Author Topic: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.  (Read 556 times)

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« on: June 05, 2021, 01:46:55 PM »
Please feel free to post replies - I am going to create a post for each author I read, but I don't want to prevent anyone from jumping in in the middle and having a conversation!

I've always been a fan of good Science Fiction, but I recently realized that while I've read a lot of the work of a few of the best, I haven't read many of the Grand Masters.  A few months ago I set a goal of reading at least one book from each of the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award winners from the  Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  Here are two links for those who are interested in joining me or following along. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damon_Knight_Memorial_Grand_Master_Award
https://nebulas.sfwa.org/grand-masters/

I hope that this thread will motivate me to keep going if I lose interest in this activity over the months and years it takes for me to finish.  I'll try to post my thoughts about each author in a separate post as I work my way through, but I really hope to hear comments from other people who are interested or are thinking about joining me. 



    1975 Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988)
    1976 Jack Williamson (1908–2006)
    1977 Clifford D. Simak (1904–1988)
    1978 —
    1979 L. Sprague de Camp (1907–2000)
    1980 —
    1981 Fritz Leiber (1910–1992)
    1982 —
    1983 —
    1984 Andre Norton (1912–2005)
    1985 —
    1986 Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008)
    1987 Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)
    1988 Alfred Bester (1913–1987)
    1989 Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)
    1990 —
    1991 Lester del Rey (1915–1993)
    1992 —
    1993 Frederik Pohl (1919–2013)
    1994 —
    1995 Damon Knight (1922–2002)
    1996 A. E. van Vogt (1912–2000)
    1997 Jack Vance (1916–2013)
    1998 Poul Anderson (1926–2001)
    1999 Hal Clement (1922–2003)
    2000 Brian W. Aldiss (1925–2017)
    2001 Philip José Farmer (1918–2009)
    2002 —
    2003 Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018)
    2004 Robert Silverberg (1935–)
    2005 Anne McCaffrey (1926–2011)
    2006 Harlan Ellison (1934–2018)[7]
    2007 James Gunn (1923–2020)
    2008 Michael Moorcock (1939–)[8][9]
    2009 Harry Harrison (1925–2012)[10][11]
    2010 Joe Haldeman (1943–)[12]
    2011 —
    2012 Connie Willis (1945–)[13]
    2013 Gene Wolfe (1931–2019)[14][15]
    2014 Samuel Delany (1942–)[16]
    2015 Larry Niven (1938–)[17]
    2016 C.J. Cherryh (1942–)[18]
    2017 Jane Yolen (1939–)[19]
    2018 Peter S. Beagle (1939–)[20][21]
    2019 William Gibson (1948–)[22]
    2020 Lois McMaster Bujold (1949–)[23]
    2021 Nalo Hopkinson (1960–)[24]

« Last Edit: June 05, 2021, 02:25:14 PM by FIRE 20/20 »

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2021, 02:06:51 PM »
1975 winner - Robert Heinlein

I was a huge Heinlein fan in Middle School and High School and re-read about 20 of his books last year.  I think his Juveniles stand up pretty well, apart from the obvious technological weaknesses.  If I had wanted kids I definitely would have given them these books in elementary/middle school.  Unfortunately, most of his non-Juvenile books and short stories just don't hold up for me.  Looking back, I think I enjoyed his heroes' self-confidence, self-reliance, and independent thought.  As an adult his philosophy seems horribly naive, self-centered, and his politics questionable at best.  I can look past all of that though if the writing and stories are good, and I think many of the books do hold up.  If I were going to recommend books for someone interested in Heinlein to read I'd suggest any of his Juveniles for kids, and Stranger in a Strange Land and Glory Road for adults.  I think it's pretty common to believe that his latter books (World as Myth series) were terrible and primarily acted as soapboxes upon which he could have his main characters, primarily Lazarus Long, stand to get Heinlein's philosophy on everything from packing a wagon to homestead on an uninhabited world to proper sexual mores.  In my teens it seemed like he was offering wise life lessons but in my 40s it seems like he's just a pontificating ignoramus telling everyone to not just get off his lawn but also exactly how they should go about doing it. 

