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But I have nothing to read no longer an excuse
September 3, 2014 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Why read an average book when you could read a great book? With so little time to read, why waste time on a so-so book? But how do you find the best books to read? Most people read whatever they stumble across at the moment. Other folks read book reviews and get recommendations from friends. Even fewer join book clubs.
For those despairing of finding enough decent science fiction to read, James W. Harris sets out how to find the best science fiction books to read, including his own classics of science fiction list.

But wait, there's more:

* From the good folks at the Nine Worlds con, the recommended reading list of all the books recommended at panels there.
* From Nick Wood, a list of specifically African science fiction books, also from Nine Worlds.
* Be sure to also read his Science Fiction in South Africa series
* Bowdoin College is doing a World Science Fiction course and has set up a supporting site with recommended books, both fiction and non-fiction
* Or take a look at the Great Science Fiction and Fantasy site run by Eric Walker
posted by MartinWisse (113 comments total) 173 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why read an average book when you could read a great book?

Why shouldn't I read a book I find interesting, instead of one someone else tells me I should read?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:10 AM on September 4 [13 favorites]


his own classics of science fiction

/me prepares CAMdusters...
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:17 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Those Goodreads lists make me want to have a proper searchable database rather than a manual list. Rather than "Best science fiction books by female authors" which is maintained by random people on Goodreads, I could search for books with the science fiction tag with female authors and sort by average rating.

They have all this data - you can check gender of authors on their author page.
posted by squinty at 12:20 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.
posted by squinty at 12:21 AM on September 4 [15 favorites]


Emma Bull.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:25 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Thanks MartinWisse. I have not read Territory, so the existing interface of grumbling on metafilter has given me a new book.
posted by squinty at 12:31 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


There's just so much great free stuff out there that I feel a bit weird buying books. I suppose I do it because I like long stories, and short stories are the only ones you usually find for free.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:24 AM on September 4


And googling "best transhumanist books" reminds me that I wanted to read Accelerando at some point.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:59 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Thank you Martin. I love posts like this. Whenever they pop up on the blue, it makes my day.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 2:09 AM on September 4


And googling "best transhumanist books" reminds me that I wanted to read Accelerando at some point.

it's less a book about transhumanism than a horror novel about the dot.com era: imagine a sentient legal contract stomping on a human face... forever.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:21 AM on September 4 [13 favorites]


"Why read an average book when you could read a great book?"

Because a great book is a book that by definition reframes your thinking and doesn't need to be canon? Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest are really hard.

Also how the hell did Slaughterhouse Five become SciFi?
posted by vapidave at 2:25 AM on September 4


Also how the hell did Slaughterhouse Five become SciFi?

It always was science fiction? Just because Vonnegut eventually and begrudgingly became a "great American novelist" doesn't mean he didn't write sf.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:46 AM on September 4 [15 favorites]


There is also the theory that sometimes you have to stumble through a bad one to appreciate the goods ones.

I tried using mutliple tags on Goodreads like:
https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/sci-fi+gay
but had no luck. GR is also not so great because the tag-system they are using is not streamlined, and the tags are muddled so there are options like:
https://www.goodreads.com/genres/contemporary
and
https://www.goodreads.com/genres/contempor-ary
posted by KMB at 2:47 AM on September 4


Also how the hell did Slaughterhouse Five become SciFi?

The aliens and the time travel helped?
posted by Wolfdog at 2:57 AM on September 4 [40 favorites]


Those Goodreads lists make me want to have a proper searchable database rather than a manual list. Rather than "Best science fiction books by female authors" which is maintained by random people on Goodreads, I could search for books with the science fiction tag with female authors and sort by average rating.

Not sure how yet how to bolt in author gender (not even sure librarything stores it), but here's the top 500 books in librarything matching feminist and science fiction.
posted by Leon at 3:22 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


The ability to just search for two tags is pretty great, Leon. They do store gender but I also was unable to connect the two. But that tag search is a big step forward.
posted by squinty at 3:37 AM on September 4


I've done pretty well searching previous suggestions on the green.
posted by sammyo at 3:44 AM on September 4


"It always was science fiction? Just because Vonnegut eventually and begrudgingly became a "great American novelist" doesn't mean he didn't write sf."

I don't know about begrudgingly other than his general persona but sure, I agree. My contention is that Slaughterhouse Five is not SF.

"Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren't necessarily fun." Slaughterhouse Five is very much not SF. It's about Vonnegut being a POW in Dresden during the allied bombing.
He was sent as a POW to Dresden. On February 13, 1945, British and American bombers destroyed the city by dropping high explosives followed by incendiary bombs. The resulting firestorm turned the non-militarized city into an inferno that killed up to 60,000 civilians. Vonnegut and his fellow POWs survived by accident only because they were housed some 60 feet underground in a former meat locker and slaughterhouse.

Vonnegut’s job for weeks after the bombing was to gather up and burn the remains of the dead. His experience at Dresden marked him for life and eventually resulted in his literary masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five.
http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/about/
posted by vapidave at 4:11 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Aliens and time travel were a means to deal with the trauma I suppose. That seems a bit literal for some. You can listen to what the author says here.
posted by vapidave at 4:27 AM on September 4


Slaughterhouse Five is very much not SF. It's about Vonnegut being a POW in Dresden during the allied bombing.

It's a dessert wax and a floor topping!

Next thing you'd call Haldeman's Forever War not science fiction because it's obviously about his experiences in 'Nam.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:28 AM on September 4 [20 favorites]


But just to fan the flames of controversy, as an SF junkie (never got into fandom) I very much like Vonnegut, Atwood and quite liked The Time Travelers Wife, but very much as "literature" and not so much as an "sf fix".

Finding a good SF read ("fix") can be tricky, for example this years Hugo nominations had a couple female authors that I'd never read, one was a fun far future space opera but the other faked me out, started ok but turned into a zombie horror tract. Not that there's anything wrong with zombie horror, just not generally my cup of tea.

So what's the difference? Following on vapidave's point, great SF gives me a quirky idea that I can roll around in my thoughts for a few days. Literature like Slaughterhouse shakes me up and sometimes I can't read anything for days.
posted by sammyo at 4:30 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I'm just looking for decent, affordable literature. You know, nothing fancy or too high quality for my budget. I could never afford a Russian novel with all that plot and character development (I wish!). But basic literary transportation is all I ask. No incomplete sentences. No terrible florid prose styling. A working table of contents. And definitely free or under five bucks.

