The Basic Bookcase

The Top Shelf: The Classics

12 May 1999

The Top Shelf I'll start from the top. Assuming that each book is 19mm thick (about 0.75"), we can fit 35 books on this shelf. Since virtually all of them are available as mass-market paperbacks, and 72cm (28") is actually a bit on the narrow side for a real bookshelf, 35 books should fit quite comfortably.

The books on this shelf are all speculative fiction, whether marketed as such or not. Initial release dates range from the eighth century to the present. It's my bookcase, so I make the rules! Unlike the farce of so many "best of" lists, I don't claim that #1 is "better" than #2 or #35 (especially since they're alphabetized). Read them all! And not all of them "hold up" in every respect. For example, one can certainly argue that Asimov's characterization is not all that good. However, any serious writer of speculative fiction needs to understand the commercial, idea-driven short story, and Asimov is probably the best the genre has produced at that subspecies. Further, the entire robot series changed the way both the speculative fiction community and the world at large think about robots. (The very word "robotics" is credited to Asimov.)

One ground rule for this shelf that applies to no other: An author will be represented only once, with either a coherent multibook set or a single book.

1 [unknown], Beowulf
2 Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
3 Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale
4 Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination
5 Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
6–7 Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead
see also the Author Retrospective
8 Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
9 Arthur C. Clarke, Against the Fall of Night [The City and the Stars]
10 Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. Snow White, Blood Red
11 Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
12 Harlan Ellison, ed., Dangerous Visions
13 John Fowles, The Magus
14 Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
15 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
16 Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
see also the Author Retrospective
17 Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus
18 Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
19 George Orwell, 1984: A Novel
20 Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
21 Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
22-24 SFWA, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, vols. I, IIa, IIb
25 William Shakespeare, Macbeth
26 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein
27 Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside
28 Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
29-31 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
32 Voltaire, Candide
33 T.H. White, The Once and Future King
34 Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray
35 Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus


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