Friday, August 17, 2012

The Heart & Soul of 20th Century Science Fiction - Part 11

And the final list of ten books to complete my 100 books that make up the Heart & Soul of 20th Century Science Fiction:

1)      Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
2)      A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
3)      The Entropy Effect (A Star Trek Novel) by Vonda N. McIntyre
4)      Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
5)      I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
6)      Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
7)      The Cornelius Chronicles by Michael Moorcock
8)      Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
9)      Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin
10)  Darkover Landfall by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The first book on this list may raise some eyebrows, but part of what makes up the Heart & Soul of 20th Century Science Fiction is humor, and Bill, the Galactic Hero is a great representation of that. Like The Forever War I view this book as a commentary on, or response to, Heinlein's Starship Troopers, except taking a sarcastically funny tone. I bet a grad student somewhere could write a really interesting paper about books inspired by Heinlein's book.

A Fire Upon the Deep is a space opera packed tightly with all kinds of cool ideas, as well as being action-packed and a Hugo winner. This is the kind of book that makes science fiction fun to read, combining a sense of wonder with space battles and real speculative fiction.

Doomsday Book won both the Hugo (tied with A Fire Upon the Deep, actually) and Nebula and is a time-travel tale intensely told, with an interesting set of rules for time travel and really makes a good case for history as a science.

The Entropy Effect (A Star Trek Novel) will definitely raise some eyebrows for being on this list. However, when considering "the heart and soul" of 20th Century science fiction and admitting that, yes, Star Trek is actually science fiction, and further admitting that the bestselling novels in the science fiction genre are often (maybe even usually) media tie-in novels of popular movies or TV shows or even games. This is the book that really launched the tremendously popular and long-lived Pocket Books series. Since Star Trek books are very likely some of the only science fiction that many people read, these books certainly represent what science fiction of the 20th century was for them.

I Am Legend is more often considered a horror novel than science fiction, but it's really both (if only loosely science fiction). It has certainly inspired others, whether to make movies (three movies were based on the book, and the original Night of the Living Dead movie was based on it). It could be considered the progenitor of all zombies as perceived in modern pop culture.

Stations of the Tide is an interesting book with a great example of exotic "world building" with elements of (apparent) fantasy, written in an almost surreal style, has a lot of sex (there seems to be a strong subset of science fiction that incorporates sex, sometimes almost pornographic sex, into it).

The Cornelius Chronicles is actually four books: The Final Programme, A Cure for Cancer, The English Assassin and The Condition of Muzak featuring one of the incarnations of Moorcock's "Eternal hero," Jerry Cornelius. The first book was made into a movie in the early 1970s. These books may barely be considered science fiction, but are included here for several reasons, but mainly because they represent an extreme idea of what British New Wave science fiction was like, or perhaps what it was trying to accomplish, with its experimental writing style and surreal situations.

Stand on Zanzibar represents dystopian (another overpopulation book like Make Room! Make Room! but its an issue that I think deserves more than one representative work in 20th Century science fiction) with an interesting way of creating its world and a New Wave mentality.

Always Coming Home is an epic work of anthropological and post-apocalyptic science fiction that reads like a Native American tale mixed with articles and essays about an ancient Native American-like civilization rather than the far future.

Darkover Landfall is the "first" in a series set on the planet Darkover, a book that tackles the theme of colonization of another world and the development of a new culture (that remains consistent through multiple books in the series) and a prime example of future-history, which is key ingredient in the science fiction of a number of authors.

As stated before, these are not all the best books in science fiction, nor the top sellers, nor even my favorites. In fact, many of my favorite science fiction books are not on this list, although a few are. This is simply a list of the 100 science fiction books that I feel represent the character of science fiction, the heart & soul of the genre, if you will.

Doubtless, anyone familiar enough with science fiction could make substitutions here, replacing a book that I've included on my list with a book that they either like better, or feel is a better representation of specific theme or science fictional trope. An earlier list of mine had fewer female writers, and while my intention was only to focus on books rather than writers, it occurred to me that perhaps I should take another look at some of the books I'd passed over. Almost every trope in science fiction can be represented by multiple books, after all.

I did my best to fairly represent the topics, themes, ideas, tropes, concepts, styles, movements and subgenres of science fiction as my first concern; secondly, I hoped I managed to give fair play to female authors. I admit to drawing the line there, though. I did not go out of my way to include authors because of their race or sexual identity or nationality (save for members of the British New Wave movement, as opposed to American New Wave writers, whose works I felt needed to represented as distinct).

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