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FICTION : SCIENCE FICTION: THE 100 BEST NOVELS by David Pringle (Carroll & Graf: $14.95; 220 pp.).

August 24, 1986|John G. Cramer

The science-fiction section of any good bookstore gives me the feeling of starving in the midst of plenty. The shelves are full to overflowing with arresting covers and provocative titles, yet the finding of a good new writer or book is a rare event. Reliable guidance to quality science fiction is needed, and David Pringle, editor of the British science fiction magazine Interzone, has written a book that should help. This slim volume provides two-page reviews of "The 100 Best" science fiction novels written since 1949, the publication year of Orwell's "1984."

Pringle implicitly lists three categories: novels he truly likes, novels (mostly British) he finds it necessary to include because of the writing quality or the author's literary stature, and novels he actively dislikes but includes because it is unavoidable. His selections betray a few biases and eccentricities. He lists 30 British works and six Philip K. Dick novels among his "100 Best." And he exhibits a misplaced concern for political correctness, as when he cautions us that an author is "known to hold conservative views" or is "an exponent of free enterprise."

Nevertheless, Pringle provides the serious science fiction reader with valuable critical reviews of 100 excellent novels. An interesting comparison piece is the paperback edition of David G. Hartwell's recent "Age of Wonders" that lists "101 Best SF Books," both novels and story collections spanning a longer time period. The two lists share a remarkable 32 novels in common, an unexpected consensus from these compilers. We owe Pringle (and Hartwell) a debt of gratitude. If these are not the best 100 SF novels, most are surely among the best 50. That is extremely useful information. I have already used Pringle's book at local bookstores to unearth new riches in reading material.

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