You know, a decent middle class book that gets you safely from the end of dinner to bedtime.
posted by spitbull at 4:32 AM on September 4 [12 favorites]


So what's the difference? Following on vapidave's point, great SF gives me a quirky idea that I can roll around in my thoughts for a few days. Literature like Slaughterhouse shakes me up and sometimes I can't read anything for days.

While I am absolutely a descriptivist ("science fiction is whatever we point at when we say science fiction"...although that gets readily out of hand, I guess) and of course you're free to consider anything you like SF or not SF, I wonder how Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ, L Timmel Duchamp and so on fit into this schema.
posted by Frowner at 4:38 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse you are a great contributor here [certainly better than I am] but please stop trawling or say what you think.
posted by vapidave at 4:42 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


The list of "classics" is invalid because my favorite author is under-represented.

Begin the outrage.
posted by nerdler at 4:44 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Slaughterhouse Five is very much not SF. It's about Vonnegut being a POW in Dresden during the allied bombing.

Yeah, but SF is always about something else. It's never just about science.
posted by Segundus at 5:05 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Not sure what you're on about, but the point is that Slaughterhouse Five is of course a science fiction novel even if at the same time it's about Vonnegut and Dresden and all that. To aruge otherwise is to assume science fiction can never be about serious subjects or that whenever it approaches serious concerns, it stops being sf.

"Science fiction is no good they holler 'till we're deaf.
-- But this is good?
Well, then it's not sf."

-- Kingsley Amis.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:06 AM on September 4 [13 favorites]


And of course, the same goes for Atwood: the Handmaid's Tale is science fiction too and can be read as such, though it's more part of a conversation that also features 1984 and Brave New World rather than If This Goes On...
posted by MartinWisse at 5:08 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Slaughterhouse Five is very much not SF. It's about Vonnegut being a POW in Dresden during the allied bombing.

SF is not about the future but about contemporary or past events. IIRC the last link of the FPP goes to a site that has a broader definition of SFF than usual.
posted by ersatz at 5:15 AM on September 4


I think Slaughterhouse 5 is not SF because its implied that all the SF stuff is from Billy's imagination, trying to cope with the trauma of WW2. Weren't all the aliens in the novel created by the SF writer Kilgore Trout?

On the other hand, you could consider Slaughterhouse 5 science fiction in the same way ePan's Labyrinth is considered fantasy.
posted by florzinha at 5:20 AM on September 4


Fiction is a highly variable and personal thing. The best you can do with a critical interpretation is to know you generally agree or disagree with a critic.

This is why what is presented here, a list of "good" curated works, is pretty well meaningless. List sites make for good link bait, of course. And generate lots of lively discussion on places like... Metafilter.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:23 AM on September 4


C'mon guys Star Trek clearly isn't sci-fi the Klingons are totally Russians!
posted by Metafilter Username at 5:29 AM on September 4 [5 favorites]


Star Trek is certainly sci-fi, now whether it's actually SF is a more subtle discussion. Er, insert obscure smily.
posted by sammyo at 5:58 AM on September 4


This is the third thing I've seen in two days mentioning South African science fiction. The universe is clearly sending me a message and I would be remiss not to listen -- I've been reading some fantastic crime fiction from there, so finding and reading science fiction will be an interesting fall project.

Slaughterhouse Five is very much not SF. It's about Vonnegut being a POW in Dresden during the allied bombing.

I know people love policing the boundaries of genre fiction, but this seems like a misreading of the book to me.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on September 4


I kind of hate posts like this; I already have too much on my reading list.

One way I've found good things is by skimming jscalzi's blog, both for the Big Ideas posts and for the ones where he puts up a pic of the latest ARCs he's gotten, and people comment what they're looking forward to, which authors they love because of previous books, and so on.
posted by rtha at 6:03 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


New Yorker cartoon: [Guy at computer, to friend]

Instead of reading, these days I look for the most awesome books to read.

posted by sylvanshine at 6:19 AM on September 4 [7 favorites]


I don't think it's been linked here, but I've always liked this site for finding new and old sci-fi.
posted by HumanComplex at 6:23 AM on September 4


jeffburdges: "And googling "best transhumanist books" reminds me that I wanted to read Accelerando at some point."

"Transhumanist" sounds weird to me, because "transhumance" is the seasonal migration of people and livestock. So I have a brief moment where I think, "Wait, Charles Stross wrote a book about taking sheep to summer pastures?"
posted by Chrysostom at 6:39 AM on September 4 [5 favorites]


I think Slaughterhouse 5 is not SF because its implied that all the SF stuff is from Billy's imagination, trying to cope with the trauma of WW2. Weren't all the aliens in the novel created by the SF writer Kilgore Trout?

Nope. The aliens show up in other Vonnegut novels too. That interpretation wouldn't make any sense anyway even if they didn't, because the central concept of the novel is all about their cheerful acceptance of the inevitability of everything that happens, up to and including the destruction of the universe due to a mishap with an experimental rocket engine of theirs, because they see time as a whole and not just the little bit we call the present.

So it goes.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:43 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

Max Gladstone! The Craft Sequence! Here is a link! There are romantic elements in the plotline of the second book, but I would argue that it is as far from a Romance as anything can be.
posted by edbles at 6:45 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Lord of the Rings is not about elves, hobbits, and a magic ring, it's about Tolkien's experiences in WWI. It is known.
posted by Ber at 6:59 AM on September 4 [5 favorites]


The big list I'd like to see (but am too busy to actually create) is the list of SF Shelved As Literature.
posted by newdaddy at 7:00 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


So I have a brief moment where I think, "Wait, Charles Stross wrote a book about taking sheep to summer pastures?"

Well now I certainly hope so.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:03 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

Every Charles de Lint and China Mieville fan on the Internet will be here shortly. Please wait.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:03 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


(As far as the "what is science fiction" question:

That's one of my favorite questions! And it's not as simple to resolve as you think. I'd argue that many people have an unconsidered definition of science fiction as "set in the future, involves technology, not psychologically realistic, not concerned with form or experimental use of language, possibly concerned with ethics in a crude way, a purely commercial entertainment genre". But that's a social definition that doesn't actually tell you much about science fiction as she as written, although it tells you a great deal about how it has been approached historically.

Darko Suvin is maybe the strictest prescriptivist about science fiction - SF is supposed to have a "novum" (new thing!!!) around which the plot is organized, and the novum is relatively strictly defined. Suvin says, for instance, that Star Wars isn't SF because it has the "trappings" of SF without the interior content of the novum. (So, a "novum" is more than just "here is an alien planet!!!!")

