15 April 2004

Help for Maud and Others

In case you don't know, Maud Newton runs one of the best literary blogs out there -- I envy her breadth of knowledge and her stunning ability to keep her blog frequently updated with lots of content. In a recent post (one which is mostly about what I wrote about in my previous post), a few paragraphs surprised me a bit, because I know she happens to read this site occasionally:
I rarely read science fiction or fantasy books. I like William Gibson, Ursula LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, sometimes H.G. Wells, and Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music, if those count. They probably don't. I read the Dune books when I was a kid but would probably find them unreadable now. I have the vague, nagging feeling that I'm doing myself a disservice by neglecting Neal Stephenson and a handful of others.

Mr. Maud's shelves are filled with sci-fi books. Occasionally I try them out, but I rarely finish. Ditto fantasy, save the likes of A.S. Byatt and Roald Dahl and Stephany Aulenback. Someone gave me a copy of The Anubis Gates back in college and after reading fifty pages I was so turned off by the prose (and, believe me, I use that word loosely) that I nearly set fire to it.* (Instead I walked up a flight of stairs to the honors boys' commons area and left it there. It was gone within 10 minutes.)

In short, I generally don't read science fiction, sometimes because I don't think it's well-written, but more often because it just doesn't move me.
I realized after reading this that I have never bothered to address readers who have found their way here through channels other than sites frequented by genre readers, and that a helpful service might be to give a few recommendations of writers you might enjoy even if you don't think you like science fiction/fantasy/horror/whatever.

First, a note to Maud: All of the writers you name have plenty of credentials within the world of science fiction, so, yes, indeed, they count. (Some people are angry at Jonathan Lethem for his essay "The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction" and so go out of their way to slander him, but though he mixes genres the way Jackson Pollock mixed paint, his roots are in the SF community, and he still shows up to certain events.)

All such lists as I will offer are inevitably incomplete, sometimes glaringly so, but I'm just trying to give you a starting point. Explore the links in the sidebar for more. Also, I expect people will have great suggestions in the comments to this post (hint, hint).

Writers worth checking out, who have a fair amount of material available on the Web, and whom I haven't written about or linked to very recently (though I'm only going by memory):
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Jonathan Carroll
Avram Davidson
L. Timmel Duchamp
Carol Emshwiller
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Neil Gaiman
M. John Harrison
Nalo Hopkinson
John Kessel
Ian R. MacLeod
Maureen F. McHugh
China Mieville
Kit Reed
Michael Swanwick
Gene Wolfe
Add all the writers I've mentioned on this site recently, and it's quite a list. A bit overwhelming, I'm afraid. So here's another list:
Four Stories to Begin With
The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford
Last Call in Temperance by Alan DeNiro
Night Blossoms by M. Rickert
The Jaguar Hunter by Lucius Shepard
"The Jaguar Hunter" is, within the SF world, that wonderful oxymoron a "modern classic". M. Rickert and Alan DeNiro have only been publishing (as far as I know) for a few years now, but both use the elements of science fiction and fantasy in new and interesting ways. "The Empire of Ice Cream" is currently up for a couple of awards, and is one of my favorite stories from 2003.

Looking over that list, I see I haven't included anything that is unabashedly traditional science fiction. Mostly, that's because I tend to prefer stories which aren't all about space exploration and technology. However, in the interest of fairness, let me call to your attention Light of Other Days by Bob Shaw, first published in Analog, traditionally the most traditional SF magazine.

It is no offense to say lots of science fiction is badly written -- lots of all sorts of things are badly written (remember Sturgeon's Law). It is also no offense not to be moved (emotionally, intellectually) by a lot of what you have encountered. I've been reading through the past couple of month's of a few SF magazines, and have yet to find a story I considered both well-written and moving. Some were diverting, some had interesting flourishes, but most just didn't do anything for me, and a few seemed both tone deaf and brain dead.

I keep reading science fiction -- or, more broadly, "speculative fiction" (an awkward term, but the best I know of to describe various types of imaginative literature) -- because when it is well written, when it does move me, the experience of reading is both thrilling and edifying -- the experience of the brain and imagination dancing long into the night.

1 comment:

  1. My suggestions for non spec-fic, but very literary readers are:

    Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
    Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.
    Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe
    Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons
    The Orphan's Tales, Catherynne Valente

    For the non-literary, I usually just suggest Ender's Game.

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