think their day is coming to an end as well.

75:

I don't have anything to add to this discussion except a minor rant. As an SFascist of the old school, I find the entire field rather nauseating these days. I can't think of a single recent SF novel with the ambition and big ideas of the old masters like Asimov, van Vogt, Herbert or Clarke. I read SF to escape our microscopic civilization into worlds where galactic emperors, alien overlords and cosmic messiahs reign, not to be reminded of human pettiness on every page. The wretched postmodern sensibility seems to have infected everything in our collapsing culture, including at last my beloved genre. The only upside to this cultural decadence is that it has made me quite militant, and motivated me to produce something worthy of this great genre. The only SF novel worth reading in the 21st century is the one I'm going to write!

76:
incredibly interesting if you slept through your history classes at school.

Where did you go to school? University? If that's a product of the UK's school system, damn, I'm impressed. In my neck of the woods, you'd have to have majored in early modern history to have been unsurprised by the Baroque Cycle. I liked it because I enjoyed "Birth of the Modern".

77:

re: William T Vollmann (Europe Central), not SF, mntioned by, um, me.

I've seen his work discussed online, but I've never met anyone else who has read his stuff, except people I've lent/given copies to. And of those, nobody's got back to me with an opinion. I really don't understand why and in my opinion he's one of America's greatest living writers. I'm not a writer, I did very badly in Lit at school, and I lack the ability to write about literature, except to say, damn he's good. The amount of work he puts into a novel is truly staggering.

Nobody interested?

78:

Our Charlie, he's not stupid.

I'd just like to point out that my 9 metres of fiction does include non-genre, works published world wide over the last 2000+ years and genre inherited from the parents. *Looks for dad's Alice's adventures in wonderland*

Thanks for the recommendations people.

79:

Unfortunately (for me at least) Rainbows End felt too much like Spinach Reading: I wasn't enjoying the book, I was reading it because it was "good for me." I got about a third of the way through it before I realized I couldn't care less what happened to the characters and put the book down.

80:

Assuming you're not trolling, I find your claims a little bizarre for a self-identified SF fan.

"I read SF to escape our microscopic civilization into worlds where galactic emperors, alien overlords and cosmic messiahs reign, not to be reminded of human pettiness on every page."

If this is so, I suggest you go read the New Testament--King James version if you like the literary frills. You'll find no end of messiahs, emperors and overlords there. In fact, you'll even find a few denunciations of human pettiness too.

81:

Perdido Street Station, maybe? Arrival of a major new talent, a nearly undeniable argument for genre-as-literature, and a page-turner to boot.

82:
Sen challenges Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis by arguing that humans have many identities, and that a huge task of violent rhetoric is to get people to suppress most of those identities and see themselves along only one dimension

Interesting idea. There's a huge history of bureaucracy being tied with a singular identity -- as a matter of fact, the "soul" as a permanent fixed identity seems to appear across Eurasian at the same time as bureaucratic empires rise.

Maybe Google is more evil than anyone has given them credit for?

83:

For importance, I'll go with Stephenson's weighty Anathem like so many others; not because I've read it but because my girlfriend did about 5 months ago and since then it has reliably kept our bedroom door open through the summer when we need the window open but don't want the door to bang shut during the night in the event of a sudden strong draught, and in this way it has probably helped ensure continued sleep and productive days.

84:

I'm tempted to say Little Brother, but for me it's edged out by Ian McDonald's River of Gods.

While the plot isn't anything hugely innovative (at heart it's part Neuromancer-esque cyberpunk, part Singularity fiction), for me the setting is what makes it special. Ian McDonald has always been very good at the whole "SF in developing countries" thing and making the setting really come to life in a vivid way. His description of an India 40 years in the future really gripped my imagination, and the level of detail is staggering.

The reason I think it's an important novel is that it reflects the fact that nations that were previously dirt-poor are now growing into economic powers in their own right, and it's going to be interesting to watch how they grow, and how the world will adapt to them, over the next fifty-odd years. SF over the last fifty-odd years has been dominated by Western authors, settings and ideas, and just maybe, books like River of Gods will inspire people elsewhere in the world to write interesting SF from their own perspective.

85:

I would second China Miéville as one of the most important writers of the first decade of this century, at least in our genre-spectrum. Personally I'd rate his The City & The City as one of the most important books of the last ten years. It really is quite remarkable.

86:

I'd have to say that this thread is important, at least to authors, because it has already caused me to purchase two books: Blindsight, and Seeing Double. There's a (rather thin) argument that this is a novel approach to sales: encouraging your readers to buy the work of *other* authors.

So I'm changing my vote from Anathem to this thread.

87:

I think, if we use controversy as a measure of importance, we found a winner.

88:

I got no larger opinion; I read SF because I'm driven to, not because I spend time analyzing it.

I'm only commenting here because of the double mention of the Kovacs series, which is good, but causes me a sharp migraine every time I read it: Hungarian is not a Slavic language. Oy.

89:

On a personal scale, I'd go with Mieville's The City and the City. Because that was the first time I saw someone from the outside get a situation that's pretty personal for me -- actually, it was one of the very few times I saw anyone get it -- and, at the same time, it didn't stop at being about just one thing (Mieville's books almost never do, anyway). Plus it has the advantage of covering both the genre aspect and the non-genre aspect.

90:

Hmm...I could heartily endorse almost all of the books mentioned above with perhaps the exception of Hamilton....love his work - but it's standard meat and potatoes space opera. I'd like to propose Ian M. Banks, who has managed to take some very current issues (Jesus freaks, technology AS religion, right wing fascism, left wing paternalistic euro-democracy) and use his culture novels as a lens through which to examine them, among other things. I think "Surface Detail" is excellent and have been recommending it to everyone who asks.

91:

The City & The City is one of my favorite books, but I would say that Mieville's contender for Most Important Book of the Decade has to be Perdido Street Station - such a revolutionary book in its genre.

Oh, I'd say that GRRM's A Feast For Crows is a pretty danm important book too: It marks the moment A Song Of Ice and Fire went from "best damn thing since Tolkien" to "pretty decente fantasy books".

92:

Of course Harry Potter is a series, a series of novels, therefore pick any (likely the first) and let's say that's it. Rowling does grown as a writer as she progresses through the series, but she most certainly did not start as a first-rate master of plotting and characterization - the first few books were brimming with cliche after cliche in both departments and "make it up as you go along" plotting.

But that line of discussion is moot, since the big boys in the mix here, and with good reason, seem to be Anathem and Blindsight. Having picked the latter as my favourite, I don't see why some in the discussion insist that the important novel must come from outside the SF bracket. I do read outside the genre, yet would still wholeheartedly endorse Blindsight as a top pick for all the reasons already outlined by others above. OGH did formulate the post title somewhat ambiguously, but he did not directly ask for reading recommendations, he asked for the most important novel.

93:

The last two M Banks novels have not really impressed though... feels like he's churning them out and rehashing ideas now (the man has reached the point where he can't carry this pain/sadism thing any further and seems to lack ideas other than multiply it a shitload and write a whole book about a very repetitive and dull version of hell... though maybe that's intended as a comment on how lame a deliberately created hell would be due to smallness of minds of those responsible... ANYWAY)

But yeah. Look to Windward or Inversions could go on the list of important stuff I guess. Banks (no M) has been pretty uninteresting (quite an achievement for someone with his level of writerly skill) for the last few years too, sadly.


And yes, stuck in the Scifi genre here because though I've read a lot of great books of all kinds in the last few years, I can't point to any novels (academic works are another issue entirely) whose ideas have struck me as important. Whereas Scifi books at least are pretty good at making their big ideas seem new and interesting.

94:

There's a huge history of bureaucracy being tied with a singular identity -- as a matter of fact, the "soul" as a permanent fixed identity seems to appear across Eurasian at the same time as bureaucratic empires rise.

That's an interesting point.

The essence of bureaucracy, it seems to me, is an attempt to build a prosthetic memory; to be able to track of account for things outwith the ambit of a single human memory. Originally a tool of Babylonian tax farmers, now it's vital to any corporate or national entity. It makes it a lot easier to track and identify things if they only have a single, unique, foreign key. Otherwise you run into all sorts of transitive dependencies as you battle against counting the underlying entity multiple times.

Lest we forget, the dynastic Egyptians (more or less pre bureaucracy in its modern form) believed in multiple souls per person with different roles for each. I wonder if a multi-soul belief system is compatible with modern organizational structures?

95:

I'd agree with China Mieville, I'm torn between The City And The City and Un Lun Dun, although many of his other books should get a mention. On balance I think Un Lun Dun wins it for me. It works beautifully on many levels, as an allegory of growing up and making your first adult choices, as a transition from the fantastical world of a child to a world of murkier motives. It has some parts that I found scary despite being decades older than the target audience. It's engaging enough for all but has enough depth to make you think.

Refusing books by yourself means I don't have to choose a Laundry Novel. Which is good in some ways, but bad in others. It's one of the few genre-smearing series that really works to my mind, and gives me easy presents for a couple I know who prior to this read completely different books. Now they have at least a few they will both read happily!

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Speed Of Dark, I'd suggest The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime as my second. It's on the short side, but by most counts qualifies as a novel. It's another game-changer, on the same theme as Speed of Dark -about being autistic - but it's about being autistic in today's world. It was recommended to me by a colleague, who had had it recommended by a student. Eventually everyone in the class read it and came to understand their autistic fellow student better. It made such an impact on their lives and how they thought of and worked with the autistic student it really should be required reading IMO.

96:

Because the most important book of the decade, IMHO, is not the best: it's the one that's had the most impact, be it on sales, on trends, etc. And neither Anathem nor Blindsight has been that impactful, even in their niches. Acclaimed, yes, but not revolutionary.

97:

Surface Detail is the best thing Banks has done in years, but better than the original Culture novels (CP, PoG & UW)?

98:

These two impressed me quite a bit. Not novels though, most of what I read is short-stories:

_Divining Light_ by Ted Kosmatka - Present-day or very near future fiction involving a researcher working with the double-slit experiment. PDF available from Asimov's SF

_His Master's Voice_ by Hannu Rajaniemi - Lots of juicy transcendant nano yada yada in this one. Published in Interzone issue 218

99:

Anonymous quoth:

I don't have anything to add to this discussion except a minor rant. As an SFascist of the old school, I find the entire field rather nauseating these days. I can't think of a single recent SF novel with the ambition and big ideas of the old masters like Asimov, van Vogt, Herbert or Clarke. I read SF to escape our microscopic civilization into worlds where galactic emperors, alien overlords and cosmic messiahs reign, not to be reminded of human pettiness on every page. The wretched postmodern sensibility seems to have infected everything in our collapsing culture, including at last my beloved genre.

Hie thee poste haste to Baen. I'd particularly recommend "Slow train to Arcturus" by Flint/Freer but both those two, plus Ringo, Hoyt (Dark Ship Thieves - winner of the Prometheus award this year), Williamson, Van Name, Drake, Weber etc etc.

Whether any of these meet our host's criteria regarding "importance" is less clear. But they do tend to think big and not like postmodern sensibility

100:

Because the most important book of the decade, IMHO, is not the best

That's a relative issue. The most important book for me is also the best one I read. The only thing Harry Potter and the Whatever of Whatever did for me was annoy me mightily, what Accelerando and Blindsight did was blow my mind.

If we talk only trends and sales, we might as well just whip out some Amazon rankings, bow to Stephenie Meyer and discuss no more.

101:

Clearly I need to read some more, because whilst i have read a fair number of books published since 2000, none of them, I repeat none, are world alteringly important. (except the ones by some chap living in Edinburgh, but they don't count)

Those that I have read have not trodden new ground, have often been written well, but not made me think much.
Bascially, I've been entertained, but the term "important" just doesn't fit.

"The execution channel" gets an honourable mention, of the books I have read.

So Charlie, which books do you consider to be important?
I'm thinking the term important implies that the book in question has large effects beyond simply the reader - they stimulate discussion online, greatly impress readers with their presentation of some facet of reality or reflection of it, and so on.
Possibly to count as important it needs to be reprinted in the SF masterworks series. At the very least it has to be a book people reccomend to their friends, even if they have trouble saying exactly why. For instance I've been recommending Stross to people for years now.

(And why on earth do people find "altered carbon" so good? It was so boring and predictable that I gave up reading it half way through, and the central mcguffin was rather silly anyway. I can understand other people liking it, but important? no way)

102:

Now I have to wonder: won't our gracious host grace us with his own answer to the question he posed?

103:

I'm not going to answer the question, but I'll have a go at explaining why I can't answer the question.

In what way can a novel be described as 'important' as opposed to merely being 'entertaining', 'interesting', 'well-written' or just plan 'good'?

As far as cultural impact goes, I think for better or worse, the novel's ability to impact on wider society - to awaken large swathes of the population to ideas that they had not previously thought about - was long ago overtaken by film and television. So in what way can a novel be 'important'?

The best answer I can come up with is that, like an 'important' album, a novel can be so described if it does something new or different which can be identified with hindsight as changing the rules by which people write stories (perhaps 'rules' is the wrong term: changing the expectations people have of a novel). Or crudely, one which spawns a lot of imitators.) I don't mean necessarily, a novel which throws out all conventional notions of story-telling - just as avante-garde classical music or much modern art has to my untrained ears ended up being little more than the private entertainment of a small coterie of insiders, so I found myself unable to 'get' Thomas Pynchon.

If you accept the above definition, its almost certainly too early to say what the most 'important' books of the Noughties were. We'll be in a better position to judge in 2025. And better still in 2055. By which time, I'll most likely be corpse-flavoured.

104:

By your criteria we wouldn't have much a debate - at least for me, the average solipsist discussion of "here's my BESTEST BOOKS EVER" is much less interesting than debating the "impact" certain books have caused on the cultural landscape - and looking at sales is only one of the possible criteria to measure the aforementioned "impact".

105:

Re: "Little Brother" As much as I enjoyed it while reading it, thinking back it strikes me as rather silly. I don't think the politics were all that realistic (they're an exaggeration of the Bush era, so on that level I can accept it). Perhaps at the time it was written it was more relevant, but I think it's a little dated now. I'm not convinced that the government (not even Bush's) would waterboard an 18 year old--okay, maybe it would have been more likely if he were middle-eastern and known to be involved with terrorists, but not some white boy off the street.

I hate to say it, but as much as I like his writing, Doctorow seems to have become kinda one-note, rehashing the same themes. I haven't read his last two novels, so can't say anything about 'em. Or know if I'm wrong.

106:

Having thought about this a little more from a meta perspective, I suspect that if a statistically appropriate group of people worldwide were polled at gunpoint, the answer to this question would be Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

107:

so rather than important, which books are the most influential? Which were the literary equivalent of Sy Barrett's Pink Floyd and Soft Machine's residencies at the UFO, Bert Jansch, John Rnbourn, Martin Carthy, John Martyn at Les Cousins, or the Punk Special at the 100 Club, and The Pistols at the Manchester Free Trade Hall - relatively unknown to the wider world at the time, but hugely influential events - it was said of the Pistols Manchester gig that less than 50 people were there, but they all started bands (and all became famous, according to the myth).

So what books have [b]none of us read[/b] but most of us will claim to have read in 20 years time? (smiley)

108:
Lest we forget, the dynastic Egyptians (more or less pre bureaucracy in its modern form) believed in multiple souls per person with different roles for each. I wonder if a multi-soul belief system is compatible with modern organizational structures?

I think it may be compatible with post-modern organizational structures. Modern organizational structures (and premodern back to Greece and the Warring States) needed a single key for tracking, because the data structures were all tree-like, which has many advantages when you have physical indices.

But when more expensive search methods become cost-effective --- then multiple keys become tractable and advantageous. That then could be psychologically and socially internalized (over the generations) in a fundamentally different psyche-formation.

109:

Hamilton's Void Trilogy and Martin's Game of Thrones had me stay up way too late, but both are brutal on time requirement. I also rather enjoyed Halting State, but you might already know that one. I want to add that the Dresden Files are disgustingly bad.

110:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

It's important because it won the Pulitzer prize and because it was so engrossing for me that I actually managed to read it from beginning to end. And then, there's the fact that it manages to do both these things while being a work of SF(actually acclaimed by people who do not usually go near SF)and being written by a traditional novelist who does not usually write SF.

With a few exceptions (like the alternate worlds Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross or Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds) during the last ten years I usually start reading a novel (or a longish short story) and abandon it after 20 to 40 pages. My mind now has a very quick "this is long, boring, yawn" index after too many years spent surfing the Web, daily. So, having a book "possess" me like The Road is quite important, and novel for me.

The Road is also novel because while it artfully criss-crosses the boundaries between SF and general literature much like Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow did in 1973, it does so in a totally different way, in form and substance.

Gravity's Rainbow is written in a complex manner, with sharp, easy interludes. I read it more than twenty years ago, before my mind was spoiled by the Web. I was delighted.

The Road is written in an extremely simple manner yet every word in it is carefully chosen. I was also delighted. Gravity's Rainbow was SF in a very light way, exploring a very "light" alternate reality of the end of WWII and showing in a subtle fashion the interplay between Science and society. I was astounded. The Road explores a classic dystopian future but looks at it in a general manner thru persdonal vision, at the opposite of Pynchon's multiple views and sweeping views with their precise focusing on S-gerat, imipolex and V2s. I was charmed.

111:

I wanted to say Blindsight (first application of sentience as a fault instead of survival trait to the rise of intelligent beings all over the galaxy), but since that has enough defenders already, I say Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

First time someone took a deep look at the values of people living in a post-scarcity society. While it looks a bit farcical at the surface, I thought it was a pretty convincing exploration of the issue that remain important in such future and those that do not. IMHO Doctorow's best book.

112:

as i am a novice at commenting i was just want to add to the debate and would say antheam would not really be the candidate for best novel of 2000s

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières as it is just well written and deals with humanites base instincts so well is a good contender


113:

>incredibly interesting if you slept through your history classes at school.

Oh meow, that is a backhanded compliment.

Given that my history classes at school were focused on a different empire a few hundred miles to the south I did indeed find it incredibly interesting.

This reminds me of the time Pterry scolded me on usenet for mistaking "Old stoney face" for a reference to Judge Dredd rather than Cromwell. In my defense I could only offer that Oliver just didn't make it to my history classes and that since he'd worked with the likes of Neal Gaiman I didn't think comic books were below him. I did catch the reference to roundheads, again thanks to an old comic book.

Pterry's recent "Nation" seems to have been an attempt to do "something" important in the field of young adult fiction, possibly motivated by the influence the Potter books seem to have. It's hard to tell if he succeeded. I certainly couldn't predict when I saw the first Potter book and dismissed it as a rip off of Tim Hunter/Books of Magic how much of a nuisance phenomenon it would become.

114:

Surface Detail was marginally better than Transition or Matter, but that doesn't mean much. It was still a disappointment for those of us who loved Feersum Enjinn, The Wasp Factory, or Use Of Weapons.

115:

One really important novel of the last decade is the novel that has shown that electronic self-publishing is feasible. I have no idea which one that would be, and it might be a tad difficult at this time to separate writer/publicist and work.

116:

Which only goes to show that 'de gustibus non est disputandum'. I found 'The Road' utterly underwhelming. A sort of lit-fic Day of the Triffids (minus the cosiness, to be fair).

