Prose Fiction Favorites: The 1600s

Just for fun, I’ve been reading through works of prose fiction from the 1600s until I feel able to declare a favorite for each decade, out of multiple good options. My favorites are given in bold below, along with comments about the other texts I definitely appreciated along the way. How much I had to say isn’t really an indicator of how much I liked the book. In a few cases, I’ve commented at length on things I learned from with modest enjoyment, and my comments overall got longer as I read more books in no particular order. But I’ve omitted anything I didn’t care for or didn’t finish. Incidentally, the texts that really floored me were The Plum in the Golden Vase and The Tale of Tales.


  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, part 1 (1605; translated by Tobias Smollett; info). I’m sure I’d heard the essential plot of Don Quixote many times before reading it, but I don’t think I ever realized what a large role that reading and world literature actually play in the story. There are so many references in it to medieval and Renaissance literature (especially Amadis of Gaul) that it’s virtually a lesson in comparative lit itself. Anyway, I understand now why it’s such a landmark text: it’s a readable and engaging adventure; it includes plenty of good stories within the story; it’s funny enough to at least be worth a smile here or there; it’s rich in allusions both to other works of literature and to historical circumstances of interest; and, most importantly, it’s aware of its status as fiction and its own relationship to the world of fiction, playing with those kinds of things in a number of ways (interrupting itself, mentioning Cervantes himself in the text, hinting that it’s a dubious picture of what really happened, etc.). I chose to read Smollett’s translation based on this comparison of many translations, this review that compared Smollett and Grossman [PDF] in particular, and my nominal preference to read the work of two well-known writers at once. Even if Smollett’s hand in his translation has at times been doubted, I was happy with the choice.
  • Honoré d’Urfé, L’Astrée, part 1 (1607; translated by Steven Rendall; info). This may be the original soap opera: extremely complicated/interrelated stories and stories within stories, all torrid romances and tied together by more than the frame story. Probably the most interesting was “Diana’s Story,” a tragic six-way love hexagon involving three different people hiding their true gender that ended abruptly when a foreign warrior wandered in and brutally murdered several of the principle characters. But for the most part, the book reminded me of Baroque paintings: anachronistic tableaux of quasi-mythologized people standing around emoting at each other, listening to each other tell stories with classical roots, overhearing each other, and confessing feelings to each other. Apparently the setting really is picturesque: Wikipedia has a nice photo of the Chemins de l’Astrée along the Lignon du Forez, where the book takes place. Anyway, while the emotional core of each story was often plausible and moving, the story framework was pretty contrived. Incidentally, after I read this, I watched Éric Rohmer’s last film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), which turned out to be a very thin adaptation of just the frame story, and it managed to share all the non-modern features of the book while simultaneously being very much an Éric Rohmer film: talky, posed, and awkward, but embedded in a beautiful landscape full of natural light.


  • Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng [“The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling”], The Plum in the Golden Vase, a.k.a. The Golden Lotus (1618 [manuscript in 1596?]; translated by David Tod Roy; info). For centuries, this gigantic novel has been most well-known for being pornographic, and it sure is: there are many gratuitously detailed scenes that, if filmed, could not be shown on HBO. But it’s also stuffed full of songs and poetry. And it’s also a reasonably compelling dynastic family saga about a corrupt public official and his many wives. It reminds me of several good TV shows that I think of as “bad decision theater,” and the narrator often drives home just what bad decisions the characters are making by literally saying, “though they never ever should have done it …” In short, this book is a lot of things. But what I really enjoyed most is that it’s a truly beautiful portrait of the life of the wealthy in pre-modern China. Trying not to spoil too much, I’ll list some especially good or noteworthy moments:

        Lantern-viewing from the belvedere (ch. 15).
        The finished flower garden (ch. 19).
        Viewing the snow while drinking wine beside burning braziers (ch. 21).
        Enjoying a two-person swing (ch. 25).
        Kinds of people who do and don’t appreciate the heat (ch. 27).
        Chin’s vase’s plum? (ch. 27).
        Physiognomic prognostications (ch. 29).
        Amazing (intentionally overdone?) chapter on Taoist ritual and Buddhist teachings (ch. 39).
        Watching fireworks (ch. 42).
        The tortoise oracle (ch. 46).
        Seven administrative proposals (ch. 48).
        Description of a bordello, plus grief and its reminders (ch. 59).
        The Taoist priest who summons a spirit marshal (ch. 62).
        An elaborate funeral (ch. 65).
        Details of post-funerary rituals (ch. 66).
        A ghost appears (ch. 67).
        Another ghostly visitation, an Imperial audience, a well-described windstorm, and a dilapidated monastery (ch. 71).
        The Temple of the Goddess of Iridescent Clouds and the outlaws’ stronghold (ch. 84).
        A violent end (ch. 87).
        Visiting the Temple of Eternal Felicity during the Ch’ing-Ming festival to pay respects to the dead (ch. 89).
        The hilariously self-deprecating speech of the martial arts instructor (ch. 90).
        The dilapidated garden (ch. 96).
        And finally, the major shift in things, the atmosphere around it, and the unexpected appearance of several characters (ch. 100).

    I can’t say this book is for everyone, but it’s certainly for a lot more people than those who are aware of it.

  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, part 2 (1615; translated by Tobias Smollett; info). I had heard somewhere that part 2 of Don Quixote was better than part 1, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was disappointed, in part because the stories within the story were basically eliminated. The narrator mentions at one point how they’d been unpopular elements of part 1, so he expected to keep the story focused on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Unfortunately, that makes part 2 more straightforward—essentially a series of episodic encounters. It’s sometimes funny enough to be worth a smile; Sancho Panza’s ‘wise fool’ aspect gets fleshed out quite a bit; and I certainly felt for Don Quixote by the end. But all in all, I thought part 1 was a richer text.
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Exemplary Stories (1613; info; translated by Lesley Lipton). This is a collection of mostly straightforward stories similar to the novellas of Boccaccio, Salernitano, Marguerite de Navarre, da Porto, and so on, but I did appreciate “The Glass Graduate” for its portrayal of the glass delusion and “The Dialogue of the Dogs” for being a picaresque story with a hero akin to Marryat’s Snarleyyow or London’s White Fang—but appearing much earlier and told in dialogue form.
  • Robert Anton, Moriomachia (1613; edited by Charles C. Mish; info). Really more of a short story, but one originally published by itself, this is a mildly humorous piece about a joust/melee between the Knight of the Sun and the Knight of the Moon. First, we get the backstory for the Knight of the Sun: he’s a bull the Fairy Queen turned into a knight-errant for being so patient with her when she tried to milk him, and he’s pretty confused about the lives of ordinary humans, often in a manner reminiscent of Don Quixote, which is referenced directly at the end of the story. Next, we hear about the Knight of the Moon, who took possession of the Knight of the Sun’s armor when he saved its courier from a “pygmy giant.” They fight over the armor, and the battle is so monumental it triggers an eclipse—an exaggerated effect, stretched out for laughs.


  • Yang Erzeng, The Story of Han Xiangzi: The Alchemical Adventures of a Daoist Immortal (1623; translated by Philip Clart; info). This didactic novel teaches some principles of Taoism within a mythological frame: the story of Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Immortals of Chinese legend. Having disturbed the divine Immortality Peach Assembly in a previous existence, Han Xiangzi is sent to be reborn into a mortal family until he can re-learn the path to immortality. As a young man, he acquires two Taoist masters as teachers, and one discussion they have with his uncle Tuizhi is interesting (p. 54):

        “Can humans have a constant mind that holds fast to the Dao?” Tuizhi asked.
        “Gold dust may be precious, but still it is harmful when caught in the eyes,” Master Lü returned.
        “How can I have a constant mind by being mindless?” Tuizhi asked.
        “One who once suffered from snow and frost will be startled by willow blossoms falling to the ground,” was Master Zhong’s reply.
        Tuizhi said, “How can I be mindless by having a constant mind?”
        “Don’t bother hanging up the old mirror. When the sky brightens, the rooster will crow by itself,” Master Zhong said.
        “Is the conscious mind completely false?” Tuizhi then asked.
        Master Lü said, “Without the spring wind the blossoms do not open, but once opened they are blown down by the same wind.”
        “Is being without a conscious mind alone to be sought after?” was Tuizhi’s next question.
        “When the light of the sun has not yet risen above the horizon, everyone awaits it with expectation, but once broad daylight is here, it is taken for granted,” Master Zhong answered.

