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Tag Archives: science fiction
Speculative fiction is the literature of change and discovery. But every now and then, a book comes along that changes the rules of science fiction for everybody. Certain great books inspire scores of authors to create something new. Here are 21 of the most influential science fiction and fantasy books.
These are books which clearly inspired a generation of authors, and made a huge splash either in publishing success or critical acclaim. Or both. And these are in no particular order.
#1 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
The first (maybe only) science-fiction-comedy-multimedia phenomenon, Hitchhiker’s was a radio drama before it was a book, and the book sold 250,000 copies in its first three months.The Guardian named it one of the 1000 novels everyone must read, and a BBC poll ranked it fourth, out of 200, in their Big Read poll.
Ted Gioia comments on Adams’ hilarious book about the trials and tribulations of Arthur Dent, the survivor of a destroyed Earth, across the universe:
“No book better epitomizes the post-heroic tone of sci-fi than Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As the name indicates, a certain louche bohemianism permeates its pages. This is star-hopping on the cheap, pursued by those aiming not to conquer the universe, but merely sample its richeson fewer than thirty Altairian dollars per day. You can trace the lineage of many later science fictions books, with their hip and irreverent tone, back to this influential and much beloved predecessor.”
#2 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870)
Verne’s whole career is full of works that have inspired generations of authors — but this tale of the underwater adventure of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus has also had a profound effect on science, and inspired real scientific advancement.
In the introduction to William Butcher’s book Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Self Ray Bradbury wrote that, “We are all, in one way, children of Jules Verne. His name never stops. At aerospace or NASA gatherings, Verne is the verb that moves us to space.”
Verne translator and scholar F.P. Walter added:
“For many, then, this book has been a source of fascination, surely one of the most influential novels ever written, an inspiration for such scientists and discoverers as engineer Simon Lake, oceanographer William Beebe, polar traveller Sir Ernest Shackleton. Likewise Dr. Robert D. Ballard, finder of the sunken Titanic, confesses that this was his favourite book as a teenager, and Cousteau himself, most renowned of marine explorers, called it his shipboard bible.”
#3 Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney (1975)
Sam Anderson prefaced his interview with Samuel R. Delany with this praise for Dhalgren’s impact:
“In the 35 years since its publication, Dhalgren has been adored and reviled with roughly equal vigour. It has been cited as the downfall of science fiction (Philip K. Dick once called it “the worst trash I’ve ever read”), turned into a rock opera, dropped by its publisher, and reissued by others. These days, it seems to have settled into the groove of a cult classic. In a foreword in the current edition, William Gibson describes the book as “a literary singularity” and Jonathan Lethem called it “the secret masterpiece, the city-book-labyrinth that has swallowed astonished readers alive.”
Dhalgren has remained popular through the years, being reprinted 7 times since 1975. It was also dropped by Bantam, the original publisher, because of its willingness to tackle LGBT themes despite the fact that the Bantam version sold over a million copies and went through 19 printings.
#4 War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
In his book about The War of the Worlds, a seminal look at an invasion of Earth by Martians, author Brian Holmsten states:
“Since 1898 the War of the Worlds has been translated into countless languages, adapted by comic books, radio, film, stage, and even computer games, and has inspired a wide range of alien invasion tales in every medium. Few ideas have captured the imagination of so many people all over the world in the last century so well.
“It is a tribute to H.G. Wells that his story of alien conquest was not only the first of its kind, but remains one of the best.”
The 1927 American reprint, it can be argued, was one of the touching-off points for the Golden Age of science fiction. It inspired John W. Campbell to write and commission invasion stories — which also prompted authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak, Robert A. Heinlein and John Wyndham to do the same.
#5 Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
Foundation is a sweeping tale of pyschohistory and the battle for the intellectual soul of a civilisation. and According to the BBC:
“The Foundation series helped to launch the careers of three notable science fiction authors of the succeeding generation. Janet Asimov sanctioned these novels, which were published in the late 1990s: Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear, and Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin.” And without a doubt it launched the imaginations of countless other writers.”
It is also worth mentioning that the Foundation series won the 1966 Hugo for best all-time series. An award that has not been given out since.
And this book’s influence goes beyond science fiction: Artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky classified Asimov “among the finest of modern philosophers,” and Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman describesFoundation as his version of Atlas Shrugged, “I didn’t grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behaviour to save civilisation.”
#6 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (1961)
The first science-fiction work to enter the New York Times Book Review’s bestseller list, Stranger sold 100,000 copies in hardcover and over five million in paperback. This book’s influence can’t be overstated. Arthur D. Hlavaty refers to Heinlein as a prototypical science-fiction author, saying:
“One of the ways human beings organise the world is by prototypes. We define a set as a typical example and a bunch of other things that are like it. For instance, when I was growing up, the prototype Writer was Shakespeare, the Artist was Rembrandt, and the Composer was Beethoven. In that way, Robert A. Heinlein has often been taken as the prototype Science Fiction Writer, and as changes and new paradigms shake the field, he still sometimes represents the science fiction of the past.”
