FLOWCHART: Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

Over the summer, NPR solicited the input of its listeners to rank the top science fiction and fantasy books of all time. Over 60,000 people voted for the top picks which were then compiled into a list by their panel of experts. The result? This list of 100 books with a wide range of styles, little context, and absolutely no pithy commentary to help readers actually choose something to read from it.

We at SF Signal have, once again, come to the rescue. This flowchart is designed to help you follow your tastes, provide context, and fulfill (indeed exceed!) any need for pithy commentary you might harbor.


Designer’s Note: This is the mightiest flowchart I have ever encountered let alone tried to develop. There are (obviously) 100 end points and over 325 decision points. A chart of this size presents a number of readability challenges. For people with lower resolution monitors, netbooks, or tablets, this 3800 x 2300 image is going to a scroll-fest. But it’s totally worth it.

Update 1: Those looking for a printable version of this flowchart will find happiness here. This is a 300 DPI bitmap version that should print nicely on 11×17 tabloid paper. Warning! The file is 26MB compressed and a whopping 173MB when unzipped.

Update 2: As Neil Gaiman so astutely pointed out, the novel Stardust, unlike the movie, contains no pirates. Turns out he’s an authority on the subject. This egregious error has been corrected and we’d love to appeal @neilhimself‘s ruling of this being not quite the greatest flowchart in human history.

Update 3: The flowchart goes interactive! Experience the flowchart in a whole new way!

[Click image for larger version]
Click to embiggen

81 thoughts on “FLOWCHART: Navigating NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books”

  1. This will take me ALL DAY to look through and make notes. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so happy right now.

  2. Would anyone mind if I had this printed really big and put it up in my classroom?  I teach math, and have the nerdiest classroom ever (XKCD posters, etc) and this would fit right in.

  3. This is epic.  I have never had so much fun discovering literature.  I was compelled to follow every path, and made many pleasant discoveries.  My reading list is much healthier than it was before!

  4. Like Malcolm I too am a teacher and would like a poster size print of this flowchart. Would this be okay?

  5. Minor nit:  Your “trilogy” that points at Magician (Raymond E. Feist) is off by an order of magnitude:  Magician is the first book in right around 30 titles in the series.

     

     

  6. @Malcolm and Craig – Check the post update :)

     

    @rip – The NPR list points to the Riftwar Saga rather than the Riftwar Cycle. Riftwar Saga is the first trilogy in the Cycle and therefore we’re both right. Everybody wins!

     

    @tam – I admit I haven’t read I AM LEGEND but I did research the novel rather than taking the movie’s version of events to heart. I used this statement on Wikipedia: “Although Matheson calls the assailants in his novel “vampires“, and though their condition is transmitted through blood and garlic is an apotropaic, there is little similarity between them and “vampires” as developed by John William Polidori and his successors, which come straight out of the gothic novel tradition. I Am Legend influenced the zombie genre and popularized the concept of a worldwide disease apocalypse.” as well as several references to it as the great grandfather of zombie fiction and decided to file it as such. Questionable maybe but it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

  7. That is amazing, great job in general!  Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is actually quite funny at times (even verging on slapstick in a couple of novels) but other than that, spot on.

  8. Excellent work, this is great!

    (I did find a typo, though: “Zombie war, or one man against a hoard” should be “… against a horde”–unless I’m really unfamiliar with this particular subgenre.)

  9. This is really amazing.  I hope you do more of these.  It’s funny, useful, beautiful, and more.  I have been looking for a way to give a similar visual effect to my bookshelves, and this is grand. 

    Pardon me while I gush. 

    It may, however, replace me as a librarian. 

  10. @Tobias Well, as long as you’re not using Will Smith as a reference.  Maybe you should call them ‘zampires’.

     

  11. This flow chart is just what we needed.  we will use it to verify the 2nd edition (first e-book edition) of Essential SF: A Concise Guide.  This guide cites the various SF books, films and TV series that fan based awards (not juried awards), fan surveys and polls rate (as well as works continually in print for at least 50 years as this is also a signal of excelence and helps us include works before things like the Hugo Award existed).

    The guide uses a number of set criteria for works to be included and already is valedatesd in that many of the works meet more than one criteria.  However scientifically speaking (most of us at SF2  Concatenation are scientists and engineers) it always helps to have more validation, and this is where your marvellous flow chart comes in.

    Though the NPR survey is of the public (not just SF fans) and includes fantasy (not just SF) and your SF Signal flow chart neatly separates the two.  Already it looks like the majority of SF titles in this chart are in the first edition of Essential SF: A Concise Guide.

    So well done SF Signal.

     

    :-)

  12. @Tobias:  +1 for Sophistry.  :) the chart’s a crowning moment of awesome, btw.

    @Tadhq:  “One man against the hoard”… I could make that work.  It’s got that hole* Sisyphean thing going for it.  Let’s make it a gaslight cypherpunk.  It’ll be epic.  Epic, I tell you.

    * (Where do you find hoards? in a hole.  amirite?)

    Shutting up now.