    Most of the book isn’t like that, but Han Xiangzi is inspired by his masters to cultivate himself and pursue immortality in the wilderness where they live. On his journey, his masters put him through several trials, during one of which there’s another nice mystical moment (p. 106):

    When Xiangzi looked carefully around the room, he saw that it was now completely empty. Thus he realized that everyone has this most precious treasure, and it is not necessary to withdraw to the stillness and solitude of the deep mountains to gain it. Those who regard it as far away have no grasp of it. Those who want to employ it recklessly reveal their attachment to the world of forms. Thereupon he closed his mouth, lowered his eyelids, and sat down cross-legged.

    Anyway, Han Xiangzi becomes an immortal and ascends to heaven, where he is appointed Immortal of Universal Deliverance Who Opens the Primordium and Performs Magical Techniques, Greatly Initiating Transformation by His Teachings (p. 116). And that’s exactly what he does for the bulk of the novel. The Jade Emperor sends Han Xiangzi back to help his kin reattain lost immortality as well. In particular, Han Xiangzi spends a great deal of time trying to convince his uncle to detach himself from ordinary life and aspire to immortality, but his uncle doesn’t believe a word of it, even when Han Xiangzi performs magic like using his own vomit as food for a dog to turn the dog into an immortal crane or like conjuring a painting and stepping into it with his uncle. So Han Xiangzi goes to the underworld to rewrite his uncle’s destiny and seriously messes with his life to get him on the righteous path. Allegorically, all the stuff he puts him through makes this a Job-like story that explains why misfortune might befall even someone full of spiritual merit. Although it’s repetitive at times, it’s generally a pretty neat book.

  • Francisco de Quevedo, El Buscón (1626; translated by Michael Alpert; info). Picaresque novel that moves along quickly from the first-person narrator’s morally deficient childhood to his life in Madrid where he’s imprisoned with a gang of gentlemen thieves to his time in Seville where he joins a group of actors and eventually falls in love (more or less). I especially enjoyed bits about how the gentlemen thieves mask their poverty and about how actors compose plays.
  • Feng Menglong, Stories Old and New (1620; translated by Shuhui Yang and Yunqin Yang; info). The forty stories in this collection are thematically paired, and each typically begins with a poem and a sort of prologue story before launching into the main narrative. It’s a languid formula and an odd one in that the prologue story often ends abruptly, leaving the reader wanting more (e.g. the prologue to story 28, “Li Xiuqing Marries the Virgin Huang” is actually the story of Mulan, told in a single paragraph), where the main narrative is sometimes a bit overwritten and too full of incidents that stretch out the action without adding much perspective. Still, they’re sophisticated stories, easily comparable to Italian novellas (Salernitano, da Porto, Bandello) or to several of Cervantes’s Exemplary Stories in complexity, and in each one I could usually see either interesting cultural context or a thoughtful moral or fun supernatural content. I just suspect that as a casual reader I’d have been about as well served by the abridged selection, Stories from a Ming Collection, translated by Cyril Birch.
  • Anonymous, The Life of Long Meg of Westminster (1620; edited by Charles C. Mish). A few tall tales about a tall woman who works in a tavern (but also goes to war), interesting because they present her as a strong Robin Hood-like character. Typically, she has some good reason to beat someone up, and they’re ashamed and either make amends or leave.


  • Giambattista Basile, The Tale of Tales, a.k.a. Il Pentamerone (1634-1636; translated by Nancy L. Canepa; info). This is the fairy tale collection that probably gave rise to many better-known Mother Goose stories like Cinderella (“The Cinderella Cat”), The Fairies (“The Two Little Pizzas”), Puss in Boots (“Cagliuso”), and Sleeping Beauty (“Sun, Moon, and Talia”). And it is amazing, particularly in this unexpurgated translation. It’s full of crude language, fun literally-translated idioms, bizarre metaphors, strange imagery, amusing lists, and so on. It’s so wild that the only European text I’d really compare it to is Rabelais, because subsequent European fairy tale collections just don’t play with language/rhetoric to the same degree. The stories are also much pithier than, for example, The Fairy Tales of Madame d’Aulnoy (1697-1698; info).
  • Bishop Francis Godwin, The Man in the Moone (1638; edited by Charles C. Mish; info). While recuperating on the island of Saint Helena, a man from Spain trains a flock of birds to carry him aloft, and he uses this as his means of escape from a tricky situation en route back to Spain. Unfortunately, because it’s autumn, the birds undertake their annual migration—straight up to the Moon. During his eleven-day transit to the Moon, he experiences weightlessness but no hunger, meets with spirits, and observationally verifies that the Earth rotates, but won’t go quite so far as to agree with Copernicus that it revolves around the Sun (though he hints that it probably does). Once on the Moon he finds that the Earth is larger in the sky than the Moon is from a terrestrial point of view, so the Moon is definitely smaller than the Earth. He discovers that the Moon’s darker areas are oceans, and everything on the Moon is larger than it is on Earth—the trees are taller and thicker, as are the creatures he sees and the people he meets. The people actually come in three heights: “dwarf Lunars” are about as tall as Earthlings; another group averages around 10-12 feet; and another group averages around 20 feet. They wear clothes of a glorious and resplendent color not found on Earth. They live up to thirty times longer than Earthlings and reside in gigantic buildings. The gravity on the Moon being less than that of Earth, everyone travels by jumping and waving fans made of feathers to boost them fifty or sixty feet into the air. Sunlight and Earthlight cause people on the Moon to fall asleep for days at a time, depending on their height, e.g. dwarf Lunars and Earthlings will sleep for around 14 days per month, but taller folks can stay awake for some of that time. The Lunars all speak the same language, which the narrator records using musical notation because it is a tonal language with some words that vary by their musical tune and some words expressed as tunes only. The narrator gives the Lunar leaders jewels as gifts, and he is rewarded with three kinds of stones: poleastis (which when heated remains very hot indefinitely unless it is cooled with a liquid); machrus (which shines with the light of a hundred lamps); and ebelus (which functions as an antigravity device when it is attached to something on one side or a gravity-enhancing device when attached from the other side). The Moon is a paradise too, where there’s plenty of food, the women are beautiful and permanently fulfilling as partners, no one commits crime, etc. (though if by chance a child is born among the Lunars with an imperfect disposition, they’re sent to the Earth—typically though not always to North America). And after their deaths of old age, which they greet happily with a feast, their bodies never decay. Anyway, the narrator leaves the Moon before his birds die off, and he lands in China, where he manages to conceal his jewels before being captured as a magician and imprisoned long enough to learn another tonal language. He gives his narrative to a Jesuit priest to take back to Spain and hopes to return there someday himself. Overall, it’s an amazingly inventive story, presented in a matter of fact way with only a little religion and almost no natural philosophy mixed in.
  • Johannes Kepler, Somnium (1634; translated by Reverend Normand Raymond Falardeau; info). Kepler’s frame story about having a dream about reading about the life of someone else who goes to the moon is the only thing that makes this short science-fictional treatise into a narrative. The bulk of it is really just imaginative astronomy / planetary science with a tiny bit of xenobiology at the end. The frame story is interesting though. The principal subject of the story studies with Tycho Brahe before returning home and learning more about his mother’s witchcraft, both of which apparently mirrored issues in Kepler’s life. I mean, he’s famously an associate of Tycho Brahe, but I didn’t know his mother was accused of being a witch. Apparently, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov called this the first work of science fiction, and (barring Lucian’s A True History for a number of reasons) I might agree—but I’d call Godwin’s The Man in the Moone the first satisfying work of science fiction.


