Do My Homework!

By James Davis Nicoll: Side project. I am going to recruit some young people I know to read and react to a selection of SF’s canon, the classics people my age are sure people their age should have read. It’s inspired by this Facebook comment by Adam-Troy Castro:

Nobody discovers a lifelong love of science fiction through Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein anymore, and directing newbies toward the work of those masters is a destructive thing, because the spark won’t happen. You might as well advise them to seek out Cordwainer Smith or Alan E. Nourse — fine tertiary avenues of investigation, even now, but not anything that’s going to set anybody’s heart afire, not from the standing start. Won’t happen.

So my question to your commentariat is: which dozen works should I pick.

They should be considered core works. I’ve arbitrarily selected 1980 as the cutoff date: it is mid way between us now and WWII.

212 thoughts on “Do My Homework!

  1. Isn’t The Lathe of Heaven novel-length, though admittedly on the short side of that category? I’d suggest either “Nine Lives” or “The Day Before the Revolution” as alternate Le Guin options, if The Lathe of Heaven is deemed too long.

    Also, Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany is a clever, exciting novella that I think has held up very well.

    (As a curiosity, I would have recommended the following novels, before the criteria changed:
    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
    Kindred – Octavia E. Butler
    Nova – Samuel R. Delany
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
    The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
    [or The Left Hand of Darkness, or The Lathe of Heaven]
    Dreamsnake – Vonda N. McIntyre
    We Who Are About To… – Joanna Russ
    Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm)

  2. Since the filter was “the focus will be on works of novella length or shorter” rather than “novella length or shorter only no exceptions”, I thought that putting on one very short novel (it’s less then 60,000 words) might perhaps be OK.

  3. I’m seconding everything on Kyra’s list. If anything else occurs to me, I’ll chime in.

    re: Hitchhiker
    I hadn’t thought about what the guide would look like to today’s young adults either. Not only am I getting old, but technology, or some of it*, is zooming ahead faster and faster!

    * We still don’t have those personal jet cars or the magic medical wands that diagnose and fix in one sweep. ;-9

  4. Some more suggestions:

    The Girl Who Was Plugged In, Tiptree

    Omelas, LeGuin

    Gah, I can remember plots and characters of many shorts, but not the titles or authors until something jogs the old noggin! I’ll have to get out my dead tree copies of my anthologies and collections and go through them.

  5. @CeeV:

    “The Lathe of heaven” is technically a novel by the Hugo Award definitions, but at 60,000 words it’s a mighty fast read.

    These days even the shortest of novels are 25% longer than that, and many are two or three times as long.

    (Possibly the word counts of those Hugo Award categories should be rethought.)

  6. I think I already mentioned “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” as an astonishingly prescient Nixon-era cyberpunk story that still holds up remarkably well.

  7. @Kyra, Peace Is My Middle Name:

    I think The Lathe of Heaven feels longer to me than its actual word count because I had such a strong feeling of dread while reading it; it was a brilliant but uncomfortable read for me. Regardless, I certainly think it’s worthy of consideration! I just wanted to point towards a couple of Le Guin’s best (imo) shorter works in case The Lathe of Heaven does end up being disqualified, since Le Guin unquestionably needs to be represented somehow.

  8. Hokay. Have skimmed through my available** collection of “best of” anthologies and a few other collections. I skimmed the stories briefly. Most of those old shorter stories are not ready for the 21st century either because of anachronistic technology and/or serious prejudices! I didn’t include those already suggested. I can’t vouch for the complete lack of the suckfairitis infection in the following, but I culled the very worst, which was most of them! A couple are what I’ll call supersized novellas (aka short novels).

    * In the Hall of the Martian Kings, John Varley, 1977
    * The Last Question, Isaac Asimov, 1956
    * Light of Other Days, Bob Shaw, 1967
    * The Bicentennial Man, Isaac Asimov,
    * Vaster Than Empires And More Slow, Ursala K. Le Guin, 1975
    * The Second Night of Summer, James H. Schmitz, 1950
    * Long Shot, Vernor Vinge, 1972
    * Ginungagap, Michael Swanwick, 1980
    * Moon Duel, Fritz Leiber, 1965
    * Screwtop, Vonda N. McIntyre, 1976
    * No Woman Born, C L Moore, 1944
    * We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Phillip K. Dick, 1966
    * The Man Who Walked Home, James Tiptree, Jr., 1972
    * The Keys to December, Roger Zelazny, 1966
    * Semley’s Necklace, Le Guin, 1975 ETA this one, oopsie!

    ** I’d forgotten many of my older books were packed in boxes in the garage and that includes most of the anthologies from the 60s-70s.

  9. When I was younger I think I had everything (available) that Roger Zelazney had written. It started with nine princes in amber from the library, but a friend gave me A Rose for Ecclesiastes (=Four for Tomorrow) and the title story cemented it.
    So I was somewhat familiar with the genre, but not much more than everyone is by default now.

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