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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Arthur Hlavaty on the 1950s SF classics

The latest issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction, prospering as an electronic publication under the helm of its new publisher, Kevin Maroney, has an excellent review of the Library of America's American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s. It's written by "Supergee," e.g. Arthur Hlavaty.

I subscribe to NYRSF and I read Arthur's piece on my Kindle, but it's been posted at the journal's Web site, so that everyone else can read it, too.

I recommend Hlavaty's piece to anyone interested in SF; you'll read a pithy discussion of Robert Heinlein's career as a novelist and perhaps learn something about Star Wars. The nine novels under discussion are The Space Merchants, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth; More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon; The Long Tomorrow, Leigh Brackett; Double Star, Robert Heinlein;  The Shrinking Man, Richard Matheson; The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester; A Case of Conscience, James Blish; Who? by Algis Budrys, and The Big Time, Fritz Leiber. (While I'm generally well-read in SF, I've read only two of these, the Heinlein and the Sturgeon. I recommend both.)

Part of the fun of reviewing a work of this sort is to second-guess the choices that the Library of America made; Hlavaty says the obvious omission is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, but he surmises, surely correctly, that a Bradbury collection must be in the works. Fahrenheit aside, he doesn't see any clear mistakes, although he argues for the inclusion of The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. I would have pushed, instead, for The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. I'd like to believe Dying Earth is omitted because Library of America is planning a Vance collection, but I'm not holding my breath.


Oz Fritz said...

The Stars My Destination ranks up there as one of my favorites from any genre. The Big Time and The Space Merchants I also like a lot. The others I'm not familiar with.

fyreflye said...

I may have read all of them, but I'm not certain about the Brackett, the Budrys and the Leiber. Since this is SF of the '50's can another LoA volume on SF of the 60's be far behind? I hope not. English language SF peaked in the '60's before turning into just another commercialized literary genre.

LJ said...

Jack Vance should figure there.surely? :)

Rarebit Fiend said...

The Bester one is certainly my favorite in the collection. I'm not much of an Asimov fan but I imagine he will receive his own collection someday. I would have to argue that Brackett and Leiber's inclusion is important. While they may not enjoy the same popularity today they were both giants in their time and sophisticated compared to other writers of the day. In my opinion Leiber is still fresh...fresher than Heinlein in many ways.
Perhaps "The Dying Earth" wasn't included as it is more a fantasy, despite its futuristic setting, than a sci-fi novel.

Eric Wagner said...

I thought you might find this interesting: high school student ratings of books we've read in my science fiction class over the past eight years, on a scale of 1 - 10.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury 8.90
Good Omens by Gaiman and Pratt 8.82
I Am Legend by Matheson 8.66
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein 8.61
Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Finney 8.61
Watchmen by Moore and Gibbons 8.60
Lord of the Rings by Tolkien 8.55
Starship Troopers by Heinlein 7.51
The Door Into Summer by Heinlein 7.29
2001 by Clarke 7.27
Expanded Universe by Heinlein 7.18
Frankenstein by Shelley 6.81
Minority Report and Other Stories by Dick 6.18
The Foundation Trilogy by Asimov 5.92
Dark Ladies by Leiber 5.60
The Incredible Shrinking Man by Matheson 5.15
At the Mountains of Madness and Other Stories by Lovecraft 4.93
Man in the High Castle by Dick 4.64

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