  • Madeleine de Scudéry, The Story of Sapho, an excerpt from Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus (1649; translated by Karen Newman; info). Scudéry’s roman à clef supposedly runs to almost two million words, making it one of the longest novels ever written. This selection focuses on the character of Sapho (i.e. the poet Sappho), who probably represents Scudéry herself. Like the author, Sapho eschews marriage and leads a social circle concerned with the proper behavior of minor elites (they literally spend time debating the “je ne sais quois” that accompanies social refinement). The story is interesting as an instance of protofeminism: Sapho equates marriage with slavery and argues that women ought to be well-educated, even if they ought also to be modest in their self-presentation. The rivalries and dilemmas animating the story itself are reasonably engaging but not far removed from the stiff portraiture of a pastoral romance.
  • Cawwood the Rook (1640; edited by Charles C. Mish). Brief collection of fables most akin to stories about Reynard the Fox but all tied to a gathering of different kinds of birds to determine who will be king in the Eagle’s absence. The morals are sometimes dubious (e.g. something like “As the least of birds, the Wren should know her place”), and I don’t think there’s anything but a vague thematic similarity to Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules or Farid ud-Din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds.


  • Paul Scarron, The Comic Romance (1651/1657; translated by Jacques Houis; info). At one point in this very readable comic novel, an as-yet unnamed highwayman shoots one of his henchmen in the head for very little reason and then shoots a horse who “in all likelihood had no quarrel with that strange man,” and I thought, ha, that’s not the only thing here that reminds me of a Tarantino film: an ensemble cast of roguish characters; backstories all revealed in flashback; chapter headings conspicuously ornamenting the story with meta-jokes about the book itself; random ugly/cruel events intended to be funny; stories within stories; and a very convoluted main story that ties things together. It’s not actually as violent as all that, though, in spite of the cruel bits, and many of the stories within the story are nice, virtuous novellas. Also, the main characters are actors, generally portrayed sympathetically, and Scarron was a dramatist, so it’s easy to imagine some affection there. It’s too bad that Scarron died without finishing part three, but the book as it stands doesn’t leave a lot of questions unanswered. There are obvious unresolved conflicts, but in principle, it’s fine that it ends where it does.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac, Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657; translated by A. Lovell, A.M.; info). This is one among several early science fiction stories from the 17th Century. The narrator’s two take-offs from Earth were interesting. First, starting from France, he attaches bottles of dew to a chair, and when they’re warmed by the sun, he rises so high he becomes frightened, breaks a bottle, and lands in Quebec (presumably because the author thought the vehicle would not retain its motion relative to the Earth turning). But next, assisted by some fireworks, he makes it all the way to the moon and correctly observes that the moon’s smaller mass yields less gravitational attraction. Anyway, on the moon a lot of things happen: the narrator discovers the garden of Eden; he meets a spirit that has inhabited many human bodies on Earth; he becomes the captive of a species of giants among whom the nobles speak in music and the common people speak in body movements; believed for a time to be female, he’s paired up with a man from Spain (in fact, the main character from Bishop Francis Godwin’s earlier The Man in the Moone!), ostensibly as a mate but more definitely as a companion; he learns the musical language, so he’s able to write the names of his captors in a musical notation; etc., etc. There’s also plenty of natural philosophy, including a discussion of whether the stars show us that there are infinite worlds, but most of that stuff is pretty dull. More engaging are the many observations of odd facts about life on the moon, like people sleeping (or getting tickled by servants) in little closets on beds of flowers, towns that move around on wheels, people walking around at night with a bunch of crystal globes full of glowworms around their legs, and music boxes that take the place of books in the musical language.
  • Li Yu, A Tower for the Summer Heat, a.k.a. Twelve Lou (1658?; stories 4-7, 9 and 11 translated by Patrick Hanan and the rest translated by Nathan Mao and Weiting R. Mao; info). Compositionally speaking, these are extremely refined short stories: each features a poem, a word of introduction, a story in several chapters that includes as a motif some tower/house/lodge/upper room, and a critique explaining the moral of the story. They’re pretty down to earth—in fact, they frequently show astrologers and people claiming to be immortals to be charlatans, and in the Hanan translation, one story concludes, “The worship of gods and buddhas means worshipping our own minds; it does not mean that gods and bodhisattvas exist” (p. 38). Generally, they focus on trickery/deceit, arranged marriages, or trickery/deceit in the service of arranging a marriage. And quite a few offer puzzles for the reader to figure out before going forward in the story—one is explictly didactic in that it explains several kinds of lenses/mirrors lately available in China at the time and reveals as the solution to what happened in the story that a character had used a telescope to trick his bride-to-be into thinking he was a semi-omniscient immortal. Anyway, I enjoyed the stories well enough to seek out all twelve, even if, in the end, I would point someone toward The Plum in the Golden Vase if they were looking for similar material (17th C. realist domestic fiction from China).


  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Simplicissimus (1669; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). A picaresque novel set during the Thirty Years War, Simplicissimus is entertaining for its roguish episodes and occasional wit, but what’s especially engaging is its portrayal of the war itself as a confusing and ugly mess someone can wind up fighting from both sides. In one notable episode where he’s disguised as a housemaid, Simplicissimus experiences harassment and misogyny, matters made even more visible in the sequel novella, The Life of Courage. In another episode omitted from several translations, because it’s generally not this kind of book, lake spirits give Simplicissimus a stone that allows him to breathe underwater so that he can dive down deep into the earth and get a natural history lesson from their ruler.
  • Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, The Blazing World (1666; info). I appreciated this for its imagination—another world of bear people, worm people, lice people, etc., not to mention the appearance of the author in the work and her several arguments in favor of building imaginary worlds—but it’s mostly pretty dry natural philosophy, utopian allegory, or quirky argumentation.


  • Madame de La Fayette, The Princess of Clèves (1678; translated by John D. Lyons; info). Ostensibly the “first modern French novel,” this is basically a love triangle story—more specifically, an emotional affair—at the court of Henri II, more than a century prior to the novel’s composition. It’s a twisty, Shakespearean story, full of coincidences and mistaken interpretations, that maps out all the highs and lows of people crushing on each other.
  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, The Life of Courage (1670; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). This was readable and interesting for how the main character proves to be so relatable even in the negative light she’s sometimes put in; as a picaresque novel focused on a character sometimes engaged in sex work, it’s sort of a precursor to Moll Flanders, but it’s set in the Thirty Years War, and it’s fairly dependent on Simplicissimus for some background.
  • Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, Tearaway (1670; translated by Mike Mitchell; info). This is a relatively slight addition to the Simplicissimus saga. Tearaway is the son of an acrobat and a young noblewoman. He gets caught up in the Dutch War of Independence, the Thirty Years War, and the wars against the Ottomans, sometimes as a soldier and always as a rogue. His story overlaps with that of both Simplicissimus and Courage, but it’s predominantly a picaresque account of an ordinary soldier’s life. There are occasional episodes involving “magic” that is revealed to be trickery, but near the end, the book takes a sharp turn toward SF/F when Tearaway’s wife takes a magical bird’s nest that turns her invisible and uses it to rob people, make them think she’s a ghost, etc.
  • Marie-Catherine Desjardins, Madame de Villedieu, Memoirs of the Life of Henriette-Sylvie de Molière (1672-1674; translated by Donna Kuizenga; info). At the beginning of this short, epistolary, semi-autobiographical picaresque novel, the main character’s adoptive father takes her hunting but tries to rape her in the woods, so she shoots him, setting off the first in a long series of social/legal problems that will plague her throughout the book. By the mid-point (p. 127), she can very reasonably say, “Madame, it was not men themselves I hated, but rather their mania for attaching themselves to me and then unfailingly entangling me in some troublesome adventure.” I think it’d be fair to call this a proto-feminist novel, and it’s also notable for its many connections to historical figures and events.


