Thoughts from Walter Russell Mead. I disagree with his opinion on Clarke’s writing quality, though.
“Writer” is too broad a category. Clarke was a bad novelist, but a brilliant and engaging author of travelogues (to places that as yet existed only in his mind).
Wear cheap ties, shop Walmart, and read lots of science fiction.
Works for me.
I quit reading when he called Asimov a “hack” writer. My initial reaction was to quit when he said he spent time in Chapel Hill as a child. Although I generally stay out of the NC discussions of “my town is better’n you’r'n”, I do know Chapel Hill is a curious place, with curiouser denizens. In short, little of import or much good comes from over there.
Now, that opinion is reconfirmed for me.
None of the comments mentioned the late , great, Poul Anderson. I fixed that.
Poul Anderson’s early stuff was good, his later stuff was great. My personal favorite is “Boat of a Million Years”, a speculative fiction about the lives of perhaps a dozen immortal people from the ancient past to the far future.
I have to agree with Mead about Clarke; he made Asimov look like a prose stylist genius. Take Rendezvous with Rama or Childhood’s End – please! Heinlein was far and away the best of the three “grand masters” of SF, but even he slipped a lot toward the end (i.e., anything after The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress).
More that should have been on the list: Robert Sheckley, Robert Anton Wilson, Walter M. Miller, Jerry Pournelle, Joe Haldeman, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber (check out Gonna Roll the Bones from the Dangerous Visions anthology), Harlan Ellison. A fair amount of Thomas Pynchon’s work could be classed with SF/Fantasy as well.
For some reason, I stopped reading most SF in my late ’20s, though. Never got into the cyberpunk stuff. Don’t know if it’s my loss or not…
Poul Anderson is, indeed, one of the greats. Prolific too. He’d be Hall of Fame material even if he’d never written anything but the Flandry and Van Rijn stories. Fortunately, he didn’t stop there.
I have no idea where the knock on Clarke comes from. I consider him and Anderson the two best stylists in the field. The White Hart stories are classics and Earthlight is a masterpiece.
Clarke, was an absolute delight when writing short stories, but not so great at novels, though he did produce a couple of masterpieces with Rama and Childhood’s End.
For some reason I find Ben Bova’s work tough slogging, so I suppose the perceptions of the reader do have an effect of the (perceived) quality of the work.
I guess I’d have to nominate Harlan Ellison or Robert Sheckley as the best pure prose stylists among recognized SF authors (Pynchon does not self-identify that way, although Against the Day is nearly pure SF/Fantasy – a war between Vectorists and Quaternionists?! – and Gravity’s Rainbow not very far behind). RA Wilson had a solid style too, and was capable of Joycean flights on occasion (see substantial parts of The Widow’s Son).
Clarke’s style just doesn’t do it for me, but he did give the world the core story for Kubrick’s classic 2001, and I do like portions of The Fountains of Paradise. Lest anybody misunderstand, I’m certainly not trying to convert anybody to my POV on Clarke, simply discussing with a friendly crowd…
And how could we forget Fred Pohl and (among others) the classic Gateway trilogy??!!
I agree about Poul Anderson, Brain Wave was awesome. Alfred Bester makes my personal list for the Stars My Destination. And Atlas Shrugged certainly qualifies as science fiction, for the static motor and project X.
I second the recommendation of Poul Anderson!
When you think about it, it’s amazing how broad the field is compared to contemporary “mainstream” fiction. SF can boast of David Brin and Ray Bradbury and Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel R. Delany and Philip K. Dick and Arthur Conan Doyle, Gene Wolfe and H.G. Wells and Howard Waldrop …
I’m also fond of Bradbury’s line about the prophetic value of science fiction: “I’m not trying to predict the future! I’m trying to prevent it!”
I haven’t been able to make much time to read since my daughter was born. It’s kind of annoying that I recognize so many of the names–I’d have hoped that there’d be more good new stuff.
So, more oldies: James H. Schmitz, H. Beam Piper.
Quite a while back someone had compiled a list of 40 year-old SF vs 40 year-old popular fiction. Kind of illuminating–SF seems to have much more staying power.
There’s a certain class of SF writer who were, as a group, too busy with science to bother much with the fiction. Clarke and Asimov were the most important among that group. You *could* call them Campbellian, but it would be an insult to Campbell to do so. Campbell was opposed to *style*, while Clarke and Asimov (and to a lesser extent, Pohl) neglected character and narrative.
Asimov *was* a hack, it was part of his charm. He was less interested in world-building than rules, and the implications of rules. The worlds and people he created to demonstrate those implications were about as necessary and loved as a set of well-worn lab equipment. No more, no less. His hacky approach to making that lab equipment, that he gave his characters a little more polish than you’d expect of a caliper or a bunsen burner, was no more than a grace note.
Nobody reads Clarke for style, or narrative. He wrote travelogues through hard-science demonstrations of subcreation. He wasn’t nearly as much of a hack as Asimov, and thus was far less readable. HAL 9000 was the closest he ever came to a character.
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