Samuel Delany writes about science fiction as a phenomenon of language use and displacement - SF comes about because language is used to create new effects and to displace the reader's viewpoint. "The red sun rose, the blue sun set" is one of his intro examples of an SFnal sentence - "the red sun" might be an earth-normal description, for example, but once you get into the business of the blue sun, not only do you know you're not on earth, but your reading of "the red sun" is estranged - you start to assume that the sun isn't just "red" like our sun is at dawn, but actually red. Now, extend that effect to more complicated sentences and indeed the novel. Delany is also rather strict about how there is no SF before SF starts self-describing as SF - so there's no SF before the pulps. Frankenstein isn't SF; Bogdanov's Red Star isn't SF; pre-pulp utopias aren't SF, etc etc. I think this is a boring idea.

Frederick Jameson has some rather dull punnet square theories that help you to distinguish SF from fantasy, if you're the sort of person who gets anxious about thinking that you're reading hard-charging intellectual SF but then discovering that you're really reading a fantasy novel. (Some of it is a bit interesting - distinguishing things that "could have happened but didn't" from "things that could still happen" from "things that never happened and cannot" and so on.)

We're in a descriptivist moment, theory- wise, so many people argue that "what is science fiction" isn't a super interesting question - science fiction is what has been described as science fiction, and the real question is "how does the field of science fiction function socially and politically". But then, to me, you're back to the old question of "why do people sometimes describe one thing as SF and sometimes another".

I much prefer a definition that is cribbed from Wittgenstein (by other people who have read him - I have not): that works of science fiction have a "family resemblance". To wit, there are a lot of things which science fiction may contain, and we know science fiction as a cluster of texts each of which contain some SFnal elements. So Slaughterhouse Five isn't SF the way The Female Man is SF and The Female Man isn't SF the way "Stargate Atlantis" is SF, but there's a sort of constellation of SFnalness in which we can locate all of them. (But that still returns us to the question of what the constellation is.)

I'm also a bit of a historicist - SF has....not a family tree, but a family of rhizomes, I guess you could say...so it's interesting to trace themes and ideas and to hypothesize about a thing emerging which is science fiction. When does that happen? And why? It's a great subject for endless arguments.

But to return to an earlier point - it's incoherent to say that Slaughterhouse Five can't be SF because the aliens and time travel are overridden by...what? The seriousness of the book? The centrality of non-SFNal themes? I think there's an interesting set of distinctions to make about what differentiates Slaughterhouse Five in purpose, technique and ambition from, say, I, Robot or Little Brother or...well...let's say the X-Men movies, but I don't think it's reasonable to argue that the Vonnegut isn't SF - you end up with such a loose and ahistorical definition of SF that your argument isn't very helpful.

Why? Well, you need immediately to declare that vast swathes of New Wave SF aren't SF at all - you need to say that Tom Disch's Camp Concentration isn't SF, and 334 isn't SF, and Michael Moorcock's mid-period work like Black Corridor isn't SF, and then you'd need to fight with those authors (except that Disch is dead, of course). And you'd need to exclude big chunks of Harlan Ellison's sixties and seventies work.

And then you need to set up some criterion for "seriousness" that includes Vonnegut but somehow excludes enormously intellectually serious work like Delany's novel Dhalgren or the criminally under-read Red Spider, White Web. And you'd need to assume that your particular emotions at reading Slaughterhouse Five are somehow more serious and more real than my thoughts and emotions when I read Timmi DuChamp's novella The Red Rose Rages, Bleeding, or Ursula Le Guin's "Two Delays On The Northern Line". And I'm pretty confident that you don't mean to do that.

Genre is always unstable, right? The more flexible the boundaries get, the more we're in danger of "but Moby Dick is science fiction" (which would be a cool argument to have, actually) and then everything turns into science fiction and you can't sort your books any more. But then really rigid boundaries tend to break of themselves, so that's no help either.
posted by Frowner at 7:08 AM on September 4 [33 favorites]


I actually came across this guy's list of SF classics a couple years ago, and I've been working my way through the top 50 books I hadn't read yet.

I have no particular stake in his list being absolutely the best, and I haven't paid much attention to his methodology. But as a list of suggestions, it's golden. Every single book from the top of the list has been terrific. They're EXACTLY what I love about SF. They're astonishing, introspective, fascinating, they color everything I see and think about for weeks, they spark great conversations, they have wonderful descriptive imagery that has stayed with me for years. Ideas and worlds to get lost in. Ideologies to try on, philosophies to ponder. I've been so grateful to this guy for pointing me towards so many amazing books!!

Of the ones I've read in the last few years, these have been my favorites:
The Demolished Man - it's like Sherlock Holmes in space with a heavy dose of surrealism, so great
Childhood's End - it's an uncomfortable book that is actually quite relevant to the state of the world today
Solaris - this is the perfect SF book for a scientist, and nobody can describe "alien-ness" better than Lem; I loved this even despite its terrible sexism
We - the orginal dystopian SF novel; memorable and really creepy
The Stars My Destination - this has got to be the first steampunk ever written; it's unbelievably imaginative and wacky and jarring; can't believe the year in which it was written!

(Actually both The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination were written by Alfred Bester!)

Yah science fiction! I love this stuff so much, it really makes me happy to see it getting discussed.
posted by Cygnet at 7:18 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


I think Tom Disch would still fight with you, even dead. He was that kind of guy.

"What is SF?" is an eternal question. There may be no better answer than Damon Knight's quote: "Science fiction is what we point at when we say it."
posted by Chrysostom at 7:19 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


"but Moby Dick is science fiction"

No, Melville settled that question when he intentionally left the chapter about Moby Dick being a post-human artificial intelligence from an alternate future where whales had wiped out humanity out of his original manuscript.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:25 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


This is fantasy, not SF, but I was just on the Internet and came across Appendix E, which is apparently D&D 5E's Appendix N. Since it includes Perdido Street Station, and I don't think it deserves a FPP: The New ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Canon.
posted by Mezentian at 7:37 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Also how the hell did Slaughterhouse Five become SciFi?

This is one of the most confounding statements I have read on the Internet.
Ever.
posted by Mezentian at 7:40 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


The Stars My Destination - this has got to be the first steampunk ever written;

Steampunk? In what sense?
It has been a while since I read it, but aside from a lack of cogs, it might be my lack of knowledge about 'steampunk' which means I am missing something.

(Actually both The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination were written by Alfred Bester!)

