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What Else Are You Reading? > Suggestions for a "History of Sci Fi" overview

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message 1: by Jared (new)

Jared (jdhenze) | 11 comments Hey all!

I'm attempting to create a collection of sci fi short stories and short novels for a 12 week "History of Sci Fi" study a book group I lead is shortly going to embark upon and could use some advice.

I'm hoping to touch on as many classic authors as I can including Verne, Wells, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Ellison, Wyndham and Dick. I'm also wanting to make sure we include several female authors including Le Guin and Butler. One member suggested including Lucian's True History as a starting point as many consider it to be the first sci fi. Ideally I'll also be wrapping up with a contemporary science fiction although I'm having troubles picking one (there are far too many choices these days).

Sword and Laser being full of folks passionate about the genre, I figured there may be a few of you who could suggest some particular works by these authors or who may have some ideas on what I should touch upon.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

message 2: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 314 comments War of the Worlds
20000 Leagues Under the Sea

message 3: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3952 comments Good author choices there. For history I might suggest Flatland, partly because of the sociological commentary and partly for shortness. I'm also a McCaffrey fan but the dragon books may be too long. Perhaps the original Weyr Search? That story is credited with breaking the tradition that the main character had to be male.

Andre Norton was another early SF author, writing as far back as the 1950s. Her "Time Traders" is a fairly good time travel novel which established a series. It is also reflective of the "men's club" of main characters that was the style of the time, with the amusing difference that it was written by a woman.

message 4: by Ally (new)

Ally (leopardqueen) I just finished The Left Hand of Darkness and absolutely loved it! It was one of the precious few books that were mentioned in BBC's documentary The Real History of Science Fiction.
And even though I think that Day of the Triffids is the more popular Wyndham book (correct me if I'm wrong), I have a warm place in my heart for The Chrysalids I think it's just because I really enjoy dystopian themes and I feel that one touches on it in such a great way.
Finally, I think you should include something by Ray Bradbury.

message 5: by Paolo (new)

Paolo (ppiazzesi) | 51 comments I would suggest starting off with Frankenstein, which is arguably the first sci fi novel ever, and has the added bonus of being from a female author.

For more contemporary science fiction, Hyperion would be a good choice, although it's not exactly a short novel. Its different parts touch on several different sub genres of sci fi.

message 6: by Bryan (new)

Bryan | 111 comments Some great suggestions here.

If you're looking for a little more inspiration, Elizabeth has done a terrific Science Fiction History series of YouTube videos. Worth a watch.

message 7: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3952 comments Ally wrote: "Finally, I think you should include something by Ray Bradbury."

Yep! Martian Chronicles is the obvious choice, Long After Midnight or Illustrated Man would be good too.

message 8: by Phil (last edited Oct 30, 2014 05:54PM) (new)

Phil | 1140 comments For the authors you mentioned here are my recommendations:
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Verne
The Time Machine by Wells
The Caves of Steel by Asimov
"The Nine Billion Names of God" or "The Star" by Clarke
Citizen of the Galaxy by Heinlein
"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" or "The Cheese Stands Alone" by Ellison
The Man in the High Castle by Dick
I would add The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 1 by Silverberg, The Martian Chronicles by Bradbury, Ringworld by Niven, and Ender's Game by Card.

message 9: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3952 comments All good choices, Phil. For Niven, I don't know that I'd consider Ringworld a short novel. The collection Tales of Known Space would be good. From that, "There Is A Tide" is a great story whose "villain" as it were is a neutron star. "The Borderland of Sol" is another good one, featuring a captive black hole.

message 10: by Jared (new)

Jared (jdhenze) | 11 comments Thanks for all the great suggestions everyone! Just so you all know the reason I'm trying to focus on shorter works by these authors is that many of my group are university students and tend to whine if I give them too many pages to read in a week.

I'll definitely be throwing on Bradbury (not to sure why I forgot him in my initial list) and I'll see if I can squeeze in Norton, Niven and McCaffrey. (We did Ender's Game recently otherwise I'd throw Card in as well)

As for Frankenstein I've found its included in so many course lists that many of the members of my group have already read it so I'm shooting to broaden their horizons on the genre but I'll make sure to touch on it during the discussion.

message 11: by David (new)

David (dbigwood) Maybe something by Arthur Conan Doyle? One of his short stories The Poison Belt, When the World Screamed, or The Disintegration Machine could be read along with a short novel by someone else. I didn't see Vonnegut in the list. His novels tend to be short. A +1 for Flatland.

message 12: by Alan (new)

Alan | 534 comments I would second the suggestion of "I have no mouth and I must scream" for Ellison; it's a very short story and has a bit of a Matrixy feel (thought it was written much earlier).

If you really want to keep it short, a lot of your authors did great short story work (perhaps better than their novels). For example, I like "Caves of Steel" a lot but you wouldn't go wrong giving them the short story "Nightfall", instead. Another example, "Citizen of the Galaxy" is one of my favorite Heinlein novels but his novella "if this goes on"/"revolt in 2100" is really great as well (and shorter).

