Posted on | September 5, 2013 | 38 Comments
I’m getting a late start on this thanks to being distracted by people whining about Dragon*Con and Worldcon, which were on the same weekend this year. If you’re interested in SF fandom, you can go read my LJ post about it, which I didn’t do here because it’s not really pertinent.
Anyhow, what I want to talk about this week is the Canon. The stuff everybody should have at least a passing familiarity with (in my arrogant opinion, anyway) when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Not all of the Canon is books, and not all of it is award-winning stuff, but in one way or another, it’s had an influence on the field. So you ought to know something about it, even if all you do is go browse the Wikipedia article – and truthfully, for some books like Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, you’re probably better off doing that than actually reading the book.
Let’s start with some award-winning stuff, edited by a legend in the field: The Hugo Winners (Volume I & II), edited by Isaac Asimov. Along with The Hugo Winners, Vol. 3, this covers all the Hugo-winning short fiction from 1955-1975, and if nothing else, should give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll like and what you won’t in SF. Just about all the great authors are in here: Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Harlan Ellison, Philip Jose Farmer, Ursula K. LeGuin, Fritz Leiber, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon and a bunch of others. Asimov did two more of these anthologies and the first two editions of The New Hugo Winners before his death in 1992; he was succeeded as editor by Connie Willis and Greg Benford.
I’d also recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1, a sort of pre-Nebula Award anthology of short stories voted on by the Science Fiction Writers of America. The novella collection wound up being broken into two: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2A and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 2B. Unlike the Hugo anthologies, the SF Hall of Fame anthologies only have one story per author, but like them, it’s all good stuff.
Asimov was a solid writer in his own right, and is perhaps best remembered for the Foundation trilogy, I, Robot (which introduced the Three Laws of Robotics), and The Caves of Steel, a murder mystery with robots. Alongside Asimov, of course, is Heinlein, whose Future History spanned three anthologies: The Man Who Sold The Moon, The Green Hills of Earth, and Revolt in 2100 and two novels, Orphans of the Sky and Methuselah’s Children – or you can get the (almost) complete package in The Past Through Tomorrow.
Alongside Asimov and Heinlein, other Golden Age writers of note were Jack Williamson, best known for his novels about the robot Humanoids which begins with the eerie With Folded Hands; and A.E. van Vogt, perhaps best remembered for the mutant novel Slan but also for The World of Null-A and The Weapon Shops of Isher, which gave us the libertarian rallying cry “The Right To Buy Weapons Is The Right To Be Free”.
Which just barely gets us out of the 1940s. Next week, a stab at the memorable novels and authors of the 1950s and early 60s.