  • Ihara Saikaku, Five Women Who Loved Love (1685; translated by Wm. Theodore de Bary; info). Though sometimes described as “erotic” fiction, this story collection (or at least this translation) is considerably more tame than an average romance novel published today. The characters do pursue their romance with the aim of pleasure, and both prostitution and the practice of shudō are mentioned briefly. But in reality the stories are just tragic love stories, elegantly written and full of beautiful imagery. The prose style is wonderful and feels very modern—so much so that I thought the translation might have something to do with it, but if so, the same thing happened to another Ihara book translated by a different person (see below).
  • Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688; info). I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that an early novel aiming to generate sympathy toward its enslaved hero would pile despair on top of violence on top of tragedy, but wow, things do get remarkably bad. I’m glad I read this though—it’s definitely worth knowing that it exists.


  • Kim Manjung, Kuunmong, a.k.a. The Cloud Dream of the Nine (ca. 1690; translated by James S. Gale; info). I’m not sure whether to describe this wonderful Korean novel first and foremost as an enchanting fairytale, political satire, or harem fanfic. Its fairytale imagery includes things like fairies riding on white deer and cranes, the hero meeting a mermaid deep in a poisoned lake, and time passing mysteriously while the hero learns to play music. And as a fairytale, it’s really nice: full of romantic scenes and ornate set pieces. Its satire is not as obvious, I guess, but Wikipedia mentions that it is intended as commentary on King Sukjong‘s affairs, and read that way, it’s pretty arch stuff. The hero of the story is portrayed variously as great, really great, or super great, so people just line up to marry him and fall all over themselves to praise him and find ways to sort out and justify his numerous marriage arrangements. And that leads us to the harem fanfic aspect of it: this is a Korean novel set in Tang Dynasty China, and the basic plot involves one guy meeting, falling in love with, and eventually marrying eight women on his path to enlightenment, but the little bit of tension in the book arises in that “eventually,” because he’s in love with all of them and yet repeatedly blocked from marrying any of them for a good chunk of the story. So it’s both a fannishly romanticized picture of China and a polygamous romance novel with a lot of deferred resolution to it. Incidentally, one review that I read mentioned minor issues with the translation and implied this was related to the translator being a Christian missionary, and I can definitely see that. The translation sometimes uses phrases like “let no man put asunder” that are presumably wrong for the context, even if they get the gist of things across, and I can well imagine there being other ways that the religious and/or earthly content of the story has been assimilated. Another translation exists, but it’s out of print, and this one was still a fun read.
  • François-Timoléon de Choisy, Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier, and Charles Perrault, The Story of the Marquise-Marquis de Banneville (1695; translated by Steven Rendall). This short love story seems plainly intended as a positive illustration of how gender encompasses more than just biology. In that light, the book’s premise that a mother might simply choose to raise any child as a daughter and have that work out as it does at least makes sense allegorically as a lesson that someone who seems to be male can actually be someone’s daughter and that it can be OK. We could also suppose the mom was lucky enough to make her decision and by coincidence have a trans daughter too. At any rate, this was a delightful book: the AFAB character was also great, and the story was well-written, deeply accepting of human differences, and happy about it.
  • Ihara Saikaku, This Scheming World (1690; translated by Masanori Takatsuka and David C. Stubbs). Themed short story collections must have been kind of a thing in the 1600s—at least for Li Yu and Ihara Saikaku, though I guess fairy tale and morality tale collections count too. Anyway, these twenty vignettes about debt collection at New Year’s take it to an extreme in terms of realism. They’re full of interesting sociological details, and they’re also extremely well composed. Unfortunately, they’re also a bit dry.
  • François Fénelon, The Adventures of Telemachus (1699; translated by John Hawkesworth; info). Fénelon’s didactic novel about best practices of leadership and government is always eloquent and occasionally beautiful but also very frequently dull. It re-imagines Telemachus’s search for his father as having been much longer and more full of incident than it is in the Odyssey, and that’s a great premise. Accompanied by Mentor, Telemachus winds up going all around the eastern Mediterranean: Egypt, Phoenicia, Crete, Calypso’s island, and Hesperia (i.e. Italy). At each stop, he endures some peril or another and learns lessons about virtuous leadership. Unfortunately, I really cannot count how often Mentor’s lectures literally put me to sleep—they’re not bad lessons, but they are obvious from an adult post-Enlightenment point of view, and they go on and on. But if they’d each been half the length, then their elegant composition would have been more enjoyable to read. The story does pick up some around the mid-point, when Telemachus becomes involved in a war in Hesperia, and overall it does have the flavor of the books it’s based on: the fighting scenes and many characterizations are reminiscent of the Iliad, and the travel and the descent to the underworld are reminiscent of the Odyssey. I also thought the descriptions of individuals and of the landscape were sometimes pretty great. I suspect, though, that the main reason to read the book is to observe how much it informed the French Enlightenment. Fénelon’s admiration for “savages [that] set you a noble example” shows in several places, explicitly, and in combination with the book’s general emphasis on educating someone to be wise, that feels very much like Rousseau. It’s also not too surprising that, even though Fénelon was reputedly an effective tutor for the young Duke of Burgundy, Louis XIV resented the book for questioning the divine right of kings to be absolute monarchs.
  • Charles Perrault, Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals, a.k.a. Mother Goose Tales (1697; translated by Christopher Betts; info). Many of these have obvious forebears in stories from Basile’s The Tale of Tales (q.v.). Perrault’s are nonetheless interesting, in part because they are recognizably the ones many modern re-tellings are based on. The stories not found in Basile (e.g. “Little Red Riding-Hood,” “Bluebeard,” and “Hop o’ my Thumb”) are important too. But really, I’d recommend Basile to adult readers as the richer, more interesting collection.
  • Henriette-Julie de Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat, A Trip to the Country (1699; edited and translated by‎ Perry Gethner and Allison Stedman; info). A group of French nobles stay for a while at an idyllic country estate, where there are fountains and an orangery, terraces and gardens, and musicians who come and play for them outside. The nobles flirt with each other and tell stories—in particular, ghost stories, though in most cases there turns out to be no ghost. There’s one fairy tale too about how four specially-talented brothers rescue a princess from a dragon but find the princess wasn’t in any real danger and actually wanted to stay on the dragon’s island because she was in love with a fisherman (who turns out to be a prince and comes to marry her, post-rescue, so all’s well). They also share a few stories about their past romances and whatnot, and they cruelly tease the nouveau riche neighbors. All in all, it’s an interesting picture of what people found entertaining at the time, and it’s well written too, though I’m not sure I recall a favorite scene.

Popular SF/F/H Books of 2017

Although there’s still almost a month left in 2017, at least ten different sources have already selected their best SF/F of the year. File 770 has also posted a round-up of the year’s novellas. The SFWA has dozens of novels on the suggested reading list for Nebula voters, and the SPFBO project currently has one finalist that was published in 2017. Combining all those sources with the lists of new books posted at Locus and the new book lists posted at The Verge (including the list for December), I arrived at a list of over 700 probably Hugo-eligible titles that have ratings at Goodreads. For each title, I expressed the Goodreads rating as a percentage, squared it, and multiplied it by the log of the number of people who’ve rated the book, generating a single popularity score used to sort the lists below. This is obviously a little unfair to books that are just now coming out. I’ve also categorized the results in other ways that may be unfair:

  • I’ve removed around two dozen “general fiction” titles when I have trouble imagining recommending them on the basis of their SF/F content. For example, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders rated very highly. In spite of its Booker Prize win this year, I don’t think any SF/F blog I read has even mentioned it, and although that could be a blind spot of my own, I suspect the way the story is put together limits its appeal to genre readers. Incidentally, I think the same author’s short story “Escape from Spiderhead” is one of the best works of SF/F that I’ve ever read.
  • I’ve classified around 125 books as “young adult,” but this is often a judgment call, and I’ve neglected to distinguish middle grade from YA. To decide whether a book was aimed at younger readers, I relied in part on whether the book was shelved as young-adult at Goodreads and in part on what reviews said there about the content.
  • I’ve separated standalone and “starting-point” novels from sequels that assume knowledge of the series. What counts as a standalone or starting-point novel is debateable, and although I’ve consulted reader reviews, it isn’t always clear.
  • Finally, although I did initially look at distinguishing urban fantasy and horror from SF/F, there really weren’t enough examples of them among non-YA standalone / starting-point novels to worry about. There were well over 50 urban fantasy sequels, but only around 30 standalone or series-starting urban fantasies, most of which did not rate very well. So relatively few appear on the lists below.

