The Sword and Laser discussion

Foundation (Foundation, #1)
This topic is about Foundation
2012 Reads > FOUND: Classic Scifi writers: Mediocre fiction writers with great ideas

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Jeremiah Mccoy (jeremiahtechnoirmccoy) | 80 comments I will put this forward as we are reading a classic

The thing with a lot of the classic scifi writers is that judged as writers, they are not awesome. They are okay, on the whole but they more or less adequate and nothing more. What makes them remarkable, what makes them worth reading, is the ideas they present. Psychohistory is a fascinating idea. It is interesting to see it explored. The notion of seeing religion as a tool or technology, is an idea that pops up in a few science fiction stories and not much of anywhere else. Foundation is interesting because it describes societies from an interesting perspective.

Asimov himself admits it is not well written, and I think someone pointed out there are all of two female characters in the whole book and none of them have names. It was written by a guy with more of an engineering background in a time when women in the professional world were frowned on. There was no romantic stories, no visceral experiences, and no children for that matter. If there are ethnicities in the book I cant find them. He writes about smart men solving problems with their minds and not their muscle. In purely literary sense, this book is a not very well put together series of murder mysteries. The detectives are essentially stand ins for the writer. That said, it is still a brilliant and impactful book because it gets people thinking. The ideas in here are brought up by later writers and reused several times, but many of those ideas start here. It is worth my time, because I do like a story where the smart guy wins by being smart and not the biggest fighter.

I read it originally when I 11 or 12. I re read it this month for this club and I am not sorry I did it. It is not as good as I remember but it is still good.

Phil | 1140 comments That's a great post, Jeremiah. Most of the "classic" science fiction writers were scientists first and writers second and I love reading their work for the ideas but not necessarily the prose. The big three (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke) in particular grabbed my imagination when I was 11 and haven't let go in almost 40 years. They inspired me to want to go into science and helped shape my political and religious views and I can't thank them enough.

Kenny | 31 comments I don't know, I think Heinlein was an excellent author. He wrote great characters if anything you could say he wrote great supporting characters. The best example of which being stranger in a strange land. The story was driven by a character we really didn't know much about, but was surrounded by people I loved to read about. The plot of starship troopers was awesome and was supported by great prose, though again his characterization could use work.

Timm Woods (kexizzoc) | 43 comments Really well-put. Simple "murder mysteries" is how Asimov described it himself, I believe; he was under no illusions that he was a great composer of prose. I've been knocking the flaws of this book-- like bad writing-- because I love it so damn much (if I didn't like it, it wouldn't be worth talking about). I'm truly glad Asimov recognized the nature of his work, and I wish more readers would notice this distinction. Simply put, some classic writers aren't loved for their writing. In my case, it took years of knocking my head against the wall wondering why I couldn't put words together like Nabokov before, at some point I realized I didn't WANT to, and never really had. I wanted to tell stories. Writers like Asimov inspire me, and give me hope that some day, maybe I can be a great "bad writer" as well.

Rodrigo (morcego) | 188 comments I will have to agree with you there. The thing is, Asimov does pain a very broad and interesting picture. You end up fascinated by it (the background), and not necessarily the prose (story itself). Of course, you will see some of the same view on some books by Frank Herbert, and even a glimpse on several other authors. They propose that society, as a whole, is an entity by itself, which is not far from what we know to be scientifically true.
In any case, there is a separation we have to make here, and that is between a writer, and a storyteller. Even if Asimov is far, far from a good writer, he does tell a good story.

message 6: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6261 comments Sorry, I thought this thread was about Philip K. Dick.

message 7: by Anne (last edited Sep 23, 2012 03:11AM) (new)

Anne | 336 comments Jeremiah wrote: "I will put this forward as we are reading a classic

The thing with a lot of the classic scifi writers is that judged as writers, they are not awesome. They are okay, on the whole but they more or..."

So called "great modern writers" tend to stick to standard formulae -- a romantic lead, a"strong" woman", a villain, etc. -- who probably don't accomplish anything unusual once the science window dressing is removed. Most space operas and vampire or zombie stories are like that.

I prefer the idea writers for scifi. At least the conversation can get beyond, "ooh I loved the hero". Plenty of fantasy and romantic novels for that.