And the Green Lantern Oath (so they say, and even if it isn't true I want it to be).
posted by Mezentian at 7:44 AM on September 4


Actually, I just have to add that while I haven't spent any time whatsoever mulling over whether this guy's list is "correct", he has completely neglected Octavia Butler, which is insane; she should be near the top of any of these lists. Quibbling over best novels is all well and good, but Butler has gotten all kinds of major awards and it's so infuriating that she's been excluded.
posted by Cygnet at 7:46 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


But to return to an earlier point - it's incoherent to say that Slaughterhouse Five can't be SF because the aliens and time travel are overridden by...what? The seriousness of the book? The centrality of non-SFNal themes? I think there's an interesting set of distinctions to make about what differentiates Slaughterhouse Five in purpose, technique and ambition from, say, I, Robot or Little Brother or...well...let's say the X-Men movies, but I don't think it's reasonable to argue that the Vonnegut isn't SF - you end up with such a loose and ahistorical definition of SF that your argument isn't very helpful.

I think the argument being made, which I don't agree with, but am familiar with from high school arguments with my best friend is that, 'We are not reading a science fiction novel but the description of one man's madness, and the hallucinations he's exepriencing.' Because the SF elements are all figments of Billy's imagination the book is not SF.

I disagree with this take on the book. We, the reader are given the story of these events as truth, and put into a reality where these events are real. It would be like saying a book that started with the line I had this crazy dream let me describe it and then proceeded to tell you a story about spaceships and new worlds and new ideas for the next 300 pages, was not SF.
posted by edbles at 7:46 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Mezentian, I wrote that on the bus and I was just plain wrong, it's CYBERpunk, not steampunk. I always confuse the terms despite the fact that they are very descriptive and it ought to be easy to get it right!
posted by Cygnet at 7:46 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


That GoodReads list of best Time Travel books is pretty good, with the caveat that they are high-rated books that include time travel, rather than "time travel books" which is a different thing IMHO. Harry Potter #3 is not a "time travel" book -- the time travel plotline is relatively minor. Same with the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. (I can't even remember any time travel at all in Wrinkle in Time.) Contrast that with, say, Replay by Ken Grimwood (an excellent book), which is entirely about time travel.

Anyway, I know the list is good because I have read and enjoyed 15 out of the top 25 books on the list, and have no intention of reading the Outlander series, which makes up 5 of the books in the top 25 I haven't read. So from the "my subjective experience is paramount" test, good list.

My personal favorite time travel books are, in no particular order:
  • Replay by Ken Grimwood
  • Blackout / All Clear by Connie Willis
  • The Company series by Kage Baker

  • posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:54 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    Mezentian, I wrote that on the bus and I was just plain wrong, it's CYBERpunk, not steampunk.

    I am still a little puzzled, but I guess I can see the links to Gibson more than Space 1889, so fair call.

    he has completely neglected Octavia Butler ... Butler has gotten all kinds of major awards and it's so infuriating that she's been excluded.

    I read one book ages ago and didn't feel the love. But people do mention her a lot, so I can't argue, even if I think winning awards means your book is not great.

    Which leads me to....

    (I can't even remember any time travel at all in Wrinkle in Time.)

    I just finished that (for the first time!) tonight.
    (And it sucked).
    There is no explicit time travel in the book, but there is plenty of talk about time travel and the fourth dimension, and the potential for time travel (which wikipedia tells me is a factor in several of the sequels).

    Replay by Ken Grimwood (an excellent book), which is entirely about time travel.

    I have that! And I need a new book! Thanks! Why the hell not read it now?
    posted by Mezentian at 8:03 AM on September 4


    Enjoy, Mezentian! I'll even forgive you for disliking Wrinkle in Time (probably doesn't have the same impact if you read it for the first time as an adult).

    If you haven't read Connie Willis' time travel books (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear, in that order), I can't recommend them highly enough.
    posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:14 AM on September 4


    I have Connie's Lincoln's Dream and Passage (Gateway Omnibus version), so that will probably be my entry point for her.

    (My Ryman is in the Fantasy Masterworks series. I guess it's not SF).

    I'll even forgive you for disliking Wrinkle in Time (probably doesn't have the same impact if you read it for the first time as an adult).

    I'd heard an audiobook in 1984-ish, and saw the mini-series about 10 years ago, but the book left me cold in ways other kids books (ie, Alan Garner) have not.
    posted by Mezentian at 8:23 AM on September 4


    Merriam-Webster is not a dictionary. It is about a a- -a- -a å a1 a/1c a2-horizon aa aaa aaal aaas.
    posted by Flunkie at 8:25 AM on September 4


    It should be noted *a lot* of people dislike Connie Willis's work. I think she's fine, doesn't really blow my socks off.
    posted by Chrysostom at 8:29 AM on September 4


    Lincoln's Dream and Passage are both good books (Passage in particular), but not necessarily indicative of the rest of her books.

    The time travel books are about the Cambridge University history department in the 2050s, in which students use time travel technology to go observe events in history. In Doomsday Book, an undergraduate is accidentally sent into the middle of the Black Plague. To Say Nothing of the Dog is a Victorian comedy, and the other two are about the Blitz.

    Chrysostom, why do people dislike Connie Willis's work?
    posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:31 AM on September 4


    No, Melville settled that question when he intentionally left the chapter about Moby Dick being a post-human artificial intelligence from an alternate future where whales had wiped out humanity out of his original manuscript.

    If I were going to argue that Moby Dick were science fiction, I'd make some kind of argument about the whale being basically an SFnal monster and I'd probably make some argument about how the various foreign places and cultures in the novel are described, as well as the slightly idealized whale-stabbing process - I'd probably make a case that there's SFnal elements there.

    I think it would be pretty easy to make a plausible case that Moby Dick can be read as science fiction, and that would be a very entertaining argument to have at a bar.
    posted by Frowner at 8:47 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    2nding why do people dislike Connie Willis' work?

    I'm particularly interested in this because it seems to me that "best of" lists, or "recommended" lists, could probably benefit from some kind of division by 'type' (where 'type' is a stand-in for a better word to be invented, something like character-driven vs. plot-driven, or relationship-prominent vs. danger-prominent vs. invention-prominent or something like that).

    Also, I *just* finished Doomsday Book and am still mulling it over.
    posted by amtho at 8:48 AM on September 4


    If you haven't read Connie Willis' time travel books (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear, in that order), I can't recommend them highly enough.