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2021, 02:07:35 PM »
1976 Jack Williamson (1908–2006)

Placeholder - haven't been able to get any of his books yet. 

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2021, 02:24:03 PM »
1977 Clifford D. Simak (1904–1988)

I wasn't familiar with Clifford D. Simak, but I'm now a huge fan.  For people who aren't familiar with his work, I think he summed up his approach incredibly well in the forward to his collection "Skirmish":

"Overall, I have written in a quiet manner; there is little violence in my work. My focus has been on people, not on events. More often than not I have struck a hopeful note... I have, on occasions, tried to speak out for decency and compassion, for understanding, not only in the human, but in the cosmic sense. I have tried at times to place humans in perspective against the vastness of universal time and space. I have been concerned where we, as a race, may be going, and what may be our purpose in the universal scheme—if we have a purpose. In general, I believe we do, and perhaps an important one."

I've read only a few of his novels and short stories (Time and Again, Way Station, Time is the Simplest Thing, The Goblin Reservation, The Big Front Yard), but he's quickly become one of my favorite authors.  The Goblin Reservation is very different in tone and style, but all of the other books seem to me to be best described as "contemplative".  There is action, but most of what happens in the other books and stories seems to me to focus on his characters quietly working their way through some dilemma, often dealing with big questions like what constitutes "humanity" - is it just humans, all of life in the universe, androids and robots, etc.?  What should the universe do about humanity - are we too violent and intolerant to be welcomed onto the galactic stage? 

After reading a lot of Heinlein and Simak back-to-back, I feel like I would have enjoyed going to a party with Heinlen but I would have wanted to form a deep friendship with Simak. 

To someone new to Simak, "City" is one of the usual recommendations but I haven't read it yet.  Other than that, I started with "Way Station" and I absolutely loved it.  It's a great book to read in a quiet, beautiful place.  I would periodically put it down, look at the sky and trees, and think. 
« Last Edit: June 05, 2021, 02:52:24 PM by FIRE 20/20 »

Slow road to freedom

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 156
  • Location: UK
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2021, 02:31:21 PM »
I was directed towards Jack Vance many years ago. A project to produce a ‘Vance Integral Edition’ was completed in the early 2000s, a crowd-funded full works of Vance by fans, for fans. I regret not signing up for a copy.
Special text, to me anyway.
Sounds like a fun project you’re on.

CowboyAndIndian

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1708
  • Location: NJ, USA
    • KOWines: Deep discount wine/spirits store.
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2021, 02:36:34 PM »
A fellow sci-fi fan! Awesome.

I've moved to a new (to me) home and have so many projects that my reading has fallen by the side. Even when I'm tired, I watch YouTube learning about what I am going to do next.

This is a great thread that will give me ideas about what to read next! I already see some of my favorites on the list. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Heinlein. I am more interested in hard sci-fi and not fantasy. Also, as you mentioned, some author's works have not aged well.

How come you do not have H.G. Wells or Jules Verne in your list? I guess they age out since the list is more modern.

Also, one of the modern authors that I like is John Scalzi, though I hate his latest serial. Other modern authors I like, are David Brin, Vernor Vinge, and Orson Scott Card. But I guess they are not on the grand-master list (yet?).
« Last Edit: June 05, 2021, 02:54:14 PM by CowboyAndIndian »

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2021, 02:47:42 PM »
A fellow sci-fi fan! Awesome.

I've moved to a new (to me) home and have so many projects that my reading has fallen by the side. Even when I'm tired, I watch YouTube learning about what I am going to do next.

This is a great thread that will give me ideas about what to read next! I already see some of my favorites on the list. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, David Brin, and Heinlein. I am more interested in hard-core sci-fi and not fantasy. Also, as you mentioned, some author's works have not aged well.

How come you do not have H.G. Wells or Jules Verne in your list? Also, one of the modern authors that I like is John Scalzi, though I hate his latest serial.

