Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Heart & Soul of 20th Century Science Fiction - Part 3


If the list of 10 books in the previous post proved to open the door to a desire for more of the Heart and Soul of 20th Century Science Fiction, and led to a request for 10 more titles, I would submit the following:

1)      The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
2)      The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
3)      A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
4)      Ringworld by Larry Niven
5)      Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
6)      More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
7)      Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
8)      Neuromancer by William Gibson
9)      Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison
10)  The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. IIA edited by Ben Bova

Now we see Ursula Le Guin represented by 2 books, indicating her status as (arguably) the most important female writer in 20th Century science fiction. Both of her books in this list are recognized classics. The Left Hand of Darkness examines questions of gender and identity, and also politics, while The Dispossessed explores ideas of utopia and, of course, gave us the ansible.

The other novels listed are also recognized as classics in the genre. Neuromancer kicked off a whole new subgenre of science fiction, cyberpunk.

Ringworld, like Rendezvous with Rama, in my opinion tops the “sense of wonder” classification of SF novels. Again, as with Left Hand of Darkness, one could argue that this book deserves a place in the top 10, replacing perhaps Rama.

A Canticle for Leibowitz brings an air of literary respectability to this list on a par with Bradbury’s works, is a great example of a post-apocalyptic setting, and also explores the relationship between church and state in a science fictional context.

Lord of Light, More Than Human, and Ender’s Game are all recognized as books that tower over most other SF, by authors who consistently generated very well-received works.Lord of Light is a great commentary on the origins of religion and how it is used to control & subdue. More Than Human tackles the theme of what comes next in human evolution. Ender's Game brings interesting questions about the psychological cost of winning a devastating war into the conversation.

The short story is once again represented here, this time by two books. The second volume of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame has collected  the great, classic novellas of the genre. “Nerves” by Lester del Rey is every bit as important to SF as most novels. And having “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells here gives a nod to a man who many consider to be the true Father of Science Fiction (Jules Verne may properly be considered the Grandfather of Science Fiction, then).

Dangerous Visions is an anthology of almost mythic proportions in the genre. As is its editor, Harlan Ellison. This anthology establishes what may be one science fiction’s most important effects on our culture: the pushing back of boundaries, inciting a literary riot when society needs one to shake things up.

Think science fiction has no effect on society? Think again. That’s what the stories in Dangerous Visions are saying.

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