If I were to pick favourite science fiction novels by non-science fiction authors, off the top of my head, I'd go with Never Let Me Go and Time's Arrow. And perhaps The Alteration too - Kingsley Amis was quite a keen sci-fi reader as it happens.

117:

Now that the discussion is back on the track I think OGH intended, let me put in my personal suggestions while I coarsely turn up the SFiness knob:

- Dave Eggers, Zeitoun. Arguably not a novel, but a documentary/biography. It's important because it shows that social fictions like Kafka's The Process can become reality if you don't pay attention.

- Michel Houllebecq, Possibility of an Island. Important because it looks at the pointlessness of human life in the face of, well, thinking and doing the same things over and over again. It's a bit like a YouTube clip of an uploaded Sartre on repeat.

- Moxyland, Lauren Beukes. Because this looks at how the 'Way Of The West' - which we've been used to for a while now - will impact the quickly rising 2nd world countries; which in turn will have influence on us. Ian McDonald's Brasyl was a close contender, but I'm not done reading that yet :)

- Diaspora, Greg Egan. It takes the 'H-word' theme (what/who is Human?) pervasive in Egan's work to the next level. Even if you don't buy into the whole uploading business, it still asks the question "How much can you change over a lifetime and still retain a sense of identity?"

118:

I'm impressed by Ian Rankin's Rebus series (and I liked the blink-and-you-miss-it reference to him in Rule 34). Not only great characters and dialogue, they are engaging mysteries. Also, the city of Edinburgh is a major character in and of itself.

119:

More like a multi-soul system acknowledges the heterogeneous nature of mind, as discussed in http://outofcharacterbook.com/styled/page2.html , Jaynes's bicameral theory, to Gardner's multiple intelligence theory, and Dennett's multiple draft hypothesis.

To the original question, one could extend various bits of the DSM-IV to collective behaviour, with most successful corporations being at least somewhat sociopathic, the former Soviet empire touched by paranoia, and the current Republican Party deep in psychosis.

120:

As with most, I cannot come up with merely one. So, here goes, in no particular order:

Watts' Blindsight. Along with it I would include Richard Powers' The Echo Maker. I'm prejudiced here. Neuroscience and its accompanying disciplines have been a source of great interest to me for years. These two novels use rare neurological disorders to explore potential cultures and human interaction. And, they do so with great skill. In Powers' case with particularly moving prose and accessible characters.

The Baroque Trilogy is probably the single most important piece of historical fiction ever written. For anyone interested in what it covers, I would highly recommend Elizabeth Harkness' non-fiction work The Jewel House. Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches, is by trade a science historian. Jewel House covers science in London during the Elizabethan period. She uses people and neighborhoods to demonstrate the development of modern science. More importantly, she concentrates on mainly on figures who are not well known today. Here's a review from the Independent; http://ind.pn/pq9UJ5. (Sorry about bitly but. it's a long URL.

121:

To take that in reverse order, Taoism (and I think other Chinese systems) have multiple souls as well, and in shamanism, one can lose bits of one's soul (or all of it), and one of the shaman's tasks is to retrieve what gets lost. Since shamanism pre-dates organized religion (and also showed up periodically in western Europe with various nomad groups), I'd suggest that the soul pre-dates bureaucracy.

What goes with bureaucracy is writing, however, which is why it might seem like the concept of a soul comes along with bureaucracy. That's when it first gets written down. Even that connection is not perfect. There are examples from the Andes and central America where there's good evidence for a bureaucracy, with or without writing.

As for why bureaucracies form, I suspect that it's a combination of two things. One is something like a Dunbar number. When a group gets sufficiently big, you need people in the middle whose only job is to know people and organize things, and keep those above and below them happy. To keep these people loyal, you need to make sure that their well-being depends on the existence of the group they are helping to organize.

The other thing is The Gervais Principle. If you haven't heard about that, I'm not going to deprive you of the fun of finding out about it.

Hopefully we can get back to novels?

122:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and play devil's advocate. I'm not sure I believe this answer; I don't think I believe it, but here it goes:

My explicit definition of "important" for this purpose is that the item of importance has been highly influential on a societal level or effected great change of some sort.

That said, my answer to "which book" is none

As a (western and digitally connected) society, we have mostly surpassed the point at which a book, or at the very least a single book, can be so important as to distinguish itself as "most" important. This is not to say that books, on the whole, are not important, but again that the "market share" of import that anyone book can hope to achieve is very, very low compared to books in previous decades, much less centuries. I also don't mean this to say that no future books will surpass what has gone before, only that the next time a "Candide" comes along, it will not have the same effect on generations of minds the way such a book could have had, and did have, in the past.

This is because of two main reasons: 1st, the volume of worked produced is so much larger, there's more to compete with for mind-share. 2nd, fewer people read books (as a function of the ratio of literate people who read vs literate people who do not read) than in the past. It remains to be seen if the slight reversal in this trend is a change or just a blip.

123:

The question isn't "souls" but "soul" singular. A soul that is decomposable or multiple is a very different entity from a single, unique soul. A Buddhist composition of souls is different from an atomic Christian soul.

That singular-ness seems to appear both in Europe and China with the rise of imperial states (Persia w/ Zoastrianism, Platonic ideas with Alexander, and the issue of unique mappings of names to objects/Legalism in Chinese philosophy from Warring States to Qin)

The idea of souls is very, very old going back before Sumeria -- the question of identifying yourself with a singular soul that was morally (and legally!) responsible is another.

124:

Hm...

It's feels too soon to talk about books in the past handful of years as important.

I loved Anathem, but it did not seem to me to be an important book in the way that, say, his 1995 novel The Diamond Age might be read. The Diamond Age postulates a post-scarcity world where even the quite poor can push a few buttons and have blankets, omega-3 food products, water, etc. But not surprisingly there are still problems.

That is the kind of book that I think is becoming important: whether it is technology or magic, even having it we find that our happiness is not ensured and the world does not become a happy place. That we cannot hang the future of humanity on technology, that instead it must hang upon humanity itself. (This makes the above discussion about philosophy of justice quite interesting.) A couple of fantasy novels that I think do this well are Lev Grossman's, but I know Mr Stross has read these. Well enough to be important? I think so, perhaps also bringing a few from the Harry Potter generation back in from the daydreams to the real, mundane world.

I don't know what I will think of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu) in 10 years. Certainly I think there's potential there, as again even with (implausibly and a bit fancifully) advanced technology we have a human story of being among infinite choice and not finding happiness. Those are the stories that speak to me lately, as a mid 30s software engineer, father of two in a comfortable western world. Well, those and please, anything which paints a hopeful picture from the messy here to a better future than what looks likely.

(And for the gentleman lamenting the lack of Big Idea science fiction: Greg Egan's The Clockwork Rocket.)

125:

Can anything published now really be said to be important at all? Even 30 years ago it was a reasonable bet that anyone involved SciFi had read some if not all of Heinleins' works. Now? I don't think so; there is so much being published that outside of specific social circles I don't see a lot of 'commonly read' books..and that's without going into what is published in various languages now.

So based just on that, it is hard to argue with the "Harry Potter" series for the most important title; they are easily the most widely read and culturally iconic. There hasn't been anything of the sort from SciFi.

126:

One pice of fiction that's probably had the biggest impact on the last ten years is probably one of this series

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_Dossier

see also "Dodgy Dossier", etc etc etc.

127:

People keep saying nothing in sf campares popularity wise with Harry Potter. This doesn't (not much does), but it was/is very popular indeed: The Hunger Games.

128:

To expand a bit on my previous post, Nation is about a young boy from a small island in the Pacific whose coming of age ceremony is interrupted by a tsunami that wipes out all of his world, the novel that follows is pretty much a literal and metaphorical reconstruction of a society from the ground up. It felt to my eyes like Pterry was rather deliberately attempting to use his reach as an educational tool, without being too preachy or didactic.

It's basically science fiction since it's based on an alt history earth, diverging at the events in the book.

129:

I suppose this means works of the Scifi/Fantasy genre...

If I would have to choose a Mieville book it would be the Iron Council,
because it dares to be political for once, and ask its questions in a non-lazy or evasive manner. The sexual politics too, it's very rare that a major work of this genre will this step with a main protagonist.

For the pure reading pleasure alone, I would pick Air by Geoff Ryman.
Also because it takes a look at the impact of technological development from a novel (non western, white male) point of view.

But I second the suggestion by #30: Prince of Nothing too.

130:

It's a bit random to choose only one novel (hence your interest in the reasoning, I suppose). At the risk of sounding pedantic, I think we clearly need to define what we're discussing.

So, working definitions.
I define "novel" as a work of fiction that has been published in book form (and/or electronic equivalent) and that is long enough that it avoids being a novella or collection of short stories.
"Fiction" is a story that is told by (an) author(s) who does not intend their work to be taken literally or treated as true. I'm not going to get even more pedantic and attempt to give working definitions of "truth", "novella" or "published" (TL;DR).

"Important" can be defined in at least three (potentially overlapping) ways, and in much of the discussion I think people have been addressing different categories:

* Worthy - the sort of book that gets good reviews and is held to address an Important Theme that is Salient in broader society. Such a book may find its way onto bookshelves yet remain in a suspiciously pristine condition.

* Influential - the book affects the way people think and/or act, often staying with readers for a sustained period of time. To be influential, a book would need to have been read by a wide audience, thus generating noticeable influence across one or more societies.

* Personally meaningful - something that resonates with the reader personally - because it (for instance) helps them understand a facet of life or influences their thoughts and deeds - but without necessarily reaching a large enough audience to be broadly influential. Under this definition, I suspect that much of the newer SF genre falls into this category.

Whatever definition of "important" is being used, an "important novel" will deal with certain themes more or less coherently. This is one of the ways in which an important novel is different from a story designed purely to provide entertainment. I think it's about the author engaging on an intellectual exercise in addition to wanting to tell a story.

So, my picks.
Under the "worthy" heading, I nominate Margaret Atwood's "The year of the flood" for its treatment of a post-apocalyptic environment, where the apocalypse is brought on by us as a species. It is a multi-layered treatment of human nature, religious fundamentalism, and extrapolation of current environmental trends.

For me, the "Influential" tag goes to the Harry Potter series - or if we're following the question exactly, any one of the books in the series published since 2000. The reason is as given above: massively influential in getting people reading, much more so than, say, the Twilight series or Larsson's millennium trilogy. But also because the series encourages imagination, self reflection and socially-valuable behaviour, and I think these are valuable social goods that receive too little attention in much of current popular culture.

"Personally meaningful" is the hardest to settle on. A number of the books listed above come to mind, such as Gibson's "Pattern recognition". But I think I'll have to give it to Audrey Niffenegger's "The time traveller's wife" because of the way it deals with love, loss, and commitment in the face of separation and adversity over a long period of time.

131:

Thanks. I knew I had bobbled it and couldn't figure it out. Sigh.

132:

I'm going to define important somewhat self-referentially as "likely to have major influences on the tropes and stylistic conventions of the genre in which it is written", and novel as "new or unusual in an interesting way", and I'm going to provide a choice for Science Fiction and another for Fantasy, because I think what's important in each of those genres is different from the other. I'm sticking with the genres because I frankly am not terribly familiar with recent mainstream fiction, and I get the impression that Charlie's looking for something he might enjoy reading as well as find "important", rather than a class reading assignment, so I'll list books I enjoyed (I'm assuming he's not up for reading "Geometric Algebra for Computer Science", which is the last non-fiction book that really shook up my world).

So for Fantasy, I nominate Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind1. This book systematically dismantles the main conventions of high fantasy and reconstructs them in ways that would probably have given Tolkien the hives (and might have met with the approval of Eddison and perhaps Stapledon, if he liked fantasy). It consistently undermines the pro-aristocratic, faux-medieval romanticism of epic fantasy, replacing it with a view of the world better suited to a lower-class or outcaste view of the social system; one which has a very poor opinion of the antics of the privileged and powerful. I'd forgive any such book a lot, but it turns out I don't have to; it's a beautifully crafted and written book, and the construction of the story is like a finely-built watch. I hope and expect that The Name of the Wind will cause a lot of writers to rethink how they write high fantasy and that's why I think it's important.

For SF I was tempted to list Blindsight, but since a lot of people already have, and since I have some serious disagreements with Watts' argument about consciousness being a non-survival trait, I'll go with Ian Macdonald's River of Gods. While it's certainly not the first SF novel to depict characters and settings of cultures outside the Western European tradition, I think it's the one that forced a lot of Western readers and writers (especially Americans) to think seriously about SF as a literature of the world. And hell, if the genre that purports to be about anything in all of time and space can't handle talking about another culture a few thousand kilometers away, what good is it?


1. Yes, that's the first book of a trilogy of which only the first 2 books have been published, but I don't think that's a disqualification, if for no other reason than that Peter Watts is writing other books about the Blindsight universe, and that seems to be the most popular choice in this thread.

133:

I'll say Brian Evenson's Dark Property: An Affliction is a book that really stood out for me, it is more a novella than a novel, but the strangeness (and utter horror) it distills, mostly through the use of language, a sort of middle-age English concoction, haunted me for a while after reading it. Last days is also pretty interesting, specially the first half. More than anything else for the way in which it exemplifies how sometimes not telling can be more powerful than telling. It is also rather cool that Evenson has written several "brand" novels (Aliens, Halo, Dead Space), which has not dented his reputation as a literary author, blurring the boundaries between "literature" and "fiction-as-fodder".

These are probably not important enough, though, for which I'll have to go with Bolaño's 2666, which reads like a culmination of all his previous novels.

Important also, even more so, is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, which combines post-modern playfulness, horror, and some sort of manic joy in the act of reading a book (a novel) in itself, more specifically a book as a physical object.

Almost anything DeLillo writes is great, but I'll go here with The Body Artist, the prose is great enough to eat off of.

Those from the top of my head, and avoiding the usual suspects I'm sure you're familiar with.

Egan's Diaspora is from 1997, by the way.

-W

134:

I really liked the Dresden Files, and his latest, Ghost Story. Unpretentious fun.

135:

Charlie -

"Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell (2004) is both a staggeringly good novel[1] and red meat for a fan of innovative science fiction[2].

It is "important"[3] because of its unique but compelling plot structure. It is written in multiple different narrative styles (explorer's yarn, pulp thriller, Hampstead novel, SF etc) with each narrative "nested" within another narrative (read it and you'll see what I mean).

Mitchell manages the difficult trick of writing good, compelling, stories and not being overwhelmed by his own artifice.

[1]: Of course, if you restrict "novel" to simple linear storylines then it ain't a novel and falls outside the purview of this discussion.

[2]: Although it is a "mainstream" book it does contain elements of SF, as well as being vaguely SF-nal in its general structure.

[3]: It could be this sort of narrative imposture has been tried before, but "Cloud Atlas" is the first time I've come across it.

136:

Too early for your time frame, but David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (1997) was influential in the literary novel genre. I think I'd count as a neutral observer here, as I haven't read it. I've read a few of Wallace's essays; I found his stylistic quirks irritating. But others liked and imitated him.

137:

'Lamb' was fun enough, but nothing wonderful in my opinion. I preferred others by Moore.

138:

I'd say J.C. Hutchins's techno-triller-sf 7th Son. Why is it important? Because it was one of the first succesfull books which got a traction as a free audiobook published by the writer himself. There's also a printed edition now so I guess it qualifies. It might be the way future books get delivered / published (or are we already there? I have two Scott Sigler books on my bookshelf and a folder full of weekly podcasts read and published by the Mr. Sigler himself. I prefer J.C. Hutchins to Sigler but both are some pioneers on the new ways of novel delivery.

139:

Came in here to nominate Cloud Atlas but Teedjay said it better than I could. I'd also nominate The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway. I'm not much for analysis, but this debut impressed the he'll out of me.

140:

If you define "important" as "has a significant impact on the world" I would probably vote for Anaethem even though it didn't really speak to me and I never finished it, pretty major to get those concepts out into something that makes it's way into the NYT bestseller list.

If you define "important" as "has a significant impact one my worldview" no novel really makes it into my top 10, and only one thing written in the last ten years makes it into the top 100 (Fooled by Randomness by Taleb, or "The Black Swan" which is basically the same book only less well written but better marketed).

Frankly it's hard for the last ten years to beat the previous 3,000. That's a tough row to hoe as my granddadday said

for some reason World War Z really sticks with me though, odd that...


141:

I don't understand its acclaim myself, but The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is probably the most important -- influential, well-reviewed, most-read -- novel in the U.S. from that time period. Sad.

(I personally think it's an obnoxious, half-witted book that tries too hard to be funny and fakes compassion for its characters.)

Of course, the real winner in that time period is still David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, which remained important throughout that span despite its 1996 publication.

Odd that both authors have struggled with severe depression (Wallace lost).

These books mark a major shift in American letters, which had pushed Raymond Carver minimalism for some time. The taste for long, digressive tomes -- which goes back to at least Moby-Dick -- is reflected within science fiction with Stephenson.

Another candidate might very well be Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, that rarity, a genuinely popular experimental work.

142:

I'd go with "important" as meaning "having a huge influence on the direction of and output created within the SF/F genre." (Therefore I'm saying "novel" in the not-all-inclusive sense.)

So, I agree with the people who have proposed "Perdido Street Station," although it officially is a few months more than 10 years old. Perfect marriage of Science Fantasy and Steampunk.

Second, "River of Gods," which (at least for me) introduced the future happening in "countries-that-are-not-NATO-members."

Third, "World War Z," which really crystallized the zombie resurgence.

I'm going to wuss out on Harry Potter because the first book was from 1998.

I loved "Blindsight" but I haven't seen the "importance" in later works. Would love to see some pointers if they exist.

143:

Given the undefined terms "important" and "novel", but working with the grain of your contention that publishing is rapidly reshaping itself: the most important novel I have read during the last ten years has been Less Wrong's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. In form it is clearly a fanfic of the basest kind, joining half a million others set in the HP universe. It is not even nearly finished, having taken 73 chapters (and over 400,000 words) over the last 18 months to cover a fraction of the many dreary school months that Rowling evoked so well in her books. But it is a cohesive work of fiction, with a carefully crafted plot and intricate characterization. It is also action-packed and filled with ideas in a way that Rowling never quite pulled off. It reads and is being published much like a Dickens novel, but with the pre-Fabian ideals replaced with a singularitarian ethos. For those of us who define fiction using traditional boundaries this work is not a novel and is clearly not important either. However, I suspect both of these terms will firmly encompass it over the next ten years.

I also liked Ursula Le Guin's ever-intensifying sparsity of prose as exhibited in the Annals of the Western Shore series and Lavinia. The previously mentioned William Gibson's Blue Ant books were also important to me (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History). Ted Chiang's short story collection and the individual stories inhabit the same semantic space of existing definitions as novels, and so probably do not qualify. As per instructions, I will omit Accelerando.

144:

I love Stephensen's books as much as anybody above -- and I really want to see a high-budget cable series made of the Baroque Cycle.

But important? Okay, Elisa's explanation of markets will make for great educatinal video. But still ...

Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City at least has the notion of a "war-free" edition of the New York Times, something we Americans nearly have ALREADY, but Lethem actually says it explicitly.

Not that I claim that makes it importantest.

If your real question is "What's an unexpected good read from the last ten years?" then I reply with Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl was the most fun I had with an author I hadn't read before (and who wasn't Charles Stross.)

And for Important, well, John LeCarre's recent books raise important human issues all the time. A Most Wanted Man ... The Mission Song ...