Neither Wells nor Verne won the award, and this project is just about reading all the authors who did.  Adding them might be a good idea, but there are a lot of other authors I would probably need to add as well.

I too am more interested in S.F. than fantasy, although many of these authors did both.  I plan to focus on the S.F. works rather than their Fantasy stuff. 

Abe

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1988
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2021, 07:17:36 PM »
I like Niven and Clarke’s books. They are both good at creating a world with background that the characters are influenced by, rather than characters who are basically modern humans with weird random characteristics. It’s interesting looking at the list and seeing how many of them grew up during or immediately after World War II, and how that influenced their writing.

Kim Stanley Robinson also has some good series, especially the Mars series, which reminded me of Niven’s series in terms of landscape/background.

CowboyAndIndian

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1708
  • Location: NJ, USA
    • KOWines: Deep discount wine/spirits store.
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2021, 03:13:34 PM »
Kim Stanley Robinson also has some good series, especially the Mars series, which reminded me of Niven’s series in terms of landscape/background.
I was so excited to start this series but the books did not meet my expectations. Maybe the hype the guys recommending it put the bar too high. I had the feeling that Robinson was more interested in pushing his political beliefs than the sci-fi. Also, did not believe that they could terraform Mars in such a short while (the original pioneers are still alive at the time of terraforming). I read this a long time ago (20 years), so could have misremembered some items.

deborah

  • Senior Mustachian
  • ********
  • Posts: 12041
  • Location: Australia or another awesome area
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2021, 08:58:29 PM »
Heinlein hasn’t stood the test of time. Even at the time, in his later books he became a dirty old man.

Simak was always someone I enjoyed!

Because this is limited to American authors, a number of my favourites won’t appear.

jambongris

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 313
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2021, 07:50:50 AM »
This week’s episode of Mythic Quest was a flashback episode with Asimov, Le Guin, and a few others from your list.

I’ve been meaning to read more SF for a while now. Can you recommend a book from one of the authors on your list for a new adult reader of SF?

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2021, 06:50:04 PM »
Kim Stanley Robinson also has some good series, especially the Mars series, which reminded me of Niven’s series in terms of landscape/background.
I was so excited to start this series but the books did not meet my expectations. Maybe the hype the guys recommending it put the bar too high. I had the feeling that Robinson was more interested in pushing his political beliefs than the sci-fi. Also, did not believe that they could terraform Mars in such a short while (the original pioneers are still alive at the time of terraforming). I read this a long time ago (20 years), so could have misremembered some items.

I also was disappointed in the Mars series, but I've learned that as I age my tastes change.  I hope I'll find something there upon re-reading.

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2021, 06:55:16 PM »
Heinlein hasn’t stood the test of time. Even at the time, in his later books he became a dirty old man.

Simak was always someone I enjoyed!

Because this is limited to American authors, a number of my favourites won’t appear.

The award isn't limited to American authors, although the name of the organization does have that country in the title.  Michael Moorcock and Brian Aldiss I believe were both from the U.K.  Those are just two that I know about - they may be the only two or there may be others I don't know.  My favorite author (Iain M. Banks) isn't on the list, but I think it's because his work isn't as widely known and not because he was from Scotland.  It's frustrating, because I love his books more than any other S.F. author I've found. 

FIRE 20/20

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 549
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2021, 07:16:25 PM »
This week’s episode of Mythic Quest was a flashback episode with Asimov, Le Guin, and a few others from your list.

I’ve been meaning to read more SF for a while now. Can you recommend a book from one of the authors on your list for a new adult reader of SF?

What's Mythic Quest?

