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General SF&F discussion > Reading SF classics today

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message 1: by Nerdsfeather (new)

Nerdsfeather | 6 comments Hi Everyone,

So Ian Sales had written a blog post today (disclaimer: on my blog) about why he abandoned the "masters of SF" (e.g. van Vogt, Asimov, Clarke, etc.). I found a lot of what he said rang true for me--that books I loved at age 13 don't age well when I try them again as an adult. Here's the link: http://www.nerds-feather.com/2013/11/...

I think it's a potentially interesting topic of discussion for Beyond Reality. Specifically, I'd like to ask:

*Do you read or re-read SF classics today?
*How do you find the experience?
*How does it compare to reading these books as a young adult?
*Do these books deserve to be considered "classics of literature," or are their contributions primarily historical?
*Do you have issues with normative sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. in older books, or do you consider that just "emblematic of the times?"


message 2: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 829 comments That is a very interesting set of questions.

Yes, I do read some SF classics today. Actually he mentioned a beloved one in his post, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steal Rat series. Well at least up to The Stainless Steal Rat Gets Drafted. After that, its not worth it. :)

Honestly, I never really read most of "the classics" when I was a kid. I never really liked Asimov and Heinlein. I like some of Clarke's works, but didn't really discover him until my senior year of high school.

Do they deserve to be considered classics? That's difficult to say. They were certainly influential. They were significant in paving the the way for the next group of authors in the genre. Will they still be remembered and read in 100 years time? That I don't know. Maybe I would consider them trailblazers.

Re: sexism and racism. I always take a work in the context of when it was written. If a book is written in the 1950s, I'm not surprised to see woman limited to supporting roles, if they show up at all. I don't expect all authors in the SF genre to be visionaries in everything. Guess what? In 60 years people are going to talking about how backwards we are in 2013 about some social issue that we can't even imagine. Its rather arrogant of us to assume that we are the perfect ones.


message 3: by Marty (new)

Marty (martyjm) | 310 comments I read Asimov and Heinlein as a teenager. I haven't reread much. I did reread Second Foundation at one point and was a hair disappointed ( i first read it from a ancient yellowed paperback without knowing it was part of a series) i reread it years later when I read the whole series. I find social attitudes can interfere with my enjoyment of books, movies, music whatever.

Some art can get me into a place where I am immersed in the culture described to such a degree that I am not distracted or pulled out by the attitudes. But it is rare.

But give me a modern situation where someone talks about "crying like a little girl" or "throwing like a girl" and i am no longer interested. And If set in a future our world then racist and sexist attitudes interfere with my suspension of disbelief.


message 4: by Kathi, Moderator & Book Lover (new)

Kathi | 3219 comments Mod
I have reread some of the "classics", mostly Asimov. I loved his books when I first read them and, overall, think they hold up pretty well. I never read most of the other authors listed as "classic" other than some Clarke.

I do try to take into account the time and culture in which books were written. That does not excuse racism or sexism but makes it more understandable.

I read a lot of Andre Norton's SF when I was first delving into the genre and I still enjoy many of her books. I think Le Guin's books hold up well, those I've read more recently, and Dune (Frank Herbert).

I think any authors who are widely read within a genre are, as Random said, trailblazers. They lay the foundation for authors that come after them, and that building process continues even now.

I tend to not reread, however, and so many of the books I read and enjoyed earlier in my life are not things I have revisited. There are a very few exceptions.


message 5: by Random (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 829 comments Kathi wrote: "I do try to take into account the time and culture in which books were written. That does not excuse racism or sexism but makes it more understandable."

I think this is an important distinction. I accept that a certain point of view was prevalent at a certain point of time and that books written during that time period are likely going to reflect it. That does not mean that I consider it an acceptable point of view for current times.

Seriously, if we only limited ourselves to books which reflect or current ethics, no one would ever read any classics. Anyone out there want to make a claim that Homer wasn't sexist? That Gone with the Wind wasn't racist (or at least never challenged slavery as a normal part of life)?


message 6: by Nerdsfeather (new)

Nerdsfeather | 6 comments I think there's also a distinction to be drawn from a moderate amount of prejudice, reflecting the norms of the day, and egregiously problematic amounts of prejudice. The Stars, My Destination, for example, reflects sexist mores of the time in which it was written, and the future society Bester imagines is absolutely patriarchal. However, he also introduces female characters who are independent, capable and push back against this.

