Classics of SF at Loscon 45

By John Hertz:  We’ll take up three Classics of Science Fiction at Loscon XLV, one discussion each.  Come to as many as you like.  You’ll be welcome to join in.

We’re still with “A classic is a work that survives its own time.  After the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.”  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Each of our three is famous in a different way.  Each may be more interesting now than when first published.  Have you read them?  Have you re-read them?

Arthur C. Clarke, Prelude to Space (1951)

Halfway between the end of World War II and the rise of Sputnik – I warned you about these puns – is this fine instance of giving the touch of reality to what had never yet been, as SF hopes to achieve.  Today, knowing many things happened otherwise, we can watch the author at work.

Hal Clement, Iceworld (1953)

Interstellar traders return to a world where they’ve been operating with great difficulty.  Its inhuman cold hinders everything.  It seems to have intelligent life, but how could that be?  The world is so cold it freezes zinc – yes, Earth: the protagonists’ world is hundreds of degrees hotter.

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959)

An extraordinary novel, terrifyingly grim, prodigiously imaginative, richly comic – well, that’s true.  Also we’re not long on stories that well paint any mainstream religion.  Here the Catholic Church is at center stage, the light relentless, but not ruthless, on Catholics and everyone else.

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: SF

On the installment plan, The Guardian is running its choices for the list of 1000 novels everyone must read. It’s just posted the science fiction titles from the list and the introduction, mentioning some of the right names, makes it all sound very promising:

From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.” Ballard’s visions of “inner space”, Orwell, Huxley and Atwood’s totalitarian nightmares, Kafka’s uneasy bureaucracies, Gibson’s cutting-edge cool – all are examples of a literature at the forefront of the collective imagination.

The three parts of the list and some sidebar articles add up to 149 books, according to SF Signal, which encourages people to copy and annotate the books on the list they’ve read.

Here are the links to The Guardian:

Science Fiction/Fantasy Part I
Science Fiction/Fantasy Part II
Science Fiction/Fantasy Part III

I wish I liked the results more because they’ve made some idiocyncratic choices I entirely approve. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court would certainly be on my list, but I don’t know how many other fans would call it must-read sf. They also named Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, an overlooked classic that’s well-known to actifans but not by so many others. And it never would have occurred to me to tag Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry’s The Little Prince but I like the choice.

Unfortunately, too many of the selections ring false for me. The right authors represented by their lesser works. No Bradbury at all. And a bunch of books that came out in the past 30 years which didn’t seem very significant then or now.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the link.]