Perfidious Literature

For the past week or so, some perfidious folk have been posting about a list of “great works” that had been circulating the net. I won’t go into the details of the list, nor will I denote which works I’ve read (I’ve read several, but not a ton and not as much as several of the people who responded to that post), but I did want to comment on their attempt to revise the list to include some science fiction and humor. In addition to the list cited above, they came up with:

HST: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Miller: The Canticle of Leibowitz

O’Rourke: Parliament of Whores

Stephenson: Cryptonomicon

Bester: The Stars My Destination

Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Toole: Confederacy of Dunces

Pynchon: Gravity’s Rainbow

Bukowski: Run With The Hunted

Burroughs: Naked Lunch

Hammett: The Maltese Falcon

An excellent list, though I have only read a few of them (and if they weren’t in the book queue, they are now). Then they went ahead and asked for some more, with the following ground rules:

First, nothing newer than, say, about 1970. Works need some time to settle into a canon, and we should not be thinking about something written after I was born. Second, philosophy and history should be eliminated from the list unless they have compelling literary value. Clausewitz is terrifically important, but nearly unreadable. Gibbon however, is a delight to read as well as being profoundly ensmartening. Third, light on the poetry. And fourth, no matter how painful it is, no more than one example of an artist?s work unless they are a) Shakespeare, b) writing in two distinctly different genres/modes, or c) both.

With those rules in mind, Buckethead came up with these additions:

Milton, John – Paradise Lost

Chandler, Raymond – The Long Goodbye

God – The Bible

Gibbon – The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Frank Herbert – Dune

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

These additions to the original list turn out to be more in line with what I tend to read. In general, these sorts of lists tend to eschew genre, especially science fiction, fantasy, horror, and even mystery, which is why I like the additions so much. So in the spirit of this discussion, I’d like to make a few humble additions.

  • More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon: This exceptional 1953 novel about a group of misfits banding together for survival should be accepted as a genuine piece of literature. It is a powerful novel, and it’s just as relevant as Bradbury, Heinlein or Asimov.
  • I am Legend by Richard Matheson: I’ve mentioned this novel on the blog several times before, but it’s worth repeating: This 1954 novel is a study of isolation and grim irony that turns the traditional vampire story on its head. This might be one of the most influential novels you’ve never heard of, as there have been many derivatives, particularly in film. This is the sort of novel that gets passed over becaues it is a genre piece (and, even worse, it’s about vampires!) However, even a short glimpse at it’s contents reveals that it cannot be relegated to the obscurity of the horror bin…
  • The Haunting by Shirley Jackson: This 1959 book is a classic that is rightly praised as one of the finest horror novels ever written. Undeniably creepy, but still profound and worthy of a list such as this…
  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov: This was a difficult choice, as there is a lot to choose from when it comes to Asimov. But this is the work he is best known for, and there is a reason for that. When I refer to Foundation, I’m referring to the three central novels (really 1 story made up of 8 short stories collected in 3 volumes, which is why I’m bending the rules slightly to include this one). These were originally written between 1942 – 1949, and they have aged well.

Honorable mentions or novels at least worthy of consideration would include the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Kafka, and Arthur C. Clarke (and I think I might even favor Rendezvous with Rama over 2001, though it’s a toss-up). Again, all of these novels are generally passed over in discussions of high literature simply because they are genre pieces. However, whatever respect that science fiction or horror have gained, these works are at least party responsible for…

Just for fun, and to keep up with this perfidious discussion, here are the books I’ve been reading recently. I tend to read more fiction than non-fiction, but that has been steadily changing as time goes on. In any case, I’m only including the last few… Here they are:


The Confusion by Neal Stephenson (current)

Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Galveston by Sean Stewart

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

1984 by George Orwell (re-read)

Red Army by Ralph Peters

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (illustrator)

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon


Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson (current)

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich

Parkinson’s Law by C. Northcote Parkinson

Blind Man’s Bluff by Sherry Sontag

On War by Carl Von Clausewitz

There you have it. If you’d like to share what you’ve been reading lately, feel free to leave a comment…

4 thoughts on “Perfidious Literature”

  1. We also have an sf list, which you can see here:

    More than Human should probably be added to the sf list. I haven’t read the horror novels, I’ve generally avoided the genre. Lately, though, I’ve read a few horror books by Dan Simmons of Hyperion fame. They were pretty good. I never liked Foundation, though I recognize its importance. For my money, the best Asimov sf novel is Pebbles in the Sky.

  2. Okay, I haven’t read much fiction lately because my studies require me to read other books. Most of the literature for my classes has been very good actually. Not all are older than 1970, but I was born in 1983, so they’re fairly old to me.

    Control of Nature by John McPhee, 1989 — A journalist turned self-taught geologist/naturalist and his examination of three areas on the globe where humans are attempting to…control nature! Oftentimes lacking clear organization of thought, but still engrossing.

    Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962 — well-known; I find it to be a very coherent and intelligent discussion of pollution.

    Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth T. Jackson, 1985 — Pretty self-explanatory in the title. Intelligent, coherent and fun to read…if you’re not cramming for a final at 4am.

    (A much newer one) Cod by Mark Kurlansky, 1997 — a great review of the history of the cod fisheries spanning the north Atlantic and the reasons for their depletion and/or entire collapse.

    Man on Earth by John Reader, 1988 — an examination of various cultures and the ways they utilize their resources. I love this book.

    The Cat: A Complete Authoritative Compendium of Information About Domestic Cats by Muriel Beadle, 1977 — This is NOT a cat care book (although you can derive some cat care tips from it). It is absolutely fantastic. Wonderful writing; so clear and organized with lots of references, history and just great reading.

  3. Oh, and I prefer the Robot stories to the Foundation series although I don’t necessarily prefer the Robot novels over the Foundation novels, so I would have to choose a collection of stories, which doesn’t seem to be in line with those book-listing rules.

  4. Yes, well, you know me and choosing favorites. Given that I’ve read countless Asimov books and liked all of them, I figured I’d just go with what is generally considered his best… I liked Pebble in the Sky a lot, and it seems to be the one Empire novel that has a connection with the rest of the series, but I’ve always had a thing for The Stars, Like Dust. I should really go back and read those novels again. It’s been almost ten years! *shudders*

    The only Dan Simmons horror book I read was called “children of the night” and it sucked donkey balls. After I was finished I literally screwed it shut so no one could read it’s poison. I should take a picture. Hyperion was allright, though I haven’t read any of the sequels…

    As for horror in general, it’s a tough genre to like. Too many authors mistake disgusting for scary, and despair for horror. Matheson is like that, but I still liked I am Legend (and Hell House). I’ve been meaning to write a post about this sort of thing. Which means I’ll get to it around October (perhaps in time for halloween:P)

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