    Well, read one of them and see if you like it. To Say Nothing of the Dog was driven entirely by an idiot plot (careless time travel makes you act like Bertie Wooster, apparently), which I found deeply unsatisfying. Still, the books' focus on historical minutiae is refreshing.
    posted by SPrintF at 8:51 AM on September 4


    And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

    Deborah Coates writes contemporary mystery-thriller fantasies set in rural South Dakota. They're rather good, with an excellent sense of place and vivid characterizations.

    I don't know what to call them except urban fantasies, except the main character lives on a ranch...

    (Now I will scroll back up and read the rest of the comments.)
    posted by suelac at 8:54 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    > why do people dislike Connie Willis's work?

    I can't speak for "people," but here's what I wrote about Doomsday Book:
    ...it’s a good read, but it’s basically a mixed salad of academic humor (professors concerned only with their specialties, scheming heads of departments, etc.), young adult adventure (our plucky heroine must confront the unexpected in fourteenth-century England), Oxford mystery/thriller a la Inspector Lewis, and just plain sitcom (various characters exist only to provide easy jokes at regular intervals). The characters are one-dimensional, each concerned about one thing to the exclusion of everything else (I must get to my dig! I must practice my bell-ringing! I must watch over my son like a mother hen! I must worry endlessly over my student!), and the plot is drawn out to a ridiculous degree, every action being repeated over and over and over (it’s not enough that a character who has crucial information is delirious and unable to provide it—the character who needs the information has to be repeatedly shown visiting him, asking his questions urgently, and getting delirious responses).
    Further complaining at link, but you get the idea.
    posted by languagehat at 8:57 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    To Say Nothing of the Dog was driven entirely by an idiot plot (careless time travel makes you act like Bertie Wooster, apparently), which I found deeply unsatisfying.

    I think this is entirely on purpose, as the book is meant to be a send-up of Victorian comic novels, particularly Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). It's been a long time since I read it, but my recollection is that the lead character is entirely aware of how stupid she's acting the entire time. I agree, however, that it's the thinnest book of the four. (Although I think it's a nice palette-cleanser between the drama of the others.)
    posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:58 AM on September 4


    From the author of this very FPP:
    Idiot plotting, bad research, padding and yet Willis is incredibly popular and a perennial Hugo candidate and winner. She must be doing something right and indeed her saving grace is her gift at storytelling. She’s a good read, not too demanding, easily digestable and flatters the reader outrageously by hitting them over the head with her “subtle” allusions — she makes sure you know To Say Nothing about the Dog is a homage to Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and praises you for getting it.
    posted by Chrysostom at 9:01 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat

    Hollywood, get Ted Danson and Magnum PI on the phone..... STAT.
    posted by Mezentian at 9:07 AM on September 4


    To Say Nothing of the Dog was driven entirely by an idiot plot

    Most of Willis' novels are driven by idiot plots: the plot mechanisms appear to rely almost entirely on carelessness, missed communications, and semi-functional machinery.

    Now, I'm sure that's a conscious choice on her part, and it's a change from Big Evil Bad Guy driving the plot like a steamroller, but after 3 or 4 novels in which everything could have been resolved if Character A had simply given the note to Character B, I got a little weary.

    I still love Bellwether, though...
    posted by suelac at 9:10 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

    I've only read the first in the series so far, so no idea if it all descends into love triangle romance ridiculousness, but Kate Griffin's Matthew Swift series, which starts with A Madness of Angels, was incredibly satisfying to me as urban fantasy. I really loved it for building a world with magic that felt truly grounded in the city.
    posted by yasaman at 9:31 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    Merriam-Webster is not a dictionary. It is about a a- -a- -a å a1 a/1c a2-horizon aa aaa aaal aaas.


    Wait, is there a new Borges story that I haven't read?
    posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:35 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    why do people dislike Connie Willis's work?

    I still enjoy her books, but I do find her reliance on miscommunication-as-plot gets extremely tedious. It almost always works, thematically and in-universe, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to read. It's particularly egregious if you read any of her books back to back. I feel like you could cut a full third of books like Blackout/All Clear and Passage if you just cut some of the endless miscommunications and almost-misses. As it is, the books end up feeling like some kind of horrible anxiety dream. I think that was an effective choice for Passage especially, which I read in a feverish rush of suspense, but I kind of resented the book for it.

    I do find it amusing that she had to write cell phones out of the Oxford Time Travel universe. Any number of plot significant events could have been solved or averted with the simple use of a cell phone in those books, and while their absence wasn't too glaring in the earlier books in the series given when they were written, it's noticeable now. So the in-universe explanation for no cell phones is that people found out they were dangerous in some unspecified way, and now no one uses them, thereby justifying the endless number of missed messages and rushing about to find people.
    posted by yasaman at 9:45 AM on September 4 [3 favorites]


    Hm. Interesting. Thanks, folks.
    posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:49 AM on September 4


    Also, I am not from the UK, but my understanding is that actual British folks find Willis's depiction of non-SF features of Britain to be...less than wholly accurate.
    posted by Chrysostom at 9:55 AM on September 4


    Mezentian, I wrote that on the bus and I was just plain wrong, it's CYBERpunk, not steampunk.

    You're both right! Gibson, while writing the seminal work of cyberpunk, also co-wrote The Difference Engine which, while not the first steampunk work, brought it to the mainstream.

    I am still a little puzzled, but I guess I can see the links to Gibson more than Space 1889, so fair call.

    No need to be puzzled. Gibson has explicitly acknowledged the influence of The Stars My Destination on his own writing. Here's a piece he wrote on it, in which he also recommends The Demolished Man.
    posted by Sangermaine at 9:59 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    the plot mechanisms appear to rely almost entirely on carelessness, missed communications, and semi-functional machinery.

    Yep, not Science Fiction, that's Real Life(tm)!
    posted by sammyo at 10:00 AM on September 4


    the plot mechanisms appear to rely almost entirely on carelessness, missed communications, and semi-functional machinery.

    Yeah, that never really bothered me, because, after all, you're dealing with undergraduates and a university budget. College students do stupid things and college machinery never works.

    And, of course, being a 'Murican, I'm in no position do judge whether the UK stuff is accurate. So I will continue to enjoy the books. :)
    posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:04 AM on September 4


    Octavia Butler is a bit of a meh for me. Mostly because the only book I read of hers was about vampires and if I remember right the two warring factions settled their differences by talking things out. Vampires. Talking things out. It's like if GRRM decided to write that Cersei just gives up the throne to Dany out of the goodness of her heart.
    posted by Ber at 10:06 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    Not sure what you're on about, but the point is that Slaughterhouse Five is of course a science fiction novel even if at the same time it's about Vonnegut and Dresden and all that. To aruge otherwise is to assume science fiction can never be about serious subjects or that whenever it approaches serious concerns, it stops being sf.