145:

Yeah 'Cloud Atlas' all the way.

Selfishly annoyed you beat me to the punch by 30 mins after trawling through 130 comments :)

Cloud Atlas is important because it just makes you grin inwardly happy at being a member of the same species as the being that wrote it.

Read it before it's almost certainly murdered by the imminent film...

146:

Practical Demon Keeping is Moore's best (IMO) but he is a very amusing author with a finely twisted view on the world.

-- Andrew

147:

If I look at this purely on a personal scale, the most "important" novel I read in the past ten years was probably a piece of fan fiction available online, most likely for LOTR. The problem is, I can't really remember which one it might have been. But for me, fanfic is becoming more and more of a gateway drug - it introduces me to new writers, who introduce me to new fandoms, which introduces me to new works of varying types. Fanfiction is how I get my recommendations for works to read or movies or television series to view these days - if it's sparked something good among writers I know and like, then I'll probably enjoy it myself.

I tend to have a mental list of "known good writers" in the fanfic world, because fan fiction is so very loosely quality controlled. My list of "known good writers" tends to cover things like "can write a consistent story", "can handle complex characterisation", "shows good writing craftwork - correct parts of speech, correct homophones and homonyms, minimal spelling errors and tyops, etc", and most importantly "catches my interest".

Some of these writers move on to writing professional fiction. Most of them haven't (or if they have, they haven't used a name I'd recognise if I saw it on bookstore shelves). A few of them have had to bury their fanfic history in the interests of getting published, or getting a new job at all (which I see as a huge loss, both to the fandom, and to the world of writing in general). Some fandoms I've been introduced to (or re-introduced to) by fanfic writers include: Pirates of the Caribbean; King Arthur (re-introduction - I got fascinated by the myths as a kid, and the fanfic got me to see the Clive Owen film); Dr Who (fanfic was what made me watch the 9th Doctor); Final Fantasy VII (I can remember watching my brother play this on his Playstation; the fanfic made me get a copy for my PS2); Final Fantasy VIII; Vagrant Story; The Last Remnant (this got me to buy an Xbox); the Star Ocean series (gateway drug for buying a PSP); Saiyuki manga; Fullmetal Alchemist manga; Loveless manga and anime; Fruits Basket manga; D.N.Angel manga (and finding these now they're out of print is fun, particularly since I'm based in Australia!); Supernatural (I buy the series on DVD as I get the time, money and inclination) and a lot of others. Fanfiction writers have also introduced me to a lot of music I wouldn't otherwise have heard, since I don't go chasing around for it online (but if someone's going to put up a bunch of stuff at Megaupload, and say "this is what I listen to when I write such-and-so", I'll probably download it out of curiosity).

Oh, and fanfiction writers inspire me to write myself. Not out of a spirit of "holy crap, I could probably write something better than that!" (although I will say it's a component on occasion, when I get bored and go trolling through ff.net in search of new text to keep my eyes entertained), but rather out of a spirit of shared interest in the characters, and shared fascination with the worlds created.

I'm pretty sure this doesn't count as an acceptable answer to Our Gracious Host, but it's the best one I can give for me.

148:

(If the timeframe was expanded back to 1996, of course I'd say Infinite Jest.)

(And if by "important," it's meant as having the most effect on my life, then Darkly Dreaming Dexter, because it spawned the TV series I re-watch nearly as much as The Wire and Deadwood. And it's a good read in and of itself. I do disagree the different direction the novelist took, two books later, that told us that Dex' Dark Passenger is an actual spirit presence. That's counter to the TV series' demonstration that Dexter is made entirely of normal human parts, tho some are badly installed and others are missing.)

149:

The Time Traveller's Wife.

Because? Made me cry. I didn't know my tear ducts still worked.

Perdido Street Station

Sure, bloated, but by god it's good (arguably The Scar is a better novel), but Perdido Street Station has a sense of wonder to it. Started off the "weird fiction" sub-genre AND introduced China Mieville, a man with the brain the size of a planet.

The Blade Itself - Joe Abercrombie

Hilarious, bloody, sex, gritty twisted romping good fun. Finally, a fantasy novel that's brilliant.

150:

I'll agree with the people who've put forward Perdido Street Station (I actually think the Scar is better, but PSS came first), but on the grounds for most potential rather than anything it has done so far. I think that proclaiming PSS to be a revolutionary book is a bit premature, but I think it has the potential to inspire an upheaval in fantasy literature. Or it could turn out to be a flash in the pan, with fantasy continuing to be dominated by tenth-generation xeroxes of old greats...

But that's a pretty weak qualification for 'important'. I don't know if any one novel can have an impact that is both wide enough and deep enough to really qualify as important independent of a much larger trend. Moreover, I think it's too soon to identify what novels will be considered the most important works of the noughties.

So, basically, a big, fat "Ask me in twenty years", which kind of misses the point of wild speculation. :V

151:

Given the wide scope of the question, there's been a lot of good responses so far. Given the criterion of "important" I couldn't pass up the opportunity to mention Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace. The mastery of English language use displayed in this book is awesome, echoing the styling of James Joyce but nonetheless remaining coherent.

However, the first novel that came to my mind was Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. This isn't my usual kind of fiction, but its blistering pace and evocative language gripped me. As to its importance, I'd say this was an imaginative return of the picaresque, the kind of story that's been absent from fiction for far too long, having been replaced by (now standardized) highly predictable variations of the romance style. A fabulously refreshing escape from the typical dramatic structure that has been force fed to readers over the past 20 or so years.

152:

Harry Potter is definitely one of the most influential books of all time, but I didn't count it since the first one came out in the 90s.

But the series's influence on YA literature is probably as profound and Lord of the Rings on Fantasy lit.

153:

I would agree with recent comments regarding the length of time it takes to realize the importance of novels. As far as I have seen there have been no revolutionary ideas spurred on by fiction this decade, but it is too early to tell.

I wish I could somehow justify a vote for American Gods here, but currently I would have to say Twilight has been most important in the short run. I can't think of anything else which has mobilized such capital, or inspired so much genre fiction since Star Wars. Perhaps we will have something profound emerge, perhaps we won't, but for shear ability to move writers, viewers, merchandisers, and cash, I vote twilight.

154:

I'm gonna go with The Windup Girl. It captures the current "how we perceive the future" zeitgeist the way Neuromancer did in the Eighties.

155:

Alastair Reynold’s Absolution Gap deserves a mention.

This is sf on a grand scale but also deals with the smaller details of the human (or hybrid pig) condition; does pathos especially well. Interesting look at the power of religion – how it corrupts. Beautifully-crafted prose sustains the narrative for all 661 pages. The main theme is the impending threat of sentience extinction by the Inhibitors. The idea that sentient intelligence is being monitored and determined to be unacceptable by a higher power is something that particularly interests me.

156:

I think James Ellroy and Peter Carey have been doing really important work, The True History of the Kelley Gang is probably my favorite Carey (though I think that was '98), the Ellroy trilogy that started with American Tabloid and ended with Blood's a Rover is fierce and awesome. Alternate histories that are meticulously rendered with powerful craft. Tom McCarthy's Remainder would thrill a lot of SciFi readers and is morally strange and wonderful. Perspective shifts, redoubling some of the French new wave experimentation. Houellebecq Possibility of an Island (mentioned above) is brain-seeringly smart. Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke was pure shit but his earlier stuff is amazing (California Gothic). George Saunders' Civilwarland in Bad Decline (a novella) is weird and wonderful. Gary Lutz' has some fantastic sentences..

And read Moby Dick if you haven't

157:

It seems to me that a "multi-souled" ( I would prefer multi-selved) organizational system or structure might already exist, at least in a rudimentary form. An example might be an organization that has grown up in the Internet (or in a networked ecology). Examples: Wikipedia, the GNU Project ... perhaps Mozilla.

158:

I think I'll second (or forty-forth or whatever) Blindsight. I've been meaning to reread that for a few years now, but it seems to have hit the modern transhumanist semi-horror from beyond (and within) the heliopause that seems to be coming into modern SF.

But I'd also push things by Mieville, though I'm not sure what. The City & The City was fabulous, and I thought that Embassytown was even better, but I just haven't read enough of his stuff to judge.

The "New Weird" and it's tentacles into SF seems to be drawing a new Cyberpunk-type mentality which you can see through a lot of the top books, like River of Gods and The Windup Girl. I'm just not certain enough of where that started to recommend an actual book.

159:

One last thing: Off the top of my head - haven't thought about this before - I would have to say the medium of exchange, i.e., money is an important factor to consider, also, when considering "multi-souled" belief systems. Our money, scarce, interest-based, monopolistically sourced, demands that organizations conform to the dictate of producing profit: which de facto requires a singular-souled entity devoted to creating profit.

160:

My vote is for "River of Gods by Ian McDonald
- Beautifully written,
- important developing society as focus, and
- big issues confronted.
As a follow up the short stories written in same time are awesome - "Cyberabad Days"

161:

Really? Crap, I just gave my hardback version to the Friends of the Library for their book sale. Oh well, thanks for the link

162:

I don't think many others have read them, but I've run across two novels based on blogs. Do they count as "important" in the sense of "daring new idea"? Maybe.

In each case, the author wrote a few chapters as posts on a blog, got some positive feedback, and continued. Both authors eventually turned the blog-material into a self-published book. I was surprised when I discovered that both books are available on Amazon.

One of these novels is pretty gripping, and is titled "Methuselah's Daughter."

"Methuselah's Daughter" was originally cast as a blog by the main character of the book. The blog was entertaining and interesting, and the better portions of it found their way into the novel.

Sadly, the relics of the blog that remain suffer from link-rot.

The other is an attempt at light-hearted storytelling. It claims to be the journal of a mid-level tech on a starship. The title isn't too mysterious, merely being "I Work on A Starship." But if the reader has ever worked as a technician who has to keep The Machine running for The Boss, then this book may be interesting.

Are these important? Depends on how you define the term.

Are they from the last decade? Definitely. Blog-writing was in its infancy in 2000. Blogs as incubators for novels are still rare.

Interesting? I think so. Each is interesting for its own reasons.

163:

I would certainly recommend reading an online fanfic (it's already novel sized, although still a work in progress) Hary Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Less Wrong (psuedonym). It combines and in some cases satirizes the Harry Potter series by reinventing and blending it with rationality and many SF tropes. Some of it is mindbendingly entertaining and if it exposes even a portion of the Harry Potter fanbase to logic then its worth more than entertainment.

164:

They'll pry my first edition from my cold dead hands...

165:

I'm going to throw in a curveball and suggest the graphic novel "Watchmen". I was really wowed by it's depth that totally changed what I had thought of this medium. The movie wasn't bad either.

166:

Like others (e.g. 122, 123) my response to the question was, "Hmm. 'Most important' is an impossibility, these days. Our culture is too fragmented."

Possibly for that reason and another, I'm not reading many novels these days. Nothing stands out from the crowd (present company excepted, of course).

The only thing that I can add, that I think hasn't been said already, is Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, a rumination on morality, bureaucracy, responsibility for one's actions, human nature, belief, and the nature of identity, among other things.

Fit for the times, if not the spirit of the times, but very uncomfortable to read. Hence, almost unknown in America.

Tongue in cheek vote: The Audacity of Hope. (It might've helped change the course of history, after all...)

So you can slot me in with your other readers, I also like The City & The City (identity and epistemology again), but think that All the Pretty Horses was much better than The Road. (Oryx and Crake I can't bring myself to open.) Solar was dreadful. Steampunk slavishly follows Sturgeon's Law both in the large (between works) and in the small, although I mostly liked The Windup Girl. Freedom I am reading now, and think is candy floss - it'll be forgotten in ten years.

And now, Charlie, you've demonstrated whatever it was that you set out to demonstrate. Or was this just market research?

167:

It is a good list of books to read but I think this is the wrong bunch to determine the most important book of the 2000's. The kids will decide that. The most important book of any era is the one that influences the next generation the most. It is the one that sticks in the imagination of the young and influences what is written 10 or more years later. Ask a community of 15 year old what is blowing them away. That is the most important.

Now what the BEST is, that is more the speed of this bunch. For me, I loved Anathem, Perdido Street Station and Blindsight but the best was Ilium/Olympos by Dan Simmons. Beautifully written, grand in scale, lovely classic SF storytelling.

168:

I assumed "novel" had the award length, and that "important" is one that makes changes in people, civilations, and the future.

My problem with this is that I've read a lot of the books the others have, but I'm not really feeling any of them as "important." Our bookgroup leader/librarian/fan has said we have to bring our favorite book to December's meeting, and mine is not quite SF. It's the omnibus Bell, Book and Murder (Speak Daggers to Her, Book of Moons, The Bowl of Night) by Rosemary Edghill (eluki bes shahar). Bast is a graphics person who, through all three books, has things happen to her in the Pagan society in NYC and near, and she grows. I like that, and I also like the way they're written. Sorry Charlie, that's the closest for me.

169:

I often get the feeling at this blog that I'm a rather dim student at a rather good university. Especially in this thread.

Thanks, everyone, for the summer reading list. And especial thanks to Dean Stross for not raising the tuition fees.

170:

And, I just realized that those don't meet the requirements because they were published in the late 90s.

I have Blindsight about four years down in my to-read piles, I'll have to pull it to the top.

171:

As Charlie mentioned earlier, other media are right out. Also, Watchman was published in 1988.

172:

Anathem and Blindsight can probably be considered "important" in SF circles, although they certainly would not be my first choice for a rainy day.

BTW, John Scalzi recently wrote an article about What Makes a Scifi Film a Classic?, I think we can probably adopt his criteria to find important novels:
1. Is the novel exceptionally popular?
2. Is the novel critically acclaimed?
3. Do writers cite it as an influence?
4. Does the novel feature a significant advance or refinement in writing techniques or publishing technology?
5. Is the novel notable in a subculture of our society? (Originally "Is the film notable in a subgenre of science fiction?", not sure how best to translate this to novels)

173:

Just curious, what about comics (graphic novels) and speculative science?

Pluto by Urasawa Tezuka
Planetary by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday
The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

These have been as important and driving to me as any... well, as any.

174:

I don't know what "important" means, but the best SF I read of the past 10 years or so is

The Book of the Short Sun by Gene Wolfe (published 1999-2001)

It's a monumental achievement that builds on top of The Book of the New Sun and The Book of the Long Sun and, IMHO, supercedes them both in terms of story-telling and characterization, which is no small feat. In order to fully appreciate it, you have to have read both The Book of the New Sun and The Book of the Long Sun, of course.

175:

I find the question of "important to whom" to be more interesting than defining "important" itself. I'd argue that (from a rather Americancentric view) "The Da Vinci Code" is most important, not for what it says, but because it illustrates the sort of conspiracy-minded nuttiness and escapism of the post-bombing 'merkin consciousness. An utterly horrible book, but nonetheless important.

176:

Just to toss them out there, on the purely 'insider' category: The Malazan series by Steven Erikson even though the first wast published in 1999. The entire series is just breathtaking in its complexity and depth.

177:

Important, Novel,
one?
I'd submit Stephen Baxter's "Evolution" (is it recent enough?)
also "the unincorporated man" by D & E Kollin
and while Cory tells a better story, I'm not quite sure if he has gotten down to the detailed level that we really need to understand economics in "For the win" or "Makers" (ie some real anti-dote to Ayn Rand's trash.. )

If you ask me, Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth series is GREAT FUN, (trains! wormholes! Alien Aliens!) but important? Honestly, I'd rate Accelerando more important.. and I HOPE I'm not making it more important that you consider it!

I think I need to read more sterling,, but didn't Greg Egan have something about neural interfaces, and security?
ooh.. must be the wrong author.. didn't see it on Amazon.. but I do want "Reamed"..
someday!

I did find "Rainbows End" interesting, and Vinge has always been one of those guys whos writing relates to what I'm learning professionally (but what has THAT got to do with Important? ) and I'd like to re-read that now that I've spent some time on my bicycle around the UCSD campus..
but for importance, I think Econ wins the day. Teach us real Economics, Charlie, and YOU'll have made a positive impact on the future of the Race (and planet)
(sounds like the name of an english (scottish?) pub that needs to be opened?) -

Kicker.. so that one of my entries will win, I'll throw in a pint of San Diego's best brew..
(if you can tell me what it is!)
or a couple half-dozen tasters while we try to figure that out.. don't bother trying to get back to the reading afterwards though!

Jonathan

178:

You don't need to believe a novel when it tells you that it is Important, nor do you need to believe it when it tells you that it is not. Japan has a style called the "light novel", a prime example of this being "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya", which had an influential anime adaptation (this may be partly due to its exceptionally high quality opening dance animation).

"Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" is a story about people of no great importance, but the reputation system described in it inspired quite a lot of software and websites. In this vein, Hannu Rajaniemi's "Quantum Thief" I think will turn out to be quite prescient.

179:

Don't other with Biff, it's only OK. He's a million dollar baby (got the $1M advance for Practical Demon Keeping, god knows why or how.)

Yellow Blue Tibia is interesting, but not fabulous.

Mind you, I loathed the Baroque cycle - Stephenson needs a ruthless editor, I found it self-absorbed and too much like hard work.

I'd second Blindsight and the first Rifters book from Dr Watts, though I think Charlie has read them already.

180:

I *heartily* endorse Lamb. Excellent, scurrilous, chortlesome, and pretty thought-provoking in places. As it says in the preface, something along the lines of "if this book offends your religious sensibilities, you're reading it wrong."

Also recommended - Fluke, by the same.

181:

Echoing what others have said: if you want to get meta about it there are no novels that can be identified as important as yet.

Novels in their own right aren't important. They are works of fiction, entertainment. In their own right they don't change the world. Even the sainted Rowling only makes it more likely there will be more readers in the future, which is self-serving but doesn't do anything in it's own right.

Nope, to be important they have to change something about the world. Maybe it's to give some scientist/engineer the mental model to create some new technology. Or maybe it's to give society new ideas as to how to organise itself (something it desperately needs). It's not the novel that's important, it's what and how it gets used as fodder by others to change the world.

So you couldn't point to a novel of the last ten years and say it was important, because it hasn't had the time to ferment yet.

182:

I'm going to echo Nestor, and support two works of childrens literature - Terry Pratchett's Nation, and Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.

Nation takes extremely serious situation, and uses it to reflect on what it is to be human, and what society needs to be to survive and evolve. And wraps it in a nice coming of age story.

The Graveyard Book is basically The Jungle Book with ghosts and vampires instead of wolves and panthers, but what it truly does well is break out of the mold that says childrens books must be sweet and nice and brings back in that edge of darkness that underlies all the really great stories, from Grimm through to Roald Dahl. And it does it in a really good understated way.

Both are important for the simple idea of not talking down to their audience. The language may be less complex than an adult novel, but the *ideas* and the underlying philosophies very much aren't.

And both are full of Hope and Aspiration, unlike much of recent popular childrens works like say the Golden Compass series which turned out to be fairly nihilistic underneath.

183:

Amanda Hocking's entire oeuvre. She's Stross-level prolific, so even though she started publishing in 2010, there are well over a dozen novels already, and more in the pipeline. If you've never heard of her, she writes teen/vampire type fiction and self-publishes them as ebooks.

So what, you say? What's novel and important about that?

Well, they sell quite well. Really quite well. She sold over a million copies at $1-$3, making $2m without a publishing deal, in about a year. SFAIK, she is the first person to make a spectacular living from self-published novel-writing.

