Classics of Science Fiction

By John Hertz: We’ll discuss two Classics of SF at MidAmeriCon II, one discussion each. You’ll be welcome to join in.

I’m still with “A classic is an artwork that survives its time. After the currents which might hold it high have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile in itself.”  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Each of these stories is well known, each in a different way. Each may be more interesting now than when first published.  Have you read them?  Have you re-read them?

Robert A. Heinlein
Between Planets (1951)

The author, from Missouri the show-me State, was masterly at showing us, not telling us. This, one of his “juveniles”, Fantasy & Science Fiction called more mature than some “adult” SF.  When and how does Don Harvey come of age?  Why does the author show him washing dishes for a living — or who and what the dragon “Sir Isaac” really is?  Extra credit: could Isobel Costello be the hero?

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Robert L. Stevenson
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886)

Strange? Stevenson said it was strange.  Far outside our field people talk of Jekyll and Hyde.  The Victorian era, and timeless questions of human nature, together weave this tale.  What if a medical researcher like Jekyll could do what he did?  Who or what is Hyde?  The best guide I know is Vladimir Nabokov in his wonderful Lectures on Literature.


18 thoughts on “Classics of Science Fiction

  1. There are Heinlein juvies that I still remember, 45 years after reading. Between Planets ain’t one of them. Jeckyll & Hyde is so memorable as to become a cultural meme.

  2. I notice that the cover photo for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is in Dutch. A rough translation would be:
    “Dr Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde / and other stories / Robert Louis Stevenson / Four fantastic tales (<-roughly) in the spirit of Maupassant and Edgar Allen Poe."

    Will the discussion be in Dutch also? I would be thrilled to have such a chance to practice my Dutch but I read very slowly in that language (also laying hands on books in Dutch is difficult) so I would need a heads up as early as possible.

  3. Between Planets wasn’t necessarily one of my favorites (those would be Citizen of the Galaxy, Red Planet, Space Cadet and maybe Time for the Stars, in no particular order), but I do remember it and did enjoy it.

  4. Will the discussion be in Dutch also?

    I believe it will be in double-Dutch. Jumping to conclusions will be encouraged.

  5. I don’t remember Between Planets at all, but I definitely read it. My Heinlein juvies ranking from memory is…

    1. Red Planet
    2. Time for the Stars
    3. Citizen of the Galaxy
    4. Podkayne of Mars (yeah yeah)
    5. Rocket Ship Galileo

  6. Why don’t the Hugos have a “retro Hugo Award” that is for works 50 years ago from the present year – every single year?

    The retro Hugos this year were awesome works in every category.

  7. airboy: Why don’t the Hugos have a “retro Hugo Award” that is for works 50 years ago from the present year – every single year?

    Instead of directly answering that, I’d say if you packaged your idea as the “Dopple-Hugos” you might get a little farther trying to present them in years for which they have already been given.

  8. There is a big difference between something perceived as influential or important after a year and something that has stood the test of time and is still read after 50 years. This is true in almost every field.

    So why is there no 50 year retrospective Hugo done annually? Or a 50 year and 75 year retrospective Hugo? I’d trust a crowd-sourced recommendation from material from 50 years in the past much more than a crowd-sourced recommendation from 12-20 months ago.

  9. @airboy
    Because the Hugos only do retrospective years when Hugos weren’t awarded. You could become active in Worldcon, attend the conventions, attend the business meetings, make a proposal at the business meetings for yearly retrospective Hugos.

    You could also start your own award which would be a retrospective award and have complete control over how it’s awarded.

    But currently Worldcon runs the retro awards as it’s written into the rules. Where to find the rules and how to change them are available on the MACII website.

  10. I remember Between Planets with some affection – I’m fairly sure I still have a copy, umm, around here somewhere. (My piles of books are a bit diffuse in their cataloguing, sometimes.)

    Jekyll and Hyde, though, I had occasion to read aloud, a short while back, and I was struck (again) at the time by just how damn good it is. In a way, it’s unfortunate that it is so famous, because it starts with the mystery of just who Hyde is and why he is the way he is, and slowly unravels and discloses the truth with a great deal of subtlety, and some very fine unsettling moments. I suppose some people might find the Victorian prose a bit florid, these days – and, of course, there’s a whole world of cultural assumptions in there, too – but, of its time, it’s a very fine piece of work indeed.

  11. Hmmmm, Between Planets as a classic I’m not so sure about. To be a classic don’t you have to have a strong base of current readers?

    It would be in my top 5 Heinlein juveniles though (oh , Jim Henley, no! You started so strong with Red Planet. How could your list go wrong from there?!? 😛 )

    Actually, Between Planets introduced me to fried egg sandwiches. There’s a scene where the hero and his boss at that point are talking and making them. I’d never heard of such a sandwich but it sounded interesting. At the end of the chapter it was off to the kitchen and trying them out (I started cooking on my own at a pretty young age). Still a comfort food sometimes.

  12. What about Starman Jones? Read it as a kid, reread it as an adult, and stilled loved it.

  13. Airboy:

    “Why don’t the Hugos have a “retro Hugo Award” that is for works 50 years ago from the present year – every single year?

    The retro Hugos this year were awesome works in every category.”

    Everything doesn’t have to be a Hugo, but I say fuck yeah to a crowd sourced reading list for every year.

    But needs more Prince Valiant. 😉

  14. Yeah, I’d also add Starman Jones to my list, and The Rolling Stones and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.

    Although at this point I think I’ve listed at least half of the juvies …

  15. “Maybe you need to do a Prince Valiant group read/discussion? Convert more people.”

    If there is a retrohugo for 1942, I will start an enormous lobbying campaign.

  16. The rules for retro hugo says that “A Worldcon held 50, 75, or 100 years after a Worldcon at which no Hugos were presented may conduct nominations and elections for Hugos which would have been presented at that previous Worldcon.”

    Note the “after a Worldcon” part – along with “at which no Hugos were presented” this gives us a limited number of possible retro-hugos. Since there was no Worldcon in 1942, there can’t be a 1942 Retro Hugo next year. There was no Worldcon in 1916 either, so no 100-year-ago Retro Hugo. There was a Worldcon in 1967, but they had a Hugo, so no 50-years-ago either. As far as I can tell the next opportunity for Retro Hugo is in 2022, when the 1947 worldcon is 75 years ago.

    I don’t know why the part about “after a worldcon” was included. At a guess people wanted the retro hugo to be a very limited event. I suppose an amendment to change that part might stand a reasonable chance if someone argues convincingly about how fun it would be to do retro awards more often. On the other hand, there’s been several Worldcons lately who could have organized Retro Hugos but chose not, so I don’t think the interest is that big. Keep in mind that organising Retro Hugo is a not-insignificant amount of work for the convention.

    I think having retro hugo for years where there was a “regular” hugo would be confusing. And it would be unfair to the original winner to select a new one – it’s a bit too much like saying “no, giving the Hugo to that book was a mistake.” If fandom wants to do retrospectives on 1950s and 1960s SF, it should be done as something else than Retro Hugo.

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