I definitely agree with "There is a Tide" for Niven but if you wanted one of his books, I usually recommend Protector, rather than Ringworld (maybe because I gravitate to good versions of "first contact" stories more than good "Big Dumb Object" stories).

For Octavia Butler, I'd personally pick "Parable of the Sower." (Like most Butler books it's pretty short and its one of my favorites that I think is also very accessible.)

I would also suggest a short story by Cordwainer Smith - maybe "scanners live in vain."

Recent book are harder - not because there aren't a ton of good ones but it's hard to say so close to publication which of them are going to be remembered as representative a decade from now. I may be a minority in this thread but I thought Ancillary Justice earned a lot of the praise it got (even if nothing could have earned all the praise it got) and think it would work well as an example of a modern SF book.

message 13: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments If not Frankenstein, there's always Mary Shelley's post-apocalyptic novel, The Last Man.

The early 20th century tends to get neglected in these timelines. I'd include maybe A Princess of Mars, an Olaf Stapledon like Star Maker, and Leigh Brackett: Black Amazon of Mars and Other Tales from the Pulps, maybe.

You could consider hitting some of the major subgenres. Based on the suggestions so far you'll probably get hard SF and space opera already, and probably some New Wave, but for a cyberpunk entry, maybe a story or two from William Gibson's Burning Chrome, or a shorter novel like When Gravity Fails (but not much cyberspace in that one). Maybe some slipstream or New Weird titles, but I'd have to dig deeper to find some good examples.

message 14: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8480 comments For a 12 week college course, I'd definitely go with 12 short stories. Maybe 20 if they're really short.

Classic stories I would recommend:

Nightfall by Asimov -- start 'em off easy with a discussion about what a society considers "normal" and how that leads to religious, social and governmental stasis, even if it's based on an imperfect understanding of how the world works. Natural law as a driver of superstition.

All You Zombies by Heinlein -- the time-travel paradox story to beat all time-travel paradox stories.

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury -- the problems of spoiled kids having access to technology. This one might just be for you. Alternatively, Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains, about a computer-controlled house (written in 1950, takes place a few years from now) that starts off bucolic and becomes increasingly horrific.

Flash Crowd by Niven -- particularly relevant to today's kids; they should see where the word came from. Also, it's just a cool story which was prescient in some of its concepts.

Speech Sounds by Octavia Butler -- this should fit in nicely with the current trend of dystopias, but it touches on race and gender and maybe sexual identity, too, but don't quote me on that last one. But it's Butler, so it's good.

Dogfight by William Gibson and Michael Swanwick -- this is also especially relevant for today's youth, given the increased awareness of consent and date rape. Blow their minds by pointing out it was written 30 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same and all that.

When It Changed by Joanna Russ -- Again, pertinent for today's college students, as it is about same-sex marriage occurring within an all-female society in a post-apocalyptic world. Lots of grist for the discussion mill in this one. Blow their minds again by explaining it was written in 1972. Alternatively, you could go for the longer Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. (pen name of Alice Sheldon) which covers some of the same issues. Maybe just tell them about it and why Sheldon had to use a male pen name at the time.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes -- this brilliantly-written heartbreaker is a must for any overview like this.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell -- the basis of the movies The Thing from Another World, The Thing and the presequel The Thing, this is creeptacular and unsettling and you can spin discussions about trust issues and whatnot.

The Barbie Murders by John Varley -- although almost any Varley short story is going to be extremely well-written (he really is that good), this one is particularly interesting in that it looks at cult-like behavior where everyone tries to be the same. Good for discussions about religion and politics.

Even the Queen by Connie Willis -- sure to make the guys squeamish, but that's the point of good science fiction. There's a reason why this won all the awards. Although pretty much any Willis story is worthy of inclusion.

True Names by Vernor Vinge -- (his last name is pronounced "vin-jee") -- this is the prototypical cyberpunk story written in the 1970s and it concerns much of the same things we're dealing with today with government spying on our online behavior.

message 15: by Jared (new)

Jared (jdhenze) | 11 comments Thanks for all of the great ideas everyone! This should definitely give me quite a bit to work with in my planning. Tis greatly appreciated

message 16: by Joseph (new)

Joseph | 2267 comments If you want shorter, older works, there's also The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume 1 and its sequels -- they originally came out starting in the 1970s but were reprinted about 10 years ago.

message 17: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa (djotaku) | 617 comments Sounds like an awesome idea for a MOOC.

May I make a suggestion for your modern read of something by Neal Stephenson. Both Snow Crash and The Diamond Age have some predictions that have already come true. If you have some 80s Gibson then Stephenson is a great read after that for the contrast of post-Cyberpunk. (Especially with The Diamond Age which has a traditional Cyberpunk character killed off in the first chapter as a symbolic death of that genre with the birth of Cypherpunk)

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