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ejp626

Science fiction vs. literature

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Perhaps a somewhat misleading title. I read tons of science fiction as a young adult and still indulge from time to time. I am often enthralled at the really interesting ideas embedded in science fiction novels, though some of them do end up being stupid retreads on the world mind concept or what have you. But much of the time, these are plot-driven works with fairly flat characters and dialogue. Not all the time of course. Anyway, I was struck about how Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife takes the science fiction convention of a time traveler and puts it into a literary framework. Margarat Atwood sometimes does this as well. Also, Dorris Lessing, though I am not terribly satisfied with her science fiction efforts.

So I thought I would start a list of the science fiction authors that can really write well, in addition to grappling with interesting concepts.

Ian McDonald

Roger Zelazny

Ursula LeGuin

C. J. Cherryh - Wave without a Shore

That's it for now. I really do like many authors not on the list (Asimov, Clarke, etc. etc. etc.) but they generally fall pretty short on a (fairly arbitrary) literary scale.

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What about Ray Bradbury? I haven't read that much of his stuff, and none recently, but I remember The Martian Chronicles being well-written. (and very enjoyable!)

In high school I went through a Star Wars nut phase and read a ton of the novels. Most of them ranged from mediocre to terrible (I realized this even at the time -- you know that's a bad sign) but the Timothy Zahn trilogy that kicked off that craze was really, really good. Not "literature", probably, but definitely worth reading.

Guy

Edited by Guy Berger

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Phillip K. Dick. I've been reading and rereading him since the 60s. "Ubik" is next up.

Same for Kurt Vonnegut. If you haven't read any try "The Siren OF Titan" for starters. That's due for a revisiting on my part.

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Also...Jack Finney. I've read several of his books. "The Body Snatchers" being the most famous. One I particularly liked was "Time And Again", which is one of the best time travel stories I've read.

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I don't really know if science fiction buffs would consider him a science fiction writer - I somehow never really got into the genre, more out of ignorance than any dislike for it - but Jonathan Lethem seems to straddle the line you're talking about. His last few books are definitely on the "literature" side of things, but he had some really cool ideas in his early books that I think would fall into what you're talking about.

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I used to hear radioplays based on science fiction stories on AFN in my teens - that turned me to Bradbury, Vonnegut, and others, but ten years ago I stopped reading SF entirely - I was disappointed by the overall level of the writing and the ideas. Too few first-rate writers in the genre, I think.

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I used to hear radioplays based on science fiction stories on AFN in my teens - that turned me to Bradbury, Vonnegut, and others, but ten years ago I stopped reading SF entirely - I was disappointed by the overall level of the writing and the ideas. Too few first-rate writers in the genre, I think.

surely you have read some of joe halderman's books?!!! he and spider robinson are first rate writers!

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Dan Simmons, anyone?

Dan Simmons is great. I haven't kept up with him, but have read his first half dozen or more novels and his first short story collection. He was discovered at a writing workshop by Harlan Ellison, one of my favorite writers. "Ilium" is now out in paperback, so I'll probably pick that up. His latest is the sequel, "Olympus."

I've been reading mostly science fiction and fantasy in the past few years. I subscribed to "Asimov's" and "F&SF" and have been greatly enjoying them. Book recommendations: "Perdido Street Station" by China Mieville, "Accelerando" by Charles Stross, "Coyote" by Allen Steele, "The Light Ages" by Ken McLeod and any of "The Year's Best Science Fiction" edited by Gardner Dozois, which are monstrous in size.

Edited by Werf

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Philip K. Dick got me interested in SF back in 1966 and he remains the writer I reread . . . . . Though it's not the science fiction but the human nature insights and philosophical and religious and political insights I read him for. . . .

I haven't followed the genre for a long time! Last thing I remember waiting to come out in order to read was the final installment of the Fredrich Pohl "Gateway" series, or maybe the last installment of John Varley's "Gaea" series.

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I began to read PKD's works about 15 years ago and he's still my favorite SF author.Period!

Other notably good writers (in no particular order)

J.G. Ballard

Brian Aldiss

Christopher Priest

Robert Sheckley (he writes very good short stories,not so good novels)

William Tenn

Michael Moorcock

Harry Harrison

M. John Harrison

Philip Jose Farmer

and many,many other writers whose names I've forgotten already.

I usually prefer short story collections over novels.

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Theodore Sturgeon.

Theodore Sturgeon.

Theodore Sturgeon.

:tup

Not all SciFi though, not by far.

Harlan Ellison (although he can be darn arrogant at times).

I think I have everything Dan Simmons every published (horror fiction was one of my guilty pleasures for about 25 years), but I'm not such a fan of his SciFi stuff (although it is very good).

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I hadn't read sci fi fiction in years, until a friend of mine lent me a couple of books by John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up. Amazing works, and damn near prophetic.

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Yeah Lem, Brunner, Sturgeon. . . all good 'uns!

I prefer novels to short stories myself.

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[...]I prefer novels to short stories myself.

I used to as well. It's just that I simply don't have the time to read one relatively fast anymore, and I just HATE doing that 10 pages a night thing. Takes all the fun out of reading.

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Yeah, I know what you mean.