    /rip

  13. Seriously: poster version required. How else will we get a nice glossy version to hang in an english teacher’s classroom?

  14. Maybe this could be done with the Hugo winners from 1953-2000 that Jo Walton reviewed on Tor.  Just spitballing.  :)

     

  15. First impressions: beautiful looking chart, way too much Neil Gaiman, glad to see Pratchett but I wonder how “his best” were chosen, thrilled to see Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  Where is This Perfect Day, where is Riddley Walker?

  16. PS: I realize this is the wrong place to criticize the list itself.  Congrats on a beautiful, funny job of charting those items on the list.

  17. You have a typo on the right hand side under NO.

    “I said ON, smart guy”. That probably would make more sense if the ON was NO.

  18. Great chart!

    There is a perfect empty spot under “Can’t I have both?” -> … -> “Math geek – No” for Otherland. 

  19. Nice. There were two items I didn’t see (though maybe I just didn’t see them; it’s a pretty busy flowchart). First, The Earthsea trilogy by LeGuin. Surely that could have fit in the “boy wizard” category. Second, the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. An epic tale. Other than that, bravo and thanks for some reading ideas.

     

    ??

  20. Fail. Your “larger version” of the image is exactly the same size. And unreadable unless one is Superman, which I am not.

  21. @Heather My apologies. Clicking the image would’ve taken you to the larger image whereas click the words larger version took you still to the thumbnail. I’ve fixed the problem and all should be well again.

  22. I love the chart, though I have a single concern. Following the lines into ‘Series’ on the Fantasy side will eventually lead you to The Belgariad by David Eddings. Though yes this set of stories is only 5 books long and therefore fits under your 5-6 book idea, the acvtual story spans 10 (adding The Mallorean) Plus 2 more appendages Belgareth the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress, as well as an entire book based on the world itself: The Rivan Codex. So in all the series could be given 13 Books; but should really at the very least be firstly known as 10.

  23. Some books seem to be missing from the NPR list.  Most particularly, I don’t see The Kingkiller Chronicles anywhere.  This makes me rather sad, since I’m a huge fan of Patrick Rothfuss.  Other than that, this is a fantatistic flow chart.

  24. good chart; I’ll be using it to select my next read.  I’ve read most of these, but there are a few new ones to me.  

     

    Note there appears to be an issue on the lower RH corner of the chart, with the arrow coming out of “Cordelia’s Honor” into a decision box “No – a series, I don’t have the time”.  It doesn’t follow your other decision tree rules…  Perhaps a line missing?   

  25. Nit:  The Wheel of Time is not finished.  Last book comes in 2012. We hope.  Please let it be the last book.  I am still sending this to everyone I know who reads.

  26. The flowchart looks great, my problem is with the list: 

    First, they tried to exclude YA, but The Princess Bride is on the list. You don’t have to actually read The Princess Bride to know that it fits well within the YA category. The fantasy rises only slightly above that of books that clearly don’t belong on this list (e.g. Jane Austen), is used as a satirical device rather than as a legitimate component of the story, and the whole book is included at the expense of some classic literature and fantasy books that fall on the adult side of the YA genre (Lewis Carroll, Madelein L’Engle, L. Frank Baum). There are several others that straddle the YA line, but this one straddles it in more ways than one and is No. 11. If they had included E.A. Abbott’s ‘Flatland’, a book that a child could understand but not fully comprehend or appreciate, I would understand, but the ‘The Princess Bride’ has zero depth or gravitas outside the YA genre.

    I wasn’t the only one to notice missing forefathers; for omission of Poe, Capek, Stapledon, and Lovecraft alone this list should fail. Leaving off one or two or having Stapledon on twice and none of the others I could understand, but leaving them all off is a failure. I’d say it’s like making a list of ‘must drive’ cars and leaving every motor vehicle made before 1930 off the list or listing heroes in American History and leaving out John Adams, Washington, Jackson, AND Patrick Henry.

    A personal diatribe of mine; I also wish they would’ve made some room for speculative science or SCIENCE-fiction. IMO, Sci-Fi sacrifices legitimacy and detriments it’s readers by not gobbling up speculative fiction, futurism, and historical social commentary from or about real scientists. IMO, it’s sad that people will rail against the grouping of Asimov and Tolkien together but are completely okay ignoring commentary or speculation from someone who might’ve actually had a Nobel around their neck because they consider it to be ‘history’, ‘theory’, or ‘philosophy’ and those things are, unerringly, non-fiction. I’m talking specifically about about The Atom and the Archetype: The Jung/Pauli Letters, but it could be expanded to Feynman’s addresses and lectures even including things like Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.

