My reading goals for 2011 were:
1. Find 10-20 good quality science fiction/fantasy novels
2. Make a dent in my list of seminal works to read
The second one was virtually ignored, so let's just forget about that. However, I promised a round-up of SFF Literature and I will deliver, although I think this will continue to be an ongoing project here.
I read 16 SFF titles this year, 17 including Gloriana's Torch, which has a large alternative history element.
Of these, I'm going to designate 6 books/series as part of the elusive category, "Literature." My qualifications for Literature may be slightly or even radically differently from anybody else's, but essentially I look for a distinct and effective writing style that uses language appropriately and creatively, a plot with a distinct structure (beginning, middle, and end, not necessarily in that order but present) that is appropriate to the genre/topic/characters, and characters that feel like real people and who can be understood, identified with and/or emotionally reacted to.
My candidates for SFF Literature are:
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (mostly on the merit of the first book, I was satisfied with the third, but the second disappointed me somewhat)
2. The Belgariad by David Eddings (he creates a realistic world and characters while following an almost perfect Hero's Journey)
3. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (He does something different with plot, language, and concept that puts him over the edge, even though some of his characters are lacking)
4. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (this is the gold standard, really. A tightly constructed and creative plot and character that is very interesting and still easy to identify with)
5. Gloriana's Torch by Patricia Finney (Her use of language, world-building, characters are all magnificent, and her plot is interesting if a bit loose)
6. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (her characters are achingly real and her gift with organization is amazing, even if the overall plot arc might lack some panache, the way she does it makes it unique)
That's far from 10-20, but I need a larger reading sample, so again, let's view this as an ongoing project.
Why did, for example, A Song of Ice and Fire, not make the list? George R.R. Martin, once you get past the shock value, isn't really doing anything special or interesting with his inevitably horrifying plotting, and his world-building and even characters pale in comparison to all but one (High Castle) of the books mentioned above. That doesn't mean he's not worth reading. It just means I don't see his books as having the same staying power as some of the ones above.