Friday, 19 November 2010

Lost SF Classics in the New Scientist

The New Scientist magazine is a serious journal aimed at keeping the scientific community (plus interested bystanders like me) up to date with current developments across the whole field of science. However, the editor obviously has a soft spot for science fiction, as occasional pieces about it appear. The most recent example was in the 23 October issue, in which ten prominent scientists and writers were asked to nominate a lost SF classic. Their choices, with their comments, were as follows:

Dark Universe by Daniel F Galouye, nominated by the biologist (and atheist flag-bearer for Darwin's theory of evolution) Richard Dawkins. "…hauntingly imaginative, and uses the medium of science fiction to let the reader reconstruct how myths can start."

Journey of Joenes by Robert Sheckley, nominated by James Lovelock (who invented the Gaia concept). "...a mid 20th century version of Voltaire's Candide. I like it because I am often asked to predict the future state of the world and authors like Voltaire, Wells, Orwell and others of their kind appeal more than purely technical prophets."

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, nominated by cosmologist Sean Carroll. "...a wide-ranging exploration of robotics, technology, computation and social structures."

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack, nominated by cyberpunk novelist William Gibson. "It's a book you really have to read to see why."

New Maps of Hell by Kingsley Amis, nominated by Robert May (former UK Chief Scientific Adviser). "…a scholarly review which takes science fiction seriously."

We by Eugene Zamiatin, nominated by novelist Margaret Atwood (winner of the 1987 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the novel The Handmaid's Tale). "…contains the rootstock of two later themes - the creepy, too-smiley utopia, as in Brave New World, and the Big Brother dystopia, as in 1984."

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon, nominated by SF author Stephen Baxter. "…a kind of god's-eye-view survey of the human far future, as bracing and original today as it was when first published…"

Floating Worlds by Celia Holland, nominated by SF author Kim Stanley Robinson. "…Holland's immense power as a novelist, and her new take on old science fiction themes, turn everything to gold."

The Listeners by James Gunn, nominated by SETI astronomer Seth Shostak. "I read this book two decades ago when I was first becoming involved with the search for cosmic company…"

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, nominated by physicist Freeman Dyson. "It's a sensitive human drama, with California providing the enduring natural environment as background."

An interestingly varied selection. Of the ten, I have only one on my shelves (New Maps of Hell) although I recall reading (and being impressed by) Floating Worlds, and assume (simply because they are so well known - not exactly "lost" classics) that I probably read Last and First Men plus Earth Abides a long time ago when I absorbed large quantities of SF every week, although I don't remember them. I have certainly read books by Galouye, Sheckley, Lem and Gunn, although I don't recall the specific titles mentioned. I fear that when it comes to SFF, I have forgotten rather more than I remember!

2 comments:

Fred said...

I have four of them in my bookshelves:

Stewart: Earth Abides--one of the best post-holocaust novels ever written.

Stapledon: Last and First Men--a great universe encompassing novel

Zamiatin: WE--probably the grandfather of dystopias--an strong influence on Orwell, and according to Orwell, also on Huxley, although Huxley apparently denied this.

Gunn: The Listeners--read it but don't remember anything about it. perhaps a time for a revisit.

Cynthia Holland: Floating Worlds, I know I had the book at one time, and I'm fairly certain I read it. However, I can't remember anything about it.


I don't have the others although I've read works by Galouye, Len, Scheckley, and Womack.


An interesting list.

Carl V. said...

Ah WE...that was a great book. I read it last year for the first time. One of the books that proves that some stories only get better with age.