That is new and very significant. Let's not get carried away with how significant it is - I note that she has now signed a contract with a traditional publisher. But I think it's a sign of a change as big as any since the introduction of the mass-market paperback in the earlier C20th, and arguably the biggest since Robinson Crusoe was published.

I personally have no idea whether they're a decent read or not, though. If they're the sort of thing you like, they presumably are, big time, or she wouldn't make so many word-of-mouth and repeat sales.

184:

My local library has infuriated me. for the last dozen years at least, they had a F/SF section, so I could quickly check for new stuff once I'd exhausted the current selection (small town, didn't take long).

Earlier this year, they implemented a new policy - all fiction is just fiction, so all genres (except crime, for some reason), are interleaved on the general stacks, with just a small hard to see sticker on the spine to indicate genre.

It's taken a lot of pleasure out of mooching the library. Ossett (or Wakefield to be more general), shame on you.

185:

It's not just the mass-transit through worm-holes, there's a lot of other stuff in there.

I loved the idea of the trains though, building on the entire "We've got hyperspace wormholes, why do we still need starships to get us up to them?" thing.

But the two books also mix in viral-line and gene-line body alterations for life extension etc., as well as personality shaping. For example, one character is genetically disposed towards honesty and problem-solving, and becomes an excellent investigator. There's also Dyson Spheres, a whopping conspiracy theory, and a whole bundle of world-building that I found I really enjoyed as a whole.

186:

Right - I don't actually want to question "novel", but "important" is pretty meaningless without a qualifier. Important for whom or what?

Many of the books mentioned I also would bring forward as big favorites of mine in contemporary sf&f (Science and the Capital trilogy, Anathem, maybe the Baroque Cycle, also the new Gibson books, and Ian McDonalds River of Gods as well as The Dervish house). I'd add some MacLeod in the mix, would say that I found Moxyland better than Zoo City and that I disagree about the newer works by Bruce Sterling. (Oh, and I forgot to mention Paolo G.(can't remember the spelling) The Windup Girl - that is great, too!)

But are these books important? What I find quite interesting is the bifurcation in things I like to read: between either far-future/fantasy with some philosophical background (take Anathem as an example, or, even if it is not from after 2000, Permanence by K. Schroeder, or The Years of Rice and Salt by K.S. Robinson), or, on the other hand, near-future sf that is more about our current situation than about anything else, and that bring into view the post-9/11-world. Either by more or less directly thematizing 9/11 (Gibson, Banks, MacLeod) or through a focus on themes like climate change (Robinson), globalization and the new importance of the south (McDonald, Beukers) or genetics (Windup girl).

In other words: SF novels that I find important for the 2000s are either political reflections of the state of the world or philosophical Gedankenexperiments.

187:

Re Stephen Bury books, while I agree that cobweb was *dire*, Interface is still one of my all-time favourite books.

188:

Hmm. For fanfiction surprisingly good and quite funny at times...

Um. Important novels of the last ten years? Surely a bit early to judge really (any subcultures started will still be far from the mainstream and I can't think of any game changing technologies which originated in that timeframe and are available now).

If pushed I'd cast my vote for The Windup Girl. If nothing else a dire example of how energy production technology and it's limitations can shape a society.

189:

"The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil rips off a bunch of ideas that were common currency in various circles as far back as the late 1980s/early 1990s; you can find a lot of its precursors in "Mind Children" by Hans Moravec, back in 1988 if I remember correctly. There was an internet mailing list in the early 90s (where, among other things, I first ran across Ken MacLeod) ...

190:

On a non-sf front I vote for the Reluctant Fundamentalist, a really thought provoking and originally written book about the nature of "extremism" and why the "war on terror" is a much more complex issue than portrayed in the mass media.

On the SF front I could argue for Richard Morgans work - the Takeshi Kovacs novels basically explored whether a concious sense of self was independent of the body it is housed in and Black Man (13 in the US) the opposite, that we are defined by our genetics. In both books the protagonist wrestles with his nature / training / upbringing and tries to break free of the constraints imposed upon them.
Alistair Reynolds stuff always entertains and provokes some thought on where humanity is headed.

I think I might have to go read Anathem and Blind Fire after all the praise on here.

191:

Rather than clutter up new comments with 4 replies, I'll make the general observation that almost anything that's been mentioned (and certainly anything mentioned more than once) I've read, intend to read, or have read earlier works by the author of and actively avoided ever since (Yes China Meiville, I'm looking at you here).
Specific replies

#58 - Well, I voluntarily wander into "general fiction" (in Waterstones Sauchiehall St, Glasgow at that) to look at books, but I'm looking for new (to me) books by "authors I enjoy", rather than for general literary prize nominees.

#99 - I'd second "Slow Train to Arcturus" as a new "big thinking"/BDO work worth reading.

#173 - If we allow comics/GNs, how about "Astro City - The Dark Ages". It's nominally "superhero fiction" but the heroes are all reduced to B-plots and bit players in an arc plot where a couple of brothers seek justice or at least revenge for their murdered parents.

192:

One could argue that Harry Potter is in fact a single novel, published in seven parts. Symptoms of that would be the end being written first, the pre-planned plotting that does hold off items for several volumes, and consistent character arcs.

(On the other hand, a modern novel is not usually produced such that earlier chinks have been read by the readers before the author has done more than outline later bits. That's something more seen in the Dickens era.)

If we do take it as a single novel, though, we could characterise Rowling as a one-novel writer. It's the story she had to write, that forced itself out, and now she's done it she no longer has that need to write. That would account for that current lack of ambition.

193:

Sorry. #192 is a duplicate post because #191 didn't show up earlier; Mods please nuke one of them.

194:

What duplicate ... 8-)

195:

ROFL!! :-D Cheers.

196:

She's Stross-level prolific, so even though she started publishing in 2010, there are well over a dozen novels already, and more in the pipeline.

That's not Stross-level prolific.

I'm not actually that prolific; I once calculated that in a good year I turn out about 30% as much prose as Harry Turtledove. (And in a bad year, it's down around 20%.) I just look prolific because I was in a position where I could hit the ground running.

Hocking's level of output suggests to me that she had a shelf of novels already written before she decided to try self-publishing, and once she started she rammed everything she had into e-print with extremely professional market orientation. (Note: I haven't read any of her work so I can't speak as to its quality.)

197:

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts, because it made me laugh so much it woke up my neighbours.

It made me titter, a little, albeit guiltily (look at the nasty man point and mock the non-neurotypical!) until we got to the Chernobyl scenes, at which it rapidly encountered the wall of my living room and was not re-opened.

Hint: if you're going to use a setting of major historic interest for the pivot-point of your plot, it helps to at least look it up on wikipedia.

Because Roberts' description of the RBMK reactor that went "bang" is actually a description of a [western pattern] fuel rod cooling pond.

And five minutes on wikipedia would have corrected him.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! (Which, in my view, sums up Adam Roberts' approach to writing SF: he's all over the style and form but doesn't give a shit about the content.)

198:

I am going to go off the deep end and suggest some novels that were not good, but launched (or arguably revived) an explosion of a lucrative sub genre: Laurel K Hamilton's later (sexually explicit) Anita Blake books. A popularization of the fusion of pulp fantasy rooted in gothic horror with overt erotica has brought some of the monetary success of the romance genre to the world of fandom (or so I have heard it claimed).

It seems to me that it could be just as important to consider influential effects upon the business of publishing novels as it is to consider the aesthetic trends.

199:

This thread is depressing. Are there any new sci-fi novels that focus on characters and plot, instead of technology? Or should I go on not reading any of the new stuff?

200:

PS. Love this comment of Blindsight from Amazon:

"Lousy, lousy book. Awkwardly written, full of technobabble, endless, incomprehensible descriptions of stuff and objects we don't care about, ultimately boring, and just sucky. Worse than Charles Stross."

8-)

201:

seconded.. admittedly currently i'm deep into Stonewielder (yes, not by Errikson.. but still, hold a candellabra to it nicely) and following the Malazan Re-Read of the Fallen on TOR just now and continualy realising there were bits i missed despite having read things more than once..

but for depth of world building.. and outright Donaldson-class wordsmithery and humour of possibly the darkest type.. there's nothing i've found to touch it.

Proper brutal grown-up fantasy that is a tour through the Tropes but all of them twisted and undermined so that you can't expect to know what happenned.

/fanw*nk and apologies for froth.

202:

By the time of the setting of the book, robots and virtual reality have so satisficed the sexual market that dealing with real people, with their real problems and their meaty, sweaty bodies, was considered kinky.

This is surely ripe for the Big Book of SF Clichés. All sorts of people predicted this for the near-future for the last 40 or so years. Ballard in the 70s was the pioneer, I think, but everyone else has done it (including Charlie).

However it doesn't seem to get any closer, rather like fusion power. SF nerds like robots, but then, they're stereotypically sexually frustrated. Instead, rather than getting all their sex from porn, it looks like people are rather doing the opposite: getting their porn from sex, as in filming each other with smartphones and posting it on the web.

(Look at the Nokia N8's spec sheet. I'm convinced it was designed deliberately for just that. Either that or cop-watching.)

I think the "no sexing, just VR dildonics" future is an artificial womb - a basically silly idea reeking of body-hate and misogyny that recurs because it speaks to SF's own pathologies, prejudices, and path-dependence. Come on, it's quite a while since Datura sang "People are still having sex":-)

If pushed I'd cast my vote for The Windup Girl. If nothing else a dire example of how energy production technology and it's limitations can shape a society.

Really, really, you should read James Nicoll's criticism of it. Yes, if you decide to use energy technology with unnecessary and weird restrictions, you'll be a pretty weird society. But the point of SF is surely that the dictatorial power of the author is exercised along the lines of real science.

If you can genetically engineer giant draught beasts, you can crank up the yield of bio-fuel crops more easily. If you can engineer huge steel springs, you can also engineer a steam engine and use the biomass you feed the beasts with a couple of orders of magnitude higher efficiency and a much better duty cycle. (Also, you can use the stuff the beasts and you won't eat.) Remember Henry Ford's ad for the Model-T: it doesn't need feeding while it's standing still.

Or you could make ethanol or biodiesel from the crops and run a diesel engine, with something like three orders of magnitude efficiency gain over the steam engine. (Have you seen any old stationary diesels? Or even the ones up to the 60s like the Gardner 6LX? They're not exactly hyper-whizzy materials science.) There is a reason why we replaced draught animals with steam engines and steam engines with diesel engines. (Actually, Rudolf Diesel never expected we'd put valuable petroleum in his rational heat engine - he thought it would be biodiesel or else something extracted from coal.)

And this is especially stupid in a book set in South-East Asia, where whole colonial plantation economies ran on steam power derived from the leftover stuff after the cash crops were extracted. It's as if not everyone loves wood-burning steam locos:-)

Oh, double stupid, too - you know what happened when Barbara Castle imposed a minimum power-to-weight ratio on trucks in Britain to keep her new motorways nice and snappy? All those rock-solid Perkins P4 and Gardner 6LX 105hp diesels you could fix with a hammer got either retrofitted out or scrapped with the truck. Where did they end up? Exported to Hong Kong and Singapore, where people bought them and invented the long-tailed motorboats you see in every port in South-East Asia.

203:

That's a fair comment. I don't know much about reactors so that bit went over my head somewhat. I agree that Roberts seems to be going down a path where I don't want to follow him - I liked his early work, espeacially On, and the totalitarian slapstick of YBT. And who can dislike a book which involves the murder of a science-ologist. I loved the business with the police tape recorder.

His later work, meh. I don't often leave a book unfinished, but that's been the fate of a lot of my Roberts.

@199: I think most of the books mentioned here have people and plots in them?

204:

Falling Out Of Cars, by Jeff Noon

I think nobody will want to argue that it is a novel, and it was published in 2003, so is inside the period.

Why do I think it important? The novel is depicts the cognitive breakdown of its protagonist (Marlene Moore). In the scenario, she is suffering from a disease that afflicts most of humanity, except for a tiny immune minority. The disease interferes with the interpretation of symbols. A factor extracted from the blood of the immune is used to make a drug, called Lucidity, which slows the disease.

The thing that makes it different, and to my mind important, is the chilling way that the breakdown of cognitive structures is portrayed. As many (most ?) of us have this to look forward to, courtesy of Alzheimers or other dementias, I found it one of the most moving and profoundly sad books I have read for a long time.

I have read some of Noon's other books, but found them a bit shouty and frenetic, although quite funny. This was completely different in style and tone.

205:

The author whose books feature FTL travel might not, perhaps, be in the best position to criticise scientific inaccuracies in the work of other writers.

I jest of course (please don't ban me).

Or do I? Science fiction, like nuclear fission powerplants, was a product of that era we usually call 'modern'. As a genre, it delivered the kinds of frisson that people often encountered in real life, beyond the pages of text they might peruse in their leisure hours.

My mum, for example, despised science fiction, but she also grew up in a house that didn't get a refrigerator until she was 16. And my Da used to refer to my generation as 'post Man on the Moon'.

In a world where high technology is all pervasive, can such frissons be part of everyday life any more? And if it isn't, what are the implications for a genre that depends on frisson?

I was going to write that Sci-fi seems to me to be going the way of the western. . . something that remains embedded in popular culture, but is no longer a genre with mass appeal. Except that the rise and fall of the western happened for arguably very different reasons than science fiction did.

Just thinking aloud, carry on, talk amongst yourselves. Take five, smoke 'em if you got 'em. . .

206:

Wow. I am used to being "that guy" who says "What about Peter Watts?" from the corner of a thread.

Watts is the only recent writer who has actively warped my brain, the way Wolfe, Tiptree, Cordwainer Smith and even to a lesser extent, Varley used to. There are plenty of writers who are fun, who send up great ideas and/or have important things to say about society, truth, etc. Watts is the only voice I have to read and re-read just to make sure I understood what was going on (not in a bad prose sort of way.) Maybe it's just my age and experience of reading, but most writers either write something I have seen before or do "experimental" narrative for its own sake. The weirdness in Blindsight arises organically from the subject matter, not just because Watts wanted to be weird (though going by his blog, he probably wants that too.) Also, for all its ambitious speculation, much of the subject matter is actually more grounded in modern scientific exploration than supposedly "hard" SF these days. It is possible that Watts is one of the few writers who has actually caught up to how weird reality is these days, both in cultural perspectives and in the world science perceives to be on the other end of the 'scope.

Most of the cyberpunks and their heirs seem to still view the world from the outside, as if their "coolness" shields them from being one of the sheeple. They are still very much the Classical Observer, no matter how much slight of hand they employ to distract us from perceiving that. Watts' characters/narrative voices really do seem to convey through the filter of damage and limitation that all minds suffer from, in one way or another, and which has become more pronounced or at least noticeable in these days of cultural fragmentation and futureshock-weariness. There is no moment of truth where everything becomes clear and can be fixed by the fully transitive subject. It literally takes a lot of work for several very strange humans/entities to discover/create and then convey the "truth" to Siri and when he gets it, there is almost nothing of practical value he can do with it. (Watts also takes this beyond casual speculation and plot device and offers scientifically based theories of mind/brain to back up what would be a literary theory parlour trick for even the best of writers. He is actually writing hard literary sf where the science is narrative itself as well as biology, physics and what have you. Yet there is no bifurcation between the plot elements and the narrative theory elements: they're the same thing because Watts is that f***ing good at conveying complex, dense streams of information. It's not reality, but it's a better approximation that we are used to receiving.)

Do I want to live in Watts' world? Hell, no, but I may not have a choice.

207:

Are there any new sci-fi novels that focus on characters and plot, instead of technology?

Plenty, but you're seeing what my blog's readership throws up, which is a self-selected focus group with, shall we say, specialist interests.

(And by the way, the Baroque Cycle and Blindsight -- which seem to be rising to the top -- both hinge on character, albeit rather disturbingly warped characters in both cases. I have a bit less time for plot, insofar as it can easily degenerate into melodrama lacking in verisimilitude, but that may just be me.)

208:

Pattern Recognition
Gibson
concept

209:

You seem to have stopped reading after the first sentence of Charlie's post. Or is 'concept' supposed to fulfil his instruction of Explain your reasoning?

In other words: expound further.

210:

This may come as a surprise to you, but I tend to agree.

(Which is why the remit for the next novel I write is "mundane SF space opera" -- something that I don't think has been done before -- and the novel after that is another near future thriller in the series beginning with "Halting State" and "Rule 34".)

I will note, however, that media SF tends to use the outer visuals of SF -- actors in funny latex makeup, big explosions and SFX, spaceships manoeuvring with the dynamics of WW1 fighter aircraft -- while ditching the substantive ideas. And as long as there's an audience for ideas I'm going to be trying to keep it entertained.

211:

Most important novel C21 hmmmm

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver (2003)

If there's any chance you might read the novel, don't read the wikipedia entry it ruins the flow of the book.

One of the themes of the novel is the assumption that a mother will love her children, she just will. What happens if you don't?

I loaned this to one person who phoned me up at 0300 that night crying because she wasn't the only one and another who basically stopped speaking to me afterwards. Any novel that can break relationships has to count as important.


E@ - Matt Beaumont (2000)

A novel written entirely in the form of e-mails sent within a company presented chronologically.

Important to me because it made me smile when I desperately needed to and because I'd never seen anyone use similar form in a novel before.

Not sure which one to pick.

I wanted to put "Steven Eriksons - Malazan Books of the Fallen" in here but the first one was (1999). A couple of things by Warren Ellis but I didn't want to push the no other media rule. Several things already mentioned by other posters as well.

212:

Good, then we're all agreed.

To quote Mr. Cholmondely-Warner.

With regards to media SF: someone said that Star Trek and its derivatives could very easily have been about 18th century warships bopping about the pacific ocean. Which is one reason why I recently read the diaries of Captain James Cook, which I commend to the house.

The outer visuals then, may be all that remains of the genre, and novelists of ideas will be swallowed up by the great post-genre swamp.

Speaking of which, the divide between middle- and high- brow fiction, and the various pulp ghettoes, was a product of an era when the reading public numbered in tens of millions. Most of those millions make do with television, and even though we are supposedly going through a golden age of fiction on TV, most of those shows (The Wire apart) merely demonstrate the acute limits of television as a medium. (the vaunted Mad Men, for example, is really just a lot of suits moving through some nice sets).

The residual reading public will have a far greater proportion of people who came to the reading experience via genre fiction, including its most despised forms. What ultimate effect will this have on the place of narrative fictions in society?

Finally (because I need to get back to work), having thought about I'd say the most significant development in fiction in the past ten years has been the Scandinavian crime fiction boom. There are certain basic tropes there, as there were in the western and in Sci-fi. The dour grimness of the protagonists embodies the bleak future (and present) of what were once optimistic, modernist welfare states. Could your 'near future thrillers' be seen as in some way related, even orthogonally?

213:

"And as long as there's an audience for ideas I'm going to be trying to keep it entertained."

I have given up reading much SF over the past few years because there are so few new ideas. Perhaps Accelerando was the peak of what might be termed the H+ future. New Ideas are more likely to be along the lines of the Laundry series ie fantasy. In other words, tech morphed into magic. The alternative is to write for a smaller and smaller super scientifically literate audience who keep up with the very latest in scitech, along with its jargon.

214:

> Foreign key

I thought that link was going to be a snarky back-reference to your previous post about Western naming conventions :) I mean, it sure is hard to track an asset if it insists on naming itself.