    Lastly, including Stephen King, twice, but no Clancy (or other ‘not exactly sci-fi/fantasy’ novel-a-minute author) is a huge mistake. Don’t get me wrong, King writes good horror, but the only reason he should make a sci-fi/fantasy list is because of the volume of his work can’t be confined to one genre, and if the volume of work is what allows the author to spill into a sci-fi/fantasy author list, there are several other authors in several neighboring genres that deserve a place rather than King getting two. Works from both Clancy and Grisham that are described as ‘techno thriller’ come to mind. Who is astoundingly absent from the list and could probably be considered Sci-Fi’s pop-culture literary meat-grinder is Michael Crichton. Putting King and Gaiman together, for six books on the list, but not including (again) a single Michael Crichton book, makes me wonder why this list is so bad and consider things in the larger context;

    IMO, the list is pretty much what you would expect to get from asking the internet what good/classic sci-fi/fantasy reading is. To me, it’s pretty clear that the average NPR listener looked around their immediate space, possibly their friends Facebook pages, and voted for whatever they saw. Every one of them has Stephen King on their shelves, most pretty clearly recognize “The Princess Bride” as important Sci-Fi/Fantasy literature rather than YA, few, if any, have Poe, the same few, if any, have read an actual biography of an actual scientist, the few that have the attention span to remember Michael Crichton get distracted voting for Tolkien (and not because they’ve read the books). The list is a lens for looking at internet users with an ‘NPR listener’ filter applied rather than and actual list having anything to do with Sci-Fi/Fantasy literature.
     

     

  27. Add my name to the list of poster buyers.  I work at a public library and we NEED this.  It is essential to out mission of educating the populace!

  28. In response to the ‘The Princess Bride” as YA portion of Adam’s diatribe above, anyone who has read it should hopefully recognize that it is NOT the movie, and not specifically for kids.  As I realized in my youth as I came across the book for the first time, only to be shocked and confused by the swearing and adult themes.  In addition, I didn’t see “gravitas” as a requirement for making the list… It is true ‘The Princess Bride’ does not have gravitas; it has something better: humor and awesomeness.  Lighten up!

  29. You made the mistake of classifying post-apocalyptic, when a 30 second check on wikipedia shows they are clearly separate genres. Post-apocalyptic is about the fall of civilization or society, while dystopian is a failed attempt at utopia, what some might consider too much civilization. They are, therefore, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Animal Farm also belongs under totalitarian dystopian, as the animals believe they are building a utopia, when they are clearly under the dictatorship of the pigs. 

    Other than that, a fun chart to explore.

  30. I’d like to put this up either in or by my campus bookshop – I hope that’s okay. With all the bookshops shutting lately, I’d like to keep the University’s little shop going as long as I can.

  31. Links are still broken. Whether clicking text above or the image itself, I’m taken to a 950×575 pixel version that is very difficult to read.

  32. +1 Darren Accardo; Wheel of Time not yet completed (at least, published/completed)

    -1 Trevor: post-apocalypse is pretty much the definition of dystopia

  33. I love it! But The Wheel of Time is NOT finished. (Been reading it since middle school and he had to up and die on us…sigh.)

  34. Sorry … one more nit. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is not complete. The first two series were trilogies, but the last one is a quad, and the fourth hasn’t been finished yet.

    I have to admit, I especially liked “Enjoy stories about orphaned farm boys?” –> “No” –> “Tough.”

  35. I want to like this flow chart, but it pigeonholes Ursula K Le Guin’s Dispossessed with the word “Communism” when it is about Anarchism. Anarchists and Communists rarely get along (when do libertarians and authoritarians ever get along?).

  36. Would SF Signal consider selling this as a poster? I work at a library and would love to have something like this to display for patrons.

  37. I thought this was just fantastic and, like nixiesticks, I work at a library and thought this would be a fun thing to display for patrons. So I went ahead and translated the poster to Icelandic (more or less: some of the references would be lost in translation, and there isn’t really an Icelandic word for “macguffin” and so on).

    I’ve uploaded a low-res jpg, in the unlikely event that anyone outside of Iceland is interested. I neglected to credit the author because I somehow missed his name at the bottom of the original post, but I’ll add it in after the fact.

    From the fact that a printable file was uploaded here I inferred that this sort of use would be OK, but if not I will of course not hang the poster without permission. In any event, thanks for this awesome thing.

  38. No Poe, no Lord dunsany ?  I thought NPR listeners were well read. Guess not. Great Flow Chart though.

  39. Just another comment regarding I Am Legend — It may very well be that I Am Legend is seminal for much of today’s zombie sub-genre.  Still the “twist” at the end of Matheson’s book (and the title of the book) really only work in the context of vampires.  And frankly, *that* was what made that story memorable to me.

  40. I showed this to all of my family, and at least two of them have picked books with it that they ended up loving!

  41. As two other folks in the comments have said: The Dispossessed is about anarchism, not communism.  Serious mistake in an anotherwise great chart!

  42. Thanks for that info. With your permision I would love to add some of it to my blog as well.

    [Editor: We would prefer a link back here rather than you uploading the image elsewhere.]

  43. Can you correct the downloadable version, which still reflects the “Opps!” involving Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and pirates? Thanks.

  44. It’s a great flowchart, but it’s omission of Glen Cook’s The Black Company series is an oversight that will hinder some readers’ quest to find what they like.

    It could fit in the series section, but a choice for ‘military’ or ‘hard-edged’ fantasy would also be apt.

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