Writer Ted Gioia looks at Stranger in a Strange Land’s main character as a prototype for other similar characters in SF, saying: “Smith is more than a character. He is prototype of an alternative personality structure. The question of whether we can remake the human personality from the ground up.”
#7 Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison (1967)
This series helped launch the careers of almost every major author of the New Wave. The first volume included Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, and J.G. Ballard. In his introduction to the 2002 reissue of Ellison’s anthology, contributor Michael Moorcock wrote of Ellison’s collections:
“He changed our world forever. And ironically, it is usually the mark of a world so fundamentally altered — be it by Stokely Carmichael or Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon Johnson, or Kate Millet — that nobody remembers what it was like before things got better. That’s the real measure of Ellison’s success.”
“Gonna Roll the Bones” by Fritz Leiber won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award for Best novelette. “Riders of the Purple Wage” a novella by Philip José Farmer tied for the Hugo Award. Samuel R. Delany got the Nebula for Best Short Story for “Aye, and Gomorrah…” Ellison was given a commendation at the 26th World SF Convention for editing “the most significant and controversial SF book” published in 1967.
#8 Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)
Arthur C. Clarke himself had reservations about this novel, yet it sold out its first printing, 200,000 copies, in just two months after publication. Author Jo Walton writes about the first book to feature benevolent aliens who try to help the human race evolve:
“Science fiction is a very broad genre, with lots of room for lots of kinds of stories, stories that go all over the place and do all kinds of things. One of the reasons for that is that early on there got to be a lot of wiggle room.
“Childhood’s End was one of those things that expanded the genre early and helped make it more open-ended and open to possibility.
“Clarke was an engineer and he was a solidly scientific writer, but he wasn’t a Campbellian writer. He brought his different experiences to his work, and the field is better for it.”
Childhood’s End was nominated for a retro Hugo award in 2004.
#9 Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
Sam Jordison of the Guardian had this to say about Ringworld, the masterpiece that is centered around around a theoretical ring-shaped space-habitat:
“Larry Niven’s 1970 Hugo award winner, Ringworld, is arguably one of the most influential science fiction novels of the past 50 years. As well as having had a huge impact on nearly all subsequent space operas (Iain M Banks’ Culture series and Alastair Reynolds’ House of Suns are just two), the book has helped generate a multi-billion-dollar industry.”
To add to this Jonathan Cowie, who wrote Essetial SF: A Concise Guide, called Ringworld “a landmark novel of planetary engineering (for want of a better term) that ranks alongside the late Bob Shaw’s Orbitsville.”
Niven later added four sequels and four prequels which tie into numerous other books set in Known Space; the fictional setting of about a dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories.
The other books are listed and discussed at: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2016/09/17-science-fiction-books-that-forever-changed-the-genre/
A chance to build your science fiction and fantasy library.
In case you thought the genre wasn’t for you.
By Tobias Carroll
Science fiction can be an acquired taste. Some readers grew up on it; others never quite saw the appeal of stories involving time travel, alien contact, space exploration, or the ways in which these concepts can be used to explore moral and intellectual debates. But if you’re a reader who’d like to ease their way into the genre, there are a few great places to begin. Some provide a well-written introduction to key science fictional tropes and concepts, while others juxtapose intensely human stories with headier conceptual elements. Here’s a look at fourteen books that introduce big ideas in accessible ways and present readers with a host of directions they can go from there.
Use of Weapons
Much of Iain M. Banks’s science fiction was set in the world of The Culture, a utopian society that encompasses massive amounts of space, and includes artificial intelligence, alien species, simulated afterlives, and more. But for all of that, Banks is also adept at writing memorable characters, and at the center of Use of Weapons, readers will find exactly that, in the person of the memorably-named Cheradenine Zakalwe—along with a structurally innovative method of telling the story.
Other books include:
- The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
- The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
- Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler
- Embassytown by China Miéville
- Elvissey by Jack Womack
- Definitely Maybe by Arkady Strugatsky & Strugatsky Boris
- Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany.
10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break
by Charlie Jane Anders
Science fiction and fantasy are genres where almost anything can happen — as long as the author can make it seem plausible, and as long as it’s part of a good story. But that doesn’t mean there are no rules. If anything, the fact that these genres are so wide open mean that there are tons of rules out there, some unspoken and some written in black and white.
And sometimes, breaking the rules is the only way to tell a really fascinating story. Here are 10 rules of SF and fantasy that more authors should consider breaking from time to time.