Here's my take: for a novel to be plausibly called "important" it at least has to be widely read. It also has to change the reader's perspective on something, or at least have a clear perspective on something, or at least provoke discussion.

I have to add that I read very few fiction books, because frankly most of them are a terrible waste of time, and the idiocy of the concept comes across much more clearly on a page than on the movie screen. So I'm in no way in a position to be writing this.

By the way, I tried reading Blindsight but found it rather poorly written and basically just idiotic. Anybody else?

I like the concept of Time Traveler's Wife very much. I like its subtext that society fails to protect the less fortunate -- that's an important message, and one that I think the book delivers very powerfully. I think the author was clever in how she resolved the classic time-travel paradoxes, and she was very consistent in how she did it. But I couldn't stand the romance-porn aspect of it, and so the book met the wall.

Cloud Atlas, on the other hand, was spectacular. I think it sums up very well "What this human race thing is all about" a lot better than, say, 100 Years of Solitude, though similar to it in scope and intent.

To elaborate:
1. The author clearly pays attention to style, and each part of the book is written in a different style (and a convincing one). That to me moves the book out of guy-writing-down-a-fantasy into what could be considered art.

2. The historical parts of the books are clearly carefully researched, they are not just "the present with horses" as so many historical novels are. It really took me to all these places. The unique style of each section helped as well.

3. The characters are very convincing. They have their own perspectives, very clear and limited perspectives, and they are often surprised by things outside of those perspectives. To me, it is a very powerful message how we are all so limited in our worldviews.

4. The last (i.e. middle) part, the end-of-the-world one, is incredibly well thought-through. No melodrama, no apocalyptic bullshit. Just a gradual petering out. The main character doesn't even know the (human) world is ending until the very end. And, quite rightly, the rest of the world is totally unaffected. It's only human civilization that has crumbled, while the rest of the world just goes on. Again, a powerful message, how we will all just die, forgotten, and the world will carry on.

5. The core of each section is all about compassion, and our cruelty to one another, which in my opinion is the most important message any book can have. That sounds too goody-two-shoes. But I mean, in some ways, that really is the essence of human history.

6. It's just damn good reading.

215:

You want Lois McMaster Bujold, hard sf types like Watts, Vinge and our esteemed host sometimes lose me because I suddenly stop and realize "I don't actually give a crap what happens to these people"* but Bujold could make me read about a dinner party or a wedding planning session (And has indeed done so) with rapt attention.

She seems to be focusing on fantasy recently though she brings a very sci-fi like attention to the mechanics of magic and theology in the worlds she builds.

In my ideal world the Vorkosigan saga would be more popular than Harry Potter, but alas that's just not so.

* However with Mo and Bob & co. this is not likely to happen

216:

#199 Are there any new sci-fi novels that focus on characters and plot, instead of technology

For what value(s) of "focus...plot"? Personally, if it doesn't have engaging characters and a plot, I'll get bored by it. Hence why (I accept possibly uniquely) I didn't enjoy Palimpsest (unusually for something Charlie wrote). It just didn't engage me, and the effort didn't seem worth the destination.

#205, 210 and 212 - I think it was Gene Roddenbury himself (possibly in his original pitch for the show) that described Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the Stars".

217:

The most important novel to me (I don't feel qualified to speak for the rest of humanity) in the last 10 years has been Sherri S Tepper's 'The Margarets'. All of Tepper's books have left me in a 'Oh wow' frame of mind when I've finished reading them, but 'The Margarets' with its sub-text about choice, personality and perspective, and the concept of a government retarding ability so that no one excels, left me reeling.

BTW as someone with a dx on the autism spectrum, albeit high functioning, I'd like to second the suggestion of 'Speed of Dark'. The only reason that I do not propose it myself is that its depiction of autism/Aspergers was so real, it felt too much like looking in a mirror and I was unable to finish it.

218:

(and our esteemed host sometimes lose me because I suddenly stop and realize 'I don't actually give a crap what happens to these people")..

Opposite for me. In one series, I was thinking "I'd love it if these bastards got machinegunned. And then nuked. A lot", well, no spoilers here ...

219:

Paolo Bacigalupi's THE WINDUP GIRL. It's not the first novel to deal with a future dystopian ecological nightmare world, but I would argue that it's one of the best, and one that will have a profound impact on future writers the way Gibson did with NEUROMANCER.

It's a dark, brilliant work that touches on the morality of genetic manipulation as well as the depletion of natural resources. TIME magazine named it one of the most important novels of the year when it was published, and its accumulated bucketloads of awards.

220:

Which just goes to prove that we're all different; borrowing from Phil Knight, I'd like to have the Vorkosian saga's characters machinegunned, then nuked, then attacked with mass drivers, a lot. Not because I like or hate them, but because I couldn't care less about them, and that should stop them boring me!

221:

Ah, sorry! I skimmed through the replies and did a search for "Paolo" and only came up with one result and missed your entry. We are thinking on the same wavelength regarding THE WINDUP GIRL's influence. Cheers!

222:

Been a while since I read it, but a bit more of the same for the Blindsight bandwagon.
I stumbled upon this novel, had zero previous with Watts, but it sucked me in and temporarily destroyed my social life. Not by keeping me in until I'd read it (I still went out), but because when I did go out, all I could talk about was this bloody book. Chinese rooms blah blah, drawbacks of consciousness blah blah blah, practical multi-personality(ism) blah bloody blah. My drinking circle is not particularly SF orientated. Very soon I was ostracized and told not to come back till I'd calmed down.
I generally never get so emphatic about my reading habits, but Blindsight changed that, which came as a bit of a surprise, which is why it is important to me.
I have a hankering to re-read it, but I lent (forced) it to my sister, who happens to be a psychiatric nurse with a propensity towards quite serious bouts of depression. This may have been somewhat misguided.

223:

And my Da used to refer to my generation as 'post Man on the Moon'.

What I coincidence. I frequently use the term "post Apollo". It is have a good watershed moment, although I suspect it is more about post 1960's in practice. There seems to be something quite different between those of us who witnessed the Apollo moon landings, and those who only learned about them 2nd hand.

224:

Windup Girl? Are you serious? All the premises are utter bullshit. It's not science fiction, it's scientifically ignorant crazy enviromentalist wank, feeding on the modern green hype.

225:

I can just remember seeing a Saturn V take off on the telly. That was when we were in southern Ontario, which would have been about 1974.

I think that must have been the launch which put Skylab in orbit.

226:

Anathem, River of Gods, The Cloud Atlas, Blindsight...all excellent books. But I'm afraid I'm in the camp that argues that there have been no GIANT books of importance published in the past decade. Also (by a somewhat different criteria) a lot of books I've liked and none I've LOVED with the passion I used to respond to books with. Just guessing, I'd attribute this to authors who write with their eye too much on the market and publishers with theirs too much on the bestseller list. Sales are and always have been important, but I don't think you can shake up the world by listening to focus groups.

And of course, all the vampire/zombie/steampunk stuff, while perhaps entertaining, doesn't help.

(Qualification to comment: these are the books I have read during this period: http://www.webnesia.com/booksread.php)

227:

Marginally related to this discussion (writers I like, but I can't really claim he's "Important" in the grand sense): for people in Edinburgh, BBC Scotland made this announcement. Don't ask me for details, ask them. I don't even know what a BBC Potterow is.

Free TICKETS for TONIGHT 1930: Christopher Brookmyre in conversation w/ Richard Herring @ BBC Potterrow

228:

Let me put it this way. I remember exactly what I was doing when RFK was shot (unfortunately not with JFK). I also remember exactly how I saw Armstrong first step on the moon. It was a landmark moment that deeply embedded itself in my memory.

As a side note, I used the Skylab 1 human physiology reports as part of my final year undergrad thesis.

229:

also, from BBC Scotland's Twitter

2030: Christopher Brookmyre in conversation w/ screenwriter & novelist Jonathan Lynn @ BBC Potterrow

230:

"As a side note, I used the Skylab 1 human physiology reports as part of my final year undergrad thesis. "

You win this round, Tolley - but we shall meet again.

231:

Heh. That was the first time I've gotten enraged enough to throw away a book in disgust in years. So the work got a nice reaction out of me at least. That being said the series in question started off with engrossing nice character development and dissolved into cardboard cutouts and really seemed to go off the rails as far as I could tell. Which was why I got so irritated by the most recent one, especially after being hooked enough to find book 2 on a torrent site as it was out of print in the UK and quite simply unavailable, even from Amazon.

232:

I'm probably wrong, but I got the feeling Charlie painted himself into a corner with a series he wasn't enjoying. I found myself wanting to read the "Book I will not write" mentioned in an earlier post in this blog, i.e. a space opera, of sorts. Made sense to me to burn the world rather than put any more time into it. But I really loved the way it did end.

233:

I'm not sure I'd pick The Speed of Dark as my top book, but it's in the top 10 running.

My sense of importance in a novel comes from something beyond mere artistic value. The novel has to expose me to new ideas, or the importance of an idea that I hadn't fully thought through.

Speed of Dark fit that for me. It explored neurodiversity and accommodation of humans in a corporate environment. That was just one aspect of the novel. Other comments in this thread have explored others.

Over the years novels that explore diversity in what it means to be human (or valued equivalently as) stick with me. This concept is not new, but aspects of it are. Greg Egan is one novelist that introduced me to the idea of sexual identity/orientation beyond what we have today. I don't know which of his first novels opened my mind to that, so I don't know if they fall within the past 10 years.

His novels have consistently been mind blowing experiences for me, and not just in with thinking ethical beings.

I'll take Zendegi then, for the relationship with the dad and his child. I loved how the dad handled situations in which his child was acting out. He took such humane, mature, and ethical actions.

Egan's short story The Singleton has stuck with me due to the extremely ethical moment the protagonist has at the beginning of the novel when he stands on the cusp of a decision and makes a choice then dedicates his work to finding a way to allow people to make real choices.

I remember the first time I learned of Stanley Milgram's experiment written up in Obedience to Authority. It is important to me to be true to myself and attempt to live a life where I do not harm others. Or so I thought. After learning more about human psychology I realized that I could get in to situations where I would not actually behave according to who I think I am or what I claim to believe.

Reading that short story was intense in that way. The protagonist overcame the bystander effect, he helped someone, and put himself at risk. Then he worked to make sure other people could make their actions stick.

I will also call in a vote for Blindsight, for many of the same reasons mentioned in comments. I will also say that Light by M John Harrison affected me somehow, but I'm not sure I can explain why, nor whether I would consider it important. It was eerie and beautiful, which is not important, but it also had the idea of people being able to choose their identities, perhaps? I'm not sure how much it pushed that. I don't know that I would vote for it, but I wanted to describe it more since the person above who mentioned it didn't go in to much detail for you.

234:

I will also consider China Miéville important, but I don't know if he is important or his novels, so I am not sure I can pick a novel. PSS was mindblowing in way as to introduce me to world building that was so different in what I had read before. I guess that would be important in that it introduced me to the New Weird.

But importance has to go beyond just setting an entirely new aesthetic, and those novels did that for me with the themes he chose to explore in the context of the novels--social justice, workers' struggle. But is that new or not?

Maybe it is like Lem looking at PKD's writings where PKD got to explore thing beyond what he could explore in mere mimetic fiction. Oh, and Miéville does this better than authors who set up worlds that are too artificial in order to prove some sterile political point by pushing over straw men.

235:

Two recommendations here (I had some amazing books come to mind, but they're not Important Novels)
:
Storm Front, Jim Butcher. Yes, the Dresden Files. Why important? Because while it didn't create the Urban Fantasy sub-genre, it definitely is how most people discovered the genre. Not sure who to blame for the "hot-female-werewolf-pi-who-wears-leather-pants" that seems to inundate the isles these days, though.

Perdido Street Station, purely for the whole New Weird/Slipstream/Altered Fantasy genre it more or less spawned.

236:

I'll add my vote to the Baroque Cycle as the series of novels that made the biggest impression on me in the last 10 or so years. For all the reasons already mentioned and more specifically for the treatment of the Leibniz/Newton rivalry and the fact that it all happens in the same "universe" as Cryptonomicon.

And cheating a little (as it was published in 1996, but I only read it in 2001) I would like to add Banks's Excession to the list for having the best treatment of AI personalities/motivations I've ever read outside of Asimov.

237:

Overall Jonathan Littell the Kindly Ones (published in French in 2006 despite that the author is American born and translated later) is the most important novel of the 00's because it makes the Nazi regime and its policies of extermination, personal through the eyes of one of their own, a conflicted and unstable believer true, but a believer nonetheless; it also reminds us that mostly regular people participated in the murders and that the system overwhelms most individuals; also in a sfnal association it provides one of the most devastating critiques of the fantasy/sf trope of "glorious band of brothers" as it portrays the Nazi executioners precisely as such, doing a nasty job for the greater good of humanity and paying their price in nightmares, drunkenness and all; after reading that book I doubt a sff band of brothers book would be appealing that much anymore.

In the sff arena Anathem for the multiple reasons mentioned above; the combination of Plato and the Multiverse makes this one the must read novel for anyone interested in fictionalization of current natural philosophy speculations

238:

No specific novels in mind, and it looks as though the significant ones were in the 1990s anyway, but it is arguable that an author such as Tom Clancy is feeding an attitude to war, and a political line of thinking, which has shaped the first decade of this century. And is, i think, important.

But it looks like Tom Clancy doesn't write many books in the timeframe.

239:

the methoods of rationality has got to be there,,
also liked Peter F Hamiltons Fallen Dragon..
twistier than a twisty thing

240:

I like the comparison between "The Windup Girl" and "Neuromancer". Both have easily breakable science in the background (who needs VR to exchange bank statements?), but were able to put the look-out on the future of a specific generation (Zeitgeist, anyone?) into images digestable as sf.

241:

Your point about Clancy is something that I hadn't considered before, but it does merit some deep consideration.

242:

I suspect that Roberts' New Model Army may prove to be an important novel, even if it isn't (IMHO) a particularly good one. If his ideas for totally decentralised and autonomous citizen armies ever get taken up and made workable, things could get very interesting.

243:

I think John Scalzi addressed this at some point in his blog, but basically, there's a fundamental point about ideas vs. plot/character: there are 80,000-120,000 words in a novel. That's actually not a lot. In general, every word that's allocated to an idea is a word lost to plotting or characterization, and vice versa. Bujold is a classic example of devoting most of the work to writing a story. Jules Verne is a classic example of going the other way (what someone called "the wiring diagram novel").

One of the interesting points no one has addressed here is how "stickiness" is another gauge of importance. Some stuff tends to stick with you.

For example, Neuromancer gave us cyberspace, and while that word is fading away, there was a time when people tried to make the internet work like that, and even today, cyber- is a legitimate suffix. Similarly, I was watching a NOVA program on fractals, and an old math professor talked about "grokking fractals." As for LOTR, the very fact that I can use that acronym says it all. Or there's the fact that a lot of cell phones looked like Star Trek communicators until smart phones came out.

So whose ideas have stuck in the last ten years?

244:
borrowing from Phil Knight, I'd like to have the Vorkosian saga's characters machinegunned, then nuked, then attacked with mass drivers, a lot.

That's kind of what happens to them in the books, Bujold being of the "let's see what horrible thing I can inflict on my character's next" persuasion.

I've mentioned "Memory" but if Charlie just wants a fun read, (as opposed to "important") "A Civil Campaign" is just fantastic.

I love "A civil campaign" and reread it regularly but I think you need to read previous novels with the characters in order to care for them enough, it's self description as a comedy of biology and manners is fairly accurate. And nobody gets his torso blown apart by a needle grenade or his skin removed as part of elaborate psychosexual torture.

Alex @ 202

is an artificial womb - a basically silly idea reeking of body-hate and misogyny that recurs because it speaks to SF's own pathologies

What makes an artificial womb a misogynist idea? One plays a significant part in the pre-Miles Vorkosigan books, and I don't think Bujold is particularly misogynistic.

While generally she plays with a limited sci-fi toolbox I believe she does have a medical background of some sort and her use of biotech is fairly nuanced.

245:

On Blindsight. I didn't like it. In particular, I didn't like those idiot vampires.

Here's why: After I read a bit about the concept, I went for a walk in the woods. After a few minutes, I got tired of counting the dozens of natural crosses I saw, where two branches crossed each other at right angles. That didn't even count the grass stems, whipping in the wind, crossing each other regularly. While I think it's cool that a biologist tried to come up with a biological vampire, that one failed spectacularly. Dr. Watts needs to get outside a bit more.

As for consciousness (as defined by Watts, not me) being maladaptive, I don't think he got that right either, and he's scarcely the first person to have that idea. Bruce Sterling came up with it a while ago (the short story "Swarm," in Crystal Express), and I doubt Sterling's the first either.

246:

If we're getting into fantasy books that fuel the current political climate, we've got to add in LeHaye and Jenkins' Left Behind series (1995-2007). There are fifteen of them (per The wikipedia entry), and 9 of those were published post 2001.

I haven't read any of them, and if they were the only books I had, I'd probably use them for palimpsests rather than trying to read them. Yes, I can think of a number of other uses for them too, although I think the paper is too stiff and coarse for what most readers here would want to do with them.

However, considering how dominionist theology is yanking the US around right now, we can't legitimately ignore these books, antithetical as they are to our preferences. They are important. Right now.

247:

I'll have to go with the qualifier of "important to me" and being more than just an entertaining read.

I haven't read enough from the last decade and would have to second ix and heteromeles that I'm feeling I'm missing something top shelf.

I'll give an honorable mention to the 1999 book Perdido Street Station by Mieville because it's fantasy without being fantasy - the whole gritty urban fantasy, with horror and steampunk - it helped birth a genre and an author and is a hell of a ride to boot.

Little Brother by Doctorow for runner-up: there's so much interesting discussion on privacy and is a great updating of the Orwellian society. He does such a nice gentle introduction on each of the topics I keep thinking about recommending it to non-tech people, but then realise it's probably not as gentle as they could really use.

But I'll go with a recent read, for the Quantum Thief. A fairly futuristic setting, it tended to just throw a lot of very interesting concepts at the reader with a minimum of explanation, resulting in quite a number of pauses whilst reading just to think through some of the consequences of the tech.

Sidenote: I went from The Quantum Thief to Accelerando to a Bujold novel, and whilst the latter was quite fine and enjoyable it really did feel like reading Mills and Boon in Space after two hard-sf novels.

248:

I'd completely disagree about Clancy...or any of the other nonsense about 'escapist conspiracy nuttiness' being either recent or in any way uniquely American.

Escapism and conspiracies have been staples of fiction for about as long as it has been published; while conflict and war have always been major themes.

If there is any greater militancy to novels these days it is just a reflection of the last 20+ years of "low intensity conflict" all over the world and the conclusive proof that the 'end of the cold war' didn't lead to the utopia of world peace some incredible optimists thought it would.

249:

Consciousness is an ill-defined term, anyway.

250:

Now I wonder if this crowd could agree on any single novel as important (and, nope, the bible isn't a novel: more like an anthology...), ever; let alone on the provided timeframe...

And to join in on the heretic crowd: Blindsight was merely entertaining, the way a Tom Clancy novel can be if you turn off certain parts of your brain. Honestly, the author's existencial pessimism hung over the narrative like a gigantic cloud of smoke, so I expected a Diabolous Ex Machina at every corner, and on that Watts never disappointed. Also - vampires? Really? And their weakness is ANY right angle? They might as well be sparkling, because it doesn't get much more ridiculous than that.