Top 125 standalone or starting-point books (non-YA)

  1. Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology
  2. Mark Lawrence, Red Sister
  3. Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale
  4. Nicholas Eames, Kings of the Wyld
  5. E. William Brown, Perilous Waif
  6. John Scalzi, The Collapsing Empire
  7. Andrew Rowe, Sufficiently Advanced Magic
  8. Martha Wells, All Systems Red
  9. Naomi Alderman, The Power
  10. Brandon Sanderson, Snapshot
  11. Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
  12. Jeff VanderMeer, Borne
  13. Omar El Akkad, American War
  14. Stephen King and Owen King, Sleeping Beauties
  15. Austin Chant, Peter Darling
  16. Daryl Gregory, Spoonbenders
  17. Andy Weir, Artemis
  18. S.A. Chakraborty, The City of Brass
  19. Catherynne M. Valente (with illustrations by Annie Wu), The Refrigerator Monologues
  20. Joe Hill, Strange Weather
  21. Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
  22. Daniel Suarez, Change Agent
  23. Ed McDonald, Blackwing
  24. Mira Grant, Into the Drowning Deep
  25. Ann Leckie, Provenance
  26. Natasha Pulley, The Bedlam Stacks
  27. Marcus Sakey, Afterlife
  28. Mur Lafferty, Six Wakes
  29. Michael Poore, Reincarnation Blues
  30. Seanan McGuire, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day
  31. Victor LaValle, The Changeling
  32. C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust
  33. Kevin Hearne, A Plague of Giants
  34. Theodora Goss, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
  35. Cory Doctorow, Walkaway
  36. Jaroslav Kalfar, Spaceman of Bohemia
  37. Kathleen A Flynn, The Jane Austen Project
  38. Ellen Klages, Passing Strange
  39. Rob Reid, After On
  40. Lara Elena Donnelly, Amberlough
  41. Kameron Hurley, The Stars Are Legion
  42. Linda Nagata, The Last Good Man
  43. Edgar Cantero, Meddling Kids
  44. Kory Shrum, Shadows in the Water
  45. Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts
  46. Vivian Shaw, Strange Practice
  47. Robyn Bennis, The Guns Above
  48. Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140
  49. Jim C. Hines, Terminal Alliance
  50. JY Yang, The Black Tides of Heaven
  51. Curtis Craddock, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
  52. Dan Moren, The Caledonian Gambit
  53. Nicky Drayden, The Prey of Gods
  54. Peter S. Beagle, In Calabria
  55. Daniel H. Wilson, The Clockwork Dynasty
  56. Kat Howard, An Unkindness of Magicians
  57. Caitlín R. Kiernan, Agents of Dreamland
  58. Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide
  59. Karin Tidbeck, Amatka
  60. Annalee Newitz, Autonomous
  61. D.J. Butler, Witchy Eye
  62. Angus Watson, You Die When You Die
  63. Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth
  64. Jeremy Robert Johnson, Entropy in Bloom
  65. Mira Grant, Final Girls
  66. Jacqueline Carey, Miranda and Caliban
  67. Alex Wells, Hunger Makes the Wolf
  68. Hugh Howey, Machine Learning: New and Collected Stories
  69. Pajtim Statovci, My Cat Yugoslavia
  70. Ann Claycomb, The Mermaid’s Daughter
  71. Zachary Mason, Void Star
  72. Tade Thompson, The Murders of Molly Southbourne
  73. Tom Merritt, Pilot X
  74. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones
  75. Michael Johnston, Soleri
  76. Anna Stephens, Godblind
  77. Marina J. Lostetter, Noumenon
  78. Naomi Kritzer, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories
  79. Elizabeth Bear, The Stone in the Skull
  80. Tom Holt, The Management Style of the Supreme Beings
  81. Corey J. White, Killing Gravity
  82. Scott Oden, A Gathering of Ravens
  83. Tim Pratt, The Wrong Stars
  84. Tracy Townsend, The Nine
  85. Sofia Samatar, Tender: Stories
  86. Dave Hutchinson, Acadie
  87. Daniel Kehlmann (translated by Ross Benjamin), You Should Have Left
  88. Gregory Benford, The Berlin Project
  89. Giorgio de Maria (translated by Ramon Glazov), The Twenty Days of Turin
  90. Stephen Graham Jones, Mapping the Interior
  91. Spencer Ellsworth, Starfire: A Red Peace
  92. Fonda Lee, Jade City
  93. David Drake, The Spark
  94. Orson Scott Card, Children of the Fleet
  95. Frank Chadwick, Chain of Command
  96. David Walton, The Genius Plague
  97. Angela Roquet, Blood Vice
  98. Marshall Ryan Maresca, The Holver Alley Crew
  99. James Brogden, Hekla’s Children
  100. K.J. Parker, Mightier Than the Sword
  101. Carrie Vaughn, Bannerless
  102. J-F Dubeau, A God in the Shed
  103. Charlie Jane Anders, Six Months, Three Days, Five Others
  104. Walter Jon Williams, Quillifer
  105. Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (eds.), The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories
  106. Emma Newman, Brother’s Ruin
  107. John Crowley, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr
  108. Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Will and Temper
  109. John Kessel, The Moon and the Other
  110. Paul Cornell, Chalk
  111. Chris Sharp, Cold Counsel
  112. Cherie Priest, Brimstone
  113. Dale Lucas, First Watch
  114. Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton (eds.), Haunted Nights
  115. Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Book of Swords
  116. Jeannette Ng, Under the Pendulum Sun
  117. Brad Abraham, Magicians Impossible
  118. Margaret Killjoy, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
  119. Christopher Golden, Ararat
  120. Tim Lebbon, Relics
  121. Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male
  122. Anna Smith Spark, The Court of Broken Knives
  123. Steve Erickson, Shadowbahn
  124. Anne Corlett, The Space Between the Stars
  125. Joseph Brassey, Skyfarer

Top 25 sequels (non-YA)

  1. Robin Hobb, Assassin’s Fate
  2. Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer
  3. Ilona Andrews, White Hot
  4. Ilona Andrews, Wildfire
  5. V.E. Schwab, A Conjuring of Light
  6. Patricia Briggs, Silence Fallen
  7. N.K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky
  8. Karen Marie Moning, Feversong
  9. Dennis Taylor, All These Worlds
  10. Anne Bishop, Etched in Bone
  11. Brian McClellan, Sins of Empire
  12. Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Miracles
  13. Faith Hunter, Cold Reign
  14. Marko Kloos, Fields of Fire
  15. Jodi Taylor, And the Rest is History
  16. Michael J. Sullivan, Age of Swords
  17. Sylvain Neuvel, Waking Gods
  18. Seanan McGuire, The Brightest Fell
  19. Peter V. Brett, The Core
  20. Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic
  21. Benedict Jacka, Bound
  22. John Connolly, A Game of Ghosts
  23. Nnedi Okorafor, Home
  24. Glynn Stewart, Duchess of Terra
  25. Diana Gabaldon, Seven Stones to Stand or Fall

Top 25 YA standalone or starting-point books

  1. Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer
  2. Marie Lu, Warcross
  3. Stephanie Garber, Caraval
  4. Sarah Rees Brennan, In Other Lands
  5. Pittacus Lore, Generation One
  6. Christina Henry, Lost Boy
  7. Claudia Gray, Defy the Stars
  8. Emily R. King, The Hundredth Queen
  9. Veronica Roth, Carve the Mark
  10. Ibi Zoboi, American Street
  11. Wen Spencer, The Black Wolves of Boston
  12. Lisa Maxwell, The Last Magician
  13. Maggie Stiefvater, All the Crooked Saints
  14. Alastair Reynolds, Revenger
  15. S. Jae-Jones, Wintersong
  16. Ryan Graudin, Invictus
  17. Julie C. Dao, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
  18. Garth Nix, Frogkisser!
  19. Kelley Armstrong, Missing
  20. Vic James, Gilded Cage
  21. Jennifer Trafton (with illustrations by Benjamin Schipper), Henry and the Chalk Dragon
  22. Cindy Pon, Want
  23. Elle Katharine White, Heartstone
  24. Laurie Forest, The Black Witch
  25. Jodi Meadows, Before She Ignites