Note: We’re not saying you must break any of the rules below. You can craft a brilliant work of fiction while still following all of the rules below. And most of these rules exist for a reason — because if you break them without knowing what you’re doing, you can screw up horrendously. Some of the rules below represent things that may have been done to death in the past, so it’s best to make sure you have a fresh spin. But at the same time, too many rules can be a creativity-killer, and sometimes it’s good to bust out some illegal moves.Third-person omniscient used to be the default mode for a lot of novelists — a lot of the classics of literary fiction as well as science fiction are written in third person omniscient. This means, in a nutshell, that the narrator can see what’s going through any character’s head, and can flit around as the story requires. But in recent years, fiction writers have opted for first person or limited third — in which only one person at a time gets to be a viewpoint character. The thing is, though, when you have tight third person with multiple viewpoint characters, it often feels like an omniscient narrator who’s choosing to play games.
1) No third-person omniscient
An actual third-person omniscient can be fantastic — you need look no further than Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which freely lets you know what Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and assorted other characters are thinking at any given moment. Or countless classic SF writers, for that matter. But I also want to put in a plea: anyone who’s serious about writing genre fiction should read Henry Fielding, who makes third-person omniscient into an art form. In novels like Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, Fielding draws these brilliant tableaux where he pauses to show what everyone’s thinking, and how much at cross-purposes everyone is. It helps him be a keen observer of people, and also creates these beautifully funny set pieces.
2) No prologues
This is one I’ve been hearing for years — some agents and editors say they stop reading immediately if they see that a book has a prologue. But prologues have their uses, especially if you want to set a mood or establish some crucial backstory before you start introducing your main characters. Like most of the other things on this list, prologues can be done well, or they can be done horrendously. Luckily, we don’t have to reach far to think of an example of prologues done well — George R.R. Martin starts every one of the Song of Ice and Fire books with one, and it’s clear why these prologues are there. They help set up the conflicts of each book, via the experiences of a throw-away character. (Literally, in fact.)
3) Avoid infodumps
Like its cousin, “show don’t tell,” this injunction can be a great idea but can also get you into trouble. Sometimes an infodump can be a horrendous load of backstory or technical schematics, rammed down your poor reader’s throat. But at other times, authors can go to huge, insane lengths to avoid having to come out and explain something. Like having contrived conversations, or weird “teachable moments” to convey a basic bit of worldbuilding to the reader, with the effect that the story grinds to a halt. We posted a collection of 20 well-done infodumps a while back, just to prove it can be done well. Perdido Street Station art by Les Daniels.
And you may have noticed that whenever literary writers tackle science fiction or fantasy, they include tons of infodumps? Maybe this is one of those instances where they’re not as familiar with the genre conventions, and thus fall into habits that many “real” SF and fantasy authors would avoid — but in this instance, they may just be right. Sometimes you just have to explain something, as painlessly as you can.
4) Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones
We love a good epic trilogy (or decalogy) as much as the next fantasy addict. But sometimes a nice done-in-one story is also exceedingly welcome. And this is one area where science fiction seems to have a slight advantage over fantasy — both genres have tons of sprawling series, but science fiction at least sometimes spawns one-off novels. And there’s something to be said for getting a satisfying story in one volume, without a cliffhanger or any loose ends afterwards. And sometimes, characters can actually be developed more fully if the author doesn’t have to hold anything back for future books. A character who gets a full arc in one book can be a richer character.
5) No portal fantasy
The “portal fantasy” is a mainstay in both science fiction and fantasy, even though it’s mostly used in the latter. (You could argue that Hitchhiker’s Guide is a “portal fantasy.”) In this type of book, someone from our world discovers a pathway to another world, where he or she is our relatable everyhuman explorer, and we discover this new world through his or her eyes. It’s a tried and true notion, and Lev Grossman gets a lot of mileage out of it in The Magicians — both Brakebills and Fillory, in different ways, are strange worlds that Quentin visits from the “real” world, and there’s a lot of portaling. But we’ve heard many people say that “portal fantasy” is over, and so is the neophyte who learns about the magical world over the course of a book. Now, everybody wants stories where the main character is already steeped in the magical (or science-fictional) world as the story begins.
But as we argued a while back, there’s still a lot of awesomeness lurking in the concept of an ordinary person traveling to a strange world. There are so many ways to tell that story, and so many metaphors buried in the notion of someone being thrust into a weird new world. Isn’t that what we all do when we start exploring genre fiction? I think to some extent, this is something that die-hard genre fans have seen too much of, but these sorts of stories could still have a lot of appeal to mainstream and newbie readers.
6) No FTL
Yes, our current understanding of physics tends to frown upon faster-than-light space travel — no matter what a few weird neutrinos may or may not have done. And there’s definitely a place for totally rigid, scientifically plausible fiction in which the very real difficulties of exploring our own solar system are explored. But then again, there’s something undeniably awesome about being able to jump to hyperspace, or warp speed, or whatever. And maybe a little bit less realism is needed sometimes, to amp up the excitement of space travel. Most of us grew up on big, bold space operas in which interstellar travel was unrealistically, thrillingly fast — and that’s still the portrayal of space that resonates with many people. Plus, FTL makes all sorts of other stuff possible, including space warfare and lots more first contact.
Additional rules are:
7) Women can’t write “hard” science fiction.
8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
9) No present tense
10) No “unsympathetic” characters
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books.