    I read *a lot* of scifi back in the day, and I read a lot of Vonnegut, and I never considered Vonnegut to be scifi. He's more of a fantasy writer, or a postmodernist with a penchant for metafictions.

    Not scifi.
    posted by Nevin at 10:31 AM on September 4


    I read *a lot* of scifi back in the day, and I read a lot of Vonnegut, and I never considered Vonnegut to be scifi. He's more of a fantasy writer, or a postmodernist with a penchant for metafictions.

    Not scifi


    Go back and read his earliest stuff-- Player Piano, (Hugo Award winning) Sirens of Titan and put Slaughterhouse Five in the context of that. There's no question those are works of sci fi.
    posted by cosmonaught at 10:46 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


    Sorry-- Hugo Award nominated.
    posted by cosmonaught at 10:48 AM on September 4


    And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

    Charles De Lint
    posted by corb at 10:51 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    > I read *a lot* of scifi back in the day, and I read a lot of Vonnegut, and I never considered Vonnegut to be scifi. He's more of a fantasy writer, or a postmodernist with a penchant for metafictions.

    Not scifi.


    I read *a lot* of scifi back in the day, and I read a lot of Vonnegut, and I always considered Vonnegut to be scifi.

    Scifi.

    We could do this all day, and obviously everybody has an opinion, but I'm pretty sure mine is the more widely shared. No need for you to change yours, but you might want to be less high and mighty about it.
    posted by languagehat at 11:24 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


    ddActually, I just have to add that while I haven't spent any time whatsoever mulling over whether this guy's list is "correct", he has completely neglected Octavia Butler, which is insane

    I did a quick spreadsheet.

    Of the 100 authors listed, 8 are women, or 8%

    Of the 193 titles listed, 10 are by women, or 5.2%.

    Of the male authors, 39 had more than one title listed.

    Of the women authors, 1 had more than one book listed.

    I haven't run the numbers, but does anyone want to hazard a guess at what percentage of the authors were non-white?

    So, I think from this, it's far too much to expect Butler to be on this list.Why, by putting in a black women, they might have to drop a Zelazney or Heinlein novel, which Just Isn't Done.

    Note the interacting thing is, at first glance Harris doesn't seem to be part of the Character Vox Day crowd of SF reactionaries- far from it. And his list is actually compiled from other lists, polls of popular books. So I'm not blaming him. But this says a lot about SF fandom.
    posted by happyroach at 11:29 AM on September 4


    I think one thing to consider is that if there is an all-time great list of SF, it's going to be slanted from a racial/gender perspective due to past discrimination. Yes, there absolutely were great female SF writers, but the great majority of published SF through at least the 70s was by white guys. So if you have a list that still has the great works of old, you are going to get some imbalance.

    Not to say you couldn't easily put together an anthology of great SF from non white men. But if you have a top X list, and there is a slot reserved for Dune and for The Stars My Destination and for A Canticle for Leibowitz, at some point you run out of slots.

    Now, if you have a top X list of 2001 to today, and you see the same imbalance, I agree you're more likely seeing actual discriminatory attitudes from the list compiler.
    posted by Chrysostom at 11:59 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


    It definitely says a lot about past discrimination, but the interesting thing here is that these results are poll driven. That is, this isn't say, just a list of past Hugo Award winners, it's based on fan lists of favorite novels, critics choices, etc. So what it says about sexism in SF can't really be neatly contained in the past.

    And in fact, James Nicoll, over at his blog, runs statistics of male/female percentages for things like awards ceremonies, anthologies, etc. The bias shown even in contemporary lists is stunning.
    posted by happyroach at 12:28 PM on September 4


    Mezentian, I wrote that on the bus and I was just plain wrong, it's CYBERpunk, not steampunk.

    To be honest Tyger, Tyger does have some proto steampunk elements: a neovictorian future, affinity for obsolete but cool looking transport matters, undsoweiter.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:31 PM on September 4


    Chrysostom, why do people dislike Connie Willis's work?

    Because she did her research on what England looks like based on P. G. Wodehouse novels and consequently thinks the Jubilee line was running in WWII.

    Also her heroes are confuddled by ancient and mysterious technology like revolving doors.

    And she's the sort of writer who thinks funny == increasingly obvious references to actually funny books and patting the reader on their head for getting them.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:35 PM on September 4


    I think it would be pretty easy to make a plausible case that Moby Dick can be read as science fiction, and that would be a very entertaining argument to have at a bar.

    Certainly it has its infodumping down pat. "As you know Ahab, current whaling methods"...

    Also Victor Hugo's Les Mis.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:38 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    It definitely says a lot about past discrimination, but the interesting thing here is that these results are poll driven. That is, this isn't say, just a list of past Hugo Award winners, it's based on fan lists of favorite novels, critics choices, etc. So what it says about sexism in SF can't really be neatly contained in the past.

    Except that people have a hard time accepting modern books as "Classics". Classics, by general definition, are things people have enjoyed time and time again and will always enjoy - a thing hard to tell about new literature.
    posted by corb at 12:39 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    it's incoherent to say that Slaughterhouse Five can't be SF because the aliens and time travel are overridden by...what? The seriousness of the book?

    I think the best case for the proposition that Slaugterhouse Five isn't "science fiction" is to identify the genre with the fandom and its apparatuses, i.e, its conventions, publishers, marketing vehicles, etc. By this definition, something I think is often implicit in objections that x "isn't science fiction," Vonnegut isn't science fiction because his links with these networks were either too tenuous or non-existent. "Science fiction" is a club and Vonnegut wasn't a member.

    That's not a self-evidently absurd description of science fiction—and it does serve to fix the genre in a time and place—but equally I think it isn't an adequate one.
    posted by octobersurprise at 12:50 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    Note the interacting thing is, at first glance Harris doesn't seem to be part of the Character Vox Day crowd of SF reactionaries- far from it. And his list is actually compiled from other lists, polls of popular books. So I'm not blaming him. But this says a lot about SF fandom.

    Yeah, I maybe should've warned that he's an exemplar of old skool fandom, which the giant Heinlein tab on the website might have been a clue about. Three-four years ago I would've had the same problem, until I noticed of all the fantasy and science fiction I'd read in the past decade, only ten percent was by women writers, so I set myself quotas.