I don't have a car though, and I ride the bus, and get about 40 minutes or more a day guaranteed that way. Usuall get another half an hour to an hour a day in as well before work and after work.

But I mostly read nonfiction the last decade or so. . . .

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Great list. I've read a bit by most of the writers mentioned. Actually it's interesting that Ray Bradbury came up because he is the other writer, other than Niffenegger, that really started me thinking on these lines. I just read The Cat's Pajamas, which is a recent collection of non-SF stories that span his entire writing career -- and the writing is really bad. So I'm a little worried to go back through some of his classic books. Would I find that the writing just isn't that great, but the ideas carry the books (fairly likely) or does he become a better writer when grappling with major ideas?

Again, I am probably setting the bar quite high. Genre writing is generally pretty bad. So the first hurdle is 1) are the ideas interesting, then 2) do I care about the characters and is the dialogue at least somewhat plausible (and many of the writers I return to fall into this camp), then finally 3) can they really write well and approach a literary standard. Here we might demand that different characters actually speak differently from each other and letting plots unfold without being forced.

I feel most SF writers (heck, most writers) stumble here. I do give extra points for writers who can convincely put together an entire alien civilization, which is the main reason for Cherryh and Le Guin being on my initial list. Zelazny is on there for Roadmarks and good use of mythic material in Jack of Shadows and Eye of Cat and a couple others. Actually, Ellison is one of the more literary SF writers, but he is usually lacking in the science fiction department with a few exceptions. I'm sort of on the fence with Philip K Dick. I typically don't find his characters convincing at all, and often his endings are whoa it was all a drug trip. But Man in the High Castle is great.

I'll add some more as I think of them.

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Weird, because most of the characters in PKD's work really resonate realistically with me!

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A good friend of mine was writing his dissertation on PKD. I ended up reading a lot of his stuff just so we could tell our wives that our late night drinking sessions were by way of dissertation brainstorming!

But he's a strange case in terms of "literary value." Sometimes he descends to the level of pulp crap, his female characters can be really awful, but I think he is unsupassed at revealing the depths of the lower-middle-class schmo.

--eric

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I hadn't read sci fi fiction in years, until a friend of mine lent me a couple of books by John Brunner:  Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up.  Amazing works, and damn near prophetic.

Oh those books are EXCELLENT! I've read both of them 3 times already. Very prophetic books indeed!

I should have mentioned Ray Bradbury as well.My first SF book that I read when I was around 8 years old was Fahrenheit 451 (its Finnish translation of course, my english was not good enough back then to read my father's english version of it).

I guess I understood what the whole book was about when I read it for the first time but when I read it 10 years later it really opened to me in a a whole different way.It's a classic,there is no doubt about it.

Why I prefer short stories over novels? When it comes to novels,there are usually too many unnecessary pages (chapters) ,too much "air" in the whole plot and in my opinion most SF novels could easily work out just fine as short stories: just some "compression" here and there and voila!

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PKD astonishes me still; despite the pulp trappings there's a depth and perception there that I don't even find in most "respectable" fiction.

I also very much like

J. G. Ballard

Brian Aldiss

Thomas Disch

Harlan Ellison

Gene Wolfe

Kim Stanley Robinson

Bruce Sterling

Greg Egan

Jonathan Lethem

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My List: (I would call them 'classics')

J Ballard

R Bradbury

A Clarke

PK Dick

W Gibson

J Verne

K Vonnegut

HG Wells

and...

Douglas Adams obviously!

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Hooboy...

Okay, first of all, one of my favorite authors: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I agree he's great. But science fiction? No way. Doesn't belong here. Labeling Vonnegut's work as SF is like labeling Edmund Hamilton's work as literature. There are similarities, but no way it qualifies.

Authors I would agree belong on the list of excellent writers who just happen to be in the SF field: LeGuin, Dick, J. G. Bllard, and I'm definitely tempted to add Sturgeon. Not mentioned here unless I just missed it would be Fredric Brown.

Names mentioned I would NOT include on that list: Zelazny, Cherryh, Bradbury (though I want to!), Joe Haldeman (an SF favorite, but literature? No.), Spider Robinson, Sheckley, William Tenn(another I want to!), Moorcock, Harry Harrison, Farmer, Ellison (were you serious? Love his essays, can't stand his fiction.), Brunner (though he'd be the closest to making the cut on this list), Clarke, Gibson, Verne, and Adams. Many of these are favorites of mine that I read regularly, but they're in the "light reading" stack, not the literature stack.

This is all just opinion, of course, but I think far too many are getting the nod on this thread; I even think my list is too long. Probably should be trimmed to just LeGuin and maybe Ballard, but I can't do it.

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The "science fiction vs. literature" question gives me the same willies as I get from "jazz vs. music." I know where some of you guys are heading with your responses, but I can't agree with a lot of them - and personal tastes/opinions make any such list all too subjective anyhow.

Kurt Vonnegut? Not a sci-fi writer per se, but yes he did write science fiction on occassion. No question about it.

Bradbury gets the most props from the mainstream lit community (who try to downplay his role in the genre) but he's primarily a sci-fi writer.

I actually think that PKD is a pretty lousy writer (most of the time) but he was a brilliant, often off-the-wall idea guy.

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