Sure, I learned more than I ever wanted to know about biology and game theory, but, to quote OGH: Ideas are cheap. And, I'd, add, mostly useless - at least the ones that have no bearing whatsoever on my area of expertise (ie, humanities, and, specifically, law and criminal systems)- so most "ideas" on sci-fi might as well be magic for me... Oh, now I remember my favorite part of Blindsight: the linguistiscs scratched all the right parts of my brain, unfortunately, as a law student close to graduation, I don't have any time whatsoever to read up on it.

Honestly, Watt's prose (like most of the SF field)is lackluster at best, and I didn't care for the characters... but the plot was entertaining.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: fuck the ideas, give me art.

251:

"...the 'end of the cold war' didn't lead to the utopia of world peace some incredible optimists thought it would."

Deaths in assorted wars, conflicts, "police actions" are WAY down since the end of the Cold War

252:

Go read some Gene Wolfe and toddle off son.

253:

I didn't know The Golden Globe was in the time period Charlie set. If I had, I'd have nominated it and I'll cheerfully second it.

254:

yeah, I read a few pages of the first "Left Behind" book. I'll never get that time back. I'm the sort that'll read every word on the back of a cornflakes packet if there's nothing else around, but I don't think I'll be reading any LaHaye again soon.

Has anyone written a Rature novel where all the Christians leave and everyone just, you know, gets on with it?

(I do know some really nice people who are infected with the religion thing, I'm not having a go)

255:

"Deaths in assorted wars, conflicts, "police actions" are WAY down since the end of the Cold War"

This is really straying rather off topic, but that is a very "interesting" opinion. I'm not going to work up even the short version of the research paper it would take to prove that substantially wrong; but I suggest you try some quick math adding up the death tolls from various wars, police actions, civil wars and genocides from say 1970-1990 and from 1990-2010. They may not be perfectly equal and we could spend days arguing over the numbers, but it certainly is not "way down".

256:

+1 Blindsight

Also a vrey big fan of Anathem, but despite its many excellent qualities, it suffers from the overwriting typical of Stephenson. Blindsight has terse excellent prose on top of everything else that is great about it.

257:

yeah, it's well offtopic and I'm not going to look into it as it leavs a bad taste in my mind, but 1970-1990 includes the approx 2 million in Cambodia, so I'd guess you're wrong, as I can't think of any other major events to even the sides. The East Timor thing straddles the divide, but occurs from mid 70's to about 2000.

I've nothing more to say about this and I'm not trying to start a row. I'm quite prepared a) to be wrong b) to be right but thought to be wrong.

258:

Thanks x 2 to OGH for the original question: the thread has pointed me at lots of new ideas for my reading list, as well as making me sit and think real hard about that term 'important'.

Unfortunately I'm not sure I can answer that one. I read because I enjoy seeing other (hypothetical and near-real) worlds through other people's mental filters, and while not necessarily considering myself to be particularly into 'deep' intellectual ideas, the fact that so many books listed here are on my shelves must mean that those ideas do get through occasionally. Kenning the absolute importance of a book (on society? on the genre?) is a tricky one.

I'd certainly throw in 'American Gods' but probably because the 10th anniversary rerelease came out not long ago. And the most recent read that I've thoroughly enjoyed was Simon Morden's trilogy 'Equations of Life', 'Theories of Flight' and 'Degrees of Freedom'. Very entertaining, fascinating characters and explosive situations, and thanks to Petrovitch I've learned to swear in Russian.

259:

"Has anyone written a Rature novel where all the Christians leave and everyone just, you know, gets on with it?"

There is a graphic novel, Therefore Repent!. And recently a Left Behind spoof by Terry Bisson, The Left Left Behind.

260:

Oh! The Quantum Thief perhaps. I only just read it this year, so I have to wait for a year or so to decide how important it is. How about the ideas of consent and privacy for one aspect that was important to me.

oh and here's another vote for Surface Detail, speaking of consent.

261:

Btw, I will say Against the Day is a great book, but I don't know if I will think of it as an important one.

And I feel that Richard Powers's has candidates for important along with greatness, but I don't know that I'd pick any from the past 10 years for that. His earlier ones are the ones that have stayed with me.

262:

I'm going to try and sneak one in. Steve Perry's The Musashi Flex. A little finger hold into a whole realm of other books in the series that preceded it. His brand of space martial arts, while never challenging me to think in new ways or revolutionizing prose, kept me immensely entertained. His characters were beautifully human.

Important to all... probably not. Important to me... definitely.

263:

My partner immediately says "I'm dubious about the word 'important' in this context: how can we tell until sufficient time has passed for society to work that out?"

Also, I note in passing that Charlie hasn't restricted the scope of the question in any way, yet there's an awful lot of SF&F being referenced upthread. Even given the audience, surely there's some fiction from other genres that would qualify?

264:

I think my problem with this topic is, as I've mentioned in the past, that I'm a rather slow reader. On average I read about 14 books a year (more than some people), much of which are older than the time range we're talking here. There are only a handful of writers that I run out and buy new, namely Stross, MacLeod, Gibson, Rucker, Gish Jen (who I expect isn't known hereabout, but is one of my favorite non-SF), and Anthony Bourdain (he can be pretty obnoxious, but there's nothing wrong with that, because he's funny, and I like his writing). Of course there are plenty of other writers I like, and have books by, but haven't had a chance to read.

Also I think I want to backpedal, slightly, on my earlier criticism of "Little Brother". I'm not its target audience, and I never read YA when I was one, so I don't know the conventions of the field. So, it's perfectly fine for the teens it was aimed at, who most likely aren't going to get hung up on the things that bothered me. Or something to that effect.

265:

And I have to reply ..having trawled no further through the thread than your post for - Ghods but it is interminable as is oft the case with O.G.H.s topics of Conversation - WHY should He?

Clearly Our Gracious Host is doing what HE does Really Well in this Blog Thread Thingy type Thing, and that is in setting a hare running and then seeing where it might Run and how it might be Pursued .. Very .. Clever ?

Charlie, have you read Lev Grossman's sequel to ' The Magicians ' .. 'The Magician King ' yet? I mention it because you recommended 'The Magicians 'in a far distant thread and several people have mentioned Harry Potter The Series who might well appreciate an ..Adult? ..perspective on the Magic of the Potter Verse ...


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Magician-King-Lev-Grossman/dp/0670022314/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314383780&sr=1-2

I particularly like the chaotic Alternative to the Formally schooled Magic of the World of Public School formality ..though beginners would do well to start with the Stross recommended ..


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Magicians-Lev-Grossman/dp/0099534444/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2


Note the Imagery?


As for The NOVEL, and the novelty .. Ho Hum ..nothing really novel in the Sciffy/Fantasy field since, oh, dunno, lets eliminate Wells - and Everything from time travel to Invisibility and genetic engineering - via maybe ' Frankenstein ' by Mary Shelley and thus they were there before 'Blood Music ' by Greg Bear that brought a touch of the,then, present day to the original idea ..different ' insert Tech ' Star Treck Style ?

Last original intro of a scientific speculation that is now so utterly commonplace it is used by Politicians !! - Bloody Politicians for Cthulhu's Sake! - might be the Many Worlds Theory that I first encountered in the !960s as painlessly explained by John Keith Laumer in " Books set in the Imperium mythos: a continuum of parallel worlds policed by the Imperium, a government based in an alternate Stockholm. In the science fiction novel Worlds of the Imperium, the Imperium is formed in an alternate history where the American Revolution did not occur, and the British Empire and Germany merged into a unified empire in 1900. The protagonist, American diplomat Brion Bayard, is kidnapped by the Imperium because the Brion Bayard in a third parallel Earth is waging war against his abductors. Further adventures follow after Bayard decides to remain in the service of the Imperium. "

Or HERE with


Diagrams ...


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation#Many-worlds_in_literature_and_science_fiction

An interesting man, who was it would seem an expert in the arcane arts of airpalne design on a small scale /pre drone .." Model air-plane designer

Laumer was also a model air plane enthusiast, and published two dozen designs between 1956 and 1962 in the U.S. magazines Air Trails, Model Aeroplane News and Flying Models, as well as the British Aeromodeller. He published one book on the subject, How to Design and Build Flying Models in 1960. His later designs were mostly gas-powered, free-flight planes, and had a whimsical charm with names to match, like the "Twin Lizzie" and the "Lulla-Bi". His designs are still being revisited, reinvented and built today."

Hum .. I just long to discover that Our Gracious Host is, in his copious spare time, in fact, say, an Expert Player of The Nose Flute .. just saying.

As for Novelty ? Grumble Grumble .. Nothing Newly Novelin Sciffy/fantasy/crime/espionage fiction since I were but a Bairn in the 1960s. Cross over fiction is somewhat different and, for example, even Historical Espionage Fiction of the third book in Patricia Finneys .." David Becket and Simon Ames Series 1. Firedrake's Eye (1992)2. Unicorn's Blood (1998) ...3. Gloriana's Torch (2003)dips into an alternative reality perfectly naturaly ..and why not?


" 1587 and the Spanish are preparing to launch the Armada, their Holy Enterprise of England, to rescue the English from heresy and Elizabeth, their Witch-Queen. Ex-soldier David Becket, now responsible for the Queen's Ordnance but struggling to deal with his tortured past, discovers that large quantities of gunpowder are going astray. Can someone in the heart of the English government be selling it to the Spanish? Unaccountably he is plagued by vivid dreams of England invaded, an alternative story where the Armada is victorious. Simon Ames, Becket's old friend, has been captured by the Inquisition in Lisbon as he attempts to elicit vital information for the Queen. His wife, Rebecca; a black slave, Merula, and Becket are permitted to rescue him on one condition. They must also infiltrate the Spanish fleet and unravel the riddle of the Miracle of Beauty. But Simon has been sentenced to work as a galley slave on the Armada and, chained to an oarbench, is now bound for England. Patricia Finney's brilliant reworking of the Armada story is an imaginative tour de force. Thrilling, intricate and inspiring, this is a tale of gods, of courage, of love, and, ultimately, of redemption."

The thing is that an awful lot of Sciffy/fantasys once much vaunted ' Sense of Wonder ' isn't all that novel any more.

And as for IMPORTANT in the way of this neo Depression as John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath." was in the last Great Depression ? With a Scifi/fantasy Novel with a turn wards neo world Spin ? In the past 10 years ? Nope ..nothing comes to mind.Ask me again in ten years time.


Nothing comes to mind but then I did topple over into Clinical Depression triggered by dealing with far too many troubled people at the turn of the century ..took early retirement and then recovered just enough to anticipate the Credit Crunch ... Chap I knew at work phoned me pre Banking Crisis to say 'You kow about these things Should I invest my modest savings in Northern Rock that I am assured is a GOOD thing ? ' ..I promptly sold a little over half of my modest investment portfolio plus hung onto the cash and had a house extension built to house more books and tech toys and such like ... Ancient Old Ones knows what I did in the next world but one ..do I ever write Home to ME ? I do not! Selfish is what I call me Myself and I.


Now to read the rest of the thread and to discover that I have been anticipated and surpassed. Such is Life.

266:

I have a hankering to re-read it, but I lent (forced) it to my sister, who happens to be a psychiatric nurse with a propensity towards quite serious bouts of depression. This may have been somewhat misguided.

If you ever get to reading Watt's Starfish series, definitely do not offer it to someone who is clinically depressed.

267:

Chucking a few hats into the ring: No love for "Vellum" by Hal Duncan? Unlike Anathem, I actually enjoyed reading that although "Ink" didn't work as well for me.

I'm afraid I bounced off Anathem rather hard, despite having slogged through the entirety of the Baroque Cycle (short verdict: moments of utter brilliance interspersed with acres of tedium. I'm not sure the brilliance was sufficiently luminous to make up for the rest sadly.)

My partner suggests Alan Hollinghurst's "The Line of Beauty" for its outrageously amazing prose & being perhaps the definitive account of the gay experience of the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in Thatcher's Britain.

But she still says it's too soon to tell :)

268:

I'm compiling a text list of all the books mentioned here, and it's taking me ages. I'm up to post #150 and I need a break. That's just typing the names of the books. My already high respect for the people who actually write the books has gone up enormously.

If pushed I can read a book a day at the expense of any kind of a social life, (as long as they aren't all Infinite Jest length) but I'm estimating over 200 books in the total list, perhaps half of which I've not read. So that's the rest of the year taken care of.

270:

Against the Day is a great big book, but that's the entirety of its greatness, as far as I'm concerned. I've read Infinite Jest twice since starting AtD, and I may still never complete AtD. (I've read Gravity's Rainbow and V multiple times, and Mason & Dixon will merit a re-read.)

271:

Leaping back on topic; it occurs to me that if I wanted to consider 'important' as in 'important to how SciFi/Fantasy is written' then I would have to toss in a nod to Eric Flint and the entire 1632 series + fanfics.

It is an amazing display of the possibilities of shared writing and world development even if I don't particularly find the stories that great on balance.

272:

I've been avoiding Infinite Jest at the advice of a friend.

For AtD Maybe you can read a review of it by John Clute for a chaser? I like it, but you have to use the way back machine to get there. Excessive Candour: Aubade, Poor Dad.

(why did they let his content fall off the internet?!)

273:

I was going to recommend The Road for many of the same reasons. McCarthy's prose is spare yet precise, like a Shaker chair. It gripped me enough that I also read it pretty much in one sitting. And he somehow wrote a bleak post-apocalyptic novel with violence and cannibalism that was recommended by Oprah. I think the book achieved its mass popularity by capturing something of the feeling of America in the aftermath of 9-11.


Although McCarthy gets shelved in general fiction, I would describe him as a writer of westerns as that seems to be the genre he's in a dialog with.

274:

"Adult? ..perspective on the Magic of the Potter Verse ..."


Dumbledore introduced the bald man to the class:

"Children, this is Mr Crowley, and he'll be teaching Heroin and Bumming this term"...

275:

Wasn't noone else but me thrilled by Jasper Fforde? I don't think I ever read books with such strange ... well, no, I am at a complete loss for words here. They are just ... different.

276:

Count me in with Eric @ 271. I've strongly desired in the fairly recent past to throw at least one of those pesky 16__ things at the wall; but there is some very interesting stuff going on there, in ways that previous shared-world projects simply haven't begun to touch.

It takes massively parallel writing to a whole new level, without ever losing Flint's hand on the tiller; and even if, as I fear, it ends up by running completely onto a sandbank, I think it'll be little less influential for that. That is, after all, a known occupational hazard of exploring ill-charted waters.

277:

Jasper Fforde earned a permanent place in my heart for his depiction of a community theater doing Richard III as a RHPS sort of thing.

278:

Hear, hear. Shades of Grey was very good. I also like the Thursday Next series. I'm actually in the middle of 'The Fourth Bear' of the NCD series.

279:

Infinite Jest's endnotes are what makes reading it a chore, first time through. My sister's approach was to fall behind, and then go read the endnotes until caught up, and mine was to keep maybe a dozen endnotes ahead of the game.

(I wonder if e-readers make it less tricky. Probably ruins the feeling of accomplishment entirely.)

But the rewards are great. Just this month, somebody tried doing a video of the game Eschaton for a track by the Decemberists.

And there are bits that stop me in my tracks, like:

It’s always seemed a little preposterous that Hamlet, for all his paralyzing doubt about everything, never once doubts the reality of the ghost. Never questions whether his own madness might not in fact be unfeigned.

All that, and the Year of the Whopper!

And at the other end of things, AtD, for me, has become just a bunch of interestly-written vignettes strung together haphazardly. I'll get through. It's only a hundred pages or so to go.

280:

I'm going to have to go with Twilight.

Not because I like it, but because it created a whole new genre. Bookstores now have a 'Paranormal Romance' section that wasn't there pre-Twilight.

Not many authors manage that.

281:

Did. Didn't.

282:

I would have to agree with some of the various arguments above about "important" being out of our hands to decide. Whether or not you liked the Harry Potter books, or Twilight, or Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, they launched entire genres into new prominence. (The latter especially -- so many Scandinavian doom mysteries at my local library now!)

Anyway, all that aside, I'm going to vote for a few that by all rights SHOULD be more influential than they will probably turn out to be. They're all quite recent, but that is not my fault.

Pym, by Mat Johnson, in which it is discovered that "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" was not actually fiction. Also, hilarious and smart and incredibly bitter all at the same time.

Jesse Bullington's books The Enterprise of Death, as well as the disturbingly fascinating The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart. Rather a good antidote to an overdose of "Family Trade" or "Game of Thrones" - no conspiracies or fancy lads with magic swords. Just bad hygiene, grave robbers, and an absurdly well-researched, living portrayal of the lives of murderous low-lives, and the misfortunes of various mythical beasts that cross their path.

283:

The fact is I have not really read much SF in the last ten years. It seems to be remakes of the past and/or too glum. Now I have been glum, so I can't expect others to go along with me. And what I think is important is not what others have.
I have always liked Kim Stanley Robinson and he is no hack. Vernor Vinge is always worth a look. I am glad to see I am not the only one who reads Moore here. But the only reason I am back reading SF again is Eric Flint. He was a Union Organizer and did not treat his people as "Stomachs to be Feed."
I've never read Harry Potter, and am no fan of the flicks. but everyone out side the SF world says they are important. Who am my to say otherwise. Even if it is just the mob wanting on that bus.
I am ashamed to be from a country that thinks Tom Clancy is important. He is just one more war loving GOP draft dodger.

The Soviets and the current Republican Party both believe in things that can not be se

284:

On literary merit:

Elemental Logic series by Laurie K. Marks.
Heroes by Joe Abercrombie.

Both break the boring old fantasy mold and do something worthwhile with it. There are others who've done this over the past decade besides Marks and Abercrombie, but I think span they most of the spectrum between them.

Strangely enough, I can't think of anything that comes close on the spe-fi side of things. If I was swayed by neat ideas or political ideology, there'd be plenty to pick from, but ... no. Tempted to name something by Mieville, VanderMeer, or Powers, but no.

285:

Thanks for the pointer to Clute's review; I will be sure to avoid Pynchon's ruminant tome. Somehow I cannot but feel that chewing over the history of genre fiction is best done first hand.

286:

It seems odd that criticism of the quality that Clute produces has fallen through the internet. Shame really...

287:

I would second Anathem by Neal Stephenson.
It made me think, in ways still resonating two years later, about how intellect and mysticism fit with the rest of society or do not.
In our age, intellectual endeavor has been pulled into the corporatist orbit and become the mostly unquestioning hand-maiden of the powers that be. Meditative endeavor meanwhile has quite little role in society.
Anathem made me stop and look at that and at two well-portrayed, quite different alternatives to the current pattern.

288:

I don't know if Richard Morgan's Kovacs books qualify as important, but for me, it was an introduction to the Sociology of Consciousness Transference. I listened to all of them despite a level of violence I have never put up with in any other work of fiction.
The notion of reincarnation as retirement to Florida (Spain for the UK?) stayed with me a lot. I found it an interesting counterpoint to the Ghost in the Machine anime series.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Years of Rice and Salt, is a tremendous intro to rest-of-the-world history. Not sure how important it is for folks in general, but it was quite important for me. I read it as I was going through a quite uncommon rite of passage and it connected me with a sense of historical lineage of others who have gone through that rite of passage, under much cruder circumstances, and made the comparative ease of it for me possible.