Top 25 YA sequels

  1. Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Wings and Ruin
  2. Cassandra Clare, Lord of Shadows
  3. Sarah J. Maas, Tower of Dawn
  4. Jay Kristoff, Godsgrave
  5. Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust
  6. V.E. Schwab, Our Dark Duet
  7. Victoria Aveyard, King’s Cage
  8. Seanan McGuire, Down Among the Sticks and Bones
  9. Megan Whalen Turner, Thick as Thieves
  10. Susan Dennard, Windwitch
  11. Elizabeth May, The Fallen Kingdom
  12. Alison Goodman, The Dark Days Pact
  13. Libba Bray, Before the Devil Breaks You
  14. Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, The Silver Mask
  15. Rachel Caine, Ash and Quill
  16. Mercedes Lackey, Apex
  17. Scott Sigler, Alone
  18. Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Warrior
  19. April Daniels, Sovereign
  20. Dan Wells, Nothing Left to Lose
  21. Isaac Marion, The Burning World
  22. Sarah Beth Durst, The Reluctant Queen
  23. Arwen Elys Dayton, Disruptor
  24. Kathleen Baldwin, Refuge for Masterminds
  25. Kate Elliott, Buried Heart

Board game rank change report for Black Friday 2017

Once again, I’ve run a special Black Friday report to find out what games advanced the most in BoardGameGeek rankings over (roughly) the past year. This year, the report compares data from 01/01/2017 with that from 11/24/2017. My other data points from this year are dated 06/01, 08/24, and 10/01, so I missed several quarterly reports in 2017, but I have the opportunity to get back on track for Q4.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
002 (+498) Gloomhaven
040 (+460) The 7th Continent
055 (+445) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
066 (+434) Santorini
092 (+129) Captain Sonar
105 (+395) Anachrony
108 (+392) Pandemic Iberia
122 (+378) Yokohama
132 (+140) Champions of Midgard
141 (+152) Sushi Go Party!
143 (+357) Inis
145 (+246) Dead of Winter: The Long Night
180 (+137) Onitama
184 (+134) Star Realms: Colony Wars
201 (+122) Burgle Bros.
202 (+298) Kingdomino
205 (+229) Secret Hitler
206 (+294) The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
208 (+292) Clans of Caledonia
210 (+290) Hero Realms
214 (+286) Near and Far
222 (+278) Lorenzo il Magnifico
233 (+267) Raiders of the North Sea
235 (+265) Agricola (revised edition)
250 (+250) Century: Spice Road
254 (+246) Evolution: Climate
255 (+245) Vinhos Deluxe Edition
256 (+171) 51st State: Master Set
263 (+237) Star Wars: Destiny
272 (+228) Lisboa
275 (+103) Millennium Blades
283 (+217) Aeon's End
289 (+211) Sagrada
304 (+196) Tyrants of the Underdark
314 (+159) Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
324 (+176) The Colonists
325 (+175) Ethnos
329 (+171) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
335 (+165) Exit: The Game – The Abandoned Cabin
338 (+134) Imhotep
346 (+154) Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
347 (+153) Conan
348 (+152) The Great Zimbabwe
350 (+150) One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak
357 (+143) First Class
370 (+130) Codenames Duet
381 (+119) Pandemic Legacy: Season 2
384 (+116) Too Many Bones

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
003 (+497) Gloomhaven
039 (+461) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
051 (+449) Anachrony
059 (+382) Pandemic Iberia
060 (+440) Yokohama
087 (+413) Clans of Caledonia
096 (+211) Inis
100 (+400) Above and Below
101 (+221) Vinhos Deluxe Edition
105 (+395) Near and Far
108 (+392) The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
114 (+386) Lisboa
117 (+338) Lorenzo il Magnifico
128 (+238) Agricola (revised edition)
139 (+361) Hero Realms
143 (+357) Evolution: Climate
151 (+349) The Colonists
156 (+344) Aeon's End
174 (+326) Century: Spice Road
184 (+316) Spirit Island
188 (+312) Ethnos
192 (+308) First Class
199 (+301) Too Many Bones
239 (+261) Roll Player
249 (+251) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
253 (+247) Gaia Project
257 (+238) Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
276 (+224) The Oracle of Delphi

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
044 (+456) Polis: Fight for the Hegemony
089 (+411) Time of Crisis
117 (+383) Advanced Squad Leader: Starter Kit Expansion Pack #1
139 (+361) Quartermaster General: 1914
178 (+322) 1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War
180 (+320) Colonial Twilight: The French-Algerian War, 1954-62
181 (+319) Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars
186 (+314) Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918
199 (+301) 878: Vikings – Invasions of England
219 (+281) Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire
241 (+259) Days of Ire: Budapest 1956
261 (+239) Warfighter: The WWII Tactical Combat Card Game
278 (+222) Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
003 (+497) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
005 (+495) Santorini
022 (+478) Evolution: Climate
026 (+474) Stockpile
028 (+472) Codenames Duet
031 (+469) Century: Spice Road
033 (+467) Sagrada
035 (+465) Ethnos
041 (+459) Paperback
049 (+451) Hanamikoji
055 (+445) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
062 (+438) Magic Maze
071 (+429) Dice Forge
080 (+420) Bärenpark
083 (+417) Junk Art
087 (+413) KLASK
094 (+406) Kanagawa
109 (+391) Love Letter Premium
117 (+383) Fabled Fruit
124 (+376) Azul
140 (+360) Photosynthesis
150 (+350) Fugitive
151 (+349) The Quest for El Dorado
153 (+347) Citadels
155 (+345) Honshu
164 (+336) Royals
173 (+327) Star Trek: Catan
186 (+314) 5-Minute Dungeon
223 (+277) Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia
226 (+274) Downforce
229 (+271) Adventure Time Love Letter
235 (+265) Herbaceous
241 (+259) The Lost Expedition
246 (+254) Revolution!
249 (+251) Happy Salmon
250 (+250) Jump Drive
257 (+243) NMBR 9
265 (+235) Carcassonne: Gold Rush

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
011 (+489) Hero Realms
012 (+488) Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game
019 (+481) Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire
023 (+477) Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie
034 (+466) Guild Ball
093 (+407) Warhammer 40,000 (fourth edition)
096 (+404) Battleground Fantasy Warfare: High Elves
154 (+346) Hull Breach!
174 (+326) Phase

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
001 (+460) Gloomhaven
005 (+495) The 7th Continent
006 (+494) Arkham Horror: The Card Game
008 (+492) Mechs vs. Minions
028 (+472) Near and Far
039 (+461) Spirit Island
040 (+460) Too Many Bones
053 (+447) Evolution: Climate
062 (+438) This War of Mine: The Board Game
073 (+427) Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures
074 (+426) Blood Bowl (2016 edition)
104 (+396) Nemo's War (second edition)
111 (+389) Sword & Sorcery
113 (+387) Pax Renaissance
130 (+370) Star Trek: Ascendancy
131 (+369) Massive Darkness
132 (+368) One Deck Dungeon
148 (+352) The Big Book of Madness
165 (+334) Unfair
174 (+326) DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Heroes Unite
181 (+319) Vikings Gone Wild
183 (+317) Mythos Tales
189 (+311) Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia
208 (+292) Black Orchestra
212 (+288) The Lost Expedition
216 (+284) Beyond Baker Street
235 (+265) Unlock! The Formula
252 (+248) Deep Space D-6
271 (+229) Bloodborne: The Card Game
283 (+217) Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game
284 (+216) First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet

1950s SF/F Authors

This is an odd list, arising in a vague question about who ought to come to mind as a significant SF/F writer from the 1950s. My assumptions are that some folks more often thought of as writers from the 40s and 60s published notable books in the 50s and some folks who were prominent in the 50s maybe aren’t so widely read today. So what I did to focus on people who had written a 50s “classic” was use Goodreads to look up ~125 people who wrote SF/F (generously defined and particularly including YA) novels in the 1950s and rank them by the number of people who had read each author’s most widely read novel. As usual, I’ve omitted the actual data from Goodreads.