    I think one thing to consider is that if there is an all-time great list of SF, it's going to be slanted from a racial/gender perspective due to past discrimination. Yes, there absolutely were great female SF writers, but the great majority of published SF through at least the 70s was by white guys.

    Well, actually, one of the ways in which this discrimination works, in which it becomes normal that white guys are the overwhelming majority of sf&f writers, is by forgetting and ignoring all the non-white, non-guys that did write and were published alongside them. There's a black American science fiction and utopian tradition dating back to before the Civil War (see FPPs passim), there have been hundreds upon hundreds of women writers writing in the pulps, active in science fiction from the very start.

    It's just that most of them were ignored and forgotten, that the default assumption always is that it's a novum for women writers to be so prominent in science fiction, with a few elevated to the standard beares for their gender, the rest dropped (Joanna Russ wrote a book about that). So currently you have Ann Leckie and Kameron Hurley as those, but ten years ago it might have been Justina Robson or Liz Williams...

    A website I could've included, but didn't because I've contributed a few reviews to it, is Ian Sales' SF Mistressworks, which tries to rediscover these forgotten writers, which for anybody looking to balance their reading of classic science fiction has a lot of great writers to discover.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:53 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


    Vonnegut isn't science fiction because his links with these networks were either too tenuous or non-existent. "Science fiction" is a club and Vonnegut wasn't a member.

    But he was. He was published as science fiction, feted by fandom, discussed in science fiction circles and it was only relatively late in his career that he got the acclaim of literary circles. He's no Atwood, but this revisionist history is typical for writers the mainstream belatedly discover: the most recent victims being Dick and Butler of course, both safely dead and unable to argue their status.
    posted by MartinWisse at 12:56 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


    But he was.

    Ok. Having never been a huge Vonnegut fan, I didn't know that. There's even less reason not to describe Slaughterhouse Five as science fiction then.
    posted by octobersurprise at 1:07 PM on September 4


    There's a black American science fiction and utopian tradition dating back to before the Civil War (see FPPs passim), there have been hundreds upon hundreds of women writers writing in the pulps, active in science fiction from the very start.

    Fair enough. But I would be interested in seeing a male/female (or white/non-white) breakdown for Astounding/Galaxy/If, etc. I think you'd still end up heavily dominated by white men. And per your own point, most of the non-white males have been forgotten. If you making a list of great historic SF, and you are doing so in 2014, you're going to naturally think of what has stayed in print, and what's won the Hugo/Nebula.

    Again, I'm familiar with How to Suppress Women's Writing. And I would not argue for a second that there wasn't a great deal of discrimination against non-white males historically in the SF field. And of course, there still is today. But I think that having a list of earlier great SF titles skewing towards white men is not surprising and - especially where you are compiling lists of what *other people* have ranked as great as Harris has done - only slightly indicative of any bias.

    I think it's notable that James Nicoll, who's done a lot to highlight ongoing male/female imbalance in anthologies and such, has struggled with that imbalance in his ongoing reviews of stuff that he liked when he was younger.
    posted by Chrysostom at 1:54 PM on September 4


    Another factor in terms of the list's race and gender make-up: with some exceptions (Butler, Delany) work by women and people of color has been small press and small run, with few reprints. Until very recently, for instance, most of Joanna Russ's work was out of print. Delany got some big reprints starting in the nineties, but even though he's a HUGE name in the field, it could be hard to find copies of even some of his better known works before about 1998. Butler never really fell out of print, possibly because her books are rip-roaring body horror and appeal to a lot of audiences, but she's an exception.

    Whereas I can think of fucking tons of writers from marginalized groups (white women, queers in general, people of color in general) whose work just fell out of print. I have been collecting SF by women writers, queer writers and writers of color (knowing that those categories do overlap!!!) with intent basically since about 1996, and until the past few years, it was really hard to find books when you'd hear of them. More, you wouldn't hear of them because they'd dropped out of print. Even now, I hear about books that are so amazing and I'd never heard of them before and I think "wow, why isn't this better known, it came out in 1985" and that's because even a seriously nerdy fan has to do some work to even hear of the book. So it doesn't make it onto any best-of lists because no one hears of it or can get a copy. That doesn't even rise to the level of prejudice, lack of interest or discomfort - it's just shortage.

    So for instance, there's a really interesting late cyberpunk novel by a native writer - Red Spider, White Web by a woman who wrote as "Misha" - very ambitious, very dense, very lyrical, seeming to draw from Delany and from various Dangerous Visions writers. Small press run in the nineties, out of print, no one has heard of it. Blurbed by a couple of big names but sank like a stone.

    You can't even get Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of A Spacewoman new, and she's a big deal in terms of high-falutin' literary stuff.

    I collect anything and everything from The Women's Press eighties SF imprint - Lisa Tuttle, Jane Candace Dorsey, lots of other stuff (some of it bad). All of it is incredibly rare and incredibly out of print. Even the semi-boom in work by women isn't going to bring that stuff back - straight down the memory hole.
    posted by Frowner at 2:16 PM on September 4 [14 favorites]


    I have a pretty simple formula for what constitutes SF versus fantasy. Maybe too simple--I've gotten pushback. Science fiction takes the real world we live in (here in 2014), and extrapolates out, (almost always) in the future. SF takes the real world as a seed and sprouts that into something different--tech, societal norms, the human body, etc.

    Fantasy describes worlds that just are. There's no real genesis of these worlds, they just exist...somewhere and somewhen. The origin doesn't really matter. Usually it's an analogue or metaphor for Earth, but it's still somewhere and somewhen else. Tolkien's Middle Earth is a good example.

    Now, of course, you have all kinds of blends of this SF and fantasy. Off the top of my head there's The Book of the New Sun, which reads with the trappings and norms of fantasy, but the world described in the book is in fact our world in the far future, putting it firmly in the SF column.
    posted by zardoz at 3:15 PM on September 4


    Now, of course, you have all kinds of blends of this SF and fantasy. Off the top of my head there's The Book of the New Sun, which reads with the trappings and norms of fantasy, but the world described in the book is in fact our world in the far future, putting it firmly in the SF column.