Foundation, on the other hand, is a complete sausage fest--as if Asimov couldn't even imagine that women might be able to contribute anything to a multi-generational political history. To me that's appreciably worse, and really does detract from my ability to consider it as anything but a historical artifact.

...The Iliad gets more of a pass from me by virtue of having been written millennia ago...and being of generally greater literary and historical value ;)


message 7: by Random (last edited Nov 19, 2013 03:35PM) (new)

Random (rand0m1s) | 829 comments Nerdsfeather wrote: "Foundation, on the other hand, is a complete sausage fest--as if Asimov couldn't even imagine that women might be able to contribute anything to a multi-generational political history. To me that's appreciably worse, and really does detract from my ability to consider it as anything but a historical artifact. "

Well to be honest, so were most things in the 1950s. My mother was taught to be a good little secretary until she got married when she would stay home, bake cookies, and have lots of babies. The town next to where my mother grew up had a second sign to the usual Welcome to our town. It read, "Nigger, don't let the sun go down while you're here". That wasn't taken down until the late 1960s. And no, this wasn't the deep south either.

Take a look at Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two. Its very much a reflection of early 1980s view of the US/Soviet conflict.

I think we have a hard time with the near past. Its too close for us to step back and look at objectively. Few people blink at Dickens being near xenophobic.

Also, one benefit into taking the time period into perspective is comparison. When you have a 1950s author writing something that is beyond his or her time period, it stands out as exceptional (even if it isn't by today's standards).


message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Dietzel (chrisdietzel) | 72 comments Great thread! I've been thinking about this a lot recently after having been disappointed in a couple sci fi 'classics' that I just recently read for the first time.

In terms of pure science fiction (not dystopian, not apocalyptic, etc), Michael Crichton's Sphere is one of my all-time favorites. I tend to try and find classics that I can enjoy as much as I did that novel, and there are very few that I can. The exception was Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, which I recently read and liked a lot, Arthur C Clarke's Earthlight, and a couple others. But for the most part, I agree that there is something lacking in a lot of the classics that I find hard to get past.


message 9: by Kelly (new)

Kelly (sisimka) Contemporary writers are writing 'classics'. Some modern science fiction (written in the last twenty years) is being read in schools now, as opposed to the same authors we got a glimpse of. So, I think we'll see the definition of science fiction classic broaden to include more than Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, etc.

That being said, I haven't read much Asimov or Heinlein as an adult. I think the reason is that I enjoyed it as a kid because it was new and wondrous. Maybe that's why these books are considered classics. They were, and still remain, very accessible science fiction. Personally, I find Clarke really easy to read and while he doesn't necessarily dumb down the science, he does present much of it in a way most readers can grasp. You don't need a degree in quantum physics (or whatever) to figure out what's going on.

Further, the stories of old have a lot of story. Are they well written, or should they be considered canon? I dunno! I'm all for reading what you liked without being told if it's important or not.

Classics I've gone back to read: As an adult, I have really enjoyed reading Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle (the Professor Challenger books). I loved the sense of wonder (again) in these books.


message 10: by Ken (new)

Ken (ogi8745) | 1348 comments I read a lot of the classics as I got older and with the exception of one book, Ringworld, I enjoyed them. Sure some of the stuff is strange, like all the smoking in the older ones.
I tend to be able to ignore some of the anachronisms and questionable science.
As long as it well written...

Something just occurred to me. Quite a few of these older writers wrote for magazines so their stories were straight to the point and no filler.
As opposed to today where quite a few writers tend to run wild


message 11: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey | 382 comments I read a lot of classics (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Verne, Wells, etc.) as a kid/teenager. Some I'd be hesitant to go back to. I think I got all the "good" that existed in them the first time. The lack of competent female characters bothers me a lot more now than it used to, among other problems. There were people writing during those periods of time who were aware of these issues, so I can't excuse it entirely, even as I'm aware of their contributions to the genre. I am enjoying slowly discovering some of those writers that my childhood library's collection overlooked, although they are dated as well.

OTOH, I hope my kids read those books one day for an awareness of the history of the genre and as a platform to talk to them about how social consciousness does affect authors. No book is perfect and that is a subject worth exploring.

Great topic! I've really enjoyed reading everyone's responses.


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