Your Classics, Please

by wjw on March 27, 2012

I am off later this week to the annual Jack Williamson Lecture in ever-friendly Portales, New Mexico.  This year’s guests of honor will be Carrie Vaughn and Daniel Abraham.   There will also be Connie Willis, Ian Tregillis, Melinda Snodgrass, and probably a good many more.

While I’m there, I’ll be on a panel about science fiction classics.

I have a list of science fiction classics to wave around, naturally, but I don’t want to leave anything out.

What should be on my list?  What treasures of the past am I likely to overlook?  Tell me.


Anonymous March 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

My list would be comprise dozens if not hundreds of names and I’m too busy to type it out 🙂

I’ll just put in one plug for M. A. Foster, who is UNJUSTLY IGNORED. I wish he had kept writing.

Doug Fort March 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

I’ve been listening to the Neil Gaiman audiobook of Keith Roberts’ ‘Pavane’. I read it when it came out in 1968, but I’d forgotten what a masterpiece it is.

Geoff March 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I’m not sure what the cutoff point for a classic is, when they play music from the 1990s on the “Classic Rock” radio station. “The Man in the High Castle”? “Fifth Head of Cerberus”? “Gateway”?

Brian Renninger March 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Here’s a couple that are sometimes forgotten:

The Night Land — William Hope Hodgson
The Hampdenshire Wonder — JD Beresford

Israel March 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Lensmen & Skylark books – E.E. Smith

John Appel March 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm

This naturally begs the question “Where does one draw the ‘classic’ line at these days, anyway?” Only the pulp era? Does one include the New Wave, now a half-century or so behind us? People born the year “Neuromancer” was published can now conceivably have school-aged children of their own without having been teen moms or dads.

All that said, “The Merchants of Venus” by CM Kornbluth belongs on any list of classics, IMHO. As does “The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner, which becomes eerily more prophetic with each passing year. More to follow…

Ralf The Dog. March 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Robert A. Heinlein, Friday (I think it was the “John The Baptist” foretelling the coming of Cyberpunk and New Age William Gibson style writing.)

Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous With Rama and Larry Niven Ringworld as they defined the Big Dumb Object genre and showed us why, sometimes a series should stop at 1.

Fun with Dick and Jane, Unknown to the readers, Dick and Jane lived in a dystopian far future space agriculture colony. Spot was running from a mind control robot.

Dave Bishop March 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Jack Vance, of course!

‘Emphyrio’, ‘The Dragon Masters’. ‘The Last Castle’, the ‘Kirth Gersen ‘ books, ‘The Planet of Adventure’ series, the ‘Durdane’ books … Oh! Spoiled for choice!

MikeR March 27, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Anything by Strugatskiy brothers.

Anonymous March 27, 2012 at 7:16 pm

“Vril: The Power of the Coming Race” by Sir Bulwer-Lytton.

MikeR March 27, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Karel Capek and Stanislaw Lem.

MikeR March 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm

“Vril: The Power of the Coming Race” by Sir Bulwer-Lytton.

Rob Friefeld March 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Don’t forget: The Stars My Destination – Bester, Voyage of the Space Beagle – VanVogt,

Camille Flynn March 27, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Anything by Alfred Bester

Jerry March 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm

What a fun topic! It’s obvious that each of us has his or her own classics – “Voice of the Whirlwind” is near the top of my list! But what’s the difference between a classic and a near-classic? Between a classic and a smash hit that doesn’t age well? As Mark Twain famously said, “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Well, there are some classics that you start reading and you can’t put down. Others, not so much. Anyway, my list of classics includes anything written by WJW where the ink has had a chance to dry. Bradbury. Orwell. Huxley. Cordwainer Smith. Doc Smith. Heinlein. Everyone that the other fans have mentioned above. Will you be able to publish your presentation, or supply a link to an .mp3 or a YouTube clip? (Hint: the correct answer would be “yes.”)