    I thought those were commonly called science fantasy.
    posted by immlass at 5:08 PM on September 4


    Frowner, do you have a list? I'd love to have the top 20 list from your rare collection. Butler just totally stunned me when I ran into her work relatively recently, great stories from different perspective would be, well illuminating. Not to start an IP derail but it also seems like getting things like this in electronic form would be a great way for them to be seen.
    posted by sammyo at 5:34 PM on September 4


    immlass, I'll take your word for it, but I've never really heard the term "science fantasy" and I don't think it's common at all; does your bookstore have a "science fantasy" section? Does Amazon?
    posted by zardoz at 5:49 PM on September 4


    My bookstore classifies all SFF in one place and doesn't pick out SF from F. I don't pay a lot of attention to what Amazon does because I don't often buy books from them. But I'm not talking about the commercial genre decisions of bookstores (cf the whole upthread discussion about whether Vonnegut/Atwood/etc. are actually SF, versions of which often have to do with where they're filed). I'm talking about fannish discourse in person and online, where I've long heard and seen things like Star Wars, Book of the New Sun, Darkover, Pern, etc. that have fantasy-style trappings with SFnal underpinnings as science fantasy.
    posted by immlass at 5:55 PM on September 4


    Some books I like, other books I don't like. There's a whole lot of factors that need factoring in. Sometimes I even like a book I used to not like. Other times, I stop liking a book I used to like. Maybe I'll like it again someday? Who knows. Everything is a mystery forever.
    posted by turbid dahlia at 5:58 PM on September 4


    Although it's from a million years ago, the rec.arts.sf.written FAQ has a brief discussion of SF vs. fantasy, and a good list of borderline works to test your definitions.
    posted by Chrysostom at 6:54 PM on September 4


    You can't even get Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of A Spacewoman new, and she's a big deal in terms of high-falutin' literary stuff.

    She is? Because I have that book, in The Women's Press eighties SF imprint! In pristine condition.
    I was always confounded by ironing board logo they used, and it's only just made sense to me.

    - Lisa Tuttle, Jane Candace Dorsey, lots of other stuff (some of it bad). All of it is incredibly rare and incredibly out of print. Even the semi-boom in work by women isn't going to bring that stuff back - straight down the memory hole.

    You seem very certain it's doomed. I'd think with e-books and the like it could be resurrected, especially since they appear to have been going until at least 2011. CL Moore is relatively obscure (I guess, since io9 called Henry Kuttner obscure) and both see and Russ were in the SF/Fantasy Masterworks series (which is where I discovered them and Leigh Bracket, and Delany for my sins).

    I'd not be so glum. If there's demand for it, it will come back into press. That's how these things seem to work.

    Although given the number of feministy SF reading people I know it now strikes me as astounding that it is not.
    posted by Mezentian at 7:28 PM on September 4


    And then I could search for Urban Fantasy that is not also Romance and see if anything exists.

    Seconding Emma Bull. Although if it's urban fantasy you're after, I wouldn't start with Territory (Even though I generally adore her writing, I was seriously unimpressed with it. Also it is not urban, but western.) However Bone Dance is amazingly awesome.

    I know someone who claims not to enjoy science fiction or fantasy because "it's all made-up". I keep trying to break it to her that Lizzie Bennett and Harry Angstrom and so forth were not real people. Also she adores David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I think people use genre terms to dismiss anything they don't like and award the "literature" label to otherwise genre works that they do like.
    posted by Athanassiel at 10:30 PM on September 4



    Although given the number of feministy SF reading people I know it now strikes me as astounding that it is not.


    The thing is, most of what I have from the Women's Press (and similar stuff) is very different from the feminist SF published by SF-specific presses, particularly from the mid-nineties on. It seems to me like a weird little offshoot, of huge scholarly and historical interest but not likely to grab people right now. (Partly because some of it is, IMO, pretty bad.) It's just mostly pretty weird - stuff that's obviously very interested in high modernism, drawing from Virginia Woolf and so on rather than primarily from SFnal sources, stuff where people are very interested in experimenting with form and being weird and zany. Also, a lot of it is by and about middle aged women, and honestly even most contemporary feminist SF by women writers really isn't interested in middle-aged women (which surprises me no end).

    I think it's possible that some of it might get brought back into print if whatever copyright issues exist are straightened out - whoever holds the copyright now could probably do a terrific anthology, but again I surmise that it would be of mostly scholarly interest.

    Frowner, do you have a list? I'd love to have the top 20 list from your rare collection.

    I would have to do this at home in front of the bookshelf, since my mind is just totally blanking, and right now I'm actually pulling overtime for a work project - or rather I will be in five minutes when I am actually on the clock. But I'll try to look at it when I get home on Sunday because I'd love to make such a list.
    posted by Frowner at 6:12 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


    I think one thing to consider is that if there is an all-time great list of SF, it's going to be slanted from a racial/gender perspective due to past discrimination.

    The thing is, from whati underground of his methods, these weren't necessarily "old classics", but lists of fan favorites and critics choices. So my suspicion is that there's a continuin erasure to the choices here. Really, the main question is whether it's the sources who were biased, it the person who did the least. I see room for both.

    And the state of this list is even worse, because notable woman writers were left off. Even if one thinks that SF ended in 1980, where's Andre Norton? Where's Ann McCaffery? Where's (God I regret saying this) Marion Zimmar Bradley?

    No seriously, obviously there's been some cherry picking, and the bias is obvious. At this point I'll not sure what use this must is at all, exit to grocery one witted view of what classic SF should be.
    posted by happyroach at 9:04 AM on September 5


    Where's (God I regret saying this) Marion Zimmar Bradley?

    Not far enough away from children?
    posted by Mezentian at 9:13 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


    > "Of the 100 authors listed, 8 are women, or 8%. Of the 193 titles listed, 10 are by women, or 5.2%."

    Yeah, it's not just that he left off Butler ... Where's Tiptree? Where's Wilhelm? Where's Cadigan? Where's Griffith? I mean, these writers are not obscure.

    I understand that not everyone has heard of Candace Jane Dorsey or Élisabeth Vonarburg. I get that not everyone knows that Virginia Woolf wrote influential science fiction.

    But if you are making a list of science fiction classics and are leaving off shockingly obvious women's names to get to your 5.2% of books by women, something is very very wrong.
    posted by kyrademon at 9:40 AM on September 5


    You can't even get Naomi Mitchison's Memoirs of A Spacewoman new

    Actually, that seems to be in print in the UK, from the Naomi Mitchison Library.
    posted by MartinWisse at 1:19 AM on September 6


    Frowner if you're still interested in making that list this is a second vote for it.
    posted by edbles at 10:35 PM on September 6


    I come here not to bury Ben Trismegistus, but to praise him.
    I can't hell you how many times I have been astounded by a book's first line (not many), but Replay delivered.
    The pages afterwards did not disappoint.
    posted by Mezentian at 6:57 AM on September 7


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