Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fifty Essential SF Authors

John C. Wright proposed a list a few years ago of fifty essential science fiction authors for a total of about 116 works. I'm sure I saw it then, but it came to my attention again just today (ht). So it's time for a book list. (There are few cases where I'm not sure I've read the work or not -- if I've read it's been so long ago that I can't remember if what I know about it is from reading it or from hearing about it second hand.)

I have read
I have on my shelves

(1) Mary Shelley: FRANKENSTEIN
(2) A Square (Edwin Abbott) FLATLAND
(3) Jules Verne:
TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
FROM EARTH TO MOON
MASTER OF THE WORLD
(4) H.G. Wells:
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
THE TIME MACHINE
THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU
THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON.
(5) E.M. Forster ‘The Machine Stops’
(6) David Lindsay VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.
(7) Olaf Stapledon:
LAST AND FIRST MEN
STARMAKER.
(8) Jorge Luis Borges “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”
(9) George Orwell NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR
(10) Aldous Huxley A BRAVE NEW WORLD
(11) A Merritt
THE MOON POOL
THE METAL MONSTER.
(12) Edgar Rice Burroughs
A PRINCESS OF MARS
GODS OF MARS
WARLORD OF MARS.
(13) E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith
SKYLARK OF SPACE
SKYLARK DUQUESNE
THE GALACTIC PATROL,
THE GRAY LENSMAN,
SECOND STAGE LENSMAN
CHILDREN OF THE LENS.
(14) Stanley G. Weinbaum ‘A Martian Odyssey’
(15) Jack Williamson:
‘With Folded Hands’
LEGION OF SPACE
LEGION OF TIME.
‘The Moon Era.’
(16) H.P. Lovecraft:
‘The Call of Cthulhu’
‘A Whisperer in Darkness’
‘Shadow Out of Time’

(17) A.E. van Vogt:
‘The Black Destroyer’
SLAN
WORLD OF NULL-A
PLAYERS OF NULL-A.
THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER.
(18) Isaac Asimov:
FOUNDATION
FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE
SECOND FOUNDATION
CAVES OF STEEL
THE NAKED SUN

(19) Robert Heinlein
“The Man Who Sold the Moon”
“Requiem”
“Green Hills of Earth”
ORPHANS OF THE SKY
HAVE SPACE SUIT WILL TRAVEL,
CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY
STARMAN JONES
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
STARSHIP TROOPERS
(20) Joe Haldeman FOREVER WAR
(21) C.S. Lewis:
OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET
PERELENDRA
THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
.
(22) Arthur C Clarke:
CHILDHOOD’S END
2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY
.
‘Against the Fall of Night’ aka CITY AND THE STARS
RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA.
(23) Clifford Simak:
CITY
WAY STATION
(24)Hal Clement MISSION OF GRAVITY.
(25) Poul Anderson:
‘The Man Who Counts’
‘The Queen of Air and Darkness ‘
BRAINWAVE,
TAU ZERO
HARVEST OF STARS.
(26) Alfred Bester
THE STARS MY DESTINATION
THE DEMOLISHED MAN
.
(27) Keith Laumer DINOSAUR BEACH
(28) Fritz Leiber THE BIG TIME .
(29) Robert Silverberg ‘Nightwings’
(30) Philip Jose Farmer:
RIVERWORLD
WORLD OF TIERS
(31) Tom Godwin ‘The Cold Equations’
(32) Harlan Ellison ‘Repent Harlequin Said the Ticktockman’
(33) Philip K Dick THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
(34) Roger Zelazny:
LORD OF LIGHT
NINE PRINCES IN AMBER.
(35) Ray Bradbury
FAHRENHEIT 451
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES

I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.
(36) John Brunner STAND ON ZANZIBAR
(37) Michael Moorcock
THE JEWEL IN THE SKULL
ELRIC OF MELNIBONÉ
THE KNIGHT OF THE SWORDS.
(38) Daniel Keyes ‘Flowers for Algernon’
(39) Walter M. Miller A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
(40) Frank Herbert DUNE
(41) Cordwainer Smith
‘Scanners Live in Vain’
‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’
‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.’
(42) Ursula K LeGuin:
LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
THE DISPOSSESSED
.
(43) Jack Vance
‘The Dragon Masters’
‘The Last Castle.’
THE LANGUAGES OF PAO
EMPHYRIO.
THE DYING EARTH.
(44) Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle MOTE IN GOD’S EYE
(45) Larry Niven
RINGWORLD
'Neutron Star'
(46) Gene Wolfe:
THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER
THE SWORD OF THE LICTOR
THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR

THE CITADEL OF THE AUTARCH
URTH OF THE NEW SUN
‘Fifth Head of Cerberus’.
(47) Walter Gibson NEUROMANCER
(48) Neal Stephenson
SNOWCRASH
THE DIAMOND AGE.
(49) Dan Simmons HYPERION
(50) Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons THE WATCHMAN

So, assuming I haven't miscounted in the quick tally, that brings me to 52 of the works read, amounting to 28 authors. (I have, of course, read more of these authors than that, but in some cases I've read one or two works by the author that were not here listed.)

Some thoughts about the list in general.

* I once (a decade ago!) put together a list of 20 must-read science fiction novels, where the primary concern was a loose notion of 'centrality of influence' -- i.e., they were genre-building works, tying into and influencing large portions of the science fiction genre, and I also confined myself to one from any given author. All of them I had read, of course. Thirteen of those are on Wright's list. The seven that are not are:

Edward Bulwer-Lytton, VRIL
Arthur Conan Doyle, THE LOST WORLD
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, HERLAND
Olaf Stapledon, ODD JOHN
Theodore Sturgeon, MORE THAN HUMAN
Philip K. Dick, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?
Orson Scott Card, ENDER'S GAME

I would certainly today do SIRIUS for Olaf Stapledon instead of Odd John -- I almost did then, and I remember quickly becoming convinced after putting up the post that it would have been a better work. (Indeed, much as I like Starmaker, I think Sirius is easily his best work.) And I was convinced by commenters at the time (long lost on a commenting system that no longer exists) that Douglas Adams, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY was a good candidate. But allowing for the one change and the one addition, I would still stand by them all. So add them to the list. Of these, I think one could argue that Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman are not 'essential science fiction authors' in quite the sense Wright means; they are good candidates for the diverse genre-building list I was going for, but the particular areas of the genre they build up and are highly influential for are arguably marginal to the genre as a whole. Stapledon and Dick are already authors on Wright's list, so that just leaves Sturgeon and Card and Adams as the authors not in Wright's list; given that he was arbitrarily capping himself at fifty, and explicitly notes in comments that he was primarily concerned with making sure that earlier generations of authors were not overlooked, that's pretty good coverage, especially given that my list, though smaller, was aiming to cover a very wide area of the genre indeed.

* There are, of course, cases in which one could pick a different book -- Jules Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth is a good example. Lovecraft is perhaps the most questionable author on Wright's list. I was less bowled over by Hyperion than a lot of people, but I can certainly see why it would be a candidate.

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