His Mars series is disqualified by reason of age, but in case anyone doesn't know, it is a quite worthy read for anyone who thinks it worthwhile to consider alternative ways to organize this planet too.

Thanks to all for the recommendations - I have a series of new samples to check on my Kindle. Thanks to Charlie Stross for the forum and the triggering question.

289:

For whatever reason, what you describe nowadays invariably comes with magic and swords. It follows Tolkien not Asimov, van Vogt, Herbert or Clarke.
Why that is might be an interesting question for another day.

290:

I personally loved Stieg Larssen's Millenium Series (although the 3rd movie cut out the piece I loved best out of all three books). But whether or not they will be important or not, time will tell.
They may be a way in which a certain positive quality in Scandinavian societies is slipped into global awareness. Or they may turn out to be mostly about a real cool, probably Asperger's, chick.

291:

"In our age, intellectual endeavor has been pulled into the corporatist orbit and become the mostly unquestioning hand-maiden of the powers that be. Meditative endeavor meanwhile has quite little role in society.
Anathem made me stop and look at that and at two well-portrayed, quite different alternatives to the current pattern."

But the real point is that both turn out to be flawed and dysfunctional at the end of the book - and will be replaced in another reconstitution, by something the book doesn't dwell on but makes clear that it is well under way ... a nice parallel to the Baroque Cycle, come to think of it.

292:

If I remember correctly, you have mentioned despising it, but large parts of the Firefly TV series were about the people who on Star Trek appear only in the first scene so that the misunderstood alien can eat them without harming any of the main cast. So I would consider it mundane space opera, although obviously not a novel and not really complete for that matter. (Until the movie Serenity)

293:

On the subject of KSR's 'Days of Rice and Salt', at the time I read it I thought it was an immensely important book.

Strangely, I have never felt the need to re-read it.

And I do re-read a lot of books.

Quite a few of those that OGH has written, but some that don't win prizes and perhaps shouldn't, like Mary Gentle's tale of Ash, for which the suspension of belief is perhaps useful, though her writing would make you think otherwise. If there is anyone else that understands mercenaries in the middle ages better, well lead me to them.

Or Justina Robson and her quantum gravity crossover between fantasy and reality which are an utter joy.

I suspect the more literary of you could knock my selections into touch. They are, perhaps, without any partiucular merit, though I love both of them.

But I'd argue that books that entertain rather than predict are perhaps what book writing is about. I doubt OGH sees his books about Edinburgh as much more than superb entertainment. He is not predicting a city with a huge tram car network!

I have, 'cause I believe in authors, bought every book OGH has written. It seems to me to be a simple game. You like what an author writes, you keep buying their books. I have never been disappointed in buying a book by OGH.

My theory applies to Iain M Banks too. He'll sell you an occasional clunker, but usually he won't. You'll be entertained by him most of the time, argueably all of the time. And he's worth it.

It seems to me that that should be the question that Mr Stross wants answered.

What sticks in the brain? What changes you?

My point, my arguement maybe, is that I now buy on the basis of name or reputation, though you - the author - would get dropped quite quickly if you didn't have a reputation for good work.

That is just daft and - as a subscriber to Interzone - cannot be the whole story. There are lots of folk out there that do story. Some of them are bordering on immense.

I would point you to the interzone subscription page, for they need need folk like you:

http://ttapress.com/interzone/

294:

Has anyone written a Rature novel where all the Christians leave and everyone just, you know, gets on with it?

Yes. But without my not-yet existent memory implants, I can't remember the author or title.

295:

I took it as more a portrayal of what happens when they are separated from the rest of life, both to them and to the rest of life, and how they start to be reintegrated.
It is the folks from the monasteries who save the world after all.

296:

I really enjoyed Vernor Vinges "Deepness in the Sky", Anathema by Neal Stephenson and William Gibsons "zero History". All great books but not as good as the decade before - Neuromancer, Cryptonomicon and Mauroneed in Realtime.

297:

I'm clearly out of synch with the group here. I've read about half the suggestions, and actively disliked most of those. I don't think Stephenson does anything useful or is going anywhere interesting, for example, and I'm unable to read more than a page of KSR, I read one Banks and wouldn't touch another with a 300-foot Ukranian.

However...I'm not sure there have been any important books in SF this decade. At least, there are none that are important to me. None that changed the way I look at things, shine light into areas I hadn't known had anything interesting in them, overturn assumptions, or any of those things.

Mostly the ones people think might be important depress me.

298:

I just remembered The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Those lessons and Tiffany are important. This book sticks in my head so much that I end up rereading it a lot. The same thing happens with Pratchett books featuring Susan Sto Helit.

299:

While I'm no expert, I think we'll come to regard some of the novels by Arab writers which have inspired the Arab Spring as being the most important of the decade.

300:

Sure, they (barely) saved the world.

[There are some spoilers further down in this comment.]

But it had not in fact been necessary for it to be so close. It has become shockingly clear, over the course of the events, that the strict and enforced division between those who do have scientific knowledge (mathic world) and those who use their results (outside the maths), is not just somewhat ineffective but ludicrous - because it not only prevents prompt and adequate reaction to the events in the world.

Despite the exceptions when things get really bad every couple of centuries, they also deprived the world of advancements and understanding of the world - which gave rise to the fact that the crisis was almost unmanageable in the first place. Because all the knowledge needed to deal with it was locked up in the concents and all the tools needed to use the knowledge was locked out of the concents.

It is deeply dysfunctional and the reaction of the characters towards the ignorance of the regular people (in their genetically enhanced blissfulness) regarding the world they live in underlines that - which is why the first steps of the reconstitution include an opening up of the maths towards the public.

But it wasn't just the powers-that-be that are to blame. As they say, it takes two to tango - the mathic world itself was caught up in unreasonable and stiff traditions without any desire or ambition to change and improve the status quo. They might be the smart guys, but they are not without fail either - which the history of Abre suggests.

It was, after all, the (over-)reaction to their previous excesses that prompted the powers-that-be to limit their access to technological implements to a bare minimum (and almost doomed the world), with only the Ita being allowed very limited access to both worlds.

It was only the arrival of the generation ship from the other three worlds that upset all this and made the necessity of actually understanding the world by everyone, instead of merely acting upon other people's knowledge, terminally unavoidable.

301:

Warning Ongoing spoiler discussion


"Despite the exceptions when things get really bad every couple of centuries"

My sense was that without the Maths being hidden behind (almost always) inviolable walls, that all would have been lost in whatever wiped out the surrounding city. So I saw the separation as a necessary phase and the story as being about the end of that phase.
I found interesting parallels with Tibetan history in the 20th century. The main difference being that the Tibetan "maths" (so to speak) were dominated by those who wished to maintain the separation (the Gelukpas) and did not listen to the Rimed movement, which saw what was coming from the late 1800s. (With India right there, it was not hard to foresee.) So when the aliens came to Tibet, the monasteries and their culture were largely destroyed within Tibet.

"Despite the exceptions when things get really bad every couple of centuries, they also deprived the world of advancements and understanding of the world"
That was at least as much because the outside world wanted the separation too. Because the Maths had caused some kind of hideous tragedy not fully explained in the book.

I meant "The Powers that Be" only for the way that intellectual effort, especially organized, institutionalized intellectual effort has been completely subordinated in recent decades to the immediate needs of the commercial elite on Planet Earth. The relationship on the world is Anathem was different, as you correctly point out.

302:

There are also interesting parallels with Japan and the arrival of Commodore Perry's Black Fleet.
Although, for me the most fascinating was the relationship between the mystical component of the Maths and society. Because I see deep inquiry into that relationship as impressively absent from meditation teachings as they have been brought back to the West from the East since the end of WW2 and especially the 60s. And because I think the teachings had already been considerably held back in the East by the need to keep them safe for existing power relationships (of different types in different times and places).

303:

Important in terms of me keeping it in my head and thinking about it a lot: Rob Grant's "Incompetence".

304:

The other thread seems to converge on Susanna Clarkes "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell" for being a well-written book that remade genre conventions and got it footnotes right. Does it fit in this thread?

305:

I'm not sure if I made myself clear enough, so let me try again. If you dig out the book and look at the time-line right at the beginning, you'll probably see that one after another, all advanced technologies are banned after causing trouble.

I think I remember the first was nuclear fission, but there was also genetic manipulation, the invention of new-matter and whatever Praxis the Incanters developed to make dinosaur bones appear in the concrete of a parking lot (or whatever it was) and several other things - that led to the third sack, followed by further restrictions.

The Saecular Powers are, in other words, shit-scared of the scientific developments those monks come up with and don't want those developments to leave the maths. They would get rid of them completely, if it wasn't for their occasional mandatory world-saving duties. The maths have not actually been established to prevent the outside world from changing the inside - but they exist to prevent the inside of the maths from upsetting the rest of the world. (Is there an analogy to real-world monasteries and social/political ideas hiding somewhere in there?)

This time around, there is no hiding and no running away from new developments - not least of all because they want to rebuild the generation ship and make it move on. Change is unavoidable and the tried and true method of taking the new toys away from the monks won't work.

306:

I just went out and bought Anathema by Neal Stephenson this afternoon. Primarily because from what I've read here, and in reviews, suggest it has ideas in common with my own (mostly non fiction) book TechnoMage.

307:

I have to admit, that I didn't like Shades of Grey too much. Absolute favorite is the Thursday Next series, which is just getting better and weirder with each book. Last dragonslayer was nice and the Nursery Crime Series were funny and somehow on the same level as the first two or three from T.Next.

308:

You are correct. The Maths were, in effect, quarantined. As were the highest Buddhist teachings in Buddhist nations except Tibet.
The quarantine did have the effect of preserving the Maths. By the time of the book, it seemed that both sides were mostly fine with the separation and that Maths were available when needed was a bit of luck.

309:

The whole notion of being a more-or-less monk who talked about math all day in a setting where sex was neither forbidden nor mandatory sounded like my idea of paradise.

(The might-as-well-be-magic robe, chord and ball didn't hurt, either.)

310:

Oddly enough, on the cover of today's New York Times
Book Review section is a very favorable review by Steven King of the novel "The Leftovers" which was written by Tom Perrotta. King says this book is "... the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw". Have not read the book, nor am I the author, but it does sound very intriguing.

311:

The nominations here tilt heavily towards SF which is natural, I suppose, given the nature of the blog. I doubt whether SF still has the capacity to produce important novels. Or rather whether there is anything specifically SF related that makes them important, if they are.

I propose that as SF was important for a limited time during a major paradigm shift in everyday thought:

Social change has been on an exponential curve since the birth of our species. First it took 10 000 years to implement small changes in stone tool design, then thousands of years to gradually change agricultural practice. Until the 19th century change was still almost invisible from the perspective of a single human lifetime. People fully expected to live and die in a world very similar to the one they had been born into.

Nothing new under the sun was the mindset and it acted in itself as a tremendous drag on innovation. If you believe the world is as it has always been and always will be, it is pointless to try to think of ways to change things. And then the rate of change accelerates enough to become visible within a lifetime... and SF is born.

SF was important in popularizing the new horizons opened up by technology. The world of tomorrow could be totally different without magic, without god driven cosmic change, apocalypse etc. The idea of looking at your life and imagining this or that given and never questioned constant could change was in itself mind blowing.

We have since become jaded to having our minds blown, continuos and accelerating change is now the expected, and SF has become mostly just escapism.

I see two ways for SF to be important today. As allegorical commentary on contemporary society or as an exploration of what technology driven change can imply for social structure or human relationships. Regrettably the by tech nerds for tech nerds nature of the genere leads to most SF being weak on the social structure part. Hard SF may get the tech right but the societies are quite often wildly implausible as in Anathem.

My nomination for most important novel: White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

The plot is basically a murder story, but the real point of the novel (at least to me) is the profound and psychologically insightful analysis of the relationships between servant and master. He shows, in a nuanced way, how the relationship is inherently debasing and corrupting for both, even or perhaps especially when the master tries his best to be benevolent.

With rising economic inequality in industrialized nations threatening to returns us to a more rigidly class based social structure. I think this novel is an important contribution to a crucial debate.


312:


How the people in the books are treated matters too. Life, even book live is not just been bangs and lights. That's why I value Eric Flint. He was a Union Organizer and his people are not "Stomachs to be Feed" or whipped for their own good. There is too much of that in real life and always has been in SF.

I've never read Harry Potter, and am no fan of the flicks. but everyone out side the SF world says they are important. Who am my to say otherwise. Even if it is just the mob wanting on that bus.

I am ashamed to be from a country that thinks Tom Clancy is important. He is just one more blood/war loving GOP draft dodger. When they put others names on books I think it means the hacks have been called in to keep production up.

313:

What about the Culture universe then?

314:

I wondered about Rowling and whether she would write again. It occurred to me that she has been pre-occupied by being very involved in the film adaptations.

315:

This probably fails the "most" modifier in "most important," but I thought "Super Sad True Love Story" by Shteyngart was important in its extrapolation of trends in government security ("deny-and-imply" at checkpoints), the availability of personal/private data (life turns into one giant hotornot session), lowest-common-denominator media obsession (one minor character has a "news" show that is basically hardcore porn with gossip). It was an entertaining read, as well.

But, I'm going to throw in another vote for Blindsight. Blew my mind.

316:

But it's called the Baroque Cycle!

Baroque: extravagantly ornate, florid, and convoluted in character or style.

Neal Stephenson was for sure playing games, with modes of story-telling for one. But he was also trying to convey the (mostly ignored) history of how the world as we know it came to be. This was a series about the critical stuff we take for granted: the development of the scientific method, the development of modern economic systems & communications systems without which life as we know it would be very different.

317:

I liked the Thursday books, but we read Shades of Grey for this month's bookgroup andd we didn't like it. I just don't see the Thursday's as important. I think of them as cute.

318:

We Need to Talk About Kevin has my vote too. I was going to suggest it, and I was surprised to do a Ctrl+F and find someone already did!

I doubt it's often categorized as such, but I consider it the most liberating "feminist" novel of the decade. Recommended for everyone.

319:

For me it is definitly Illium/Olypos by Dan Simmons. The scope, ideas, fun, everything is just amazing

320:

The Electric Church by Jeff Somers, and sequels.

It might not bring thousands of new ideas to the table, but it sure brings a smile to my face. I guess that's just more important to me.

Altered Carbon, which has been mentioned before, is a brilliant piece of cyberpunk as well.

And let us not forget Elizabeth Bear, who's really exploring the lines between SF and Fantasy, and she's very good at making both male and female protagonists shine. Hard to pinpoint a single novel though. (I hope you had some time to chat with her at Eurocon, Charlie, she was both interesting and nice)

321:

Henrik: we know each other. (Hint: she guest blogs here from time to time.)

322:

To mention something that hasn't been mentioned yet (which is tough -- Anathem has been suggested at least ten times and I haven't been reading many novels written post-2001 aside from Dresden Files stuff), I suggest that Bruce Sterling's The Zenith Angle is (or should be) up there. The thing is, it's obscure enough that it isn't actually important, but it would be were it more popular. Does that count? It somehow manages to go through a blow-by-blow of the effects of the US 'war on terror' on the compsec industry without seeming to take sides politically, all the while highlighting problems with various worldviews Sterling sees as prevalent amongst the Industry. It's also quite a good yarn. As such, it could be a synthesizing force in a context that is now fairly divisive.

If we aren't going to take 'important' as meaning 'potentially world-changing', I nominate Chronic City, which is simply umwelt-changing. I have no clue how it got onto any bestseller list: it's a PKD novel in plot structure and equivalently mindwarping, while somehow being character-driven and surreal, and atmospheric. I'd argue that it makes a better case for radical agnosis than the Illuminatus trilogy.

323:

The comments about blindsight have made me think hard about the subjective nature of evaluating/judging a book.

There are lots of fans who enthuise about it above and I bought it after similar reviews.

The embarassing? fact is that I loathed it. I think it is the second worst book I read in the last ten years.I found the characters wooden and unbelieable, the ruminations on the nature of consciousness cliched, the use of blinsight unconvincing. The final idea that consciousness may be a disadvantage for survival was handled much better by Sterling and in 'blindsight' lacked any impact. The worst thing was the compleet lack of tension, pace or energy.

I must have missed something because the book had some interesting if unoriginal ideas but I really foudnd it hard to read. AFter all the rave reviews I am wondering if I should read it again.... but that is what I did last time.

324:

I read Blindsight over the weekend and was underwhelmed.

However I did have an insight glimmer, forgive me if this is old hat, but it was new to me

It's not books that are important it is ideas. The ideas don't necessarily have to be new, just new to you, or repackaged in a way that you can consume.

Many of the ideas (not all mind you) that are in Blindsight and Anathem and the Baroque cycle are foundational to western science and philosophy and are at least 200 years old.

The reason people like these books so much is that they have finally encountered some of these big ideas in a consumable format rather then dusty German philosophy texts

I think what makes a Science Fiction book important is a combination of that "repackaging" in a user friendly format with enough new/innovative to add some value.

The thing that makes SciFi a powerful format for "importance" is it is actually very good at repackaging, since the author can craft a world and storyline specifically around supporting the concepts he is trying to convey, and keep the whole thing engaging while he is doing it.

325:

Alas, the Thursday Next Series has, of the last couple of books, been waning in strength of sheer fun mixed with original ... Pictures and Conversation ? ..


http://sabian.org/alice_in_wonderland1.php

This may be why Jasper Fforde has, of the past few years, diversified towards the ' Nursery Stories ' and ' The Last Dragonslayer ' series as well as ' Shades of Grey ' ..which doesn't really work as an out and out Dystopia nor as a Thorne Smith style comedy .. oh, and, an alternate world in which Literary Characters are Real? ...


" Out of their minds and the force of their imagination, men have created countless beings, from demons and monsters of legend to comic-strip characters. What if their world were real--if dragons, devils and Don Quixote hobnobbed with Dagwood Bumstead and Charlie Brown? Such a world would have its facinations..and its dreadful perils--if it existed. Horton Smith found out that it did..and that he was right in the middle of it! "..


or ...


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Out-Their-Minds-Clifford-Simak/dp/0283981253/ref=sr_1_14?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1314646259&sr=1-14


Fforde is FUN, but, he is NOT original or, say, game changing in any sense of the term. I'd call Fforde true to the grand old tradition of Fairy Tales and Fables and I'm looking forward to the next in the The Last Dragonslayer series that I have on pre order .. yes I know - children's fiction and me very nearly 63. Just goes to demonstrate the flaws in publishers marketing to genre and niche doesn't it?

326:

Utterly (if belatedly) endorsing the Baroque Cycle, so staggering intelligent it just left me prostrate before the altar of Neal Stephenson's brain.

The City and the City had so much to say about how cities work it was amazing, Like all Mieville's work it seems to me to be all about London (and wow didn't the breachers come through the cross-hatching in London the other weekend? Everyone had so chosen to unsee that part of the city)

Why important? One had a lot to say about how we got to the world we are in, the other had so much to say about the actual world we are currently in.

Oh and the Book Thief (Markus Zusak) made me cry, first time that has happened in a very long time. It shamelessly tugged on heart strings, but I thought it did it so much better than the Time Traveller's Wife, which just seemed so telegraphed in what it was doing that it lost me.


327:

She has a new Potter website and while I'm sure someone with better skills did the website, I suspect she developed it and spends some time there.