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954)
  2. C.S. Lewis (The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1950)
  3. Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, 1953)
  4. Isaac Asimov (Foundation, 1951)
  5. Robert A. Heinlein (Starship Troopers, 1959)
  6. Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End, 1953)
  7. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (The Sirens of Titan, 1959)
  8. Walter M. Miller Jr. (A Canticle for Leibowitz, 1959)
  9. John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, 1951)
  10. Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, 1954)
  11. Alfred Bester (The Stars My Destination, 1956)
  12. Pat Frank (Alas, Babylon, 1959)
  13. Nevil Shute (On the Beach, 1957)
  14. Jack Finney (The Body Snatchers, 1955)
  15. Theodore Sturgeon (More Than Human, 1953)
  16. Clifford Simak (City, 1952)
  17. Philip K. Dick (Time Out of Joint, 1959)
  18. Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth (The Space Merchants, 1952)
  19. Tove Jansson (Moominsummer Madness, 1954)
  20. Jack Vance (The Dying Earth, 1950)
  21. Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity, 1953)
  22. John Christopher (The Death of Grass, 1956)
  23. Stanislaw Lem (The Star Diaries, 1957)
  24. James Blish (A Case of Conscience, 1958)
  25. Brian Aldiss (Non-Stop, 1958)
  26. Poul Anderson (The Broken Sword, 1954)
  27. Andre Norton (The Time Traders, 1958)
  28. A.E. Van Vogt (The Weapon Shops of Isher, 1951)
  29. E.E. “Doc” Smith (First Lensman, 1950)
  30. Fritz Leiber (The Big Time, 1958)
  31. Fred Hoyle (The Black Cloud, 1957)
  32. Eleanor Cameron (The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, 1954)
  33. Ward Moore (Bring the Jubilee, 1953)
  34. Robert Sheckley (Immortality, Inc., 1959)
  35. Leigh Brackett (The Long Tomorrow, 1955)
  36. Fredric Brown (Martians, Go Home, 1954)
  37. Eric Frank Russell (Wasp, 1957)
  38. Mordecai Roshwald (Level 7, 1959)
  39. Frank Herbert (Under Pressure, 1956)
  40. Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (Country of the Crimson Clouds, 1959)
  41. August Derleth (The Mask of Cthulhu, 1958)
  42. Mark Clifton & Frank Riley (They’d Rather Be Right, 1954)
  43. Edmond Hamilton (The City at World’s End, 1950)
  44. Ivan Efremov (Andromeda, 1957)
  45. Tom Godwin (The Survivors, 1958)
  46. Kōbō Abe (Inter Ice Age 4, 1959)
  47. Ernst Jünger (The Glass Bees, 1957)
  48. H. Beam Piper (Uller Uprising, 1952)
  49. Philip José Farmer (The Green Odyssey, 1957)
  50. Algis Budrys (Who?, 1958)
  51. C.M. Kornbluth (The Marching Morons, 1959)
  52. Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin (Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, 1956)
  53. H. Beam Piper & John J. McGuire (A Planet for Texans, 1957)
  54. Alan E. Nourse (Star Surgeon, 1959)
  55. Edgar Pangborn (A Mirror for Observers, 1958)
  56. Vercors (Les Animaux dénaturés, 1952)
  57. Philip Wylie (The Disappearance, 1951)
  58. Bernard Wolfe (Limbo, 1952)
  59. John D. MacDonald (Wine of the Dreamers, 1951)
  60. Sarban (The Sound of His Horn, 1952)
  61. Stefan Wul (Niourk, 1957)
  62. Murray Leinster (The Forgotten Planet, 1954)
  63. Robert Silverberg (Starman’s Quest, 1958)
  64. Charles L. Harness (The Paradox Men, 1955)
  65. L. Ron Hubbard (To the Stars, 1950)
  66. Hugo Correa (Los altísimos, 1959)
  67. Lester Del Rey (Nerves, 1956)
  68. Ellen MacGregor (Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars, 1951)
  69. Randall Garrett & Laurence M. Janifer (Brain Twister, 1959)
  70. Jack Williamson & James E. Gunn (Star Bridge, 1955)
  71. Wilson Tucker (The Long Loud Silence, 1952)
  72. Frederik Pohl (Slave Ship, 1957)
  73. L. Sprague de Camp (Rogue Queen, 1951)
  74. Damon Knight (A for Anything, 1959)
  75. Randall Garrett & Laurence M. Janifer (Pagan Passions, 1956)
  76. Raymond F. Jones (This Island Earth, 1952)
  77. Frank M. Robinson (The Power, 1956)
  78. Fletcher Pratt (The Blue Star, 1952)
  79. John W. Campbell (Islands of Space, 1956)
  80. Donald A. Wollheim (The Secret of the Ninth Planet, 1959)
  81. David Karp (One, 1953)
  82. Charles Eric Maine (Alph, 1958)
  83. Ben Bova (The Star Conquerors, 1959)
  84. Chad Oliver (The Winds of Time, 1957)
  85. Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore (Mutant, 1953)
  86. Edmund Cooper (Seed of Light, 1959)
  87. Blake Savage (Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet, 1952)
  88. John Brunner (The World Swappers, 1959)
  89. C.L. Moore (Judgment Night, 1952)
  90. James Blish & Robert Lowndes (The Duplicated Man, 1959)
  91. C.M. Kornbluth & Judith Merrill (Gunner Cade, 1952)
  92. Jack Williamson (Seetee Ship, 1951)
  93. George O. Smith (The Fourth R, 1959)
  94. James E. Gunn (This Fortress World, 1955)
  95. Judith Merrill (Shadow on the Hearth, 1950)
  96. Rex Gordon (No Man Friday, 1956)
  97. J.T. McIntosh (World Out of Mind, 1953)
  98. Francis Rufus Bellamy (Atta, 1953)
  99. E. Everett Evans (Man of Many Minds, 1953)
  100. Joseph Greene (The Forgotten Star, 1959)
  101. Robert Silverberg & Randall Garrett (Shrouded Planet, 1957)
  102. Richard Marsten [Evan Hunter / Ed McBain] (Danger: Dinosaurs!, 1953)
  103. John Lymington (Night of the Big Heat, 1959)
  104. Angus MacVicar (The Lost Planet, 1953)
  105. Allen A. Adler (Terror on Planet Ionus, 1957)
  106. Islwyn Ffowc Elis (Wythnos Yng Nghymru Fydd, 1957)
  107. Hugh Walters (First on the Moon, 1959)
  108. Robert Crane (Hero’s Walk, 1952)
  109. William Dexter (World in Eclipse, 1954)
  110. Philip Latham (Missing Men of Saturn, 1953)
  111. A.J. Merak (The Dark Millennium, 1959)
  112. Patrick Moore (Mission to Mars, 1955)
  113. F.L. Wallace (Address: Centauri, 1955)
  114. Margaret St. Clair (Agent of the Unknown, 1956)
  115. Stanton A. Coblentz (Into Plutonian Depths, 1950)
  116. E.C. Eliott (Kemlo and the Zones of Silence, 1954)
  117. Harold Mead (Mary’s Country, 1957)
  118. Wallace West (The Bird of Time, 1959)
  119. Curme Gray (Murder in Millennium VI, 1951)
  120. Nat Schachner (Space Lawyer, 1953)
  121. Perley Poore Sheehan (The Abyss of Wonders, 1953)
  122. Robert Ardrey (The Brotherhood of Fear, 1957)
  123. Eric Temple Bell (G.O.G. 666, 1954)
  124. Lee Correy (Rocket Man, 1955)
  125. René Ray (The Strange World of Planet X, 1957)


Board game rank change report for 1/2017-6/2017

Unfortunately, I neglected to run this report at the end of Q1—the first gap in many years of tracking changes in rankings at BGG. But better late than never I guess. Bearing in mind the usual caveats that new editions, reprints, games that are abruptly added to new categories, and so on can all have odd effects on the top 500, here are the games that showed substantial movement between January 1 and June 1, 2017.