Booksthat make you feel vs.books that make you think. Occasionally one might do both.

message 8: by Kevin (new) - added it

Kevin | 701 comments Anne wrote: "Booksthat make you feel vs.books that make you think. Occasionally one might do both. "

I love books that make me think, but if it hasn't made me feel halfway through chances are I've already ditched it.

message 9: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6261 comments Sf is kind of a unique catagory. You have to have both a command of science and storytelling, and it's rare that an author has a decent command of both. Hence we keep looking back to Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke.

message 10: by Kent (new) - added it

Kent (KentGoldings) | 8 comments I think " Foundation" was an odd choice to introduce someone to Asimov. I would have recommended the Elijah Baily series.

message 11: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6261 comments Caves of Steel > I Robot

message 12: by Kent (new) - added it

Kent (KentGoldings) | 8 comments Tamahome wrote: "Caves of Steel > I Robot"

No doubt, that was my first Asimov book. I read it in 1983.

message 13: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Burns | 4 comments Jeremiah wrote: "It is still a brilliant and impactful book because it gets people thinking."

thank you for putting into words what I've been thinking.
I didn't love the book. It didn't keep me reading well. It didn't engage me in the world. And, truthfully, it's harder to get me invested in a SF anyway, I'm much more a fantasy reader. But by the third time I'd referenced the books ideas less than a week after reading it, I knew why it was a classic. I am drawn into the mental exploration of "violence is the last resort of the incompetent" which is said by the same man who (view spoiler). I find that black and white answers are rarely accurate, but black or white with a little room for gray is often more accurate than just the gray itself. I found that Asimov put into better words than I have why I am a pacifist. I'm drawn to the general idea posed early in the book by Seldan himself too that to change the direction of society takes either a massive force or a massive amount of time. I wonder what parts of our world are barreling toward disaster and what it would take to change or ameliorate the problem. Mostly I've heard about this with environmentalism. Is it too late? My mother thinks so, and I hope not. But it's worth facing squarely: are there inevitabilities that we bury our heads in the sand to avoid until it is too late?
Finally, I'm drawn to the idea that (view spoiler) This book has opened me to new ideas and new possibilities. It inspires me to keep dreaming big dreams. Thanks for the conversation about the big ideas.

message 14: by Rick (last edited Sep 25, 2012 11:38AM) (new)

Rick | 2793 comments I'm going to ignore the concept that to be well written a novel needs to have "...romantic stories .. visceral experiences..children [and/or] ethnicities". I agree those things can add complexity but a novel with all men about ideas can certainly be well-written and a very good novel.

Aside from that can you define what makes great vs good vs decent fiction for you? I'm not about to argue that Foundation is great writing, but these discussions generally seem to be put downs of genre fiction because genres usually uses known conventions that can, if not done really well, become formulas. Formulaic writing of course is generally poor. But to me experimental writing, literary writing etc isn't necessarily good either. I also wouldn't agree that a well done classic story is necessarily poor writing just because it uses identifiable conventions. Some of Heinlein's novels pull me in precisely because the prose is transparent and just draws me in.

Also, let's define 'classic SF writers.' It would be simple to pick writers whose prose is middle of the road and prove the point that way. Here's a list of Hugo winners for reference:

Tau-Mu | 5 comments I would say that the writing style has to fit the body of work. The Foundation is a recounting of historical events as might be found in an Encyclopedia. Language and characterizations may not be as important as ideas, events, and political intrigue.

Jorden | 2 comments ARE classic writers actually only mediocre? Or is it that there has been such a HUGE amount of writing since they created their work that it pales in comparison?

What prompts newer writers to write their stories; what have they read in the past that's influenced their current writing? If writers are doing their job, newer stories SHOULD be easily better than what came before, because mistakes and bad decisions should be learned from.

Take away everything that's been written SINCE the classic was made, and compare it to other contemporary works, and you very well might see that it ("it" being whatever classic you want to pick) WAS quite a bit better than the norm.

The norm today is really not that phenomenal, because writing and publishing is so much more accessible than it was before. The sheer volume of Science Fiction (and every other genre) available today is staggering, compared to what was available in 1951. And it makes it that much harder for enough people to read an exceptional work to make it a blip on anyone's radar.

Over years of voracious reading, I've found that while I'm reading a book, it's generally fun and engrossing, but a large part of the time, there are just snippets left behind, nothing really memorable, when I'm done. I think a "classic" is one of those books that can be reflected on and one remembers much more than just a character's name, or a basic plot outline, or just the title and/or author.

back to top