328:

#257 - No-one else has addressed this and IMO it is important. The "Killing Fields" were an internal genocide and not an international (true sense) or civil war. Accordingly, those 2 million, whilst just as dead (and every bit as wrongfully as in a genocidal war) are not war deaths.

#271 and #312 para1 - I see, and agree with your point, but I'd suggest that the 1632 series aren't life-changing and don't change how you see the World or a particular group of people, so aren't really "important works".

#275, 277, 278, 307, 317 and 325 inc - I always enjoy Jasper's work, but don't really see it as "important" for the same reasons as in para 2 above.

329:

Well said.

I agree that often much of the praise for many of the 'influential' works is simply due to the fact that people are being educated in new ideas to them in a fashion they can relate to. To the widely read or better educated, they seem just a rehash of old tricks and undeserving of such praise. And the idea of a 'classic' work in many peoples minds is simply the first work in which they encountered those ideas.

Another good example, if just outside our time window, would be Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel. That book hit at a time when the restless masses were looking for something new, and triggered a whole swathe of popular science/historical books much in the same way that A Brief History of Time did ten years earlier.

I'm now trying to think of what would be the current pop-sci phenomenon, we were due for one around 2007-2008. Probably something climate change related. An Inconvenient Truth maybe?

330:

Unholyguy/Mayhem: I think you will find that a lot of people who liked Blindsight are well read. Also, Watts is only "popular" in a place like this; even within fandom, people are just starting to recognize his name. Exactly which ideas are we talking about? Beyond that, the way an idea is articulated and put into context is pretty damn important, considering that almost every conceivable idea has been had already by someone somewhere. A lot of Charlie's fans here gush about the originality of his ideas. I have seen most of those ideas before, but the way Charlie puts them together and relates them to the world is the hard part and for me, determines whethere I think a particular novel is a success or failure.

I did not find Use of Weapons all that amazing or creative, but I also did not say the "hordes" of people who love it are unsophisticated dupes, just that I was not surprised by its narrative twist and I did not buy its central/pivotal conceit (or to be pretentious beyond belief, I did not cathect it. See what I did there?) A novel is going to catch you or it's not. That is a separate issue from whether is is "good" or "important." Banks sold a lot of very smart people on that story; so I would have to admit it is a "good" novel because it fulfilled its primary function. If I did not respect those individuals or groups OR if I had some substantial "objective" flaw in the work to pull out of my hat, then I could say UoW was a bad work. I do; I don't; so I cannot.

Your comments basically say "I can see how a Noob reader would like this sort of thing, but I, having seen the world, do not." Since many of the people who like Watts are demonstrably not intellectual light weights, I think I can call this myth busted for this specific work. And I suspect others can do the same for Anathem.

331:

"Since many of the people who like Watts are demonstrably not intellectual light weights, I think I can call this myth busted for this specific work. And I suspect others can do the same for Anathem."

I can - I know a scientist who is most cited in his field, Fellow of the Royal Society, Prncipal of a Russell Group university and a general all-round Top Boffin, chair of several funding councils, advisor to more than one government, also a Clever Clogs. He was enormously impressed by Anathem, and really liked The Baroque Cycle. And his intellect is demonstrably heavy in weight.

332:

Ref #330 and 331, IMO anyone who posts on here (any thread) calling the regular posters "intelectual lightweights" and does not posess both a PhD and a Nonel Laureate should be banned for trolling.

333:

Your comments basically say "I can see how a Noob reader would like this sort of thing, but I, having seen the world, do not." Since many of the people who like Watts are demonstrably not intellectual light weights, I think I can call this myth busted for this specific work. And I suspect others can do the same for Anathem.

I just read blindsight because of this thread -- and it sucked. The biology was unnecessarily cheesy, the math sucked, the philosophy blew chunks, the characters were dull and lifeless (but that's inevitably -- how can a novel about a sociopath not be dull?) -- basically, I found the novel sophomoric.

The "myth-busting" follows in the fallacy of unitary intelligence -- that a heavy-weight intellect in one field implies, in general, a heavy-weight intellect. I think that Blindsight is a great example of pseudo-intellect -- a shallow but wide knowledge that replaces depth with a pompous intellect.

The shining light, the universal signifier for that is vulgar and simplistic reductionism -- usually to the individual's expertise. So the physicist claims that all is physics and the biologist claims that all is biology. In other words, the old joke about the lost keys and the lamp.

The bonus is the popular use of "sentient" -- it's old meaning is crisp, simply having the capability to feel, applying to fish as well as man (but not plants), but it's new meaning of self-awareness simply obfuscates when all the bullshit would be eliminated if "sentience" or "consciousness" were replaced with simple self-awareness. It's a great failing of English -- the explosion of jargon that mystifies and obfuscates.

"Myth-busting" busted.

334:

I loved Alastair Reynolds' "The Prefect," but I'm too lazy to explain why.

335:

Ref #330 and 331, IMO anyone who posts on here (any thread) calling the regular posters "intelectual lightweights" and does not posess both a PhD and a Nonel Laureate should be banned for trolling.

Since a Nonel Laureate by itself isn't enough?

Maybe folks shouldn't be so damn full of themselves, eh? As a matter of fact, there are plenty of Nobel Laureates who not only are "intellectual lightweights" in general -- they are "intellectual lightweights" in their own field.

In fact, it should be expected -- the time it takes to be an "intellectual heavyweight" in general makes it highly unlikely that one would get a Nobel in any field.

336:

Another vote for "Anathem".

For the effect of superpositions in universal world models. And for the underlying consciousness/society metaphor.

337:

The last two important science fiction books in the sense that they had an effect in changing the way that significant numbers of people think and perhaps act were probably 1984 and Brave New World.
I love science fiction and think it is often very thought provoking and insightful about the nature of humanity, the world and contempary society but the fact is that it is in a ghetto from the point of view of affecting the mainstream of society.

338:

You should re-read the posts I was responding to. They said people liked the book because it was the first time said people were exposed to certain ideas whereas other more well read readers (who presumably also thought the "ideas" were worthy) would be immune to the book's charms. You can dislike the book (and its ideas) and still think the "myth" was false.

339:

I think that for this case, to bust the myth, you need to show that a number of readers who liked the book are well-read in the areas of consciousness & philosophy -- not even in neuroscience (who are notoriously ignorant in those bases).

Blindsight seems to me to be particularly strong in that case. I enjoyed Anathem for the presentation of ideas that are a few thousand years old -- not for their novelty. But you need to get them right -- if you don't take the "quantum" idea seriously for A but treat it as metaphorical for infinite-platonism, then Stephenson seemed to get the ideas right. The test there would be to get a review from someone like Tegmark.

But Watts seemed to miss a whole bunch of the ideas, (and then present them badly), which at least makes me suspicious of who are the folks who loved B. But if Hofstadter or Dennet comes out and says he loved it, well, then I'll agree that "myth busted".

340:

umm the chap I mentioned who liked Anathem and the Baroque cycle is a quantum theorist, as it happens. Quite a good one.

His full review when I lent him Anathem was "Hmm. Plato's cave. That was fun. Can I keep it?".

341:

I happen to agree with Anura's critique, but I don't need a Nobel laureate to validate my personal preferences.

That said, I have absolutely no problem with biologists writing biological fiction. The SFF field has ossified far too much around physics and engineering, in a time when the novel ways of seeing the world are coming as much from ecology as anything else. SFF needs to capture these ideas in fiction, and that's been rare since the early 90s.

Don't believe me? Look at the 2012 republican presidential race. No candidate protests cell phones and calls them satanic, yet the quantum mechanics underlying them certainly aren't in the bible. A world with satellite communication isn't possible if Genesis 1 was at all correct.

Contrast that with the widespread bashing and trashing of evolution and global warming, something that creeps in even here. Which science is more threatening to people's worldviews? It certainly isn't physics. Not anymore. Science fiction needs to embrace the life sciences, just as it embraced physics when nukes were scary.

342:

It was not my intention to be condescending. Everyone is standing on the shoulders of giants. Any idea you are exposed, you will be exposed to a first time.

I think it is actually a wonderful thing that people like Stephenson are taking a lot of these old ideas and breathing new life into them, doing that is not at at all easy. They are also adding original insights on top of it.

I think Science Fiction has a special strength in being able to do this repackage.

I mean seriously, how many people would have read Thomas Metzinger or Daniel Dennett, or even Hume for that matter?

They never would have ever been exposed to this ideas if they had not read Blindsight.

The only difference is the first time you hit a big idea, you tend to give that author the credit for it, and the second time you hit the idea you tend to say "oh so and so is just borrowing from except for . It's a cognitive bias, even if you know intellectually that was not the originator, it still feels that way to you, and you give him higher precedence.

343:

From 8/21 WashPost (I'm behind because I've been sicker than usual and had to have one of my cats euthanized), the first five Washington Bestsellers Hardcover contains three of our type: 1. A Dance With Dragons, 2. The Magician King, and 5. American Gods (updated).

344:

The last two important science fiction books in the sense that they had an effect in changing the way that significant numbers of people think and perhaps act were probably 1984 and Brave New World.

Er, no.

I believe "The Handmaid's Tale" is a slow-burning fuse, but if the dominionist entryists currently trying to take over the US Republican party succeed, it may abruptly become as relevant as 1984.

There are probably a bunch of "near misses", SF novels that nearly coincided with the time that would resonate with them, or whose time hasn't come yet. Many of them are published as mainstream fiction -- a necessity, to break out of the 2% trap -- and it can take decades for the cultural impact of a novel to be fully felt. But that doesn't mean they're not there.

345:

Hmm, I can see I should have been more specific with what I was saying. Personally I have never read Blindsight, and was not commmenting on it per se. Rather what I was praising was the idea that there is nothing new under the sun - every author builds on the sum of their experiences.

JK Rowling for example, took many well known fantasy themes, put a english boarding school theme on the top, and twisted it with the 'alternate world accessible from our own' a-la Narnia. Funnily enough, it became wildly popular. For a great many of the readers, it was the first time they had ever encountered such an idea, and is therefore to be praised above all others.
The various antecedants and influences such as Narnia sometimes came to be regarded as inferior copies by those that encounter them later.

A better example - the 1996 film Last Man Standing - a remake of A Fistful of Dollars from 1964, in turn a western remake of Kurosawa's 1961 film Yojimbo, itself a combination of 50s westerns with the 1940s noir The Glass Key mixed with the plot from the 1929 novel Red Harvest.
Now which one is the source of the idea? Ask a 30yr old, they'd say the western. A university educated 30yr old might point out condescendingly that the western was based on the japanese film. A 60yr old, they might say the book, as might a fan of thrillers.

Let me make it clear, I am not saying that any specific work is good or bad. I am saying that the way the ideas are packaged is important. I am saying that many of the books considered to be truly influential were not necessarily the first source of an idea, rather they were the first time that the wider audience was exposed to those ideas, and that causes them to have that influence. If someone is already familiar with the underlying idea, then the work has to work harder in how it packages that idea, rather than being carried by it.

Take for example, Xenophon's Anabasis. It is a classic work of military accomplishment, but many people under the age of 40 have probably never heard of it, because Greek History hasn't been a mandatory subject in many western societies for some time. Yet they are likely to have encountered the plot in many science fiction or space opera works without realising it. David Drake has made a successful career out of rewriting Greco-Roman history IN SPACE, and his stories have a nice immediacy to them. Until you are familiar with the setting, at which point you know how it ends because you have seen it before, and the stories have to survive on character and writing, not always his strong suit.

346:

A better example - the 1996 film Last Man Standing - a remake of A Fistful of Dollars from 1964, in turn a western remake of Kurosawa's 1961 film Yojimbo,... A 60yr old, they might say the book, as might a fan of thrillers.
And someone with a knowledge of Japanese culture would point out that the Samurai film as a genre is filmatic retelling of prose stories that go back as far as the 1600s.

347:

You might consider the philosophical idea of Modal Realism. Needs no QM or cosmology as its foundation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modal_realism

348:

breathing new life into them

That would be boring indeed.

What Stephenson did in Anathem was not dusting off and repackaging other people's ideas, he was filling in detail.

And while I am well aware that big ideas give a good kick to a lot of people, they don't matter too much at the end of the day. Maybe in yesterday's romantic notion of "The Great Thinker" and "The Great Scientist". Well, those two are fine for entertainment, but that's about it.

A story is a place, where you can simulate certain configurations of details. You might just as well code a little sim, but good old human brain has quite a soft spot for stories. So, give it candy, if you want...

349:

I've also seen this work in reverse, where the first exposure does not sink in, but the second or third does, and the last person gets all the credit.

My example is cladistics. It's now taught in some high schools, most freshman biology, and in evolution and systematics. In my long career as a TA, I worked in all of these college classes, and cladistics was taught the same way each time. However, students who had seen cladistics two or three times routinely said that the person teaching it the final time did a much better job, so that they finally understood it. In reality, cladistics is one of those topics that benefits from multiple exposures.

This is where popularizers in the sciences make other science teachers very angry. They can make something comprehensible, but only to people who already have some background. I'd even submit that Charlie's books show this effect too, especially if you want to catch the in-jokes.

350:

Unholyguy/Mayhem: I appreciate the clarifications and I probably did not take enough note of the part of your remarks where you mention re-packaging dry ideas for better impact on an audience, as opposed to exposing them to the ideas in the first place (which is how I read it initially.) So apolgies for going overboard on characterizing you as condescending.

Anura: I still think you are going into a weird area with this. A well read audience is not a conclave of specialized experts; it is what it says on the label: people who have read widely and been exposed to many ideas/tropes. I cited my own reaction to a much praised work (Banks' UoW) to indicate the limits and the value of a respectable audience's learned opinion. It did not change my reaction to the book, but it gave me pause to consider that people who I don't think are idiots did get value from the book. Many SF writers (whose work I like) loved Blindsight. They have certainly been exposed to just about every variation of the usual and unusual themes of genre and mainstream literature, and many of them stay current with developments in science. The bloggers who comment here tended to think the novel was "important" and they strike me as a relatively informed (and opinionated) bunch, who are more likely than not to have a more than passing familiarity with the subjects at hand. When a large subset collectively converges on Blindsight as one of the important novels of the past decade, it bears noticing, particularly as this is not a bandwagon type of crowd. You can say they're wrong, but I do not think you can accurately say they are a poor jury for judging a work of speculative literature. The idea that we need a jury who can pronounce on its value as a textbook in various specialized fields goes way beyond the scope of this thread. I stand by the "bust," even though it was more of a rhetorical florish than anything else.

Beyond that and to accept your thesis for the moment, Peter Watts has noted certain professors who have used the book in their classes. Whether said professors meet your standards for intellectual stature/appropriateness of discipline, whether Watts' claims are fraudulent or whether the professors are using the texts to mock Watts' inept handling of the material, I could not say.

351:

I can't really speak to the chunkage factor on plot, prose, or character, but I have a couple of third-party data points on the thematic myth-busting front. Blindsight has been used as a core textbook in at least a few relevant courses that I know of: "Philosophy of Mind" at Cal. State, "Introduction to Biological Psychology" and "Capstone in Psychology: Behavioral Neuroscience" at Miami U. I don't know of any other sf novels that have qualified as required reading in courses of this sort. They're not being taught by Dennet or Hofstadter, but they are being taught by practicing neuro and philosophy guys who think I nailed it (at least, that's what they've told me in e-mails). Perhaps that would do to at least crack the myth, if not bust it entirely.

-PW

352:

Pw I am not sure what the myth you are busting is?

353:

Hopea @311:The plot is basically a murder story, but the real point of the novel (at least to me) is the profound and psychologically insightful analysis of the relationships between servant and master. He shows, in a nuanced way, how the relationship is inherently debasing and corrupting for both, even or perhaps especially when the master tries his best to be benevolent.

That is an important point that I'd missed my first read through the thread. Are there other books that capture the same concept.

354:

The Anabasis has also been re-told in a fantasy setting by Paul Kearney, the title "The Ten Thousand" is an easy giveaway. I haven't read it yet, but people I trust think highly of it.

355:

Peter, while you're around here? Congratulations!

356:

Thank you! I admit it still feels kind of weird -- never thought I'd ever be able to pull it off. On the other hand, it's cool to have an excuse to wear a four-billion-year-old piece of outer space on my finger.

357:

Yes, congratulations! That's a very nice picture, too. :)

358:


I believe "The Handmaid's Tale" is a slow-burning fuse, but if the dominionist entryists currently trying to take over the US Republican party succeed, it may abruptly become as relevant as 1984.

I hope you are wrong and although I find the US right and the general zealotry in the US frightening I think this is easily overestimated in terms of how far it can really influence policy.

1984 is in the main stream: Room 101, double think, newspeak are all familar terms and ideas. Has anything in the 'Handmaid's Tale' achieved this?

As an aside the religuous right in the US is nothing new, in 1984 I first worked in the US and a co-worker told me that she was looking forward to a nuclear war, that it was foretold in the bible and all the righteous would go to heaven while the ungodly would suffer on earth. Very scary especially as it was obviously not her idea but her church's. I had a [personal rule not to discuss religion, which I broke and had a rather nasty argument once she shocked me with this. Despite all this I do not believe a right wing government will actually change the nature of society in the US very much. The US itself is becoming less dominant in any case.

Interestingly all three books are not very 'sciency' SF and are more focussed on society than technology does this say something about the nature of influential SF books?

359:

The most important book of all time is whichever is next in my reading list. Alter as necessary to fit the rules.

360:

Which, in my view, sums up Adam Roberts' approach to writing SF: he's all over the style and form but doesn't give a shit about the content.)

Even the title was a giveaway. "Yellow Blue Tibia" is supposed to be an Anglicisation of the Russian for "I love you". "Ya lublyu tebya." Ya = I. Lublyu = love. Tebya = you.

Yalublyutebya.
Yalu blyu tebya.
Yellow Blue Tibia.

See? Very clever.

Except that the Russian for "I love you" isn't "ya lubylu tebya".
It's "Ya tebya lublyu", because Russian word order is a bit different.

361:

I do believe that it might be more descriptive to say that both sentences are valid Russian sentences, but that the version you quote would be considered more idiomatic in several circumstances. After all, Russian word order is rather free, but context often governs the way Russians express themselves.

As to "Yellow Blue Tibia", I had high hopes for the novel, but got stuck. Among other things, I found it unnecessary (I am not a Russian, by the way, but I've studied Russian language and literature, and lived in the country for half a year in the early nineties) that, for example, the diminutive of the Christian name of the main character was, um, atypical, as such things are very easy to factcheck. On the other hand, a friend of mine claimed that this was deliberate, and that part of the fun was that it took place in a Soviet-Union-Expected-By-Westerners rather than a Soviet-Union-As-Was.

Well, maybe I'll try again. I've hear Roberts lecture about science fiction and read his blog, and he sure had a lot of interesting things to say about the genre.

362:

One SF novel I've read of late is Paul McAuley's 'The Quiet War'; his building of a future where, following enviornmental collapse the Earth's superpower is Great Brazil and modified human beings live on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn is thought-provoking, different and credible.

363:

Well said. Novels are simply not socially important, and haven't been for a long time.

The most important novels for me are not eligible: Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, written in the 60s and 70s. I suspect many in this crowd would enjoy them. Tim O'Reilly gets at what makes them matter in a post that led me back to SF (and to Mr. Stross, and Palimpsest which I loved) via Dune:

http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/articles/favebooks_0705.html

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