Fast, positive movers among 'Board games':
006 (+494) Gloomhaven
063 (+437) Santorini
092 (+408) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
114 (+107) Captain Sonar
160 (+133) Sushi Go Party!
168 (+223) Dead of Winter: The Long Night
173 (+327) Pandemic Iberia
188 (+312) Anachrony
205 (+295) Inis
212 (+105) Onitama
268 (+232) Star Wars: Destiny
273 (+161) Secret Hitler
299 (+102) Cry Havoc
300 (+127) 51st State: Master Set
308 (+192) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
313 (+187) Hero Realms
324 (+176) The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
333 (+167) One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak
346 (+154) Evolution: Climate
349 (+124) Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
370 (+130) Raiders of the North Sea
372 (+100) Imhotep
398 (+102) Agricola (revised edition)
400 (+100) The Great Zimbabwe

Fast, positive movers among 'Strategy games':
003 (+497) Gloomhaven
056 (+444) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
079 (+421) Anachrony
091 (+350) Pandemic Iberia
093 (+407) Above and Below
152 (+348) The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire
181 (+319) The Colonists
183 (+317) Hero Realms
192 (+308) Evolution: Climate
231 (+269) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
236 (+264) Yokohama
237 (+263) Aeon's End
254 (+246) First Class
292 (+208) The Oracle of Delphi

Fast, positive movers among 'War games':
043 (+457) Polis: Fight for the Hegemony
273 (+227) Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire
291 (+209) Days of Ire: Budapest 1956

Fast, positive movers among 'Family games':
003 (+497) Santorini
007 (+493) Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
028 (+472) Stockpile
035 (+465) Paperback
039 (+461) Evolution: Climate
044 (+456) Smash Up: Awesome Level 9000
095 (+405) Junk Art
106 (+394) Kanagawa
110 (+390) KLASK
114 (+386) Hanamikoji
149 (+351) Fabled Fruit
154 (+346) Sagrada
228 (+272) Adventure Time Love Letter
248 (+252) Carcassonne: Gold Rush
249 (+251) Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia

Fast, positive movers among 'Collectible games':
011 (+489) Hero Realms
031 (+469) Mystic Vale
104 (+396) Warhammer 40,000 (fourth edition)
156 (+344) Phase

Fast, positive movers among 'Thematic games':
002 (+459) Gloomhaven
006 (+494) Arkham Horror: The Card Game
007 (+493) Mechs vs. Minions
148 (+352) Star Trek: Ascendancy
156 (+344) One Deck Dungeon
159 (+341) Pax Renaissance
176 (+323) Unfair
190 (+310) Mythos Tales
196 (+304) Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia
203 (+297) Black Orchestra
227 (+273) Beyond Baker Street
251 (+249) Vikings Gone Wild
268 (+232) Deep Space D-6

Popular NYRB Classics

Here are the 50 most popular titles in the current catalog of NYRB Classics, according to the usual formula (the log of the number of ratings at Goodreads times the square of the average rating expressed as a percentage):

John Williams, Stoner
Stefan Zweig, Chess Story
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution
Frans G. Bengtsson, The Long Ships
Yaşar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk
Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio
John Wyndham, The Chrysalids
Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity
Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel
Thomas Tryon, The Other
John Williams, Augustus
John Williams, Butcher’s Crossing
Magda Szabó, The Door
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water
Elizabeth von Arnim, The Enchanted April
Oakley Hall, Warlock
Luigi Pirandello, The Late Mattia Pascal
Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
J.L. Carr, A Month in the Country
Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess
Yaşar Kemal, They Burn the Thistles
Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels
Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematograph
Stefan Zweig, Confusion
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
Álvaro Mutis, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace
G.B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page
Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
Don Carpenter, Hard Rain Falling
Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows
Alexander Pushkin, The Captain’s Daughter
Stefan Zweig, The Post-Office Girl
Erich Kästner, Going to the Dogs
Olivia Manning, Fortunes of War
Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten
Euripides (Anne Carson, trans.), Grief Lessons
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
Christopher Priest, Inverted World
J.G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur
Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine
Geoffrey Household, Rogue Male
C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War

For the sake of comparison, here are the top 50 titles sorted only by their current Goodreads rating:

Paul Blackburn, Proensa
Osip Mandelstam, The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
Aleksandar Tišma, The Use of Man
Richard Holmes, Shelley
Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary
Anne Carson, Grief Lessons
Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution
Yaşar Kemal, They Burn the Thistles
Joseph Joubert, The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert
Álvaro Mutis, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
Yaşar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water
Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837–1861
Qiu Miaojin, Notes of a Crocodile
Boris Pasternak, Letters
Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Labyrinth
Oakley Hall, Warlock
Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematograph
Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness
Frans G. Bengtsson, The Long Ships
Arun Kolatkar, Jejuri
S. Josephine Baker, Fighting for Life
John Williams, Stoner
Stefan Zweig, Chess Story
John Ehle, The Land Breakers
G.B. Edwards, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page
Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
J.F. Powers, The Stories of J.F. Powers
Randall Jarrell, Randall Jarrell’s Book of Stories
Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, Diary of a Man in Despair
John Williams, English Renaissance Poetry
Benjamin Fondane, Existential Monday
Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Broken Road
Kabir, Songs of Kabir
Tim Robinson, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage
Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace
Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy
Saki, The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories
Iona Opie, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren
Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me
Aleksander Wat, My Century
Jean d’Ormesson, The Glory of the Empire
Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess
Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
J.A. Baker, The Peregrine
Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love
Elizabeth David, A Book of Mediterranean Food
Josep Pla, The Gray Notebook
Antal Szerb, Journey by Moonlight

Obscure but well-rated ex-bestsellers

Here are the Publishers Weekly 20th Century bestsellers with a number of ratings at Goodreads >= 250 and <= 2500 and an average rating >= 3.95, minus those shelved under spiritual, Christian, picture book, middle grade, or self-help and minus those not shelved under favorite or masterpiece, sorted for popularity by multiplying the log of the number of ratings with the square of the rating expressed as a percentage.

Nevil Shute, Trustee from the Toolroom
John Hersey, The Wall
Irwin Shaw, The Young Lions
Kenneth Roberts, Northwest Passage
Franz Werfel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh
Richard McKenna, The Sand Pebbles
Fletcher Knebel, Seven Days in May
Rafael Sabatini, The Sea-Hawk
Pearl S. Buck, Dragon Seed
P.C. Wren, Beau Geste
Robert Ruark, Something of Value
Isak Dinesen, Seven Gothic Tales
Hans Fallada, Little Man, What Now?
Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River
Edna Ferber, Giant
James Hilton, Random Harvest
Mika Waltari, The Wanderer
Mika Waltari, The Adventurer
Irving Stone, Love Is Eternal
Irving Wallace, The Man
John Jakes, California Gold
Samuel Shellabarger, Prince of Foxes
Howard Fast, Second Generation
Irving Stone, Those Who Love
Louis Bromfield, The Rains Came
Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder
Robert Crichton, The Secret of Santa Vittoria
Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock
John Galsworthy, Swan Song
Herman Wouk, Youngblood Hawke
Irving Stone, The Passions of the Mind
Kenneth Roberts, Oliver Wiswell
Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver
Thomas B. Costain, Below the Salt
Marcia Davenport, The Valley of Decision
A.J. Cronin, The Green Years
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Shuttle
Samuel Shellabarger, Captain from Castile
Walter D. Edmonds, Drums Along the Mohawk
Meyer Levin, Compulsion
Edwin O’Connor, The Last Hurrah
Bess Streeter Aldrich, A White Bird Flying
John Galsworthy, The Silver Spoon
Kenneth Roberts, Lydia Bailey
Thomas B. Costain, The Tontine
Frank Yerby, The Foxes of Harrow
Ben Ames Williams, Leave Her to Heaven
Irving Stone, Immortal Wife
A.J. Cronin, Shannon’s Way
Lillian Smith, Strange Fruit
Mary Jane Ward, The Snake Pit