As for a recommendation, that would depend on what you're looking for.  I really dislike dystopian fiction, and SF moved in that direction sometime after the Golden Age of SF.  I'm also not a huge fan of Space Opera or highly militaristic SF.  The best SF to me uses an alien context to come at a human issue from a totally different perspective.  Ursula K. Le Guin was great at this and The Left Hand of Darkness is a great example of that.   I also like when a SF author takes one idea and sees how far it can go. 
Without knowing what you're looking for, I was really impressed with Clifford D. Simak's Way Station.  But if you're looking for action that's about as far away from that as you can get.  I enjoyed I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.  I love how he took a few simple rules and found the gaps and flaws in behavior that could result from those simple rules.  If you like logic puzzles then those might appeal to you.  For militaristic SF, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is good.  If you can get past some of the issues with Heinlein, he really was a great writer and story teller.  I just can't put up with his absurdly super-competent heros and his obsession with incest in his later books, along with the lectures on the right way to do things.  I'd start with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress if you want to give Heinlein a go.  There's a reason he was the first SF Grand Master even if he doesn't hold up very well. 

But someone not on the list who I think is at least as good as all of these authors I've read is Iain M. Banks.  If you're ready to dig into a new series, starting with Consider Phlebas would be good, although the second book in the series (The Player of Games) is better.  Unfortunately if you read The Player of Games first then Consider Phlebas loses a little bit.  It's only a small impact, so if you're unsure you want to commit to reading the series and just want to try it out then you'd be fine starting with The Player of Games.  If you love it you'll still like Consider Phlebas even if you read them out of order. 

But if you let me know what you're interested in I might have other recommendations. 
« Last Edit: June 08, 2021, 07:18:03 PM by FIRE 20/20 »

jambongris

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 313
  • Age: 35
  • Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2021, 07:52:26 PM »
This week’s episode of Mythic Quest was a flashback episode with Asimov, Le Guin, and a few others from your list.

I’ve been meaning to read more SF for a while now. Can you recommend a book from one of the authors on your list for a new adult reader of SF?

What's Mythic Quest?

As for a recommendation, that would depend on what you're looking for.  I really dislike dystopian fiction, and SF moved in that direction sometime after the Golden Age of SF.  I'm also not a huge fan of Space Opera or highly militaristic SF.  The best SF to me uses an alien context to come at a human issue from a totally different perspective.  Ursula K. Le Guin was great at this and The Left Hand of Darkness is a great example of that.   I also like when a SF author takes one idea and sees how far it can go. 
Without knowing what you're looking for, I was really impressed with Clifford D. Simak's Way Station.  But if you're looking for action that's about as far away from that as you can get.  I enjoyed I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.  I love how he took a few simple rules and found the gaps and flaws in behavior that could result from those simple rules.  If you like logic puzzles then those might appeal to you.  For militaristic SF, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is good.  If you can get past some of the issues with Heinlein, he really was a great writer and story teller.  I just can't put up with his absurdly super-competent heros and his obsession with incest in his later books, along with the lectures on the right way to do things.  I'd start with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress if you want to give Heinlein a go.  There's a reason he was the first SF Grand Master even if he doesn't hold up very well. 

But someone not on the list who I think is at least as good as all of these authors I've read is Iain M. Banks.  If you're ready to dig into a new series, starting with Consider Phlebas would be good, although the second book in the series (The Player of Games) is better.  Unfortunately if you read The Player of Games first then Consider Phlebas loses a little bit.  It's only a small impact, so if you're unsure you want to commit to reading the series and just want to try it out then you'd be fine starting with The Player of Games.  If you love it you'll still like Consider Phlebas even if you read them out of order. 

But if you let me know what you're interested in I might have other recommendations.
Wow. Thank you for the detailed recommendations.

The short answer is that I don’t know what I’m looking for within the SF genre. All of those seem like good starting points though.

Mythic Quest is a comedy show about a video game developer. One of the characters on the show is a writer and helps with writing the storylines for the game. The last episode was his backstory which included his time working near Asimov, Le Guin, and a few of the others listed in this thread.

CowboyAndIndian

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1708
  • Location: NJ, USA
    • KOWines: Deep discount wine/spirits store.
Re: Reading the Grand Masters of S.F.
« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2021, 06:08:39 PM »
For militaristic SF, my recommendations/favorites are

- Heinlein "Starship troopers"
- Orson Scott Card "Enders Game"
- John Scalzi "Old man's war"
- David Brin "Startide Rising"