TRX March 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm

It seems I’m right in line with some of the previous posters…

“The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester
“The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner
“Galactic Diplomat” by Keith Laumer
“Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein
“The Black Star Passes” by John Campbell
“The Skylark of Space” by EE Smith
“Whipping Star” by Frank Herbert
“Mission of Gravity” by Hal Clement
“WASP” by Eric Frank Russell
“Big Planet” by Jack Vance
“Caves of Steel” by Isaac Asimov

short stories:
“Good Night, Mr. James” by Clifford Simak
“The Last Command” by Keith Laumer
“Black Destroyer” by AE van Vogt
“The Moon Moth” by Jack Vance

Bill M March 28, 2012 at 12:18 am

For classic space opera I like Star Bridge by Williamson and Gunn

wjw March 28, 2012 at 1:44 am

MikeR, it’s a sad fact that you don’t hear much about vril power these days.

I think the cutoff point is probably somewhere about 1995. I’ll be addressing mainly college students, so I figure a classic is something published before they were born.

Ideally, an SF classic is something that has changed the discourse of science fiction in some way. Would SF be different if “The Stars My Destination” hadn’t been published? Clearly it would be.

Ralf The Dog. March 28, 2012 at 2:55 am

I think the Asimov robots had a significant effect on the way science fiction is written. (If I had to pick one, I would say, Bicentennial Man.) If we are not limited to books, I would say, the original Star Trek was one of the most influential examples of science fiction. Star Wars IV, V and VI changed fiction quite a bit. Star Wars I caused many of us to stop watching movies. I don’t think it qualifies as a classic.

RAH, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, had one of the first non human characters that was not written like a human. Stranger In a Strange Land changed the shape of a cultural revolution.

Ralf The Dog. March 28, 2012 at 2:58 am

I forgot the two most important. The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Question for the board, and Doug Fort, how is it that some people have an avatar? Is there someplace where you register at some global WordPress site?

Clyde Wisham March 28, 2012 at 8:06 am

I notice some egregious emissions in the suggestions so far.
Andre Norton had a powerful impact. I have always had a soft spot for “The Stars are Ours!”.
Murray Lenister had an impressive body of work. How about “The Forgotten Planet”.
Anne McCaffery ‘s “Dragonflight”
Roger Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”
Frank Herbert’s “Dune”
Robert L. Forward’s “Dragon’s Egg”
Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War”

Chris Mills March 28, 2012 at 10:40 am

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga books. “The Warrior’s Apprentice” stands out, but is out of sequence with the set of stories. Many were published before 1995.
John Varley’s Gaea Trilogy: “Titan”, “Wizard” and “Demon”.
Spider Robinson’s “Mindkiller”.

PrivateIron March 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Left Hand of Darkness
The Book of the New Sun, lots of other lupine products
Any of the better collections of Tiptree or Cordwainer Smith
The Player of Games
Hitchiker’s Guide
Man in the High Castle

Jerry March 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm

How about SF books that changed the course of Society, not just SF:
Brave New World
Farenheit 451

MikeR March 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm

WJW – it is a sad fact indeed that most people these days if they heard of Bulwer-Lytton at all would only remember “It was a dark and stormy night…” and think of this contest:
Certainly his work “changed the discourse of science fiction”, which in his time was probably limited to Jules Verne (whom no one here has mentioned, amazingly). Did science fiction even exist before Verne and Bulwer-Lytton?
And another sad fact is that people remember Asimov’s robot series but forget that it was Karel Capek who invented the term in “R.U.R.”

Jerry March 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Wow. I just noticed that no one – myself included – mentioned Verne or Wells.

The USS Nautilus, the very first nuclear-powered submarine in the history of the world, was named after Captain Nemo’s nuclear sub of the previous century.

And Leo Szalird, the physicist who conceived of nuclear “chain reaction,” was influenced by Wells’ concept of super-bombs based on artifically-speeded radium decay.

Dave L March 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I second the nominations for Bester’s “The Stars, My Destination” and add “The Demolished Man” .

Ralf The Dog. March 28, 2012 at 6:26 pm


wjw March 29, 2012 at 4:47 am

Nobody mentioned Olaf Stapledon!

Thank you all for your suggestions. They will be incorporated into the panel, at least if I get to do all the talking.

Hope to see some of you there.

drakes March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am

Ralf- you want an account at (I’m having trouble signing up this moment, but I’m probably just doing something wrong).

The suggestions above include all I would have mentioned, and others that sound good for the next time I’m in the mood to read some classics.

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